The Big Five

My friend Emily once said, if I go on a trip, I should plan activities only every other day. Not so much to avoid overexertion, but because I’d need a day to blog in between. She is right! And when we came back from our most recent trip, I did not have that day in between which is why I am now a week late with my report on the most beautiful Bundesland in the world. (My aunts in the named Bundesland call it that, and I agree.)

A and I had planned to go away in April. I remember us first discussing this late in 2020. Should we go to Mallorca? A beach holiday as the last vacation without a child? Today it seems hilarious we even considered flying to a foreign country. We then planned going to Rügen, a large German island in the East. I really wanted to go to this popular seaside resort that became famous for its chalk coast that that painter Caspar David Friedrich eternalized. A week before our planned departure, we cancelled our booking. Our babymoon, we figured, would be spent in the Tiny House at home.

But then! Then Schleswig-Holstein announced they would open two regions for tourists on April 19. I was off work until April 22 and so we took the chance and, once tested, drove 90 minutes north to the outskirts of Schleswig. If you think that sounds unspectacular and too close to feel like a holiday, maybe you haven’t spent more than a year in isolation now. We were thrilled. We got to eat in a restaurant! We got to see different landscape! We got to sleep in a holiday home! Geez, we even went to a museum! My grandpa used to say, “Everything is relative” and once you’ve gone without these things, even small reintroductions of normalcy, even if they are around the corner and not in Mallorca, are relatively amazingly exciting.

Also, I have to say that Schleswig-Holstein simply is a nice place! A said it reminded him a bit of England, and I agree: it was very green and the small winding roads on which you can’t see who’s coming toward you, so you’re constantly a little scared for life, reminded me a lot of England.

So what did we do? First, we visited Eckernförde where the pedastrian area had the ideal amount of people. It was populated which was nice but not at all crammed. We strolled through town, saw their picturesque old houses, enjoyed the port atmosphere and ate fish at a restaurant.

Maritime walking in Eckernförde
What’s not to love?
You could apparently rent a crew on this boat and sail around
There is an old church in Eckernförde, one of its sights, and I found it interesting that they had put up a poster, imitating the “How to protect yourself against CoVid”-posters everywhere, that said, “How to protect your soul in CoVid-times”. Because, yeah, mental health matters.

After that we drove to our little vacation home. Not that little if you are used to the Tiny House though, it was roughly the same size but without all the Pax closets we have, ha. The place was exceptionally lovely. A came in and exclaimed, “This is the nicest holiday rental I’ve ever seen!” The loft-like apartment, which cannot be older than two years or so, looked out on trees and meadows and was built and furnished by architects. And it showed. Man, even the pans matched the color scheme! I am a sucker for interior design so of course I was delighted. (Also delighted that they had good beds. I often find sleeping in hotels or holiday homes hard when the mattresses are too soft. Not that I sleep great currently with the baby thinking 1 am is a good time for an intrautertine workout.)

There was a terrace and a bbq place, some play structures and a lot of calm in that small village. You could also say, there was little to do and it’s impossible to get to without a car. But we had a car and liked two days of calm. We watched “Made in Dagenham” and “Thunderforce” and ate hot dogs and pizza. These evenings were a particular treat because I had chosen the apartment also because of its sofa. At home, our sofa is too small for two people to put up their feet. As you see in the photo above, this was possible here. Very vacation-y! (I also made headway in “Livläkarens besök”, The Visit of the Royal Physician, a classic by P.O. Enquist, which I mention here to show I did not only watch movies and eat junk food, but am super intellectual.)

We took a walk to the nearby lake (EXCELLENT step counts those days on vacation) and learned that Schleswig-Holstein’s motto is “Forever undivided”.

On Day 2, we ventured out to Geltinger Birk, a nature reserve. My bonus co-worker had mentioned it earlier this spring and given that this was a great way to see something without risking too much human CoVid contact, we went there. And see something we did! We saw the Big Five: Galloway, bumble bee, wild horse, beetle and goose. Were you thinking elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhinoceros? Ah, come on who needs a safari far away when you can let your gaze and thoughts wander afar over eelgrass meadows and reed marshes, shallow wetlands and sparse areas of woodland, rare plants like sundew and adder´s tongue, flocks of twittering birds and shimmering dragonflies? (Okay, yes, I am quoting this from the tourist board’s website. But it doesn’t make it less true.) We took a 7 kilometre walk (A suggested taking the longer trail and the voice of reason (me) objected. Was he glad for that? Very much so when we arrived at the car again!) Something that I found particularily cool was that there are some small cabins and houses in the reserve and you can actually rent them. You can even rent the mill and spend your holiday in there!

Here, you could pay for berries in the berry season. This check out was close to a larger house where five children played kubb (a Swedish lawn game) in Astrid-Lindgreneqsue harmony

Galloways move in a very funny, cute way (full disclosure: these galloways were in Haithabu, not in the Birk. But we saw some in the Birk!)

