Movie Star, Movie Star

I hadn’t unpacked from my trip over New Year’s at my parents when I already packed again last Friday. Given my travel-averse personality, you can tell there must have been some serious incentive waiting for me. And you’re right. The ‘incentives’ had big eyes, contagious giggles, a princess dress and endearing declarations of affection for me. I visited my niece, princess dress and declarations, and nephew, big eyes and giggles, and seven hours of travelling seldom felt so worth it for 23 hours together.

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Yesterday marked a milestone for my niece and me because not only did we go on an adventure only we two for the first time, that adventure led us to her very first visit to the cinema. I love the movies and so I felt especially privileged to be the one to introduce her to motion pictures. Sometimes you’d think young children might not remember everything you do with them, but when we went to town, she told me again how she still thinks about “how when I visited you, we went to see the penguins and that was my favorite thing!”

Going to the cinema all the time myself, I would say I still appreciate the special atmosphere there, but it is nothing like seeing this environment through a child’s eyes for the first time. I explained how the ticket purchase works (“and here it says where we get to sit”), I helped select snacks (“let’s take the small bag of chips”) and I held her hand when walking in (“Helen, why is everything so dark in the cinema!”). I watched her as she sat on the edge of her seat with her mouth open in concentration during the film, and I explained to her the concept of the credits (“these are the names of the people who made the coffee for the actors”). The whole experience made such an impression that I climbed in rank so much, my niece asked me on the way back, “Can I sleep in your bed tonight? I really want to sleep in your bed tonight.”

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After the cinema, we went into the small town and looked at shops.

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The reason I am able to write this blog post is that A gave me a new laptop (!) for Christmas. It is wonderfully light (lighter than a MacBook Air which had previously always been my point of reference) and it boots up so quickly I can’t keep up. (Another reason I can write this blog post is that A is cooking dinner tonight.)

 

Almost-hindsight is 20/20

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The “Rainbow Bookshop” #supportyourlocalbookstore

You know the saying “You never miss the water until it’s gone”? I am an overachiever when it comes to that. I completely disregard the water until the moment someone indicates it might in a soon future disappear. Then I discover my affection for the water, suddenly I realize I am, actually, the President of the Water Lovers Fanclub.

For more than three years, I nursed my aversion toward Dizzeldorf. Too crowded, takes forever to get anywhere. My part of town? Full of bad-style-pubs, all of my social contacts live in other parts of the city.

Then the decision that my workplace and I will move to Hamburg was made. Not exactly at the same time but pretty close to it, my eyes opened to the fact that DĂŒsseldorf has one of the best airports in Germany. That my hood has a wonderful bookshop, I am a regular at the bulk store, I can walk to the farmer’s market, and the cafĂ©s are wonderfully hipster. Did I mention the library that’s around the corner? The guy at the whole food store chats with me, the traditional Rhineland bakery staff is definitely above average friendly. The local church offers very extraordinary services and activities. My favorite breakfast place is run by Persians who make the best mĂŒsli-yoghurt-mix. When I go to Gill’s, my preferred bar, the owner bends over backwards with delight, calling, “Nah, it’s not too full, there’s always a seat for you” and makes room. And while I still feel I am cycling on a highway most of the time, I can get most places by bike in the city.

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Kiefernstraße in my hood, known for its art on the houses

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From my balcony, despite living in the city, I look out on a large grassed area with a playground and playing field. On weekends, I wake from children’s sounds and the sun that rises in the east right outside my window. When I do the dishes in the kitchen, I watch dads playing football with their kids. And my apartment is part of a housing cooperative, meaning it has a rent at a reasonable price while generating a 4 % (!) dividend each year. When I applied for the apartment, they told me I’d get it because “you’re new in town and need a place”. When you stroll through the side streets – I even have two special favorite streets -, you can look at the pretty old builings and peer into the windows at the beautiful interiors.

