Rhine Romantic

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“The river Rhine is flowing happily and waiting for you”, my choir friend from Hamburg wrote to me when I moved to D├╝sseldorf. Almost four years later, I finally appreciate this stream that Germans call “Father Rhine”. A and my very first trip was to Koblenz, where Rhine and Mosel meet, and I’ve been wanting to go to K├Ânigswinter for a long time, too. Both cities are made for Rhine Romantics – majestic mountains rising up behind the water, picturesque old towns with half-timbered houses and wine restaurants and the occasional ferry transporting tourists up and down the river. Simply “a poet’s dream”, as Heinrich von Kleist described the Rhine region.

K├Ânigswinter had two strong arguments for me: it is just an hour’s drive from home (more time to explore, less time to travel) and it has the Drachenfels mountain with a castle that is referred to as the Rhineland’s Neuschwanstein. Traffic slowed us down a little but we were immediately enchanted by this little town (that is actually not that little, I researched K├Ânigswinter has 30,000 inhabitants!). We started with strolling down the river promenade and having lunch. In the 1920s, this was a swanky resort to which not only Germans but also many British travelled. A little bit of that atmosphere is still reflected in some of the buildings.

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We looked through a nice interior store and as a Riverdale fan, I of course had to take a photo of this

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A pub that didn’t look very inviting had this hilarious sign saying, “Small Party Corner International Music”. We passed the place four times, always peeking in to see if the party corner was in use.

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I not only appreciate the Rhine now, I even appreciate Rhenish wisdom. One of my favorite sayings is “Jeder Jeck ist anders”, meaning “It takes all sorts to make a world”, and expressing a wonderful sense of tolerance

 

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K├Ânigswinter has lots of pretty little caf├ęs and stores

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“This is the little pub in our street”

Always seeking knowledge, we followed the signs to the Siebengebirge Museum that recounts the history of the region. Such a modern, interesting museum! It even had augmented reality parts. We learned that

the mountains were used as a stone pit,

that Lord Byron made K├Ânigswinter famous with his poem about Drachenfels (and they dedicated a square to him a couple of hundreds years later),

that there is a K├Ânigswinterer oven, a special kind of oven that apparently was a huge innovation, and

that the donkies that used to transport stones from the mountains were repurposed as tourist attractions when the stone pit was discontinued. A called this donkey structual change.

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Look at the world/ Everything all around us/Look at the world/ and marvel everyday

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A memory game of paintings and poems of the Rhine

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The famous oven

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Donkey!

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This fellow sat down with a glas of wine telling us about the history of the Rhine. He almost felt real!

When walking around in K├Ânigswinter you also see a mountain top with a large building on it: Petersberg. The Petersberg is a very historcial site as the Allies signed an agreement, the Petersberg Agreement, in 1949, granted Germany extended rights and led the Federal Republic away from occupation towards sovereignity. Feel the breath of history! Even today, the Hotel Petersberg is an official guest house of the German state. Queen Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela and Queen Margarethe of Denmark have stayed there.

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On Sunday, we went up the mythical mountain Drachenfels. It’s 321 meters high and we took the Zahnradbahn (rack railway), something that particularily excited A. It wasn’t any rack railway but the oldest still functioning one. From 1883! The mountain became a popular tourist destination thanks to the poems of aforementioned Lord Byron and German poets and legends surround the “Dragon’s Rock”. Its name stems from the most well known legend of The Nibelungs’ Song’s Siegfried who slayed a dragon here.

In 1883, a ridicuously wealthy banker came up with the idea to build a magnificent Disney castle halfway on the way to the mountain top. He never even lived there, he only had it to impress important friends that he received there.

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After continuing up the mountain, we reached the top where the ruins of a castle from the 1100s is located. The view is majestic. Absolutely stunning. The photo cannot do the landscape justice.

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You can see the Cologne Cathedral when you are up there! That’s 75 kilometers!

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I was also excited about the Zahnradbahn

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You could even buy a cake pan that shaped your cake in the silhouette of the Drachenfels

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And, of course, fika!

