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Category: Arts (page 1 of 2)

On Being Driven

My life is a succession of settling in new places. My life is the process of settling inside of myself. I’m sure there is absolutely nothing special about that. It is everyone’s life story. But I can’t speak for how other people perceive this journey through life. I can only speak for myself.

Butterfly, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI guess most people will call me well-travelled. Compared to a lot of people in the blogging community, what I have seen is but a tiny fraction of the world. I don’t think I could have fit much more into it though. Some people are still in their twenties and have been to more than a hundred countries. I sit and wonder – how much have they taken in from each individual country? How well do they know the places they have been to? I have been to 33 foreign countries, if my count is not mistaken, but I would consider myself to have an actual idea of just a few – Germany, obviously, then the States, Poland, and Bosnia and Hercegovina. If I’m very generous with myself I could count Croatia and Greece as well because I’ve travelled them fairly thoroughly.

The longing to see new places is always there. I am a driven person. Driven in many senses of the word. I am driven to achieve things, driven to success. Driven also to be active, to create things – the only way I know how to, artistically, in writing and music. Driven, very much, to love. Driven to move, quite physically, and to discover. My drive doesn’t aim for quantity though – or at least not first and foremost. It aims for depth.

Rose, Pocitelj, Bosnia and HercegovinaTalking about this is so close to my heart that I feel the English language makes it hard on me to phrase things properly. This rarely happens to me, but for once I feel that German would provide me with a more suitable vocabulary after all. However, only recently a blogger I very much appreciate said that phrases like „I’m at a loss for words“ or „Words cannot express…“ don’t suit a writer because words are your job, and I think she is right. So I will try.

The awareness of my need for depth wasn’t always there. I had to find it through experience. I used to call just about anyone a friend. In times of facebook, we all know how lightly that word is used. Today I am much more careful. Acquaintances are plentiful. Friends are rare. I chose a field of study in which I would gather a broad basic knowledge instead of specializing in one field, and have only come to find true insights that approach the core of things very late in my academic career. And I used to want to see many places instead of lingering in one and getting to know it well and truly.

Time and time again it occurs to me that I have been so lucky to have seen many places and found much happiness in the vast strangeness of countries and cities formerly unknown to me. So very lucky. And I needed the quantity to find the quality in small parts of it, which I have been blessed enough to manage. How I deserve this, no one will ever know. I have no explanation but some kind of metaphysical grace.

Alt-Lübars / Berlin, GermanyThe more I reflect it, the more I come to the conclusion that what makes us decent human beings are mainly three things: gratitude, empathy and respect. Most of the time, all three of them come naturally to me. Again, I don’t know why, but I am glad it is the case.  That does not mean I don’t have difficulty with either one of the three at times. I am no angel. But I am driven to work on myself.

All there is to learn about these three things can be learned from human interaction. I have encountered people who don’t have much to be grateful for. Some of them turn jaundiced and embittered. Others fight tooth and nail to still see the good in their lives and be grateful for what they have. I have also met people who have trouble feeling other people’s joy or pain, or even understand a different viewpoint or life choice. Some of them try hard to find that compassion inside of themselves. Others just turn into loners and give up on a social life (which is a veritable life choice in itself, albeit a bit sad from my personal standpoint). Then there are those I have met who don’t respect either other people or life itself. I must say that this is one of the things where my ability to empathize meets its boundaries. How can you not respect life? How can you not treat it carefully and try to make the most of it, for your own benefit and that of other people? But maybe that is my drive speaking. My drive to be the best possible version of myself. Ultimately that is what it all comes down to.

Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin, GermanyI am very much aware that I was only able to develop this kind of drive, to feel gratitude, empathy and respect, because I had the best conditions anyone could ask for with material and emotional security provided by a loving family through all my life. Who knows if I could have done it if the terms had been different.  But what sense does it even make to ask that question. We all have to make the best of what we are given. I can only thank my lucky stars that they have made it so easy on me.

Why am I writing this? Maybe to remind myself of my own principles on a rainy day when life doesn’t seem to hold much beauty or joy to be grateful for, when I encounter something I cannot for the life of me understand, or when people act in ways that threaten to make me lose respect for them.

When I was 13 and attending confirmation classes in church, our pastor, a man I truly and deeply admire, said to us something about the concept of sin (which I realize is a tricky term in itself, but bear with me). He derived it etymologically from sound – as in water, not as in music. The words are closer in German, Sünde and Sund. He said sins were the things that seperate people from one another and from God the way that open sounds seperate land masses. I believe that lack of gratitude, empathy and respect are what seperates us. But I want to build bridges. I want to cross the sounds. I want to find true connection to the world and within myself. This is my drive.Stari Most, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

 

The Things I Love About Poland – Part II

I guess we all have countries which make us feel at home more than others. My parents, for example, love Greece, and they feel imbalanced when they don’t go every year. Most people get that. Greece has beaches, and islands, and ouzo, and lots of pretty old ruins. When I speak about Poland with that same affection, people just give me disbelieving looks. But guess what. Poland has beaches! And lakes! And vodka! And TONS of pretty old ruins – and pretty old buildings that are still whole, or have been restored beautifully.

Dlugi Targ, Gdansk, Poland

Długi Targ, the Long Market, in the center of my most beloved Gdańsk. Everything was in ruins here after World War II, but is shiny and sparkling today. I hear that Polands restorers are among the best in the world, and I believe that alright!

