Solingen’s favorite pastime

Things you would really not expect in urban Germany:

zero degrees in April,

a fully occupied Catholic cathedral,

and dedicated baseball fanbase

Yet, I have experienced all three in the past week!

Last Saturday, A took me out to the ball game. 

IMG_20180331_160028_resized_20180406_043407675

Isn’t it very hard on the knees to be squatting like that all the time? #worriedaboutpeoplesjoints

I was entirely unaware that it was at all possible to watch baseball in this country, that this sport, America’s favorite pastime, even had teams in Germany. But, lo and behold!, there is a whole scene out there: The Hamburg Stealers, the Cologne Cardinals, the Mannheim Tornados, the Mainz Athletics and, most relevant, the Solingen Alligators. That’s A’s team and that’s where I got to go. The German baseball teams are divided into the North League and the South League, with the latter being better, A tells me, possibly because South Germany was occupied by the Americans after the war. (Yes, history matters.)

My knowledge about baseball was almost non-existent. I knew that people keep baseball bats at home to defend themselves against burglars. When A started explaining the rules of the game, I immediately linked it to brännboll, only to make unqualified comments such as “Oh, and if he can’t reach the base, he’s burned?”, or to the famous Baseball metaphors for physical intimacy. Sometimes I even accidentally said basketball. (Sorry!)

When we got to the diamond (that’s what the playing field is called. You’re welcome.), I instantly felt transferred to America. The baseball apparel, those light-colored pants, the iconic caps, are so connected in my brain with the U.S. (and Modern Family),  I really had to briefly remind myself that I was not in the Yankee Stadium but in fact in Solingen, a German town of 160.000 inhabitants.

But that did certainly not keep the Solingen Alligators from bringing on the true American spirit: at the “Gator Diner”, you could buy burgers and fries, the players’ girlfriends have shirts saying “Gatorgirl” on them, one German lady (that we nicknamed “Head of Fans”) even shouted every now and then, “One for the books!” in English, and during the Seventh-Inning-Stretch, as tradition demands, someone performed “Take me out to the ball game”. A explained to me what to do during that: between the halves of the seventh inning of a game (an inning is the game unit during which one team bats, with the other team playing defense. Again, you’re welcome.), you are supposed to get up and stretch. When the seventh inning came, I certainly understood the point of that. A game can take hours and you are basically sitting all the time, so the seventh-inning-strech is a brilliant custom. Actually, I would want to put forward a motion to introduce a third and fifth inning stretch.

Baseball is complicated. I mean, with soccer, you just have two teams running after one ball, wanting to get it into one of the two goals. Baseball I still didn’t fully grasp after watching it for four hours. When I felt like I’d just gotten the hang of it, A said, “Did you see what the pitcher just did? That was an exception from the rules”.

“We” were playing the Berlin Flamingos which for me prophesied the result of the match. I mean if alligators and flamingos meet, who eats whom, eh? The German teams consist mostly of German amateurs but each team has some American players who seem to actually live on playing baseball in Germany. When teams meet, they always play two matches on one day to make the travel across Germany worth it.

Baseball has been around for a while with the first reference dating from 1791 and latest after the Civil War, it became the thing in the U.S.. In 1876, they formed a national league and I think their clothing still is still reminiscent of that time. (Which is a good thing because the mid-19th-century was totally fascinating.) Baseball seems to have been, and maybe still is, more of a white man’s sport. The New York team, the Yankees, are the champion of champions – they have won like a gazillion times – and one of the most successful sports clubs in the world.

Now this trip to the ball park has instilled two new wishes in me: I kind of wanna go see the Yankees play. And I am really hoping to encounter a baseball player soon to show off my newly acquired small talk knowledge!

The overcrowded Catholic Cathedral: Apparently, during Easter Night Mass, all existent Catholics in Cologne and its surroundings come out to the cathedral and take up every single of the 1200 seats more than an two hours before mass starts. This relegated me to an awfully cold stone bench next to an UISS (Unidentified Stone Saint). It was so chilly I had to put my pyjamas under myself to avoid serious bladder infection (no, I don’t always carry my sleepwear in my handbag, but I had spent the previous night away). The girls’ choir was uncomparably angelic but otherwise I am sorry to say that the mass did not at all live up to my expectations and no Easter spirit was to be felt. Next year I’ll be back at a little local church.

Thou shalt not dance

melissa-walker-horn-605716-unsplash

At regular intervals, the German media, internet or quiz shows like to inform about „the craziest U.S. laws“. Like you are not allowed to drive in a bikini in Iowa, or that cutting a cactus gives you 25 years in prison in Arizona. Aren’t the Americans funny with their ridiculous laws, the German laughs. But as we are approaching Easter, I would like to say: review the German law and think again.

