Tag: Cologne

Germany: One Year On

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Nürnberg old town

It’s strange to think that I’ve been living in Germany for more than a year now. I feel like this time has flown by in the blink of an eye! But my initial reaction to the country still hasn’t changed – I really love living here and the Germans make life so easy.

Here are some German situations that I don’t even bat an eyelid at anymore:

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Cologne Cathedral

Open invitations

Something that constantly surprised me at the start (and I admit, it still sometimes does) is that I got invited to everything. I must have been used to people being more exclusive and ‘invite only’ with their gatherings, because I found that Germans were the complete opposite – so warm and welcoming.

Dinners, barbecues, birthday parties of a friend-of-a-friend’s, it didn’t matter; I was invited along to them all. Even if the person that invited me was the only person I knew there and I felt like I was gate-crashing the event.

It didn’t even matter that I couldn’t speak German – time and time again I found that the whole group at the gathering would completely switch to English for me, even when talking amongst themselves. I was baffled. And totally charmed. Way to go Germany for making the Hobbit in the room feel completely welcome!

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Lüneburg

Street harassment…or lack thereof

One of the very best things that I have experienced since being in Germany is the lack of street harassment.

The pure joy I feel every day at being able to walk the streets day or night and not be whistled at, honked at, catcalled out of car windows or shouted at by leering men passing by is so damn great. And literally all of these things are what I had to endure on a daily basis even just walking down my own street back home. But this surprises no woman – we have all been through this and continue to go through this public victimisation regularly.

Of course, bigger cities in Germany may be a different story, but this is from my personal experience living in a small Bavarian city. It’s so nice to know that in some places, everyone can be left alone to walk, run and bike in peace.

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Old town of Heidelberg

Jeans are the uniform

If you don’t know what to wear, put on your jeans and you’ll fit right in. This is what I would have told myself a year ago when I was fretting about what to wear to a birthday party that I’d been invited to out of the blue.

In Germany, jeans are the uniform. I don’t think I’d ever seen so many people in jeans until I came here! I would say that everyone dresses in a very practical manner. If it’s winter, you wear jeans and a jacket and if it’s summer, you wear jeans and a T-shirt.

You’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you go out in shorts when it’s only (gasp) 20 degrees…this is from experience. (Although I’d be in shorts even at 15 degrees back in NZ).

I’ve also always been used to dressing up when going out, even just to have a drink at the bar, but here, there is no such unwritten social rule. So jeans and a T-shirt to the bar it is – and I ain’t complaining!

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Oktoberfest in Munich

The customer service is so bad that it’s good

It’s always been said the Japanese and Germans get along well because they have some cultural norms in common, but boy, customer service is not one of them!

If you walk into a shop and get a greeting from the shop person, that’s a good sign, but the majority of the time you will be ignored, or grudgingly served like it is the last thing that they want to do. I’ve been in places where the shop assistants are openly chatting across the shop to each other and ignoring customers. A friend once said to me that his bank bluntly told him that there is no customer service there.

This would normally be regarded as a bad thing…but as an introvert, I absolutely love it.

I’ve always just really hated being spoken to in shops. The worst case scenario was when clothes shop assistants would follow me to the changing rooms and call through my door asking if they should bring another size…and I cringed every time. But here, I’m left totally alone to do my own thing, at my own pace, without the weird pressure they put on you to buy something. It’s a godsend, I tell you.

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The old post tower in Hamburg

Supermarket Master Packer (SMP) status

I never realised that the bag packers at supermarket checkouts were a luxury…until I came here and saw that no such job description exists.

When you’re at a German supermarket, you have to have a plan of attack before you go to the checkout because this is war…a war between you and the checkout operator.

They zap your groceries through as fast as greased lightning and if you’re not ready to bag your items just as quickly on the other side, you lose the fight and hold all of the next customers up, your groceries mixing up with theirs. I know, I’ve been there. The horrors. So here’s what you do:

  1. Load your groceries onto the conveyor belt. Make sure your heavy items go first and your fragile, easily squished items like tomatoes and bread goes last.
  2. Get your fabric tote bags ready and open (come on, you’re not paying extra for plastic bags).
  3. Have your wallet at the ready. Preferably nestled under your armpit for quick access.
  4. Start bagging your items as soon as they get zapped, alternating items between your bags so they will each end up with an even load. (You’ll gain a few extra seconds every time the checkout operator has to weigh your vegetables/fruit and look up the price of the bread you’re getting).
  5. Pay quickly with cash (and not all with small change).
  6. Smile, wish them a good day and walk away with your finely packed groceries and know that the battle has been won. (A big explosion goes off behind you and you keep walking in slow motion without looking back).

 

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Europe’s largest Buddhist temple in Düsseldorf

What do I miss?

As I’ve mentioned before, the one thing I’ve really missed since living in Europe is good (and affordable) Japanese food. And Indian food. And Thai food. And Vietnamese and Korean and Chinese food.

I’ve found that a lot of Asian cuisines tend to get lumped together here, under the umbrella term of ‘Asian Fusion’.  And even then, it’s usually just low quality Chinese food with some Thai curry options and a side of suspicious sushi. If you’re lucky enough to find a proper Japanese restaurant with real Japanese cooks, it’s likely to be upmarket and very expensive. (Unless you go to Düsseldorf. Yes please!)

I just really, really miss these different cuisines! Of course bigger cities will have more authentic Asian restaurants with reasonable prices, but there’s not much hope out here in the smaller ones. It makes me realise how spoilt for choice we are in New Zealand with our melting pot of different eateries on every street corner!

