Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Leaving



I checked in for my flight today. I am leaving Glasgow. For Germany.  

Taken out of its real context this would be when at the "Goodbye Deutschland" TV show the sad trombone sets in and then a dramatic melody starts playing in the background to indicate drama and failure. 
Well - not so much. The music that is soundtracking my departure from Scotland sounds way more like this:



For all German readers: Click here for Warner Music Germany to watch the video.

And no, I'm not homesick or in any other type of trouble. I'm just leaving Glasgow for three days to travel with the one and only Biffy Clyro to  ... Münster. It's so immensely considerate of them to play this one-off-out-of-the-blue gig in Germany in exactly the city where my family lives (and I used to live many years) and to choose the weekend when my niece has her 3rd birthday, too. Thanks guys, well done! 


All excitement aside (and I am very very very excited because new songs and all that) I thought about leaving Glasgow and how that feels when I typed my passport data into the airline booking system. That is one of the most usual things for me to do as traveling is part of my nature and routine, but it felt different because now I am equally excited about going away as I am about coming back and that is surely new to me. 

I also realized that my last blog post was a lot "and then I did this and then I did that" but not much about my emotional state - besides marking the points of my biggest desperation when I was emotionally hitting ground during the packing process. 
Now the first month in Glasgow comes to an end and I am trying to figure out how I feel. I had very good days, normal days and also a few not so good days just like everyone has. Everything - all the small things of daily life - still feel very new but get slowly more and more normal and I like it. 

Last week though the weather was really nice and and after work I hopped on a train to watch the sunset over Arran - something I always wanted to do after seeing it a couple of times from the train or bus. I know that for everyone who grew up here it is completely normal to be close to the sea but for me it is not. For me it is almost surreal and going to the beach just BECAUSE I CAN was amazing. I love it so much. 
There are also a few more things that I love: being close to people I like a lot, the gorgeous flat I scored, the fab gigs I already went to in the short time I am here, walks around the Botanic Gardens and the River Kelvin, being just a few minutes away from a pretty decent record shop, very fast broadband, fresh nan bread and unlimited access to Irn Bru. And the sky. The sky is simply amazing especially in the evenings.
So today when checking in for that flight I came to the conclusion that I am happy. Small word, big deal. It is not like "Bring the Champagne" type of happy, but a general change of vibe and it changed in a very good way. That might wear off one day, maybe it won't - at least not totally. We will see  ... for now I take it as it is and it feels like I did the right thing. 

Lots of people in the last few months / weeks said something like "You are really brave" or "That's a courageous thing to do."  I can tell you that right now it does not feel like this (anymore). I am sitting on my sofa wrapped in my fave blanket eating nachos with guacamole and typing this blog post. It definitely does not need any courage for that at all. It is obviously just half the story though because I definitely had severe doubts and panic attacks along the way and was everything but fearless. 
In hindsight that was another round of proof that what is in our head is usually way more scary than most of real life (there are exceptions - I went through some of them and I wish that to no one).  The scenarios our brain can come up with when it does not know what happens next can be very, very frightening. Uncertainty and fear are evil twins. 

I think that the point is not to become more courageous or fearless but to take your own fears seriously and resolve them as good as you can (I did a lot of that in the last few months in Germany) and then ... move past it. That costs a lot of energy, but there is no other way to initiate change. And there is no progress or improvement without change.

I will finish with some lines from a letter my friend, the wonderful German-Croatian author Marica Bodrožić, sent me a few days ago. It is a bit sad that I need to translate her stunningly beautiful German into my clumsy English but I'll give my best as her words might encourage the one or the other to make a decision along the way: 


"Only very few can do that (following a new life path / initiate change), instead most people are holding on to the old things, to the old patterns around them and when then all the old disappears (And it has to. It is its job to do so) they still cling to it and that brings misfortune, grief, loneliness and forlornness." 


And nobody wants that, right? 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Catching Up

I did not write about the move for such a long time that I have trouble to figure out how to do it. I need to find a healthy middle between just posting "Made it" and writing a book. So let's try.

I think I left you when I got the "go" for my flat, didn't I? Feels a lifetime away.

The commute between Glasgow and Munich went for another round after that and it felt weirder and weirder - like living two parallel lives. Every time I went back to Munich I just slipped back into my old life with all the familiar things around me and Glasgow felt so far away. Same for the other way around .. barely out of the airport Glasgow felt normal and Munich far away. Transition times are strange and emotionally draining.

It was mid March when I came back here (Glasgow) to pick up my keys and get the flat ready to move in. While I was in Munich I had tried to plan the furnishing but that is quite difficult without a floor plan and exact measurements. That's why getting all the hard facts was the first thing I did when I had the keys and went to the flat. My flat is magical though (in many ways) - it shrinks inside your head. When I was in Munich and tried to plan in my memory it seemed to be small and I was so not sure if everything would fit in and I planned for various scenarios panicking I would not get it all set up properly. When I came back into the place for real I realized it is really big. I think now we look at about 70 qm while my studio apartment in Munich had a bit more than 40 qm (and only one big room). It is definitely the biggest place I live in since I moved out my mom's age 19. I might finally do some adulting ... kind of.

