Love for books, mangos and Heavy Metal: December 2016

I’d really like to start this post by saying that I tried very hard to finish this in time with the year in review post for the year of 2016. But, honestly, I didn’t even try. For some reason, finishing the post about the whole year felt much more urgent.

But December was a not-half-bad month in the life of the maintainer of this little site on the internet. – I read some cool things, and many people said funny things to me. If you keep reading, you’ll find out all about them below! (And you’ll see a super cute dog I met at an airport.)


I found

  • The entrance to the Speakeasy
  • Fantastic books

Read

Heard (1)

  • “Be straight with us. Are you at the burger truck?”
  • “One drink is no drink. … But we’re not gonna make this a habit!”
  • “I hope someone told you that before?”
  • “Bring the eye patch.”
  • “You only like me for my coffee recommendations.” — “No!… yes.”
  • “What happened was exactly what I expected to happen when you said you were going to Australia.”

Wrote

  • “Worst case it will be a good story. But I really don’t want to think this way anymore.”
  • A good story
  • Something about taking chances

Watched (or saw)

Said

  • “It’s not because I’m German, it’s just that I’m really not sure if this actually qualifies as humour.”
  • “Once you suppress the thought of garlic, it’s actually drinkable.”
  • “Can’t talk, I have Mango in my face.” – “Is that a euphemism I’m not aware of?” – “No, I literally have a Mango in my face.”
  • “I don’t think I’ll make it to the concert on Friday.”

Learned

  • What “timezones are hard” can really mean
  • I choose my books based on who I want to become.

Was

  • Wondering if I missed a chance
  • In Terminal 2, waiting for boarding, listening to Christmas music (not voluntarily)
  • On a plane
  • On another plane
  • Home
  • Jetlagged, maybe
  • Surprised
  • On more planes
  • In an Australian Bar somewhere in Scandinavia (by accident)
  • In many bookstores
  • In the bathtub

I did

  • Make it through Christmas
  • Send a poem
  • Lose a Memory Card
  • Walk home
  • Walk 80kms around Helsinki
  • Come home to flowers

I did…, although it was a bad idea

  • Leave
  • Look for flights
  • Get only one more coffee
  • Count

Had

Heard (2)

  • “Have fun with the adventure that you call life.”
  • “Leave Finnland alone. … I mean it.”
  • “You’re in Helsinki? Is there a conference I’m not aware of?”
  • “You’re a writer – not keeping the personal and professional separated, that’s exactly what you do. That’s where you get your inspiration from.”
  • “Guess there’s no white Christmas this year. Santa will have to come in a Helicopter.”
  • “I’m the only Aussie who didn’t come here for the love of a woman.” – “Then why did you come here?” – “I came here for my love of Heavy Metal.”

Listened to

I thought

  • About goodbyes
  • About Drop Bears
  • About why a Speakeasy is called a Speakeasy in English, while it’s called Flüsterkneipe in German (which literally translates to Shush bar, and which seems to be just the opposite of a Speakeasy)
  • About Christmas presents
  • About time
  • About hope

Patches of Light: Helsinki in December

Observations, music, thoughts, musings, written down over the course of eight days in December 2016 while meandering through Helsinki, Finnland.


Preamble

Still the rush of an intense day and a stressful trip to the airport inside of me (one of those times when you don’t know if you’ll make it in time), I sit back on the plane. A few minutes after takeoff, I look at a sky so full of stars.

Let me come over, I can waste your time, I’m bored.


You are exactly where you need to be

At the airport, I see a plane that will be leaving for Lapland in one hour. I briefly consider changing my plans; but returning to Lapland will have to wait for another time. All snow is gone, what’s left are only piles of dirt-covered ice that must’ve been snow a while ago; an outdoor ice rig, a self storage called Pelikan (genius!), and giant neon signs with very long words on store fronts.

The wind today feels like it could blow me away any second, if only it wanted to. Everyone I meet in the streets is wearing a woolen hat. The soles of your shoes are all worn down, the time for sleep is now. I walk past a sign that says herkku (delicacy), but at first think it says heroku (Cloud Application Platform); I may have been working in tech for too long. I decide to get coffee.

I thought I’d moved on from being a person who takes picture of boats. Turns out, I was wrong.

