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.

Life in transit

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One thing people never believe me is that I don’t enjoy traveling. But really just because I do it a lot or maybe exactly because I do it a lot, I don’t like it. I don’t like packing, I don’t like being on planes and trains and I do like my own bed. These current ten days, I really live life in transit though. After the Southern Germany trip for five days, I was home one day to hop on a plane to Berlin for two days. I’ll be back tomorrow for 12 hours to continue to Belgium. Let’s say my planning skills have been better.

I am in Berlin for work, adding some time to see Michelle and Ingrid. This morning when I came to my meeting at the embassy, I was delighted to be greeted by my former intern who now works at the embassy. It felt almost like home!

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Just one of many reminders that we are hanging out in the East of Berlin

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The evening I got to spend with Ingrid who now lives in super hipster Prenzlauer Berg. (To get there from the embassy only takes the same amount of time as flying to Berlin from Düsseldorf. Don’t you love traffic in the capital.) Everyone here either has to have a hipster beard or must be pregnant, it seems to be a rule. 

The neighborhood is very nice with lots of pretty restaurants and cafés. Also, the park area of only Prenzlauer Berg amounts to approximately the entire green area of Düsseldorf, or so it seems. And Ingrid didn’t even show me Volkspark Friedrichshain yet.

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Stop and smell the flowers.

A walk in the park with Heling

The Fatigue Week

 

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The Swedish colors fluttered for our dear Crown Princess

Other bloggers report from their glamorous party weekends (I think, I wouldn’t even know since I barely read them) and I always communicate a work week summary instead. What does that say about me?

This week has been characterized by almost unbearable sleep deficit, reduced staff at the office and an emotional state that was lenaphilipssonesque. But it’s also been a week that included Ingrid, a great work event and has an upcoming visit from my little girl cousins!

Ingrid was here! Less than 24 hours but still. She arrived shortly before midnight with nothing but her tiny handbag. She knows I’ll have everything else for her, including a night gown that she already knows, “I want to purple one again, please”.

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It was the first time she saw my Dizzel place and she agreed that I need art above my sofa

This week was also the Crown Princess’ Birthday which was a perfect excuse to host an after work event for our young professionals. We wooed them with prinsesstårta, Princess cake, which worked very, very well – we were like four times as many people as usual. I named our intern Princess After Work Project Manager and he even flew the flag – you can imagine how pleased I was. Another thing that goes on his merit list (yeah, he reads this) is that he went to buy me yoghurt today and introduced me to Icelandic Skyr (instead of yoghurt) –  delicious! It seems to be a mix of German Quark and normal yoghurt. Also, anything Icelandic feels right these days, doesn’t it? Huh! 9aawufqvvf6ga

 

 

Diamonds are a Swede’s best friend

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Mingling and networking is one main part of the whole thing

Last night, I learned about diamonds. Not the ones you expect in the rings you get for engagements and giving birth (1950s women stereotype, anyone?) – the ones that cut cars. Yes, industry uses diamonds to cut e.g. aluminium for cars because the carbide material is so solid it is the best tool for cutting. We held an event at a Swedish company that is the market leader for these things. The fascinating part was that we all are constantly using their products or rather the results of their products: whether you shave (they cut the razor blade strip steel), use your iPhone (they milled the phone’s shell), change your baby’s diapers (they cut the material that became the nappy) or  if you travel through the tunnel to England (they also make tools and those helped build the tunnel).

I also always enjoy people talking about something they really are interested in, especially when it is an uncommon passion like the passion for milling heads. Our guide would proudly go on and on about the smallest drill rod (0,1 mm calibre) and the 4000 milling heads it takes to cut out a plane. Diamonds sure are a Swede’s  best friend, considering that the company employs nearly 11,000 Swedes (and 50,000 worldwide!)

The only bad part was that on the way home, I happened to be on the tram that just did not move for 30 minutes. It literally took 40 minutes to travel 2 kilometres so I got home very late. This morning, I popped into the office frantically working off my to-do-list or rather transferring everything onto my computer that I would otherwise access online because I wanted to work on the train to Hamburg. Here’s a piece of free advice to all train companies: you would totally increase your attractiveness if you had internet on the train.

Despite the crying toddlers and loud ladies talking about their spa treatments in Swabian dialect on the train (because we all want to know in detail how the foot massage went), four hours passed rapidly with me pecking my keyboard. The deadline for our magazine is today and that is one of the tasks I very willingly dedicate my time to. Also, it’s great when you’re suddenly in Hamburg! I was greeted by Ingrid and we hung out at our old favorite café. Now I’ve just sent the last work emails from her kitchen and I’ll be off to Haha Hamm [Hamm is the name of the part of town) to see Ingrid perform stand up comedy. Sounds like a good Friday night, doesn’t it?

