The Day I gave the Swedish Prime Minister a Goat

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There are four days in my work year where I cannot be sick. This year one of those days took place in Berlin and so last week, I travelled to the German capital. Paris, Darmstadt, Berlin, Osnabrück in less than a week, including cancelled flights and other troubles. But I made it and at first, things were going rather smooth – until I, when getting ready for the networking boat trip we had arranged – made one wrong move. In German, we call this “Witch Shot” and a lumbago really feels like some evil power has seized you. But this was one of the four days when I cannot be indisposed so Diclofenac became my friend.

And actually maybe also adrenaline because I do believe the levels of that hormone are high in my body when I rush between people and places, organizing last minutes things like missing whiskey bottles or speakers stuck on airports. (What I couldn’t do anything about was the 32 degree heat that people had to endure as soon as they ventured outside of our air conditioned venue.)

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But all went well. At our dinner, we had a famous key note speaker, the former Swedish Prime Minister. Leading up to the event, I had sat in the office and wondered what to give him as a thank you present. When the evening came, my boss handed me the present and asked me to explain to the Prime Minister. “So we’ve been thinking”, I said to him, “what you’d like. But flowers are such a hassle to take on the plane to Stockholm. And you can’t bring liquids onboard. So we concluded we would give you a goat! Because that is so easy to take with you, right?” He looked at me in friendly confusion. “Well, actually it’s not you that gets to keep the goat”, I enlighted him. “We made a donation for a goat in your name for a family in need”, I said and handed him his gift certificate. He seemed very pleased – and I was delighted, too to have given a goat to a politican for the first time.

I also got to give away an award for the first time! My juniors and I have instituted a badge of honor for those facilitating junior engagement in the business community, and I, together with the chair of the junior network, got to award it.

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Very tired after a very full day in the elevator to the (unneccessarily) huge suite I was upgraded to

I went to bed at 3 a.m. but was up only a few hours later because I had the best brunch date: Ingrid! She met me in the park, me bringing unhealthy croissants and she bringing healthy fruit – and a polaroid camera!

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It might sound odd but I am rather glad to be back in my own home and to not have any travel scheduled for almost a month. Finally, I have time to catch up on things – I didn’t even have a single bottle of milk at home anymore – and live up to my long-neglected fika duty at work. Gotta run and bake that banana bread!

Ah, Paname!

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My point with going to Paris from Düsseldorf was that it’s so convienent I would have to do it now while I live here. To not have to travel super far if I live somewhere else later in life. To be honest, after this, my third time, in the City of Lights, I expected to be through with the French capital. Been there, done that, can now go to, say, Edinburgh. Maybe Paris sensed that because she sure gave her all to charm me and this morning when I woke up, I said, „I really don’t wanna leave“.

Because who would want to leave a place that has the perfect temperature (never below 20, never above 25 degrees), these amazingly stylish people (I think they have better hairdressers in France than we do?), the food (I bought a regular piece of fruit at a regular supermarket and it tasted 100 % better than at home) and the overall flair of surprisingly laid-back, savoir-vivre attitude?

As this was my third visit, I had done the Notre-Dame and Louvre league of sights earlier so we went to see Sainte Chapelle instead. Described as a gem of gothic art, it instills a profound sense of awe in the visitor stepping inside this cathedral of church art. You stand surrounded by giant colored windows that were crafted in the 13th century and can’t help but wonder how much work went into this. I’ve actually never seen something similar and I believe I have been in a few churches.

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From this real church we proceeded to what A called the Cathedral of Consumerism, Galeries Lafayette. Not because we felt we needed to purchase Burberry toddler clothes, pre-printed shopping lists or retro monchichis (they still exist!?), but because it a) has a free terrace with a good view of Paris and b) boasts with a beautiful dome that you can marvel at from all floors of the shopping center. It looked more like an opera house than a mall but nevertheless was so worth the visit.

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Before we went to Paris, I had asked friends who are former Parisians for recommendations. This is why in the evening, A found himself being guided to an unsuspected little side street close to Temple into a tucked away little restaurant. At Au fils des saisons, we enjoyed French dinner that we only partly understood from the menu, compelling the waiter to assure us with the words, „fromage – cheese!“ It was very tasty.

One of my reasons for wanting to go to Paris was that I wanted to see Monet’s Water Lilies in real life for once. Nine years ago I was standing in front of the Musée d’Orsay on that trip’s last day which must have been a Monday – the day the museum is closed. Finally, finally I now got to go. After two hours of looking at Renoir, Manet and Degas, we were out of the impressionist section and I said, „Do the Water Lilies have their own room that we missed?“

The thing is – they have their whole own museum and it is not the Musée d’Orsay. That one has only one smaller Water Lily painting which happened to be borrowed by Water Lilies Museum, also called the Orangerie. Suddenly it made sense to me that they sold combination tickets to both museums.