Botanical gardens in December in the Northern Hemisphere are basically 50 shades of brown (with very few exceptions).

Santa Claus has a booth at the local Christmas market. Last time I saw Santa, I saw (“)the original one(“) in Lapland and refused to sit on his lap. A strong smoked salmon smell is in the air.

I follow the smell of fat and sugar and find a booth that sells fresh Munkki, a type of Finnish donuts. I get two, and this is how I find out what love is.

Munkki are my first love, and they will be my last.

Someone is selling Christmas trees. I don’t do Christmas, but think that it might be fun to get a tiny tree for my hotel room. Trees are cool.

I walk up the steps to the Cathedral and sit down on one of the benches inside to defrost and listen to an organ recital.

Here, the ground floor is no. 1 (not 0, like where I live right now). I also accidentally find out (as in: I literally run into a sign with an announcement) that the Swedish Theatre in town will soon be showing Ingvar! – en musikalisk möbelsaga (literally translates to: Ingvar! – A musical furniture saga) – a musical about capitalism and IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad (at least that’s as much as I understand).

And I learn that Skönlitteratur (literally beautiful literature) means Fiction in Swedish.

I’m longing to read poetry.

When I walk through streets, I have a habit of reading out signs, even more so when I’m in a country where I don’t speak the language. I mutter them quietly, in an attempt to get a better sense for how words work, how they’re pronounced, what the language may sound like.

On the balcony of the Historical Museum, there are two giraffes sitting and looking down onto the rest of the world.

I enter another book store (one that has a piano in it), where the owner diagnoses that I was “looking adventurous”, and takes that as a reason to recommend I take a look at the basement – and the chapel at the end of it.

I go downstairs, past a pool table, along the white walls that are covered in shelves filled with books. I go to the chapel that’s home to bibles and encyclopaedias, sit down in a huge green armchair, hear a machine quietly humming.

I hear someone sing with a very deep voice, accompanied by a guitar. I get a few books, and listen to them, while skimming through the pages. An hour later, I leave the store with five books.

For someone who is on vacation and wanted to get a break from the calendar that usually determines most of their time, I have a damn lot of appointments over the next days.

I realise I still feel like I have to do everything immediately; feel like I’m running out of chances to see, chances to do things before the Public Holidays, to do before my vacation is over; feel like I’m running out of time, out of daylight, out of chances to explore before the great darkness sets in again at 3pm. (Maybe it takes a bit of time to ease out of this habit?)

As I walk down another street, they’re playing All I want for Christmas is you in stores. My inner “All I want for Christmas is you”-Counter is up at 8 for this season. For now.

Darkness is setting in. I go out to see a Ballet, am amazed about pretend ice skaters on stage, and get very angry about gender stereotypes in the production.

There’s a busker with an accordion and a voice like Tom Waits, singing very sad Finnish songs.

There’s no visible transition between day and night and day anymore. All is blurry, just one soup of different shades of grey to black to grey. Won’t you take me to a world after the rain.

On the way back home, all I hear is someone with a Zither playing Für Elise, a train in the distance, and my heels on the cobblestone. All else is quiet. I think about how, as soon as there’s a certain distance, there’s less room for bullshit.

I walk past a sign saying You are exactly where you need to be.

And now, it’s time to leave and turn to dust.


Light like from another world, bathrobes like hugs, patterns like angry dogs

For the first time since I got here, I see the sun, and decide to follow it. Suddenly, I see a taxidermied seagull sitting in a window, and Santa Claus jaywalking.

 

The moss covering the ground in the park by the sea is so soft.

There’s a playground built onto a rock.I sit down on another rock to observe the light. There’s a big hole in the clouds and in this day.

It starts raining, I don’t have an umbrella and forgot the lens cap for my camera at home; the camera is getting wet, and it’s raining too much to keep hiding under a tree.

And suddenly, the dark grey shifts –

to the most beautiful, glowing, almost magical light I’ve ever seen. I stay right where I am for a while, hiding my camera under my coat.

It keeps raining, I keep walking and end up on a small island.

Rocks like stranded whales.

It’s one of these times when sky and sea and rocks become one.

