The Art of Being Nice…

Maybe I should have called this post “The art of being nice while using Berlin public transportation at rush hour”, but that would have just been a very long name for a post, don’t you think?

Maybe I should have called it something deeper, like “the art of being conscious and thinking before I act”, because that is kind of more what I want to say, but it’s also quite long.

My point is, the subject of this post is very deep. With this in mind, it’s a rather short post, because it was just something I thought about on my way home without having reached a satisfying conclusion. A thought in progress, so to speak.

I was on the tram on my way home from work, and it was much more crowded than usual. I’m guessing the tram before didn’t come, so twice the amount of people had to fit into this one. I was standing pressed against the back of a girl a few years younger than me, who was with her friend. The two of them had only one subject of conversation – how annoying it was that the tram was so crowded. At one stop, when people started getting off, the girl closest to me started actually pushing away in my direction to try to give herself some space. It caused me to almost fall and push a kid of approximately 11 years out the door… and it made me pretty angry. I told her, in the nicest tone I could muster, that I’d fall out of the tram along with the kid if she kept leaning backwards. Her response was aggressive, mine irritated, it went back and forth like that twice more and then I just decided it wasn’t worth responding anymore, seeing as she’d at least stopped pushing so much. My mood was ruined at this point though, and I did feel like following up the argument and trying to “win”… because of course, by shutting up I was essentially letting her have the last word. To refrain from restarting the argument, I checked with the kid to make sure he was okay, managed to joke with a woman standing close by, and smiled, even though I didn’t really feel like it. It actually helped and three stops down the line, when I got off, I wasn’t mad anymore, just thinking what a waste of lifetime it was to let your evening be ruined by a few too many people on your tram. I wanted to say this to the girl who had lashed out at me, but I thought she’d take it as further provocation, so I shut up and just turned that thought over in my head as I walked home.

I mean, I like being nice, and I didn’t like the person I was on that tram when the girl started pushing me. I don’t like myself when I snap at people, and God knows (actually, Ari knows), I tend to do it when I’m upset, angry or just frustrated with something, which can be fairly often. A stressful day or even heartbreak is not an excuse to lash out at your best friend, and a crowded tram is not an excuse to snap at a stranger. Especially since doing it does not even make me feel better, it makes me feel worse.

So the thought processing in my head is: How does one get to the stage of awareness I was at by the end of the tram ride? Calm, knowing that none of this is big enough to have the power to ruin my day unless I let it… and then actively deciding to smile and not let it. How do I get to this point before I say something less than friendly? How can I be in this state of centered-ness consistently? And is the answer really that I have to start getting up at 5:40 like Ari to meditate myself into a more relaxed state of mind?

I have no idea – but I’m trying to find out!

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Sunny with a chance of perfect days

So, a little while ago I told you about this awesome one-day-roadtrip I took, promising you to share more ideas of what to do in the Bay Area. I also told you, that most of these ideas derived from dates I had been having with this one guy I met here. Him and I are now trying this thing called Relationship, it’s really cool, y’all should look into that 😉

With fall kicking in here in San Francisco, the days are becoming shorter and, yes, colder. However, it’s not quite as bad as in Northern Germany, where public transport is currently shutting down due to a serious storm. It just means that you should wear tights under and a jacket over your summer dress. Though, for this all-day activity suggestion, you might wanna consider taking a hoodie or a blanket.

Another Awesome Day in SF

You’ll need to:

  • Dress in layers
  • Wear comfy shoes!!!
  • Bring your state ID or some form of residency verification
  • Have a bottle of wine (or two)
  • Your camera

S.F. Zoo

With an entrance fee of $17 dollars, this isn’t the cheapest thing to do around here but if you are a local resident, you’ll get a three dollar discount. The Zoo is open 365 days a year excluding holidays but including Government Shutdown. During the summer months, however, the park closes at 5pm. I found that quite strange seeing that the U.S. is hyping their 24/7 culture…not that I’d expect the zoo to be open at midnight but at least until the sun sets..? Anyway, you get the idea. Be there early.

If you don’t have children with you, you’ll be fine planning 3-4 hours for the zoo. It has a great variety of animals from both the US and around the world and the compounds are far stretched out. In fact, it seems more like a big, pretty park with occasional animal cages than the other way around. Get yourself some ice-cream, stroll through the zoo and be entertained by adorable little penguins or koala bears.