Good Friday is a so called ”silent holiday“ in Germany. In 12 out of 16 of German states, this means dancing is forbidden. It seems to be that in North-Rhine-Westphalia, where I currently reside and which is especially Catholic, the laws are even stricter. The dance ban  already starts on Maundy Thursday at 6 p.m. and last still Saturday 6 a.m.. On Good Friday, is is prohibited to do circus performances and to swap stamps at stamp collection gatherings. All stores must close and it is not allowed to hold sport events, putting the German soccer league on hold. Movies may only be shown if the ministry of culture has deemed them appropriate. The state law also asserts that radio stations should in their choices be considerate of the serious nature of the day. And: you are not allowed to move house. I think that rather inconvenient, considering how all your friends would be free on this holiday to help you relocate.

So what do law-abiding Germans do during Easter? They hang out with their friends and family at home (or maybe they go to an art gallery or zoo because those are actually allowed to open). For those gatherings, they might stop by the bakery in the morning and get freshly baked rolls or braided yeast buns that are a popular Easter food. But you can only do that until Sunday – after that, there is a bake ban.

 

 

Helen hanging out in churches

m2010 030 (2)

The Swedish Church, despite often being critized, seems to combine several characteristics that very much appeal to me and make me feel at home. That’s why I hang out in Swedish churches whenever I get the chance. The fact that, during July and August, most churches offer “music on a summer evening” only adds to the attraction that drew me to Brännkyrka Church, Blidö Church, Norröra Chapel, Norrtälje Church, Djurö Church. I got to swish my offerings, experience my friend Henrik playing live, introduce my mother to Evert Taube on a tribute evening, listen to an uncommon pastor, find a forgotten leaflet from a wedding the day before with a wonderful song, and just last night, I listened to a harp concert, reminiscing about my 6th grade music teacher because the harp played “The Carnival of the Animals”, that she introduced us to.

Hanging out in churches – very worth it.

m2010 108 (2)

The most simple House of God I visited was Norröra’s chapel

m2010 029 (2)

In a Swedish church, it is not uncommon to have a children’s corner

m2010 053 (2)

Also, you can donate money by Swish (an app that lets you text money)

m2010 054 (2)

Blidö Church

033 (2)

My friend Henrik who played a concert at Brännkyrka church where I showed up as a surprise fan/groupie

029 (2)

Brännkyrka Church

018 (2)

Djurö Church

Church

039-2

I am baptized and raised a Catholic, found a spiritual home in the Swedish-Lutheran church and attend Protestant service in Germany. I suppose I qualify as multiconfessional! What was definitely missing on my list though was going to a real gospel service. So this Sunday, Emily and I went to St Augustine. I have never been in the minority with my whiteness – but this church was definitely an African American parish. Such an interesting experience! The church was crowded with people, young and old, and the gospel choir, although small, and the musicians really got the atmosphere Europeans try to recreate in their gospel choirs going. During the general intercessions, they prayed for the homeless and explicitly named two men which I thought was so nice. They also prayed for „our country in these times of fear and insecurity, especially for immigrants“.

The candles at the Saint Mary statue had the national colors / Apparently the booklet for mass is new few months, this one is for November to April 2017

In Germany and Sweden, churches get money from taxes and fees, but here they ask for donations. We had to listen to a CD after the sermon in which their cardinal made a long speech about why you should donate. Apparently this is a yearly thing called The Cardinal’s Appeal and on our seats, we had fancy bilingual (English and Spanish) envelopes in which you could put your donation. „Please acknowledge God’s blessing in your life with a contribution of 1000 dollars or more“, it said, „Donors who give at this level become part of the Appeal’s Circle of Hope“. Luckily, you could split that in 10 monthly payments and then it actually isn’t that much more than church tax.

The entire service was almost two hours and at the end they did what I remember from our parish in Michigan when I lived there and which I always have found particularily lovely: they asked those who were there the first time to stand up. We stood up and people welcomed us, gave us an envelope with information about the church and the priest said, „If you’re looking for a church home, we invite you to be part of our parish“.

Friend Advent

michellehelenjul

We also strolled across the Christmas Market

I am not particularily fond of Berlin. I find it big and dirty, it’s seem far-away and isolated to me, and it takes for ever to go from one place to another in the German capital. But – the city changes when I am with the right people. Berlin with Michelle becomes a cozy place, a city that I can (almost) imagine going to voluntarily.