For years, I could never actually notice these things. You are probably reading this, wondering who this is and what they’ve done with Helen. Don’t worry, I still think this place is too crowded, there are too many cars, no good party venues, you can never be alone and it just is too far from most of my friends and family. It’s not like I wanna grow old here.

This is my Last Christmas in this apartment, this city, probably this federal state. But when people ask me now if I am “super psyched to finally leave”, I shrug waveringly. As soon as you only threaten to shut off that water tap…

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In other news: my friend Angelina visited me on the way to her parents. We went to the hipster cafe of course.

 

I am not a gilet jaune

Some things make me feel old. Like preferring to cook rather than getting take-out. Or ordering young children on a subway platform to step away from the edge. (Both happened in the last 24 hours.) And something that also makes me feel old is my entirely changed perception of visibility and temperature.

No, I don’t mean I need glasses. (I would like them though as I’ve seen them as a great fashion accessoire since I was 5.) I mean I have become this old lady who is super concerned with safety and not getting a cold.

I never leave the house without a yellow vest anymore. As soon as it gets dim outside and I bike somewhere, I dress in a screaming warning signal. Does it look bad? Yes. Is it a hassle? Kind of. Would I like to actually wear it even when just walking on the sidewalk? Ehm, yeah.

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The other day someone asked me if I worked for the city, on the construction team.

When I was young, I biked without lights, dressed entirely in black coats. Today, I am surprised I made it past 30 with  this please-run-me-over-attitude! Winter has never seemed this dark to me before. My perception of what’s visible on the street has changed dramatically. And I don’t even know why.

But simultaneously with my fear of not being seen, my idea of what is cold has completely changed, too. I used to live in Sweden. We had temperatures below zero for months. Early in the year, at least for one weekend, we would usually get to -25 degrees Celsius. I wore tights then. And I don’t mean thermo tights. Regular tights! Today, it’s 2 degree and I wear: a long-sleeve shirt, a sweater, a wool cardigan, two scarves, a wool winter coat, gloves, a hat, thermo tights, a wool skirt and wool socks. And I am freezing. Do I have to bring my snow pants from Sweden and start strolling across the Dizzel Christmas Market?

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My friend Hanna and I in Uppsala, Sweden. I am wearing tights, kissing an ice statue.

Last week, two pedestrians saw me and called, “There they are, the yellow vests!” I of course replied from my bike that I do not want to be associated with people smashing the Arc de Triomphe. Maybe I need to get an orange vest now.

What I read

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As a historian, I like to look back, and now is the season of “My Year” reviews. You can let Spotify tell you which songs you listened most to (in my case, I’ve used the app so little outside the gym, I wonder if I should discontinue my subscription), you can see on Instagram which photos were most liked. You can track your time or expenses and review 2018 in that way. I decided, this year, to look back at the books I read.

A convinced me to register at Goodreads last year. At that point, I didn’t really see the point of telling an app what I read. But now I am hooked! It’s a social network so you can see what your friends are reading, you can update your progress (motivational!), by your ratings the algorithm recommends new books for you, and when my mother asks me if I have a good book suggestion, I just look at my Goodreads, and say, “Oh, yes, Americanah!”

I really think Goodreads has spurred my reading. (The fact that I through my Kindle and my amazing friend Emily have access to the Los Angeles Public Library has helped a lot, too.) The automatic Goodreads year review confirms this: I read almost 9,000 pages this year! The longest book was “American Wife” and let me tell you, I savored every minute of it. The most popular one, among other reads, was Eleanor & Park, which I thought was mediocre at most, and pointless in a way. The least popular was Elizabeth II’s biography. Such a great book! I assume it’s “not popular” because it’s German and Goodreads is used by mostly Anglophones.

