My work takes me to wondrous places. Tonight, it took me to a pool under a glass ceiling on top of Munich. Swimming, I had a direct view of the most famous landmark, the Frauenkirche church. By the pool, young blond women were sipping champagne. If you keep up with my schedule, you know it’s gala times. This time, the gala is happening at the most prominent and expensive hotel in Munich. And that’s why I stay here for two nights.
I booked no breakfast for our team. They charge a sum for breakfast – champagne breakfast – that covers a month of my regular breakfasts. Isn’t that weird?
My co-worker and I explored the hotel, from the spa to the roof top bar. It’s zero degrees and they have an open air bar! The staff proudly showed us the blankets to keep warm, “designed for polar expeditions!” (The cocktail prices were also Swedish.)
Work and friends had me go to Berlin from Wednesday to Sunday. I was travelling from the far West of Germany to the fast East, basically from Holland to Poland. What I didn’t realize was that I was also going from 2018 to 1998. Fashion seems to return every 20 years, but really did anyone believe the ugliest items of the Nineties were to reemerge? I didn’t think wearing pants that are way too short, jeans jackets that are way too big and fanny packs would ever make their comeback. But Berlin people want to be avantgarde-cool at all times even if it looks perfectly ridiculous.
My stay included looking at locations from tunnels to tipis, attending a design event at the embassy, visiting a startup lab, and meeting with Ingrid, Michelle, Malin, and my cousin Felix. Malin had come to Berlin for our annual 2MH-weekend and we showed her the German capital for the first time. Even though I hope I will never have to move to Berlin, I will say that their second-hand-shops are really well curated, their hipster streets have the coolest cafés, their markets cater to my needs and they have Dussmann, a stationery and book store (that calls itself a “Culture Shop”) that I would go to every week if I could.
It has become a rule now that if I travel, I will catch a cold. This time was no exception, I returned sick and had less than two days to recuperate before my plane to Stockholm lifted on Tuesday, for work. It was my shortest trip to Sweden ever and one of my sweetest. Short enough to just take in the nice things, to import Västerbottenost (very important), and (more important) to spend some evening hours with my dear friend Bianca. Less than 24 hours after arrival, I returned to Dizzel, feeling like I now had travelled to the Eighties.
I’ve been in Eighties-Düsseldorf for 19 hours when I am leaving again, and again to Berlin. How much do you have to be home in order to make renting an apartment worthwhile? Asking for a friend.
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.)
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!”)
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).
By now, readers must believe this is a travel blog. I wish to clarify that it is not – it’s just that a) I seem to only ever have time to blog in transit and b) more blogworthy things happen when not leading one’s mundane life. Or actually, that is not true, interesting things happen to me at home as well. Which is a good thing as I have suspended all private travel for the first three months of 2018. (I travel enough for work and it seems that traveling is not idea for my health, see the aftermath of Luxembourg.)
I am writing this on the ICE train (yes, in Germany the superfast trains have that name, must have been some Polar Express fan who came up with that) which nowadays has functioning internet. I cannot stop marveling at this fact! It makes train travel worthwhile especially when travelling for work. Some of my most productive work days might have been spent on trains.
Where am I going then? To Munich to do site inspections. Bavaria is really far away, actually it takes two hours longer to go there than to go to Paris. There are two things I like about Munich: the excellent stationery store on Rosenstraße and the fact that when I come back from Munich, I always feel blessed to be stationed in Düsseldorf.
Speaking of Dizzel, I dedicated last Sunday to preparing for Carnival in Cologne. The season started November 11th and now the Karnevalssitzungen have started. A Karnevalssitzung is a show where everyone is in costume and the people on stage perform a program of songs with satirical or political lyrics, sketches, dances and speeches. There are different types of Karnevalssitzung and as a carnival novice, my friend Maike took me to the one for immigrants. That is actually the name – because in Cologne, anyone who hasn’t lived in the city forever (and three generations of her ancestors or something) is considered an immigrant, affectionately abbreviated as “Immi”. I do think it is a very egalitarian concept: It does not matter if you are from Brazil, Syria, the neighboring city of Düsseldorf or the German capital – everyone is an Immi. On stage as well as next to us in the audience there were Polish ladies, American men and of course some Immi-Germans. It was a very interesting experience and I feel even more integrated into Carnival now.
