Nikolaustag

It’s not just Advent Calenders that supply Germans with a steady stream of chocolate in December, but St Nicholas (Nikolaus) also gets in on the act.

On the night of the 5th December, German children clean their shoes (the bigger the better) and put them outside their door. If they have been good, then on the morning of the 6th, they wake up to find their shoes have been stuffed full of chocolate, lollies and other goodies.

Unfortunately, as an adult if I put my shoes outside my front door all that would happen is the strong possibility that someone would steal them. However, the business centre in which my company has an office plays St Nicholas for us grown-up children and every December 6th we arrive at work to find chocolate on our desks. This year was no different, but since the 6th falls on a Saturday this year, we got our presents a day early.

Along with a note explaining why. Apparently Nikolaus is a busy man this year.

Rough translation:

Tomorrow on Saturday 6th Saturday…no, comes not Santa but naturally Nicholas.

And because he also has so much to do this year, we allowed him to show up a day earlier at the office to leave a little something to sweeten the pre-christmas time.

So, story time is over:  Unpack and enjoy… and continue working.

I just love this tradition! And that the staff at the Business Centre get really into it.

If you also work in Germany, does your office do something similar? Or are you forced to buy your own chocolate to celebrate Nikolaustag?

Chocolate: It’s What’s For Breakfast In December

Growing up in Australia I didn’t know that Advent Calenders were a thing.  Sure, I knew about Advent as I was dragged taken to church every Sunday, but having a calender associated with it was not something that Australians did in the 80s. However, here in Germany Advent is a huge deal, especially the Advent Calender – and it is a tradition I have embraced wholeheartedly as who can’t get behind having chocolate for breakfast for the first 24 days in December.

The first Advent Calender I got was one designed especially for children so the chocolate came in all kinds of festive shapes

and ones that were supposed to be festive but looked strangely suspicious

Then the following year, I discovered that After Eights did an Advent Calender and due to my addiction to mint flavoured chocolate there was no going back after that.

So now every December I start my mornings with a piece of mint chocolate and life couldn’t be better for those 2 minutes it takes me to eat it. Actually I would be in favour of extending Advent to cover the whole year. I think the world would be a happier place if everyone started their day with a delicious piece of chocolate.

 

Meeting Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman at the Literaturhaus Hamburg

Hamburg, whilst it is the second largest city in Germany, is not the city most artists visit, if they happen to visit Germany at all.  Berlin, Munich and perhaps Frankfurt or Cologne is where they go. But rarely, they do decide to venture off the usual itinerary and that’s what happened last night when Neil Gaiman paid a visit to the Literaturhaus in Hamburg to promote the release of the German translation of his novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane.

I had seen Neil Gaiman do a reading in Sydney about 5 years prior. There was over 100 people packed into a bookstore hanging on every word he said. Neil is one of those rare authors who can not only write amazing books but can narrate them as well. His voice is like liquid chocolate, the only disappointment being when he stops. On that visit to Sydney, I was way too nervous to get a book signed by him. I have fears of saying really stupid shit to people that I admire. However, I wasn’t going to let my fears get the better of me this time.

Neil’s appearance at the Literaturhaus was in a way the same as any author event. There was a moderator asking questions, the author answering them and then the author reading some of their promoted book to the audience. However, with the visit to the Literaturhaus, there was an extra twist. It was assumed that whilst some of the people in the audience might speak English, all of them could speak German so the event was bilingual. The moderator asked Neil questions in English and Neil answered them in his typical storytelling way and then the moderator tried to paraphrase what Neil had said in German. Quite a few details got lost in translation and the moderator added some of her own, but it worked for the most part. The only drawback is that we didn’t get to hear Neil read very much as most of the reading was done by the man who had translated The Ocean At The End of The Lane into German. This, of course, made sense, but given that I could listen to Neil read for hours on end, I would have liked to have heard him read more and the translator read less.

