Happy Thanksgivvukah – A Two Events Deal!

macys-balloon-inflation-2013-2

This year was the first time since 1899 and most likely the last time until 2070 that Thanksgiving and Hanukkah fell on the exact same day. Well, to be precise, it was the second day of Hanukkah (since Hanukkah has 8 days in total). Usually Hanukkah is not one of the grandest Israeli holidays but this year it was a big deal. Why so? Perhaps because one of the most commercialized American traditions was combined with a Jewish holiday. More shopping, more sweet potato latkes, more feasting, and more reasons to call this year… unique.

And how does America feel about this? I know for some Americans (or perhaps most?) it hasn’t been too much of a big deal. New York however, with one of the biggest Jewish populations outside of Israel, has been putting up some serious advertisement and propaganda campaigns regarding the 28th of November. Bizarrely, it had become more and more of a big deal here with the date approaching fast; so that even non-Jewish people (just like me) have been sucked into believing that all of this is a great way to celebrate two big traditions in the year of 2013.

So, in the spirit of Hanukkah and giving thanks, I started celebrating last weekend already. It all started with me attending a traditional Hanukkah, which had been renamed into “Thanksgivvukah,” last Saturday in Jersey City. My friend had made me believe that there will be some traditional American foods and enough booze to keep my mouth shut and my eyes wide open. Sure enough, an ugly sweater Thanksgivvukah was more fun than expected and I even got to learn a few handy backgrounds on why and how Hanukkah came into existence. As far as I recall, it has a lot to do with temples, fast contractors rebuilders, and an ending war – composing another good reason to celebrate for 8 days in a row. Just roughly summarized, of course. Many beers had been had until this thesis formed. And since I had no ugly sweater to show, I had to take pictures of other people’s ugly sweaters. These ones being among one of my favorites!

ugly-sweater-hanukah-party

ugly-sweater-hanukah-party2

Fast forward a few days, and I am attending the Macy’s Parade Balloon Inflation. While I had seen the actual Thanksgiving Parade back in 2010 (and do not recommend this to anyone who wants to be stuck in the crowds while seeing exactly nada because the lady in front of you is wearing a big hat), this event was much more fun to be a part of: Several balloons, including the signature Spiderman figure, being inflated along two different streets. True, the crowds were still humongous – despite the cold weather and rain. But it was nothing compared to the awfulness I had to endure 3 years ago, and seeing the balloons at night time certainly had a different appeal to it, as well. Whenever you are in New York during this time of year, I can highly recommend stopping by the Museum of Natural History and just walking over to this event. It takes part one day before the parade, right across the street from Central Park. And since Barney was massacred during the actual parade, I was glad to have seen him in one piece shortly before. By the way, did you follow his slow “death”(perhaps on TV)? Weird things happening, huh?

Spiderman in all its glory!
Spiderman in all its glory!

Now, on the actual Thanksgiving Day, I was once again invited by a Jewish friend to join into her celebrations. This time, a proper turkey was present (and also a tofurkey for the vegetarians). Aside from the latkes and other Israeli foods, everything was pretty much the same you would find on a typical American dinner table during this holiday: Mashed potatoes, stuffing, home-made cranberry sauce and deliciously warm pumpkin pie. My first proper Thanksgiving party here in New York had only been a year ago (read more on us eating until we dropped here). Compared to the one I attended 2 days ago, I was probably a lot drunker this year and the group was also a bit smaller. 4 bottles of wine had to be distributed evenly somehow. We were a total of 4 people – composing the “leftovers” who had stayed in New York since our families do not live here. It was certainly a fun group and the location was a real winner: Right in Brooklyn Heights, close to Dumbo, and an easy hop to the subway or a taxi afterwards.

Poor Turkey...
Poor Turkey…

thanksgivvukah-celebration-in-brooklyn

Now, Thanksgiving and Black Friday are both over. Luckily for the latter, as I heard some shocking news on Walmart employees getting seriously injured all over the country. But Hanukkah is still on. So in celebration of it, New York continues to show some sparkling signs. One of them being the most significant landmark here: the Empire State Building. It will glow blue and white in the colors of Israel for the next 4 days. Happy Holidays!

Where and how did you celebrate this year? Did you do it via Hanukkah or without?

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Berlin – City of Cities (Part III)

berliner dom und tango tanz

Of course the weather was crappy, no surprise there. But in the very last days it finally turned better – much better. For two days Berlin was as warm as 20 centigrade (70 Fahrenheit) and that made it all worthwhile. But even walking around in the rain slush the first two days wasn’t that bad. I had truly expected worse from so far up north, especially after being hit by snow the first week I was back home!

So by the time we got to the dome, it was peacefully sunny and people were bathing right next to the fountain, which had mysteriously turned on. We even got to see a pair of tango dancers performing right beneath the dome with a group of friends. Berlin certainly withholds creativity, so much to that. When strolling through the streets, we passed landmarks such as the Rote Rathaus and the Marienkirche – a well-known church with a clashing history of Catholicism and Lutheranism.

Alexanderplatz in action
Alexanderplatz in action

And then, finally, we stood in East Berlin: At the Alexanderplatz, where trains come together, trams meet, and subways emerge. It was a bustling center of eager shoppers, street kids with dogs, and tourists snapping pictures of the World Clock. Certainly one of the busier spots in the city, I would say. After this, we dropped by the Radisson Blu Hotel to view the Aquadom – a gigantic aquarium my friend had always wanted to view on her trip to Berlin.