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Twin Peaks

Take the L line from S.F. Zoo to Forest Hill. Look up when the sun sets and make sure to arrive at the station a good three hours before that. You’ll get out of the station and see a big hill right in front of you- climb that! If you see a really creepy psychiatric clinic to your left, you’re on the right track. I say creepy because it looks like an old, abandoned horror-movie building but people actually work there. Anyway, keep on climbing. It took us about an hour to get up to Twin Peaks but only because we got lost on the parking lot of the clinic….

Ideally, you get up the peak when it’s still sunny out but closely before the sun is about to set. It is REALLY windy up there, so you won’t be able to sit and take in the scenery for more than an hour unless you are dressed warmly and have wine. Oh yes, the wine- now is the time to open it! Take in the magnificent view over San Francisco’s downtown skyline, the far-stretched neighborhoods, the ocean in the distance and Golden Gate Bridge halfway hidden in the fog while zipping on a glass of good Napa wine. Since the sun sets really fast here, you might even make it long enough to see the nightlife starting. It’s amazing really.

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The Castro

You know it’s time to leave when your fingers are too cold to push the exposure button on your camera. It’s time to warm up- in a bar or restaurant of your choice in the Castro district. Climb down the other way of which you came- towards the skyline. Don’t be confused by the fact that there isn’t a sidewalk or bike lane, you just walk down on the street. It feels kinda cool though, it’s one of those curvy mountain roads going down and you can still enjoy the skyline view and it makes you feel like you are one lucky, free person on a roadtrip. After about 20 minutes, you will hit Market street, which will take you right into Castro- one of San Francisco’s most vibrant communities with the best variety of restaurants and bars there is. Walk to Market and 16th if you are looking for pubs with a huge beer selection. Kitchen Story has amazing Thai Food but is more on the pricy side of life. Warm up, have some food, grab a beer or three and end the evening knowing you’ve combined your inner child with outdoor fun and great cuisine. Boom!

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Cheers

Ari

Guess whose birthday it is?

Today, the sun is shining in Berlin and the leaves have millions of different colours. It’s a gorgeous October day, surprisingly warm, and I’m happy.

I’m also a bit sad, because this is my co-author’s and best friend’s birthday and I can’t celebrate with her. So I had to come up with something else… and I decided on this blog post. After all, this blog is really our baby, our project, and I’m so happy we really started it after only talking about it for so long. When I think of her, the blog almost immediately comes to mind, so what better way to say happy birthday than with a blog post?

Of course, just saying happy birthday would be lame. So in honor of her 22nd birthday, here are 22 reasons why Ari is the coolest person in the universe and the bestest friend ever (yes, I KNOW that’s not a word).

  1. She’s the kindest person I know, and she always looks out for everyone else before she worries about herself.

  2. She’s got style. Lots of style.

  3. We’re usually the same dress size – can you imagine how cool it was to be roommates?

  4. When the sun comes out in spring, she basically overflows with excitement, it’s the cutest thing ever. It’s impossible not to be happy around her then – she can’t contain herself at all, and it rubs off on everyone else.

  5. She trusts me even when she’s worried I might judge her for something she tells me. The fact that she still opens up then means the world to me, and the fact that I can do the same makes her one of the most important people in my life.

  6. She does amazing hairstyles – and eye makeup!

  7. Getting ready for parties with her is usually even more fun than the actual party.

  8. She gets so enthusiastic about things – not just spring, but also TV shows or theater.

  9. Speaking of which, she’s a really talented actress. I’m not saying that because I have to support her as a friend, I’m saying it because it’s really true. So much comic talent.

  10. She makes me come out of my shell, not worry so much about embarrassing myself by doing really ridiculously random things, such as spontaneously dancing “Call Me Maybe” when there are at least 20 people around who might think that’s stupid. Who cares? Thanks, Ari 🙂

  11. She saved my ass by modelling for a photo shoot I had to do for class. I don’t know how I would have gotten that assignment done without her!

  12. She can walk even in the highest heels. I think it’s awesome, because it kind of forces me to wear heels as well sometimes in order to avoid looking like a dwarf. And then, of course, I look good. So that’s a great side effect.