There’s no one at the beach (which is not extremely surprising since it’s close to 0°C and end of December – on the other hand, people are always tougher than we think). But then, beams of light.

We got what it takes, we can put up a fight.

I walk past red brick buildings and take pictures of Christmas stars in windows. At a street corner, there’s a “no entry” sign that’s got the same round shape as the street corner, and I wonder if that was by design or by (literal) accident.

As I enter one of the brick buildings, I see another Santa run across the backyard. Or is it the same Santa I keep meeting here? The smell of trees. Another walking teddy bear / dog.

Patches of light, a failed attempt to cover up the holes in our days.

I walk past a sticker saying No estas sola – tienes el feminismo. Two kids singing in a small square; they have to compete against the music blasting from the café nearby. In the bookstore, I get very angry looking at the numerous books written by white men that are filling up the shelves – compared to very few books by authors that are not white men. In another book store, I find a book called Only sofas, that actually only contains photos of sofas. At checkout, I learn that there’s a buy 7, get 1 free deal. Oops.

I find this quote from the Director of the Finnish National Theatre:

Today we live in a world of grim realities, of conflict and uncertainty. In a divisive world, it is important to create a unifying force. Art provides a common language, and we must have the courage to use it. — (Mika Myllyaho)

I read an email and I literally laugh out loud (that basically never happens). Because it’s exactly the right email with exactly the right content, but it could not be a more wrong (wronger? wrongsier? wrongster? wrongstershire?) time.

This timing problem seems to manifest itself these days, like it was a tiny, very angry dog, bit me in the leg some time ago, and now just won’t let go.

After a relaxing evening spent in the bathtub with pizza and some of my newly acquired books, I hide in this giant bath robe which feels like a wearable hug. I go to bed early. The flickering lights from the TV and the smoke detectors in my room make me feel like I’m at an airport and the desk is the runway.

I can’t fall asleep. At 1:30am, I’m wide awake and pondering anxious work-related thoughts. I’m not good at this vacation thing.


The Days of the Ravens

The rain is back. In the morning, rain drops hit the lid of my coffee mug like a little drum. Almost all shops and cafés are closed, and those that aren’t will be shutting down over the next few hours. I stay in one café as long as I can, trying to write and, for a brief moment, admiring a person with very good hair from afar. The seagulls that were here over the last days are gone. These are the days of the ravens.

As I walk down the streets, I catch myself whistling a Christmas carol. I don’t even know many Christmas carols; the few I know, I learned from TV shows and commercials. I stand by the lake and wait for a duck to resurface; after 3 minutes, I give up. I’m impressed by how long it can hold its breath. Superduck.

Reflections in water, on water, about water. When there’s so little light, all shapes blur out; contours wash out, there are no more clear lines. Really too late to call, so we wait for morning.

And then there’s still the question which thoughts are even worth thinking; which ones are worth writing down; which thoughts are worth being shared. — A system of filters where the result is not necessarily a good example for survival of the fittest.

I still have a tendency to pull up my shoulders, like I still haven’t gotten used to my height. I run into another giant nesting doll. Public bins here have an extension for removing dirt from shoes. Don’t be a person who’s only around to make someone else’s dream come true.

When people ask why I’m here, I tell them because I have nowhere else to be. That’s not true, but as close to the truth as I want to get. The truth would be: I am exactly where I need to be. But I also have somewhere I want to be, somewhere I’d like to be, somewhere I’d love to be; and somewhere I can’t be.

By the lake, someone wrapped a red woolen scarf wrapped around a lantern, as if it were there to protect the lantern’s very long neck.

The cracks in the ice are gentle, cold cracks in the few things that remain.

Any kind of magic always has a bittersweet reality to it.

I meet Santa no. 4 for the week, this time knocking at someone’s door.

The rain and wind intensified; I try to determine which angle they’re coming from, and estimate we reached about 60° by now. I have less than a rough idea of where I am. The departure time displays at the terminals are empty. Everyone who is still out here now is not going anywhere anymore tonight. I have nowhere I’ll have time.

All places are reminders of other places. All surfaces are opportunities for reflections of other surfaces, including ourselves.

I sit down for the first time after 9,786 steps and pour out the stones in my shoes. I only notice now that my feet are wet. It’s Christmas eve, the time of the biggest Christmas celebrations in Finnland.


