Goodbye For Now!

It’s time again! I am doing another trip back home, back to Germany. Attending my wonderful friend’s wedding. Getting to see loved ones I have known since forever. Meeting up with people from my student years in the small town of Heidelberg

Yes, I have an eventful 10 days ahead of me. I am afraid I have more planned than I have time. As usual. Tomorrow I will board a plane on my favorite airplane, just like last year. Just like last year, I will first spend time with family, then with friends. Nothing else planned. Just a good old trip home. I am looking forward to seeing how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. I am even more looking forward to getting out of New York again. As they say, the City is only as good as you can afford to travel (every once so often). So when I come back, I hope I will see it with different eyes again.

With these thoughts in mind, I am wishing you:
A Happy (early) Easter vacation!

Last year it was Vegas for me, this year it’s Europe! My second trip of 2012, and I am about as excited but also calm as can get. It will be short and sweet.

See you in two weeks!

The Badoo Project Launches in SoHo/New York

SoHo, last week. The Badoo Project has launched on Thursday in New York and has made a dream for (almost) 1000 New Yorkers come true: Being shot by a top photographer and getting an insight into the very first campaign started here in the US. It ended last Saturday and I was among one of the last to get my pictures taken.

The funny thing is that I never knew about this campaign until a friend told me who planned to go there on Friday. The Sunday before I checked out their Web site on and snagged one of the last few spots for a Saturday arrival.
Badoo had rented out an old loft in SoHo, in the middle of the busiest tourist area ever. When I got there I was greeted by one of Badoo’s employees to first set up my own account. Badoo supposedly is a big thing in Europe already (even though I myself have never heard of it, guess it never made it to Germany!). It is an online platform for social networking meant from all walks of life. The nifty thing about Badoo is that you can meet people in your area and that you can literally see where exactly this person is right now if you click their info. While this might be too personal of an invasion for some, others think it quite a great idea. With the aforementioned campaign, Badoo has been trying to set their foot in the doorway of American social networking and plan to become as big as Facebook (which will hopefully never happen, there is only one Facebook out there!).

Many New Yorkers came out during those three days to look quirky, good, dancy, or goofy in front of the camera. The idea was to simply be yourself and show off what you want to show off. You had the person who felt awkward when being photographed, you had the dancer who grooved some moves for the pictures, and many more. Check out the gallery here to see the full amount of unique photos taken.

After having set up my own account, I was led to a waiting area consisting of comfortable white couches; snacks and drinks were provided right next to that. After 20 minutes or so, a girl called my name and led me to the “backstage” area. High chairs, huge mirrors – it was hard not to feel important. A young make-up artist touched up on my eye shadow and rouge. A hair stylist turned my curly hair into a true mane. Both did a good job and I felt like a star/ model/ significant character when sitting in those two chairs while being styled.

Then we were brought to the accessories area. The girl did not want to give me anything else, though, she thought my outfit had it all. Now the shoot by itself was pretty much over in 2 seconds minutes. Dan Martensen was in Studio 4, and that is where I ended up. He introduced himself as “Dan” and tried some small talk while shooting away a good 20 or 30 pictures. I wondered how many people he had already shot today and he mentioned it had probably been around 80 or 90. Whoof – that is a ton to digest, so I won’t take it against him that he never gave me feedback when my hair was sticking out to all sides and looked outright ridiculous.

When all was over, we were able to choose up to 8 photographs. One was printed out for us and the rest were put on our online profile. I really want to compliment the guy who had to sit with me while going through one picture after another. At first I liked none and then I couldn’t pick less than 8. He must have a lot of patience to deal with the moods of all of the people throughout the day.

After all of this, we got to take home a free T-Shirt (in which I have slept this night) and Badoo even started an open bar from 7 to 9 PM. From what a few employees told me, they had been working 12-hour-days straight from Thursday on and were truly exhausted but also very happy to have accomplished a monstrous project. All acted very professional and forthcoming in making us feel as comfortable as possible. So a big thumbs up to being able to be a part of all this and we’ll see who of those (almost) 1000 New Yorkers makes it on a total of 24 billboards throughout the City!

[For more pictures, go to A Picture Every Day: The Badoo Project.]

Moving to Park Slope

After being a Flatbush resident, I did what can be seen as the total opposite: I moved to Park Slope. Yes, the fancy part of town. And on the opposite side of Prospect Park. Park Slope is considered a family-oriented neighborhood but nevertheless it still holds its reputation as being posh and quite overpriced.