  13. She’s the best study buddy ever. We can be super productive if we have to, and super unproductive if we don’t really care. Either way, study sessions usually involve instant noodles, diet coke and pringles. Oh, sometimes I miss college life!

  14. She is also the best Starbucks buddy in the world.

  15. And the best running buddy / motivator. I would have never done a 5k if it wasn’t for you!

  16. She makes the coolest birthday presents and surprises. Sorry, Ari, I know this one can’t really keep up with the video, or the whole “Day in Hamburg and surprise Bavarian food afterwards” thing (credit goes to the triplets as well for this). I promise, though, should we be in the same country again, I will organize something epic. And I mean truly epic.

  17. She doesn’t judge. Ever. I do some really dumb things (more so in the past but I still do). This goes with what I said about trust above, but it’s also who she is as a person. She doesn’t judge people easily. Unless they hate New York, then sorry, she WILL be judging.

  18. She’s not afraid to set me straight if I’m doing the above mentioned dumb things. She knows when to leave me to do what I feel like, even if it’s stupid, and when to actually sit me down and give me a serious no-nonsense talk.

  19. She’s the only person in the world to ever talk me into rapping for a class assignment.

  20. She ran to the store with me through a rainstorm, laughing the entire time. We came back soaked to the bones and water dripping from our clothes to the floor… it was the best thing ever.

  21. Germany’s Next Topmodel! We need to find a way to watch that together still, even if we’re so far apart. Also, that song we both spontaneously loved and that got stuck in my head from the show… aptly called “Stuck” (by Caro Emerald, if you’re interested).

  22. Because I got to #22 without having to pause and try to come up with more stuff. And because I’m sure there are a million reasons that I haven’t even mentioned yet. So I’ll just stop here, but please don’t take that to mean these are the only 22 reasons why Ari’s awesome.

 

So, Ariane, from halfway across the world – happy birthday!!

 

A Perfect Day In California

About three weeks ago, I met someone really awesome in a bar and we started going out. First date, second date, third date, and by now we are not counting dates but shared memories. It’s going really good and I’ve realized that our dates tend to be more like all-day adventures, each and everyone so perfect that both of us think it can’t get better- only it does. On the next date.  Anyways, I figured I’d share some of these days with you. Just in case you ever make it to SF and try to make every minute count. Or have a real romantic date. After all, San Francisco did get elected the most romantic city in the US.

1 Perfect Day in California á la Ariane:

  • 1 Car
  • 1 fully charged Camera
  • Water
  • Sun screen
  • Food
  • A map or iPhone for directions

We rented a car with AVIS and were lucky enough to get a really cool all-American car on discount- the Dodge Challenger. We named him Charlie. Now, I’m not too familiar with car types but this one just screamed road trip and we did him justice, I believe. So, here goes the perfect route for a perfect one-day-roadtrip:

1. Start off at Lombard Street
If you rent a car, you might as well go all out and do one of the most touristy things that SF has to offer: curvy Lombard Street. If you go early in the morning, you will barely have any cars blocking your ride down. Be prepared for some proper rollercoaster action.

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2. Cross Golden Gate Bridge
No matter how the weather will be that day, in the morning it is very likely to be foggy. Embrace it though, the bridge looks fascinatingly mystical when half covered in the thick grey fog layer. Toll is $6 one-way. For some reason however, we didn’t need to pay so bare that in mind. You might be lucky.

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3. US- 101 towards Sonoma
You will not be disappointed. After about half an hour you start passing the first vineyards and wineries, it gets hilly and the views are amazing. Find the River Road towards Guerneville and after about half an hour you should see a small parking lot to your left. Do park and stroll down to Russian River. It will be a nice break.

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4. Armstrong Redwoods State National Reserve
Continue on River Road until you come to the Armstrong Woods Road, merge onto that. Drive up to the Redwoods Reserve. It will cost you $8 to spend the day, there are a lot of hiking trails that lead you miles and miles into nature. Or, you can decide to drive up a really steep curvy road instead, which of course we did. I spent that part of the journey burying my head into my scarf. The Redwoods are amazing though and if you are all for the view, do go for the drive-up.