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Hamburg has the best stickers

BREAKING: Heling Agency to open branch in Dizzeldorf

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The renowed Heling Agency for Awesomeness is opening an office in West Germany Dizzeldorf as of 2016. The lease for the premises was signed today.

“We are relieved to finally have found a space that fits the requirements of Heling”, co-owner Helen said. The place is located in Eastern Dizzel in the up and coming district of Flingern-Nord or Flake Town as Heling calls the district based on its name that reminds the Swedish-speaker as the word flingor (flakes).

The Hamburg branch of the agency will continue to operate under Ingrid’s captaincy. Helen expects the cooperation to continue as sucessfully as before: “Our expansion is not a sign of growing apart but rather of spreading the word about Heling to all parts of Germany”.

Heling Agency was founded in 2014 and delivers international awesomeness. The clients of Heling Agency include leading names such as The Swedish Church and HE Postcard Services.

Ingrid was here!

Ingrid was here! So apparently I was not on here on my blog. We met in Cologne where I looked at event venues (yes, again, and yes, now I finally found all I needed) and which gave us the excellent opportunity to meet up with Maike and to introduce Julia and Ingrid to each other over a Persian dinner. Before dinner, Ingrid and I went to a café to give each other life updates. Apparently it was a gay café, so probably everyone thought we were a couple (which most people think anyway). The waiter, however, even had another assumption about us after he had heard us pepper the conversation with occasional English: “Are you practising for the TOEFL test?” We were not sure whether that was an insult or a compliment.

The Ecumenical Quartett (missing: Julia)

The Ecumenical Quartett (missing: Julia)

The next day, I forced Ingrid to go to the art supply store Boesner with me. In Hamburg, that store was around the corner and you could shop there. I should have suspected something when we had to go to the other side of the Rhine to an industrial area but it was not before we walked into the large store and saw the instructions that only people working with art are allowed to buy art supplies here. Thank God I had Ingrid with me who with her student ID managed to get us into Boesner. I think they should legalize consumption of art supplies for everyone.

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Ingrid’s illustration

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We used the supplies at night to print cards. Ingrid was very grumpy when we started but the evening activity grew on her during the creative process and in the end, we were both very proud. (And the apartment very messy.)

The day after, I worked the morning and had a long meeting about the next year’s editorial plan for our magazine, and I got a new desk. It is not only very pretty with its walnut colors, it can also rise and fall. I love it.

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Even it is rains most time in Dizzle-fall, the moment Ingrid came, the town brightened up and showed itself from its best side. 18 degrees Celsius! Eating lunch outside! And what did do? We went to the K21 – widely renowed museum for art of the 21st century. What attracted us was a special exhibition called “The Problem of God” and which claimed to address modern art’s use of Christian iconography. What we saw was a dead foal, many naked women, five corpses and a canvas showing nothing but black paint.The audio guide informed us that the exhibition’s title could be understood as either God’s Problem or The Humans’ Problem with God. We were not convinced. (a) in which [religious] tradition does God have problems? Isn’t God considered this supernatural almighty creature? b) If you mean God’s Problem why would you write The Problem of God? I don’t write The Problem of Helen either if I talk about my problems? Language experts comment below.)

Also, reprobative looks from the countless museum attendants were included in the admission upon entering every section of the exhibition. The only thing that saved the K21’s reputation was the amazing installation of a giant spider web in which the visitors could walk around.

This art work shows blood thrown on a canvas. Terrific.

This art work shows blood thrown on a canvas. Terrific.

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Ingrid dared to walk around there

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We also managed to look at an apartment, go to Café Love Handels [Café Hüftgold], attend a four-hour-long Nerd Nite and bake apple muffins because I was fika hostess this Friday at work. No, we did not go to bed before 2 a.m.

Dizzeldorfer Netze Sad balloon

Military Mom

Just when I thought, at least one thing will be in order, meaning my letter archive, it turned out I need 4 not 3 boxes. Oh well.

Just when I thought, at least one thing will be in order, meaning my letter archive, it turned out I need 4 not 3 boxes. Oh well.

Maybe providence is planning for me to marry someone from the U.S. Army. Not that I am particularily fond of armies (no yellow ribbon on my non-existent car) or have a record of dating U.S. citizens, but the fact that I am constantly packing and unpacking large moving boxes makes me think that maybe the point of all of this is that by the time I marry that U.S. Army Sergeant, I will have transformed into a Military Mom who is totally okay with moving every year. (In army language, they call it PCS (permanent change of station), you see I am educating myself already.)

