Our Lady in the glimmering sunlight

 

There’s a church at Mariahilfsplatz

 
Above is a photo I took only several days ago. It’s ok. I know it’s a decent shot. However, as much as I like it, it reminds me so vividly of one I didn’t get. It was years ago. Perhaps even in the first few years I’d lived in Munich. If I had a mobile phone at the time, which I’m not entirely sure if I did, I’m sure it didn’t have a decent camera. 

Let me set the stage. It was wintertime and very early in the morning. I had to be somewhere, and I was very likely grumbling about the time of day that I was expected to arrive. I’d just left the main train station in Munich, which was positively bustling with excitement. So many people rushing here and there on a weekday morning before the sun had even made a proper appearance. The scene reminded me of New York’s Grand Central Station on a Friday afternoon, and I suppose I even asked myself, ‘Where are all these Germans off to at this ungodly hour?’ I’ve since found out that what I saw was a common sight in one of our local train stations. People like to awaken early and get where they’re going, preferably before everyone else does.

Yet that morning, I had neither the time nor the consciousness to consider such things. Almost as if on autopilot, I trudged on toward my destination. Soon I was coming out of the underground system at the Marienplatz station, which is right in the middle of the historic city, and if I remember correctly, I was suddenly and miraculously more awake. Only several hundred steps from coming out into the fresh air, I found my eyes inexplicably drawn to look up at the Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Lady). 

At that moment the sun broke from behind the rows of buildings to the east, and the church was bathed in the brightest sunlight. Yes, I know it’s preposterous for me to be writing this down while telling you that words can’t describe how beautiful it was. It was similar to the photo above, which is why I’ve included it here – why it made me think of that shot of dawn all those years back. Here’s how I’d like to describe it, though, because I’d like to make a bigger point. If I can get you to think of a similar experience you’ve had, you’ll know exactly what I’m getting at.

Can you think of a moment in time that was so beautiful and so otherworldly, yet you didn’t have some device nearby in which to record it? No app that seamlessly allowed you to shoot a glimpse in time and instantaneously share it to acquaintances and future acquaintances far and wide? Maybe your camera was back in the car. Possibly you were out running and you’re one of those sorts that enjoys being out on the trail without such distractions.

Your memory could be like mine from years ago before these ever-present moment capturing tools took on such a central role in our lives, but it could also be something that happened last week or last year. Look, I read enough stuff about eschewing technology that I don’t want to fall into a clichéd pitch about how great life used to be before we sold our souls over to the machine. I read something years ago that you know a device or program or app has really made it when people start writing about how great it used to be and now they’re so over it. That’s not at all what I’m trying to get at. Not remotely.

Nevertheless, I’m frequently reminded that I couldn’t have experienced that moment looking up at Our Lady in the glimmering sunlight all those years ago if I’d been absent-mindedly stumbling through my day glued to my screen like I sometimes still am. 

This is a plea that you take a moment to look up sometimes. If you can’t let it stay home without you, leave your phone in your bag when you’re meeting up with a friend you’ve not seen in ages. I’m not advising something I’ve not done. It’s something I’m constantly telling myself. Constantly.

Up in the night staring at the full moon and pondering the melting snow and an Imaginarium

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What’s an Imaginarium anyway?

Suppose I could blame the full moon. Or the pots full of tea I drank before I should’ve gone to bed. Maybe even the fistfuls of chocolate I was shoving in my gob at some point hours ago.

Yet whatever the reason, here I am up in the night not even trying to fall asleep. It’s even past the Witching Hour, whatever that is.

Friends in Australia were just waking up as I sat down and started writing earlier in the evening. They kept me company virtually as I shot off an email to a list of my regular readers, and for the most part they went about their day. A few night owls here in my timezone were up in the night with me, but I’m assuming all of them went off to dreamland long ago.

There are still plenty of my people stateside who’re still awake and have taken turns chatting away while they go about their Saturday evening. Some on the East Coast are holed up for this year’s annual Blizzard of the Century, while others strewn across other parts of the America look on smugly at how mild winter is for them…at least in comparison.

I’m staring at the moon and enjoying the sleepiness that’s finally creeping upon me. There are so many old photos saved on my hard drive that I could easily go through the archives and find plenty of visual content with having to produce anything new for a good long while.

That’s how this blogpost started, incidentally. Not that it’s such surprise, is it? Start with a photo and see where your thoughts take you. There are certainly more creative ways to come up with content. However, for this early morning with an evening of reflection already behind me – this is how it has to be.

Yes, this’ll have to do.

 

Just one more thing I wanted to read before I actually get something done

 

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Sometimes just want to wasch your brain and start back at zero, don’t you?

Rarely do I want to repost something word for word in its entirety here on the old Miscellaneous Blog, but today I desperately want to do exactly that.

I’ve got tabs open on my laptop with articles I’d like to read and blogposts on which I’d like to comment. I’ve been devouring pieces about time management since the new year began, and I’m knee-deep into various Thirty Day Challenges.