I read 28 books (and abandoned 10, including some I thought would capture my attention, like “The Buried Giant”, “My brilliant friend”, “The Art of Fielding” and “Main Street”). If anyone is looking for recommendations, these were my favorites:

What Alice forgot, by Liane Moriarty: I realize this is a chickflick, but basic concept of a 40-something-woman losing the last ten years of her memory, is original and the writing is compelling, potentially – maybe depending on your own life situation – leading to deeper thoughts. I read this, almost 500 pages, in a few days on a trip to Luxembourg.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche: There’s a reason this book is hyped. Everything about this book is awesome, except the end (but that’s okay). Reading “Americanah” opened up my mind to the fact that the world is not just Europe or America.

Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan: This book also follows the “ehm, I am so ignorant to non-Europe” pattern. It’s downright elating to expand one’s knowledge of other cultures – and don’t worry, this book is so popcultural and easy to digest, you will enjoy reading it. Then, you have to go see the movie which came out 2018 – good fun!

Sisterland, American Wife and Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld: Yes, I went on a Sittenfeld spree. I knew I liked her, but now I know I am a fan. All three books (the only ones available I hadn’t read yet and I read them straight after another) were good. “Eligible” is a modern version of “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sisterland” is a supernatural tale about twins, and “American Wife” is a novel of Laura Bush’s life. It’s so well-written that you start feeling empathy for Republicans.

Jag heter inte Miriam (My name is not Miriam), by Majgull Axelsson: One of the, actually few, Swedish books I’ve read this year (Kindle, L.A., see above). The story is about a Roma woman who survived the concentration camps and came to Sweden, pretending her entire life to be Jewish because Roma were deported in Sweden even in the post-1945-era. A touching book that taught me some facts I didn’t know (e.g. I wasn’t fully aware of how extreme Dr. Mengele’s sadistic experiments were).

Es gibt Dinge, die kann man nicht erzĂ€hlen, (Some things cannot be told) by Kirsten Boie: This author is the German Astrid Lindgren and anyone who says elsewise doesn’t know anything. For many years, I’ve been a devoted Boie reader. This story collection about children in Africa, that Boie personally knows, made me cry.

One book that had an exciting basic idea (eight scientists living under glass for two years as an experiment – this really happened and Steve Bannon was part of it!), but couldn’t make it on the recommendation list, was The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle. I consciously hadn’t read a Boyle in literally 12 years and once again my verdict is: good start and then he just rambles for 250 pages too long. And the award for worst book I’ve read this year goes to Bill Clinton’s “The President is missing”. I don’t even know why I finished it. Sorry, Bill!

Now there are 19 days left in this year. My plan is to finish the two books I am currently reading: Ian McEwan, Nutshell (a murder case told from the perspective of an unborn baby – super weird but now I want to know how it ends) and Elizabeth Strout, Anything is possible (tales from the small town never have been this interesting).

A good book is like a garden carried in the pocket.

(Persian proverb)

Unfortunately, amazon doesn’t pay me anything for posting links to their website, but I am thinking it’s the easiest way for you to find out more about the books.

 

 

High Society

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My work takes me to wondrous places. Tonight, it took me to a pool under a glass ceiling on top of Munich. Swimming, I had a direct view of the most famous landmark, the Frauenkirche church. By the pool, young blond women were sipping champagne. If you keep up with my schedule, you know it’s gala times. This time, the gala is happening at the most prominent and expensive hotel in Munich. And that’s why I stay here for two nights.

I booked no breakfast for our team. They charge a sum for breakfast – champagne breakfast – that covers a month of my regular breakfasts. Isn’t that weird? 

My co-worker and I explored the hotel, from the spa to the roof top bar. It’s zero degrees and they have an open air bar! The staff proudly showed us the blankets to keep warm, “designed for polar expeditions!” (The cocktail prices were also Swedish.)

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The shopping mall next door is very beautiful and has lots of great stuff you don’t really need

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Dinner

 

Traveling East, North and backwards

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Work and friends had me go to Berlin from Wednesday to Sunday. I was travelling from the far West of Germany to the fast East, basically from Holland to Poland. What I didn’t realize was that I was also going from 2018 to 1998. Fashion seems to return every 20 years, but really did anyone believe the ugliest items of the Nineties were to reemerge? I didn’t think wearing pants that are way too short, jeans jackets that are way too big and fanny packs would ever make their comeback. But Berlin people want to be avantgarde-cool at all times even if it looks perfectly ridiculous.