When I was here to furnish timing was everything because I had only one week to get basically everything done and so I had phoned the Ikea customer service beforehand to see if my plan would work and they said yes. And here is how I did it:
Monday - keys and measuring
Tuesday - a good half a day at Ikea to buy basically everything (except for that Oliver Bonas bedside table which HAD to happen and did).
Wednesday - running places for getting internet set up organized and such things
Thursday - Getting everything delivered from Ikea
Friday - Getting everything build by Ikea assembly service
Saturday - Another shopping trip to Ikea with my lovely friend Emma for lamps and all those many wee things & flying home

That all happened and also lots of cleaning (it was pretty clean but you want your bathroom done by yourself) and sitting on the floor in the empty flat trying to get a feel for it and realizing this is home now. 


Crazy thing is ... the plan worked 100% and I am super impressed with the service culture here. Germany is always praised for being efficient, but in direct comparison things are REALLY good here as well and in some cases even better. Virgin wins anytime against Deutsche Telekom and the Job Center where I had to apply for my NINo beats every German public institution when it comes to waiting times and quick processes. I was in and out in minutes. PLUS ... everyone so far is friendly and helpful. I did not expect beforehand to be so pleased with those things, but I really am.
But back to Ikea ... I had another delivery this week with more lamps, chairs, coffee tables and some more smaller stuff that I of course assembled myself, but for the big stuff I had booked the before mentioned assembly service. That is not cheap, but so worth the money. It took the two guys about 3.5 hours to build a king size bed, a 5 chest drawer, a small table with chest for the hall, an expendable dining table, a TV bench, 2 bookshelves, 4 CD shelves, a sleeper couch, a sleeper chair, an office table and an office chair. Magical. Just try to think of how long that would take a normal person and how much nerves that would cost. I did not regret it for a second.

Once the flat was ready I went back to Munich to work and pack. That I think was the worst part of the whole process. I am my father's daughter. I am all for adventures as long as my base is okay and my home is nice and comfy. If that is not the case I am not in a good place and when you pack all your stuff to move across Europe that of course consequently breaks up home and packing is not "comfy" in any way. I was also extra stressed because the movers picked my stuff one day earlier up than planned. It was pretty horrible and there were tears and lots of last minute questioning if this was the right thing to do well knowing it was too late for any plan changes. I worked day and night - literally. I also went to see my local friends to say good bye and that is always emotional as well. I felt exhausted on every level at the end of this.


Shit got real when my old flat was empty and the real estate agent came and I handed her my keys. After twelve long years in the same flat (16 in Munich) I left the house with a bag and a huge suitcase and no chance to go back in. Scary.
For the last night in Munich I had booked myself and my sore bones a fancy hotel in the city center and that was very smart. That huge and super comfy bed was worth a million - as well as the final Schnitzel dinner with friends and the next day pizza lunch with my colleagues before I went to the airport.
The trip itself felt like just another flight to Glasgow and I had to remind myself there was no flight back. Strrrrrange,
I arrived Thursday night (31/3) and on Saturday my boxes arrived (37 of them) and with it the second round of a shitload of work and making a flat a huge mess. I dreaded it so much that we escaped to a gig (Chvrches / Twilight Sad) and to Ayr. I really needed the sea to take a deep breath and gather some energy for that final phase. 

In the meantime (two weeks) - while working full time again btw - all boxes were unpacked and everything found its new place. Some smaller things like hanging my art still need to happen but other than that I am done.
At the moment I am sitting wrapped in my comfy blanket on the couch watching Download Festival bits from the past years over my super fancy high speed broadband on TV. The flat is amazing - I was really SO lucky -  and I am very happy.

So far ... life is good and I love to be here.

PS: Appropriate and amazing soundtrack for this transition chapter was and is the fantastic new album by Frightened Rabbit fittingly named "Painting Of  A Panic Attack" - I had my fair share of those over the last months. Interestingly enough the record is mostly about being away from Glasgow - so kind of reverse action.
I had the pleasure to attend the album launch instore here in Glasgow and after years and years of trying and failing for diverse reasons FINALLY my first proper Frabbits show in Dunfermline and ... it was so damn good. I am still buzzing. Can't wait for the proper tour already! 




You know what is great as well?  NO MORE GEMA BLOCKED YOUTUBE!  (Sorry to all German readers who might not be able to watch this.) 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Pittsburgh Guest Blogger Event


Today’s post comes from Erin of Don't Forget To Eat - a wonderful travel, food, health and lifestyle blog - and is part of the Pittsburgh Guest Blogger Event 2016.  I am very honored to participate in this amazing blog exchange although I am not Pittsburgh based (but still and always in Pittsburgh love). You can see my post over on From Farm To Turntable, where I talk a bit about the massive life and lifestyle change I am undergoing just now.


