Hotel Helen is open

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„Helen, I am waiting for new blog content!“, I was texted last night. Give them an inch and they’ll take an ell, eh? I gathered lots of content, actually, but time is a ridiculously scarce ressource right now. Maybe because I spent the weekend in Amsterdam, am travelling to Sweden this next weekend and along the way opened Hotel Helen for the public.

Yes, Hotel Helen, or Domicil Lux if you’d like, was busy these last nights. On Thursday, my friend Svenja and her husband Burak came to visit as they were travelling through Dizzel International Airport.

Before I met them, I attended a gathering of the Dizzel Business Club where they talked about just this airport that has over 22 million people in 90 minutes’ radius and no less than 700 departures and arrival every day. The only thing that impressed me even more at that meeting was that the gender balance was totally off with about 5 % of the attendees being female. I guess working in Swedish business contexts has spoiled me (despite the fact that even we don’t usually come up to more than 30 %).

Svenja and Burak’s impression of Düsseldorf was very interesting to hear. I’ve gotten used to quite some things by now but they looked at the city with fresh eyes and – closing the circle to the above paragraph – stated, „This place feels very masculine“. They thought that because there is a disproportionaley high number of men’s outfitters, many men on the streets, a lot of cars and I added that I actually think the architecture is somewhat male. How can architecture be male, you’re wondering, and how can this gender studies graduate say something this un-gendery? Oh well, I don’t t know, come to Dizzel and see for yourself!

The next guest was Anna. When we were holidaying in May and talked about school with her not being too fond of history, I said next time she has to write a history exam, I’d help her study for it. No sooner said than done, I got an email with the subject line „History exam“ and on Friday night, we sat going through Hitler’s ideology. That’s one way to spend a Friday night. Personally, I have lots of objections to how and what students are taught in history in German school. Like at her school, they started the A-Level preparations with the late middle ages, to then move to displacement after 1945, continue with the 1870s and then teach about Hitler. You don’t have to be a historian to figure out that that is widely confusing. (Also, since ages we are taught every fricking detail of Hitler’s sick thoughts but the prelude, the Weimar Republic, is often neglected.)

The last topic in their A-Levels will be ”myths”. No more info on that. What’s that even supposed to mean? It’s like saying, „We’ll study war. Won’t tell you which one, which time period and who against whom.“

The next morning, I interrogated her on ideology at the breakfast table when my former co-workers‘ cousin from Denmark arrived to check in at Hotel Helen for the night. I handed her the keys and an extensive manual („the grocery store is here“, „the tram leaves here“) and dashed off with Anna to the central station to take the train to Amsterdam. Amsterdam! Excuse me but how wonderful isn’t Amsterdam? I don’t know if it is the kamikaze cyclicsts, the super crooked houses, the beautiful water everywhere or the fact that one of my favorite cousins lives there – but I really like the city. We also had great luck with the weather which was both good when we strolled through town on Saturday and when we visited the Rijksmuseum on Sunday because bad weather would’ve meant huge crowds, I guess.

I have been wanting to go to that museum for a while. It is a Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam, founded in 1800. The building itself is absolutely lovely and the collections are impressive. If I find some time, I need to study the Dutch more because it is certainly marvelous how a small nation managed to produce so many outstanding artists during their Golden Age and to attain such global significance. My cousin told me that the Dutch East Indian Company was the most valuable company that ever existed, even by modern standards.

So finally I got to see The Nightwatch. Actually, it impressed me less than The Milkmaid, The Jewish Bride and the Swan which was the very first painting the museum acquired. It is quite peculiar how I recognized lots of paintings and I am still not sure if my arts education was simply very good or if anything from that time looks alike and I just thought I recognized it.

We made a point out of paying attention to small funny details in the paintings. My cousin even photographed every drunk person in the art, I think he’s planning to make a drunkard collection or something.

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Helen meets the Night Watch

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You can even get The Milkmaid as a playmobil

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Love and appreciation in this painting

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“It seems a little extreme that they would have flown off the ship like that”, said my cousin

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A happy bat!

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Cousinquote. “His outfit makes me slightly uncomfortable”

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Even the baby is tipsy, huh?

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The ceiling in the museum’s atrium

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Cousin and I play Maarten and Oopje. Rembrandt painted the marriage portraits of the newly-weds Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit in Amsterdam in 1634, when he was twenty-eight. They are most wanted and least exhibited Rembrandts in the world.

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Cousin and his university

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I thought this was art, too, but apparently they just marked the spot where you should put your bins, with “household garbage”

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This is Anne.

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The Wu-Tang Quarter of town.

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Del 11 i citat-samlingen

“Om ett barn heter Tina, varför måste man ge det ett nytt namn och kalla det Zahara bara för att man har adopterat barnet från Afrika? Det är som om jag kallade dig Vättern.” “Men jag vill hellre heta Tingstädeträsk då.”

“Köpenhamn är lite som Stockholm, det är fint men man vet inte vad man ska göra där.” “Va? Det stämmer ju inte alls, Stockholm har Stadshuset och Skansen och Vasamuseet…” “Du är en sån pensionär.” “Nej, jag är Stockholmsambassadör!”

“Om du är så upprörd, skriv en insändare då.” “Nej, jag måste göra nåt större. Kanske twittra.”

“Visst räknar man fem glas champagne?” “Per person?!”

“Auf Schwedisch heißt Batman Läderlappen.” “Zu Batman habe ich geforscht! Im Folterkontext.”