Last week I spoke about my love for the urban beauty of Polish cities, of the amazing sense of history in the country, of the hospitality I have met and the friends I have found, about the enchanting melody of that beautiful strange language, and about Polish music that has touched my heart. As if all this wasn’t enough, I have more reasons why my eyes light up when I talk about Poland. And I am not afraid to tell you about them.

6. The Landscapes

How could I speak about the cities and not equally enthusiastically mention the landscapes! From the Baltic Sea and the Mazurian Lakes in the North to the Tatra Mountains and the softer Plains in the South, the country really has it all.

Szczytno, Poland

Szczytno in the Mazurian Lake district enchants with a beautiful sunset.

Rozanka, Poland

Różanka in Lower Silesia offers pretty views and is very close to the Sudety mountains.

Poland even has the last European jungle in the Northeast which is high on my bucket list as I haven’t managed to see it yet. The wild bisons that live there, the żubry, have been namesake to both the beer żubr and the vodka żubrówka. Who wouldn’t need to see them now? One of the things that make Poland such an amazing country is definitely its diversity. From beach vacations by the sea to skiing in the mountains, you can find everything your travel heart desires here.

Sopot, Poland

Didn’t I say there were beaches? If it is this pretty in winter, just imagine how amazing the pretty spa town of Sopot must be in summer!

7. The Food – and the Vodka!

Ah, the food. I am not a huge foodie, but Polish food has me salivating. For one thing, don’t expect to ever go hungry in Poland. Generally, there is too much food for a person to handle, even if it is so delicious that you never want to stop eating. The Polish are big on soups and stews from żurek, a sour rye soup, to all kinds of vegetable soups (especially try barszcz, a beetroot based soup), to bigos, a heavy cabbage stew that will warm you on a snowed in winter’s night (because yes, it does get cold in Poland). I can never get enough of wątróbki, poultry livers served with apple and onions, and of the famous pierogi, dumplings that come filled with all sorts of different stuffings. If you can get someone to make them from scratch with you, you will never want to cook anything else at home anymore.

Making Pierogi in Bystrzyca Kłodzka, Poland

When I lived in Bystrzyca Kłodzka in Lower Silesia, we made Pierogi in the group of international volunteers with our Polish teacher. And my, were they yummy!

Of course a good Polish meal is not complete without good Polish vodka. No other beverage have I been drunker on. But if you drink the good kind and don’t mix it with cheap kinds, you will not even be hungover. I’m fairly sure I don’t even have to talk much about it. If you go to Poland, one or two vodka incidents are without fail bound to happen. And even if you never liked vodka before, trust me and try it here. It is delicious and it certainly speeds up the process of making Polish friends.

Pear Vodka, Sopot, Poland

Doesn’t look like vodka? Ah, but it is! With pears! And it was beyond delicious. Never would I have gotten to taste it if my friend Karol hadn’t known the bar tender 🙂

8. The Literature

Adding to the Polish language having drawn me in with strange magnetic pull, I have also fallen hard for Polish literature. It was no love at first sight. For a long time I didn’t really have any favourite Polish authors or works. But the more I read, the more I wanted, and the better I knew the language, the more I loved what I was reading. Epic realist novels like Bolesław Prus‘ Lalka („The Doll“), masterpieces of absurdism by Witold Gombrowicz, amazing SciFi like Stanisław Lem’s Solaris and heartbreaking poetry by the nobel prize winners Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, and the great feminist novelists of today, like Olga Tokarczuk and my very favourite Joanna Bator – the list goes on and on.

 

I have found myself in too many books to actually list here, they have been eye-opening for me. To give you a taste, I translated one of my favourite Szymborska poems for you.

Na lotnisku

Biegną ku sobie z otwartymi ramionami,
wołają roześmiani: Nareszcie! Nareszcie!
Oboje w ciężkich zimowych ubraniach.
w grubych czapkach,
szalikach,
rękawiczkach,
butach,
ale już tylko dla nas.
Bo dla siebie – nadzy.

At the airport

They run towards each other with open arms
Calling out laughing: Finally! Finally!
Both in heavy winter clothing
In heavy hats,
scarves,
gloves,
boots,
But only to us.
Because to each other already – naked.

9. The Sense of Humour

Poles are extremely friendly and set great store by hospitality, as I mentioned last week. But not only that. Man, those people can make you laugh! I don’t know wether it is because they haven’t had much to laugh about in history, but generally Polish humour is dark, dry, politically incorrect and screamingly funny. To be quite frank it took me a while to really get into it, but I’m just telling you to not be shy, take that stick out of your butt that has been shoved up there in whatever country you are from, and go ahead and laugh.

Browarnia, Gdansk, Poland

„A bar tender is no camel, he needs to have his drink too!“ – on a jar for tips in a much beloved Gdansk based bar. Yeah, sometimes the humour isn’t dark and twisted, but just cute 🙂

I was warned before watching the Polish cult film Rejs, „The Cruise“, that I might not get why it is funny. I never stopped laughing when I saw it. I wish I had found a subtitled version of this scene which is my absolute favourite. I can but hope that the body language of the cast alone will at least make you smile. The dialogue is hilarious.