You know how D.C. and Kungstr├Ądg├ąrden are hyped for their cherry blossoms? Apparently, we have that too here! We went to Bonn, the former capital (and a charming international city), has two streets that are lined with cherry trees. Spectacular! It’s like a roof of pink flush. The downside? Everyone was there. All ages, all nations, all with smartphones. Some with high-end cameras and selfie sticks – those were the Instagram models I assume. The most awkward sight was maybe the young man going down on one knee amidst hundreds of tourists to propose to his girlfriend. But…she said yes!

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Stranded

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It is 8:30 a.m. and I am on the way to work. That isn’t completely unsual (albeit a little earlier than usual). The unusal part is that I won’t be in the office before lunchtime at the earliest. My commute is 4 hours today.

I went up north on Friday to give a speech at the Economic Affairs Council in the city where my aunt lives. So I took the opportunity to pay her a visit. (Which was great! We saw “On the basis of sex” about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, highly recommended.) Since I was already halfway to my parents’ place, I travelled further north to see them and be shown the progress on their new house.

At home, I almost obsessively listen to the radio news, A calls me “news addicted”. But when I am away and my routine falters, I eat D├Âner and disregard the news. This wouldn’t be a big problem usually. But it turned out to be yesterday when I had missed an important piece of information: a storm was coming.

I had decided to leave later in the day to be able to see my friend Jonna in Bremen which is en route home. When I got to the station at 5:30 p.m., I learned that no trains were running anymore. Had I left two hours earlier, I probably would’ve caught the last train going south. Now, it was just tons of passengeres stranded on the platforms. The storm had taken down trees and all train connections to North-Rhine-Westphalia had to be suspended for the entire day and night. “Shit’s really hit the fan down there”, the attendant on platform 8 informed me. “You can get to Osnabr├╝ck sometime today, but I don’t know when. What I do know is that you definitely will not get further than that until earliest tomorrow”.

There is no use fighting the weather, I figured. So I turned and got on the train back to my parents’ place. I was very lucky to be able to stay with them, I learned that other passengers with nowhere to go had to stay in the trains. All night!

So now I’m on the way to work again. Currently, I’ve made it as far as yesterday, Bremen. Things are looking better today though, my train has not yet been cancelled. I put “Inget stoppar oss nu” (Nothing’s gonna stop us now”, with the spot-on-line “You can forget Monday morning”) on my Spotify as an omen for me to get to my destination. Inget stoppar oss nu!

The Grande Dame of Westphalia

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Sometimes it takes the threat of “you can’t do this as easily anymore soon” to get me to finally do stuff I have been planning for a while. When I realized on my birthday that I had a completely free weekend ahead, I decided now is the time to go and visit my friend Julia in M├╝nster.

When I say “planning for a while” in this case, it means for 10 years. My friends Julia and Maike studied in M├╝nster and in all these years, I never made it there. It’s kind of embarassing. But on Sunday, I decided that no laundry and no paperwork was worth postponing the trip any longer. Luckily, Julia was spontaneous too. From D├╝sseldorf, M├╝nster is a mere 1:20 hours on the direct train. From Hamburg, it will be 2:20 hours (see above “not as easily”). The trip felt like a real little vacation, starting on the train. I sat next to a Luxembourgian lady and her French friend who presumed everyone around them spoke French, too. On my other side were two Persians and after eavesdropping for a while (not that I understand anything), I asked them if they spoke Farsi which struck up a very friendly conversation with them.
Julia picked me up from this international train and we walked to her new apartment. After months of desperate apartment hunting, she secured a very lovely place. Since I had lit a candle each Sunday in mass for her apartment search (yeah, I’m Catholic like that), I felt it was especially interesting to see the result. There, the first great thing with M├╝nster struck me: it’s walkable. They call M├╝nster the Grande Dame of Westphalia, but it’s not so grand you can’t walk everywhere it seems. There is nothing wrong with busses, but it’s really nice to be able to just stroll whereever you need to go.

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“Hands in the air!”

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“The best for the youth”, this inscription reads. There used to be a store for toys.

