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!

Spring in my step

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Every day on my way to work I pass two magnolia trees. I didn’t even release this until this week because suddenly, the trees are in bloom. Suddenly, they are bursting with color, showing off their gorgeous pink that you already spot from afar.

Suddenly, the evenings become light. The weather is in double digits degrees. I changed my winter coat for my spring coat and these past days, I didn’t have to care about gloves at all and instead had to remember my sunglasses. Spring is here and hopefully it will stay. I have seasonal dementia, I always forget what the different seasons feel like and so every year, I am also equally delighted by spring and realize it’s so definitely my favorite season.

At work today, we opened the windows to let in a light breeze and my co-worker said, “Så skönt med  lite ljummen fläkt” (How nice with wafting breezes) and as “ljumma fläkt” is my cue, I started humming, only to be joined by the intern, proclaiming summer spendlor.

And while I at the same time suffer from spring tiredness and not everything goes my way (you don’t even want to see that negative list), I have a bit of spring in my step. Maybe it’s also because in two days, I’ll get to go on my first work trip to Stockholm which will prolong into a weekend of seeing many of my dear ones.

“It was the coldest winter we had ever known. But with the sun finally warm again, against her skin, Kristina grows stronger every day. She tells me how exhiliarated she feels to hear the first drops of melted snow falling from the roof. And how joyous to see the first tender blades of grass! She says she has never felt more alive.” (Kristina från Duvemåla)

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När det var tentaperiod och jag pluggade tittade jag mycket på Sagan om Ringen. För Frodo hade det alltid ännu värre än jag.

Han har lite Helentendenser.

Ich muss gucken, wie meine Laune ist, ich hab dafür so eine App.

Jag är lite autistisk med mitt skrivbord. – Jag skulle säga du är drottningen över din arbetsplats!

kollega 1: Ja, vad är ditt favoritlag då, Helen?!

– Elfsborg!

kollega 2: Jag kan ingenting om fotboll men det där köper inte ens jag.

Wir sollten von dem Mantel nicht verlangen, was er nicht leisten kann.

Die beiden Teile sind aus der selben Farbfamilie, haben aber nicht die gleiche Temperatur, deswegen solltest du sie nicht kaufen.

Never gonna give EU up

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Today marks two important birthdays: Ingrid‘s 29th and the EU’s 60th. I love them both. Acutally I love the EU so much I attended the March for Europe today with my choir friend. All those marches in D.C. have reignited my political spark. Thank you, Donald.

It wasn’t a march at all which was a bit disappointing (then again, this Saturday there is so much gong on in downtown Dizzel, you can’t possibly march anywhere) but it was a nice manifestation that there are still people who care whether we are a strong union or lots of small nationalistic states.

We also became the interest of almost every attending photographer/cameraman, both professional and amateur, because we were the only ones refering to the 60th birthday. So now not only does the EU give me money, rights and friends – even fame!

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photo: Rheinische Post

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Also happening today: start of the countdown to the Grand Depart of the Tour de France which will be in Düsseldorf, of all bike-unfriendly places

After speeches (not the best way to enthuse the masses for the EU) and European pop music (minus Bob Dylan’s song), the university’s choir and orchestra appeared and performed the European anthem, “Ode to Joy” that we were asked to sing along to. As we, next to the river Rhine connecting five European countries and Switzerland, chanted “What routine has split asunder, thy enchantment will rebind”, lots of blue balloons with golden stars were released into the perfect blue sky. We didn’t manage to get a hold of one as there were too few. At the very same moment, the same thing was done in 50 other European cities. “We sent 200 balloons to Bucharest”, the host on stage informed us. “So that they could do the same”.

In the rain

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Yesterday, intense rain in Düsseldorf. A woman can’t continue her way and seeks shelter under an awning. A businessman with a huge umbrella comes by and calls, “Also to the central station?” Together they move along to the train.

 

 

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!