10. The Swearwords

Closing on a high note here. Obviously there is one specific part of language, which in general I already discussed, that deserves extra attention. Almost any language beats German when it comes to swearing, we only have boring words that don’t do the somewhat violent melody of our language any justice. But cursing in Polish is pure poetry. It is so emphatic and creative. I know you expect better of me, the academic, but I dare you to have a Pole teach you how to curse and your life will never be the same. There are actual linguistic studies on the fact that German cursing is usually related to fecies (shit) while Slavic cursing is related to sex (fuck). There is nothing as relieving as uttering a heartfelt kurwa jebana mać (a very emphatic „fuck!“, but literally something like „damn fucked bitch“). And the most brilliant thing is: They use swear words for affirmation and celebration as well – as in zajebiście, which means „awesome“, but literally „fucked“.

Bystrzyca Kłodzka, Poland

I called the little town of Bystrzyca Kłodzka my home for 6 months. There was nothing spectacular about it. But it is Poland. Therefore, it is home.

Having said all of this, I feel once more ever so grateful for my blog. You don’t understand how even thinking about all these things made me so happy. I think back on all the places I have seen in Poland, and all the ones I am yet to discover. There is no other country except for Germany that I know so much about, and yet I don’t know nearly enough. I want to see more, know more, understand better.

You know how when you travel and get cash from the ATM in a foreign country, you try to calculate so you won’t get too much as to not be stuck with foreign currency at the end of your trip? In Poland I never do that. I always take out any decent amount I feel like taking out. If I have Zloty left over at the end of my stay, I will just spend them the next time around. It is never far away.

Which country makes you feel at home? Why do you love it so much, and do people understand your love for it?

The Things I Love About Poland – Part I

My self-imposed focus when it comes to travel and thus, to writing (since most of the time one means the other for me) is Eastern Europe. How that came about is a long story. But one part in it is certain: that it all starts – and possibly ends – with Poland.

I would be lying if I said I had always had a fascination for that part of the world. When asked on a study trip in high school, I distinctly remember saying: „What in the WORLD would I want to see in POLAND?!?!?“ I went to Greece instead, which was nice. But it is no Poland.

Pasym, Poland

Pasym, a beautiful small town in the Mazury Lake District

How did my love affair with Poland come about then? In college I needed a second major adding to the one I had always known I wanted to get – German literature. I chose Polish. One of the questions I must have been asked most in my life is certainly: „Why Polish???“ – usually asked with an undertone of utter disbelief. Well, it was a mixture of random reasons, but really, most of it was gut feeling. And the older I get, the more I believe that this is a better reason for decisions than most others.

From then on, it all just added up. Poland and I are, in a way, meant to be. I’ve come to love it more and more. And here is why.

1. The Cities

Poland’s cities are special. They are different from the cities I have seen elsewhere – they are beautiful and ugly, and full of atmosphere and history. And they are very different from one another. That is best displayed in contrasting Warsaw and Cracow – without feeding on the rivalry between the two. They compliment each other in the best possible way – Warsaw is grey, progressive, and full of hipster culture and modern art. Cracow is traditional, conservative, and insanely pretty.

Palace of Culture, Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw’s Palace of Culture – a gift from Stalin to the country and an impressive example of socialist architecture

Sukiennice, Cracow, Poland

Cracow’s main market square, the largest medieval square of its kind in Europe, with the beautiful Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)

Travelling in Poland, one should obviously not neglect the other urban gems, though. Wrocław might be the most accessible city for foreigners, and it somewhat combines the best of the two previously mentioned cities. Gdańsk has the added selling point that it is right by the Baltic Sea and, as an old hanseatic port city, has a tradition of being very open-minded and down-to-earth. Poznań may have the prettiest market square I have ever been to. And I haven’t even been to Łódź or Lublin. Indulge!

Market Square, Poznan, Poland

Poznan’s beautiful market square

2. The Sense of History

When travelling in Poland, it is impossible to miss the active memory culture that the country has. Memorials are all around. For a history freak like me, that is just plainly wonderful. Poles generally know their country’s history much better than Germans from my experience. They are aware of their country’s proud past as a mighty kingdom in the middle ages, and their painful loss of territory which forced them to exist as a nation without a country between 1795 and 1918. They have been in an unfortunate geographical position in the 20th century, wedged between the Germans and the Russians, and it has shaped their identity. They have fought for their culture time and time again, and they are proud of it while still being critical of it. And they know that it is important to remember the past.

Shipyards, Gdansk, Poland

Memorial to the victims of the strikes in the Gdansk shipyards in 1970. Most of the fight against the socialist regime was yet to come. The memorial was one of the early achievements of the Solidarnosc movement that contributed significantly to the downfall of socialism in Europe.

3. The Hospitality

None of the above would mean a lot if it wasn’t brought to me by the most hospitable, caring, genuinely kind and wonderful people. If for a woman the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, for a country the way to my heart is through its people. Hospitality in Poland is of dimensions that were unknown to me before I came there. They are so much less distrustful than Germans are. Don’t be surprised if you ask someone for directions and they walk you to your destinations. Don’t be surprised either if they invite you to their home for dinner – and don’t say no. I’m getting to the food in the follow-up post! In short, it is easy to make friends in Poland – and you will want to make friends there if you want to truly see through the more complicated dimensions of the country’s history and culture and get to taste the truly amazing vodka.

Friends, Grudziadz, Poland

My friends Agnieszka and Karol are among my favourite people in the world. I met them in Gdansk, but this was when Karol took us on a roadtrip to visit his hometown Grudziadz.

4. The Language

Ah, that singsong sound of the Polish language with all the freaky consonants and a few nasal vowels. That grammar that drove me up the wall when I learned it, but is capable of expressing things so precisely, so uniquely, most of all so differently from German. The germanisms like wihajster, literally whatshisname and used for any random thing you can’t find a name for; and the anglicisms with their weird spelling that turns manager into menedżer.