After we’d walked until the evening in lovely weather, we paid Kappeln, one of the main towns in the region, a short visit. It appeared very charming but was starting to close for the night and we had a hot dog dinner planned at home so I just bought some postcards and decided we’d have to come back another time to fully experience the town. I do think it could probably compete with Eckernförde! (Eckernförde has a squirrel in their town logo though. It’s hard to compete against that.)

When your eel smokehouse has three chimneys and you can put the letters “A A L”, German for eel on them. Goals.

Within, what like 24 hours, we had now seen two towns, a nature reserve with the Big Five, the lake and the local supermarket (grocery stores are always a highlight for me on any trip). This was more new input than I’ve had in months, making the time spent on this vacation seem much more than it actually was. And we yet had to see another highlight: Haithabu! On Wednesday, after wistfully leaving our adorable abode, we went to what is one of Schleswig’s main attractions: Hedeby, in German called Haithabu, an important Danish Viking Age tradtion settlement and the most important archaeological site in Schleswig-Holstein. When I was in highschool, in AP History, I remember my teacher talking about Lindisfarne and Haithabu and always thought I should probably visit. And now I got the chance! Lucky for me, A is also very interested in these things and happily came along. We had booked a time slot and got to go around the pleasantly empty museum (there were people but not many). We learned about the settlement that was trading with the entire known world back then. And that world stretched as far as Damascus – not bad! First mentioned in 804, it was a principal marketplace because of its geographical location on the major trade routes, became the seat of a bishop and minted its own coins. It was basically the place the be until 1066! Then, a Slavic army destroyed it. Sad.

We read runes and inspected excavated jewellery and tools and tried to imagine life back then. What struck us in the museum was that while it was interesting for us, it seemed to have no educational concept for children at all. All the text was too high (and too much) and it really catered to adults. I noticed this because a child, around age 8, was there with his parents and I felt a little sorry for him.

Suggestion for a Who wants to be a millionaire question:
What is the Danework?
A) Danish Social Federation
B) system of Danish fortifications
C) Production Plant for small Danish cars
D) National Epic by H.C. Andersen

There was, however, a second part of the exhibit that was more child-friendly: the village. After a short walk, you reached an archaeological reconstruction on the original site. Exact copies of some of the original Viking houses have been rebuilt and we went inside the assembly hall, the fisher’s house, comb-maker’s house – and the hostel. Yes, they had a hostel. How cool is that? Generally, however, the beds didn’t look very comfortable and we mused on whether it was better to live now, with all our modern-day problems, or then. Today won easily, despite cell phone addiction and burn out.

Me hanging out in the assembly hall, pretending to chair a community meeting
Good (?) night

After Haithabu, we briefly picknicked (we might have bought too much at the supermarket for only two days…) and went into the town of Schleswig to tick off yet another town on our trip. Unfortunately, the sun was much less strong than the days before and Schleswig did not make an impression quite as charming as the other towns on us. But they had an opened ice cream parlor! Bliss! We ended our little, lovely holiday sitting in a café, just like before Corona. And then we only had to drive 90 minutes home. Or as Goethe put it, “See, the good lies so near.”

Microadventures II: Very British

The city of Hamburg has a new campaign: All over town, posters state that you can see “The entire world in your city”. There is now a new tourism card for locals that gives you discounted admission prices for attractions in your home town, advertising international experiences (such as a Japanese garden or Scandinavian churches). I think that’s great given that many people won’t be able to leave Hamburg this summer. And they’re right, you can feel a bit like being abroad when you go to the right spots. I did just that last Sunday when my mom briefly stopped by (and even before that poster campaign kicked off!).

I am, luckily, somewhat surrounded by anglophiles: Anna who spent 2019 in Britian, A who is half British himself, my aunt and my mom who teach English. Put shortly, scones are always well received. When I heard more than once (on the internet, that is) that Lühmanns Teestube in the far west of Hamburg was the place to be for tea time, I decided that I should give it a try – with another anglophile, of course.

Blankenese, the part of town where Lühmanns is, is not exactly around the corner: It almost takes an hour by light rail. It is only of the wealthiest suburbs, their average income is three times as much as the rest of Hamburg. Three times! Maybe (probably?) because of the affluence, this part of town is also remarkably picturesque with its beautiful houses and parks right next to the river Elbe. There’s the famous “staircase quarter” through which you can take a lovely walk after enjoying your tea time.

You can not really drive to the houses in the staircase quarter, but have to use the many steps (5,000 in total) to access the residences. Garbage collection isn’t exactly easy here for the city!

But back to the actual point – a very British pleasure. When we arrived at Lühmanns, we were instantly charmed. The café is decorated with countless items that must come directly from the island: cups with the royal family, British classic literature, maps of Cornwall. The quaint furniture and the green walls really give you a cosy tea room feeling and the menu adds to the Britishness with its choices: Cornish cream tea, cakes and pies.

Just one of the many royal merch items
De-li-ci-ous!

I am only waiting for the next opportunity to go there! Maybe it’s a good thing this café is so far from me. I would hang out there all the time if it was closer.

