Himmelfahrt at Ohlsdorfer Friedhof

Today is Himmelfahrt (Ascension Day) which is a public holiday across all of Germany. Himmelfahrt also doubles as Father’s Day which men (fathers or not) celebrate by wandering around the woods with their friends getting drunk. Since I’m not male, I decided to spend my Himmelfahrt wandering around the Ohlsdorfer Friedhof to test my brand new camera, a Panasonic Lumix FZ200. Ohlsdorfer Friedhof is the world’s largest park cemetry and covers a massive 391 hectares. It is is so big that it has two bus lines to help people get around. I spent 4.5 hours there and only saw a very small fraction of the cementry. However, it was a fantastic location to play around with my new camera and I can see myself spending much more time there in the future.

Just look how gorgeous it is (click to enlarge the photos).

Graveyard

Group of graves

On my wanderings I ended up at the Kinderbegräbnisstätte (Children’s graveyard). It was the most depressingly beautiful part of the cementy and the place I took, in my opinion, my best photos.

Bears on a child's grave

Sleeping angel child

Toy dog on a grave

Child's grave #4

Toy cars on a grave

I have many more photos over on my Flickr page.

After playing around with my camera all day, I am beyond pleased with it and all it can do. It will be a great camera for me to learn more about the art of photography and hopefully improve my skills. Also, it has some really lovely in-built creative retouches so that you can make your photos look like this, if desired.

A wreath on a grave

 

 

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How I Got Here or How Not To Move To A Foreign Country

Coat of arms of Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg

Coat of arms of Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I realised that on this blog I have never done a full detailed explanation of how I ended up living and working in Hamburg, Germany.  Sure, I’ve had that conversation a million times in real life, but never bothered to put it all down in written form. So here it goes.

Way back in July 2010 I had a 10 year relationship come to an end and at that time I decided to do something that I had wanted to do my entire life which was to live and work in a foreign country.  I was fortunate that I worked for a global company so I had the option to request an overseas posting if one became available and I did just that.  I fully expected to hear nothing back from my managers for a good 6-12 months, if ever. Therefore, I was blown away when I was asked the following day if I would be willing to move to Hamburg, Germany.  I was departing a few days later, coincidently to Cologne Germany, to compete in the Gay Games so my company gave me the 3 weeks I was away to think about it.  When arrived back in Australia at the end of August 2010, I told them that I was willing to move.  If my company had had their way, I would have been on a plane the following week, but since I was going through what essentially was a legal separation (ending a decade long relationship when you have shared assets is a messy thing), I asked them to give me 4 weeks in which to wrap things up and uproot my entire life.  BTW, four weeks is nowhere near long enough to do that, but in my nativity I didn’t know that.

I did all the things they tell you not to do when embarking on your expat journey. I didn’t do much research on the city I was moving to before I committed to moving there – what I knew about Hamburg was only what was on Wikipedia.  I didn’t bother learning the basics of the native language spoken there before I departed and my firm did not organise my visa before I left my home country (okay, that wasn’t my fault) but fortunately as an Australian citizen I could apply for a German work visa whilst in Germany, but the whole visa thing was touch and go and only got approved 4 days before my 3 month travel visa was set to expire.  The whole visa problem was why I spent my first 6 months in Germany with only the things I could fit in the one single suitcase I brought over with me.  The rest of my belongings (well 5 boxes of them containing mostly books and DVDs) were only shipped over once my visa was approved.

Because I was doing the whole solo expat thing, I had no support system awaiting me in Germany – no helpful partner who could tell me how things work or help me navigate through the challenges of living in country where a foreign language is spoken nor an fellow ally to join me on my journey of adapting to life in a foreign country.  If I wanted to know how something worked, I had to find out by myself.  I will be eternally grateful to my German boss at the time for picking me up at the airport and taking me to the supermarket before dropping me off at my temporary accommodation, even though one’s first expose to a German supermarket should not be immediately after getting off a 26 hour flight. And to the wonderful WEBMU gang on Twitter for answering the thousand and one questions I had about German life and for helping me get health insurance when my company refused to offer any assistance claiming it was a ‘private decision’.  You guys did and continue to make my life here so much easier.

Despite this chaotic and ill-prepared start, my life in Germany has been one of the best experiences of my life.  Almost four years on, I feel I’m finally starting to get the hang of things here and I have no plans to move on. However, I did get lucky. Things could have (& perhaps should have) gone very wrong. That’s not to say things here have been easy.  These last 3.5 years have probably been the most challenging years of my life, but my determination not to throw it all in and return back to Australia is paying off. In fact, I think I would find a life that was easy quite boring now. I rarely have a single day where I am not doing or learning something new, whether that is trying to explain a complex medical issue in German or trying to work out how to negotiate a new cultural situation or learning that my dishwasher was supposed to be regularly topped up with salt for these past 3 years (whoops!).