We noticed today that this is the fourth year in a row that we have spent the first advent weekend together. That’s quite something if you consider that we have known each other for, yes, exactly, four Christmasses (but almost five years). The first one we spent together in Malmö watching the first episode of Julkalendern , the second we made paper hearts for my Christmas tree in Hamburg and last year, we decorated Michelle’s advent lights in Barcelona. This year, we had planned to attend service at the Swedish Church. We got up in time, hurried with breakfast and arrived at 10.59 a.m. Service is always at 11 a.m., in Hamburg, in Berlin, in Stockholm. (Not always in Skåne though.) We were all looking forward and had started singing our favorite Swedish advent songs at home. But when we got there, the pastors were walking out of the church, the last tones of the organ played. One single Sunday a year, the Berlin church has its service at 10. Only once a year, on the first advent Sunday. There we were, disappointedly looking at the people going out. Who saved the day? The church music director. He greeted us and we told him that we apparently had completely missed the 10-am-info online. „How about we go back and I play one song for you so you get into the advent mood?“ he offered. No sooner said than done – he sat down at the organ and played ”Bereden väg” (“Prepare the Royal Highway”), one of our absolute favorites, at our request. Blessed be he who came in the name of the Lord.

 

 

Close, but no cigar

The funny thing is that even though Copenhagen tried to make a bad impression on me with the wallet theft, it still hasn’t suceeded to become a real turn off to me. And it even rained all the time!

My reaction to Denmark is very peculiar. My brain is constantly trying to reconcile the fact that I can read most things and I can pick up some, but not really. It’s like my head is having a crisis meeting all the time, “Why don’t we understand this? It looks almost like Swedish!” That’s both slightly irritating and intriguing, the entire Danish experience for me is a close-to-the-mark-happening. It’s Scandinavian in its cultural practices but has its own eccentricities (hygge!), the weather is almost like in Sweden, some shop chains are the same, some food is similar but not quite, they say hei, which is almost hej, but at the same not at all the same pronounciation. Close, but no cigar.

Of course that spurs my ambition to improve my Danish knowledge and grasp of their culture. But really, I get so confused being with a German-Swedish-English crowd as my friends that I can’t even get my four words, hello, thank you, excuse me, goodbye in order in Danish but keep falling into Swedish. When I tried to read signs, it just sounded like I was making fun of Danish.

Copenhagen is somehow like a mixture of Stockholm and Amsterdam to me, maybe a tiny little bit less pretty but the people speaking Danish around oneself make up for it. (I love listening to Danish.) Something that I noticed particularily was that in all the cafés, restaurants and shops we were in, they played really nice music that exactly catered to my taste, a rather rare phenomenon. We stayed in a hostel that had the highly euphemistic name “Sleep in Heaven” and offered the charms of a prison cell. (Their bathrooms were quite okay, though.) After their beds, my bed at home felt like a five-star-hotel.

Here’s a collection of interesting things I observed in the Danish capital:

008-2

In one of the castles, they sell a card with lots of animals and their queen.

010-2

The Danish chain Tiger/TGR has changed its name to Flying Tiger and still has great ads. This one says, “Misunderstandings”.

011

Danes want their kids smart. So they sell educational books only, like this one about “The invisible world of microbes”

012-2

This store is called “Normal” and advertises with a person that refuses to shop there because he is unique. Let’s not question their marketing team.

015-2

If the Danish kids get tired of microbes, they can read about the housefly Astrid instead.

030-2

Maybe the Danes’ way to keep in shape is painting ceramic cupcakes instead of eating real cupcakes.

038-2

Danish interior design shops are heaven. Even their wrapping paper is worldclass.

039-2

048-2

On public transport, Copenhagen does not simply say, “Please be considerate to other travellers”. Instead, they make lots of, sometimes cryptic, statements. This one with the books reads, “Support the smallest one when things get shaky”. Another one said something along the lines of “Ping pong is fun”.

054-2

Because you always need a door painting warning you of colds.

Of course I also had to go to Borgen! You can hardly have missed my obsession with this brilliant TV show that is all about what happens in Christiansborg, short Borgen, the center of Danish politics. We took a short walk there on the way to the Black Diamond.

img_3063-2

PRESS RELEASE – On October 22, the government of Denmark signed an agreement with the Farmers Union of Sweden to grant further support to the dairy farming industry.

The agreement states that the Danish government will from now on sponsor the Swedish dairy industry in order to lessen the financial burden on the Swedish state. Danish Prime Minister Helen and Farmer Union Leader Malin signed the agreement at Christiansborg.

World leaders welcomed the news from Christiansborg, Denmark. “We appreciate the Nordics solving their issues without European financial support”, Jean-Marie Ducart, spokesman of the EU parliament said. “Today’s signing marks a significant development in the two Öresund nations’ collaborative efforts.”

