The Fifth Season

When I, on a trip like my last, get to gather so many exciting impressions, I almost inevitably lag behind with my written reflection on them. In my head, I still want to address more D.C. museums, our birthday party with strangers, Times Square, the High Line, the New York Public Library, and the view from the new World Trade Center, the tragic Ground Zero museum and Ellis Island, an exceptional historical site.

We’ll see when I get to that because not only am I struggling with jetlag, it’s also carnival. Which as I’ve learned means exceptional circumstances under which some common rules don’t apply (one example is that the train staff is exceptionally nice and gives you candy). Carnival is one of the most celebrated events in Germany and where I currently live is home to all the carnival strongholds. It’s a whole science, this carnival business that they call the Fifth Season and that you either have to be born/raised into or master with alcohol and high spirits. Carnival is also highly political: the parade floats usually have clear political messages. And yes, we saw a few Trumps.

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William, who has celebrated Cologne Carnival more often than me, came to Germany dressed up as a cactus to party / Gerrit’s costume was interpreted differently depending on who he talked to with guesses ranging from “Irish person” to “Diamond” / my friend Maike was a squirrel and occassionally would offer people a (real!) peanut on the dancefloor

As I had decided to really give this local celebration a chance and go all in this year, I familiarized myself with the songs (all sung in local dialect), got myself a costume in Manhattan, and took three days off work. That was a wise decision because I came home this morning at 7:30 a.m. after ending up at a drum and bass party in Cologne-Deutz (read: the middle of nowhere). I despise electronic music – but many personal traits and behavioral repertoires are overriden by the carnival season which is a time of wild celebration…

On day two (carnival partying goes from Thursday to Tuesday but I only managed to go out two days), Gerrit, Anna‘s big brother and one of my favorite people in the universe, came to join me and my friends, later uniting us with his friends (that’s how the drum and bass happened.) I was absolutely thrilled to have him there (well, sometimes he’d disappear to a pizza place for 90 minutes without me noticing until he was back because I was so caught up in the moment). The next day my friends informed me via text message about how he’s such a great guy. Totally agree. We spent the Sunday sleeping, eating and taking a walk to expose ourselves to daylight and now he’s back to Cologne to continue the party. Hur orkar dagens ungdomar? Meanwhile, I’m still occupied trying to remove all the confetti in my hair. And in my clothes. And in my bed. And in my sink.

 

Adventures with auntie

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Dizzel got some snow this week but it didn’t stay

You know when your blog intervals have become too long when your parents write to you asking if you are still alive. I am but terribly busy. Like the kind of my-fridge-is-empty-and-I-haven’t-replied-to-my-whatsapps-in-5-days-busy.

Last weekend, I had my aunt visiting which was fun. Once again, Düsseldorf suddenly becomes much nicer when I have someone I like with me and that person sees Dizzel through fresh eyes. That weekend, I had also planned to take my aunt to Cologne because I had tickets to the radio choir concert. The Western Germany Radio Choir (WDR Rundfunkchor) has a Swedish conductor and they sang a concert called „Northern Lights“ with only Swedish choir music. Of course I had to attend!

The Deutsche Bahn whose a main sponsor I probably am by now had sent me a voucher inviting me to bring along a friend for free on a train ride. Great, I thought, let’s use that on the way to Cologne, we’ll even be able to take the fast train ICE without it costing much. On the train, my aunt told me a gripping story of a bike theft in her youth, and I looked out the window occasionally to check where we were. Köln-Deutz, very good, I thought, next stop is ours. But when the train started moving again, they announced, „Ladies and Gentlemen, our next stop is Frankfurt Airport“.

I have seldom felt so trapped in a vehicle. Most long distance trains around Dizzel stop all the time because there are just so many major cities everywhere. Not this one. This one went straight for an hour to a different federal state. And we were on it with concert tickets for Cologne.