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5. Have a stop in Gueraville
It’s a really cute town with good diners, gas stations, banks and Safeway. Do try the Ice-Cream at Flavors Unlimited. They let you choose from an unlimited number of toppings, which get blended into vanilla and chocolate soft swirl making it taste like cheesecake, mint and white chocolate at the same time. Energized? Great, back on to the road!

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6. Blind Beach
Turn onto Hwy 116 W/CA-116 W/River Rd until you reach Jenner Pond/ Blind Beach. I mean, it’s amazing really. My favorite stop of the day. One minute you stare out of the window admiring the hills and forests and next thing you know you look ahead and BOOM. The ocean. In all its beauty. Take a break and climb up that hill about half a mile away from the parking lot. Breath and be overwhelmed by the majestic ocean, the clean air and the incredible feeling of freedom.

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7. Point Reyes
Continue on the CA-1 N/Coast Hwy to Marin. Follow the signs directing you to SF. Once in Point Reyes Fort, search for the Sir Francis Drake Road and follow that on. Warning- if you wanna make it to the Lighthouse, be aware that it’s a good half an hour drive crossing the peninsula. The road is not in the best condition and the land stretches further than we had expected. But, as with anything along the Pacific Highway, the views make up for it by far. It is a national park though, so technically, it is currently closed. We did see a lot of cars generously ignoring the govt shutdown sign though. As with many things in that regard, zero f***s were given.

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8. Stinson Beach
Turn onto Panoramic Highway and follow until you hit Muir Woods Road, then continue on that one. If you have time, stop in one of the many cute towns you will see on your way. Like Bodega Bay, that just looked incredibly romantic and seemed to have a great selection of seafood restaurants and beach cafés. Other than that, embrace the fact that you are on the Panoramic Highway (which is named like that for a reason…), wind down the window and blast Let Her Go by Passenger. Or California Dreaming. Or On Top Of The World. Once at Stinson Beach, try to find some sand dollars. They’re big on petrified ones there too! Definitely worth a walk.

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9. Back home
The city is calling, so you wanna swing back. Preferably, in time for you to drop of your car at your rental agency. We failed and could only avoid being charged high late-fees by driving to the SFO airport to drop Charlie off there. Oh well. Shit happens. We miss you Charlie!!!!

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Return back home and realize that you have gotten a glimpse of paradise. California is intensely beautiful and yesterday I saw landscapes that dreams are made of. I know that sounds super cheesy but I did not expect to be confronted with so many breathtaking spots. Do go people, do go!

Cheers and hit the road,

Ari

Remembering Hildegard

I meant to write this in time for the 4th anniversary of her passing away, but I was caught up in so much that I, as embarrassing as it is, forgot. I forgot it was that day. For the first time in four years, October 2nd came and went and I didn’t think of it.

She died October 7th, but we lost her five days earlier. My aunt found her lying outside on the lawn, just a minute or two after she’d spoken to the delivery guy who brought the new mattress for my aunt’s bedroom. It was an aneurism in her brain, and she never regained consciousness.  She had just celebrated her 80th birthday, with all her family except for me, because I was travelling in Australia.

Hildegard was my grandmother on my mother’s side, and the only grandparent I was close to. She lived next door all my life. My mother raised three kids by herself, working part-time, so my grandma would come over and do the laundry, iron clothes, clean the house, bring food, and so on. Even when all three of us outgrew the age where we needed constant attention and care, she’d come over every day to see us and check up on us – and she always took the dried laundry with her and brought it back ironed, even when she clearly started having trouble standing long enough to iron a whole laundry basket full of kids’ clothes. (Personally, I’ve never understood my family’s obsession with ironing EVERY SINGLE PIECE of clothing – and towels!)

She was the greatest grandmother I could have ever asked for. She always let us win at boardgames, until we were old enough to figure it out, and even then, she usually still lost because she really did have extraordinarily bad luck with dice and cards. She tried to raise us to appreciate classical music and be proper Catholics (the former, successfully, the latter not so much), and she would let us sleep over at her place some weekends, which was always like an adventure, even though it was really only going next door. I can’t even count the number of times we ran out of milk, or butter, or eggs, and I went over to her place to ask for one of those things – only to come bag with both arms full of stuff that she “meant to give us anyways”, that she “just saw in the supermarket and thought we would like”, or, best of all, cookies or cake that were “just out of the oven, would you like some?”.

