Lüneburg Day 2

It does all start with breakfast. A breakfast makes or breaks a hotel stay for me, and as long as I made the effort to save for this trip, I’d like my favourite meal of the day to justify it. And did it ever!

I came downstairs to see a small, but well-stocked breakfast space – always a winning point for me, with sensible food placement and convenient containers. Various hams, cheese, fruit, bread, scrambled eggs, fried mushrooms, bowls filled with vegetable salads, smoked salmon and other fish, home-made jam and two types of peanut butter to choose from – I was in breakfast paradise. The walls of the restaurant are also decorated with older illustrations of Lüneburg, always a nice touch when you see something local. I was so full that I had to pass on sampling any local dishes at lunchtime. Waste not.

I started my sightseeing with a visit to the local Water Tower, which you can see from a lot of points in the town. It’s open every day and a non-discounted ticket is still very cheap, 4,50 euros. A great tip if you are undecided about visiting museums during a shorter trip. A lift takes you up to the 6th floor, where you climp a few more flights of stairs on your way to the observation platform with its stunning view of the well-preserved red-tiled roofs and old brick houses of Lüneburg. You might be asked not to visit the second floor, where weddings sometimes take place. Going back down, I’d recommend checking out the exhibitions on site, such as the many facts on water supply history, in Lüneburg and beyond (did you know that boiling water for hygienic reasons became common ONLY in the second half of the 19th century?), and also the Japanese artefacts on display, honoring the partnership between Lüneburg and Naruto.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Lüneburg’s pretty streets, stepping in to shops and enjoying the easy distances between everything. If this place is already so picturesque, seeing it in other seasons will definitely be exciting too.

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Exploring Lüneburg: Day 1

Lüneburg is a gem of a town in Northern Germany and perfect for a weekend getaway. It’s small, easily accessible, quaint, extremely historical and simply pretty.

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Day 1 was arrival and settling in day, so there are no detailed notes on sights and snacks as of yet, but there will be. I caught the quicker train among the regular ones leaving from Hamburg every hour, and before I knew it I was exiting Lüneburg station, small but busy, and almost automatically walking towards the town center. Memories from day trips in previous years come back and I’m excited to spend more time here. You can’t get lost in Lüneburg, which is comforting to remember even when I do my trademark loop while looking for my hotel.

Zum Roten Tore is comfortable and cosy. The immediate change of pace from big city to small town is made more obvious by the fact that I get a traditional room key with a heavy key ring and that when you people-watch you get an occasional relaxed hello.  I came prepared from Hamburg, which means I took an umbrella with me, but I’m touched to discover a large white one in my room.

It’s already early evening, so after a snack I walk around, familiarizing myself with the streets and landmarks I’d like to explore later. It’s January and not raining, one cool shop follows the other and I can’t get enough of the gingerbreadness Lüneburg first impressed me with all those years ago. Not a tall building in sight and people are actually walking slower. The weekend is upon us, shoppers take leisurely advantage of winter sale season and increasing numbers of laughing teenagers gather in groups on Am Sande, the main square. It looks like various pub crawls are about to start and I move away to walk along the surrounding streets made up of brick houses with sometimes slanted windows and walls.

One of Germany’s most famous soap operas, Rote Rosen, is filmed here, and the broshure I just read tells me I might run in to some of the actors if I’m lucky. I just checked out some clips on YouTube to polish up and find myself being drawn in…


Germany: Random Useful Facts

Maybe all of this is only true for the North, which I’ve had the most experience with, but it might serve you well elsewhere in the land of Goethe, Mercedes and the Oktoberfest (NOT representative of the whole country), so here goes with some random useful facts about Germany.

Plans of action are appreciated. If there isn’t one, it’s a handy skill to be able to come up with one on the spot. This is particularly true for a night out with a group you might not know too well or organizing events with friends that involve being out and about. Things you can do to polish this skill and feel prepared regardless of decisions to be made at a moment’s notice: check transportation routes in advance, save map search results in your phone, buddy up with another reliable person, make a LIST. I feel joy simply typing this. Not to give anything away about myself, but you get the idea.

Don’t be fooled when you’re getting together with someone, say on a weekend, and they suggest being “spontaneous” or “spontan” in German. Spontan also entails a plan. First of all, you’re agreeing to proceed this way, and you need to know the translation: someone will need to text or call the other person to ask what’s going on for today and therefore make a plan. It’s unavoidable.

It’s a sure bet that almost every packaged item you buy in Germany either has detailed instructions about opening said packaged item, or a (sometimes cunningly hidden) HIER ÖFFNEN (open here) icon printed on it. Keep looking for it and don’t give up. Opening per procedure is often less messy and more satisfying than trying to tear off a layer of covering on your own. Following HIER ÖFFNEN will change your life and earn approving glances from those you happened to invite to brunch and help avoid frowns from locals.