Salt City

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Man, I’m beat! A day of sunshine, more than 10,000 steps and lots of impressions is behind me. We used the holiday for a day trip which felt like a small city break vacation. It was such a nice day. The Corona regulations have been lifted a little so we could enter Lower Saxony and go to…Lüneburg! I’ve been wanting to go to this 73,000-people-town for years because it is close to Hamburg and anyone will tell you, “Lüneburg? It’s beautiful! You have to go!”

And what can I say? Lüneburg did not disappoint. I constantly had to get out my phone to take more picture because every corner of the Old Town is so picturesque. The only sad part was that Lüneburg’s tourist info homepage stated there would be a guided tour at 2 p.m. and when we got there, we found a notice saying there are no tours until May 25 due to Corona. I mean, that’s understandable but why would you not update your homepage (if you bothered to update that “tourists are allowed back into the city”?) Oh well! Google came to the rescue and we guided ourselves around the town.

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Lüneburg Chamber of Commerce has a real nice house

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It was Father’s Day today. Lüneburg has the bench for it.

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The city of pretty doors!

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This house is lopsided, can you see?

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Lüneburg has the best street names, this is one “Mounted Servants Street”

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City Hall

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Someone is very pleased with his ice cream

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Lünefrog

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Germany’s prettiest district court

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It really struck me how very many shops were not chains but individually owned stores. Even the sex shop.

Many sights were closed but luckily the German Salt Museum was not. Why is there a Salt Museum, you wonder? Because Lüneburg was Salt City! Salt is the “white gold” that made Lüneburg rich (as you still can see when you look at the beautiful houses) in the Middle Ages. It was the salt town of the North, exporting to Scandinavia and all of Germany. For more than 1000 years, Lüneburgers worked in the salt mines before it was closed down in the 1980s. The salt mine never closed except for one day a year, Good Friday. Imagine that – what other business has been up and running for a millenium?! The museum was very interesting, especially for someone like me who did not pay enough attention in chemistry. There are also so many customs and ideas around salt, just think of the Bible (“Salt of the Earth”) or how Germans give salt and bread as a housewarming gift. I mean, it makes sense: no salt, no life. We also learned the legend of how Lüneburg inhabitants found out they had a salina: Hunters observed a wild sow that was white. They brought it down and checked its skin to find out why it was white: there was salt on its body and close to where they found the animal was the first saline pool discovered.
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Did you know there is no language that doesn’t have a word for salt?

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The salt shaker exhibition room was one of particular delight to me: Russian salt shakers are thrones, as you see here.

Before we left lovely Lüneburg in the evening, we took a little detour to the university campus. My friend Ingrid spent one semester studying in Lüneburg and when I told her we were going there, she suggested we take a look at the newly built central building of the Leuphana University. (This fancy name was adopted only 13 years ago and stems from a small village mentioned in a map from the second century A.D.. Seems though like that village is not today’s Lüneburg, but rather the less famous town of Hitzacker. A renowed ad agency suggested that name…) Ingrid’s tip turned out to be really great: the architecture of that building is stunning! I couldn’t come up with any other university building (of modern times) that had such an extravagant edifice. No one less than Daniel Libeskind himself designed the Leuphana central building (where do they get the money from?! Salt doesn’t sell that well anymore?)

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If you’re ever looking for a destination for a day out that’s both a feast for the eyes and historically super interesting – go to Lüneburg!

 

Big Apple

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I love apples. People give me funny looks when I say I buy 14 apples at the Farmer’s Market for each week. But if you eat one for lunch and one for dessert after dinner, that’s 14 a week. I remember my grandpa cutting up apples into slices for me when I was sitting on his couch watching TV with him. It’s one of my fondest memories and if I only could eat one fruit for the rest of my life, I suppose it would be apples. Or oranges.

How convienent for me that I now live an hour away from Northern Europe’s largest fruit-producing region, eh? I’ve only waited for fall to roll around so that I could set off to the Altes Land (“Old Land” – apparently a mistranslation from Low Saxon. The land is not old, but was originally colonised by Dutch settlers, and thus called the (H)Olland). In the Altes Land, you can go apple picking yourself and what I hear this is a popular activity for Hamburgers. We went on October 3, German National Day, but next year I think I’d go a little earlier. Most of my favorite apple, Elstar, had been picked already. But that was fine, there were plently of others left and the idyllic atmosphere was amazing. After four days of constant rain, we even had sunshine! I got to pick Finkenwerder Herbstprinz, a local apple I heard about but that isn’t sold in the supermarkets (at least not in mine). As I was roaming under the apple trees, I wondered when self-picking became popular. I mean, 100 years ago people would have thought you were crazy to pay to do the work of a farmers’ hand. But today, with us urban people feeling so disconnected from the origins of our food…yeah, you get it. (Half of the people might come for the pretty instagram pictures this adventure yields, though.)

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Of course I choose the apple that looked like a butt.

