Show him the real North

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“I’ve booked my trip to Stockholm with Helen 1 A Tours. So I don’t worry about anything”, A said contendly as we boarded the plane to Sweden. Because today, he set foot on Swedish soil for the first time ever. I don’t take people to Sweden usually. I don’t give Helen 1 A Tours to anyone (even though several people have requested it). But I am on a mission to #showhimthenorth, as faithful instagram followers know, and it was now time to show him the real North.

So now we’re here and we’ve strolled through Kungstr├Ądg├ąrden, took the boat sightseeing tour, sat at the Stadshuset terrace and shopped at ├ůhl├ęns. Tomorrow Skansen and the Vasa Museum awaits. I am taking this tourist thing seriously. At the same time, it feels funny to me because it was so long ago I first did these things, 18 years to be precise. When we were at the Tourist Center and I asked if he wanted to take brochures, A said, “That’s fine. I have a walking brochure with me”.

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The great thing is, I am actually on vacation for three whole weeks. The first week I spent going to the Dutch beach for three days,

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visiting the National Dutch Railway Museum,

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with its impressive waiting hall,

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receiving a visit from my dear friend Jonna and

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going to the biggest fair at the Rhine with her

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and of course, going to the local lake twice.

 

Situatonal national identity

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To schedule an all-or-nothing World Cup match Germany vs. Sweden on Midsummer of all days is adventurous, I thought. To watch it with all my Swedes on the most crowded German party street in town is risky, I thought. I can change my situational national identity to Swedish for that night, I thought.

Let me tell you this: after Germany had scored their goal, I spent 50 agonizing minutes hoping nothing else would happen. How fun is it to watch a football match, that happens to be eventful, hoping for it to just be over before anyone does anything to change the balanced outcome of 1:1? I was terribly torn, sitting there in my Swedish jersey, being insulted by German fans (“All you can do is IKEA” [Eh, well, IKEA is pretty awesome.]) while slowly the feeling started creeping up that I really don’t want Germany to be kicked out of this tournament. But at the same time, Sweden fought so hard and come on, don’t we all love an underdog, and I was rooting for Sweden tonight, wasn’t I. Nerve-wracking!┬á

When the match was over, at least it was safe to go outside into the crowd. People patted our shoulders sympathically, giving us pitiful looks. “But my other team won!” I wanted to reply. It’s easy to be Swedish any other day but when it comes down to football, I guess I am still The German Girl.

The Day I gave the Swedish Prime Minister a Goat

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There are four days in my work year where I cannot be sick. This year one of those days took place in Berlin and so last week, I travelled to the German capital. Paris, Darmstadt, Berlin, Osnabr├╝ck in less than a week, including cancelled flights and other troubles. But I made it and at first, things were going rather smooth – until I, when getting ready for the networking boat trip we had arranged – made one wrong move. In German, we call this “Witch Shot” and a lumbago really feels like some evil power has seized you. But this was one of the four days when I cannot be indisposed so Diclofenac became my friend.

And actually maybe also adrenaline because I do believe the levels of that hormone are high in my body when I rush between people and places, organizing last minutes things like missing whiskey bottles or speakers stuck on airports. (What I couldn’t do anything about was the 32 degree heat that people had to endure as soon as they ventured outside of our air conditioned venue.)

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But all went well. At our dinner, we had a famous key note speaker, the former Swedish Prime Minister. Leading up to the event, I had sat in the office and wondered what to give him as a thank you present. When the evening came, my boss handed me the present and asked me to explain to the Prime Minister. “So we’ve been thinking”, I said to him, “what you’d like. But flowers are such a hassle to take on the plane to Stockholm. And you can’t bring liquids onboard. So we concluded we would give you a goat! Because that is so easy to take with you, right?” He looked at me in friendly confusion. “Well, actually it’s not you that gets to keep the goat”, I enlighted him. “We made a donation for a goat in your name for a family in need”, I said and handed him his gift certificate. He seemed very pleased – and I was delighted, too to have given a goat to a politican for the first time.

I also got to give away an award for the first time! My juniors and I have instituted a badge of honor for those facilitating junior engagement in the business community, and I, together with the chair of the junior network, got to award it.

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Very tired after a very full day in the elevator to the (unneccessarily) huge suite I was upgraded to

I went to bed at 3 a.m. but was up only a few hours later because I had the best brunch date: Ingrid! She met me in the park, me bringing unhealthy croissants and she bringing healthy fruit – and a polaroid camera!

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It might sound odd but I am rather glad to be back in my own home and to not have any travel scheduled for almost a month. Finally, I have time to catch up on things – I didn’t even have a single bottle of milk at home anymore – and live up to my long-neglected fika duty at work. Gotta run and bake that banana bread!

Ah, Paname!

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My point with going to Paris from D├╝sseldorf was that it’s so convienent I would have to do it now while I live here. To not have to travel super far if I live somewhere else later in life. To be honest, after this, my third time, in the City of Lights, I expected to be through with the French capital. Been there, done that, can now go to, say, Edinburgh. Maybe Paris sensed that because she sure gave her all to charm me and this morning when I woke up, I said, ÔÇ×I really don’t wanna leaveÔÇť.