When we got the project started I told Erin, that I am suffering because I could not travel to Pittsburgh in a long time and that I see the city changing on social media but cannot see all the new things and visit all the new places especially in Pittsburgh's super fast developing restaurant scene. So to ease my pain Erin wrote this little guide for me - and YOU - who hopefully come to Pittsburgh soon or want to explore some great new restaurants in town: 

5 New(ish) Places To Eat In Pittsburgh This Spring


Pizza Taglio


This isn't the newest of the new restaurants on this list, but it is fantastic and I hope it will be here for a long time to come. If you love a true Italian pizza, then this place is for you. They serve Roman-style pizzas and also offer a few starters, desserts, and coffee. Pizzas are to be ordered one per person and hopefully you'll be there with a few people who don't mind sharing because all of the pies on the menu sound delicious. My personal favorite is the Carbonara - a white pizza with pecorino bechamel, pork cheek, and egg yolk. My husband prefers a classic Margherita with tomato, mozzarella, and basil. The food is simple and delicious, the atmosphere is casual, and you can BYOB.

Prairie


If you've been missing Verde, well, Prairie is nothing like it, except for the fact that it's in the same location and has the same owners. The new restaurant serves dishes from the American Heartland. The menu is nothing if not comforting.
I always loved brunch at Verde, so I'm excited to see a brunch menu for Prairie as well. My husband is going to fall in love with the Pecan French Toast. I'm stoked for the new cocktails like the Woodford Lil' Mule. (But maybe if I ask nicely I could get the bartender to make me one of those fabulous Verde margaritas?)
There's no lunch menu for the winter, but one should be coming this summer. For now, though, a stop in for dinner will have to do. I don't think you'll be disappointed as the menu features things like Bacon Wrapped Bison Meatloaf, Grown Up Grilled Cheese, Cider Braised Pork Shoulder, and Kettle Corn.


Muddy Waters Oyster Bar


Oysters in Pittsburgh? Yes, that's right. And from everything I hear, they are amazing. I haven't made it here myself yet, but I cannot wait to pop in for dinner. You can get raw oysters from the East Coast and West Coast purchased per oyster or by the dozen or even as a tasting where you get to sample each of the oysters on the daily menu.
If raw oysters aren't your deal, then you'll be excited to hear that Muddy Waters also offers hearty Southern fare like po' boys, shrimp and grits, and gumbo. Plus, the cocktail menu includes classics like the Sazerac and Ramos Gin Fizz.





Smallman Galley

"Pittsburgh's chef incubator" is home to four restaurants from up and coming local chefs. Each restaurant will be in the Galley for 18 months. They are in charge of every detail of their restaurants. On Mondays, the chefs learn from industry leaders. And during their last six months, the folks who founded Smallman Galley help the chefs find a permanent location in Pittsburgh.
Current restaurants are Josephine's Toast, Aubergine Bistro, Provision PGH, and Carota Cafe. Josephine's Toast offers the oh-so-popular avocado toast, meal-size toast plates with meats and veggies, and sweet items like a classic brioche French toast.


Adolfo's Italian and Venezuelan Cuisine

Why open an Italian and Venezuelan restaurant? What do the two cuisines have in common? Well, if you are Adolfo Vaccarello it doesn't matter - the two cuisines are part you. Adolfo's father is Italian and Adolfo was raised in Venezuela so opening a restaurant in Bloomfield featuring the two cuisines was a no-brainer. 

Adolfo's is a great place to take a group because the menu is so varied and it's all delicious. Nowhere else will you find a dessert menu that features both Tiramisu and Torta Tres Leches with confidence that both will be fantastic. And if you think that's a tough choice, what about the food that comes before it? Lasagna or Arepas? Cochino frito or chicken piccata? They're all options. Over the course of your meal, you can mix and match Italian dishes and Venezuelan ones. Just have fun and enjoy your complimentary glass of sangria.



Here are all blogs that participate in the Pittsburgh Guest Blogger Event - check them out for TONS of awesome blog posts: 

Harvest + Bloom // Yes, Wear That! // jelly jars // Glam and Graffiti // To The Streets // In Pursuit // Pittsburgh & Pearls // Beezus Kiddo // Goodness Madness // Last Minute Panic // Steel City Intrigue // Crank Crank Revolution // Amanda Narcisi // Pittsburgh is Beautiful // From Cats to Cooking // Yum Yum PGH // Breelicious Bites // Parmesan Princess // Coffee & A Blonde // The Steel Trap // Wavy Alabaster // everybody loves you… // Eat with Emily // Don’t Forget to Eat // Sloping in the Sky // From Farm to Turntable // Secrets in the Wall // Red Pen Mama // Feedback Soup // The AP Collection // Blog Or Die PGH // Pittsburgh Happy Hour // Friendly Fitness Foodie // Small Town Dad // Josh’s World // Geeky Sweetie // Sean’s Ramblings // Lunges, Long Runs and Lattes // Try it and You May! // lil Burghers // Orange Chair Blog // Ya Jagoff // Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents // Melissa Firman

Sunday, February 28, 2016

House Hunters International

In my last posting I promised to tell you a little more about the process of moving to Scotland and specifically about the "joy" of house hunting:  

On Tuesday nights we have a show on TV that is called "Goodbye Deutschland" and is about people who decide to leave Germany to live in a foreign country. Sometimes you have perfectly normal people doing logical things like a young doctor and his wife and kids moving to the North of Sweden because they pay young doctors really well there. They plan, they move, they settle in with some ups and downs and all is good. This is kind of nice but does not make too exciting TV and so most of the people going expat on the TV show are chaotic human beings who randomly choose a spot on the map, pack their things and go to a place where they have no job and do not speak the language. Usually they have no money left after moving to make it all a bit more thrilling and of course there is a lot of dramatic music in the background. I hate-love this show. 