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Small, non-edible apples that can be used for decoration

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I was very charmed by the Altes Land region with its timbered houses, open skies and large fields. The Prunkpforte, the gate pictured above, was also a highlight. Wealthy people apparently build these kind of portals to, well I don’t know why, but I suppose to flaunt their wealth and impress others? Or to please God – the inscription was very Christian.

If you are ever around in August – October, I suggest you take half a day and explore what’s outside the gates of Hamburg!

The Pride of Papenburg

Last weekend was a long weekend for us because it was Germany Day. Well, the correct name is National Day or German Reunification Day – but whatever, it was a Thursday, meaning you could take one day off and create a mini-vacation. (In German, we call this a bridge day. In Swedish, it’s a squeeze day.) Of course I seized the opportunity to continue my mission #showhimthenorth. A is moving to Northern Germany soon (yay!) and thus showing him the great region he is headed for makes even more sense. For his birthday, I gave him tickets for a guided tour in the Meyer Werft.

The Meyer Werft is a shipyard – no, the shipyard – located in the tiny town of Papenburg. For me, and many other Germans, the words Meyer Werft and Papenburg always go together. There is nothing else I know of Papenburg, but Meyer has really put it on the map. Speaking of the map, Papenburg is really far west and basically far away from anything. (We combined driving there with a stop at my parents’ to also meet my beyond words adorable nephew and niece who were visiting.)

We learned that the town was founded in 1631 and only some 160 years later, Meyer was founded in 1795. Papenburg was a shipbuilders’ town but of the shipyards only this giant one has survived and today they build several luxury cruise ships per year. When you do the tour, they take your through a museum that looks onto the factory work floor, the dry dock. It is huge. Actually, it is the world’s largest dry dock. In Papenburg. I often tell foreign entrepreneurs and corporate representatives about the concept of “hidden champions” in the German countryside and this is a perfect example of it: Meyer is the world’s market leader in its field (together with one Italian shipyard) and to this day a family business.

Unfortunately we had missed the departure of their latest cruise ship by a few days. The ships have to go through the Ems river which is not really made to transport these ridiculously big ships, so the Ems river barrier was built in 2002 to make the journey possible even at low tide. The ships then go 36 kilometres very slowly to the Dollart bay. It’s quite a sight! We said we’d want to come back to look at the spectacle one day.

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When the ship is ready to leave the dock, they flood the place and take it out. So cool!

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They

The tour gave us a lot of discussion topics: lobbyism, job security, location factors, environment, luxury and decadence (really, why do you need a rollercoaster on a cruise ship?). I don’t think I am the cruise ship type, but I think I’ll now go research the one-night-cruise on the Queen Mary II from Hamburg to Southampton that A mentioned…

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Inside this boat, we got our tickets.

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Another good thing about the North: drinking traditional East Frisian Black Tea. It’s almost like a ceremony and I really love it.

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Snapshots from the short visit to my parents’ house

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My niece was much less intimidated by these hungry sheep than me

And everything else I did

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23 minutes read, 25 minutes if you really study the photos

“Your ideal vacation would be doing things one day, then taking a day off to blog, then doing things again”, Emily observed. While that might be a little extreme, I do think that I could have planned half of the activities and still be very occupied. If I had done 50 % of my program, maybe some more reporting would have fitted into my schedule. Or maybe not, because I blog for fun and it’s (kind of luckily) not my job.

But now I am giving you a condensed compilation of everything else I did in the city of angels. Well, everything I consider remotely interesting to you (personally, I rank the peanut butter eating pretty high too, but it might be less fascinating to outsiders). Are you ready for the longest post ever?

Walking to the Getty Center. Actually walking.

On Easter Sunday, Emily had planned for us to go to the Getty Center. To be honest, I didn’t even know what the place was about because my trip preparation consisted of relying on Emily to know best. This also meant I did not know where the Getty Center was, namely on a mountain. But why worry if you have a seasoned transit professional with you? We would bike, take the train, change to the bus and then to the monorail. Piece of cake!
Except that when we were on the bus, suddenly the driver announced that he would
not be stopping at the Getty Center. “There is a fire”, he informed us and drove past our stop. On and on he went, leaving us kind of dumbfounded as we watched the bus move
farther and farther away from where we wanted to go. And you know in L.A., distances are…far.