“Das Wort fika ist gleichzeitig ein ett-Wort und ein en-Wort. Die wollen einen fertig machen mit ihren Artikeln.” (Kollegin, die angefangen hat, Schwedisch zu lernen:) “Aber ich lass mich nicht fertig machen! Ich lern das einfach auswendig!”

“Det är så många nya ställen i Stockholm nu. Jag kände mig som en lantis!”

“Düsseldorf is not that bad. It has museums. And…grassed areas.” – “Are you in sales by any chance?”

The European project and national reality

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A garden in Aix

Three countries in one day – a typical European travel plan. I started this morning in sunny Aix-en-Provence, landed in Amsterdam and now I climbed off the train in Düsseldorf. I am still not sure what to make of the fact that I felt the greatest culture shock was in Dizzel where once again a car driver had parked in an area designated for another traffic participants, namely the tram that had to stop because the car was parked on the tracks. Seriously, how hard can this be? In Amsterdam, on the other hand, I felt immediately somewhat at home – such a nice place, really.

When I studied my Master’s in European Studies, one buzz word was always part of our discussions: closeness to the citizens. What is a European citizen and how can the EU work towards making a difference in her citizens’ life? Well, today, I got to experience how policy influences real life first hand. In France, a country formally at war with heavily armed guards patrolling the central station of Marseille, we were forced to go through border control and they looked at our passports closely. This is something I’ve known from flying to London but once I was on the train from Amsterdam to Dizzel, I really got a taste of the “we don’t do Schengen anymore”-decision. A couple of plainclothes policepeople suddenly came in and demanded to see our tickets and passports. They searched the bags, asked why one had been in Amsterdam and for how long and then called some authority to verify our documents. While I luckily can travel legally, it still felt very odd. I almost felt insulted in my Europeaness. The EU member states decisions have, at any rate, suceeded in terms of closeness to citizens.

Awesome Amsterdam

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First things first: Amsterdam is pretty great. I believe it must be the combination of grandeur and recklessness the Dutch cultivate in their capital that made me love it. I am even tempted to call it The Continental Stockholm.

While the weather is terrible most of the time, the buildings are gorgeous. It’s like as if the Dutch want to remind everyone they were a superrich nation once in case anyone happened to forget the Dutch Golden Age. Even their central station looks like a castle! The inner city is lined with tiny crooked houses by countless canals, the grachten (I felt so at home seeing so much water everywhere!), on cobble stones streets that are navigated by fierce cyclists. They can have two little kids plus a week’s groceries on that bike without even batting an eyelash. Worried about transport safety? Oh, you must be from Germany.

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The Dutch do lots of weird things and curiously enough, it just makes them more dear to me. Their national cuisine is basically frying everything. And by everything I include boiled eggs. Here and there in the cities, there are holes in the walls and you can put money in there so that the hole delivers a snack to you. The snack is usually something fried. When you go to throw away your napkin in public, you meet profound quotes. Those are put up on the public bins. Where else?

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A lamp in the Jugendstil-cinema

A lamp in the Jugendstil-cinema

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They have lovely book stores, hilarious street signs, great stores with almost everything, magnificent cinemas, and in their restaurants, they put carpets on the tables. Apparently that is a very Dutch thing to do. So next time you want to impress your Dutch friend, try cleaning your rug and using it as a table cloth.

Spending a whole weekend away from home with friends in the Capital of Intruiging Atmosphere means two things: you come home with a rich heart and a full to do list. I must leave to tackle the latter as my next trip is coming up soon (after West, now first North, then South).

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Central Station

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Who doesn't put their post box in the window?

Who doesn’t put their post box in the window?

Fascinating that these houses do not fall over

Fascinating that these houses do not fall over

The English Reformed Church with the inscription

The English Reformed Church with the inscription “Create in me a clean heart/O Go”

In the middle of Amsterdam, this peaceful village unfolds behind a portal. Only single women over 30 may life here.

In the middle of Amsterdam, this peaceful village unfolds behind a portal. Only single women over 30 may life here.

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God calls you. Jesus loves you.

God calls you. Jesus loves you.

This star pattern kept unfolding over the entire facade, so lovely.

This star pattern kept unfolding over the entire facade, so lovely.

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Mandatory I Amsterdam photo

Mandatory I Amsterdam photo

Single Centre.

Single Centre.

Amsterdam

Yesterday, my co-worker asked, “What are you doing this weekend?” I replied truthfully, “I am going to Amsterdam”. “Of course. Why am I not surprised?” she said.

While Düsseldorf may have some disadvantages such as being far from the sea, one must take the opportunity to make use of its advantages. One of those is definitely its closeness to the Netherlands. It took me two hours to get here. By direct train. For 29 euros. Does it get any better than that?

As I got off the train, I saw tens of people in orange uniforms with signs “Refugess welcome! We are here to help you!” which I found very nice. Because I do not qualify as refugee, I decided to find my way alone. Thanks to the excellent signage (after my time in Hamburg I find this worth mentioning), I found my way to the ferry where I met the friends I am spending this weekend with. Oh, yes, the ferry. Our hostel is opposite the central station but you have to a ferry to get there. It’s free.

We only had to walk some minutes from the ferry to the hostel but the Amsterdam weather decided to greet us with heavy spray rain so we were completely wet one we go to the hostel. Tomorrow seems to be day with 18 degrees and rain. But that cannot stop us – we know where the Rijksmuseum is!