I got a room at a reasonable cost on the liveliest avenue the Slope has to offer: The fantastic 7th Ave. The walk to the train station was now a good 7 minutes away, but walking past all the restaurants, coffee shops, and other culinary joints made me happier than a 1 minute walk past Prospect Park in Flatbush ever had. Moving here was a relief compared to from where I had come. And I felt I had really earned it after the hard times I experienced before. No yelling neighbors who wanted to kill their children so they could have some peace. No abused animals barking in the lonely dark. And no bed bugs to worry about anymore.

So I really enjoyed time in the Slope. One of our favorite neighborhood bars was just two blocks up: The Austrian Steinhof and its great happy hour special. A little bit of Germanness and home brought to me by simply sipping their Franziskaner or looking at the ads in that pub. Being able to go out after work and eat at one of the numerous restaurants on 7th Avenue was enough to keep my attention occupied for months. Then of course celebrating at a few dance bars on 5th Avenue, which had to be explored by me and the roomies every once in a while.

I had Cafe Steinhof

The cultural experience I had so badly longed for before was now right at my doorsteps. I could see myself developing a completely different social life and having more diverse networks than ever before. Just going to the gym, which was two minutes away, and attending all of their different classes felt simply good. My dream of living in an area that was in New York but did not necessarily feel like New York seemed to have come true. At the same time I did not feel threatened when returning home late at night. That was before word had spread on several instances of rape and molestation around 5th Avenue. Today I still feel safe in the neighborhood, though.

I now had two trains to choose from if worse came to worse. So while the Q got stuck for two full days during the blizzard of 2010, the R on 4th Avenue was running just fine and getting me to the places I had to be. The F-train, with its local stops, still only took me 20 mins until I was in the Lower East Side. And if we felt like partying in Williamsburg, we surely had the G (whenever it decided to run), which we could take a short ride up to Lorimer Street.

True, my room was about half the size it had been before. But this time I had a gorgeous roof top from which I could see New Jersey and Manhattan at the same time. Celebrate Brooklyn in the summer was just 10 minutes away (by foot), and I made a point to see almost all of their Saturday evening concerts from June on. The oldest theater of Brooklyn, the Pavilion, was a fast walk up to Prospect Park West and, even though it was not too comfortable to sit in, I still had the chance to see a few good movies during rainy or cold days.

Rooftop Love!

Of course you start adapting to everything after a while. And surely Park Slope is not without flaws. Annoying children running loose on the sidewalk, while their mothers are talking with each other and expecting you to move out of the child’s way. An appalled look from the caretaker once she realized I just did not care if her spoiled brat fell down in front of me and pointed out they better watch their children better.

And every once in a while you saw a mother carry a baby to a bar. No one needs a crying infant at a place you want to get drunk at. Also worth mentioning are the high prices for groceries and the outrageous rip-off at the one and only Union Market. Even though it is considered a gourmet store, I had a few fights with the cost-value relationship of the items they offer. What had been known in Flatbush as funny looks towards white people now turned back into the opposite. My Dominican friend once visited me (he is black) and felt very uncomfortable walking the streets of this neighborhood. He claims everyone was observing him, waiting for him to make a wrong move. I wouldn’t know. But it wouldn’t surprise me. I have yet to find an area in which both races are equally accepted. While 7th Avenue is still quite snobby, 5th Avenue can be seen as the Latin part of the hood. Many Hispanic folks live here, own their store, or like to wander around. It is a peculiar aspect of the Slope but it surely exists.

A stroll past those two summer street fair on both 5th and 7th Avenue made up for all the hardship accompanied in living in the Slope. Just walking all the way down to Crown Heights and seeing the differences in worlds was an eye-opener to me. Sometimes you simply know when you fit into a hood and when you don’t. I like to believe I have found my perfect match just here, in the quiet, overpriced Slope!

Brunch in the Slope

[For another post on Park Slope, go to Life in Park Slope!]

Life in Flatbush

My first apartment was in Brooklyn. It was across the street from Prospect Park, the one I love the most! Brooklyn is a very diverse city to live in. You have a few good areas, a few bad areas, and then plenty of places in between which are boring, not close to the City, or right next to the ocean. When I first got here, my priority was probably not to be too far from Manhattan, as I knew this is where everything would be eventually going down.

So I moved in what can be called Prospect Park South or Lefferts Gardens. I am not too sure about the distinction. I simply call it Flatbush, because I was literally two minutes away from Flatbush Avenue. It was a good location for people who do not know much about New York yet and who want to be on the road all the time. I just had to walk 1 minute to the Parkside Avenue stop on the Q train and within 20 mins I was catapulted to Union Square or Canal St – whichever one I preferred. The Q back then (that makes it sound sooo long ago, but we are talking about less than one and a half years ago) was one of the better trains. It never seemed to have many delays, came regularly, even at night, and did not have as much trouble with weekend construction other trains usually have (but that is an entire story in itself). If I wanted to go elsewhere I took the orange line, meaning the B (that was when it had still stopped there), which took me right into the Lower East Side or Greenwich Village. Sounds like the sweet life? I guess it could have been….