Because these past days, I have spent hours and hours packing. What do I absolutely need in Düsseldorf the next four months? What do I need to be able to access very quickly in Hamburg? What can I ship and what do I need to carry with me? How do I store my ball gown?

You would think packing and moving would be very easy if you are renting out your apartment with furniture and have been frantically decluttering ever since you moved in. Let me tell you, it isn’t. It still means these moments of wanting to throw everything away (“I only need two dresses and one pair of shoes anyway!”), questioning your moving decision (“What am I supposed to do in a city where Ingrid does not live?”) and wanting to ask God if this is ever going to end (while knowing the answer, Hebrews 13,14).

The one thing that I have learned at least during my now, about 26 moves, (apart from free yourself from clutter!), is:

Label your boxes with numbers and keep a document in which you write down the content of the boxes in as much detail as possible. For example: “Box 4: Winter coats, green and grey, winter boots, velour and black, white woolen hat, black mittens”. It really helps because if you use your moving boxes more than once, writing on the boxes will become a complete mess. Also, with the document, you will be able to guide someone from a distance to locate your green winter coat whiile you sitting somewhere else with the document. “It’s on box 4, check for the box with the big 4 on it”. (Ingrid, now you know what is awaiting you once the winter makes its entry in Dizzle.)

After I carried a giant box to the parcel service (“Are you sure this is under 25 kg?”), I have given up for today and shall put my feet up and watch my latest TV discovery from Denmark: “Rita” is a series about a very outspoken and rebellious woman. Rita is a school teacher who is competent in the classroom, but seems to need a teacher of her own, when it comes to her personal life. It is an entertaining and distinctive show, and also, they speak Danish which is amazing in itself. You can watch it on Netflix. 

My everyday friend

The current period will most certainly not enter into my autobiography as the happiest one. But at least I have her around, my everyday friend.

Very often, when I am somewhere out of my apartment, I find myself thinking that I might have left the keys at home. But the panic can never fully unfurl because I instantly remember: she has got the keys to my home and I could call her. When I can’t reach her, she always calls back within minutes.

She has the spare keys and when I have been away, I often find flowers and beautifully written notes on my blue table upon return. Even the banal messages are carefully calligraphed, delighting the heart of the detail lover that I am.

I also notice her presence by the way she switches off a light that I forgot or deliberately left on. By the mess she unwittingly produces. By the packages that for once make it to my house because she runs to the delivery man that is already on his way to his car again because I was not home this time either.

Or when I come home to the sweet sound of my key just turning once instead of thrice because she is already there and has put the tea kettle on.

At times, she stops at the local bakery and arranges the raspberry tartes and cheesecakes beautifully on my tableware, decorated with a balloon or a lilac twig that she picked up somewhere.

Every single time I return from a trip by plane, she picks me up at the airport. Sometimes with balloons, a newly bought rubber tentacle, sometimes after waiting for an hour and making friends with a barista in the meantime.

Before she posts something on her blog, she asks me to pre-read it. And censor it.

When we talk, we regularly come up with new material for her comedy. Actually, maybe our lives might be just a big joke. (“This date may be monitored by my friend on the table next to you for evaluation and training purposes.”)

We both do not have a TV because we spent the nights in my living room discussing almost every matter at length. We can talk about our mutual acquaintances from ages ago when we both lived in Stockholm. She understands all things Swedish. And sometimes, she just sits on the green couch and I sit on the white couch and we both stare into our computers, cursing the slow internet connection. While feeling perfectly comfortable with each other.

When my friends and relatives come to visit, meeting her is usually one of the items of the agenda. Consequently, when I attend family gatherings, sometimes people ask me how she is doing. It makes me wonder if I must clarify that we are not a couple, something many, also non-relatives, have started to assume. We regularly confound shop assistants that cannot classify our relationship.

Before spending a significant amount of time with her, I used to wear pants, you would see me in jeans. She only wears dresses. Completely subconsciously, this has rubbed off on me. I have not worn pants since November. (Because dresses are so much more convenient.)

I have a guest bed that I never put back in the basement. Because sometimes, late at night, she decides to head home and then opens my balcony door to check the temperature. Like my cat, she sticks out her head, and like my cat, if it is cold, she’ll back into the warm room, informing me she’d rather sleep over than facing the night’s cold.