An hour later we got off the train with pouding hearts and sprinted to the next platform to board the train back immediately. It only cost us 100 euros to go back…But we made it in time for the concert! The ”Northern Lights” were, mildly put, very modern. No „Vänlig grönska“ or anything in their programme, mostly spheric sounds. On the way back to the central station, we popped in the famous Cologne Cathedral – like I almost always do when I’m there and it’s always worth it. I don’t find the cathedral pretty or anything, but there is some kind of special energy in it. And special events. That night, a Saturday at 10 p.m., they had ”Nightfever” going on which essentially was Eucharstic Adoration. But if they’d call it that, I assume a lot less young people would attend. Now, there was lots of young adults coming in, sitting down, listening to the live music and enjoying the many, many candles.

And to get even more Catholic I am now on my way to Munich. We’re having an event there that I’ve been arranging and let me tell you calling the catering down there felt like calling abroad. ”Grüß Sie Gott!”, they would chirp into the phone with their massive accent. For breakfast, we’ll eat Weißwurst (Bavarian veal sausage).

This week we hosted a very successful after work event with our juniors, I booked a flight for a work trip to Stockholm in March and I found a beautifully lit building on a secret mission

Even on the train we work of course, here I’m proofreading / We have a new intern! We nicknamed him Lil’ Pesto and chuckle everytime we call him that. He’d rather be called praktikantjäveln but that name was taken (voluntarily) by his predecessor. (Lil’ Pesto originates from the meme that suggests your rapper name is the last thing you ate with Lil’ in front of it. Kind regards, Lil’ Müsli.)

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På väg till tågrestaurangen: Alltså jag känner mig så kontinental som ska äta på tåget nu!

Der ist vielleicht gar nicht so farblos wie er erscheint. Innerlich ist der vielleicht ein menschlisches Holi-Festival!

More from the Forbidden City

That’s actually what they call each other! The Forbidden City – if you are from Dizzel it’s Cologne and I guess vice versa. A Hamburg acquaintance moved to Cologne and attended a party in Dizzel during her first week. She was handed a dark beer which is a speciality of Dizzel while Cologne brews light beer, so-called Kölsch. Still unfamiliar with the Great Beer War, she said, “Oh so there is dark Kölsch, too?” The Dizzelers were not amused.

So here’s some more impressions of Cologne.

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On a door they put a sticker which says in rhyme: “I advise you, lock the door, latest at 10 pm”.

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Advice stickers seem to be a thing because this imperative demands you to love your cats.

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This sign literally says “jewelery landscaping”. I suppose they want to say that this park is just for decorational purposes. Unlike all these other urban green areas in Cologne where people grow carrots (not).

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The allegedly best ice cream store has a grandiose ceiling and offers currant sorbet and caramel-salty-popcorn-chocolate flavor.

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A house facades with lots of heads

DüKö

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Shop window in Cologne: “Carpe Diem! (Just kidding)”

This past week has been crazy. When I was cleaning today, I was surprised at how my apartment had not really gotten messy and I realized that is because I hardly have been here.

I was in Cologne a lot, two days for work, one day for not-work. Cologne is the size of Stockholm, roughly, and in some ways my trips there remind me of my frequent travels from Uppsala to Stockholm some years ago. The difference is just that a) Uppsala-Stockholm is 80 kilometres and cost 10 euros while Dizzel-Cologne is 30 kilometres and costs 12 euros b) my cool friends all seem to live in Cologne c) Dizzel does not at all have the charms Uppsala enchanted me with. Actually, it is a with a bit of bitterness that I spend time in Cologne because things there just seem to much more, hm, alive. But living in Cologne and commuting to Dizzel is completely out of the question for me. Many people do that but I am unwilling to spend that time in a crowded train.

Actually, I would not be surprised if Düsseldorf and Cologne in 150 years would be one city. Of course it has to do with how demographics develop but already today the borders in this region become blurred – where does Düsseldorf end and Duisburg start? It seems to be a matter of a few metres. At work, we already call our region DüKö (Cologne is Köln in Germany) which I would find a proper silly name for a Carnival Mega Town. We are clearly ahead of our times. (Natives of Dü and Kö would protest heavily against that idea, though.)

