4 Things that are abundant in Dizzelland of Plenty

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Since I moved to Düsseldorf more than two (?!) years ago, I’ve been observing the peculiarities of this city. There are some things that are scarce here (unpopulated green areas and sensible drivers) but there are also things that are extraordinarily abundant in Dizzel.

  1. Hairdressers

Given that I struggle with finding a hairdresser that really suits me, you would think maybe there is just not that much choice. But on the contrary, the density of hairdressers in Düssseldorf is absolutely amazing. I have lived in a few places, and also in, let’s say, place where vanity fairs were definitely going on. But never have I noticed so many hairdressers in a city. If I walk 500 metres from my house, I pass 5 hairdressers. By the time I get to work, I probably have seen around 27.

  1. Post boxes

This might not be relevant to the digital native super modern person. But for me who writes letters with real stamps, Düsseldorf is post box heaven. Turn left and walk 2 minutes – there’s your post box. Oh, you’d rather walk right for 4 minutes? Voila your little yellow box that will accept your love letter. In Germany, this is very unsual – usually you have to google before where there could possibly still be a place to leave your letters. Not in Düsseldorf. Here, post box anxiety is not an issue.

  1. Cars

Sometimes I feel like Düsseldorf is stuck in the Fifties. In a time before the green party was a thing, before we realized maybe cities should be for human beings and not only for automobiles. There are so many cars in Düsseldorf, even people who visit me comment on it. Because of a crazy amount of car commuters, the population seems to have completely accepted that traffic jams are God-given. I try to survive between all the steel. But sometimes I can hardly breathe.

  1. Well-dressed people

Germany does not have a particularily high standard when it comes to style and when I rate fashion choices, I compare them to Sweden. The fact that Düsseldorfers manage to regularily rank high in that comparison should say a lot. It is certainly mostly around the inner city and it’s boulevards, but there some people, especially ladies, know how to dress. Sometimes it’s a joy to look at!

 

Thirty

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I think my doctor jinxed it. Last Monday when I came to see her for some lab result, she said, “You look splendid!” Less than 48 hours later, I was in bed with a terrible cold, not looking splendid at all anymore.

If you wondered how I spent my 30th birthday, you now know: I sneezed, I coughed, I endured a headache, and yes, I felt a bit sorry for myself. Thankfully, there were factors that alleviated the misery. Like the unexpected flower delivery from Sweden, the fact that A had taken the day off and spent it with me, or the enormous rose bouquet my choir gave me.

The next days I spent actively working on improving my health. I know that a cold takes seven to ten days regardless of what you do (I mean, I’ve had like 4 colds in three months now so I am an experienced sufferer). But I still made ginger shots (without alcohol, obviously), drank hot lemon tea and took a hot bath with eukalyptus. “Until Saturday, I will stick to home remedies”, I informed A. “Because for the weekend, I need to be able to have another level of escalation, a chemical weapon”. He looked at me as if my cold was Kim Jong Un.

But I had to be on my feet on Saturday. Because on Saturday, the party that I had been planning for 18 months would finally happen. The celebration that I had hashtagged #statthochzeit, which means instead of a wedding. The festivity that would bring together nearly 100 guests from all over Europe. The birthday bash that should mark my entering my glorious 30s.

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A helped me get these amazing balloons

It was quite a happening, and I could be part of it thanks to Aspirin Complex. My friends Malin, Michelle, Ingrid and Axel who arrived a day before helped me with all the preparations, blowing up 80 balloons, ordering me to rest and save my energy for the night, transporting rum in a shopping cart and (this was a surprise to me) installing a photo booth.

And then it all happened. You would think as a professional event manager I would be able to visualize 100 people but I kept being amazed when more and more and more guests poured into the party location I had rented. So many friends from all walks of life, my parents, my stepsister, a bunch of “my” juniors, my former intern and my entire maternal family. People I had not seen for years, friends I just made a year ago, and companions that have known me since I was small.

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This is my mom and her sisters. They rewrote the lyrics to “Thank you for the music” and performed a song for and about me. Don’t you wish you had a family like mine?

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These two held a wonderful speech

The brain is, I learned, designed to be able to take in groups of 20 people. Maybe that is why I remember what people said to me but not who said it. Perhaps it’s why I kept feeling I was falling short of actually socializing with everyone who had come all the way to Dizzel for me. But that’s okay because the guests told me afterwards that they had great conversations with each other and how great the music was (thanks to always-amazing DJ Ingrid who never let the dance floor get empty even for just a minute). Upon leaving, more than one requested that I’d have another party like this when I turn 35. (Spoiler alert: I will need to recover from this until I am 50.)

The morning after, we had brunch with those who had travelled from outside of Dizzel. Despite two hours of sleep and a cold, I made it through brunch and through cleaning up the party place (thanks to the help of A, Ingrid and my cousin Felix), but at 6 p.m. I fell asleep.

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So. many. presents. And that’s actually not even all of them. Thank you!