I have been learning Polish for ten years, I cursed it and loved it, and was always pretty sure I’d never actually be able to speak it. But I’m getting there, one tongue twisting hell at a time, and loving every step of the way.

Signs in Gdansk, Poland

German – Polish – English. How I love it when translations come out all weird and funny as they do in this German sign outside a ramshackle building. It sounds as though the building was a person, verbally threatening to cripple or kill the visitor.

5. The Music

When learning a language as twisted as Polish, music is of huge help. I know about half my Polish vocabulary from song lyrics – singing along, trying to understand what’s going on, sometimes actually translating the lyrics at home at my desk. Over the years I have been in touch with Polish pop, rock, rap, reggae, folk, and basically everything in between. I will just give you a few examples here. The Polish equivalent of the Rolling Stones is the rock band Dżem. Their song „List do M“ was the first Polish song I knew by heart, and it is a beautful and sad rock ballad.

A specific kinf of music I got to know in Poland is Klezmer. It is a Jewish musical tradition, not so big on lyrics, but mainly instrumental, using different instruments to make beautiful, yearning, sighing, swinging music played often at celebrations of any kind. The band Kroke may be the most famous Polish Klezmer band.

My personal favourite is the Polish singer / songwriter tradition that brought forth many wonderful artists I listen to almost every day. It is quite folksy, and if we translated the lyrics, most would run away screaming for they drip with Kitsch – but in Polish, they somehow work. There is a tradition called Poezja śpiewana, Sung Poetry, that is especially well known for its poetic song lyrics. Jacek Kaczmarski, whose most famous song „Mury“ I put here for you, is a bit of a special case. His songs are much more political, and he is often referred top as the Barde of the Solidarność, the trade union and political movement that brought down socialism in Poland.

If you find I am missing things, rest assured that I will probably mention them in my follow up post on more things I love about Poland. It will discuss the landscapes, the food (and the vodka…), the literature, the beauty of Polish swearwords, and the incomparable Polish sense of humour.

Have you been to Poland? What do you love about the country? Or was there anything you didn’t like at all?

Simple Truths – Quote Postcards

So I write and I sing. That’s enough of the arts for me. I couldn’t act if my life depended on it (I was in a Shakespeare play at school and I wait for the day that VHS has entirely died out so no one can ever watch the video proof of that horrible embarrassment…), and I my drawing is limited, to say the least. Language and music are sufficient, I do not need to become an all rounder in the arts.

You are all sensing that there is a „but“. And you are right. Writing a blog, I have started to enjoy photography. And while I’m most definitely not all that good at it, I notice I am getting better, which is all one ever can expect from oneself. And because I still like to combine pictures and words, I have taken to making little postcards with quotes on them whenever I felt in a certain mood and found a quote that encouraged or supported me at the time. These little life wisdoms I will share with you now.

Korczak, Quote on PictureI found this in Janusz Korczak’s diary from the Warsaw ghetto. He was a pediatrician and is a Polish national hero, because he accompanied the children from an orphanage (which he ran) into the gas chambers and died there. I find the idea reassuring that living is something that has to be learned. Learning processes are something I enjoy. They promise success in the end. Maybe, with time, I will become more skilled, more able in this subject that we call life. The picture was taken on the ferry from Split, which you see at the shore, to the island Vis, in Croatia.  Beethoven, Quote on PictureThis has been one of my favourite quotes ever since I was a little girl. Beethoven’s music has accompanied me through some difficult times, and its power has never failed to allow me to find my strength. His only opera, Fidelio, is my favourite until this day, and I can sing along to most of the symphonies (the one withe the odd numbers anyway. And the 6th.). As a composer having gone deaf as he grew older, he knew a thing or two about putting up a fight against fate. He may have been the first one to teach me to never give up if you believe in something. The pictures was taken at the Bay of Kotor in Tivat, Montenegro.

Irigaray, Quote on PictureLuce Irigaray may not be the easiest theoretician to come across, but she makes a few very interesting points on the cultural theoretical concept of „alterity“, that is, anything connected to things that are different, to „the other“. She says that anything new can only be met once we have come to terms with the self – that is, a conscious, reflected identity is vital for dealing with alterity. I think  this goes for any interpersonal relation, and may be especially valid when encountering other cultures. I took the picture in Pocitelj in Bosnia and Hercegovina.

Hesse, Quote on Picture I had to deal with a few gains and a few losses this year – just as it goes in life. I don’t deal well with good byes. They make me very emotional, I think it is because I feel powerless in the face of them. In those moments, I try to hold on to this poem by Hermann Hesse which has accompanied me since I was 15 and set out to live apart from friends and family for an entire year as an exchange student in the US. It is nothing but the truth that „each beginning bears a special magic“, and it is what every farewell will bring us to. The photo is from Porto in Portugal.

Palahniuk, Quote on Picture I absolutely loved the Flea Market in Brussels at Jeu de Balle where I took this picture. With all the other postcards I showed you here, I had a quote and went through my archives to find a fitting picture. With this one, I was looking for a quote to express the joy I felt at looking at the creative chaos, the infinite diversity I met in this place, and I found one by Palahniuk that said it all. My new beginning (cf the Hesse poem!) may lead me into chaos – but that is where truly magical things can be found.

What’s your favourite quote to help you understand life? Or can you share any travel related quotes that mean something to you?