At some point, the bus driver performed a u-turn in the middle of the road. Feeling we were getting somewhat closer again to our destination, we disembarked the bus. “We could walk”, Emily suggested. I looked at the freeway surrounding us. “How far is it?” Google Maps estimated us walking for a little more than two hours. The Getty Center would close in two hours, as we already were half an hour behind our planned schedule.
Emily was determined to get to the Getty. That must be quite an interesting place, I thought by myself, as she decided we would call a Lyft and ask the driver to get us as close as possible to the Getty Entrance. We got into the car of a lady that must’ve been an actress judging by her looks and did Lyfts as a side hustle. After only a few minutes in her car, we got to the road stop – due to the fire on the mountain next to the Getty cars were not allowed to pass. The police officer waved to the other side. “Okay, we’re getting out here”, Emily instructed. We stood in the middle of the road. On our one side the start of the freeway, on the other a police car blocking the road to the Getty. Around us, desert-looking mountains. No civilization, really. Was this the end of our quest, time to give up?
Not if you are Emily and Helen and have two healthly feet! We approached the police officer and inquired whether he would let us pass as pedestrians. “The road’s closed off due to the fire”, he said. “But we don’t wanna drive, we wanna walk”. He looked at us as if we were some kind of aliens. “You can’t walk, it’s far”, the officer, who to be honest seemed more like the sedentary type, said. “Like how far?” Emily asked. He raised his eyebrows. “Like you’ll walk an hour”. I shrugged, by now feeling compelled to make this happen. It wasn’t like we had something else to do in that hour. And this Getty thing had to be quite something if Emily went through all this trouble. So we said goodbye to the officer and passed. He shook his head, seeing us go. We walked over what would normally be a busy L.A. road, marveling at the fact that we could actually
now walk in the middle of the road. But we didn’t do that for long because fire trucks passed on the road, coming from the fire. They waved at us, probably amused to see us walking. Because who walks in L.A.?
It did not take an hour. Not even close. After maybe 20 minutes we arrived at the fire – which was almost extinguished – and the monorail. We had made it! Thanks to our feet! (And our persistence.) We boarded the monorail which played music that felt like a movie soundtrack, probably to complement the amazing view we had going up the mountain.
And then there is was: The Getty Center. An architectural landmark, an art museum and most impressive to me, a garden. Just for walking through the garden for 40 minutes the whole trip was worth it.
That Easter Sunday, I felt like I’d been on a pilgrimage to reach what resembled Eden.

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Emily is unhappy about the fire

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Even random flowers by the highway are beautiful in L.A.

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Finally up at the Getty

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Grocery Shopping

I believe readers of this blog know by now about my fascination with supermarkets. Frankly, I don’t even know what I think is so cool about them, because it’s not that I buy so much. I suppose it is just the option to dive into consumerism that already excites me. While this extends to German stores as well (before I left, I treated myself to an hour inspecting all müslis in our local store without actually buying any), I am especially excited by American grocery stores. All the things! The variety! It still amazes me. Emily knows this and took me to several stores, including Whole Foods (which for good reason is also nicknamed Whole Paycheck), Numero Uno (their Mexican store in which you’d better know some Spanish) and Trader Joe’s (German Aldi owns it but it’s so much nicer!). I observed that they do not have Elstar apples, but have cashew nuts that are much tastier than ours. And in California, they have all these veggies and fruits I didn’t know! Emily thought I was hilarious pointing at plaintains and asking “What’s this?” like a small child.

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Find us at Target

Church, or Should I become a Methodist?

Other people I know go to the U.S. to see famous sights. While I enjoy those, too, part of my special focus lies on the daily life in America that I can’t get enough of. This includes, as mentioned, grocery shopping, but even ordering pizza, watching regular TV, visiting the library and, featuring prominently this year as I was there during Easter, church. We went to church twice: On Holy Saturday, we attended a bilingual Easter Vigil close to Emily’s home. It was both similar to a Catholic Easter Vigil at home and different. The similarity was mostly that it was dark the first hour and they read lots of readings from the Bible. The difference was it was in Spanish and English. And the major contrast became apparent when the part of the vigil where the lights go on (symbolizing that now Christ has risen). Blinding us, the light suddenly went on, music played and the people went wild. The joy! Everyone danced, clapped and sang. Halleluja, He is risen! I felt very non-Hispanic as I awkwardly tried to clap along.

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Easter Vigil

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Biking home from Easter Vigil

Because why go to church only once a weekend if you can go twice, we continued our holiness the next morning by going to Westwood Methodist Church. Two of Emily’s friends attend that church and they pitched its service so skillfully to me that despite my decision to only go to only one service they had me revise my plans. And boy was it worth it! There was so much to take in at that church. For starters, I had never been to a Methodist church. It turned out, they actually masked the word “Methodist” in their name everywhere recently because the United Methodist Church conference had strengthened its ban against same-sex relationships. This church was fiercely advocating for tolerance and diversity, putting up banners stating this and displaying the trans flag and the rainbow flag in their so called Loft, where the service took place. They actually had two services at the same time, one at the Loft which was “an innovative approach to Christianity” and a more traditional one downstairs in the traditional church building. As we came in, there was tea and coffee and everyone sat in small groups in the large room. A gospel choir was performing, exactly in the way Europeans imagine that American gospel choirs perform. The service started with the pastor reminding everyone that Jesus calls his people to hang out with those that society excludes, “that is our calling!”, probably referring to the whole anti-homosexual movement. The energy was totally new age Christian and I of course loved it. Everything was extremely professional (I assume their volunteers all work in either graphic design or media or music.) and quite a great show. But there was also spiritual encounter: the set up of the service is such that after the Bible text are read (and projected on a screen which makes it so much easier to follow!), the pastor gives out a question regarding the texts and people form small groups discussing this question. At the end, announcements were not simply read – no, they had slides with elaborate designs inviting everyone to e.g. “Jesus loves tacos!” which was a gathering to say goodbye to the pastor who left for work elsewhere. I enjoyed it so much I immediately googled if I should convert to Methodism, but I fear in Germany, Methodists might not be as cool as in The Loft.