The infamous Aquadom!
The infamous Aquadom!

Saturday night was party time and my first disappointment since my arrival: No glamour in Berlin! Just when I was about to sort through my party dresses and look for fancy high heels, my friend mischievously pointed out that no one dresses up in Berlin but rather tries to dress down. Meaning Sneakers, Shirt and Jeans time. I couldn’t believe it. A city without glamour? Well, it truly exists and it’s called the German capital. I still wore fancy things and was one of the only ones when we went to a house party in Friedrichshain (not without spending 2 hours in the Berlin subway and being distracted successfully by an array of things).

The new in-drink of Berlin? Mate – a common drink made from dried herbal leaf from South America, mixed with anything alcoholic. So after a few Vodka Mates I couldn’t think too clearly but we certainly went to an “underground” club in the middle of nowhere called Rummelsbucht. It was here that we needed a password to be let in and spent over an hour waiting for the doors to open. Since it was supposedly very crowded inside, they only let the crowd in slowly (and a good amount of people were denied access). We weren’t a big fan of neither the audience nor the music and after an hour we simply gave up. Partying in Berlin – so far my impressions are rather mixed. And I am not sure I like the no-glamour thing they have going on!

Kreuzberg
Kreuzberg

Then, on one of my last days, I got to see Kreuzberg – the former hood which has now been converted into a nicer area (at least in some parts). My friend from Berlin claims that in other parts it still is pretty dangerous but where I met up it was more like a hipsterized version of a nice neighborhood. The sun was shining, people were strolling along the small creek called the Spree, and we dropped in for a coffee at a café whose bare existence oddly reminded me of Park Slope or Williamsburg or anywhere else in the world. Except for the prices, these were still pretty low. But then we turned a corner and all of a sudden there were 6 police cars parked in front of an apartment building. The traffic had come to a standstill. There was surely something wrong going on but what it was remains a mystery to me.

Overall, I have to say that Berlin does not appear to be as international as other European cities. Compared to Paris and London, the only foreign people I saw were Russian and Easter European tourists mixed with French, Dutch, and British folks when standing in line for yet another sightseeing highlight. True, we did stop by at this coffee shop where the waitress only spoke English. But I had somehow imagined it to be more crowded with an underground scene of starving artists coming from everywhere, especially New York. Where were all of those Hipsters who moved from Wburg to Germany just to make a living off of under-the-table-work? It certainly felt more like a German city to me than anything but perhaps my expectations where mildly exaggerated…

On top of this, I encountered a few Neo-Nazis who were walking through subway cars. I didn’t like this – at all. Up to that date, I’d only had the pleasure of seeing the skinheads on German news whenever there was yet another political demonstration. So close to Eastern Germany it was just a matter of time to witness them in action.

Other than the aforementioned knicks and knacks, Berlin seems to be a creative city, no sweet talking here. Be it students filming a project for their school or street musicians performing art underground and above – I can only imagine what artistic vibes will ring through the city once summer comes around. Collecting bottles out of trash cans seemed to be yet another hype throughout Germany but especially Berlin. Heck, for 25 cents a bottle I think I’d start doing the same if I needed money. And all this behavior kinda fits the general casualty you witness throughout the city.

And that was it, my time in Berlin. Short, necessary, and mind-enhancing by all means!

Bye bye Berlin
Bye bye Berlin


[For more pictures on Berlin, go to Days Spent in Berlin (3).]

My First Halloween Party Ever in America!

This weekend brought a few premieres with it. Aside from the hurricane rumbling up and basically destroying our precious city (read more here), I had the chance to participate in an event I have been burning to be part of: Halloween in New York!

Yes, of course there was last year’s parade with all the craziness and drunkenness going on. Coming from other people, not me, I would like to add. No dressing up for me, no real partying for me. And then my very first year here, in October 2010, we I ended up spending the night before Hollow’s Even sipping a glass of wine with an anxious friend who was blabbing about how dangerous it can be to be out on the streets during Halloween. “You might be mugged by a lone ghost that jumps you in the dark!” he shrieked and was pleased at the effect his words had.

So this year I finally wanted to make it happen. I wanted to be drunk and made up, all messed up, dancing in the streets of Brooklyn, Manhattan, or heck, even Queens. My friends sent me a few invites to dubious parties happening throughout the entire weekend. Since Halloween is once again in the middle of the week, all the fun started early and people got dressed up beforehand. Preferably when they didn’t have to work so that they could drink and celebrate at the same time. And oh yeah, when the subways were still working, half the city wasn’t out of power, and no one was too shocked to friggin celebrate. But yeah, let’s please do not get into that!

A long-lost “friend” sent me an invite over Facebook (yes, I am back on the devious site). He probably also sent it to the rest of his 300 something friends, but I thought it would be fun to crash the so-called Club 305 Party in the midst of Williamsburg. Oh had we just known better….

The day before the party, on Thursday, I met up with my one friend to go through one of the biggest costume collections at the New York Costumes around Union Square. I feel that these random Halloween shops pop up all throughout New York the month before the event is scheduled to start. I really don’t know how they manage to rent out a space for 4 weeks only, but after Halloween they are abandoned warehouses or buildings.