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I let go of my age by releasing these balloons into the sky. Deep symbolism, eh?

 

Hanner!

“Did you grow?” “Has your voice gotten higher?” “You’re like a totally different person?!”

Those were the things my friend Hanna uttered yesterday when she came to Düsseldorf to see me after more than five years. We met when studying in Bremen and instantly connected over the fact that people mispronounced our names (calling her Hanner and me Helln). Then, I moved to Sweden and she moved to Korea. Yesterday, she came all the way to see me: after a 20+ hour-journey, she got on a train through half of Germany to see me for one night. That’s what I call friendship committment!

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We went to Gill’s, the bar where I am kind of a regular (let’s say he still recognizes me though it’s been a while)

She experienced what Ingrid calls a dizzelpointment: After a few minutes in downtown, she asked me, “Shouldn’t Düsseldorf be, ehm, like prettier?” We all wish that but instead of taking her to nice tourist spots, I took her home and served her German Abendbrot, something that only an expat German like Hanna can fully appreciate. It’s difficult to catch up on 5 years in a few hours, but we did our best and had a wonderful night. When she had to leave at 7 a.m. this morning, I was so sad to already see her go. But I myself had to get going too because today I spent in Frankfurt, hosting one of my four biggest annual events.

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This also happened this week: my extra co-worker got a hairdresser to come during lunch hours and she cut half of the office’s hair, including mine.

P.S.: It is Nobel Week! As a Nobel nerd, I loved when someone at my event asked during lunch if the laureate for literature had been announced. And what an announcement: ever since I read “The Remains of the Day” in class 12 years ago, I’ve said that it won’t take too long until Kazuo Ishiguro will be awarded the Nobel Prize. I won my bet today – and I still know the first sentence of that novel by heart.

Zons

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“Where did you go, to the zone?” is what my friend Maike asked when I told her about my most recent endeavor to acquaint myself with the Dizzel surroundings. Zons, the name of the village we visited, sounds a bit like zone or Zonis which is what the people living in the GDR were, ironically, called. Zons does not have the least to do with all that, though.

The reason I knew about Zons is Lil’ Pesto’s girlfriend who a few months ago took Lil’ Pesto on a romantic bike tour there. We skipped the athletic part with the bike and went there on a Saturday afternoon which in itself, to me, felt very adult and thus super accomplished to me. I rarely feel I have my life together to the extent that I can do anything else but clean and cook on Saturdays. And now look at me, adulting all over the place.  

Zons was formely known as Fortress Zons which already hints at why the 5,000-people-place with town rights exists: In 1372 the Archbishop of Cologne moved the Rhine toll castle upstream to Zons protecting it with walls and moats and granting Zons town privileges in 1373. Big deal back then!

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Below the mill, there is a giant field of nessles. Don’t fall, I guess.

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I will remember Zons as the town of pretty window shutters.

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Apple Pie and Coffee. Many adult, such grown up, much mature, wow. Also notice the real old people in the background.

Nowadays you can walk around the fortified Friedestrom Castle and marvel at the old mill or enjoy meandering on the dike next to the Rhine that almost feels like home, i.e. Northern Germany.

After visiting all sights, the church (including a wedding with a Schützenverein), the mill, the castle, the tourist information, and writing postcards, our adultness culminated in getting coffee and cake at the market square (that might have been the size of my apartment because Zons is tiny).

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Zons even has adorable sheep

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Norddeich or Zons?

Two years in the Far West

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How far is it to Duisburg, Köln and Dortmund where my friends reside? (Like, for real, not what bahn.de wants me to believe.)

Where does one find Swedish kanelbullar for fika? Which cinema is cozy and beautiful like Passage Kino or Abaton? Which museum comes up with the most unexpected exhibitions? Which part of town is like Uhlenhorst, Winterhude, Kungsholmen and Östermalm?

Which bar does one go to to live that young urban professional lifestyle with rosé wine and slightly superficial conversation among smart looking people? And, who will be able to divert my attention from the large gap being away from Irreplacable Ingrid leaves?

Those were the questions I asked myself here exactly two years ago. Today marks my two-year-anniversary in Düsseldorf. It feels like time has flown by but also it feels like so much has happened. I know now that it is oh-too-far to Köln. I have turned into somewhat of a regular at the Bambi cinema. Uhlenhorst has become Pempelfort. And nobody, of course, has been able to replace Ingrid.

And, finally in 2017, my integration into the Rhineland has made significant progress. How I know that? Let’s see:

  1. I have learned what the Rhenish Dehnungs-i is

My co-workers smiled amused when I talked about Troisdorf the first time. (If you are wondering why I even talk about that place, they had an Ilon Wikland exhibit.) I pronounced it like it’s written, only to be answered, “Trooooosdorf, Helen!” My confused face was met with a lesson in Rhenian language: oi in this part of Germany is just a long o, not an oi. Now you know, in case you want to ask for the way to Grevenbroich.