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Which in our case was the inner city. I suppose if a city is called “Monastery” (M├╝nster in German), you can guess it has strong Catholic influence. But I wasn’t prepared for just how many churches there are. I counted over 50 Catholic churches alone. There’s basically no spot in town where you can look up and not see a church tower. There are churches that have cages hanging from them in which they put the non-believers in the Middle Ages. There are churches with organs that seem to float. And the Cathedral’s entrance is called “Paradise Portal”. Occasionally a priest, all capped and gowned, walks by (or was it the Bishop?). Nuns on bikes pass you. Speaking of bikes, M├╝nster is known nationwide for it’s bike-friendliness. When I accidentally stepped on the bike lane, Julia pulled me aside. “Only non-M├╝nster-residents make that mistake”, she informed me. There is even a bike autobahn for cyclists.

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Very interesting bike rack

But apart from his bike fame, M├╝nster is most known for peace. (Or at least I really hope most people know.) After 30 years of bloody war on the European continent that took 8 million lives, it was in M├╝nster (and Osnabr├╝ck) the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648. The reason for having two cities was that the Catholics negotiated in M├╝nster while the Protestants came to Osnabr├╝ck, a bidenominational town.
It’s hard to grasp the magnitude of this treaty, but just imagine if everyone is at war with everyone forever and then suddenly they aren’t. The relief! And here I was, getting to step into the very room at M├╝nster Town Hall, looking at the original decor that also Axel Oxenstierna viewed when signing for Sweden that the long war was over. That’s quite something for a regular Sunday afternoon.
In that room they also displayed some artefacts, among them the Golden Chicken. It’s tied to a legend from the Thirty Years War Period but the most interesting part for me was that the chicken is actually a goblet (if you remove the head). A whole bottle of wine can be poured into the chicken. Important people who come to M├╝nster and sign the Golden Guestbook of the city get to drink from the chicken. I believe I just found a new item for my life’s bucket list.

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Peace Town Hall

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Visby is the partner city of M├╝nster!

We continued our walk through town to a burger restaurant. M├╝nster is so pretty and polished. I wonder where all the money comes from but they sure show it in their house facades. The cobble stones and the spring sunlight gave the city an atmosphere that is irresistable – combine that with the young and promising students everywhere and you just want to keep coming back. The burger place was really cool – instead of a seat, I got to sit on a swing. The waitress asked us “Would you like your burger with meat?” instead of the much more common exchange, “Do you have a vegetarian alternative?” Every burger was offered as vegan, too.

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Before I had to leave again, we took the opportunity to see an installation by famous German artist Gerhard Richter. One of the many churches had been profaned and now serves as a unique space for art. There, Richter has put up a 48-kg-pendulum 29-metre-long cable. It is a Foucault pendulum and despite reading the info sheet, I still haven’t understood 100 % how it works. I do see the many levels on which you can view this artwork, though. Foucault’s pendulum was the experiment that proved the earth was moving, something the church denied for a long time. When you sit there, following the pendulum swing eternally, you almost must fall into meditation about the course of time. On both sides of the pendulum, grey giant double mirrors are put up that reflect the pendulum, the visitor and essentially each other. The reflection goes on into eternity like that. Perpetual movement.
I left M├╝nster with a promise to Julia to come back much earlier than 2029. I still have to see the Aa Lake!

Helen goes to Hollywood

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I only went to the US when they had Bush and Trump as presidents. For the summer, I am contemplating visiting the UK. Is this still tourism or political foreign aid for confused voters?

I did it! I finally did it! And boy was I nervous about it.

Yesterday, I booked my longest trip ever. Many people perceive me as a well-travelled, cosmopolitan person. Let me tell you, when I have to book a flight costing four figures to the other side of the world, I am like a village girl that has never even entered an airport. The excitement! The anxiety!

The reason for sitting on a plane for 15 hours are my friend Emily and my cousin Kiarmin. Frankly, I am starting to doubt if it was meant for us to go places that take so long to reach and to have friends and family in places that we formerly believed were the end of the world where you’d fall off the earth. But here came study abroad programs and there was no going back – and to be honest, it would be a massive drawback in my personal life not to know these people residing in the Far West.

So I am going to Los Angeles and Vancouver in April. I will be farther away than ever before, currently I feel alternately like a pioneer looking for gold and an astronaut going where no man has gone before. But I am also very excited to return to my third-favorite country, to eat chili with Emily, shop at Dressbarn (the grandma dress store I found last time), learn more about California, and to for the first time see Canada, o Canada, the Sweden of America, just with a better head of government.