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Next day: the Loft

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The traditional part of the Methodist church

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Their garden, loved it

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After church, we went to Tehrangeles, the Persian part of town where we got really really good Persian lunch

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The Place where no one can live, except Arnold Schwarzenegger: Santa Monica

Emily and her fiancé Scott work for the City of Santa Monica. Also, that’s where the nearest (or most accessible) beach is. Near in L.A. means a little more of an hour away. I went there on my second day and I loved it so much I came back a few days later. Santa Monica flaunts it wealth. Not in an unpleasant way – it just is apparent pretty much everywhere that this city has money. Everything is beautiful, the stores are expensive, the residential areas are basically a sight in themselves, even the busses are pretty and clean and their city hall looks like a movie set. Also, no one can afford to live there except Arnold Schwarzenegger (he really lives there!). I especially liked it because it’s small and walkable and made me feel less forlorn. Also, of course, the Pacific. So impressive!

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On the way to Santa Monica, I saw this tacky Easter decoration

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Santa Monica wins the award for best fountain

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They have a Toms store! Finally I could buy shoes on site instead of online without knowing if they’ll fit.

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Toms Store = Hipster Hangout

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The City Hall where Emily and Scott work

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Happy people, happy place

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Look.at.this.city.hall.

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Cha cha chicken was our dinner – delicious!

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Scott bought German beer. It claimed to be from Nuremberg and Westphalia at the same time. That’s kinda like saying you’re from Ohio and New York at the same time.

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The famous pier

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It might look like a movie set behind us but it actually IS the Pacific

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At Drybar, they blow dry your hair. They don’t do anything else to it. Just blow dry it.

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Who wouldn’t want to buy this?

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I went on a bike tour with a bike share bike…

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…right by the Ocean, all the way to Venice,

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Venice Canals

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Warner Bros Studio Tour, or I don’t watch enough TV

What’s L.A. known for? That’s right, Hollywood. I should probably go and catch some movie glamour, I figured, and booked a tour at the Warner Bros studios. What I only realized when I got there was that I don’t watch enough TV, or at least not the shows Warner produces. So I couldn’t really relate to the house of the Gilmore Girls or Dexter, and I have no emotional connection to the Friends sofa. But I did enjoy the Harry Potter exhibit (though maybe not as much as the Australian kid on the tour that was even dressed in a Potter gown!) and the costumes from Crazy Rich Asians. We also saw the crazy Batmobile cars – did you know their motor is the one of a lawn mower and literally only goes 20 miles an hour?

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I did _not_ buy this

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The Walk of Fame was very underwhelming. But I saw Grace Kelly’s star!

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There is a Trader Joe’s right next to Hollywood Boulevard and they took up the movie theme

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Hollywood/Vine metro station. Note the ceiling!

I was the only person alone on the tour which elicited kind of strange pity from the staff. When I got there and showed my ticket, the girl said, “Just one? That’s not a problem!” Yeah, why would it be a problem? When the guide figured out I was by myself, she repeatedly offered to take photos of me. I almost wanted to say that I do have friends, they’re just at work right now.

Art and people posing with art

Despite my ignorant idea of L.A. being a city consisting of only cars and freeways, there are lots of museums in Los Angeles. Emily signed me up for two art museums: The Marciano Foundation and The Broad. The Broad is not pronounced like the word broad (as in Broadway), but more like broode. This make me so self-conscious I didn’t dare to ask someone for directions to the place. The Broad-Broode is interesting for its architecture itself and displays a “challenging collection” of modern art. I found the selection to be somewhat eccletic, too. The most interesting part was the visitors interacting with the act though. I wonder if academia has already started studying this phenomenom. In museums of classical art, like the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, I noticed people taking photos of every picture instead of looking at it. In these modern art museums, they go one step further and take selfies with the artwork. I understand this partly (it’s hard to resist photographing yourself in a Yayoi Kusama exhibit!). What kind of disturbed me though was when one girl, or should I say instagram influencer, posed in front of “African’t”, a cut paper silhouette piece by Kara Walker full of black stereotypes, sex and violence. It shows the brutality that black people have endured including violence, sexual and otherwise, and slander.

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The Marciano Foundation is located in a former Masonic Temple. That alone made it worth seeing. But even the exhibits were really nice. Ai Wei Wei was displayed as well as above named Kusama, and quite many children roamed the gallery. It was definitely a gallery I would recommend. In their museum store, they had the sequel to “The day the crayons quit”, one of my favorite books.