It’s too much. I give up.

No, I mean it.

Here’s one of the many things that really spoke to me in my daily attempt not to get bogged down:

Addicted to Distraction

I know it’s from waaaay back a few months ago. That’s an eternity in the online world. Do you know how many hours of content have been uploaded to YouTube since this Opinion Piece was published in The New York Times? A lot, I tell you.

I could make a rough estimate if I looked up the data and did a bit of calculation, but what’d the point of that be? Why am I so obsessed beyond reason to know that specific piece of information? Does it benefit me or anyone?

Don’t get me wrong. If I’m making an argument and want my point to be convincing, of course I want to employ facts in said reasoning. Come on. There’s plenty of knee-jerk palaver floating around. I’d prefer not adding to the noise, I promise.

Yet I’d like to cut down on the barrage of information. Tony Schwartz the author of the above mentioned article, makes the point so well that I’ll just give you a taste of how he phrases it:

‘Endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory. When we reach cognitive overload, our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates. It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts to spill out.’

I like that simile, so I’ll just leave that with you as I move on to the next thing.

I’d like to believe all of this has cured me from my time-wasting habits. Wouldn’t that be lovely. Instead there’s just one more thing I wanted to read before I actually get something done.

Searching out a uniquely Teutonic answer to those rowdy refugees in Cologne

 

Cologne is Nordrhein-Westfallen’s largest city and not to be messed with

 
A whole bunch of refugees freaked out on New Year’s Eve in Cologne and allegedly both robbed and sexually assaulted women who unfortunately were at the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn’t immediately covered in the German media, but not because of any conspiracy. It simply wasn’t known about. 
There’ve been allegations that the local police played down the event to avoid attention to their poor handling of events. Politicians insisted that the perpetrators’ countries of origin weren’t as important as the fact that they were criminals and would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

To say that this has been ignored by either the German or the European press is disingenuous. It just took a while for the story to come to light, but come to light it did. And then some. It’s been a major topic on political talk shows, and the opinion pages of the major papers have explored every possible angle. And then found entirely new angles. 

One particularly opportunistic politician has said aloud what many citizens have thought – that German taxes should not go to pay for keeping lawbreaking refugees in prisons. It’s gotten plenty of airtime, as well it should. Many Germans have a long fuse when it comes to this sort of thing – especially in public – as they would generally like to avoid being seen as racist or xenophobic, but this has hit a nerve. 

There’s certainly a sense that what happened in Cologne, as well as similar albeit much smaller incidents in Hamburg and Stuttgart, has crossed a line. Staying quiet and trying not to make too much of a fuss might’ve worked a week or so ago, but for increasing numbers of Germans it’s no longer an option. 

As I write this, there’s a huge protest going on in Cologne. Hundreds of women protesting against sexual abuse, as well as the newest incarnation of the Pegida protests which made so much noise this time last year. In addition, there are counter protests that insist the rhetoric on the streets is dangerously reminiscent of darker times in Germany in the Thirties

I’m not going to wade into a debate here about either Pegida or those protesting against their tactics. Not that I won’t at a later date; I just don’t think it’s particularly useful at the moment when these events are still so fresh. 

However, I have seen people insisting that Germans don’t care about what’s happened in Cologne or what’s going on in Germany right now. These assumptions are being made with little or no connection to what’s happening on the streets here. Whether during conversations at the dinner table or in cafés or pubs, people are talking and arguing and figuring out what needs to happen next. 

Here’s one of the things I like about living in Germany, though: there will be a measured response. Something positive will be done. Will it be as much as either radical fringe wants? Absolutely not. Will there be a thoughtful consideration of multiple possible ways to deal with all of this? I can almost guarantee it. 

Stay tuned for a uniquely Teutonic answer. One often seems to be found. 

Their brogues and their cheer and their utter joy

 

after all these years

I’ve connected with friends via social media and even met quite a few people face-to-face who I’d first connected with online. I was rather active on twitter back before it seemed to be mostly brands and marketing accounts, and between that and writing a tea blog, I made the acquaintance of quite a few of the no-longer-stranger sort of people who now inhibit my online village. It’s nothing particularly new, but it is funny when I’m asked where I know someone from and I sheepishly mention that we met via the web.
But this isn’t one of those stories. Not in the least. The guys on either side of me in the photo above are two geezers that I met back when we were all still kids. Not that I was particularly close to either of them back then, but thanks to social media being what it is they reconnected with mutual friends the way one does. Soon enough, we were similarly connected & there were the usual polite offers of, ‘Hey, whenever you’re in Munich, you should definitely get in touch.

Yes, of course. Like that was ever going to happen.

Well, it happened.