Kiitos means thank you

At the indoor market, I see giant hams, tiny apples; gingerbread, pastry, Vietnamese food, giant piles of fish, meat, huge bowls of caviar (I’ve never seen such big bowls of caviar), kebab, nuts, wine.

I don’t have a sweet tooth, but for some reason, pastry in Scandinavia always gets me (I blame it on the Cardamom and Cinnamon). I get Kardemummapulla (when I was in Malmø, I got similar pastry; it’s basically dough with cardamom (or with a cardamom filling), sprinkled with sugar).

The wind blows over the ice, and ruffles the water in the bay. In the coffee place, there’s a giant dog that looks like a huge, long-haired sheep with big black dots.

I hold the door for a woman with a stroller. She says Kiitos, I say you’re welcome. She sits down next to me on the pillow-covered bench outside and talks to her baby. In German. She starts writing Christmas cards, but as the baby seems to be very dissatisfied with the situation, at some point she says: “If nothing is good today, let’s just go home and make this a quiet day”, and strolls away with the kid. I feel like I should’ve told her that I could understand her.

There’s a lantern with a candle that the wind has blown out. I re-light it and watch the wind play with the flame.

Only hold till your coffee warms.

My body is tired and aching today. I hide under my coat as if it was a blanket. I’m afraid of birds, and yesterday, I accidentally bought a book that’s exclusively poetry about birds; not my proudest purchase. At the Christmas market, you can also buy signage for saunas. And hourglasses. There’s also a blacksmith making candle holders. It’s very quiet, as if people were only whispering.

I get a haircut at a place that’s bar and hair salon combined. I ask the hairdresser if they went for that setup so people can at least get drunk when the haircuts are bad. He doesn’t find it funny.

I see Finnish Tom Waits again, meet more very fluffy dogs, almost buy huge golden crown earrings, and a reindeer fridge magnet. Pikku Prinsi means Little Prince in Finnish.

There’s something very beautiful about the language around living through something. It makes it sound like something you go through, a tunnel or a jungle, maybe a lake or the sea. I like when language feels so close to the truth.

I’m at a choir concert, where I see 5-year-old kids who have haircuts that are hipper than mine (I’m jealous) and almost disappear entirely behind their textbooks. And, unexpectedly, the first song turns out to be a reminder of what was, what is, and what will never be. All lights turn into dots.

As I get back out, they’re disassembling the Christmas market. The All I want for Christmas is you-Counter goes up to 10.

I sit in a bar. I came here to write. Instead, I stare at a pile of zested oranges and lemons. The last time I saw a zested lemon, it was at a crossroads somewhere much further south-east. Some drinks here come with pre-folded paper planes. For a writer who needs to decipher the stuff they write at some point, I have horrible handwriting.

The great thing about sitting at the bar, all by yourself, is that there’s really no one who cares about you. I got myself a space coat. I keep the future as bright as gold. I’m drifting far away. You can stay.

For years, I’ve been wishing for things to quiet down, for my life to be calmer, less stressful, more chill. This is the year I understood why that doesn’t happen; and that not all stress is the same.

The bartender has the same dark blue shirt that I have with me, and I smell burnt rosemary leaves. One of the biggest (and most fun) challenges in writing is making sure that your facts and fiction are indistinguishable.

The night turns out much different from I thought it would. In the bathroom of the bar, I find over a dozen different feminist, anti-fascist stickers on the mirror, which look like they were put up there over the course of many, many years. Whoever put them up: I salute you.

The stickers remind me of something I need to take care of. I get out and walk home. Drink up, baby, look at the stars.


Flames, cobblestone, and something about happiness

These are the days when every bit of sunlight is an event. And today, I was just in time for it.

I walk down to the park that turns out to be a different kind of park than I thought it was, and, as I stand at a crossroads, I realise I’ve forgotten the meaning of some English words in German.

The ice in the bay makes for a perfect mirror (much less of the trees behind it). I sit down by the water and look at how clear it is.

It reminds me that it may be time to dip my into the water again.

The backlit moss on top of the graveyard walls looks like tiny, bright orange flames.

As I sit by the harbour and watch the sunlight on cobblestone and water, see the ferries come and go, I finally freeze to the core. I guess I can finally let go of all my uncertainty.