What was wonderful about the Literaturhaus event was the numbers were limited, perhaps just slightly over 50 people there. This made the event feel very intimate and it also meant that the line to get a book signed was not very long. Neil was kind and gracious with every single person getting a book signed, taking the time to have an actual conversion with them. The two girls before me had a discussion about the current Doctor Who series and I in a rare moment of not embarrassing myself completely admitted that I had chickened out of meeting him in Sydney 5 years prior and he asked me lots of wonderful questions about why I was in Germany and how I was finding learning German whilst he signed my copy of Neverwhere.

Given I have the urge to read Neverwhere whenever I travel on the London Tube, the inscription was pure perfection.

Now that I know that English language authors do indeed visit Hamburg from time to time, I’m going to keep a lookout to see if any of my other favourite authors decide to pay us visit. I’m also going to hold out hope that Neil Gaiman will return to Hamburg in the future cause I have quite a number of his books that I would love to get signed.

 

Four Years On

Seal of Hamburg, ca. 1245

Seal of Hamburg, ca. 1245 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In trying to formulate my thoughts on my fourth anniversary of living in Germany, I re-read the posts I wrote for Year One, Year Two and Year Three. One thing that has remained constant is that I have loved being here – and that fact remains true. I love the quality of life that living in Hamburg affords me and the opportunities I have here. Hamburg has become a mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar allowing me to feel both at home and a stranger in a strange land. There is enough strangeness to jolt me out of complacency but not so much that I feel overwhelmed.

This is the first year where I feel that I am slowly beginning the process of integration. My German has developed to the point where it is functional and I can finally start taking part in activities that are not conducted in English. My German still has a hell of a long way to go until I am completely proficient and not constantly stumbling over the grammar and searching for words, but I feel I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s like I have graduated from the wadding pool and can now splash around the shallow end but the deep end is still beyond my current abilities.

This year has been tough in many ways but perhaps it was a toughness that I needed to experience in order to work out my priorities and the areas that still need much more work in my life. Perhaps Year Five will be when I get it all together or it could take a little longer than that.

Still I love the little life I have made for myself here in Hamburg. I have managed to surround myself with good people and I am so grateful to have them in my life and am appreciative of the lessons they have taught me. In the four years I have been here I have changed and grown as a person. The person that left Australia four years ago is not the same person I am now, not completely. Germany has changed me, but it is a change I feel good about.

I can’t wait to see what Year Five has in store for me. Hopefully improved German skills as well as a deeper understanding and appreciation of German culture whilst still retaining my curiosity for the unknown and a thirst for the unusual.

An Evening of German Theatre

Credit: Klaus Lefebvre, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg

Yesterday morning I received a text message from my friend Eddie inviting me to see that evening’s performance of Henrik Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman at the Schauspielhaus. I will admit to having no idea who Ibsen was and never having heard of the play before, but I still seized the chance to go and experience my first ever German play. That’s right, despite having performed theatre in Germany, I had never been to see a real German theatre production. Most of that has to do with the ever-present language barrier, but I figured I now knew enough German to make sense of the general storyline and if my German completely failed me then at least I could enjoy the spectacle of it all.

I wasn’t really thinking it would be a spectacle but honestly that is the best way I could describe what I saw. Actually that’s a lie. The most honest description would be ‘What the fuck did I just witness?’. It’s a question I’m still struggling to answer this morning. Now I’ve seen many a modern interpretation of a classical play, but even this doesn’t quite seem to cover what I witnessed last night. The best I can come up with is that it was a modern interpretation by someone who was taking a whole bunch of drugs at the time. Apparently weird and distinctly odd interpretations of well-known or classical plays seems to be more of the rule than the exception in German theatre. Most people I’ve spoken to have had very similar experiences seeing German productions of plays ranging from God of Carnage to A Streetcar Named Desire.