Yes, we had some fun playing politics! The next fun, or rather impressive, stop was the so-called Black Diamond. It’s the Royal Library of Denmark and they chose to house it in a magnificent new building, the Black Diamond. Talk about appreciating literature!

img_3107-2img_3104-2img_3105-2

I was also recommended to look at Copenhagen’s Notre Dame, their cathedral. Man, these Danes sure have fancy churches! Their benches were luxuriously padded and they had small speakers at every seat. Some benches were even in communicative setting, facing each other instead of facing the altar.

031-2

Opposite the church were lots of to-die-for interior design stores. I was recently asked if I was “one of those interior design girls” and I guess I am? But who does not get excited when a store sells super pretty small boxes, adorable stickers or original clocks and cozy plaids?

028-2

Michelle and I taking a break after lots of walking

077-2

Copenhagen’s famous postcard motif

076-2 On Sunday, we went to a Escape Room Game. I’ve always wanted to try that and it was smart that I tried it with my friends because I would never have gotten out of that room again. The game was a lesson for me in how bad I am at solving puzzles. But it was still quite fun! You get locked in a room and have to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles and escape within a set time limit. The room usually consists of a locked door, objects to manipulate, and hidden clues or secret compartments. The players must use the objects to interact with other items in the room to reveal a way to escape. In our case, we were in a monk’s room and the monk had disappeared. It was in a basement and I was busy being scared by the noises while my friends elegantly solved one mystery after the other. I was impressed! Once we had gotten out (it took us 57,5 minutes and the guide said we were not bad), our minds were set on finding codes and keys to open locks as you can see on the photo above where we inspect the love locks at Nyhavn.073-2

On Sunday morning, we had some time and while the others went to see the Little Mermaid (Tabea: “I’ve heard so much about how disappointingly small it is so I actually had such low expectations that I did not get disappointed!”), I took to the Swedish Church. You have to take the few opportunities you get! It was very interesting because I’ve only attended mass in Swedish Churches in Germany and Sweden and it was a bit different here in Denmark. It was much more traditional and Catholic, but at the same time the pastor (the oldest female pastor I’ve encountered) had a Lion-King-simile in her sermon and explicitly welcomed the noisy children (“The children may be heard, we will manage that.”).

062-2059-2

013-2

One of Denmark’s legendary kings was Christian IV. He is called Christian the Conqueror in Denmark and Christian the Tyrant in Sweden. Go figure. He also put “C4” on everything he built, like this tower. It reminded me of CR7.

Closing comment: I wouldn’t mind if one of my friends moved to Copenhagen and I had to regularily visit.

Del I-think-I-lost-track i citatsamlingen

Snart kommer julsångarna.

– Jag har redan börjat!

Det finns inget normalt läge med dig när det gäller sång. Det är inte det här, nu börjar vi sakta kicka igång julstämningen. Det är fullt ös medvetslös direkt!

Egentligen är vi som ett band ihop. Du är jukeboxen och jag är dansaren!

I’m a Northern Light

022-2

In German, you call the people who hail from the North of Germany Nordlichter, Northern Lights. („The North“ is a region that is defined rather subjectively because if you ask me, everything down till Osnabrück and Hanover is the North while my aunt who lives north of Hamburg would probably say everything south of Bremen is basically northern Italy).

This weekend, I did a tour through „my“ parts of the North, just to realize – yes, I am a Northern Light. I might have been born in the South and live all over the place (it happened the second time in half a year now that someone asked me where I live and I had briefly forgotten my town of residence). But it is when I read the road signs around Osnabrück that I feel home, it’s the central station of Bremen that makes my heart sing and it is Hamburg’s waters that I am drawn to. It’s the flat landscape and the people who understand personal space.

Ingrid (ah, being with Ingrid!) and I attended service at the Swedish, our, church this Sunday. There’s a new priest who has started working there and I was excited to see what she was like. She’s rather different from her predecessor – female, very young and from the South of Sweden. I liked her and she has a great taste in church hymns, more than half of the songs were favorites of mine, almost all by Frostenson (for the Swedish church insiders among us). Coming to church was like coming home, too, with all these people welcoming me like the lost daughter („Are you back in Hamburg, have you moved back now?“). Definitely worth getting up with 5 hours of sleep for that. And travelling 800 kilometres for breathing some of the same air as the Northern Lights. Worth all the miles that are between us.

005-2

Visited home and the cat

019-2

Hamburg, where people keep life buoys outside their houses

034-2

Guds kärlek är som stranden och som gräset, my favorite since childhood

039

Flying visit to wonderful Bremen

043

8 minutes from the central station….

045

…meeting Annika