The day I lost her, the phone rang at 6:45 am Australian time – my mom was on the line. I was so sleepy I didn’t even pause to think why she called this early, and of course I complained. She didn’t say anything for a while, but the second she spoke, I knew something was terribly wrong. The following ten minutes were the saddest of my life. I sat alone in my little apartment in the middle of Brisbane, on my desk, clinging to the phone, crying wordlessly. I considered going home, maybe making it to see her one last time before she was gone forever – but she was already gone. I might have been able to make it to the funeral, but what for? She never liked graveyards, much less the people who spend weekends at their relatives’ graves. “That’s not where they are”, she’d say, and she was right. I went to her grave much later. She wasn’t there.

She’s in the really old and shapeless blue knit jacket that I kept, and in the small carpet she made by hand that is now in my bedroom. She’s in the old iron that I kept, because it still works, and because I remember her ironing all the time. She’s in the woollen socks that she made for all of us. I think of her whenever I find a white hair on my head, because she never stopped warning me about how all women in our family get white hair very early in life (she seems to have been right, sadly!). I think of her every time we make marble cake using her recipe. I think of her every Christmas – she’s everywhere. She’s in the cookies we make according to all her secret recipes, she’s in the songs we sing, she’s the reason I still like to go to church during advent, and the reason I feel bad when I do, because she was so critical of people who only go to church on Christmas and maybe Easter. I’ve become one of them, and she’d be sad about it.

But I like to think that she’d also be proud. She got to see me finish school with good grades, and she’d have been proud to see me finish a BA with similarly good results. She’d be happy I’m still living in Germany and not so far away as she feared I might, and she’d be proud that I know how to sew a button back onto a blouse. I like to think she’d be proud of the person I’ve become, just as much as she’d be proud of my siblings and cousins. I wish she could have seen my little sister graduate this year. I wish she could have lived another ten years and maybe have seen me get married and have a child. I know she’d have loved to be a great-grandmother.

Writing this is grieving her all over again. It’s amazing to me how painful this piece of writing can be after four years. I haven’t cried for her in a long time, and I’m almost glad I am crying now. I never want to stop missing her. Not missing her would mean not loving her. Not missing her would mean finding a way to fill the space she left behind, and there is nothing and nobody that can ever fill this space. In this space, I have room to remember her.

I want to end this piece on the note it began – remembering. I want to remember Hildegard – not just the grandmother I knew, but the person I knew through her stories. The sister who lost her brother in World War II. The daughter who lost her mother when she was younger than I am now. The wife whose husband left and who never even looked at another man again because she’d promised him faithfulness until death in the eyes of God. The mother who wanted sons and had three daughters instead, and realized it didn’t matter, and nothing could make her happier than her daughters did.

Most of all, I want to remember and share a story with you. It is the story of my grandmother Hildegard’s first kiss. I think it’s a better note to leave this story on than a crying twenty-something missing “Oma”… so here you go:

Hildegard was 16 years old in 1945. The war had just ended, and most of the German population lived in poverty. Hildegard’s former school remained closed after the war. It may have been that the building was destroyed, or it may have been that there weren’t enough people left in the village to fill the teaching positions. Therefore, Hildegard took a train to school every morning. Many teenagers did the same, so the trains were usually very crowded.
There was a boy she saw on the train every morning. Their eyes would meet and they would look away quickly, maybe sometimes smile shyly at each other. Eventually, they got to talk a little bit, and Hildegard realized she really liked this boy. The feeling was mutual, yet they were both too shy to ever bring it up, so for weeks they were content just riding the train together, chatting.
One day, the train was particularly crowded and there were no seats left. The ended up standing next to each other in the middle aisle. It was rainy and pretty dark outside on this day, the clouds wouldn’t let even a little bit of sun through, and it was pretty glum inside the train because the lights in the carriage were not working.
Then, as every day, on the way to school, the train had to pass through a tunnel. Since there were no lights in the carriage, it was suddenly pitch black dark. In those few seconds, when nobody could see, the boy she liked leaned over and kissed Hildegard.
The train exited the tunnel, they could see each other again, and for a moment, all they did was stare at each other. Then they both looked down and stared at their shoes. They never talked again… but for the rest of her life, the memory of that moment would put a smile on Hildegard’s face.