Oh San Francisco, how I will miss you

I will miss your rolling hills, in which the city is safely embedded. No matter how often your inclinations may have annoyed me, my upper thighs have never been fitter. If I can walk up Lombard Street, I can walk up any street in the world!

I will miss your beaches, your foggy, never-warm-enough-to-wear-a-bikini-at-beaches. I will miss sitting at Baker Beach, looking out at Marin and the bridge, searching for dolphins in the shallow waters and knowing that this place is all I need to be happy.

Speaking of which, I will miss the Marin Headlands. I will miss the hiking trails and waterfalls. I will miss Mt Tam and its majestic views. I will miss Stinson Beach and the Parkside Café, especially the brunch options there. I will miss the liberating feeling of being so close to nature and so far away from everything while, really, it’s only an hour bike ride from downtown San Francisco.

I will even miss the downtown area. I will miss the unique ringing of the F trains, when they turn corners. I will miss shopping at the farmers market at the ferry building and counting the pride flags in the Castro. I will miss all the restaurants in the Haight and North Beach and every restaurant in between. I will miss getting tanned in Dolores Park and standing in line for BiRite ice-cream.

I will miss being able to be weird without being perceived as such. I will miss walking around with flowers in my hair and long hippie skirts and I will never stop dressing in layers. Because that’s what you do, when you’re from San Francisco.

I will miss Karl the Fog. I love living in a city where the fog not only has a name, but also its own Facebook, Instagram and Twitter account. I will miss watching it roll into the city, devour the bridges and the hills and the ocean. I will miss being annoyed at how it suddenly got 10 degrees colder.

I will miss the sunshine too. Because we do have sun from September till April and it’s awesome. Even after two years of living in California, I have never once taken a day of sunshine for granted. I have never once stepped outside and gotten bored by the fact that it is – once again- sunny. I have never once passed by palm trees without sending a silent prayer to whomever for getting me to this magical place that is called the Golden State. I have never once doubted that I was the luckiest girl on earth for being where I was.

I will miss the Mission, my Whole Foods in Ingleside, the lake I run around, the beach that’s close by, my office on Market; heck, I might even miss my weird Muni encounters occasionally. I will miss Land’s End hikes and whale watching and going surfing. I will miss being only 5 hours away from Malibu, Yosemite, San Diego, or Hawaii.

I can’t believe that I only have 2 more months left in San Francisco. I can’t imagine that there will ever be another city I will feel so at home at. San Francisco is home. More so than Wismar, Bremen or New York ever were. And I am so sad to leave home.

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Going home from another home

They say when you move abroad you are either running from or running to something. In my case, moving to San Francisco meant I was sprinting towards the life that I thought I should have had all along and I couldn’t wait to prove myself in this new world that I had chosen for myself. And life has been treating me well, better than I had hoped it would and better than I sometimes felt I deserved.  Now, I will be going home for Christmas. By the time my plane touches down in Hamburg, Germany, by the time I grab my luggage and fall into the arms of my (probably bawling) mother, I will have been gone an accumulated total of 483 days. And my God, am I ridiculously excited to go back. I have been watching Love Actually on repeat because both the first and the final scene remind me of how I will feel at the airport. I have been humming Christmas songs in my head since my boss approved my vacation request two months ago. I have moments of jumping up and down in my room when I’m alone, because that’s just how excited I am to see my parents, my brothers and my closest friends, to sleep in my old room, to eat my parents’ home-cooked meals, to wander across Christmas Markets and tour the cities I love.

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And then there is a growing worry. Because, by going back, it might just hit me how long exactly I had been gone. I mean, of course there are the obvious measurements of time. I was 21 when I left and 23 when I come home. I missed my brother’s High School graduation and my other brother’s Confirmation. They missed my grad school commencement. I missed my brother moving out and I couldn’t visit him in the hospital on any of the multiple occasions he was brought in with an epileptic attack. They couldn’t help me when I lost my wallet with all my cards in it or when I hurt my foot so badly in the Grand Canyon that I couldn’t walk for two weeks. And while we were there for each other through phone and Internet, I’ve come to learn that distance is a good buffer. It is a hella good painkiller, too. And you grow comfortable being away.

Because, eventually, the distance gets easier to manage. No, I take that back. The distance is something we start to accept as the inevitable, as something we opted in on when we chose to live the life we want. The time zones and phone calls and missing one another are things to which we can adjust and be okay with, which we sometimes complain about but, at the end of the day, look past it.