She shops groceries for me when I give her text-message-orders. She almost never makes me travel to her place and walk up the 350 stairs to her maisonette. Upon request, she draws personalized birthday cards for my loved ones. She uses my apartment as her office on some days and thus motivates me to tackle my paperwork. On Sundays, we sync our schedules for the week. When I go to choir or church, she asks me to report on what is happening. Her mother sends postcards with recipes for me. She loves my cat. She carries my heavy stuff now that I am not allowed to. And on my bad days when I feel fragile and scatter minded, she calls after me from the apartment’s doorstep into the stairwell: “Don’t forget you have to change trains at Barmbek!”

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Home Improvement: Einsatz in vier Wochen

004 Today is the day! After four weeks on the other side of the globe, immensely enjoying herself without me (scandalous!), Ingrid is coming home to Hamburg. Just some weeks before she left for her vacation, she had moved into her new, first own, apartment and we had since been talking about home improvement. Just remember our grown up trip to the home improvement store before Christmas.

Getting ready for Einsatz in vier Wochen.

Getting ready for Einsatz in vier Wochen.

The chauffeur zick-zacking through Hamburg.

The chauffeur zick-zacking through Hamburg.

Still, when she left, she had no table or duvet and of course that is part of a bohemian lifestyle but it also gave me and two of her friends the possibility to have our very own “Einsatz in vier Wochen”. In Germany, there is a very popular tv show called “Einsatz in vier Wänden” (Mission within four walls) where a voluptuous lady comes to your home and remodels it. We did not only have four walls, we even had four weeks and while our budget is not quite the same as the TV show’s, we still had great fun. Last Sunday, I forced asked Claudius and Niklas help me with that project. We zick-zack-drove through Hamburg (“Pick me up first, I live closer to Ingrid’s” “No, come by my house first, I am much closer to her house”), parked in forbidden spaces, and then I made the boys carry up the table Claudius had built five floors. I followed them with flowers and – of course – helium balloons as well as homemade food for the freezer. And a duvet. It is cold in Germany, you know. 005 007 009 If that’s no sign of we missed you, then I don’t know. Welcome home, Ingrid! 017

Spice up your life

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Whenever I cook for Ingrid and we sit down at the Blue Table and I expectantly look into her face as she takes the first bit, she always says, “Hm, it’s nice but as usual it is completely under-spiced”. Then she goes to retrieve all those different spices I have in my kitchen cabinet. My relationship with spices is Ingrid’s most common criticism about me. Now that she has abandoned me for a month I decided it was a good time to educate myself on spices.

Hamburg actually has a Spice Museum and maybe the randomness of that made me wanted to go there. Our new friend, the professional cook, accompanied me. Spicy’s Spice Museum (the name sounds a little less ridiculous in German) is located in the old storage city because obviously that is where spices were traded. You walk up one of those old buildings and pass oriental carpet shops and opposite the museum is a store that sells all kinds of exotic spices.

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As a historian, I was most interested to understand when spices came to Germany. I still wonder what food must have tasted like before salt, pepper and thyme. (Even though Ingrid would probably say my food tastes historically pre-spice.) It took quite some reading – the museum still uses very conventional display techniques – but I learned that Hamburg started trading spices in 1794 and is today one of the four biggest trade ports for spices. Germans actually did have peppar before the French Revolution, too, with the South Germans trading spice in the 1600s already. I do hope they sent some up here, too.

"Esteemed housewife!", this instruction starts.

“Esteemed housewife!”, this instruction starts.

My companion and I thought about what our favorite spice is and I decided mine is saffron. Because that is in Persian rice and in Swedish buns. And because it is a luxury. Saffron has always been so expensive that in the middle ages, traders sold fake saffron to Germans. Apparently things got so bad that the town of Nuremburg appointed saffron viewers to prevent spice fraud.

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I also learned that the pharao Ramses was buried with peppercorns in his nose which is perfectly visible on his x-rays and that pepper was extremely valueable even until well into the 1900s. Rich spice traders were therefore called “Pfeffersäcke” (pepper bags). And if you have a tooth ache and only have cloves in your house instead of Ibuprofen, you can put a clove into your cheeck pouch. It will make your tooth go numb and relieve your pain. If your breath smells bad, you need to chew on cardamom. I still wonder what it means that cardamom buns are so popular in Sweden.

Speaking about that,I learned that the Swedish word for cinnamon, kanel, refers to a special kind of cinnamon that even the Dutch and German call Canehl. As a spice-ignorant person I might also have been the last to understand that cinnamon is made from trees. Now I know!

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