This is true for many countries, but politeness is greatly admired in Germany and saying someone is “unfreundlich” doesn’t just mean unfriendly or rude, it carries a ton of disapprovement behind it. I think it’s also characteristic of the northern German character. One might not say outright that someone sucked on certain levels or express anger. But unfreundlich is both reserved and layered with subtext at the same time. There’s a range of German phrases, both long and short, that immediately convey consideration and good manners when spoken.

Daydreaming while standing in line is not necessarily frowned upon, but you will get a louder “Hallo” from staff. Saying you were lost in thought (one of the first phrases I learned when I moved and proceeded to use often, again, not to give away too much) with an apologetic smile diffuses this situation of potential minor time wasting.

These useful facts about Germany are as random as the situations life sometimes puts us in, so you’re covered.

Rubber Boots in Hamburg Are…

A necessity? Another important step towards becoming local, after getting wet in the rain, eating Labskaus and taking a harbour boat trip on the HVV ferry?

I have held out for almost ten years, most likely because of my Siberian roots making me more used to searching for warm winter shoes rather than rubber boots. We don’t get as much rainy weather there as in Hamburg. But I do believe, if you don’t own rubber boots already, when you move to this city, you will arrive at that point. One day, possibly a day when huge flakes of wet snow are dropping rapidly from the sky, you will wake up, go outside, take a few steps and know, now. Either you splash through, get wet and DEAL with it (whether complaining or nonchalantly is up to you), or you get the proper EQUIPMENT and stay dry!

So sometimes profound life questions that we have been asking ourselves for years get answerd in one go. I enjoyed browsing silver, flower-patterned and generally glittering rubber boots priced way beyond my budget range for this month, virtuously walked away and got comfortable black ones with a dependable sole. Let the puddle jumping begin.

Aunt in Progress

Your eyes changed colour some more since the last time we met. The traces of grey-blue were still visible, but they are gradually being replaced by other hues. I wonder if your eyes will be like your grandmother’s and mother’s, if you will share that same unique shade.

One day you were sitting on your mother’s lap at the dining room table and gazing around with wide eyes at us big people talking. Your grandmother stroked your mother’s hair and yours, looked at both of you, smiled and said, “Child of my child.”

At this point in time you and I seem to have established a pattern of moments when you recognize me. You looked around with a curious and questioning expression on your small face when your mother brought you to my side in the mornings, then your mouth turned up in an open, toothless smile when your eyes settled on me, and you bounced a little in your mother’s arms. After that you would always zero in on and reach for the beautiful shawl from your other aunt that I loved to wrap myself in, which is also true for your mother. Clearly we all share the same good taste!

During an outing I gave you my finger to hold while you lay in your pram, and you turned your hand around, so I carefully put my palm against yours. You tried to interlace your fingers with mine, but your hand was still tiny, fitting completely in the palm of mine. We looked at each other and I hoped you could hear my thought that I would always be there for you.

Your energy and increasing awareness of your surroundings remind me of your mother as a baby. When you focus on something, I have to remember your father’s face when he’s figuring out a task. Your vivacity makes me think of your shawl-giving aunt. The way you and your grandfather sometimes look at each other with the same twinkling, satisfied expression is uncanny. When you are quiet and settled, maybe thoughtful, your grandmother’s serene demeaner immediately comes to mind. The way you turn your head to follow your parents’ progress through a room and smile when they near you warms my heart.

There are many more family members walking through my memory as I watch you. You seem to further connect us all in the infinite passage of time.

On the morning before I left you were sitting on my bed, supported a little by your mother and me. I don’t know what you were telling your recently discovered feet, but you were very intent on it. You would turn around and smile when your mother spoke to you or laughed. All I could think was, Kid, I hope you will take as long as you need to figure things (feet) out, and that you will bring the attentiveness, focus, interest and happiness I see growing in you out in to the world.


So Busy

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days

When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

Stressed Out by 21 Pilots

During one of my jobs I had to sit down with a colleague to discuss a project we had been working on together. I had made careful notes in preparation for our meeting, while handling other tasks and calculating how much longer I would have to work that day to make up for having to leave earlier later in the week. At the same time I might have made a to-do-list for my after-work grocery shopping and worried about a friend who was not doing well.

As I I walked together with my co-worker to our conference room and politely asked how he was doing, he replied with a frustrated sigh, “Oh, it’s been crazy, I’ve just been so busy, just this constant load of things to do. I’m so stressed, I barely have any time.” He looked disgusted, as if someone was personally inconveniencing him. OK, the fact that I already knew him to be not the most reliable colleague and disregarding of efforts made by others contributed to the lightning-speed reaction in my head. What I thought was, Buddy, I’ve been here twice as long as you, and you think I’m NOT busy? Or anyone else?