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A: “This looks like one of these stock photos of people at work”

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This lady literally took a photo a e-v-e-r-y painting instead of looking at it

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Tuileries

So we took a walk through the Tuileries (what’s up with all the Parisian parks being so awesome? Why aren’t our parks like that?) and all the toil of walking all day, of taking in information and art, of trying to find one’s way left me when I stood and blocked my ears with my fingers to not hear the countless tourists giving their company directions on how to take their photo in front of one of the most famous paintings in history. I was there in Giverny and almost felt the coolness of the water and the peace of the lilies swimming, saw small animals and imagined faces on the water’s reflection.

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Assuming art in the wrong place seemed to be a theme of this trip because on Sunday we found ourselves in the Jardin du Luxembourg, ready to rilke as we called reciting the poem „The panther“ that famous poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote. We had just rilked the first verse, I started doubting A’s second verse and googled the correct order – to find that Rilke had not written the poem in the Jardin du Luxembourg. No, he wrote „The Panther“ in the Jardin des Plantes. What a Water Lily moment…! Luckily, the Jardin du Luxembourg was highly enjoyable too, and actually, Rilke wrote his „Carousell“ here. So we were not rilking completely without cause!

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Lush and green in the Jardin du Luxembourg

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In the Jardin, kids set out their boats in the fountain

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It seems there is after all a market fo advertising products with Swedishness even in France

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In France, all ad boards now say that the photos are photoshopped

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Sace Coeur where the people gather at night and sing and perform and watch the sunset

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The Sunday sunset I saw from the Thalys train on the way home and I fear I said at least four times how much less of a hassle I felt it was to just get on the direct train instead of having to fly to Paris. It feels so close I, consumed with a resurgence of amitié franco-allemande, would want to go back, well, next weekend.

Little Paris, Big Paris

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Some people call Düsseldorf Little Paris, possibly because it has a reputation for fashion. One of the amazing things about Little Paris is that is is very close to Big Paris. Once I had realized that it literally takes the same time to go to Paris as it takes to Hamburg (a route I’ve commuted weekly during my first months in Dizzel!), I knew I could not let this chance of locational advantage pass. So I talked A into going to Paris with me. (“It’s our first-year-anniversary then”, “I have been wanting to go for years”, “I’ve missed the Musée d’Orsay last time I was there”)

This morning we took the tram with all the people going to work – just instead of going to a dull office, we actually went to Paris. Just like that. In 3 hours 40 minutes, passing Cologne, Aachen, Liege, Brussels. I felt very continental.

Apparently the route is rather popular and the train was almost fully booked. Behind us was a lady who travelled to Versailles regularly to attend “the absolutely wonderful concerts there” and the French girl who worked in Little Paris but went to attend a French friend’s wedding. Next to us, a middle-aged German (A says he looked like Leland Stottlemeyer) oriented us about his way of life by talking on his cell phone about his new car “that unfortunately I can’t pick up myself in Zuffenhausen” and his golf club that fell to pieces.

Eventually in Paris, we made our way through the bustle of Gare du Nord to what I assume to be the 7th arrondissement where our hotel is. A picked it and he apparently paid special attention to choosing an auberge that had nice, individualized interior design because he’s learned I like that. The area we live in seems very charming and as we wandered around we found that they seem to only have specialized shops: one for belts, one for shirts, three (?!) for swimwear. We ended up at a typical French bistro that actually also was a kiosk. I spotted several people that looked like Parisian textbook characters and an adorable little dog that belonged to the bistro. So stay tuned for what else we’ll encounter on this trip in Big Paris…!

 

Ora et labora et in omnibus glorificetur dominus

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“Why on earth would you do that?” and “Oh, I can’t wait to read the blog post on that” were the two reactions I got when I told people no, I couldn’t attend that party, no, I wasn’t going to that event, no, I couldn’t travel to this amazing destination because I was going to spend four days at a nunnery.

My high school was run by nuns and since then, I have had a fondness for sisters. Already back then, after deciding at age 13 that I could not become a nun myself, I resolved that if I ever needed peace and quiet and a place to think, I would knock on the doors of a convent. So I emailed them and asked if I could do the “ora et labora” program, which means you work with the nuns and, if you want to, attend their prayers.