Everyone who knows me a little also knows that I like to plan out my next steps and that I am good with it. So to no surprise I am planning this move to Scotland for a long time already and every time I went through my to-do-list I was like "I need to organize this because we aren't at Goodbye Deutschland here." When it comes to the basics it is pretty easy to beat most folks in the show though. I do speak the language. Well, let's say I understand most Scottish (took a good while but I am getting there) and I do speak English. I also have a job. I am really well prepared with all the boring stuff like bank, insurances, pension funds, move logistics and budgeting, too. I hate Excel but god damn ... I make good use of it at the moment. 

I also tried to plan the most crucial piece of the puzzle a bit ahead and that was finding a new home. It is hard enough when you try to move within your own town but if you try to do so in a different country it becomes a real challenge.
I started the process a few months ago by staring at Rightmove adoring flats I could not rent because my move was still many weeks away. My idea was that this would help me to figure out what I could get for my budget and where. And it worked. Kind of.  

The thing is just that moving in the UK is a pretty short notice thing. Most flats are available right when they go online or become available within the next max 4 weeks. That is different from Germany where all is a bit more planned ahead. So for example the viewings for my flat are next week although it becomes officially available not before May 1st (I move for April 1st but I have to leave time for renovations which is much more in tenant responsibility than in the UK). That is how far in advance it often goes in Germany. 

So looking at Rightmove told me I would need to go to Glasgow in February if I would want to rent from March / mid of March, which I wanted because a bit of overlap helps tons with the logistics and so I did. 
Before I flew to Scotland I collected a whole bunch of paperwork like landlord reference, work reference, character reference, work contract, last three pay slips, a few utility bills, scanned copy of ID and passport, certificated translation of my German credit history report and score. These things are important if you want a flat and even more important if you have no credit history in the UK and the referencing companies have trouble tracking you down. We are not at "Goodbye Deutschland" here ;) and I had researched that before and it indeed helped. I also knew about the energy efficiency rating scale, council tax bands, broadband readiness, utility costs and I also know Glasgow quite well. House hunting should be a piece of cake, you'd think, with all this ... .

A few days ahead of travel I started to shortlist properties and to call letting agents. Forget emailing them - almost no one ever answers. Sadly between me calling and me traveling I saw a lot of places on my list becoming let agreed because house hunting in the UK is really a day to day thing, but I still had a few appointments for viewings set and I had the Rightmove app on the phone to get all interesting new entries. Oh ... and one thing is important to say:
Against all odds I was looking for unfurnished flats although UK citizens barely ever rent unfurnished, but I am German. German people NEVER rent furnished. It is not usual here and the idea of sleeping in someone's bed and napping on someone's couch creeps us out. We also do not buy as easily as UK people because buying property especially in big cities in Germany is completely unaffordable. Cultural differences ... 


On Monday the 15th I finally started my viewing marathon. It was sunny and I was full of optimism. The first flat was not located too badly ... a few blocks away from the Kelvingrove Museum down towards the river. Not the nicest place in Glasgow but still okay. The flat was freshly renovated which was great but although it had two bedrooms I swear it was not bigger than my one room studio at the moment. I was bumping into walls all the time. The house itself was also not in a good shape and smelled damp. So maybe  ... not so much.
Next stop was a flat I had high hopes for. It was just in my range still and in a pretty high scale city center apartment building. When I arrived I was really excited about how central it was. If I would rent this one I would never ever need to join the taxi queue again. Then the letting agent opened the door and what I had to see there cannot be unseen. Two student boys were still living in the apartment (they were not home) and the whole place was knee high covered in rubbish. There was no place to put your foot on. While me and the other people attending the viewing were standing there jaws dropped the panicking letting agent said something about potential and deep cleaning but this got irrelevant latest when we opened the door to a poo covered (I am not kidding) bathroom. We all ran outside. It took me hours and lots of soap and intense hand cleaning before I could eat again and I had lots of high voltage drinks to make sure my body was clean from the inside, too.


The next day I started with a fresh portion of good spirit and went to a place close to St. George's X.  The flat looked bright and big on the pictures. I got out of the subway and smiled down Great Western Road towards Squid and Whale and walked on. One block, two blocks, three blocks. Hmmm ... there it was - a fairly well maintained apartment building, 10 min walk from the subway. The flat in this case was really bright and big, BUT ... the house was surrounded by quite big high rise buildings and although just minutes walk away this was not pretty West End anymore at all. I am no chicken but it was not a good place to be at day and I could not even picture going down there alone by night. I will also work from home and the "quiet" in the description did only count with closed double glazed Windows because almost right above the house was the M8 which made for a beautiful sight also. Not. 