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Next to the Broad is the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I had lunch in the shade of the magnificent building

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The Egg House

When I googled to prepare my stay in L.A., I stumbled upon The Egg House. How fitting for Easter!, I thought. It was advertised as a pop-up “offering a multi-sensory experience” with  “multiple rooms of immersive installations and interactive experiences” that would transport you into a world of dreams and fantasies. I was expecting an art installation centering on eggs. Sure, a more fun one than what you’d see at a museum, but still something that would give you eggcellent food for thought (all puns intended). Emily, however, apparently more knowledgable in this field than me, saw right through it. When her fiancé asked where we were going, she said, “Basically to a place where you can take good instagram photos”. And boy was she right. There was zero artsy inspiration but quite som fun involved.

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We made a little friend at the Egg House. A 4-yo-girl approached us and said, “I’m gonna be with you guys okay?”

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There was an Easter egg hunt going on and I collected enough eggs to win these socks!

The Museum of Jurassic Technology

Spoiler alert: Do not read this text if you intend to go see this museum. Actually, I will build in damage control by making you click on this link to read it: I swear I don’t wanna go experience the Museum of Jurassic Technology by myself.

Being fooled by bus schedules aka hiking to the Griffith Observatory aka Helen marveling at southern fruit

When outlining our plans, I asked to see some nature around L.A., so on my last day, Emily took me to the Griffith Observatory up on the mountain overlooking the city. Or, well, she tried to and just like with the Getty Trip, public transit tried to keep us from getting there. This time, it was first technology who tried to fool us. Standing at the bus stop, Emily’s app informed us the next bus would leave first in 45 minutes, despite it earlier telling us we would only have a ten-minute-wait to connect. We kept walking to another stop to take another bus to get at least a little closer. After waiting there for ten minutes, our bus – by the formidable name “Dash” – swooshed pass us. Eh, whaat? We boarded the other bus, attempting to catch up at a different stop with the Dash. This time, we would be sure and consult Google Maps and Emily’s app. Once at the bus stop, we waited. No Dash. L.A. doesn’t have bus schedules posted at the stops anymore, but you can text and get the real time information about the next bus. That source would be accurate, we figured, and texted. The result: we now had three departure times, all different from each other. And none was an acceptable wait. “How about we just walk?” Emily suggested and I agreed. Guess what? We walked for five minutes and then…saw the Dash pass us by again! By now, we had abandoned all hope to use the bus to get up there and as we came closer, we understood that our transit trouble was actually not that bad: Due to construction work, the road to the Observatory was closed and the bus would not go to the stop anyway. For pedestrians, the road was closed April 24, 25, 28 and 29. But not 27, which was today! On our hike up, I frequently stopped to smell to roses, eh, photograph the fauna (and marvel at the mansions). At some point, I looked up and said, incredulously, “Is that an orange tree?!” Emily nodded. “I’ve never seen an orange tree in real life!” I exclaimed, pretty amazed. To Emily, who grew up in California and Florida, my excitement was funny, probably as funny as someone thrilled to see snow would be to me.

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See the Hollywood sign? L.A. goals!

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And also:

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Emily took me to eat real tacos for the first time! I used to think burriots are tacos because Sweden has tricked me into believing that. Now I know!

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Following Ingrid’s recommendation, we went to a comedy show at the “Upright citizens brigade”. It was fun! (We did not see the above pictured show.)

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Emily also showed me her favorite mall. It had, among other things, the container store. HOW AWESOME IS THAT? It’s full of containers to sort your stuff. I loved it.

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Okay, the Container store also sold things that might not be super neccesary.

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I believe this is the longest blog post I ever wrote. It took me two days to finish it. How did I find the time? Oh, you know, jetlag has me waking up at 4 a.m. since I came back…

Five things I know about L.A. now

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Not in this list: L.A. is blooming. At every corner, there are the most beautiful flowers proclaiming abundant spring, making me rejoice. This field is literally next to the freeway (details on why I walked next to the freeway will follow)

It was last Wednesday. A week into my stay, I had finally overcome jetlag and mastered the transit so much that I can ride the bus home without frantically staring at Google Maps. And then it happened: As I stepped out of the subway at Hollywood/Vine, tourists came up to me and asked me for directions. Man, was I proud.

I will admit that the level “other people who know nothing mistake me for a local” isn’t my ultimate assimilation goal. But for only having been here for a week, I must have looked pretty knowledgable! So what do I actually know about L.A. after my first visit? Let’s see.