 

Inspiration in Song Lyrics – Gundermann

It has been a long time since I wrote on this blog about music, lyrics and language instead of travel and personal growth. Lately I must say that music has grown even more important to me (who knew that that was even possible), and in this end-of-year reflective mood that I am in, I am listening to it more eager to find answers to my questions, inspiration for my quests.

Piano, Brussels, Belgium

This beauty can be seen at the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium

I have always had a thing for music with German lyrics – not so much Schlager, but contemporary German singer / singwriter music, Indie pop, pop rock and even hip hop (now I know that most people who are not German native speakers do not consider German hip hop to be hip hop. But I think that must be because they don’t understand the lyrics. Bands like Fettes Brot and Die Fantastischen Vier have ingenious lyricists!). When I started writing my own music, it was quite natural for me to come up with German words for them, too. So it is not surprising that when I seek inspiration, I turn to German music again.

For a couple of years now, I have gone to see a specific band in concert between Christmas and New Year’s. They are called Randgruppencombo, and they are a tribute band to singer / singwriter Gerhard Gundermann. Gundermann was an artist from the GDR, the former East Germany, and he continued to be fairly successful after reunification (which is not at all self-understood). Some of his most well-known songs deal with the aftermath of the political change, with the need to find a new place in this new society. His language is clear and simple, without frills. He puts complicated feelings into plain words, and because of this his songs speak to me with great immediacy. One of the songs that I have pondered a lot lately is this one called „Die Zukunft“, The Future – here in a version of the mentioned Randgruppencombo:

Die Zukunft ist ’ne abgeschossene Kugel,
auf der mein Name steht und die mich treffen muss.
Und meine Sache ist, wie ich sie fange:
Mit’m Kopp, mit’m Arsch, mit der Hand oder mit der Wange.
Trifft sie mich wie ein Torpedo oder trifft sie wie ein Kuss?

The future is a launched bullet
that carries my name and that is bound to hit me.
And it’s my business how I catch it:
With my head, with my ass, with my hand or with my cheek.
Will it hit me like a torpedo or will it hit like a kiss?

A lot of things have happened to me this year that I did not see coming, but the lyrics of this song have made me aware at all times that things will come, they will, and there is no way for me to prevent it from happening. But I have the power to form and shape the things that are coming to me. I may like it or not that the bullet will hit me, but I cannot change the fact. I can just (wo)man up and take charge of how I will meet it. I find this thought quite consoling, probably because it empowers me somewhat in times when the future seems worryingly insecure.

The complement to this song is one that deals with the past. It’s called „Vögelchen“, Little Bird, and this is a live version by Gundermann himself:

Wir wollten es fangen, das Vögelchen, in teuren schwarzen Apparaten. Wir kleben Bilder ein und wir suchen blind nach jenen funkelnden Lichtern, die die Mädchen in den Augen hatten auf unseren Mopeds, die lange verschrottet sind.
Da ist es wieder, das Vögelchen – es nistet in den nassen Haaren seltsamer Menschen, die unsere Kinder sind. Und auch die funkelnden Lichter sind dort, wo sie waren, die ganzen Jahre. Du hast sie nur lange nicht mehr angezünd’t.

We wanted to catch the little bird in expensive black machines. We sort out pictures and we are looking blindly for the shimmering lights that the girls had in their eyes on our mopeds that have been scrapped for a long time.
There it is, the little bird – it’s nesting in the wet hair of strange people who are our children. And the shimmering lights are also just there, where they have been for all those years. Just you haven’t lit them for a long time.

The little bird, as in „Watch the birdie!“, refers to a camera trying to capture the moment in a picture. While the song is very nostalgic, it also has an optimistic ring to it that the shimmering lights of hope and anticipation are never lost. It may be merely by association, but I think of a lot of people, friends and acquaintances, who have experienced loss or pain lately, and this song mainly reminds me of one very important lesson in life: Count your blessings.

Those songs thus leave me with two powerful and reassuring thoughts: Take charge of the future. Be grateful for the past. And while those are very important lessons, it is always vital to remember to live in the moment. One of Gundermann’s most famous songs, a song he called a consolation song for a friend, is called „Brunhilde“ and all about making the best of today. I did a cover version of it myself a while back with a rookie keyboard arrangement that is not very professional, but I think the sentiment is clear:

Und was sollte besser sein als so ein Abend im Frieden?

And what could be better than an evening in peace?

Are there songs that guide you and inspire you as you reflect upon your life? I would love it if you shared them in the comments!

Festival of Lights Instagrammed – A Colour Collage

Every year Berlin lights up in autumn for the so called Festival of Lights. The most iconic buildings (and a few random ones in between) are then bathed in colourful light projections. To be honest, last year I didn’t even bother going. I figured it would be crowded, and that a few lights wouldn’t make an enormous impression on me. Now the other week I did an instagram post on the Pumpkin Festival. It was a lot of fun looking for motives, so the other day I asked my dear friend Ulrike of the Berlin photoblog ansichtswechsel if she would like to go for a little photoshoot with me to the Festival of Lights. And I learned: It wasn’t crowded, and a few lights do make an enormous impression on me.

TV Tower, Berlin, Germany

TV tower at Alexanderplatz

I ended up taking so many pictures on my own that an instagram post didn’t seem to be enough and I had to do an instacollage one. You will find tons of pictures of this taken on professional cameras by proffesional photographers. My instagrams cannot compete there. But I do think they capture the atmosphere of the festival.