This is a place that can change in all that it is so quickly, just through a little bit of light. As I’m off to the train station, I see a purple sky and my first actual sunset here. By the way: Should anyone count, they may find out that some bigger stones at the beach are missing – I took them with me in my shoes.

Travelling by oneself is, per definition, a lonely experience — and whenever I want things to be different, I have to make an effort to change that (and, as a woman travelling by herself, I feel like I also always have to be extra cautious; which is frustrating, but that’s still the state of things).

Today is one of these days when traveling by myself is difficult. Today, it feels lonely. Today, I feel very alone. And I have zero interest or energy left inside of me to make any effort to change that. I miss the people I love, familiar faces.

Happiness comes from within, yeah yeah; but all that comes from within here at the moment is exhaustion, frustration, tiredness. (Also, screw “happiness”). No matter what I try to combat that, nothing helps. And as then, to top it all off, the handle of my travel bag tears off, I just want to curl up in fetal position on the floor between the commuters and cry.

But that’s not what happens. What actually happens is that I pull up the bag by its remaining handles and myself together, and walk on.

There are days in traveling by myself when I can’t do anything but embrace the deep, dark, soul-sucking loneliness. And hope for other, sunnier days. If all goes as I hope, they will come again very soon. And if really everything goes as I hope, I won’t have to listen to All I want for Christmas is you in a very long time.

To be continued.
[*turns up the volume*]


All photos are also on Flickr.

12 Days of Summer – Melbourne in November 2016

Observations, music, thoughts, notes, written down under over the course of 12 days in November & December 2016 while meandering through Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Jetlag, maybe, and something about cloves

When abroad, my general rule is: everything that’s within a distance I can walk, I will walk. So I walk to the place I want to work from today.

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I love the sound that the pedestrian traffic lights here make when they switch to green; it sounds like it was directly adopted from BB-8’s sound register.

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I keep bumping into people because I walk on the wrong side of the road. I walk past a road called Club Lane; it looks like less of a party than the name suggests. I google signs of jetlag because I’m not sure if I have it. Friend C. says: “If you had it, you would know.” I have very bad tooth ache.

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There’s someone on a delivery bike with super adorable neon green/yellow hair. The trees are so green here. Coming from grey, dark European winter, this is just so beautiful.

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I’m torn between freaking out about the tooth situation, and telling myself that it will be fine. I decide to act like any reasonable grown-up would do and suppress the topic.

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I walk past a playground with three giant nested dolls lined up. I want to take photos of them, but they’re too far away. First, I’m too afraid to cross the road. Then I do it anyway:

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They do have great trees here. It starts raining. There’s the answer to my earlier question whether to take an umbrella with me (of course I didn’t bring one). We go to the most pretentious place I’ll probably ever go to — a pastry store.

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And suddenly, the yawning sets in. It’s the kind of yawning that comes from very deep within, and that comes with a tiredness that crawls up your spine. I go outside and stand in the sun for a few minutes. They say that exposure to sunlight is supposed to help. But I’m afraid of getting sunburnt.

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One of the things I always find strangest abroad are locks. Just the basics of how locks work are often so different from anything I’m used to.

Do you wanna dance?

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As I walk home, I wonder if the light here is special or if my glasses are dirty. Irgendwas in mir will leuchten / Something inside of me wants to shine. I think my body is still trying to figure out whether or not to punish me for this weird situation I put her into. And suddenly, a very strong smell of weed. I suddenly start tripping without apparent reason.

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I have officially reached full on zombie mode. I’m trying to find a grocery store and accidentally end up in a mall. It’s rush hour, there are too many people, it takes me 5 minutes to find the exit again. I keep frantically checking all my bags for my camera, my laptop, my wallet, my keys. Every 3 minutes. Because by the time I’ve gotten to my keys, I’ve already forgotten if my camera is actually there.

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I still can’t find a grocery store. What I find instead are places with the following names:

  • Pop Culture Specialists
  • Lüneburger – German Bakery
  • Lord of the Fries
  • Moo! Moo! Pho
  • Naked in the Sky
  • Naked for Satan

They really got something going here with naming things. (Of course I will lose some of my notes with more great names before I manage to write this post; it just means I’ll have to go back and restart my research.)