Because who would want to leave a place that has the perfect temperature (never below 20, never above 25 degrees), these amazingly stylish people (I think they have better hairdressers in France than we do?), the food (I bought a regular piece of fruit at a regular supermarket and it tasted 100 % better than at home) and the overall flair of surprisingly laid-back, savoir-vivre attitude?

As this was my third visit, I had done the Notre-Dame and Louvre league of sights earlier so we went to see Sainte Chapelle instead. Described as a gem of gothic art, it instills a profound sense of awe in the visitor stepping inside this cathedral of church art. You stand surrounded by giant colored windows that were crafted in the 13th century and can’t help but wonder how much work went into this. I’ve actually never seen something similar and I believe I have been in a few churches.

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From this real church we proceeded to what A called the Cathedral of Consumerism, Galeries Lafayette. Not because we felt we needed to purchase Burberry toddler clothes, pre-printed shopping lists or retro monchichis (they still exist!?), but because it a) has a free terrace with a good view of Paris and b) boasts with a beautiful dome that you can marvel at from all floors of the shopping center. It looked more like an opera house than a mall but nevertheless was so worth the visit.

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Before we went to Paris, I had asked friends who are former Parisians for recommendations. This is why in the evening, A found himself being guided to an unsuspected little side street close to Temple into a tucked away little restaurant. At Au fils des saisons, we enjoyed French dinner that we only partly understood from the menu, compelling the waiter to assure us with the words, ÔÇ×fromage ÔÇô cheese!ÔÇť It was very tasty.

One of my reasons for wanting to go to Paris was that I wanted to see Monet’s Water Lilies in real life for once. Nine years ago I was standing in front of the Mus├ęe d’Orsay on that trip’s last day which must have been a Monday ÔÇô the day the museum is closed. Finally, finally I now got to go. After two hours of looking at Renoir, Manet and Degas, we were out of the impressionist section and I said, ÔÇ×Do the Water Lilies have their own room that we missed?ÔÇť

The thing is ÔÇô they have their whole own museum and it is not the Mus├ęe d’Orsay. That one has only one smaller Water Lily painting which happened to be borrowed by Water Lilies Museum, also called the Orangerie. Suddenly it made sense to me that they sold combination tickets to both museums.

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A: “This looks like one of these stock photos of people at work”

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This lady literally took a photo a e-v-e-r-y painting instead of looking at it

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Tuileries

So we took a walk through the Tuileries (what’s up with all the Parisian parks being so awesome? Why aren’t our parks like that?) and all the toil of walking all day, of taking in information and art, of trying to find one’s way left me when I stood and blocked my ears with my fingers to not hear the countless tourists giving their company directions on how to take their photo in front of one of the most famous paintings in history. I was there in Giverny and almost felt the coolness of the water and the peace of the lilies swimming, saw small animals and imagined faces on the water’s reflection.

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Assuming art in the wrong place seemed to be a theme of this trip because on Sunday we found ourselves in the Jardin du Luxembourg, ready to rilke as we called reciting the poem ÔÇ×The pantherÔÇť that famous poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote. We had just rilked the first verse, I started doubting A’s second verse and googled the correct order ÔÇô to find that Rilke had not written the poem in the Jardin du Luxembourg. No, he wrote ÔÇ×The PantherÔÇť in the Jardin des Plantes. What a Water Lily moment…! Luckily, the Jardin du Luxembourg was highly enjoyable too, and actually, Rilke wrote his ÔÇ×CarousellÔÇť here. So we were not rilking completely without cause!

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Lush and green in the Jardin du Luxembourg

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In the Jardin, kids set out their boats in the fountain

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It seems there is after all a market fo advertising products with Swedishness even in France

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In France, all ad boards now say that the photos are photoshopped

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Sace Coeur where the people gather at night and sing and perform and watch the sunset

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The Sunday sunset I saw from the Thalys train on the way home and I fear I said at least four times how much less of a hassle I felt it was to just get on the direct train instead of having to fly to Paris. It feels so close I, consumed with a resurgence of amiti├ę franco-allemande, would want to go back, well, next weekend.

Little Paris, Big Paris

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Some people call D├╝sseldorf Little Paris, possibly because it has a reputation for fashion. One of the amazing things about Little Paris is that is is very close to Big Paris. Once I had realized that it literally takes the same time to go to Paris as it takes to Hamburg (a route I’ve commuted weekly during my first months in Dizzel!), I knew I could not let this chance of locational advantage pass. So I talked A into going to Paris with me. (“It’s our first-year-anniversary then”, “I have been wanting to go for years”, “I’ve missed the Mus├ęe d’Orsay last time I was there”)

This morning we took the tram with all the people going to work – just instead of going to a dull office, we actually went to Paris. Just like that. In 3 hours 40 minutes, passing Cologne, Aachen, Liege, Brussels. I felt very continental.