In other news: My friend Bianca and I formed a book club last year and had our second meeting last night. We discussed “The Handmaid’s Tale” that was our first book. Well written, but so uncomfortable to read as a woman. Our next book is Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” which I started right away yesterday. So far it’s pretty good!

Movie Star, Movie Star

I hadn’t unpacked from my trip over New Year’s at my parents when I already packed again last Friday. Given my travel-averse personality, you can tell there must have been some serious incentive waiting for me. And you’re right. The ‘incentives’ had big eyes, contagious giggles, a princess dress and endearing declarations of affection for me. I visited my niece, princess dress and declarations, and nephew, big eyes and giggles, and seven hours of travelling seldom felt so worth it for 23 hours together.

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Yesterday marked a milestone for my niece and me because not only did we go on an adventure only we two for the first time, that adventure led us to her very first visit to the cinema. I love the movies and so I felt especially privileged to be the one to introduce her to motion pictures.┬áSometimes you’d think young children might not remember everything you do with them, but when we went to town, she told me again how she still thinks about “how when I visited you, we went to see the penguins and that was my favorite thing!”

Going to the cinema all the time myself, I would say I still appreciate the special atmosphere there, but it is nothing like seeing this environment through a child’s eyes for the first time. I explained how the ticket purchase works (“and here it says where we get to sit”), I helped select snacks (“let’s take the small bag of chips”) and I held her hand when walking in (“Helen, why is everything so dark in the cinema!”). I watched her as she sat on the edge of her seat with her mouth open in concentration during the film, and I explained to her the concept of the credits (“these are the names of the people who made the coffee for the actors”). The whole experience made such an impression that I climbed in rank so much, my niece asked me on the way back, “Can I sleep in your bed tonight? I really want to sleep in your bed tonight.”

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After the cinema, we went into the small town and looked at shops.

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The reason I am able to write this blog post is that A gave me a new laptop (!) for Christmas. It is wonderfully light (lighter than a MacBook Air which had previously always been my point of reference) and it boots up so quickly I can’t keep up. (Another reason I can write this blog post is that A is cooking dinner tonight.)

 

Traveling East, North and backwards

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Work and friends had me go to Berlin from Wednesday to Sunday. I was travelling from the far West of Germany to the fast East, basically from Holland to Poland. What I didn’t realize was that I was also going from 2018 to 1998. Fashion seems to return every 20 years, but really did anyone believe the ugliest items of the Nineties were to reemerge? I didn’t think wearing pants that are way too short, jeans jackets that are way too big and fanny packs would ever make their comeback. But Berlin people want to be avantgarde-cool at all times even if it looks perfectly ridiculous.

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One of the many nineties people

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I had the opportunity to see the exhibition on the Gurlitt Nazi Art Theft.

My stay included looking at locations from tunnels to tipis, attending a design event at the embassy, visiting a startup lab, and meeting with Ingrid, Michelle, Malin, and my cousin Felix. Malin had come to Berlin for our annual 2MH-weekend and we showed her the German capital for the first time. Even though I hope I will never have to move to Berlin, I will say that their second-hand-shops are really well curated, their hipster streets have the coolest caf├ęs, their markets cater to my needs and they have Dussmann, a stationery and book store (that calls itself a “Culture Shop”) that I would go to every week if I could.

It has become a rule now that if I travel, I will catch a cold. This time was no exception, I returned sick and had less than two days to recuperate before my plane to Stockholm lifted on Tuesday, for work. It was my shortest trip to Sweden ever and one of my sweetest. Short enough to just take in the nice things, to import V├Ąsterbottenost (very important), and (more important) to spend some evening hours with my dear friend Bianca. Less than 24 hours after arrival, I returned to Dizzel, feeling like I now had travelled to the Eighties.

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This is where I worked yesterday. Can you guess where?

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Oh, Lidl…

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The Swedish news were all about children names the state refused and parents fighting against it. Who wants to name their kid superfastjellyfish?!

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Already miss this one a lot lot lot

I’ve been in Eighties-D├╝sseldorf for 19 hours when┬á I am leaving again, and again to Berlin. How much do you have to be home in order to make renting an apartment worthwhile? Asking for a friend.