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One of the many nineties people

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I had the opportunity to see the exhibition on the Gurlitt Nazi Art Theft.

My stay included looking at locations from tunnels to tipis, attending a design event at the embassy, visiting a startup lab, and meeting with Ingrid, Michelle, Malin, and my cousin Felix. Malin had come to Berlin for our annual 2MH-weekend and we showed her the German capital for the first time. Even though I hope I will never have to move to Berlin, I will say that their second-hand-shops are really well curated, their hipster streets have the coolest cafĂ©s, their markets cater to my needs and they have Dussmann, a stationery and book store (that calls itself a “Culture Shop”) that I would go to every week if I could.

It has become a rule now that if I travel, I will catch a cold. This time was no exception, I returned sick and had less than two days to recuperate before my plane to Stockholm lifted on Tuesday, for work. It was my shortest trip to Sweden ever and one of my sweetest. Short enough to just take in the nice things, to import VĂ€sterbottenost (very important), and (more important) to spend some evening hours with my dear friend Bianca. Less than 24 hours after arrival, I returned to Dizzel, feeling like I now had travelled to the Eighties.

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This is where I worked yesterday. Can you guess where?

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Oh, Lidl…

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The Swedish news were all about children names the state refused and parents fighting against it. Who wants to name their kid superfastjellyfish?!

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Already miss this one a lot lot lot

I’ve been in Eighties-DĂŒsseldorf for 19 hours when  I am leaving again, and again to Berlin. How much do you have to be home in order to make renting an apartment worthwhile? Asking for a friend.

Homo Ludens

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I am still learning what the point with board games is. I mean, I get that it is is great for memory formation, cognitive skills, problem solving. It’s just that so far I have always been more inclined to spend my free time in conversation with someone (or on Netflix…) than absorbed with silently contemplating my next strategic move on the board. But A likes to play. So when he suggested going to the world’s (!) largest Board Game Fair in the neighboring city, I was up for broadening my horizons.

I must have been as wide-eyed as I was when I first saw the hotel buffet in Croatia. But the amount of board games offered at the fair easily outnumbered the Croatian food options. 1400 new games were presented – and I believe there were old ones being sold, too. As we walked through the fair halls (there are six. Six giant halls with board games all over), I realized I do know many game publishers. Kosmos, Amigo, Schmitt, Haba, all rang a bell so I must’ve played one or the other board game.

The two things that impressed me the most were the people playing on-site and the themes of the games. (I was also impressed with the prices of the board games…) There were large areas adjacent to the exhibitors’ booths where visitors sat and played. You know how everyone talks about people growing lonely behind their screens, wasting away their creative energy? Not here! Here I saw the joy of play in action. Play is purposeless, all-consuming, and fun.

And apparently you can play with almost any theme. Exploding kittens is a big hit right now, I learned, and we contemplated buying either “Fog of Love”, a board game which is “like starring in a romantic comedy” (including expansion packs called “Trouble with the In-Laws” and “Mismatched”) or “Holding on”, in which you are a palliative care team tasked to provide care to a terminally ill person. Then there was also the educational game: Textura, about history, for schools, and with a special edition on Polish-German relations. The historian in me rejoiced: what better way is there to teach history than by becoming a part of it, playing? (Schools and teachers get it for free, by the way!)

We ended up not buying any game, but I borrowed some from the library. Apparently one (about guessing agents names) is a bestseller, it was all over the fair. The good thing with borrowing a game is that you have to play it before your loan expires. (I just have to fit that in with finishing Riverdale and lots of work traveling this month.) Let the games begin!

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Post-game-morning, A took me to our favorite brunch restaurant. Their mĂŒsli is out of this world delicious.