Apparently the route is rather popular and the train was almost fully booked. Behind us was a lady who travelled to Versailles regularly to attend “the absolutely wonderful concerts there” and the French girl who worked in Little Paris but went to attend a French friend’s wedding. Next to us, a middle-aged German (A says he looked like Leland Stottlemeyer) oriented us about his way of life by talking on his cell phone about his new car “that unfortunately I can’t pick up myself in Zuffenhausen” and his golf club that fell to pieces.

Eventually in Paris, we made our way through the bustle of Gare du Nord to what I assume to be the 7th arrondissement where our hotel is. A picked it and he apparently paid special attention to choosing an auberge that had nice, individualized interior design because he’s learned I like that. The area we live in seems very charming and as we wandered around we found that they seem to only have specialized shops: one for belts, one for shirts, three (?!) for swimwear. We ended up at a typical French bistro that actually also was a kiosk. I spotted several people that looked like Parisian textbook characters and an adorable little dog that belonged to the bistro. So stay tuned for what else we’ll encounter on this trip in Big Paris…!

 

On Lime Street

Continuity is important in life. It gives stability to your existence, it creates reliabilty for your identity. Now you might be thinking of growing up in the same house or being around the same attachment figures. For me, for as long as I can remember, a secure element of continuity was Lindenstra├če. Whatever happens, cannot alter one thing: on Sundays 6:50 p.m. on Channel One, Lindenstra├če is on. My aunts watched it, my mom watched it and I grew up with it – and with the characters, manyof which have been in the show since the Eighties.

Lindenstra├če is a German drama series that has been on TV since 1985. Inspired by the British Corontation Street, it is all about the lives of a bunch of neighbors on Lime Street. Germans generally look down on Lindenstra├čen-watchers – but little do they know! Lindenstra├če is always tackling important social questions and was the first show to air a gay kiss on German TV. Right now, they have a (admittedly very badly written) storyline about a transgender person, an influencer youtuber and a refugee family. And of course one family has a child with Down’s Syndrome.

Lindenstra├če is set in Munich but filmed in Cologne. I found that out a few years ago and when I moved to D├╝sseldorf, “visiting the Lindenstra├če film set” immediately went up on my bucket list. Last weekend, the day had finally come.

Officially, this was a tour of the West German Broadcasting (WDR) premises. Before the tour started, the guide asked who was here for the Lindenstra├če and 80 % raised their hands. Take that, Lindenstra├če-doubters!

The WDR is the largest broadcasting organization in Europe after the BBC. It produces 177 hours of radio and 37 hours of television. A day! The German regional broadcasting services (there is also a South West German, a North German, a Middle German, …) deliver content to Channel One (ARD) and the WDR makes up for 25 % of it. Consequently, their premises are not exactly small, but cover the area of a former military area in the middle of nowhere near Cologne. Together with Lindenstra├če, one of their most famous and most beloved productions is “The Show with the Mouse”, a highly acclaimed children’s program, running since 1971. The Mouse teaches children about all kinds of things, for example about how toothpaste gets into a toothpaste tube. The guide told us, as we passed giant statues of the Mouse and everyone got rather excited, that the average Mouse watcher age is not 5 to 8, but 35 to 40. While I, like any good German child, watched the show when I was little, my relation with the Mouse did not continue unlike my faithfulness to Lindenstra├če.

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I am here! Finally!

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With my friend Nadine, sitting in the beer garden of Lindenstra├če’s Greek restaurant

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Which restaurant offers dishes that cost 10,30 euros? #notrealistic

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If you watch LiStra, as fans shorten the show’s name, these doorbells mean so many stories to you.

I learned so much on this tour: a camera costs 250.000 euros and is used for 30 years. To illuminate one talkshow guest on television you need four lamps. Film sets rarely have right angles because they make everything appear smaller. And when it is supposed to be fall in Lindenstra├če but they are filming in summer, they employ people to pluck┬á the leaves off the lime trees.

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The WDR trains people in various professions, among others plastic scene builders. They create objects like the above. It is all styrofoam!

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Yes, even the godess elephant is nothing but stryofoam

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Occasionally being redecorated to serve as a police station in a movie, this building is actually the administration of Licence Fees. As an avid watcher of Lindenstra├če, I think I get my money’s worth!

 

 

 

Hustysk Helen svarar: How do I display my affection to a German girl?

It’s finally May,┬á the sun is out, it’s spring, it’s my favorite season! And: Love is in the air. So Husytsk Helen will answer a crucial question:

“How do I show my love to a German girl?”

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If you are strolling on the streets of the Rhineland these days, you will find trees erected at random spots. Lovely birch trees decorated with colorful crepe paper and adorned sometimes with hearts saying, “Nicole” or “Julia”. You thought the reserved German would discreetly declare his love in a text? Privately tell his beloved how great she is? Swipe her right on Tinder?

Oh, no, the Maypole custom is a public display of romantic interest if there ever was one! Everyone on the street knows someone loves you – and goes through the trouble of cutting down a tree for you to put it up in front of your house. So if your girlfriend doesn’t get the hint or is playing hard to get – why not try the German way and confront her with a tree!

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P.S.: Because regional differences are a big deal in Germany, Northern Germany follows a slightly different love tree schedule: there, the birches are put out during Pentecost and called Penecost Trees, not Maypoles.