Now – the New York Costumes is located in NYU territory, meaning many students were seeking out a fantastic and spooky outfit the night before the weekend started. After shoving through the masses, my friend and I had enough of all the junk and decided to call it the quits. I then met up with friend no. 2 in the noticeably less crowded Ricky’s around the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was here that I managed to snag some fiery red, devilish-good looking accessories for my costume on Friday. My friend bought a “Hipster” outfit for the proud price of 20 (!) bucks: fake glasses, a bow tie, and suspenders… Feeling slightly ripped off, we were nonetheless still happy to finally have found something.

Blurry picture of us on the train

On Friday, we all started in a happy mood: The Hipster, the devil (me), and Roger Rabbit (a cartoon character from 1988, in case you didn’t know). While wandering around Chinatown to look for the right train going to Marcy Ave, we got some curious looks and a mistaken “Easter Bunny” comment (my friend was furious!). Club 305 turned out to be house number 305. We rang and rang and were wondering if it really was worth all the trouble just to crash a party where we most likely did not know anyone…

Then we heard people on the roof and a guy opened the door. “You are trying to get upstairs? Sure, just come up!” It became apparent what kind of party we had crashed: A gay and transvestite party! But what a party it was. After the initial shocking silence, the people resumed their talks and only eyed us every once in a while as we scurried up the steps to the roof in order to get some fresh air. Here we met a friend of a friend someone who knew the friend who had invited me. The guy, as it turned out, had gotten trashed at an after-work-party and was never to show. We, however, had the time of our lives, and our empty vodka bottle proved it at the end of the night.

Surprisingly amazing house party

Since the theme of the party was “Film and Movies,” Roger Rabbit fit right in. She got so drunk that we almost had to carry her back to the subway station when we called it the quits around 2:30 AM. All of us would have never expected to stay at such an extraordinary party for so long but it really was a great time. We met some fun people (not everyone there was gay, evidently), danced with the transsexual host, and were able to feed on some home-delivered cheese pizza. All in all, quite a success story!

Now, party number 2 got all our hopes up just because of how hyped up it was to begin with: 12 bucks just to enter. 2 bands, a live DJ, and mixers… Bam! What a great party this would be! Or so we thought.

At 10:30 PM, while my friend and I sat together and pre-gamed, she received a text message from one of the guys in the first band: “We are re-locating to the Financial District due to unforeseen circumstances!” was his short message. The party was to go down in Midtown and both of us were quite perplex at how suddenly it had been re-scheduled and in what area it was supposed to take place.

Sometime after 11:30 we showed up around Johns Street, ready to have a great but already thoroughly confused evening. With our printed tickets, we marched to the bouncer, just to be blown off from the start: “What is that? Which party are you here for?” he barked at us. A girl standing next to him pulled us to the side and verified our information. “Oh yes, we had to reschedule” she nervously exclaimed while putting yellow bands on our wrists. “It’s all the way on the roof now! I hope you have fun!” she chirped.

Kraftwerk band

The first band, dressed up as Kraftwerk, was having a hard time getting up the stairs with their heavy instruments. We looked at each other. Then we looked at the crowd that seemed mostly underage. And then we go to see two other parties going on while passing through three floors on our way up. There was a hip hop party, most likely with a few drugs here and there. On the roof, people were already drunk. Or on drugs. Who knows. The band was confused as to what to do. A girl dressed up in a blue cop uniform was hopping around, then she squat right next to us and peed all over the band’s instruments.

Grossed out we jumped to the side. Word had it that the cops were downstairs raiding the place. All of a sudden a detective in a suit opened the door to the roof, shone a flashlight into everyone’s eyes, and yelled: “Party’s over! Everyone go downstairs!”

Cops raiding place
Cops trying to get rid of people

What a shock! And what a hot mess! We were scrambling to go downstairs. As we were making our way down, we stepped through a few puddles that looked like more pee. Since there was no bathroom anywhere, people had decided to just go out into the staircase and…
While passing the second floor, we saw about five boys lined up by two NYPD cops. They had their legs and arms in a typical spread-eagle pose while they were standing against the wall. So I really got to see an arrest before I left the place.

Everyone was confused as to how the evening should continue. We ended up in a loft party in Williamsburg where 100 other people had found their way to. I decided I had enough of Halloween until next year and left around 3 o’clock. Boy, what a night! And the best news: Sometime after I left, this place was also raided by the cops! A spontaneous, noisy party in Wburg – go figure!

Bummed out Roger Rabbit

So that was my Halloween in New York. I got to dress up, was drunk, and hung out with some friends. I also got to pay for a really bad joke of a party but now I know that the best parties are probably the free ones! Or the house parties!

Happy Halloween y’all!

Flower Power at SoHo Launch Party

This past Friday a friend of mine invited me to a premier. An event I had never had the chance be a part of until that date: A launch party of a store in SoHo.

Launch parties take place all over New York at every possible time you could think of. But since I do not have too many friends who are in the fashion industry and who have invited me to something like this yet, I hadn’t had the chance to witness anything similar before. My friend had casually strolled the streets 2 weeks previously and stumbled across the designer’s store. After a nice chat with the store owner, who also happened to be the creator, she had then been invited to stop by at her online launch in the beginning of May.

This is exactly why Friday evening we found ourselves on the streets of SoHo, dressed up and ready to go. Lotus Hom has fashion that can be simple but also fancy. Some flower prints here and there – hence the name Lotus, which stands for flower in the Burmese language. The pieces are a definite eye catch and you won’t find sporty/casual wear among the dresses or pants. It is fashion meant for the feminine side of the female body and it brings this out through low-cut backs, wide skirts, or belts around the waist. The price range is anywhere from $100 a skirt to $500 a dress, accessories not included.