Today’s German nunneries are a bit like retirement homes plus lots of Jesus. Apart from four women, I only met ladies born in the 1930s or 1940s. You think that sounds awfully boring? Think again. These nuns entered the order before Vatican II – the great ecclesiastical council in the 1960s – and could tell me about what changed in their lives afterwards.

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Beautiful church windows

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I cleaned four large ones

Did you know nuns were not allowed to choose their name but instead were given one? After Vatican II, they were allowed to change back to their maiden name, as they call their Christian name, and today, they get to propose their name themselves. I now know this because my “host nun” was even younger than me and told me.

I now know what a real attitude of gratitude is because there were the two sisters who sat with me during all meals. Over 80 and not able to walk well anymore, one of them unexpectedly sighed at lunch and said, “Isn’t life just beautiful?” and her sister replied, “It sure is.”

I now know nuns don’t just accept every teaching they are presented because there was the nun who, when we discussed the Scripture about God being the good shepherd, said, “Actually, I kind of mind being called a sheep in this metaphor!” And the nun who shook her head about the current quarrel among German bishops whether or not divorcees and protestants may join in communion, and agitatedly said, “Jesus would never have denied them that!”

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The little waterfall outside my winow

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Bike tour through the nunnery’s surroundings

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These fish were very hungry and as soon as one came near, they would come up and hope for food

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My evening hangout

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Part-time nun strolling through the garden, behind me the nunnery’s guest house

Convents are transformative. From my normal life including getting up at the latest possible, surviving the commute-road-battle, working at a screen for hours, chores and a Netflix episode at night, I went to attending prayer at 6:15 a.m., commuting for 45 seconds in the corridor, cleaning the crypt, reading psalms, and watching the sun go down in the abbey garden, sitting next to the graves of sisters long gone. (“Say hi when you go to the graves!”, my table nun joked.)

Convents also have, I have always found, a particular peaceful atmosphere. Located on the top of a hill in the (surprisingly beautiful!) Sauerland region, one was safe from all bustle. No city noise, no crowds. Just nature and heavenly tranquility. I recommend it.

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“And lead us not into temptation”: The nunnery snack bar

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The convent is located next to an official bike route that follows the Ruhr river

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I decided to bike the first few kilometres home

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There was even art on the bike path

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Proof that nothing could upset me when I just had left the convent:

The train arrived, lots of people boarded. I got on as the last person with my bike. When I turned around to pick up my baggage that was still on the platform, the automatic doors closed before me. (If you stick your arm in the door, it will crush your arm, not halt.) The train started moving, my suitcase stayed on the platform, my bike and I travelled. So I scrambled through the entire, very crowded train until I reached the train driver and politely with a serenity only the nunnery could’ve given me, explained my situation to him. “Would you please inform someone that my suitcase is not a bomb?” I asked. He told me the schedule was designed that he had 20 seconds (!) to stop at that station (making it nearly impossible for everyone to get onboard, especially for my luggage). Half an hour later, he informed me my suitcase would now travel after me. The little black thing had become an unaccompanied minor! I had to wait an hour longer than planned to secure our reunion but then a cheerful train driver hoisted my precious bag out of his window. Thank God!

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90 minutes at the station in the glamorous town of Schwerte – I got to read almost the entirety of magazines in their newspaper store!

 

 

 

 

A shark-free day

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Yesterday morning, I completely flabbergasted A. So much that even several hours later, he would not stop talking about it. What had happened?

“If you want to get the ferry to the island, you need to get up and be ready in twenty minutes”, he had said and, much to his astonishment, I immediately jumped out of the bed and twenty minutes later was the one rushing him to the car. Who’s this girl?!, he reportedly thought because usually I am not the one wanting to hurry anywhere in the morning, especially not when on holiday.

But if a landlubber like A agrees to go to the North Sea with me, I of course want to go. He understood that I need to hear the soothing sound of the sea, breathe the fresh air of the bracing climate, and marvel at the island horizon. So we went to the East Frisian island of Langeoog.

Langeoog is nestled between the coastal wetlands and the sea, covers barely 20 square kilometres, and it advertises itself with being “shark-free” and “fairtrade”. My mother had advised to have 30 minutes between getting to the ferry terminal and getting on the ferry. We had eight. (I’m still proud we made it.) It’s only half an hour on the ferry until you get to the island and that’s quite an advantage of my parents’ home’s location. In Dizzel, you need at least a little over two hours to get to the sea and that’s the Dutch coast and not an island. I am, and I notice this with every day I grow older, a Northern German, and I secretly love the red-brick buildings and the road signs with funny names like Carolinensiel, Dunum or Dangast.

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These houses…

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…are a fraud!