Even as a newbie coming to New York and not knowing much about good and bad neighborhoods, I quickly made up my mind about Flatbush and its inhabitants. It is a West-Indian area with many people coming from Haiti and Jamaica. Although I saw one or two white faces wandering the streets, I always felt quite in a minority when doing my daily chores at the Laundromat or food shopping at the Pioneer. My experience when walking down one block to Flatbush quickly turned into a torture. West-Indian guys who were yelling vulgar remarks at me – a situation I really did not know how to deal with in the beginning at all. Rude cashiers at the 99ct stores. Other shoppers who just shoved me out of their way without saying a word or simply looking down upon me when standing in line. I believe this is how black people must have felt back in the 60ies, when they were walking through a white neighborhood. The reverse reaction in a modern setting did not suit me well. It first made me feel helpless, then mad, and finally I gave up finding a good reason as to why people react stupidly, and stopped caring.

Walking down to Duane Reade always seemed like running the gauntlet, though. Even after seeing how my roommate, a blond Canadian chick, who absolutely could not be mistaken for a Latina, dealt with all of the curious looks did not made me feel less uncomfortable. I always had the feeling I was the outsider, the awkward shaped piece sticking out of the mass. While my body language and also demeanor changed over time, I did not enjoy walking around the neighborhood and even further than to the stores I knew. The post office, which was a good 15 mins walk away, was always an interesting experience. Frustrated employees who liked to yell at their valued customers. Then of course the MTA ticket booth, which was a pure game of power between the victim standing outside and the “officer” sitting inside.

One thing you should know about Flatbush is that it is one of the neighborhoods who are still actively fighting gentrification, despite more and more newcomers (mostly whites) moving into the area. The prices are good, so is the location – a few reasons as to why it could become quite popular. At the same time, the old inhabitants do not want to be driven away from their neighborhood – their home. This might have caused a reasonable resentment that has been carried over to every non-black or non-Haitian person in the area.

I was glad I only lived 1 minute away from the train station. Flatbush could turn into a dangerous area during the dark hours. I never had any reason to make my way past the station and I really did not have much desire after being eyed by a gang of girls on one memorable summer night.

This was also the very first apartment in which I had bedbugs. Now for all of you who do not know what this is: I was about as clueless as you. Then I moved to Brooklyn and found out that itchy mosquito bites that won’t go away after 2 weeks most likely do not mean you were bitten by an insect. After careful examination of my bed sheets, I discovered a total invasion of those brown creatures, which you happen to see with your bare eye, no worries. Two exterminators and some very poisonous spray later we had gotten rid of those awful bloodsuckers. They were still among my top reasons of why I eventually moved.

I guess I am making matters sound a bit worse than they are. There are many advantages of living close to Flatbush. The quick transportation to the City being one. Then I really loved the proximity to the park. One quick jump over the street, and the green trees were all mine. I developed a daily jogging routine during that one hot summer of 2010. We also attended a few BBQs and even had some of our one. My roommate’s birthday in May was the best mixed-racial experience and cultural event I have witnessed so far. I remember us carrying bags of groceries and hot dogs to where her West-Indian friend had found an old grill, while preparing the foods for the gazillion amounts of relatives that kept stopping by and eating our food away. The laughs at Memorial Day. A certainly most interesting 4th of July, during which ambitious churchgoers tried to convince us to attend mass in Harlem.

BBQ-day in Flatbush

And then of course long nights contemplating life in the park. Seeing my roommate get fancy Jamaican hair styles at the Caribbean hair salon right around the corner. Hearing our ghetto neighbor yell at her grandchildren and beat her dog half to death. All of that was part of my experience in my very first apartment here.

After 9 months it was time to move out. First, my roommate’s latest lover, who happened to be a mere teenager and a full 18 years younger than her, managed to swipe my sterling silver jewelry I had left on the window sill. Second, I was still not too impressed by the neighborhood and decided to check other lands. And lastly, the bed bug epidemic was literally haunting that area of town and I was afraid of being struck again.

No real harm was done, and I was gone soon enough! I still like to go there every once in a while to snag a delicious slice from Family Pizza. Truly the best on that side of the park!

Belated St. Patty’s Day in the City Post

Yes, I know, it’s already March 20 – three days after the big event. Which doesn’t mean I can’t talk about it anymore, right? Three days ago was the day of the probably most popular occurrence in the spring: Saint Patrick’s Day and the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade!