Mo Hom, the designer, greeted us friendly and asked us to eat and drink before looking at her collection. The food was appetizingly prepared in two different rooms. Some Burmese specialties were also found among the variety of cheese and sandwich bites they had arranged on huge plates.

A bartender presented to us the Neapolitan Cocktail, which is made of a mix of Baileys, Rose Vodka, and Strawberry Flavor. Mo is originally from Burma, so we met quite a few other Burmese friends of hers. People from the fashion industry, photographers, but also easy-going shoppers such as us were among the crowd. Everyone was asked to take a picture in front of the Lotus Hom wallpaper, to be posted online later. Most people ended up buying some cute accessories or an entire collection or a simple dress after looking through the rows and rows of clothing.

The party went from 7 PM to 10 PM and in the last half hour a group of Asian-looking girls wanted to take their last shot. Since I was in the middle of of it all, they pressured me to take a shot with them. The bartender asked us to first swallow lemon juice and then chug baileys right after. The combination might sound bad, but it tasted really good and I will most definitely try it out again.

At 10 PM punctual the party came to a close and we said our good-byes. Off to the rest of our night, which ended in different parts of Brooklyn.

Overall we had a blast and made a few new friends. I am also quite ecstatic to see which new creations Mo comes up with the next time. Her collection can be found online or at her store in SoHo at 262 Mott St.

Photo A Day: May 4 Through 6

What a fun weekend has passed! And thanks to the new challenge I have the chance to update you a bit more with pictures from my personal life and thoughts on it…

I still haven’t figured out if I want to post a picture every day or every week, so maybe I’ll just keep it at the three-day-cycle. It comes quite in handy for the schedule I have going on right now!

A fun Friday night at my very first store launch party in SoHo. More to come soon in a separate post but this is the scene in which I take a shot with some random Asian girls during the evening. We ended up going to Williamsburg after this and I stayed out until late, but that particular Friday started with a bam!

A tribute to my 2 and a half days spent in London last September. I had so much fun exploring the Brit capital, I immediately had to think of this picture when the photo challenge mentioned the word bird. Pidgeons next to the London Eye – who would not feel travel sick?

This is it! The most recent picture you’ll be seeing of me! Shot today in Coney Island, after spending a fabulous Sunday afternoon there. And no, summer is not here yet, but it doesn’t mean I cannot go to the beach, right? Despite the weather, I still had to bundle up a bit… I am quite confused as to how and when summer will start in the City but I am happy once it does. Getting rid of the rainy weather is a must!

One Russian-Italian Wedding (II)

After a group picture outside, it was time to celebrate the wedding. The couple’s family had organized a little after-party in the ballroom of a small village close-by. For this type of region, these rooms are common to celebrate a wedding, birthday, or other bigger parties in. Since neither the bride nor the groom could have provided enough space at their homes, they decided to go with this option. Other times you see the event take place in a ballroom of a hotel.

A catering group provided the necessary food which was served pretty soon after the guests showed up. First a few appetizers. Then a speech by the bride and groom thanking everyone for showing up and wishing an eventful rest of the day. Meanwhile, we are talking about 12:00 PM noontime, there is still plenty of time for games, dances, and fun. A toast to everyone. A few glasses of champagne are flowing. Then the big meal starts: Tasteful salmon and beef dishes combined with thick veggie layers. All flavored in just the right way and served in juicy sauces.

After a small interlude of eating, it’s time for the first game. Well, first the bride’s mother has to come up with a toast. She hands another Russian girl a script. Together they perform on stage. The girl first reads it down in Russian. Half of the guests laughs and oohs and aaahs. Then the mother recites it in German so that the other half of the guests can understand it. It is a traditional Russian poem with funny anecdotes about a husband who has to accept certain things about his wife (such as he shall not become angry with her in case she spends half of his income on nice tights).

Then my friends start searching for a bunch of party guests who want to pose a question on stage. The bride and groom are asked to be seated in a chair opposing each other. They are both equipped with a sign in her name and a sign in his name. Whenever a question applies to one of them, they are supposed to hold up the right sign. The guests ask questions such as “who made the first move when they first met in their favorite dance club” or “who utilizes their gym membership more often.” 12 different guests ask each of those 12 different questions. Surprisingly to us, the bride and groom get almost all of the questions right, meaning they apply the answer to only one person. Most of the time it is his name held up in the air. Whenever this tide is reached, the guest who asked the question has to throw some coins into the piggy bank.

People are starting to open up the vodka bottles which were nicely placed on the tables. All of a sudden the Russian table screams “Vojlra, vojlra!” which means “Kiss!” in English (native Russian speakers – please correct me!). The bride and groom fall into a ten second long kiss, as the Russians are counting down from ten on. Then they can finally let each other go. Ten minutes later the same bizarre scenario is repeated. And throughout the entire day and evening.

Time for our next game: A Russian tradition during which the bride’s shoe is being stolen by gypsies and therefore has to be won back. The gypsies are dressed up wedding guests who enter the room, swaying from side to side and holding a few bottles of vodka in their hands. Every guest is being forced to take a shot of the clear stuff and to pay a few coins for this shot. Only if the piggy bank carries enough money in it, can the shoe be released to the bride. The gypsies manage to get a total of €150 for the shoe, which equals about $200. Not bad for those 50 something remaining guests, eh?