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I find a grocery store. I wander through the aisles trying to find cloves (for the tooth). Suddenly, they’re playing All I want for Christmas is you (the version from Love, Actually), and if things were less sweaty, less tired, less jetlagged, less unromantic, less sad, and generally just very different, this whole scene could be decent content for Love, Actually – 2. But that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is that I can’t find cloves and I’m about to just lie down between the nuts and bananas and hug the box of cornflakes I got and fall asleep.

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I pay for my groceries and ask the person at the checkout if they know a shop where I can buy cloves. She tells me the name five times because I keep forgetting it. The sunset is so pretty tonight.

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I hug my fake sheep fur neck pillow while I try to fall asleep.

One item I always buy when I’m abroad is cloudy apple juice. I never have it at home.


Golden days and less golden years (for sure)

At 6:30am, I wake up to a beautiful morning. The sun is shining directly into my room. I open my laptop, say hi to my coworkers who are still up, work for 2 hours, make breakfast, put on sunscreen. I talk to someone on the phone who’s 16 hours away. These are the moments when I look at this modern life and it amazes me.

I head out to the coffee place around the corner again and get my usual. I completely broke my shoes tripping in zombie mode yesterday. They’re my golden sneakers that I love very much. I get to a major crossroads and immediately know where I am and where I need to go. I love these moments. 90% of life are about being there when you’re needed.

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I finish my second coffee. It’s 10:11am and I have blisters on my feet. It’s Friday and when I think about what I’ll do tonight, I remember the advice that S. gave me which was to avoid bars on Fridays because of guys like him. It’s incredibly windy. Suddenly, the smell of flowers. At 4:30pm, I walk home, and I need to buy pizza and a basecap. There’s a peeled lemon lying on the street.

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I run into three women as I try to get on an elevator on the wrong side. I apologize. One of them smiles at me saying “Oh, it’s one of these days, huh?” I nod and think to myself, “one of these years.”

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I’m getting ready for the weekend while most of my friends and coworkers haven’t even woken up (or gotten to bed the day before) yet. Being in the future is very strange.


The Night

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At a party. I have sparkling water with lemon juice and as I walk home, I write a letter and send it via SMS.

I love cities at night. That’s the reason why I’m walking home. The light is so different, but still fantastic. It bothers me that I didn’t bring my camera tonight.

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I’ve only been here for a few days, but I know where I’m going without a map; that makes me happy.

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I walk past a guy who kicks a streetlight. Two of the three pairs of shoes I brought here broke during the trip.

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It’s 16°C and the streets feel warm, it smells like flowers in some places, like BBQ in others, then there’s trash, bar smell and car smell. The prospect of summer is in the air. Summer’s not fully here yet, but very, very close.

I say “home” and home is now a hotel, and it was a place with a view only 36 hours ago; the concept of home, what can it be.

And I see a very bright star that’s not a star.

Nothing really means nothing
Is the saddest thing I know
So deliver me from sin
And give me rock and roll.


Daisies, Dragonflies, and a Choir, maybe

I didn’t have a good night, and when I wake up at 5:45am, I feel very detached from the people I care about the most. At 8am, I shower, and try new eyeshadow (three shades of red and rose). At least the eyeshadow is good.

I head out for breakfast and work.

I find people particularly annoying today; especially the people sitting at the table next to mine, who keep complaining about their eggs, the service staff, this hipster place. I pay and head back home, hoping for some peace and quiet.

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Back home, I try to take a good selfie. I need that today. Selfies can help us make sense of the world, see ourselves in a different light, or connect with ourselves. All of that is what I need today.

12pm. During sync, my note-taking app erases all notes I’ve taken today so far, and I don’t even know why. I just want to cry. I get back to my work.

A few hours later, for a few moments, I can hear the sound of a choir singing from afar, louder than all the roadworks and street noises. Then it fades. I open the balcony door and step outside to listen. It comes back, fades again, comes back. I lean against the balcony door and listen carefully. It’s just so beautiful.

This is exactly what I needed today.

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The sun comes out, I decide to go for a walk and resist the urge to only take pictures of trees (or to hug a palm tree).