And to this date, this was also my very first St. Patty’s Day I was actually able to fully take part in. You see, this year it fell on the weekend. And it was even on a Saturday. Ergo, the very first time I did not have to work and miss out on all the fun. A few million like-minded people had the same idea and came in masses groups from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Long Island – probably from anywhere BUT New York City. Although, in all fairness, I am sure a good deal of New Yorkers was also on the streets. Of course – no one wants to miss out on the first time it falls on a decent day.

Anyway, we did the only smart thing to do: We joined the drunken crowds around Central Park to watch the annual parade take off. To make matters worse, we were most likely three of the only people who stayed sober. Rewind an hour back, which would be me on the train: I had expected a nice peaceful ride up to Lexington/63rd St, to get off there and to carelessly stroll towards the waiting attractions. Wrong parade, wrong year, wrong date!

It started with people stumbling on the train right after Delancey St (Lower East Side). From then on, I had the chance to look at some really exotic and very green costumes. Then, getting off at aforementioned 63rd St station, I had to box my way past wasted teenagers who thought it a funny idea to pour half-empty water bottles over the heads of the crowd. Three flights of stairs and ten excruciating minutes later, and I was about to tell a cop to arrest these mean little rats.

Off to Central Park, where of course something like a line structure had formed, which could only be avoided by walking past with the most sincere determination. Then, convincing my two friends that standing against the parade and only getting to see the beautiful behinds backs of everyone participating in it might not be the best case scenario. We continued to walk a few blocks up, where we finally found a decent standing spot. Only two cry-babies and a worried mother ahead of us, that was much better than I had pictured. A few costumized pedestrians marching by. Numerous military brigades, FDNY, and other uniformed groups filling up the parade. Finally, one or two green color guards which happily swung their flags ahead of them.

After one hour I pretty much had enough and so did my company. We decided to go for a late brunch/early snack around Union Square. From there, we even made it to the East Village, where hordes of people were aimlessly standing outside, breaking up fights or getting involved in one, or simply trying to have a good time while puking into the next trash bin.

And what really astounded me but also made me smile: Everyone was all of a sudden Irish. Or at least making the best effort in appearing to be so. From the Haitian chick over the Latin Samba-dancer to the red-headed tourist – everyone wanted to dress green and be part of the fun.
My friend had half-heartedly thrown a blue shirt over her, so we got a few odd looks from the people that were not yet fully intoxicated. While we managed to stay pretty much sober throughout the entire day, I couldn’t help it but feel sorry for all the drunken faces walking around in the Greenwich Village. Because this is where I finally got my first beer. Guinness, of course, how could it else be! One hour later, my friend and I were over the entire party-scene and we decided to call it a day. Not without taking a few good shots of the crowd.

Random drunk guy wanting to be in the picture...

So, maybe you are asking the wrong person for how great St. Patty’s Day can be. I guess I am not much of a partier when everyone else around me is. But one thing is for sure: You can always be up for a good time! Even without much alcohol in your blood.

Oh, and do not forget to get the annual drink of the year: McDonalds peppermint shake which has been created solely for the purpose of the Green Day! It’s sweet, it’s green, it’s cheap – what else could you possibly want?! Way to go, Shamrock Shake!

The one and only Shamrock Shake!

[For more pictures on St. Patty’s Day go here.]

Living My Life: Two Years in New York!

Today is the day! The Big Anniversary!

On March 15, 2010 I became what I had hardly dreamt of: A German moving to New York. The City of 8 million. The Big Apple. The town that offers hundreds of possibilities, there to pursue. My student life had changed 180 degrees as I stepped out of my first cab right in downtown Manhattan. I remember the first street I stood at. Columbia Street. I remember my first (foreing) cab driver, who took it from there and delivered me to the Best Western Hotel in Queens. He was Indian, a professor, and only he knows why he had given up his higher education benefits in his home country to pursue life in the City. However, he gave me the most valuable of advice. Said: “New York has the best of people and New York has the worst of people.” To date, this little wisdom I share with you has proven to be very true. So true, that indeed every time I remember this day and his words, I shake my head in astonishment at how they cannot be twisted and turned but simply apply to life in New York.

Two years in the City. Three different jobs, but none of which are career-worthy. Three different apartments, some of which have proven to catapult me to something I can call home. My discovery of the Flatbush ghetto and then the nice side of Brooklyn called Park Slope. A few interesting roommates later. A few boring roommates later. None of them which I had wanted to miss out on. Friends, heart breaks, coworkers, relationships – they have all guided me through the past 24 months and have formed my time here; created my memories in their own unique ways. Two years later, and I am reflecting.