We started out from the TV tower and made our way from Alexanderplatz to the Berlin cathedral.

Berlin Cathedral and TV Tower, Berlin, Germany

The Berlin Cathedral to the left, the TV tower to the right

I enojyed the cathedral being bathed in flowers and pouting lips – it secularized the church and made it pop art. What neither Ulrike nor I really got was the salad projected on it – but oh well 🙂 It only got better though. Apart from the funky, colourful pop art patterns, there were beautiful and almost impressionistic installations that showed musical notes – in black and white first, then gradually merged with colour until the pictures showed visually exploding music.

Berlin Cathedral, Berlin, Germany

Berlin Cathedral covered in music

After wards we went on to the Bebelplatz where famous paintings where projected onto Hotel de Rome. I especially liked how the windows came into play – one in the upper left corner was lit up, and the light came to play with the painting. At the same time, in front of the university building, two opera singers were performing beutaifule duets from different pieces. It was magical.

Hotel de Rome and German Cathedral, Berlin, Germany

Hote de Rome at Bebelplatz to the left, and the tower of the German cathedral at Gendarmenmarkt to the right

Via Gendarmenmarkt with the concert hall and the German and the French cathedral, we walked over to Potsdamer Platz – one of the weirdest and historically most underestimated places in Berlin, in my opinion. The futuristic architecture of today doesn’t tell of the role this place played in the 20s with its traditional and elegant shopping centres, and in the divided Berlin when this was no man’s land between the two Germanies. Now, the steel and glass constructions are perfect for light projections, and we couldn’t take our eyes off it.

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, Germany

Kisses from Potsdamer Platz

And it wasn’t only the walls of the buildings that were lit up – the ground was too, and the trees were shinign in an unearthly, eerie green colour along Leipziger Platz.

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, Germany

The floor, the trees, and me in the middle of it all

In between all the colours, there were quotes by artists – and I will close with this beautiful one by Picasso:

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, Germany

Potsdamer Platz

EDIT: For Ulrike’s pictures of the Festival of Lights, go to her blogpost about it here!

Capture the Colour – Streetart Edition

I am not a photographer. I am slowly, ever so slowly starting to get a grip on perspective and lighting in a process of learning by doing as I am taking photos for the blog more and more; and I have recently understood that photo editing is something I cannot stay away from forever. But I am still self-conscious when it comes to my pictures.

All the bigger was my surprise that Julika of Sateless Suitcase (an enchanting blog everyone should follow!!) tagged me in theCapture the Colour Photo Contest. While I am most definitely not going to win anything (it must be a huge contest with God knows how many participants), I enjoyed the process of choosing five pictures for their specific colour – a new way of looking at photos and training my eye to see photography as artistry. I chose to show you pictures according to a theme, like I have seen others do it on their respective posts (Julika chose one city for each colour), and am showing you five street art pictures I took this year.

Red

Epplehaus, Tübingen, Germany

This is a former squat in Tübingen, Germany that is still a self-governed youth center. When I went to school in this cute little Southern German town, I would pass by here on my bike almost every day. I took the picture last March when I went to visit my alma mater. Most of the writing on the facade are slogans of the political left. Tübingen was an important place in the 1968 student movement, and I feel like this place is somewhat continuing that tradition.

Green

Lübbenau, Germany

This is actually a connection box for street lighting. They are usually just left grey and boring in Germany, but this one in Lübbenau, in the Spreewald region South of Berlin, has been turned into a little canvas for a cute little piece of art. And didn’t I have to love it all the more as it was depicting – a bridge!

White

Zaspa, Gdansk, Poland

Gdańsk Zaspa was my street art discovery of the year, and I have dedicated a whole article to it here. It is an area in my beloved Polish city Gdańsk where the socialist concrete buildings have been turned into overdimensional works of art. I love this one because it is so plain and yet so detailed with its sea of drowning houses.

Blue

Eastside Gallery, Berlin, Germany

I took this picture at the demonstration against the partial tear-down of Berlin’s Eastside Gallery. This is the street art you can see on the original Berlin wall – and the hole that was recently made in it in order for an investor’s plans for building large apartment and office complexes in the area. The Eastside Gallery is the longest connected piece of the Berlin wall that is still in place and an amazing document of history as well as an artwork of epic proportions. I hope it will keep being protected by the people and government of Berlin.

Yellow

Pilsen, Chicago, US

On my last day in Chicago, my friend Jesse took me to the predominantly Mexican-American neighbourhood of Pilsen for some excellent, excellent Mexican food and a blast of Latino culture. Getting off at the L stop at 18th Street (use the pink line!) alone was amazing – the station is covered in beautiful art that shows the cultural heritage of the inhabitants of this part of the city. I could have stayed and looked at the details forever.

This is my street art focussed colour contest contribution. Now I would like to tag Aggy of DreamExploreWander, Ulli of ansichtswechsel, Aryn of Driftwood & Daydreams, Aiko of Behind My Messy Desk and Mandy of Emm in London and invite all you great blogging girls to do the same and show us the colour in your life!

From my Travel Playlists

There is a playlist on my iTunes that I treasure dearly. It holds the music I had on my iPod shuffle when I travelled the Balkans three years ago. A limited selection of songs that accompanied me on many bus and train rides through the beauty that is South Eastern Europe. Tunes so familiar to me that I know every change of rhythm and every funny note, and for most of them, the entire lyrics. Some of them I started out with, some of them I added while on the road. I picked a selection of them to share with you – because when I am having a melancholic day, I put on some Bosnian coffee and this music and I am transported back to Balkan sunshine and the soft rocking of a bus on a scenic route. And also because right now, it is summer in Berlin and I am happy, and this music makes this feeling ten times more intense.