At this point I started to panic because new offerings were dropping in only very very slowly that week, too. The next day I decided I had to start to look at furnished apartments as well to maybe find a home for the first six months and to keep looking while living in Glasgow already and so I expanded my search.
One place was in a good location but it was really run down because the poor flat was obviously seeing new tenants every six months. At least the letting agent there was nice and gave me tons of helpful information. I also scheduled one more viewing in for Saturday - my last possible day to find something. It was a flat in a good West End location and although it was furnished it looked doable, but as you can imagine the timing creeped me out. Last minute is not my style really. 


I kept looking. One highlight was for sure a big furnished flat right on Byers Road. That is no location I would want to do long term but for the first few months? Why not. Well .. well .. The house was great but the flat looked like a bulky waste landfill. I carefully asked the letting agent if the sacks of rubbish and all the broken furniture like the stranded wreck of an office chair would be removed. He said "No."  Okay. After a little break he told me that no tenant had ever complained and that this would rent in no time. Right. Good for you, letting agent. I lost it though when I looked in one of the bedrooms and was greeted by a dead cockroach that had done its last breath on the dirty mattress and was now rotting there on its back with its tiny feet pointing to the ceiling.
The afternoon was a bit better because the little flat in Thornwood I viewed was surprisingly cozy (and unfurnished) and I liked the neighborhood a lot. It was not exactly perfect but much better than all the other places and so I kept it on the list. 


When I met with a friend for drinks and dinner in the evening my balance sheet for the week did not look good. I had nothing anymore on the list than the not really right Thornwood place and the furnished place to view on Saturday with no guarantee I would get it if I would like it. I tried to make "Plan B" and "Plan C" to not freak out and I admit if I would have not had my loved ones - family and friends - supporting me over the week and cheering me up there would have been lot more tears and panic. They also encouraged me to take the leap of faith if the situation could not be resolved while I was in Scotland.

Little did I know I was only one sleep away from pure magic. 


Friday morning I woke up with no plans for more flat viewings. I was just looking forward to meet my friend in the afternoon and to watch Aidan Moffat's movie at the Barras in the evening.
While I had breakfast I decided to update my Rightmove search one final time. And there it was. THE FLAT ....  that beautiful flat. Unfurnished, freshly renovated, tenement building, high ceilings, dark wooden floors, walk in wardrobe, beautiful new bathroom - and in my budget. I looked at the address and made weird shrieking noises because I was staring at a dot on the map right behind the Botanic Gardens 5 min away from one of my fave AirBnB places to stay at in town.
I called  the letting agent and she said they would get the keys only Friday night and there were no viewings at the weekend. That is when I went full force and high speed explained my situation and begged for mercy. Thankfully she had a heart and agreed to meet me at the flat on Saturday 11.30 am.

The rest of the day was wonderful. I spent quality time with my friend, watched an amazing movie ("Where You're Meant To Be" - go watch it!) with friends at the wonderful Barrowlands.  I enjoyed the live set of Aidan Moffat and his special band for the movie and event including James Graham of The Twilight Sad. There were lots of laughs and hugs and it was all I love so much about Glasgow. 


Saturday then I went to see the furnished flat and it was really okay. Then I stopped at the Smile Cafe on Queen Margret Drive, which is the best place in the city for real Italian coffee, and had a chat with some lovely local ladies. I told them that I was trying to move to the neighborhood and they sent me with crossed fingers to the viewing.
I walked down to the flat along the Kelvin Walkway. It is SUCH a beautiful neighborhood really. In front of my house I waited for the letting agent. She arrived and we tried to get in. It was like in a movie. There was me being really desperate and none of the keys worked. We had to ring doorbells and then fighting TWO big doors before we finally made it after 30 minutes into the flat. It was still as beautiful as on the pics. It was just IT and so I of course applied. 


On Sunday I went back to Germany and on Monday evening I got confirmation - the landlord had accepted my application. THE FLAT is mine.

I will go back for a week mid March to pick up my keys and organize things and then right after Easter I move. I have found a new home - the place to live and it is all I wanted.

HAPPY END :)   


Ready for summer - the communal garden of my new house: 


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Home


Home ... a word I always had a vaguely schizophrenic relationship with. On one hand I am very focused on my home base, my routines, my regular life with its fix corner posts. That is what always gave me the strength to go out there every day and also to travel and find out more about the world.

On the other hand I never really had this emotional connection to the piece of land you would call home. You know .. that thing when people have roots and know where they belong to. I did not put a foot into Wesel, my hometown, since my mom died and the events right after and I did not miss it for a second.

I loved studying in Münster and I still like the city when I go and visit my sister and her family there. It is lovely but for me it was an episode - great for a certain stage of life. 
I finally never wanted to go to Munich but when I ended up getting a job here I went and it wasn't bad at all. It is a big, very pretty, very safe city with great surroundings. I had good times here and I cannot say a bad word about Munich. But home? Like "I arrived where I belong to"? Never. 

Then there is traveling and it brings you to new places and I discovered a lot of very nice ones. Some out of the many I visited are sticking out. There is Croatia that took a piece of my heart and soul and kept it and will always do. We also got Pittsburgh. This amazing city and magical place which hosts a lot of the best people I ever had the pleasure to meet. I would have made it my home a good time ago if it was  a) easier (no luck in the green card lottery for me over years) b) closer c) not in America. I am sorry for c) and I actually think the USA are an amazing country for many reasons, but when it comes to the social and political system we Europeans just shake our heads in disbelief. I'm sorry, but I cannot leave my family and especially my nieces behind on the other side of the planet to live in a country that considers Donald Trump a serious presidential candidate (to summarize it in a nutshell). That is no offence to my US friends - I know a lot of them think just the same and we'll see how many will become expats if this nightmare should come true. 