Los Angeles is…

1. interesting

When I asked people who had been to L.A. or the West Coast what I should not miss, they mostly told me to get out of the city and drive six hours somewhere else, claiming that L.A. is not much to see. To tell the truth, I find that a rather disrespectful statement. It is also totally not accurate. Los Angeles is very interesting! There is so much to explore. I had eleven fully planned days and constantly felt like I need more time to look at this, too and check out that as well. I could easily spend another eleven days before needing to go anywhere else. One reason there was never enough time in a day might, however, also be rooted in the fact that L.A. is…

2. big

I gradually wrapped my mind around the city’s size and structure. Once I started thinking of it like of the entire Rhein-Ruhr area where I live, I found it acceptable to be travelling ninety minutes to a place I wanted to go. (Or 120 minutes if it is the Dressbarn store.) L.A. is not really one city with one city center, it’s more like several centers and “in between burbs” (not even suburbs). It takes forever to get anywhere. Especially when you don’t drive. Now that I’ve reconciled myself with that fact, I start seeing all these opportunities for apartment hunting in Hamburg. I just have to trick my mind into thinking Hamburg is L.A. and a sixty-minute-commute will be totally fine.

3. hot and then cold

On my second day, I finally bought myself a little backpack. It might have been the best investment of 2019, and I say that while there are still eight months of the year left. Not only can I now bring things with me without a hurting shoulder, I can also bring more – and in Los Angeles I need more, namely at least one cardigan, a jacket, a scarf and actually, pack those gloves. Because when I leave the house in the morning, the sun is out and the weather is in the 70s (which is 20-25 Celsius), but then in the afternoon clouds can suddenly come out and make it ten degrees colder. When the sun sets, you better be home – or you have those gloves with you.

 

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4. Spanish

I’ve always wanted to go to Montreal to see in real life how a bilingual North American city would be. Now I can skip that trip because I already know. Every sign and most announcements are bilingual in Spanish and English. (More than 40 % of L.A. inhabitants speak Spanish as a native language.) It makes me happy to notice that my school Spanish often is good enough to follow the basic information. Sometimes the Spanish helps me to understand the English. Like at “Ross Dress for Less” where they call a section “Women World” in English which means nothing to me. In Spanish underneath it reads, “Talle Grande” – much more descriptive!

Street names are also very often in Spanish and it’s fascinating to see how easily they’ve been anglicized. I always thought Figueroa was hard to pronounce – until I heard it roll off the American tongues with ease. Same goes for La Tijera, La Cienega (my favorite because that is where the Target is), Centinela and Sepulveda (actually the longest street there is here).

5. noisy

This city is an acoustically very stimulating place. There is no way of getting home without a least two dogs loudly barking at you. They also like to alarm everyone at night when a car is passing by. Every afternoon, three ice cream trucks circle around the neighborhood, playing Christmas songs. On the bus, there is constantly something beeping and the announcements are never-ending. “Approaching Jefferson and Main, followed by Jefferson and Hope, for your own safety mind your step as you step from the bus, approaching Jefer and Trinity followed by Jefferson and Hope, we are on this ride together so please do not play loud music; to help us get you there on time, please do not block doorways, for your own safety mind your step…” The good part is that the announcing voice sounds like someone from an action movie that makes me chuckle inwardly every time he speaks. Which is like every ten seconds.

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The closest supermarket is Numero Uno. The cashier and I had some difficulty communicating because my Spanish isn’t good enough.

El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles

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As a historian, I am always intrigued to learn how a place came to be. Malicious gossip has it, L.A. is “ahistorical”. Not true! The exhibition “Becoming L.A.” walked me through the – kind of short – history of the city. Imagine that it was only founded a little more than 200 years ago and how much it’s developed! I spent a few hours going through what was a very carefully curated exhibition (with lots of really old things such as the very table at which the Mexican-American war was ended or the original crucifix the settlers brought to L.A.!) with what seemed like a strong focus on political correctness and inclusiveness to me. It could’ve been in Sweden, really. Anyone who says Americans are not aware of their historical and current societal conflicts…go there and reconsider.

I walked from the canoes of the Natives to the foundation of El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles (that’s the original name and they only kept the last part. It would be weird if we did that – I live in Orf? I was born in Erg? I studied in Ala and am moving to Urg?), through the incorporation into the U.S., the Gold Rush, the emergence of the dominant industries (not only movies, also aviation!), the Great Depression and the Post-War-Era. Population growth was insane! In 1850, there was a little more than 1000 people living here. Thirty years later, it’s 11,000. Just fifty years later, they had more than a millon in the city. Today, it’s four million only in the city (that does not include cities like Santa Monica). Angelenos did, however, entice the influx with some pretty professional PR: they (I guess that’s the local Chamber of Commerce among others) had journalists write reports about the area that advertised the great climate and overall benefits of living in L.A..

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Actually, there are exact records of who founded the town. 22 Spanish/Mexican adults and 22 children settled here first and the museum lists them with their names and everything.

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Outside the museum is the Edible Garden that teaches visitors about nature and food. Not only is it beautiful, it is also very well done and informative.

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In the museum shop, you could buy edible insects. For real. I checked the ingredient list.

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“As wealth increases, the colors blue and green increase in a neighborhood”

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During the Second World War, Japanese Americans were deported from L.A.

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The L.A. area is very progressive when it comes to certain sustainability issues. To reduce plastic waste, there are refill stations for your water bottle.

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On the bus home, I caught sight of poetry on the road. What a lovely initative!