1. Regina Spektor „Better“

If I kiss you where it’s sore
Will you feel better?

I love this song especially for its piano intro and for Regina’s slightly strange pronunciation of English. While the lyrics are actually quite blue, the melody is wide open. If songs had a colour, to me this one would be as turquoise as the waters of the Bosnian rivers I love so much.

2. Dixie Chicks „Not Ready to Make Nice“

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go ‚round and ‚round and ‚round

I downloaded the Dixie Chicks album because of a different song, but this one came to be ma favourite. I learned the whole history behind it only later, but it spoke to me as a fight song from the beginning, as a song that encourages you to stand by your anger and not surpress it, to admit to feeling hurt and misunderstood and treated unfairly. I sometimes forget that it is important to allow these feelings their space.

3. Bijelo Dugme „Tako Ti Je, Moja Mala, Kad Ljubi Bosanac“

Jesi l‘,  mala, ljubila do sada?
Jesi, jesi – al‘ Bosanca nisi!

Have you kissed already, little girl?
You have, you have – but not a Bosnian man!

This song is on a Bijelo Dugme album that I bought in Rijeka in Croatia. Bijelo Dugme are something like the Yugoslav Rolling Stones, and quite a few of their songs just put a huge smile on my face because they are playful and silly and fun. I also learned quite a bit Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian by listening to their music.

4. Edward Maya „Stereo Love“

When you gonna stop breaking my heart?

There are no lyrics of any great depth to this song – what is so catching about it is the instrumental part. It was played in countless beach bars and night clubs I went to on my trip, and while at home I probably never would have liked it, on the trip it encaptured that feeling of relaxation, summer heat and freedom of care.

What do you think? Do you have travel tunes that remind you of a certain trip? Does music ever transport you back into a situation in the past?

Gretchen’s Question, or Travel and Faith

In one of Germany’s most prized pieces of cultural heritage, Goethe’s monumental drama Faust, there is a phrase that has become proverbial in the German language as the Gretchenfrage, or Gretchen’s question. This now refers to any question that is very hard to answer, but crucial for the inquirer; a question whose answer has so far been deliberately withheld or even avoided. You know that moment in a fresh relationship when you come across something that might be a deal breaker and you are reluctant to ask about it – or be asked about it – because it might drive the whole thing with this new person to an untimely end? Yes. A classic case of Gretchenfrage at stake.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Places of Worship? The Blue Mosque in Istanbul is certainly one of the most impressive ones

The original question that Gretchen asks Faust in the drama is if he believes in God, or actually „Say, as regards religion, how you feel.“ Faust tries to wriggle out of it, prompting Gretchen to be certain of his atheism. Many travellers visit St Peter’s Basilica in Rome or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and many travel bloggers have written about places of worship – I myself have done posts about St Paul’s in London or the Cologne Cathedral. Yet the question of faith or religion is hardly ever addressed. I wonder if this is because less and less of us believe in God or if it is just a topic that people try to avoid out of fear of stepping on someone’s toes.

Studenica, Serbia

Studenica Monastery in Serbia – a deeply spiritual place

My one explicit travel experience related to this was when I got into a very strange discussion with a girl I met in Croatia. I wear a cross on a necklace – a bit of a superstition really, but also a small commitment to my faith. The girl saw it and asked me if I believed in God. I said: „Yes.“ She asked: „Hardcore?“ I didn’t even really know what she meant by that, but since I don’t fanatically run to church every Sunday, I said: „No, not really.“ She said: „Good.“ And then she went on to explain to me how every person in the world who believed in God wanted her to go to hell because she was a lesbian. I tried to tell her that this wasn’t true, that I have a lot of gay friends and don’t want to see any of them in hell (a concept I do not even believe in). She wouldn’t have it and we didn’t exactly part on excellent terms.

Dominican church, Krakow, Poland

My favorite church in Poland – the Dominican church in Krakow. They do student services on Sunday nights that are great for just the atmosphere even if you don’t speak Polish!

Personally I find my own faith to be a bit of a conglomerate of different ideas from various religious backgrounds. I was baptized Lutheran as a baby and had my confirmation aged 14. I went to a catholic primary school. I hung out in college with people who were into Hinduism. I have long had an inexplicable fascination with Islam. One of the reasons I loved the novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel is that the protagonist calls himself a believing and practicing Christian, Hindu and Muslim. How cool is that, really.

What’s more important to me, though, is that I have always put the values of humanity before the values of any religion. I actually think they should be the same thing anyway. I don’t believe it to be important what your God is called, as long as he gives you a few ideas as to how to live a good life. Anything destructive that religions do doesn’t go with the general idea in my book. The Oatmeal has really said it all in his brilliant comic How to suck at your Religion.

Ohrid, Macedonia

I had a moment of spiritual awakening in this church in Ohrid, Macedonia – a moment of truly being at peace with myself.

Now the beauty of travel is that it puts forward all the ideas of humanity that ideally religion should enhance as well, and more than that – travel can help you learn about what you believe in. And I don’t just mean that in terms of denomination – but that too. I learned so much about Islam when I was in Bosnia and Turkey, and it helped me understand certain debates that I only knew from the media so much better. I went to services in England, in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia and many times in Poland and it’s taught me about the way that people celebrate their own beliefs.