Finally then up from May 2014 life took an unexpected twist and turn when I crossed the Scottish border for the first time. I had never even really considered Scotland as a travel destination in the past but music changed my plans. And I kept coming back and back and back and back ... . 11 times  to date. And finally there it was - that feeling that I am where I belong to. It did not come with a big bang. It just grew slowly and steadily until it started to feel pointless to fly back "home" as in back to Munich. It got even more pointless over the time as lots of my friends in Munich moved away locally or are at totally different places in their lives now - which is perfectly fine and normal but a process that cannot be stopped. 
At some point I looked at myself and I was standing in a club in Munich listening to a band I really liked and I knew maybe 2 people in a 400 people club - if even. A few weeks later I stood in a club in Glasgow and just out of fun I counted the people I knew at that 150 people venue and it were over 30. Not all close friends of course but still. Clearly time to take things in hand and to initiate change. 

I won't bore you with too many details but some time last year the pieces started to fall into place. There was the budget I needed to make things happen, I could - thanks to the pretty awesome company I work for (please visit snapfish.co.uk / snapfish.de / snapfish.com depending on where you are) - figure the job situation out, signed all the paperwork (lots of it), finally cancelled the lease for the Munich apartment and now it is official:

Up from April 1st 2016 I am a residential, full time Glaswegian. I will live in the city that sneaked its way into my life, my heart and my soul. That cold and rainy place full of crazy folks talking in weird accents that I would not want to trade for a golden palace at a warm & sunny beach (well .... at least not for more than a wee holiday that is). That place that is embedded in one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. 
If you have never been there you should come and visit me, really. BUT be warned ... once you have seen the sunset over the island of Arran you will have a very hard time to leave again - just like me who always wanted to live near the sea and now I will ... from six hours down to about 45 min to the next beach. I can't wait! 

As you can tell I am happy and excited but I am also shitting my pants. I had the worst panic attacks of my life in the last few months and they are still going strong. And I mean real panic attacks. I'm really, really not good with massive change and that is pretty much as massive as it gets. I am very grateful though for my family and friends who support me so much in my plans and help me to make decisions and to keep the excitement up when I am basically nothing but scared and confused. I think I could not do it without them. 

So this blog will change now ... not that I would really plan for it, but I think it is a safe bet that "The adventures of a German expat in Scotland" will fill many chapters on this site. 
As soon as I have a moment of spare time I will happily share the first story which will be all about flat hunting in Glasgow and I can tell you already that is a very ... ahem ... special experience especially when your budget is really not bad but also not "Hey let's buy this cutely refurbished house in Hillhead from the pocket money" type of thing AND you have only one week on location to find yourself a new home.

Come back here soon .... because if one thing is for sure in life then that Scotland is ALWAYS good for a great story worth telling.

PS: Special thanks to The Twilight Sad and Chvrches for throwing me a welcome party on 2nd of April at the Hydro. This will be a lot of fun!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Twelve

Today on Twitter my pal George mentioned that he would like to know from a few people including myself what their twelve albums are that stayed with them over the years.  So I went through my record shelf and picked a dirty dozen. These are not what I consider the twelve best or musically most important records of my collection - that would be a different thing although there is obviously an overlap.

So let's go in alphabetical order .... 

Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes
... because it is (still) touching my heart and soul where it is dark and painful but important to go to. I am usually not a fan of female voices (sorry girls) but early Tori is an exception.

The Black Crowes - Southern Harmony And Musical Companion 
... because it changed me. It made music one of the most important things in my life. The name says it - it is a musical companion.


Biffy Clyro - Revolutions / Live at Wembley
... because it changed me back to the person that The Southern Harmony made me to and that I had lost in between. This is clearly not the best Biffy album - it is not even really an album, but it was my first and it had me under its spell in seconds. It stands for the beginning. 


David Bowie - Hunky Dory
... because it carried me through dark times and because Bowie is pure magic. Yes - IS - because the music is still here.


dEUS - Worst Case Scenario
... because it stands for long, fun nights in our favorite club - The Rolling Stone - and a really good time in my life. It is also a great record that somehow still sounds fresh. 

Peter Gabriel - US
... I threw a coin to choose between SO and US, because there is no other way to do it. I think everyone who was born in the early 70ies like me and cares a wee bit about music needs one of those two on the list. They are total game changers. Also ... Tony & Manu ... people, listen to Tony and Manu! 

Gibonni - Mirakul
... because Dalmatia (Croatia) - the land of the mountains and the sea - is where I can rest my soul and warm my bones and Gibonni is how Dalmatia sounds. This is his best record and he had some brilliant musicians recording it with him like Pino Palladino, Vlatko Stefanovski and Manu Katché. When I went to Zagreb many moons ago to watch Gibo's big Mirakul live show we had seats basically side stage and I could watch Manu Katché and Tony Levin (not Pino for the live show) playing for the whole night. It was awesome. 