So, I have become comfortable with being that one family member living at the other end of the world. Because, without this level of detachment, I would constantly feel bad for choosing here over there. For deciding that my hometown is simply too small for all the dreams I have in my head. For not following in my parents footsteps. At. All. Being the “gone one” has started to feel like not such a bad price to pay. But now that my flights are booked, it keeps hitting me exactly how much I’ve been missing all these people that have known me for more than just 483 days and I want to go back to what I’m used to and give them what they expect to get. Pre-San Francisco Me.

But how do we come home to a place that must inevitably have changed while we were gone? Going home from another home is a weird feeling, because people expect you to be the person you were when you left, and that’s impossible. And, vice versa, you expect things to be exactly the same as when you left, and that’s impossible, too.

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be” (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Most of all though, I just really want Christmas to come!

Cheers,

Ari

The Parentchute

Phil from Modern Family once noted in his “Phil’s-osophy”: “Never be afraid to reach for the stars, because even if you fall, you’ll always be wearing a Parentchute.”

Nobody’s perfect but the great thing is, that you learn from your parents mistakes. So, although my parents didn’t do everything right, I learned even from their downfalls. Hence, here are some reasons why my parents provided me with the best parentchute I could have asked for:

1.) My moms’ OCD taught me from early onwards the values of cleanliness and efficiency. Thanks to that, no roommate would have to complain about the state of my space ever. (You’re welcome, Judith)

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2.) My dad was a firm believer of my natural interest in sciences. On every single vacation, he took me to the local science museums. I loved those father-daughter moments so much, that I would never have told him the truth- I hated science. But thanks to that, I got excellent in faking interest in something (You’re welcome all you teachers in your early-morning-classes).

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3.) My parents’ past (having grown up in communist Eastern-Germany and then having to adjust to a free market economy after Hasselhoff teared the Berlin Wall down) imprinted one rule into their brains: Good school grades= good future. I wouldn’t dare bringing a D home, so instead, I graduated as Valedictorian (You’re welcome parents).

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4.) My moms’ passion for Ballet led to me dancing for over 10 years. Lessons learned: I hate Ballet (You’re welcome tho, flexibility).

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5.) My moms’ confidence in her driving skills shaped my life goal: Move to a big city where I would never need a car ever. Some things just run in the family, no sense in fighting that.

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6.) My families’ fearlessness of spiders taught me that there will always be someone in my life to remove them from my room, so its OK to be scared.

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7.) My moms’ abstract concept of time (“Just five minutes, I gotta tell you about the neighbours’ daughter (… 30 mins later…) and then she picked up the apple and I told her to eat the apple but then she put the apple down and oh, she’s such a cutie, I wish I had grandchildren (…20 mins down the road…) but its ok, finish your masters but I’m telling you, that girl’s a cutie)
taught me to ignore phone calls without feeling guilty about it.

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8.) My parents’ love for a quite, provincial life increased my urge to live differently (been to NYC, goin to SF…see what I’m doing there?)

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9.) My fathers’ trust in my tolerance level allowed me to watch Stephen King’s IT with the age of 13. Clowns are awesome…said no one EVER!

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10.) My moms’ admonishing words that any girl should be able to handle the kitchen taught me the importance of knowing how to defrost and prepare microwave food.

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My parents sure had their fair share in me turning into this fun-filled triple-crazy popsicle that I am but I am thankful for everything they did and still do. When I still lived at home, they were the ones pushing me out the door to go clubbing with friends instead of growing gray hair over homework. They are constantly telling me how proud they are of my achievements, they support my dreams, confirm most of my decisions and make me question a few others. Sure, sometimes they annoy the heck out of me and I wanna shoot either them or myself to the moon to get light years between us. Most of the time though, I am touched by their love and confidence. I know how hard it is for them to let me go to “this big country with the tall buildings and the strange language” (they didn’t say that but I know that’s what my mom’s thinking of the States) and I endlessly appreciate that they not only let me go but support me along the way as much as possible. They might hate the thought of losing me to the US but they also know that it makes me happy. And I know that, should the States and I not work out (which we totally will of course), I will always be able to open the Parentchute and return to a loving home with home-cooked meals and free laundry service. So, here’s to my parents, I wish they spoke English 🙂

Go hug your parents guys or write them a nice Email or bake them a cake.
Cheers!

Family. Home. Happiness.

I have to go on a little bit of a rant… I wanted to post a list of things I love, it being Thursday, and as I started listing them, I realized they all centered around one thing today. That one thing is the feeling of being home.