These are just a few of a total of 10 games played throughout the day. In the afternoon the groom and bride become serious again and stand motionless next to each other. A waltz is sounded and they start their first dance as a couple. Soon thereafter the bride’s mother and father join in.

Then everyone is being invited for a photo session outside. We are still in April, which means Germany is cold. It can still have winter temperatures, but luckily the 7th was not too bad. Only a jacket was required, no mittens and scarfs. Everyone is thrilled to be a part of different groups that are shot with the couple. Some try to hide in the crowd. The children are excited as a playground is close by. This is also where we shot a few good portraits after the guests were back inside.

It’s time for a sweet break, so a few cakes and chocolates are served with coffee. Not yet a big wedding cake, and some are wondering what is up with that. All of a sudden a lot of wild dancing is happening on stage. The bride and groom are supposed to pick up coins that the relatives have dropped in fake hay. Everyone is trying to make their collection of the coins as hard as possible and steals some cents here and there only to throw them back on the ground. I guess another Russian tradition?

After this the flower bouquet is thrown. It lands right in my friend’s hands, who “just happened to be there,” as she likes to put it. Since she has neither a boyfriend nor any intentions on marrying soon, she thinks it a funny piece of coincidence that she caught it. The evening goes on. A game worth mentioning is something my friends and I have come up with. I believe it could have been very very good if only the guests had not been so drunk at 9 o’clock at night. Sigh. It is about painting pictures with people. Such as a girl who stands on a chair and has to extend her arms in front of her. This picture is called the long drought. In German, the word drought can mean either someone who is tall and thin or a fruitless period of time. Unfortunately, no one was willing to participate and the guests who eventually did were either too drunk to sit for long or they ruined the entire game. Fail, I guess! Next time it will be played earlier.

The game no one was capable of understanding...!

And now to the cake: At 10 PM, when some guests have already left, a gorgeous cake is being wheeled in by the bride’s family. It has three different flavors and is decorated by a bird. Supposedly another Russian tradition is to serve the cake at the end of the day and not, as in other cultures, after the main course.

And the wedding ends with one final ceremony: A circle of candles is being arranged in the middle of the room. The bride is seated in between it. Her mother takes of her veil while sad music is being played. The female guests are slowly walking around the outside of the circle (and trying to not get burned). This is the mother who is letting her daughter go and giving her up for the wife she now is.

So as you can tell, the wedding was a success for everyone. It was fun, it was serious, it was sad, it was goofy and it was definitely anything but boring. And I don’t know which impressions I like to keep most: My friend helplessly being swirled around by an old Russian guy. My other friend struggling to catch the audience’s attention during the game. Whichever one, they both make for two great memories of a truly amazing day!

The End!

One Russian-Italian Wedding (I)

The main reason for my trip back home was not spending time with my family in the countryside. It also was not seeing my friends back in Heidelberg. Although I gladly did both.

The main reason for this trip was a wedding from my two close friends. After seven wicked years of being together they finally decided to tie the knot and became engaged last September. And no, they are not one of those couples who are engaged for five years straight. They are one of those couples who know fairly well what they want. So they planned on having their ceremony pretty timely and the date was set for April 7, 2012. Therefore, I decided to combine a few purposeful visits and other necessities in one and to book my flight back to Deutschland in spring of this year.

An interesting fact about this wedding is that SHE is originally from Russia, although whereabouts I do not know. She claims it is five hours from Moscow and not worth knowing the name of the town. HE is fully Italian, with both of his parents having immigrated to Germany in the late 70ies. He was born in Germany but grew up bilingual and still has a big Italian family in the center of Bella Italia. This mix of Russian and Italian being wed in Germany definitely made for a quite unusual ceremony – not all too common for us folks, either.

After our bachelorette party (see more here) and some other preparations the week before the Big Day, my friends and I excitedly packed our utensils together and made our way to the official wedding ceremony held in a small town in the middle of the Eifel.

In Germany, you have two different types of weddings: One is held at the civil registry’s office. The other is held at a church. Couples can choose to either do both or only one. The one at the registrar’s office is required in this country, so it is of utmost importance to have this one done first. Sometimes, lovers choose to first go with the official one and then go with the church wedding two months later. Other times, spouses-to-be follow up on these two dates fairly fast, such as only a few days or weeks apart.

In my friends’ case, they decided to go with the official ceremony first and have not yet planned when they want to be wed in a church. I assume that fiscal reasons have played a big role in their decision-making – she is a student and he is the only breadwinner of the family. For whatever reasons – they were planning on a rather small and intimate party on their big day. Their close friends and family were the only ones invited. All in all, the group still composed a merry 60 people – so not as small as they had originally intended.

Everyone met in front of the civil registry at 10:30AM on Easter Saturday (you know, the Saturday before Easter Sunday but after Good Friday). The couple was invited in first, as they still had to discuss certain details with the registrar. Questions such as who keeps whose name and who hands over the rings are probably usual for this type of occasion. Then we were invited to join the couple in the room it was all scheduled to take place. Since they only had a mere 40 seats, some people stayed outside and watched the ceremony unfold. I had a good view, as I was supposed to take some good shots, and was therefore located right behind the registrar. She had already jokingly told me that as long as I do not sit on her lap she does not care what I do and how I shoot. I promised that would not be of necessity and was able to keep my promise throughout the following half hour.