Marmaduke Duke - Duke Pandemonium
... because it provides me with an answer to the question which record I would take on a lonely island if I could just take one. With its help I can cheat and listen to the Atmosphere AND the Dragon on that island without taking two records. It also never ever gets boring and it never fails to cheer me up.

Nine Inch Nails - Downward Spiral
... because it is genius. Period. Trent might be an asshole at times and he needs to urgently learn who Biffy Clyro are but it is still genius.  

The Screaming Trees - Sweet Oblivion 
... because I had a hard time choosing one album to represent the Grunge area. I am not the biggest Nirvana fan. Pearl Jam ... yeah. Soundgarden .. Badmotorfinger was a candidate. Or Alice In Chains? Dirt is definitely essential listening. But this album is probably best for catching the spirit of the time and it is damn good and stupidly underrated piece of music.

Sucioperro - Fused 
... because there are days in life - quite a lot actually - no other record can fix. None. It is a musical companion, too. 

The Twilight Sad - Nobody Wants  To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave 
... although it is not old enough yet for an "over the years" album but it is beautiful and it stands for not giving up. When you think you hit the bottom or came to the end of the road - try one more time. It's worth it. I am btw still almost embarrassed that I basically cried through the whole Electric Fields set last summer. I do not even know why. I could not stop but in the end that is what music is for, isn't it?

This list feels very incomplete. I had to delete several essential entries to keep it at the dozen, but it was fun. Thanks, George! 


Monday, January 4, 2016

Gina

Gina, June 2001

In the morning of the 30th of December 2015 I was sitting at the gate at Düsseldorf Airport on my way to Scotland to enjoy one of the happiest days of the year when I got the message that my beautiful friend Gina's cancer tortured body had given in. Her heart had stopped beating. She was only 49 years old. 

The message did not come as a surprise. Gina had stage 4 ovarian cancer for 7.5 years at this point. I also know a bit about cancer and could read the frightening signs for quite a while already when a common friend informed me around Christmas that it would be any moment now (Thank you, dear Diana, for messaging me - it meant a lot to me). 
So I knew. But I also knew that knowing means nothing. It cannot prepare you for the cold hand that is clenching your heart when it happens. It cannot stop the feeling of emptiness that opens up around your soul. There is no way around but just one through it. 

Of course in a moment like this the first reflex is hiding. You want to be alone and cry and think about the person trying to get hold of the fading memories buzzing around your brain. You do not want to go on a fun trip. But then again ... if there was ONE fitting way to celebrate what we had and what had brought us together then it was traveling, seeing friends, seeing the favorite band and just ... LOVE DEATH AWAY
Everyone who was with me might now understand even better how happy I was when the Biff opened the night with "The Captain" and allowed me to sing along the finishing line that is also tattooed on my arms from the top of my lungs into the cold Scottish night. 

But I do not want to just talk about cancer and death. That is not who Gina was and not who she was for me. Let me introduce her to all of you a little bit more:
Her name was Gina DePalma and for many years she was the pastry chef in Mario Batali's Manhattan Restaurant Babbo. For the European ones ... the guest list there holds name like Bono, David Bowie, Matt Bellamy and many, many, many more famous and rich people ... just to give you directions that this is not your "around the corner pizza place". In her profession she was a super star - just google her name and see all the articles that were posted about her last week. She also received the James Beard award (like the Oscar just for chefs) and many other awards. She released a wonderful cook book, worked on a second one, wrote a part of one of Batali's book and articles for several websites and her own blog.
She was smart and had a big heart. She was opinionated and honest. She loved her family and friends, her cats, her work, she loved traveling, Italy ... and she loved music. A lot. 


Gina and I were friends since the late 90ies. Back in the days I was a student. There was some crazy thing coming up called "the internet" and I thought I better take a class to figure out how that works. So I did and while my co-students had trouble to understand what an attachment is I figured out how search engines (Alta Vista at the time) work and I typed in ... the name of my favorite band. OF COURSE I DID and it was "The Black Crowes" and boom .... a whole new world opened up - a  website and a miraculous thing called "Message Board" filled with crazy people just like me. People who would go to gigs together, trade tapes, share band related news. That was the day my friends started to live in my computer ... my still to day friends Jason and Sanae, who I met on the site as well, will remember our early days, when we were chatting from the computer rooms of our schools.
One of the people I met on this message board was Gina. We became friends, wrote long emails and soon it was not just about music and bands but our lives. I know that many people still find it weird when people meet each other over the internet but see .... we are all just human beings. Yes, some people might pretend on the net to be someone they are really not, but just like always in life that does not carry you far. You won't make real friends that way. But if you are yourself, if you invest in your friendships, when you make the effort to take it past the net .. it can be all real. 