For this production a family drama taking place in a house in the 1890s had been transported to what could best be described as an underground concrete bunker inhabited by strange zombie-like school girls who kept randomly walking into walls and actors that kept putting on and removing rubber masks for no apparent reasons halfway through lines of dialogue. There was also a character who spoke some of her lines in English and would randomly switch between German and English halfway through sentences. I think the point was that she was supposed to be a foreigner, but it just added another layer of surrealness to the whole thing. However it was rather handy for getting me up to speed with some of the more stranger parts of the actual storyline.

The only positive thing about the whole event was how many young people were there. We got very cheap tickets, just €5, through the Goethe Institute and I’m guessing other schools offer something similar. Getting young people exposed to theatre, no matter how damn odd it is, is just brilliant and something I wished happened more in Australia. Imagine letting students see plays for just $5 in Sydney??  That would just never happen.

Despite all the weirdness or maybe because of it, I would love to see more German theatre, especially if I can get really cheap tickets. It was just such a mind boggling experience that I feel the urge to repeat, cause let’s face it, I’m never going to see theatre of this level of weird anywhere else in the world.

Weekly Wrap-Up

This is a new section looking at the interesting, hilarious and odd things I have discovered in the previous 7 days.

Books

This is a book that all death enthusiasts and those who fear death should have on their bookshelf. I’ll be ordering mine when my bank account forgives me for the last lot of books I brought.

Only In Germany

A large part of Lüneburg just 50km south of Hamburg was evacuated this week when an 250kg unexploded WWII bomb was found.  This didn’t even make the news on NDR (North Germany Radio) as this type of thing happens all the time.

Commuters in Berlin this week saw something not commonly seen that often – two people having sex on a station platform. What this article doesn’t cover that the German language news did, is that the guy was cheating on his girlfriend who subsequently broke up with him after this video went viral.

Science

Despite the fact that I work in IT, I actually hold a Bachelor of Science degree.  My speciality was anatomy and I had the honour of examining and dissecting many human remains including an actual human head we called Marlon.  I intended to return the favour when I die by donating my body to medical science.

For those of us who love to write in which ever form we write in, science has proven that writing has some surprising health benefits.

Exercising My Brain And My Body

For the last 2 and a bit years that I lived in Australia I threw myself fully into the sport of Kung Fu. For a non-sporty person like myself this was both a challenge and a revelation. Whilst I don’t like doing sport, I love doing Kung Fu and by all accounts, I was pretty decent at it.

My Kung Fu trophies that my parents demanded I do ‘something’ with when I was back home for a visit in July.

However, when I arrived in Germany I stopped doing Kung Fu. I simply did not have the language skills to undertake a class run completely in German and my evenings were taken up with learning German. Now that my German classes are currently on a fairly long hiatus and my German has reached the functional stage, I decided I wanted to get back to doing Kung Fu. I was fortunate to find a Kung Fu school literally around the corner from where I live. It’s barely even a 5 minute walk away which will make excuses not to go to class when it is cold and snowing pretty hard to justify. The only two issues I had was being really unfit from 4 years of not doing Kung Fu and the fear that I wouldn’t be able to understand anything anyone said to me (which is actually a daily fear rather than Kung Fu specific).

So on Monday evening, I fronted up to my first class full of nerves but also secretly pleased that my Kung Fu pants still fitted me. I was pretty certain that I would be dead by the end of the warm-up and make a complete idiot of myself. Fortunately I did neither. The class was hard, but nowhere near as hard as I had built it up in my mind. I also had issues understanding the instructor as he speaks a hundred miles an hour and uses words I have never heard before, but I got the jist of what he was saying and it was easy enough to follow everybody else. Actually my biggest challenge is going to be that the style of Kung Fu I’m learning now is very different to the Kung Fu I did previously. I’m going to have to learn to be graceful and flowing instead of strong and powerful. That is going to be one hell of a challenge.

Still at the end of the class, completely and utterly exhausted, I was on a high. It felt so good to be back doing Kung Fu. Two days post-class and everything still hurts, however, I’m going back to class again tonight. It feels good to have this outlet back in my life and also it’s a great way to learn and practice German as my body is getting a workout as well.