The groom’s best man is usually the person to hand over the rings. But in this case, the registrar invited a small 8-year-old girl to do the honors (for whatever reason I do not know, maybe she wanted to include everyone in the room). So the girl sat next to the groom and held the rings while the standard questions where being asked. After accepting each other as husband and wife, they both kissed. Then the little girl handed them the rings and they both put them on each other’s hands. Then, the newly-weds were invited up front where they had to sign a sheet together with their best man and maid of honor. This sheet symbolizes the day they both were married and it is handed to a couple together with a leather portfolio. Other witnesses and guests traditionally sign the sheet, which the couple gets to keep as a record.

Lots of hugging and kissing happened hereafter. The bride and groom were congratulated by each guest individually, starting with their family and ending with their friends.

[For more pictures on the Wedding, go to A Picture Every Day: A Wedding – The Official Pictures]

First Stop: Cologne!

I first stayed with my family. My friends from high school and I pretty much live in the boonies. Or country-ville. Call it whatever you want. And Saturday was my first big event: My friend’s bachelorette party in Cologne. She had planned on taking five of her girlfriends with her and having a good time in Germany’s media capital. The plan was to rent out a room for all of us, so that we could party until the morning and then ride home after having slept and eaten breakfast somewhere.

Since none of us wanted to take a car, we decided to rely on Germany’s transport: Die Deutsche Bahn (see more stories on this “reliable” mean of travel here). So we took a train from the small town of Bitburg to the big city of Köln. Because of miscommunication, the girls failed to mention to me when exactly this train was taking off from Bitburg. All of a sudden one of my friends calls me in the early afternoon on Saturday, my second day home. “What do you mean you are still having breakfast?,” she practically yelled into my ear. “Don’t you know that our train is leaving in half an hour?” The bun I was munching on fell out of my hand and I didn’t know what to grab first. Completely jet-lagged from the night before I hadn’t communicated with anyone yet aside from my family and thus was not in the clear as to when everything was going down. I had a good 15 mins to take a quick shower, throw a decent party dress and make-up into an overnight bag, and to look halfway awake until my friend’s car held outside of our house. So much to having a good welcome back home!

We still made it all on time to the probably smallest train station ever invented in history and nothing else too eventful happened aside from the RE being only 2 minutes late. Two short minutes sound like a joke to other countries, I know. But times to transfer are very tightly defined in Europe; therefore we were lucky that we did not have to switch trains at any other station.

Two hours later we made it to Cologne’s main train station.There is nothing too extraordinary to see inside the station but once you step outside you’re almost hit with the epitome of this city: the one and only Dome. The Kölner Dom is a roughly 800 year old cathedral symbolizing Roman Catholicism. Its impressive height and black color are the two features that stand out as it towers over the Midtown Köln. I was once “forced” to walk up all of those 533 steps to the top when we did a school trip to this wonderful city and cathedral. I know it took us quite a while until we stood at the very top, completely out of breath, but we had a nice view over the town. It supposedly is the third highest church building in the world and it well deserves this title.

The six of us made our way to the hotel the best friend of the bride-to-be had booked. One thing I found after living in New York for so long is that getting around in other cities becomes less and less difficult. It didn’t take long at all to navigate through the small streets of the city. Distances on the map looked further apart than they actually were. So 7 minutes later we looked up and were in another typical place for Germany: A Turkish Viertel. Yup, our country has a high percentage of Turkish immigrants who all came here from the 60ies on. Initially they were supposed to help out the Germans during the economy bloom that happened in the late fifties, but of course most of the Turks decided to stay for good (not surprisingly, coming from poor parts of Turkey they had a much better chance to raise their families in a healthy and wealthier way than in their home country). Cologne has the reputation of being the city with one of the highest population of Turkish immigrants. We ran across a good amount of them during our stay. I guess my friend had not really considered the “foreign” names of shops and stores surrounding the hotel as “awkward” or out of the ordinary when she booked the rooms. Well, it was a decent spot to be as the rooms offered enough space, enough bathrooms, and even a TV in one. Looking at the cost-product relationship, we had made a pretty sweet deal.

After getting ready and pre-gaming a bit, we made our way towards the inner city of Köln. Past the Dom again. Stopping for some pictures and laughs. Then right into the pedestrian zone, which offers one store next to another. One girl was convinced that we ALL had to wear red roses in our hair, so the rest of us four bachelorette party helpers stopped at an accessories boutique to get some overpriced cute-looking red flowers to clip on our heads. There, first mission accomplished!

Us at dinner

Since the bride was in the mood for Chinese food (for whatever reason I do not know), we wandered around and found one in a small side street away from the commercial zone. The food was good, the portions were huge, and they were served on a wheel, which made everyone want to spin it and try each other’s food. One girl had come up with funny games she wanted everyone to play. One of mine was to dial a random cell phone number and tell the person who picked up about the wedding. After three tries I got a tired male voice on the phone who hung up after ten seconds without saying another word. Fail!

My second role was to convince the bride-to-be about how great her husband-to-be is – constantly. Another friend had to find a total of ten guys throughout the night who were willing to take a picture with her. Both of us got a chance to improve during the game, since we ran across a bachelor group roaming the streets of Cologne. One of the guys humorously proposed to our bachelorette, causing a lot of laughs and giggles from both sides and also forcing me to interfere, as I had to convince her how great her fiancé really was. The other girl shot six guys at once, which was good from her side.