Expat life is exciting, challenging, chaotic and exhilarating and is most definitely not for the faint hearted.  I would recommend it to anyone who wants to experience a new way of living their life.  However, don’t go about it the way I did.  Learn from my mistakes.  Actually do some research and preparation before you make the leap as it will make for a softer landing.  Then again, if you want to challenge yourself, then I can totally recommend my way of doing it.

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Frühlingsmüdigkeit Is Real

For the last three springs I have been laughing at the Germans and their supposed Frühlingsmüdigkeit (Spring Fatigue). I mean, who on earth gets tired simply because the weather gets warmer?  Now Wintersmüdigkeit – that would make sense.  Who doesn’t want to hibernate when the weather is cold and it’s constantly dark outside? But karma, being the bitch she is, has decided that this spring I’m going to pay for all my past mocking by slamming me with some heavy duty exhaustion.  It started at the beginning of last week when come 6pm I could barely keep my eyes open. I even had to miss work on Wednesday thanks to me sleeping for 11.5 hours the night before & then barely having the energy to crawl from my bed to the couch.  I was even too tired to contemplate sitting at my desk to use my laptop. That’s some serious exhaustion.  I thought perhaps I was coming down with a springtime cold, which in itself is just nature being cruel, but nothing has developed.

One week later and I’m still low on energy.  Nothing major, more of a general blergh feeling.  However, I’m not going to let it stop me enjoying the rare weather we are currently having in Hamburg.  Not only has the yellow thing in the sky made one of its rare appearance, but it is warm.  It got to 19C yesterday. 19C at the beginning of March – that’s crazy temperatures.  This time last year it was still snowing. Today it’s already 18C and the weather report is saying it’s going to stay sunny and mild for the next 5 days. I foresee much lying in the park drinking up the sunshine. Perhaps that’s the remedy I need to get rid of my Frühlingsmüdigkeit.

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Spaß ohne Grenzen

This evening I was supposed to be in German class but instead I went to see the awesome gentleman above perform his latest stand-up show completely in German.  I figured it would be way more educational and fun than my class – and I was right.  It was incredible. A truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. Never again am I going to experience the pure delight (and surprise) of being able to understand a 75 minute show done entirely in German. It is kinda nice when you and the performer have a similar level of German.

Eddie Izzard didn’t perform this show to show off his German. In fact, he struggled for words here and there and the show itself used relatively basic German, but that didn’t matter to either him or the audience. In fact, I would say the audience loved him even more for it. I know I did.  He explained at the beginning of the show that his goal was to create Spaß ohne Grenzen – Fun Without Borders to show that comedy is universal and that comedians can and should do their stand-up shows in foreign languages.

The venue itself was rather initimate.

The Quatsch Comedy Club

I would say there was about 100 people there. It was quite different to the large theatres he plays at in the UK.  Apparently the audience contained the Who’s Who of Hamburg, but since I don’t know any of them I just nodded when my friend pointed them all out. I was impressed though by the guy that looked like Thor, purely because of the hair.

Was he funny in German?  Yes.  I was laughing the whole way through it.  However, he is much funnier in English, but that is only because he is comfortable in English (naturally) and can play around with the words and the audience reactions.  He was much more limited in German.  I say give him a year and he will be able to do the same in German.

Because the venue contained so few people, most of whom didn’t really hang around.  I was able to meet Eddie and chat with him in German about learning German and how he thinks doing stand-up comedy is honestly the best way to learn a language.  He was gracious, lovely and humble.  He also takes an awesome selfie.

The Transvestite and the Lesbian

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My Run-In With German Riot Police

Last night I finished up my German class at 7:30pm and headed to the U-Bahn. I had nothing more pressing on my mind than the thought of a wonderful hot shower, when I ran into this scene.

Gänsemarkt had been completely closed off by dozens of riot police.  That’s interesting I thought as I snapped the above photo.  Don’t see riot police out in force much. I still had my headphones on at this point, still not really disturbed or concerned.  That was until a line of heavily armed riot police prevented me from accessing the U-Bahn station.  Headphones off and feeling rather thankful that I can now converse in German, I asked one of policeman what was going on. ‘Demo’, he said. Really? I thought. I couldn’t see or hear any demonstration going on, let alone one that would require this many police. ‘U-Bahn station still open?’  ‘Yes, but not this entrance.’