It was so real that my family together with Gina organized a trip for me to visit her in New York as my graduation gift. It was supposed to be for the double headliner show of Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes and The Who at Madison Square Garden. Sadly that never happened because Jimmy Page had to cancel due to back problems. I am still heartbroken about this. 
We postponed the trip to the next tour which was The Tour Of Brotherly Love of The Black Crowes & Oasis in 2001.  We did see the show at the Radio City Music Hall. To be honest .... I have seen better Crowes shows and Oasis were the most boring band I have seen all my life, BUT ... that does not matter. 
What matters was the whole trip itself. I was in my 20ies and I had not much travel experience at that time and I had never been to the US before. You can imagine how excited, nervous, scared I was to fly all alone to New York to turn a computer friendship into a real life one and ... I mean .. NEW YORK! 

I am absolutely terrible with memories. One of the main reasons for me to have this blog is to write down memories to not lose them. I am a very "now and here" person and have trouble looking back even if I really want to. But that week in New York .... I still know almost everything about it. 

I remember that we shared a giant pizza the first night we spent in her apartment on Long Island - directly at the beach - where she lived at that time. I freaking loved that beach - I guess more than she did, but she needed a break from Manhattan for a little while. I remember having my first ever bagel for breakfast and taking a long walk along the waterfront with her and how bewildered she was that I went bare-feet in the sand. 
I remember how she kicked me out of bed at 5 am the other day because the Empire State Building platform is best right after sunrise and ... how right she was. I remember walking around the Uptown skyscrapers with her and having a hot dog at the corner of the Central Park. I remember how much we LOVED watching the polar bears diving into the pool at the Central Park Zoo. 
I remember when she showed me the East Village and where she had lived in exactly the house that is on the front cover of Physical Graffiti. I remember how she took me to China Town to eat weird stuff at a crazy busy Chinese place where all the high scale chefs would go for food late in the night after their shifts and how we went for my first "real" american burger down in Greenwich Village. 
I remember me hanging my head out of the car to look up to the tip of the World Trade Center only weeks before the towers came down at 9/11. I remember us driving back to Long Island one evening and me climbing around in the car because behind us the sun set and put the skyline of Manhattan on fire and in front of us over the salty emptiness of Long Island and the sea a huge silver moon was rising. It is to date one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen. 
And finally I remember very well the day we cruised around on Long Island checking on tattoo parlors until we found one that was neat and clean and had nice folks with very decent books with great designs who would take walk-ins. A guest artist from California called Corey listened to us how we described  the guitar tattoo we both wanted and designed it for us. He then put on "Amorica" by The Black Crowes and I got the tattoo in black on my left upper arm and Gina got it in red. The same design. A bond that never breaks because a tattoo will never go away. I am so glad we did because it stays with me still now that she is gone. We celebrated the big event in the evening going for dinner in a fancy sea food restaurant and laughing about our awkward moves with our sore, wrapped up arms.

That trip changed me. I did not even realize it then, but when I look back now it very much was the starting point in the process of becoming the person I am now and formed the way I live my life. The Hogmanay celebrations only hours after her passing are probably the best possible proof for it. 


After the trip our friendship went on via the internet before it somehow faded out a bit as it happens often when life moves on. We never forgot each other or completely lost contact though. When I one day learned she had moved to Rome I wrote her and invited her to come to Munich so that I could show her my place now that she was so close (compared to New York). It never came to it because not much later she was diagnosed with this terrible cancer and had to stay in the US for treatment. 

Thankfully I had the chance to see her again. I visited her a few years ago in her apartment and we could even go for a longer walk together and chat and simply hug each other and enjoy being together in person. We also went for dinner the next day and it was fantastic. Great food, great talks - like the over 10 years between my first and second New York trip never happened. The following year I saw her one more time. She was in remission and even went back to work for a little while. We went after her shift together with my friend Gabrijela to a restaurant and talked about her second cook book and our travel plans and all kind of other things happening in our lives. Although she was tired after work she was very lively and I keep that picture of her talking with her hands describing recipes for her new book in my mind. 

My last email from her is only a few weeks old. I had told her about my plans for my future which are in the end also inspired by her and her decision to make her dream true to go to Rome. I wrote to her about my upcoming big surgery and how scared I was. I also told her that I had made the decision for the surgery together with my docs to not only solve of a long running health issue but also to get rid of the significantly above average chance to develop a certain type of cancer.
She wrote back immediately and encouraged me so much. She told me that I do the right thing and that I would be totally fine and even better than before and that I should not worry. It helped me tons. I read her email again right before I went to the hospital. And she was right ... it was rough, but now I am fine, the health issue is gone and so is the bigger than normal risk to get seriously ill and it is fantastic. She left me on a high note doing what she had done for me so often - encouraging me to be brave and strong and do what is best for me. She was very good with that. She really was. 


Thank you for listening and reading about a person that most of you never met and now can never meet. I would be very happy if you would take this as an opportunity to hug your friends and tell them that you love them and think a moment about the footprints they are leaving in your life. 

Wiser Time / The Black Crowes 

No time left now for shame
Horizon behind me, no more pain
Windswept stars blink and smile
Another song, another mile
You read the line every time
Ask me about crime in my mind
Ask me why another road song
Funny but I bet you never left home

On a good day, it's not every day
We can part the sea
And on a bad day, it's not every day
Glory beyond our reach
Seconds until sunrise
Tired but wiser for the time
Lightning 30 miles away
Three thousand more in two days