I love that I have a crazy, warm, loving family, one that fights and argues and still manages to get along and have everyone sit together for weekend brunches. I love that they laugh about the silliest things, and tease each other, and yell at the cats for stealing the breakfast salmon, and complain about the snow, and make fun of my sister for being clumsy and my mother for being something very much resembling a zombie in the morning, and of me, for the excruciating slowness with which I drink my coffee. I love them to bits, and even if they annoy me sometimes, I could not have asked for a better mom, step-dad, brother and sister. My mom knows almost everything that happens in my life, she’s the one I turn to for advice about men and dating and love and friendship and the future. In turn, she comes to me for advice on how to set up her printer…

They’re a little messy, a little disorganized, a little overwhelmed by life at times, but they’re the best family one could have. My brother is the crazy brain who studies Math and will relate absolutely everything to some mathematical concept, leaving the rest of the dinner table rolling their eyes. My sister is the one who’s good with kids, who’s going to be an elementary school teacher and before that, an au pair in Australia. I’m the crazy one who decided to move away for university, who is better at English than her native tongue German, and who’s probably not going to come back and stay, at least not for very long.

And yet, every time I come home, it’s a refuge. I can catch my breath, reflect on my life, my goals, my relationships. I can recover from a break-up or entertain my siblings with stories of life at a campus university where everybody knows everybody else – depending on the mood. I become a kid again, spending entire afternoons trying (and consistently failing) to beat my siblings at Mario Kart (curse you, rainbow road!!), and I become myself again… taking long baths, reading lots of books, going for walks, finding my centre.

I am happy when I go out and explore the world. I love seeing new places, meeting new people, creating new goals, understanding new perspectives. Yet a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, and sometimes the sea gets rough. Relationships fail, goals shift, some dream I had is no longer achievable. Life knocks you around quite a lot when you’re in your early 20s. Especially in those moments, I am so infinitely grateful to have a support network to fall back on. It’s like that cheesy Hannah Montana song… (yes, it’s happening, I’m quoting Miley Cyrus…):

“But when the lights go down it’s the ending of the show
And you’re feeling like you got nowhere to go
[…]
when I’m feeling down and I am all alone
I’ve always got a place where I can go
Cause I know
You can change your hair and you can change your clothes
You can change your mind, that’s just the way it goes
You can say goodbye, you can say hello
But you’ll always find your way back home.”

End of rant… and end of cheesiness.

But seriously, there’s few things I could think of that I am more grateful for than this amazing family. If nothing else goes right, I’ll always have them to come home to and start anew…

A Different Kind of Love Letter

This is not for any person. This is for my home.

Upper Bavaria, in the South of Germany, is known among Germans as a bit of an odd place, where people talk funny, have a number of befuddling traditions, are a little too conservative, and altogether just a bit strange.

I happen to think it is the most beautiful place on Earth.

I landed in the early afternoon on a day in mid-September, and as the plane broke through the clouds on its way to the international airport in Munich, we were greeted by rather typical German September weather… grey, cloudy, cool, a smell of cold in the air, already a hint of winter. (Not that September in Germany couldn’t also be sunny and 30°C… theoretically. It does happen.)

As we descended, rolling hills of green passed by outside my window, little villages tucked into forest clearings or a river bend, all of them composed of white houses with red roofs, the obligatory church and market square, all peaceful-looking, tiny and a wholly different world from the one I had just left behind me in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi. The contrast could have not been more striking.

Three weeks in Kenya taught me a lot about the country, but as always, going away also makes you look at your home country in a different light. What I noticed as I re-entered Germany was how green everything was, how cold compared to Nairobi, how clean and how orderly. Above all, I noticed the difference in perceived (and presumably real) safety levels. I hopped into my mom’s car and we drove home without locking the car doors, parked the car on our parking lot and walked into the house without passing any security guards or gates. There are no bars in front of our windows, walking at 3 a.m. is usually perfectly safe, and a taxi driver is extremely unlikely to con and rob you. Within Germany, there are certainly areas where safety especially at night can be an issue, but my small town in Bavaria is definitely not one of them.

My town has about 20,000 inhabitants, which means I still occasionally run into my kindergarten teacher at the supermarket. The conservative party won about 70 percent of votes in the last election (although, I suspect, mostly because it was promising to build a cinema, which probably earned quite a few votes from the age group 18-25). There are more churches than I would consider strictly necessary for this number of people, and the ban on religious symbols at school has not yet reached us – crucifixes in classrooms are still a matter of course, as is compulsory religious education, or alternatively “ethics”, for those who don’t feel they belong in either the Catholic or the Protestant class. We’ve got a pool and a few restaurants, but in terms of entertainment, nearby Munich offers a lot more, of course. With a 20 minute drive I can be in the heart of Munich, fighting traffic (although compared to Nairobi traffic, this really does not seem worth mentioning), but a drive of the same duration in the other direction will lead me into the countryside, where villages have 200 inhabitants and usually about the same number of cows.