I would go through this process another 2 times before finally finding a entrance that was open, although I needed to demand access to it.  Good thing, I don’t look the less bit threatening.  I managed to get down into the U-Bahn station only to find another row of riot police guarding a gated up entrance. Despite being told by the police on three separate occasions that the U-Bahn station was opened, their colleagues down here begged to differ. Go to Jungfernstieg, I was told.  This took crossing a couple more lines of riot police, each one not really wanting to let me go anywhere.  Still no sign of the demonstration, except for one loud cheer somewhere off in the distance.

I made it to Jungfernstieg and on the U-Bahn home, which I considered quite an accomplishment.  The wonderful folks on Twitter enlightened me to what was going on.  There was a demonstration in support for asylum seekers, freshly arrived in Hamburg, who had survived the Lampedusa disaster. That’s right, a demonstration for being decent to our fellow humans required hundreds of riot police and a water cannon to watch over it.  Apparently, there had been some bottles thrown at police the night before during a similar protest and they weren’t taking any chances.  A bit of an over-reaction in my view.

So, that was my first run-in with German riot police.  Surely, this must be on an expat bucket list somewhere of all the things you must do as an expat living in Germany as a rite of passage.  Probably it’s ranked somewhere up near surviving a trip to the Zollamt (customs office).

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What Dogs Do When Owners Leave The House

Mine used to watch TV, but this dog obviously leads a more exciting life than mine used to.

This also qualifies for the cutest ad ever for a taxi company.  That said, I use Taxi Hamburg but only because their phone number is 666 666.  That’s right, they are the Devil’s Taxi Company.

Update:

There exists a much longer version of this ad that shows where the dog goes when he gets into the Taxi.

I might not recover from the overdose of cute.

Face Your Fear & Reap The Rewards

Hidden in Hamburg Suburbia.

Written for the Scintilla Project based on the prompt

Fears come in different sized packages. Tell the story of a time you had a face a fear, big or small.

When I told my firm that I wanted to be considered for an overseas posting, I fully expected them to send me to the US.  That is where I thought our company needed staff.  I expected to be told that I was going to be sent to Atlanta or New York.  I was prepared for that.  What I wasn’t prepared for was for them to come back the next day and say ‘How do you feel about moving to Germany?’.  I remember that moment like it occurred just hours ago. I was sitting on this horribly uncomfortable see-through plastic chair that screamed ‘look at me I’m trying to be hip and cool’.  I remember the paralysing fear that swept over me.  Germany?  I wasn’t prepared for Germany.  I almost immediately said no. My manager no doubt noticed the fear in my face and how close I was to turning it down.  He started talking up the offer, the amazing opportunities I was to have there and how much they really needed someone with my skills there. I started tossing it around in my mind.  Germany.  On second thought it didn’t sound too bad.  Hey, I could learn German, that would be cool.  I remember the one question I asked – ‘Does it snow there?’  My manager didn’t know.  In hindsight I can say to myself, ‘Yes, sweetie it snows there.  It will be cool until it is still snowing in March and then you will hate the sight of it’. I told my manager I would think about it.

I thought about it long and hard.  I goggled ‘Hamburg’.  It looked gorgeous.  I was still scared, really scared.  However, wasn’t this what I wanted when I asked for an overseas posting?  A chance of a new life.  What could be so different to my life in Australia than a life in Germany?  The next day I told them yes. I was still scared.

I was scared as I packed up all my belonging and tied up all my loose ends.  I was scared as I boarded the plane.  I was scared when I sat in my first tiny apartment in Hamburg after just arriving, not knowing a single soul.  I was so fucking scared.

Almost three years on, I’m so grateful that I didn’t give in to that wave of paralysing fear when the chance to move to Germany was offered to me.  I’m glad that didn’t let it make me turn this opportunity down.  Yes, moving to a new country is scary.  Moving to a country where you don’t speak the language is doubly so.  However I would not be person I was today if I said no.  I would still be trapped in the same mindset I had when I lived in Australia.  I would not have experienced the personal growth I have had since I moved here.  My life would be the poorer for it.

Facing the fear allows you to learn just how strong you are.  What you can (and can’t) deal with.  It allows you to find out what you are truly capable of.  However, facing the fear once doesn’t mean that you can do it the next time fear stares you in the face.  It is a challenge every single time.  Sometimes I rise to the challenge and other times I don’t.  I still have to learn to find the courage I had on that day I said yes.

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