I got a delicious yoghurt at the car headquarters where they also had beautiful pillows and our Business Breakfast came with very Swedish catering

Anyway, what did I do there then? For work, I had a meeting with a large Swedish car manufacturer, I tried to figure out some Google Analytics related stuff, helped to hold a Business Breakfast with a Swedish office furniture company where we learned interesting facts about colors in the workplace (did you know you should have orange in your welcoming area?) and gathered my young professional group.

“Kvinnor kan!” is a phrase my co-worker exclaims semi-ironically when we get something done that old-fashioned people believe only male humans can do. [“Women are capable”] In Cologne, they have the only Handwerkerinnenhaus in Germany which translates to Craftswomen’s House. You guessed it, it is only women teaching women/girls there. And they teach everything you could possibly want to be able to do – I attended the basic do it yourself course though.

I now have a better idea of how electric stuff works and I can drill into tiles! The most fascinating part of this course was probably how strongly I reacted to the teachers being women. It is one thing if a man tells you a woman can do this just as well but it is, strangely, something else to see a trained carpenter before you. As a bonus, they had some hilarious info material with funny slogans, see photographic evidence below.

At night, my friend Maike took me to the Cologne Belgian Quarter where they have seriously awesome shops and where the people I’ve been trying to find seem to hang out: the post-25-year-old work entrants who don’t yet have kids and spend every evening at home. Something which was particularily striking was that a lot of men we saw were very tall. And by very tall I mean 195 cm and taller.

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These lights outside the bars of the Belgian Quarter kept changing color

 

 

 

“Are you Helen?”

Annain Dizzel

This weekend, Anna visited me. We partially grew up together and we still love being around each other. I was made her patron at her confirmation this year and my gift was that we would go to the Taizé night in Cologne together. Before that, we spent a day in sunny Dizzeldorf, trying to complete a city rally. The questions were tough, the solution word was ridiculously easy (“Welcome to Düsseldorf”, lame). We learned that Düsseldorf had the high-rise office building in all of Germany, built 1922, and discovered a very picturesque little square in the middle of town, well hidden behind two churches.

As we were standing there, trying to figure out where to go next to find out the next solution, two men stopped. “Helen? Are you Helen?”, one of them said, removing his sunglasses. My brain immediately started chattering. Was this someone from choir? Maybe from work? Have I met him at some newcomers event? Was this someone I knew from out of Düsseldorf? “Ralf”, he said and strechted out his hand. It dawned on me. Of course! This was my mother’s cousin, his mother had told me he lived here and she took my details then to inform him. I apparently have predisposition to meet formerly unknown relatives in the most unexpected places (see here). But how on earth did this friendly fellow recognize me when walking by given the fact that he has not seen me for, like, 25 years? “You resemble your aunt”. That’s not the worst.

Anna and I also went up the Rhine Tower overlooking town

Anna and I also went up the Rhine Tower overlooking town

The Taizé Night was impressive and meditative

The Taizé Night was impressive and meditative

The Cologne Marathon

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There were literally only 12 hours between my two last train rides and given that there was a whole night in between, that’s not a lot of awake time. “I feel like I live on the ICE train”, I said to my co-worker this morning when I quickly tried to sort out the most important things before hopping on the train again. “That is not just a feeling”, she replied, “that is the truth”.

She has a point and I am starting to move very nonchalantly in the Deutsche Bahn Lounge reserved for frequent travellers (you get free drinks, papers and wifi here, in Hamburg they even give you cake.) After a weekend with the stations Münster-Osnabrück-Hamburg-Düsseldorf, I went to Cologne. Düsseldorf and Cologne cultivate a long-established rivalry which I find a bit silly. Cologne is almost The Forbidden City for a real Dizzeldorfer and I have subconsciously conformed to that rule because I never travelled to our neighbor so far, mostly because I don’t want to go even further South than I already am. But today I had a good reason to go: I had to check out as many festive venues as possible in one afternoon in order to decide where to arrange our June event. That is what I meant by Cologne Marathon (don’t tell me you thought I was running a real marathon).