It is hard to argue that in many cultures religion contributes immensely to the belief system of the people. Because of this, I think we should ask about religion more and learn as much about it as we can while we travel. Things are only ever scary as long as we don’t understand them. That goes especially for the weird fear-respect-scepticism mixture that I sense in many Westerners toward Islam – a beautiful and peaceful religion full of wisdom and love, from all I can say about it.

Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany

This is the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther started reformation by proclaiming is 95 theses.

When I had my preparatory classes for my confirmation 15 years ago (OMG did I just really write that…?), we discussed the concept of sin. I never liked it much, it had the whole guilt trip thing about it. My pastor explained to us that the German word for it, Sünde, is related to the word Sund – in English sound, a strait of water in an ocean between two landmasses. When we sin, we put a sound between us and another person (or, if you will, between us and God), we divide ourselves from others, we cease to be whole. In that explanation, the concept of sin made sense to me for the first time. And if we accept that this is so, then forgiveness means to build a bridge over the sound that has been created so that we can come together again. And once again the bridge is the symbol that, for me, sets everything right.

What do you think? Do you believe in God? Have you been confronted with questions of faith when you travelled? Do you talk to people about religion when you travel?

Travel Fever and Moving Forward

The first post I ever wrote in English on this blog was almost exactly three years ago – I looked back on the first half of my (South-) Eastern European adventure and took stock. That post centered around travel quotes. You can read it here.

Years later, I am still a big fan of words that encapture what travel means to me. I find them in so many places – in what a friend says to me. In a song that I hear on my iPod looking out a bus window. In a book that I have read. Written on buildings, monuments or the pavement of the cities I visit. All I have to do is open my eyes and my heart to them, and they will fall into my soul and move me.

Düsseldorf, Germany

Spotted on the door to a confectionery – „The world belongs to those who enjoy it“. This happens to be the motto of the lovely German travel blogger Jana of http://sonne-wolken.de/ – if you speak German, check her out!!

I set out on my trip back in the days with this quote by Polish travel writer and journalist Ryszard Kapuściński on my mind:

Podróż przecież nie zaczyna się w momencie, kiedy ruszamy w drogę, i nie kończy, kiedy dotarliśmy do mety. W rzeczywistości zaczyna się dużo wcześniej i praktycznie nie kończy się nigdy, bo taśma pamięci kręci się w nas dalej, mimo że fizycznie dawno już nie ruszamy się z miejsca. Wszak istnieje coś takiego jak zarażenie podróżą i jest to rodzaj choroby w gruncie rzeczy nieuleczalnej.

A journey does not begin the moment when we set off, and it does not finish when we have arrived to our last stop. In reality it starts much earlier and practically does not ever finish, for the tape of memory runs on inside of us, even though we have long stopped moving from the spot physically. There is indeed something like the contagion of travel, and it is a kind of illness that is in fact incurable.

When I found it, just before I was about to leave Germany to travel for 5 months, I focussed most on the part about the journey starting before it starts – now, stuck for the most part of my days at a desk (even though it is at a job I quite like!), I think more about how true it is that it never stops. I still think about my big trip almost every day, and how it has changed me, and how I wouldn’t be the same person today without it. I dream about the places that I will go to next. I try to travel in my day to day life whenever I can – be it for a day on the weekend, or even just to a different neighborhood, or in eating exotic food. I am branded incurably and for life with the contagion of travel fever.

Szimpla, Berlin, Germany

Coffee, writing, and contemplating wise words others have uttered about travel – one of my favourite pastimes!

When I was in Bosnia, one of my favourite travel acquaintances, Bata, taught me the following Bosnian quote by famous movie maker Emir Kusturica:

Svakoga dana u svakom pogledu sve više i više napredujemo.

Every day in every respect we move forward more and more.

I have had this sentence on a note card above my desk for a very long time. While travelling it is quite literally true. We move. All the time. And while travelling, it is also metaphorically true more than usually. We see so many things that change us, we experience so many things that add to our knowledge. I try to keep it in mind every day to make it true when I am at home as well. I try to improve as a person every day and move forward. And it is so much easier for me to do that with much sensual and intellectual stimulation – so I try to learn and see new things all the time. The world is my market with thousands of fruit, cheeses and spices to try.

Market, Mostar, Bosnia

Oh dear, the cheese in Bosnia… and how you can try every kind at the market to see if you like it, and then go home full and happy… only to have more cheese… with honey… yum…

Only recently I fell in love with the music by Gerhard Gundermann, a singer songwriter from the former GDR who passed away far too young. His lyrics have captured me from the start. This song is called „No Time Anymore“:

It is a song about our daily struggle in life between obligation and choice, between the things we have to do and we want to do, and it is about the feeling of not having enough time to do it all. He sings:

Und ich habe keine Zeit mehr Räuber und Gendarm zu spiel’n
Den Ämtern meine Treue hinzutragen
Und rauchende Motoren mit meinem Blut zu kühl’n
Und nochmal eine Liebe auszuschlagen.

And I don’t have time anymore for playing cops and robbers
For bringing my loyalty to authorities
And for cooling down smoking engines with my blood
And for turning down another love.

What are the things that I don’t have time for anymore? There is so much to see and try, and so much life to live. I hope that the travel fever always burns strongly inside of me and provides me with the drive to move forward and the desire to be led astray.

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