Have I have become a different person? I have turned into someone else. Unsure yet if if I like the person I’ve become or if I hate what New York has made of me. The safest way is to go with a mix. Some traits have made me survive in all of these extreme circumstances I am walking through day by day, living every moment as if it could be my last. Others I wish I could deal with better. The coldness that comes with you when you have to choose between politeness or rudeness when brushing off the overflow of advertisement, vendors, promoters. I know some New Yorkers can justify being impolite towards strangers. I am still having a hard time with it. At least I don’t care anymore when someone pushes me out of their way on my way to work. Is this a sign that I have truly adapted, though? Or that I have forgotten what manners are for?

Every year has changed me to a degree I would have not foreseen. Only one thing seems granted in this city: Happiness does not come easy. And it most certainly does not come when you expect it to. I’ve found myself torn down after earning more money or going to a show I thought would be amazing – my expectations being too high on this one little thing, underestimating the true factors of life. And then I found this warm, joyful feeling when walking beneath skyscrapers in the Financial District of Manhattan or discovering the West Village on a sunny April afternoon. The feeling I had whenever I looked at the skyline from my second old apartment – indescribable. This City was right there, in its miniature form, and everything had seemed so clear to me. Now I work in the Empire State Building and the New York dream seems farther away than ever.

The one thing New York has truly given me: I have created my life new. I have created myself new. Every day, every hour, every moment spent in this precious city I have indulged in, I have caressed, I have made sure to become worthy to remember. Starting with discovering various neighborhoods: Harlem, Bedstuy, Bushwick – we were quite fearless in the beginning. Meeting random people at bars and on the streets, ending up being involved in night-long talks which came to a close on the red steps of Times Square. Working for three cheap Irish guys who did not even pay hourly wage for their bar employees. My first tears when erring around in a bad area, fearing Russian gangstas or other hoodies might pick me up and shred me to pieces.

Our unbelievable luck in this City. New York has this very specific way of applying Karma to everyone who enters and stays for longer than a few days. You laugh at a person on the streets? Be sure you will trip over the next misplaced stone within the next few seconds. It’s the small things that this city will gladly show you and those are the ones you have to appreciate. It is not about the beauty of this city, because this city is seldom beautiful in the traditional sense. It is about the quirks and downsides that make Nueva York a fascinating place to live in. The rainy mornings that turn into sunny afternoons and warm your heart. The rainbow colors in Central Park. A day at the beach, that is so trashed, you would have never stepped foot on it if you were on vacation in a different country. The annoying paper bags from Trader Joes which always seem to break at the wrong moment. And then of course the random people in the train station that come to your rescue and provide you with so many plastic bags, you don’t know how to thank them.

New York is a City of Extremes. And she has her very special way of showing you when it’s time to move on. Believe me, I have seen it in many people. Some of which have come here for a few months. Some of which have stayed for three years. It all ended in the same way: They got the insight that it is time to leave. To pursue something better. It is just too darn bad that every other city outside of here seems too gray to live in once you’ve tasted the forbidden apple. So be sure you enjoy every single moment here because you never know when will be your last!

This is why I want to cherish today. The date. Hold it tight and never let it go! Happy Anniversary to me and to my dream come true!

Me at Magnolia Bakery in 2010
Me at Magnolia Bakery in 2012

The Best Season: Spring in New York

All of a sudden all hardships seemed brushed away with a single hour spent walking around outside. Running past newly sprout flowers and breathing in the freshest, warmest air of the year. The last few months – swept away by the tickling smell of a new beginning, the scent of a fresh awakening. The grayness, the darkness of the winter months, albeit mild themselves – forgotten because of the past few days which have brought us more sunshine and joy than any November afternoon ever could have. Everything that was and everything that had been seemed irrelevant.

So spring has finally made its way here! As I had already indicated in my last few posts, our half-winter has been bypassed by a wonderful, wonderful thing. It has cared to show up this week and given us one gorgeous day after another. Today a high of 72 degrees (23 Celsius), the air so warm I could feel the breeze of summer already getting to us.
You might have guessed it from the title. You might have also figured from my fall and winter posts. I am a person who embraces warm temperatures. The best seasons of the year are spring and summer to me. Each one of them is so unique in what they have to offer, it is hard to choose between them.

I personally love spring for various reasons, but only one I can justify: I came to New York in spring. It was the first season I experienced in the Big Apple and every time it comes around it reminds me of how things had been way back then. Spring makes me forgot about how hard life had seemed just weeks or even days before. This season also makes me feel very alive. I see objects, colors, persons from a different side than winter and fall ever could reveal to me. I like to compare it to a veil that has been lifted from my eyes and gives me a review of how life had been just 9 months earlier. So yes, spring will always carry a very special meaning in my heart when it comes to New York.