Much of my time I also spent working. We are a new team at work now, with me being the oldest (!) one around, and so far it’s going splendid. I had the intern start declutter our archives, and our annual national kick off event went off without a hitch. We actually introduced a new little feature, the Mentimeter. I can highly recommend it for adding a fun and creative element to a seminar or a panel. It lets your audience live vote on a topic (it is both free and incredibly easy to use as long as everyone has a smartphone). We asked our audience about their predicition of the future of the EU and got an interesting overview of the mood in the room to start off our panel discussion.
I don’t think I make a good television personality. The last time someone texted me “I just saw you on TV, how the hell did you end up in that show?” was a couple of years ago when two friends and I were in the audience for a silly game show where ‘celebrities’ tested their knowledge about Sweden. Yesterday and today, I was on television with a real celebrity, the Swedish Crown Princess, but all you see of me is a super-stressed face hurrying through the picture behind her. Talk about failing at your five seconds of fame!
What happened? There is no denying it: a big day for a royal enthusiast like me happened. The Princess came to my, okay, our gala, and I had the honor to stand at the landing and officially welcome her with my boss (oh, and the honor to hand her three awards on stage). Honestly, even if she did not have any title at all, I would have been thrilled to meet her simply for how she comes across as a person. It is no surprise at all that she is so popular.
When we had shown her in, I had to attend to some urgent crisis business which explains my stressed face. Like I said, television appearances are not my strong side yet. Eventually, everything went well and everyone was happy, cheery and – so pretty! I was especially happy that we had more juniors than ever attending: ambitious, competent young professionals in glittering dresses and glamorous smokings, such a sight! Right on time for the gala, we had produced pins for the juniors that only they got to wear, making it easy to identify who was part of the club. The only ones possibly outshining our emblem were the court staff who had the king’s monogram as a pin on their sleeves.
As if the gala didn’t already almost kill me energy-wise, I had arranged a junior day the next day where we held a workshop. It’s those encounters that make me want to go to work on Mondays. The atmosphere in the network, the great people, the mutual understanding, the shared references, it’s what makes all the toil worthwhile. And yes, I will admit, also the Princess.
“I will be so exhausted after the gala”, I thought. Well, turns out I am already half-dead before it. These past nights, I’ve woken up thinking about the seating arrangments. Worked late, ate what was left in the fridge or asked him to get food. Today, I spent countless (!) hours sorting name tags. We’re almost 100 people more than usual this year, there is a lot more protocol, and I feel as exhausted before as I usually am afterwards. But it will be worth it tomorrow when the most glamorous event I attend in a year brings together everyone again!
My body has a tendency to be out of sync with the conventional ideas of sleep and awake times. Sometimes, I can’t get myself to fall asleep before 2 or 3 a.m.. More often than not, my eyes refuse to open before 9. The solution would be, people tell me, coffee. Unfortunately, I just don’t like the taste of coffee and my experiments with black tea have felt more like a placebo than a wake-up call.
So when my co-worker told me about this new cocoa that is supposed to be a coffee alternative, I was hooked. Vegan, sugarfree, fairtrade – I immediately suspected that this hipster product must have come out of the German “Dragon’s Den”, and I was right. Under the tag line “The world needs you awake”, the founders of koawach have mixed guarana into cocoa and now sell it for quite a lot of money. I had to do some research and zickzack a bit through Dizzel but finally found one of the chains that sells the hot chocolate.
For two mornings now, he made me koawach instead of tea and yes – I am awake. It seems to work. It takes just like hot chocolate (well, bitter without sugar) so it’s an energizing treat. My self-observation has concluded that I need regular refills though if I am to perform well as the effect lessens after three to four hours. I am going to ration this drink very strictly but boy, do I have high hopes for this pick-me-up for my 48-hour-work-shift during my upcoming gala days!