Being Back Home: Southwest Germany and Its Rural Charme

Being at home
Being at home

Not being home for ten months straight can be a pretty weird feeling. You’d think after 6 years of living an expat life, I’d be used to the feeling of being away. The truth is – you never get used it. And no matter for how long you’re gone, home will always be home.
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Homecoming: My Trip to Europe in Spring 2015

Geysir erupting in Iceland
Geysir erupting in Iceland

At the end of last month I ventured out on a 2-week-journey back home. It had been two long years since I had set foot on German soil and I desperately felt I needed to go back to see everyone and everything again. It always seems that I look to get away in spring (as airfare tends to be cheapest around this time). Read More »

The Impressions of New York

It’s always an experience to get back to this city even when gone for just a few days. Every time I witness my return differently. Mostly I am not at all pleased but sometimes I am happy to be back. Yet, coming back from Canada was different in so many ways. When I saw the skyline from far away, I was thankful at once. Away from the awful greyhound bus, away from the travel on the bumpy road. It almost felt like home to embrace a city I’ve been in for so long. Home – a very tangible word.

However, my initial euphoria changed quickly after entering the subway. First, the endless wait for an express train at 3 AM around Times Square. I had forgotten how drunken people can act on a Tuesday morning out. Being stared at by random guys when you absolutely do not feel like meanly glancing back at them until they finally look away. On top of this, of course the N-Train that decided to switch over to the R on the last stop in Manhattan. The long walk over from Canal Street to where the Q stops. Having the Q shut its door right in my face. Fidgeting around for another eternity. It takes some long 20 minutes for another train to come when it’s the middle of the night.

Looking up when an aggressive group of teenagers walks up to you and the rest of the tired commuters. Spanish yelling, waving of the arms from their side. Everyone is staring in disbelieve rather than reacting sensibly. I even got pushed by one of the fat mildly overweight Puerto Rican girls. At least she said “excuse me” after striking my upper body. I was too startled to think of much to do. I thought it rather a bad idea to pick a fight with a group of four when all I have to defend myself is my heavy bag of souvenirs. So many underage people out on the streets and of course I ran into another group of chicks on the train, once it came. This time I kept my calm. Ten minutes later I was finally home. The thought I had when falling into bed was that this city is hideous, the people have ugly personalities and I want to get out of here right now.

The next morning. A beautiful day. The people still being a bit weird but manageable. I felt more like an anonymous commuter that day than someone who has to stand up for herself in New York. Peace of mind. But the ride back home complete chaos – again. A tunnel in Brooklyn that decided to catch fire, leaving the entire subway system turned upside down. Walking down the steps to the Herald Square underground I started wondering why there were more masses than usual accumulated on the platform. The B and the D were only running to W4. Even after heading over to the N and the Q, I was in no luck. The first one stopped, spat out a chunk of evening commuters and then announced it would be backtracking straight to Times Square (42nd St). The R came and announced that 14th -Union Square was its final stop (it usually runs to Bay Ridge). No one knew what to do. I decided to squeeze into an overpopulated subway car and try my luck towards downtown. I gave up after being held in 23rd St for ten minutes straight. A crackly voice over the intercom blared that all trains were currently held in the station due to the high volume of traffic ahead of us. I was one freaking stop away! And then the conductor laughed into the speaker. He actually cracked up! It made me smile. If people can still make fun of such an absurd situation, no matter how vicious their intentions are, you still have to see the comic of the circumstances. And how ridiculous is it to be stuck in Manhattan on a random weekday? Squeezed against hundreds of other commuters? I got off and wandered the streets of the Flatiron district. Eventually I made it to the 4 and 5, which thankfully ran underground and were unaffected by the sudden fire in Downtown Brooklyn. Of course a few thousand other people had also been forced to dodge towards this alternative. I have seldom felt so happy to get off the train than during this day. Atlantic Ave was jam-packed with masses. And I’ve seen it during a normal rush hour; yesterday was three times as many people.

Today I was more confident in the way of how to handle matters. I didn’t feel like an awkward piece sticking out of the grey masses of the City trying to fit in. Today I actually did fit in. And instead of feeling frustrated as I had before this trip, a different feeling overcame me. Happiness comes when least expected. It may come when you are sitting under a roof of leaves in Madison Square Park, clutching an umbrella with one hand, writing your thoughts down with the other. It may also come when jumping from puddle to puddle, finding your reflection in one of those. It’s an abstract concept but it brings back the memory of a time when everything used to be easier.

Feeling at Home in the 8 Mio Citizen City called New York

Today I felt like a New Yorker. Someone asked me for directions. Completely out of the blue I was blabbed at on how to find this street and that avenue. During bright daylight, right there in the midst of Manhattan. I must have given off a certain vibe towards tourists, of that I am convinced. Which one exactly I am clueless of but maybe it was my ignorant shoving through the masses of amateur photographers eyeing the landmark of this City that gave it away.