Dumbo in Spring

I remember doing so many things during this season. Wearing my first green T-shirt in March already. For Saint Patrick’s day, the crazy Irish holiday Americans on the East Coast like to celebrate because all of a sudden they remember their Irish roots and how they have to want to prove the amount of whiskey they can down. Exploring Dumbo in April, when it felt like summer already. Consuming my first ice cream during that same time. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge one fine May evening, with a light wind caressing my face. Our first barbeques in Prospect Park. My first time lying on a blanket jacket nothing in Prospect Park or aimlessly wandering around the huge greeneries. Noticing the skateboarders and sports fanatics trying to prove a point and showing off their skills in the open. Wearing my first dress or skirt without freezing or feeling silly.

Spring here has so much to offer. The City is most likely one of the places you want to take in every minute of outside, if you can. So this time of the year finally makes it possible for you to do so. Not only can you visit one of the numerous parks NYC has to offer. But you can walk through the streets, from one sightseeing attraction to another, and actually enjoy the outside scenery. Appreciation for this season does not come hard. Usually winters are so cruel over here, people are simply happy March has finally started.

New awakening festivals are emphasized in so many different forms, no matter how small they might be. The Cherry Blossom Festival, for example. It happens every year at the Brooklyn Museum and it cherishes, go figure, cherry blossoms. Last year it had been at the end of April/ beginning of May – that particular day being rather cool to jump around in Prospect Park and worshipping some white blooms.

Another good celebration is the First of May German festival going on at “Zum Schneider’s” in Alphabet City. Last year, Heimweh had actually badly kicked in during that time, so that I had gone there with another German friend on the first day of May. Maifest is what Germans celebrate to welcome spring. The Schneider’s had its own little variation of the fest, as it was roasting a pig outside and giving out plenty of beer inside. Then, once cooked through, people joyfully danced around the traditional Mai-pig as it was being carried inside. At that time, I had already been too drunk to care about German traditions, so I cannot say how everything ended.

Spring is also one of those seasons during which you never know how to dress. One day it’s warm and in the 70ies, and you regret ever having brought that winter coat with you. Another day it’s turned blistering cool, and your sandals and tank top look outright ridiculous on you. However, a trench coat might be the easiest way of how to circumvent these fashionable weather mistakes and I actually plan on buying one. One day. In the future. After that Gucci dress I always wanted…

Today I was simply walking around in a trance, gawking at the green grass in the park and contemplating about the bare tree stumps. I was purely happy. How sunshine and high degrees can make you feel satisfied with almost everything – I had almost forgotten how that feels. I hope this year’s spring, which has so carefully started, will bring many glories with it. So far, I have a few travels planned out. We will see how the rest goes…

Prospect Park in Spring

Chi- Cha- Chicago (Part 2)

We bypassed ice-skaters who performed pirouettes on the McCormick Tribune Plaza & Ice Rink. Another factor of interest in Millennium Park are two large screens which were built up at the time we were there. In these, two women were each virtually interacting with each other from one side to another.
During the summer, I heard, many concerts and other cultural events are going on throughout the entire park.

From here, our tour took us to the Navy Pier, which is an amusement center right on Lake Michigan. It has stores and souvenir shops inside and several rides and a Ferris Wheel outside. The aunt and cousin were brave enough to resist the drizzling rain outside while we walked from one end to another. The others stayed inside, all warm and cozy at an exotic green house. All around the upstairs and downstairs area several sculptures bearing flowers could be found. A possible predecessor of the annual Chicago Flower and Garden Show in March?

The Navy Pier is almost 100 years old (I am sure their anniversary is coming up within the next five years) and it is an absolute must-go in the summer. There is not too much to do in the winter, unfortunately, but kids will always be entertained, due to the Children’s Museum inside.

From then on, we had enough of trotting around in the meanwhile pouring rain. We took a cab to Cousin # 3, who lives in an apartment situated in a tall building in the midst of downtown Chicago. He has a great food store just outside of the building and has possible the best walk ever just to get his grocery shopping done. After catching up with everyone and eating out at a typical American restaurant, we started making our way home to where the cousins and aunt lives. This is indeed in the Suburbs, about 40 mins from the city.

At night, I went to my first Blues bar ever. Buddy Guy’s Legends in the South Loop offered a night with Zac Harmon and his band from Tennessee. We spent a good 4 and a half hours of listening to the some great blues while watching the girls and boys getting crazy in front of the band. Then jetlag/tiredness kicked in and there was no way I could have possibly staid up for much longer.