Maybe it’s all in the wording. Maybe we react stronger to those who repeat something like the above, while not asking us how we are doing. Maybe both my natural state of positivity and my desire to maintain it drives me to say, I need to finish some things first, but I could get back to you * insert suggestion here *.

I have seen this time and time again, both in the workplace and outside of it, people who visibly do not trouble themselves or rush to exhibit involvement, committment, dedication, discipline, who cancel plans at a moment’s notice or simply don’t show up. They are surprisingly eloquent and clear as soon as they start talking about being “stressed”, while those at their desks rarely do. Why? Simple! One group has time to talk and the other doesn’t.

We all feel stressed or tired, we all share about it. We’re all busy most of the time. Sometimes you do have a hard day and end up talking only about your own experience. But the way it seems to work normally is saying, Wow, I’m just so wiped out from today, thanks for understanding, or I did this and that and now this, I just want to put my feet up, have a nice evening. Because the truth is, most of us are regularly stressed, tired or busy. There are rare exceptions, but I can’t think of any. It’s just the way life is, and the broader issue is how to deal with it and make sure you’re alright in the process.

I also think it’s pretty galling for people with less experience and a poor track record, in any context, to confidently tell someone on the opposite end of the spectrum about the tough time they are having. . .dealing with a sudden busy day, especially when half of what they are supposed to do ends up not being done. Again.

Whenever these encounters happen, I always come back to the same passage in one of Mindy Kaling’s books.

“. . . I do not think stress is a legitimate topic of conversation, in public anyway. No one ever wants to hear how stressed out anyone else is, because most of the time everyone is stressed out. Going on and on in detail about how stressed out I am isn’t conversation. It’ll never lead anywhere. No one is going to say, “Wow, Mindy, you really have it especially bad. I have heard some stories of stress, but this just takes the cake.I don’t believe anyone will ever give me a cake just like that, so I will simply bake my own.

As soon as I stop being so damn busy.

Mary Higgins Clark Reading Spree: What I Learned

Besides the fact that I can accomplish the things I set my mind to?! Again! Hair flip! Another TICK on the list! Drumroll! All that good stuff. Using bookmarks like I mean it and reading standing up between the parts that making breakfast consits of. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride.

But in all seriousness. . . This is one of my favourite writers I’m talking about here. Her books have accompanied me multiple times from my early teens in to adulthood, providing new viewpoints both on the novels themselves and life as I was experiencing it with every read.

This year I set out to reread all the suspense novels she had written so far that I had on my bookshelf, starting with the terrifying debut Where Are The Children and finishing with one of her latest, All By Myself, Alone. The novels span several decades of publishing, from the mid-seventies to today. After spending time with 34 books from January to mid-November, what have I learned?

Mary Higgins Clark has the gift. Her prose is seamless, structured, not overloaded, her descriptions are spot-on and her storytelling skills are mesmerizing. She knows how to draw a reader in.

Stand-out qualities in the pages she has written include a steady, continuous sense of sincere empathy – there are words and descriptions you simply cannot fake. There’s also a clear distinction between right and wrong, even good and evil, if you will. She writes with honesty and precision, but without preaching, deftly interweaving and examining complicated issues within the story.

Her books are a compliment to the intelligent reading experience, with plenty of visibly solid research that becomes an integral part of the story without reading like a lecture or textbook even when something needs to be explained. The experts in her novels are believable, and readers end up becoming curious about various topics not just due to the strong plot. From American history in various regions to actual famous murder cases, to burial customs, to reincarnation, to biblical scholarship, the palette is a colorful one.

It’s refreshing to have an author, and a bestselling one at that, who writes about relatable and likable heroines who are still as compelling and complex, just as much as any other. Their likability makes us see ourselves or someone we know in them, and this is part of the reason we get hooked. The “good girl” also has a place in literature. Most of us have known or know women like those who are at the center of Mary Higgins Clark’s novels. Many of us are like them, hard-working, at times struggling, faced with hard circumstances and loss, holding on to values and integrity, even sanity, loving with fear and sincerity at the same time and fighting for a sense of self in a difficult world.

I have discovered something for myself in every novel, but as in most cases of continued reading, a few already well-thumbed favourites that I know I will pick up again and again are on my list. These are Remember Me, Moonlight Becomes You, On The Street Where You Live, Daddy’s Little Girl, No Place Like Home. Some of the reasons for these gems topping the list include heroines with creative professions, among them writing, a house with a tragic past, sisterhood, parenthood, family ties and dealing with loss, developing love stories. And heck, the crime.

Mary Higgins Clark is turning 90 this year and in a recent interview she made it clear that she has no intention to stop writing – YES! People will still ask her why she does it. She loves it and gets paid well for it! I want to punch the air and say Atta girl!

Now I have to go buy her newest novel Every Breath You Take, which came out while I was busy finishing my reading spree. The journey continues!