2. I have installed the Rheinbahn app

I avoid taking public transportation in this city as much as I can. I am the one who cycles in pouring rain and minus 15 degrees. (Yes, I am exaggerating that, it never gets that cold here.) I hardly know the routes of the trams and busses. Sometimes, mostly when I have visitors who, surprisingly enough do not bring their bikes all the way to Dizzel, I have to take the train though. And every single time, for almost two years, I stood in front of the ticket machine only to find that it exclusively accepts coins. The whole thing with carrying cash is already a problem for me but who has 13,80 euro in coins? Time and again, this was a problem and there was some fare-dodging because I couldn’t pay with card or bills. Eventually, I surrendered and installed the Rheinbahn app. Now I can buy tickets on the phone. It’s great. It’s amazing. It’s made me a little more Düsseldorf.

3. Carnival

My integration is closely tied to Carnival. I remember telling my friends, “I’ll go all in for Carnival this year. If I hate that, too, I’ll break up with the Rhineland”. It was an ultimatum I gave my region of residence: If you’re at all interested in keeping me, give me a good Carnival experience. And, everyone knows that by now, Cologne delivered a great Carnival. (I’ll skip explaining the whole  controversy about going to the forbidden city.) Since Carnival, things kept going up – I even kind of don’t mind seeing the Rhine Tower when coming back from wherever I traveled to.

Now, I have become so integrated that I arrange my life around the Carnival dates. And I give people offended looks who seriously ask me if my 30th birthday party is colliding with Carnival. Only amateurs would not look up Shrove Monday before.

Europe Day

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Every street looked like this, every street.

When I was in New York City, I was very surprised how I didn’t feel it was very crowded. I had expected the city to overwhelm me with its many inhabitants and tourists, to give me some kind of claustrophobia with all the people and skyscrapers. It didn’t at all and after being in downtown Düsseldorf a sunny Saturday today, I start realizing that maybe it’s because this town has made me used to crowded spaces and people everywhere. I don’t even know where all these people come from in Düsseldorf, it feels like all of the Netherlands come to visit and every single local citizen also takes out to the street of the Old Town. It’s literally more crowded than New York City – how is that even possible?!

But I will admit, if it had been 20 % less people, this would have been a perfect day. Suddenly, unexpectedly, spring returned today and bathed the cobblestone streets in sunshine, bringing out the lush trees in the alleys. I didn’t have time to sit down at one of the crowded restaurants until late in the afternoon though because I had agreed to help with promoting Sweden at the annual Europe Day. I borrowed a folkdräkt from a friend, put on my Tre kronor charm Andrea once gave me and was ready to sell dozens of cinnamon buns.

It was an interesting experience: a Dutch young man, probably part of a stag night, stopped and sang for me, an old lady told me her story of interrailing to Narvik as a young girl, another lady asked me why Crown Princess Victoria wasn’t there (“She’s so nice, she’s so incredibly nice!”), a Frenchman who had lived on Söder tried his Swedish on me and people asked us, somewhat accusatory, why we were not all blondes.

It was not that easy to sell the buns because when Europe gets together, there is serious competition: Belgian waffles, Portuguese natas, British fish ‘n’ chips, Spanish churros. Whatever you say tomorrow, Marine, I’ll always love being United in Diversity.

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Becoming German

 

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Quite a few of my friends and acquaintances have changed nationality these past years. Some time ago, many European countries changed the rules about naturalization and no longer make you choose whether you want to be French or Finnish,  Swedish or Spanish, Danish or Dutch, Belgian or Bulgarian. This is an interesting psychological issue because I have never met anyone so far that would readily have relinquished their original citizenship despite the fact that it wouldn’t actually disadvantage them in their lives that they live in another country than their home state anyway. Dual citizenship is now the thing to have, it’s like the prolongation of Erasmus in a way. Just like I’ve almost never been to a wedding where two people from the same country married each other is an effect of the internationalization efforts of the EU so is the taking on new passports.

Now it was time for my friend Anthony to take that step. Coming from Britian almost ten years ago, he has integrated in Germany ideally. He married a German girl, he learned German up to level C2, he keeps a large map of Germany in his study, he recycles his garbage like a pro and he hands in his taxes on January 1st. I told him that if he, in the process of applying for German citizenship, needed someone to testify that he was a very suitable to become German, I’d gladly be called to the stand.

With Brexit upon us, he applied to become German last summer and it almost took a year for them to grant him citizenship. Hello, what happened to German efficiency? Now finally, however, he is one of us. A national, allowed to vote! Last Monday we went out to celebrate this milestone. I made him a card honoring this special occasion that was heavily inspired by the card I received years ago from my dear friend Malin when I acquired my personnummer in Stockholm. I also threw a big party then, something I am still trying to convince Anthony to do, too. In the meantime we celebrated with burgers at my new favorite bar. They charge 18 euros for a burger, which we noticed afterwards. Talk about a worthy celebration!

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This is what a German looks like, I guess!