Do I have my issues with this place? Of course I do. In rural Bavaria, the predominant notion is that you should really just stay where you were born, get married, have a few kids, and if you go on holiday, maybe you should go see the North of Germany, where they speak that odd, over-correct German and don’t know what a “Semmel” is. (A.N.: Bavarian dialect for a bread roll, the standard German is “Brötchen”). Why ever would you want to travel far away? What do you want in New York City where there are so many tall buildings and you can barely see the sky? Why would you go to Africa, where it’s always hot and dirty and people are starving? What could possibly induce you to go to South America, where you’ll surely be robbed, or kidnapped by a drug cartel?

Of course this narrow view of the world bothers me. Of course it bothered me that my decision to study somewhere other than Munich was frowned upon. Of course it bothered me when a boyfriend came to visit and odd looks followed us in the more rural areas because of the color of his skin. Of course it bothers me that a winter can last from October to April, and that finding a cinema that will play films in their original language can take some substantive effort. It’s why I travel… so that this part of the world is not all that I see, so that its view of the world is not all that I know.

Yet no matter what happens, this is my home. And for as long as I live, when I think of this little conservative, peaceful, almost boring corner of the world, it will give me a distinct feeling of belonging. My roots are here in this odd and beautiful place where dialect is very much alive, where people know that Weißwurst (Bavarian veal sausage) is traditionally eaten before 12 pm, where even greetings already involve a mention of God (“Grüß Gott!”), where the standard, stoic answer to something not going one’s way is “ja mei” (dialect for “oh well”), and where summer months are still spent biking to the nearby lake to swim, or finding one’s way through a maze cut into a corn field.

I wish I could have continued my stay in Kenya as planned, and throughout the entire flight I felt regret tugging at me, making me wish that something had gone differently… yet as we landed, just for a while, I forgot about it. As I was watching the green hills under the cloudy sky, watching white houses with red roofs come into closer view, fields alternating with patches of forest, I only felt one thing – love.

It’s good to be back, Bavaria.

Rooftops…

..are AWESOME! Today, we got invited to the apartment by one of the intern girls Jess is working with. Her apartment is in a building right at Central Park West and from up at the rooftop you can see over Central Park and the Skyline around it. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G!!! This is the kind of building, you end up in and know that you made it in life. If I lived in that apartment, I would go to this roof every single day:

In the morning, I skyped with my Mom, who had her 45th birthday today. Hence, the whole family was there standing around the laptop screen, even the members that you only see once or twice a year for the important celebrations or when the cake is expected to be especially good. It’s really great seeing everyone but on the other hand, it also made me notice how much I am living in a different world right now. This big city, this different country, the people here, the lifestyle…all of these things are something I can absolutely connect to. But it’s the complete contrast to what I came from. And I can see that in their faces whenever I start talking about my adventures in New York and how much I want to move here for good at some point. This facial expression saying “Oh, thats nice dear, its a nice adventure and have a great time, enjoy every second but don’t put up your hoped to high.” And its not that they wouldn’t support me. Its just the generation and the time they grew up in, this mindset that makes it impossible to imagine family emigrating to the US. It makes me worried that I am distancing myself from then without even noticing. So, that was one thing I realized today while smiling and nodding and telling funny stories about my everyday adventures here. The other thing I noticed was how old my grandparents turned. I do make sure that I see them twice a year and more often if possible. And of course I know that all of this is absolutely natural and just the normal circle of life blablabla but it just rubs it in painfully that your childhood is over and the people that belonged to it, the people that took you into the woods to search for mushrooms or taught you how to ride a motorbike or pretended not to hear anything when you sneaked downstairs at night to steal some candy, these awesome people start fading and, at some point, will be gone and you have nothing but your memories. The summers that my cousin, my brothers and I spent at their house, in the countryside with nothing but trees, fields and a lake, these summers were great.
SO, I think I finally found one downturn of living here at the moment: There is no open space to just walk and get everything off your mind. You couldn’t walk barefoot or just stand at a shore letting the wind blow through your hair and shake your thoughts back into place. The parks are closed after 10 and dangerous to be after sunset anyways. Hence, you have a blog to not only look cool and up-to-date but also to be able to have some sort of diary to get things off your head. Jupp. And since you are in the States and NOT 21 yet, you can’t even go out and dance your melancholy away…