What I noticed more during night then at day was indeed what Chicago is known for: Its wind! Icy, freezing gusts blowing our hoodies from our head and making my face feel numb after only a few minutes outside. If this is how it had been at the end of the winter, then I dare not think about what the previous arctic months had felt like. Or rather: What they usually felt like, as this city had also experienced a relatively mild winter in 2011-12.

The second day was spent in the S’burbs. Catching up with Aunt # 2. Snatching some fine Pizza at an Italian restaurant. Even though the city still stands for good pizza, most of the locations have moved out to the ‘Burbs, offering fine culinary experiences in more down-to-earth spots than ever.

Visiting a huge shopping mall I hadn’t seen in ages. Finding an even finer store called Carson’s, which offered better deals and sassier clothing than Macy’s ever could. What a surprise this was indeed for me, and I am all in for stealing this store and setting it up in Midtown Manhattan.

Then a night out at a delicious Tex-Mex restaurant. Getting to know the cousins’ friends better, since they invited a bunch over to celebrate both of their (close) birthdays at the bar next door.

What was left was one fine Sunday. A sleep-deprived but nevertheless fun-filled day. The relatives wanted to show the girlfriend and me one last thing. So we went to Lincoln Park: A park filled with a zoo, a conservatory, and lots of space to walk. First we did indeed check out the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Albeit small in size, it had every color imaginable. A humidity and heat only known in tropical areas inundated us as soon as we stepped in. We were surrounded by exotic plants and flowers and I couldn’t help it but take the following picture(s).

Surrounded by a true jungle feeling and green heaps of lianas, we made our way out to the next attraction: The Lincoln Park Zoo. Despite the wintry temperatures outside, we still found a good amount of animals. The giraffe and monkeys inside being among the cutest. When bypassing the feeding of the seals and going straight to the big cats, we saw a lonely lioness excitedly jumping around in her isolated area. Then, all of a sudden, a crazy dash all across the stone. Her keeper was arriving and the lion knew she was being feed. The Girlfriend shot a great picture of the yellow fellow crashing towards us and jumping at us, only being stopped by the glass protection.
Overall, we spent some great two hours in both the zoo and the flower power house. The best part about it is that they are for free and always worth checking out – either for a family trip or when you feel like dipping into a different world.

From there on we were just exploring the neighborhood a bit. Walking around the blocks, where I found a quaint store offering bathtub foam in the form of a lollipop. Then we took in a late lunch at the Austrian Café, where they indeed did not speak much Austrian. The girlfriend claims she suspected one employee to have a German accent but that was of course when we were long-gone and standing outside. A fail to discover from my side, I agree.

Lincoln Park is in the up and coming, as far as I can tell. High loft buildings are built around churches, and older houses are bought up from the bourgeoisie of the city. Maybe comparable to the people you find in the Upper West side. An older crowd, with a lot of money who have been living the neighborhood for a very long time. Because Chicago is so very young indeed, I believe the people of the neighborhood are not as rigidly defined as in other cities. As far as I can tell, the hoods have changed quite a big deal from the 60ies to the 80ies, and from then to now.
Next, it was time to say goodbye. I got to meet more friends from Cousin # 2, as we made a brief stint at a local bar in the ‘Burbs. Then it was time to drive back to O’hare airport, from which I had a sleepy flight back home and an awfully sleep-deprived time in New York the other day.

There is still so much to see in the City of High Winds. The Buckingham Fountain, for example. We had only briefly driven past it. The Water Tower. Other quaint neighborhoods the Cousin and the Girlfriend had the chance to experience the week before. I am glad I finally made it out there but I also realize that Chicago is always worth another trip. If not now then most likely in the summer. After all, those high-praised festivals and high-class music shows might always be worth checking out, don’t you think?

Chi- Cha- Chicago! (Part 1)

I’ve made it! I made my first travel of this year come true! And it happened to even be a plane ride away, with a good 2 ½ hours from LaGuardia Airport/ Queens.

Chicago is one of those cities which had been on my list of places to visit for a long, long time. Not only because my paternal side of family originates from here. But also because of its reputation as the city with the most culture in the Midwest. And if there couldn’t be a better time to go, I made my trip out during the year of its 175th anniversary. That’s right, Chitown is only 175 years old. A young city, indeed, with much prospect to grow and to change within the coming 175 years. Albeit its small age, it has already gone through much trauma due to two fires that have partially destroyed the older parts of the city already.