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The smell of daisies. Dragonflies. And then there’s this thing that I still can’t grasp that I’m even here. From the corner of my eye, I notice a weird, bright yellow statue. Turns out it’s a runner, leaning agains a tree and stretching.

I sit down on some rocks that the sunlight has warmed up, and listen.

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Wake me up when this summer comes.

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Nature (even the park version of it) sounds just so different here than at home.

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On the ground in front of the symphony building, there are quotes about music and art. One says: The gift of art is one that lasts a lifetime. Across the street, big signs say Merry Christmas.

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I look through some pictures I’ve taken over the past months. Funny thing is that, after doing photography for more than half of my life, I can tell exactly just by the way I look at things when I photographed them how I was doing at the time.

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The light. For my last birthday, someone wished me Always great light. And that’s probably one of the most beautiful things someone wished me so far.

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You’ll always be the brightness in my dark.


Coffee, coats; no goats

In the morning, I get my coffee at my usual place. The barista has the most beautiful, most sparkling eyes I’ve ever seen.

I sit in the same small street I always sit in. A woman leaves a building and waves at me, smiling as if she knew me. I wave back. I don’t know her, but we’re wearing the same coat.

At midday, I stand outside in the sun a bit. Someone sings Mad World, and it’s so beautiful. A barista apologises to me because she doesn’t remember my name. I’ve been to this place once. 4 days ago.

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A few hours later, as I’m standing on the balcony at home, I hear one of the neighbours playing a song I started listening to again a few weeks ago.

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Cause there’s nothing else to do
Every me and every you
.

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One of the greatest perks about traveling alone is not having to share pillows with anyone. La Trobe would make for a great rapper name. For the first time since I got here, someone asks me for directions.

The sunset is incredibly beautiful.

I was hugged by two people today, and I needed these hugs. I realise I only have 3 nights and days left and it makes me very sad. I walked 11,000 steps in heels today.

Then something went wrong for Faye Wray and King Kong
They got caught in a celluloid jam
Then at a deadly pace it came from outer space
And this is how the message ran
.


It’s a bat town

I meet Doc, the dog:

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At the zoo.

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Major disappointment when it turns out that I won’t be able to participate in the Wombat meet & greet. On the other hand, this is just another item on my Reasons for coming back list.

“The female bird will have 4-5 male birds that bring her food.” #lifegoals

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And then we leave the birds behind and I laugh when suddenly, they turn on some music, and this is the first time in 6 years that I hear I like birds, and I still haven’t forgotten about last time (and very sure never will).

Watching a Wombat sleep is likely the cutest things I’ll get to do this year.

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There’s this thing about travelling that, very often, by the time I’d finally grasped where I was, I had to leave again. This is happening here as well. And it is what it is.

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And then there’s this thing about knowing that you’re very likely not going to see any of the people you meet again in a very, very long time. That makes me incredibly sad. And it is what it is.

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As I walk back home, it’s 30°C warm, and someone is playing Jingle Bells.

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I love cities at night.

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At night, bats are flying above our heads. For the first time since I got here, I can see the stars.

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On the way home, I would just like to stay out here forever.

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Maybe then we will see all those things
That I have truly lost along the way.


Walking in a winter wonderland

I chat to a barista about work (their work, my work) for a while. I get my coffee and go around the corner and sit on a bench and wait for the sun to dry my hair.

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I still have time left, so I get up and get another coffee. As I sit at an ugly street corner somewhere in the city center, I think about what happened. This was the year of constant change. I think about how much things must have changed to make them look the way they look right now.

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I write a list of my favourite moments on this trip. And then, I get ice cream.

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And then this is it. This is everything.

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I walk over to where my taxi is waiting. Someone is blasting the same Backstreet Boys song through the streets. This is how it all began, and this is how it ends. ‘Cause I want it that way.

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There’s a love and a sense of direction
in the matter that keeps us apart
there’s a light coming out of the woodworks
from a crack in the door to my heart.


All photos are also on Flickr.

On Friendship

For the heart with no companion
For the soul without a king
For the prima ballerina
Who cannot dance to anything

— Leonard Cohen


It’s a weekday night in very late autumn / early winter (the boundaries are blurred) in Berlin. It’s just past 10pm, the temperature outside is 6°C, and it’s been raining a lot today. It’s still raining right now.