I passed the Rhine and the Cathedral and saw the beautiful Botanic Gardens. Cologne even has a prettier central station than us. Some of my coworkers commute from Cologne daily and after experiencing it once today (constant delays, masses of people) I understand it even less than before. But then again, I am the exemplified anti-commuter. Anyway, I have a clear favorite for the dinner part of the June event, now I just have to find a venue for the day…

A gorgeous house in the Botanicall Garden

A gorgeous house in the Botanical Garden

Welcome to the Nineties!

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One should travel more in one’s own country. Because there are amazing things to discover. Like yesterday, when I made my long, expensive way far out west to Bonn and Cologne. I thought I was only travelling to a different part of Germany but it turned out I travelled in time as well.

My friend Maike recently moved to Bonn and this weekend, was throwing her first party. Since it is my New Year’s resolution to party more, I promised to come. They told me,Bonn was only some twenty minutes away from Cologne (not true, it takes forever to get there) and Bonn used to be the German capital. Now you are all like, “What do you mean, capital, isn’t Berlin the capital?!” Well, it is now and was then but when Germany was divided, someone decided that Bonn should be where the German government should have its seat. So from 1949 to the Nineties, Bonn was the center of power.

When I stepped off the train in Bonn, I truly felt like I had been catapulted back into just that time. It is like Bonn tries to conserve its time of importance by leaving everything as it was then. The signs in the metro – and the metro itself – look exactly like when I was 5. The logos on the signs are not even in use anymore. It is very fascinating. It is just like time travelling!

These signs show the way to all the federal institutions which remind the visitor that this used to be the capital.

These signs show the way to all the federal institutions which remind the visitor that this used to be the capital.

1992, I'd say.

1992, I’d say.

Speaking of time travelling, the first thing I thought about when I heard Bonn was of course the Haus der Geschichte, History’s House, a museum located in Bonn. I have always wanted to go there and so I rushed in there 90 minutes before they closed (I also took a major detour to go see it). Let me tell you, this museum is an excellent use of tax money. The museum is free (read: tax-financed) and there is countless museum staff everywhere. And they are even friendly when you approach them.

The museum itself is paradise for any person that cares about Germany, the past, the present or generally the world. Luckily, the Haus der Geschichte is a part of Bonn that has arrived in the 2000s which is clearly reflected in the museums forms of display. You are walked through 1945 to 2013ish and I can tell you, until 1960 I constantly had goose bumps. The original films of little children saying their names and “I am looking for my parents” from the end of the war when so many families were separated are just as touching as the posters the American allies put up, saying, “People of Berlin, the world looks to you and you are not alone, we Americans stand with you and will defend your freedom”. (During the time of the Luftbrücke when the US allies transported food into West Berlin by plane because the Russians decided to, with a blockade, try and starve West Berlin into joining socialism.) I also learned, by the way, that Sweden sent care packages with toys and food for the German children.

Haus der Geschichte

Haus der Geschichte

I had the pleasure of being hosted by #mydanishintern in her lovely new apartment in Cologne. The photo shows Cologne's most famous landmark, the impressiv cathedral

I had the pleasure of being hosted by #mydanishintern in her lovely new apartment in Cologne. The photo shows Cologne’s most famous landmark, the impressiv cathedral

Reunited with #mydanishintern, an excellent host

Reunited with #mydanishintern, an excellent host

I think all countries’ history is interesting, but Germany’s history lies closer to my heart for patriotic reasons and because it is more intriguing as so much happened – both absolutely shocking and terrifying things and unprecedented success. The spectrum is just very large.

If you ever go to Cologne or Bonn, make sure to pay History’s House a visit. Everything in there is just so interesting!

To put it with the great German poet Schiller’s words (in my mediocre translation),

“Every day, history becomes dearer to me. I wish I had studied nothing but history for ten years, I believe I would be a whole different person”.

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Train on the way to Bonnn, writing an article.

On the way from Bonn, carpooling in a very dirty 1990s car with 9 people.

On the way from Bonn, carpooling in a very dirty 1990s car with 9 people.

P.S.: I also realized on my journey that I am so much more of a train person than a car person. I am close to saying that I would rather stay home than go by car, but that might be putting a bit too drastically.