One thing I can really tell you about Chicago is that it is truly in the Midwest. Smack, right there, in the middle of the map that makes out the North of America. It is indeed so Midwestern, it shows its signs of province and suburb even in the city. When I got there, it happened to be a rainy day. Not necessarily cold, but gray, windy, and very wet. I realize that this is of course not the most ideal weather to visit any type of place. Chitown does not pose an exception to this. Instead of going on top of the notorious Skydeck, we were snapped at by a rude employee as soon as we got in. Instead of enjoying the first rays of spring at the Navy Pier, we were dodging puddles and wind right beneath the Ferris Wheel. Weather must have an influence on people’s moods, is the first thing I thought. The second, that amusement parks are really meant for the nice time of the year.

I landed in O’Hare, about 20 mins outside of the city of Chicago. Despite having heard many people finding the airport huge and confusing, I myself have to say I was not impressed by its size but rather by its inconclusive directions and the amount of people that were running in my way when I tried to get out. Even on my flight out, I still did not find this airport immensely huge or even high-populated. But that was later at night, which could possibly be the best time ever to fly out.

My aunt, my two cousins, and my cousin’s girlfriend picked me up, which was all very sweet of them. We parked in Downtown Chicago, also known as the Financial District of the town. One thing I noticed when we drove past the skyscrapers, which had a striking resemblance to New York, I dare say, was that all of the subway lines, which are also called trains, run above ground. Just as they would in Queens or Brooklyn (I know, what a comparison!), a metal frame has been built upon the streets so that the trains can ride in neatly above the traffic. The second thing I noticed about the train system is its and quaint size: The train holds about four cars, which all are small in proportion. I am not sure exactly how often the train runs in Chicago, but I assume there are a lot less commuters than in the Tristate Area, for the only train I can think of which holds less than ten cars is the G from BK to Queens. Fare, I heard, costs 2.25 a ride, but then again, I never took it, so I don’t know how it applies and how far you can go on it.

We parked in a garage that offered a flat-rate fee of ten dollars for the rest of the day. This I found a really good bargain, as we were close to about everything worth seeing and we were not charged an arm and a leg for the excellent location.
Our tour took us past many landmarks of the city. First the Picasso Statue, which was exhibited in 1967. It is an untitled sculpture made by Pablo Picasso and is also defined as the first major public artwork the downtown area of Chicago ever had. During day it shines red but unfortunately there was construction going on all around it, so I couldn’t get a closer look at it. Second, the Willis Tower. Most people, including me, are not familiar with this name. The Sears Tower might ring a bell. It was bought up in 2009 by the Willis Group Holdings and has held that name ever since. For me, it will always be the Sears Tower. To date it is still the tallest building in the US, standing 108 floors high, and blinking at us with its two alien-looking antennas.

Our initial intention had been to go on top of the Skydeck, just like millions of tourists had done before us. However, due to glum weather, fog, and rain, we all came to the conclusion it might not be worth spending 17 bucks on a trip to the top. As soon as we entered the lobby door, an employee was hopefully pushing the elevator buttons, eager to get us in.
“How much can you see once you are on top?” we carefully inquired. “0 to 5 miles visibility today,” she hopefully responded, and thought this answer would satisfy us. It did not, so she eventually tried to kick us out by claiming we were blocking the entrance hall. So much for customer service! Later-on we met with the cousin’s friend, who worked around the Sears/Willis Tower and who said we were right at not taking that expensive trip up, as he could not see much of a view from his office window throughout the entire day. Thumbs up to making us feel better, Mike!

Anyhow, I am still eager to go back to the Skydeck – the top of the Tower. It is the ultimate tourist attraction of course: A square box built entirely out of glass, which makes you feel like you are walking above the city! It must be breathtaking as well as frightening at the same time, but I am nonetheless ready to take in the amazing view featured. Maybe next time!

Next, we walked back towards State Street, a mile consisting of shops and stores. A quick stop at the Art Institute with its beautiful and quirky lions in front. Then along Michigan Avenue, the posh street of Chicago (roughly comparable to the fancy 5th Ave in NYC). Then all the way through Millennium Park, with its main attraction, the Bean. This I had indeed seen in my friends’ photographs before, and I had really been looking forward at taking pictures of it. It is a highly reflective, mirror-like sculpture in the form of an enlarged bean. Standing there in its finished form since 2006, it has attracted millions and millions of people ever since. Not only because everyone likes to look at themselves through a distorted view, but also because it reflects the Chicago skyline on one side and the park and Michigan Lake on the other. Its creator, Anish Kapoor, might not be a native Chicagoan, but he added a great figure to the overall pretty Park, defined by culture throughout the entire year.

[For more pictures of the Bean, go to The Chicago Bean on A Picture Every Day.]

[For more pictures on Chicago, go to Chicago – the Windy City on A Picture Every Day.]