And then there’s the darkness. Sunrise today was at 7:30am, sunset just past 4pm, which makes for not even nine hours of daylight.

On this very day, I almost canceled on a friend. It had been an exhausting day in an exhausting month in an exhausting year. This friend and I meet every week, always on the same day, always at the same place. When they texted me earlier whether we were going to meet, I wrote them that it’d been an exhausting day, how tired I was from thinking and talking, how stressed out I was about all my tasks I’d still need to take care of right now, about how I’d urgently need to get groceries, and that I’d like to see them, but just couldn’t tonight. I ended my message on the question what they’d think about meeting me on the weekend.

Before I hit the send button, I looked at what I wrote again. And deleted it. Instead, I suggested a time for us to meet.

A few minutes later, I was already happy about this decision.

A few hours later, it got me thinking about friendship.


When I’d changed my mind about the plans for tonight, I’d reckoned that it might be wise for me to spend some time with someone who I love and who I know, with someone who cares about me, and who I care about. It turned out to be a wonderful evening. On the subway on my way home, I contacted a few other friends about possibly meeting them at some point in the next weeks. As I got off at my last stop and walked home through the rain, I realised how lucky and grateful I am for having these people in my life. – Because it’s not always been like this for me.

For a very, very long time in my life (more than half of it), I had many great, close friends. And then came a point where all these friends were gone. None of this was anyone’s fault, my choice, or due to anything within my control. But it still happened.

And it took me many, many years to build new friendships. It took me a long time to understand that it takes lots of dedication and care to build and maintain them – and that one of the biggest keys to growing such friendships is giving them time, so that trust can grow within them. It took me even longer to understand that I’m not as much of an introvert as I’d been thinking for a long time. And that there’s a difference between being by myself – and being alone.

I always understood the value of friendship at a rational level (there are too many songs, books, movies about it, this is basically unavoidable). But, for a long time, I didn’t entirely get it emotionally.

This year was the year I finally understood.

This year, my life started at an all-time low (or at least at a very low point that was similar to others I’ve only reached very few times). I went through many significant changes this year, and reached a few more low points again over the course of it. Throughout this time, and unlike many times before, there were people who were by my side as I went through them: who met me for coffee, food, table tennis, drinks; who looked up puppy GIFs for me, listened to my stories, hugged me, sent me heart Emoji, carried stuff home with me through the pouring rain, and bought bike parts with me. Who sat with me under trees in back yards, in basements, on armchairs, who met me in between roads and parks, or replied to my most desperate tweets. People I only know from Direct Messages on Twitter, or from a few video calls. People who read early versions of my talks, and people who knew that I’m an awful bag of nervousness before I give a presentation, and who kept a distance, but who were still there (and got me post-talk coffee). People who sat outside of my favourite places in this town with me, and who took turns in being with me, to make sure I wasn’t by myself. People who had been acquaintances and colleagues, and who became friends over a habit that we share and over the hours we sat on wooden benches, looking at the dogs trotting by, and talking about everything. And people who couldn’t spend time with me, but sent me texts saying that everything was going to be okay.

People who told me I was going to make it when I wasn’t sure about that anymore.

This is the part that’s about being cared for. And then there’s the very important and great part about caring for these people.

Just seeing all these relationships evolve over months and years has been amazing – and getting to be one part of this has just been incredible. It stuns me to think back to when I met all these people for the first time, and to see how our conversations got deeper, more personal, how trust built over time; to see how I ended up longing to see them, because they’ve become so important to me. I can hardly find the words to describe how grateful I am for these friendships – even more so because I remember very well what my life was like without them.

It’s also been fascinating to see how different all these friendships look in practice. – Even with my very best friends, this friendship doesn’t always mean we know everything that’s going on in our everyday lives. Some of my best friends I rarely get to see in person, because we live in different places, or because we lead very different lives.

But then, again, there’s this beautiful thing about trust: that I know them, and us, and what we have in our friendships. That I know all of this well enough: Well enough to know that they’ll always be there – and that I’ll always be there. Well enough to know that, as long as we all want and life doesn’t get in the way: we will be there.

With all the love that’s in my heart: to you.