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Love locks on Langeoog gone rational: instead of two lovers’ name, this one says, “Conference April 2017”

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The oldestlove locks ever?

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This house was for sale. A estimated the exact correct price (we checked online later).

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Home for the holiday

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Dutch influence

London? Mallorca? Croatia? Those were the destinations we discussed for a spring holiday in the beginning of the year. Where did we end up? Oldenburg. And it’s better than ever!

The reasons why we went here are practical and sentimental: it’s easy to get here by car, we get free accomodation (that has hotel standard, thanks, mom!) and maybe most importantly I get to see my cat. My parents took off to Rome and we waved them off, occupying the house for a few days now. Before, I never liked Oldenburg that much. It’s okay, but it wasn’t anything that charmed me. Yesterday, we spent a day in the city and either I changed, or A adds to the atmosphere, or a lot of new lovely places opened up. Or, actually, maybe all of the above.

We strolled through the many small streets with countless shopping opportunities, checked out the abundance of delightful cafés and restaurants and even got a whole-day-parking spot for an amount of euros that in Dizzel would cover two hours. (A says, “One and a half!”)

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Where I’ve been

 

You know something is wrong with your blogging routines when your mother says, “You were in Stockholm? I didn’t even know you went to Sweden!”

So, yes – I was in Stockholm for work and our event started at 8 a.m. which meant I had to leave the house before 7. Marita was legitimately impressed with me managing to be up and running at what is a super early time for me otherwise. But – if you start early you can do so much! By mid-afternoon, I had checked off the event and four meetings off my list!

Social media had informed the world that I was in the Capital of Scandinavia which prompted a former co-worker to write to me. “I assume you are already completely overbooked?”, she asked and when I replied I actually was free for several hours on more than one day, I think she secretly thought some alien had taken possession of what used to be Helen. Keeping a somewhat freer schedule (compared to other people it might still have been cramped) was nice though because it gave space to this kind of spontaneity.

Dance like a mother

What also enabled spontaneity was the fact that my host parents, eeh, friends Marita and Fredrik are the most hospitable people on earth. Not only do I always get to live there and feel very much at home (actually, I kind of want to move to their house so I can always have that life), I also get to have spontaneous parties in their apartment. Saturday saw the finals of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish pre-selection for Eurovision which is a huge deal in the country. I asked if we could watch it. Sure! And maybe could William join? Certainly! Now Paul is free, too, and would like to come. That’s not a problem! Evelina can only meet during the evening, how about we invite her too? Go ahead, the more, the merrier! Umm, she’d have to bring her dog. We love dogs! 

You get the idea.

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The songs had rather interesting lyrics: “I’m gonna dance like a mother, you hear my party voice” or “I feel your love coming at me like a train on a track”.

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Long-ice-skating

I don’t even remember how I came up with the idea that I want to test winter sports. Maybe it was something I read about how when you live in Sweden, you have to embrace the winter instead of hating the cold. Or maybe I was worried I wouldn’t get to tag along the next time my friends would plan a ski holiday. In any case, I suggested to go to a friluftsgård and rent equipment to do cross country skiing. Only that when we got there, they didn’t have that kind of skis and instead offered us långfärdskridskor. Living up to my new-found adventuresomeness, I was all like, “Let’s try it!” Långfärdskridskor are a kind of ice skates, just that their blades are longer than normal. Let’s just say this: Marita and Julia were not only much better than me, they were also very supportive. (“Well done, Helen! Look at you, going two metres all by yourself! Hooray!”)

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It does not look like it but I was actually a bit better at sledding than at ice skating

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The muscle soreness from one hour on the ice was, to say the very least, intense for two days

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There is an association for people who are extra sensitive to electricity in Sweden. In the church at the ski place, they arrange technology-free concerts and lunches. All electricity is turned off and phones may not be taken inside.

Shopping

I was very surprised to find that there was close to nothing worth buying this time in the Swedish stores. Some patterns and cuts were made for people either much more or much less boheme than me (depending on the store and item).

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Second-hand stores in Stockholm. Look like noble boutiques in Germany.

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I strolled through Fältöversten which used to be my local mall. They’ve redone it beautifully and now they put it light therapy lamps and are counting down to equinox,

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“Now we’re counting the days until they are longer than the nights”

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Small wooden Easter witches to hang up

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Something I noticed with great interest was the popping up of very nice restaurants in transit. At the airport, at the central station – bars and restaurants you’d actually want to hang out at.

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Not a bar in transit, instead the Stockholm Brunch Club Bianca took me to, adding, “This place is very instagramable!”

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