Then we strolled on to the subway station and took it two stops down to an area called “Friesenplatz”. It is here where you will find most of the bars and clubs, one next to another. After a quick hop into a bar where we waited almost forever for our drinks (but we weren’t the only ones, the staff had everyone’s order confused, it appeared) and cheering the group up, we ended up in a club called Club einundfünfzig (Club 51). Here, another girl fulfilled her chore: Buying a cute guy a drink. A different friend had to constantly accompany the bride to the bathroom whenever she felt like she had to go. The music was good, the crowd was fine, and we spent a good 2 hours over there.

Around 2 AM we went to a joint next door called Klapsmühle, roughly translated to “nuthouse” (in the sense of mentally disturbed). Half of the group did not enjoy the time there, as we were first rudely pushed out of the way by the employees who were trying to dump some empty glasses at the bar. And then some other guys just pushed another girl out of their way without even a word of excuse, which really ticked her off. So it happened to be a bad start and only the bachelorette found some good entertainment in the music and the people. Which was fine, it really was her night. At the end, around five o’clock, they started playing old school German songs which only exist during Fasching and that’s when we started rocking the dance floor. I hadn’t had so much fun in a long time. It really makes you appreciate another country’s culture when at least the music is not overgeneralized English trash but simple folklore in native language. We snuck out afterwards and had a late-night snack at a Kebab house. Döner for us, before we took the subway back to our hotel. Supposedly it starts running again at 5:30 in the morning, and we were just in time to catch it. After a couple of hours of sleep, we had a decent German breakfast consisting of yogurt, buns called Brötchen, and delicious cheese before it went back to the Eifel via train.

Kölner U-Bahn aka Subway

An eventful first weekend with a fun bachelorette party had passed and it was one more week to the big wedding.

Welcome to the New Year!

January 2, 2012 (!)!

And I am finally able to drag myself in front of a computer, not to mention to sit and stand. This has indeed been my first New Year’s celebration in the city of millions. As last year I had been making a trip out to visit some family in Philly (more to come in a different post, that is a promise), this year there was no back-up plan to escape the New Year’s Eve madness surrounding the Big Apple.
I know, most tourists come here just FOR this season. However, people who actually LIVE here try to stay away from Manhattan as much as they can. It’s just no fun being squashed in the horrendous mass of foreigners and locals that has mysteriously accumulated over night at Times Square. I already had this experience on an unforgettable July 4th (read more here) – I was definitely not in the mood to experience it another time.

My friends all had their neat plans of evasion laid out. Most were out of town. Off to Chicago, New Orleans or other exotic places. I knew I would stay in Brooklyn. There was no way I would have paid those $200 for a club in the Meatpacking District just for one night. This price did not necessarily include an open bar. Yes, New York can be ridiculously overpriced during certain times. So Brooklyn posed to be the (fiscally) safer solution. Most likely Williamsburg, as there were more options in bars than in the Slope. A few friends and I got together earlier on in the last day of 2011 (sounds so … memorable!). A few glasses of champagne kept the party rolling. At around 10 PM we made our way to the first stop during that NYE: Night of Joy, a quaint bar with an open rooftop for hot summer days and a comfortable interior in 20ies style for cold winter months. Which was exactly the bizarre thing: This year both Christmas and New Year’s have been excitingly warm. Not even close to freezing temperatures. Rewind to one year ago and you would have found us in the midst of mud puddles and snow mountains… Brrr!

One of those many glasses of champagne...

This time you wouldn’t have needed a winter jacket, not necessarily. So hanging out during that night was a bunch of fun. Of course there were no fireworks. New York is one of those weird cities were fireworks are only allowed on July 4th. I guess if you want to feel the crackles and see some colors, you shouldn’t stay here. I didn’t really mind it this year. We still headed outside around midnight, albeit there was not much to see outside. Our group made friends with three nice French people, who were a bit disappointed with how their night was going. “Paris is the best city to be in for New Year’s,” one claimed nostalgically. Well, if you want the big party, you better pay those 200 bucks, fella! Otherwise it’s private parties or bar-time over here.

(nostalgic) French people

Which turned out to be surprisingly fun this year! We went on to two other spots whose places I don’t remember and had a few more drinks. Everyone was out on the streets and having a good time.

The next morning and entire day was quite awful. I guess I spent my entire January 1 inside, a krass contrast compared to the day before. And I am about to swear to myself that I won’t drink for the next few weeks, but we will see how that goes. The first day of 2012 was also surprisingly warm. With 10 Celsius it almost felt like spring! Today winter has arrived though. Two more months for a change in weather to kick in.

I hope you had a good time, too, and Happy New Year from the City of 8 Million!

THE BIG 25 and Other Thoughts

It was my friend’s 25th birthday yesterday.

A quarter century of life packed into that day. 25 years, twenty-five years… And seven years ago, when we were 18, it seemed to be such an adult age. The time at which you have your own family and a steady job. The time at which you are finished with your studies, don’t feel insecure about yourself and will be good to go in life until you the day you die. Also the time at which you develop your first wrinkles and start slacking off body-wise.

Or maybe it was only me who imagined the future to be like that? Turns out that 25 years is actually a pretty young age. It’s three good years past the Bachelor’s, right into a Master’s or PhD degree, which my friend is currently pursuing. I would also like to generalize that this is not the typical time anymore at which my generation marries and has children. At least in my circle of friends it has stayed like this. And my body is still pretty fit when I use the treadmill in the gym. I haven’t found consistent wrinkles in my face yet, either. But who am I, to talk about 25 years of age, for I am only 24. Things can change in less than a year, or so I have been told!