They flew in from Aberdeen for the weekend and I gave them my informal tour of Bavarian capital’s city centre. Of course there were libations and stories and political discussions and eventually a bit of the local fare. The afternoon became evening and the time somehow flew by as if we’d somehow been in contact all these years. It was that good. I could give you a list of superlatives about how intriguing and enjoyable the conversation was, but I’m not sure my words would do it justice.

We’d all heard about the horrible events in Paris the previous night. I suppose it might’ve been understandable if we were somehow morose or somber even, but I don’t think the thought ever crossed our collective minds.

Here were two guys – Jamie on the left and Martin on the right – whose lives were indescribably enriched by visiting our boisterous and slightly off-kilter art school back when we thought we’d figured it all out. Little did they know how much they’d brought to the table. That we world-wise and somewhat jaded American musicians and dancers and artists and writers had been just as grateful to meet these guys with their brogues and their cheer and their utter joy.

Of course the conversation veered to mutual friends we had lost. It was inevitable but somehow cathartic. They wanted more stories and I was happy to provide them. There was a tale they’d heard about something that I’d done at a funeral. I sheepishly assured them it was true. Guilty, as charged.

After safely depositing them back at their hotel, I walked the quiet streets back toward mine. What a curious and precious thing this is. All of it. Might sound cliche, but don’t take it for granted. Breathe in deeply and lean in. You’ll be glad you did.

My tail is wagging as I bound through the undergrowth

 

the leaves are beckoning

 
The sky seems to have moved in closer, and the day slams shut so much earlier. Knowing that sundown is creeping towards us makes me want to pack as much into those depleting moments of sunlight. 

The leaves that are left are somehow racing to the ground now – they pile up and make their annual bed. I kick them relentlessly and swear to myself that I’ve never enjoyed autumn as much as I have this time around. If I allowed myself, I’d just hold my photo-taking devices out in front of me the entire time I was out there. As if it were my first digital camera. Or even more preposterous: as if I’d never before seen the these changes of seasons. 

On these days, I’m like one of my dogs when it comes to going outside. I imagine the keys rattle and remember I promised myself a walk. I accompany me down the stairs and out into the crisp air and say repeatedly, ‘No need to take a photo of every single thing. You’ve captured that exact shot again and again and again.

Most of the time I can keep walking and stay focused on the moment. Most of the time. 

In German this season is called Herbst, which is a fine word. It rhymes with ‘flair‘ or ‘stare‘, which seems entirely fitting from my vantage point. So often I hear people whinging about the passing of warmer weather. Remembering how rainy fall days can be, they simultaneously dread the long cold days of winter. 

While I can intellectually comprehend what they’re talking about, I feel increasingly foreign in their company. I see the words form on their lips, but my thoughts are meandering outside into the already decaying foliage. My tail is wagging as I bound through the undergrowth. 

I assume we’re going to keep doing this until we like it

 

Louis insists he’s here to be of assistance

 
I’ve been laid up this week, which is why I’ve included the photo of Louis prepared to administer first aid. It’s been quite an interesting time to observe current events, and because of a lot of time on my hands, I’ve read my fill of op-ed pieces about the refugee crisis here in Europe

There are plenty of well thought out arguments about how the refugees should be more evenly distributed among all the European countries, and because I attempt to read sources from all across the political spectrum, I’ve also considered the argument that these refugees shouldn’t be coming here at all. 

As an outsider who’s chosen on his own volition to come here, I’ve given a lot of thought to what it means to be a German and a European, even. The demographic reality is that this is an aging population, and if handled correctly these refugees could foreseeably contribute to a society that is projected to one day be dramatically lacking in manpower. I’ve heard for years that the low birthrate here in Germany is sure to cause headaches for future generations. 

The political situation on the ground isn’t easy, though. I’ve read multiple accounts of how expensive it is to house each refugee, which is bound to irritate the proverbial man on the street. Watching the trains filled with refugees being welcomed so warmly here, you could already predict the people muttering under their breath that there isn’t room for everyone. There has to be a limit, right?

The new compound noun you can read in the media the last several weeks is ‘Willkommenskultur‘, which simply describes the welcoming culture that has been on display hereabouts. Even that can’t last, though. 

However, both sides of the debate about whether or not these people should be welcomed here are missing an important part of the story. We’ve known that this crisis was coming for a long time now. There have been boats full of people crashing into Lampedusa for years. Conventional wisdom says that nothing happens on an issue like this until push comes to shove. Well, now we’re being shoved. 

My understanding is that when refugees arrive on your shore or at your border, you’ve actually got to take them in. There are clearly logistical considerations and I’m incredibly relieved that it’s not my responsibility to manage such an intake of people. Yet these are people fleeing war torn countries. Are there people rushing in for better economic conditions than in their home countries? Could there be people arriving here with nefarious intentions? Of course. It’d be ridiculous to pretend that those aren’t obvious eventualities. They need to be dealt with.  

I appreciate living in a country where such things are dealt with. I assume we’re going to keep doing this until we like it.