I do have to say that I felt rather flattered than insulted when a nameless face in the crowd wanted to know her way to a specific store. Heck, do I look like I know where Bare Minerals could possibly be? Is my make-up highlighting my entire face or does it just look easily applied to initiate a question like this? Either way, I was happy to point out the directions to the Dutch girl until our ways parted again. And while my friend was giggling and saying I could have just directed them to Sephora right around the corner, a different emotion overtook me. An emotion I had fought for so long but which I have noticed always comes around when I need it the most.

Is it possible that after all this time a feeling of home has crushed through the wall of resistance? After the first few months had passed here and after I’d seen how crazy this city can truly be, I had almost given up calling the Big Apple my home. Heck, even a year and some days later (which happened to be last year, to be exact) I had turned in the opposite direction and started complaining on how New York will never feel like the place I will feel comfortable in, least to say, accepted and embraced. But slowly, as the months passed by, as I got to know her people better, as my hate for anonymity vanished, as I actually got to see my real home again, I developed a different perspective. That even though this city is hideous and expensive, unpractical and uncaring, busy and hectic, loud and polluted, fake and revealing – despite these and further disadvantages everything has its bright side. And for this shining light I came and for this twinkling star I am still hanging on to the ride. It might have been that every other place outside of this metropolis seemed so poorly populated. Or so immensely fruitless in opportunities. Not to say plain boring. It might have also been that I have learned how to deal with clinging to my identity and developing different attitudes for different situations. Whichever one it is, it has all brought me to the point I am now.

A point that always comes through in especially extreme situations. Be it searching for a room (and boy, did I have opportunity to show what I’m made of then), looking for a new job, or simply visiting a different city. It’s the point I and perhaps other inhabitants reach every once so often. This is usually the point it’s time to decide: Give the city another chance or turn your back to her and neglect her for the time being. But let’s not be quite so dramatic. After all, this quaint town shoves her foot unknowingly underneath of you and shows you when it’s time to be kicked out no matter if you’re prepared or not.

No, that is not the point I am trying to make. I am trying to explain to you, non-New-Yorkers or fellow city inhabitants, how it feels like to be finally immersed into the wonderful city life. And it’s not even the same vibes I received two years ago, when I took every opportunity out there to experience Summer Stage concerts, Shakespearean plays, or Brooklyn Bridge excursions. It is more about feeling like I can walk these streets and be well aware of where I stand. To strut down Manhattana in complete confidence and bypass the newbies who will clearly only stay for a limited amount of time. Or to rain past my favorite favorite Mexican place in the Village and to know there are quazillion others still left to discover.

And the people? Well, the people are very special. Indeed, so special, I can barely start describing them. From the typical New-York-adapted fako living a secret masochist life in his mind to the relaxed Brooklyner who will never know why he hates the Bronx so much. Or the Indian-looking Queener who will never give up showing what his hood is really made off. It takes time to get used to so many different personalities. To me, everything is pretty much about the people who live in a certain place. If I cannot connect to mass, then I will never be able to connect to the city (take Vienna for example: Beautiful place to live in but not the right culture for me). Even today, though, I still have troubles accepting certain aspects of certain people and this is why I am bugging you on here all the time… Or at least it is a good reason for the fair amount of posts, if I may.

I have fought this very special feeling for way too long. I am still fighting it. I fear that once I will let the Big Apple become my home, my one and only leading point, I will lose my eye sight forever. I will start unseeing these places and people and landmarks as less special than they truly are and adapt to the culture in a way hazardous to my own being. I might even change to someone I won’t ever wanted to become or into something I won’t ever be able to look at in the mirror again. But once again, through this eroding wall of resistance, the feeling is longing to come and take me over. And after all, it is not so bad to call New York your home, is it?

Take for example the crude epitome of anonymity and intimacy at once: The New York City Subway. Each time I walk down those worn out steps I am not prepared for what will happen this time around. And I am not talking about an occasional 20-minute-train delay or other technical hassles. I am talking about those sunshiny moments when an unexpected street performer hops on or you see a face you like. Or those gloomy minutes where aggressiveness is paired with hostility you will surely want to avoid immediately.

No, it is not shameless or fear-worthy to be home in this city. But it is also hard to feel like a true part of this eight million citizen chaos called New York. Everything you hung to changes or is destroyed (by construction or a hurricane, who knows). Everyone you felt deeply about turns your back on you and leaves the city behind – and you stranded. And every other matter that seemed so important outside of this city becomes irrelevant at once. It is hard to stay focused here. And to keep the same values you had before. At the same time, she challenges you to combine new traits with the previous good ones or to turn to the bad side forever. Then again, not everything is black and white. You are taught on how to accept the gray shades in between and to become a chameleon for the other stages you are likely to undergo when you are here for so long.

Not that I am always mistaken for a New Yorker. For instance that one time when I was wearing my hard-earned Hard Rock T-shirt and wanted to enter the ESB. A guard was protectively stepping in front of me, trying to shake me off. “Excuse me, you have to go around the corner to get to the top” he lectured me. Perplexed and slightly annoyed I pulled out my employee’s pass. After passing him, though, I had to grin. Must not only be body attitude which makes some people judge where you’re from, right? Unless he was a newbie himself…

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!