Throughout the past, friendships have stayed, and many more have been formed, but surprisingly some valuable good ones have resisted the storm of the youth. When asking me seven years ago if I would have thought to still be in touch with the same clique I am friends with now, I would have highly doubted this. But, most importantly, I consider this to be a good thing, when looking back at the time invested into these relationships. Now if it only felt that way, but it often does not. It seems like time from high school has only been a blink away and all of a sudden everyone has grown up but somehow not really.

So, in the upcoming month of November, three other of my good friends will be celebrating their birthdays. Another big 25. One happy 26. And even a lucky 28. The third 25 will come around in February, four months from now. I cannot stop myself from thinking that this is the second time in a row I am missing out on all of these special days. Last year I was already here and this year I am still here, a continent and an ocean away from the crowd.

It’s not that I regret being so far away. But on occasions like these I wish I could just hop on a plane and spend a weekend at home. When thinking about my own 25th birthday coming up next year, I am pondering on what to do. As you might recall from Birthday Bash, my last birthday did not go too well in terms of being surrounded by friends. Next year I want to actively change the necessary ingredients about this, shake them up, and throw them into the air to create a fine day.

Certain birthdays are mile stones in our individual history. Sweet 16, Independent 18 (for Europeans), Legal 21 (for Americans), Big 25, and Dirty 30, to begin with. It would be nice to share these with the right kind of people. But lately it seems as if the clique is more and more dispersing, with exchange semesters, jobs abroad, and other adventures going on. So I suppose the next time we really do come together will be a fine occasion to celebrate all these birthdays in unison. To value the time spent with each other. And to look forward to an age during which we might not be separated by space and can cheerfully celebrate in a group again.

Time Out New York: Party Flukes in Chinatown and Tribeca

There is this online magazine called Time Out New York. It is supposed to give you good advice on New York City insider events, music gigs, and, most importantly, parties during the week and on the weekend. When you visit its Web site, you see a brilliantly colorful home page made up of juicy hints and tips of what to do in your leisure time. The make-up of the site is temptingly fashionable and up-to-date, so that it’s quite a joy to read. Therefore, it’s no wonder the Roomie is, or rather, used to be a big fan of this mag.

When we first roomed together, she always talked about what a great party was going on at this club and that bar according to Time Out, and that one day we should try it out. Well, this one day happened to come around in the spring, on a nice Friday evening in May. Spontaneously we decided to try our luck and go for a spot in Chinatown, not too far from the Canal Street stop.

Now I happened to already have lived here a bit over a year.
The only other experience I had with Chinatown was in my first few months, when my friend and I tried out the infamous “Happy Endings” on a Tuesday night. Happy Endings sounded so promising, so tempting, and yet it turned out to be a true disappointment. Guess it had been a hot insider spot back in the days – five years ago! Or maybe even the summer before. But of course it was out and done with when we stopped by. Only some lonesome drug addicts were willing to share the bar with us, the dance floor had not even opened up. Back to my story: Happy Ending hat not been too promising. So I didn’t really get my hopes up for this joint. After getting lost a couple of times and then finding the right way, we wandered off the beaten paths and slouched closer to the awaited club night. We sort of did wonder why no one was on the streets anymore. After all, this was supposed to be the “hottest thing to do on a Friday night.” But then we entered Lafayette Street and drew closer to the given address. Two lonely cowboys bouncers stood in front of a ragged-up building. We asked if this was Old Firehouse and they said yes. They also said we stood no chance to get inside as there was a private party going on. I had already questioned their intelligence from their previous appearance but when I asked the guy if there was usually something going on here, he just sneered at me and said: “That’s not getting you in tonight!” Rude Bastard! He then yelled “nice body” behind us as we turned our backs and marched off, but I made sure to respond with a well-aimed “Compared to yours it is!,” until we finally vanished around the corner. Thank you Time Out New York for driving us towards the deepest ghetto parts of Chi-town.

Another story I have to share is the one happening in Tribeca: Fast-forward one month and this time I was stupid enough to consult Time Out NY for a Tuesday evening adventure. There was this advertised rock party, “wildest thing going on during the week,” happening from 10 PM on, located close to the Green House. So we got off at Spring St and walked past high-class-restaurants and wide street crossings towards it. The closer we came, the less commercialized the area looked like and the more deserted it seemed. With my heart still filled with hope for a real “grunge rock party,” I drew closer and saw a flickering light in the middle of the road. It must there! But at 10:15 PM, when the doors should have been wide open already, bartenders and busboys were unloading their drinks and still stocking up the bar. No one was inside except for the bouncer who came out after 5 minutes. Didn’t look like a wild party to us! To make matters worse, the bouncer confirmed our suspicion and pointed out that the bar usually opens at 11 PM. No rock music had been played in over a year, he said. What a disappointment! The Roomie just laughed and said it was okay, as she had erroneously misled us to that Chinatown dump the last time, too. So we just walked back, past the Green House, a popular gay club on that night, had a talk with the guys who were standing in line at 10 PM already to get in first (and didn’t think we would fit the crowd, rudos!) and just went on to the Meatpacking District.

So if you ever make the mistake to actually listen to Time Out New York’s brilliant weekend and party tips, do not say I’ve never warned you! I’ve did it in an entire, hand-written post!
Cheers.