 


So, did you like my post about some of my German experiences?

Any other expats got something to add to the list? Let me know!


 

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Cologne: The Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour Concert

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On Saturday 20th June we were in Cologne for the Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour Concert and it was SO MUCH FUN. As I said in an earlier post, I’ve been listening to Taylor’s music since she first started nearly ten years ago and this was the first time I got to see her live, which was awesome.

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The golden tickets

Since Taylor and I are around the same age, I sort of feel like I’ve grown up with her through the years. Well written lyrics are really important to me in music, and I’ve always admired the way she writes and how honest she is in her songwriting. It takes a certain kind of strength to show your own vulnerability like that to strangers but I think that is also why everyone can relate to her songs so well.

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Lanxess Arena

The concert took place at Lanxess Arena in Cologne and it was a totally sold out show with 15,000 people all together! The concert was supposed to start at 7:30 PM, so we got there about half an hour early. After our bags were checked at the doors, we were each given a white plastic wristband that we were told would come in handy later.

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The making of Shake It Off

The arena was huge but to my absolute delight, our seats were about 10 metres from the right side of the stage so we had a really good view. While we waited for the show to start, the big screens in the arena played different video clips about Taylor.

Most of them I had seen before, like the making of the Shake It Off and Blank Space music videos and some I hadn’t seen; mini interview clips with Taylor about random things like what subject she liked in school (English) and didn’t like (Maths). There was also trivia quiz questions about Taylor and videos about her 1989 Secret Sessions.

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Opening act – James Bay

Seven thirty came and went and suddenly Taylor’s opening act James Bay was on stage. James sang most of the songs from his debut album Chaos And The Calm and of course, he left his most famous song Hold Back The River until last. His voice was amazing live!

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Welcome To New York!

After James Bay had finished and left the stage, we waited for about ten minutes and then the plastic wristbands we’d been given at the door all simultaneously started flashing in time to the opening beats of Welcome To New York and suddenly – there she was!

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New Romantics

TAYLOR. In the flesh! Ten metres away! It’s a pretty weird feeling to see someone that you’d only seen on screens for so long suddenly right in front of you, in real life, but it was an awesome moment none the less.

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I Knew You Were Trouble
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My favourite photo I took of Taylor

I guess I missed the memo about sign making because so many people in the crowd had prepared huge signs that lit up in the dark and they looked so cool along with the 15,000 wristbands that flashed different colours in time with the music. It was literally a sea of lights.

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Taylor’s eye on screen

I think everyone appreciates the effort of someone trying to speak their language and Taylor used a couple of German words during the show. She said Köln instead of Cologne, she counted the audience down with eins zwei drei and I even heard her say wunderbar a couple of times.

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15,000 wristbands lit up in How You Get The Girl

I have to say my favourite stage performance was probably How You Get The Girl. The stage went dark and Taylor’s dress lit up in pink lights as all of her dancers did their dance sequence with umbrellas and suits that lit up in different colours. It looked so cool, I wish I had recorded that one!

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Acoustic version of Wonderland

For the next few songs, the runway part of the stage suddenly moved upwards and around so that Taylor was sailing 360 degrees over the crowd whilst singing. She made the audience sing the ‘eh eh eh’ background vocals as she sang an acoustic version of Wonderland on her guitar.

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Taylor on screen

In between songs, Taylor would just chat to the audience, first thanking everyone for travelling such long distances to get to the concert and giving up their Saturday night for her.

Then she went on to drop pearls of wisdom to her largely impressionable audience about being yourself and saying that making mistakes and failing does not make you damaged goods, but makes you a stronger and wiser person instead – much stronger than someone who didn’t make any mistakes at all.

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Love Story remix

After introducing the song as her first international hit, Taylor sang a remixed version of Love Story. I really wonder how many times she has sung this song over the past nine years or so – do you think artists can get tired of singing their own songs?

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Style

Style is one of my favourites from 1989 and the live version did not disappoint! I actually recorded this one, so I will try and put up the video soon.

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Haim

In between songs, some interviews with Taylor’s friends would come on screen. The clips featured Abigail Anderson, Karlie Kloss, Lena Dunham, Jaime King, Selena Gomez, Lily Aldridge, Cara Delevinge and (my favourite) Haim. They talked about the first time they met Taylor, when they heard 1989 first, what they do when they all hang out and even some advice about love and relationships.

I really like this female celebrity friendship thing that Taylor promotes; all too often in our patriarchal society we’re taught to view other women as competition to tear down but it’s so refreshing to see famous and powerful women banding together as friends. We we are truly at our best when we build each other up.

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Enchanted/Wildest Dreams mash up

My favourite vocal performance was definitely when Taylor sang a mash up of Enchanted and Wildest Dreams on piano. These two are right up there in my all time favourites and the mash up of the two was just magic.

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Out Of The Woods

After the piano mash up, Taylor’s ball gown turned into a one piece sparkly tree branch patterned suit – so it was obviously time for Out Of The Woods. The video clip on screen featured two foxes running through the forest (naturally) and Taylor’s dancers were on stage waving about huge paper airplanes attached to poles.

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We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

After Taylor sang Bad Blood, she suddenly got out an electric guitar and started playing an awesome rock version of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. I really like how she changes the arrangements of her older songs to make them different for the concert, like with the Love Story remix and Enchanted mash up too.

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Paper confetti rain

Last but not least was of course Shake It Off, which ended the concert with a bang (literally, because fireworks went off). The show was basically a two and a half hour Taylor mass dance party and it was so much fun – there was never a dull moment! I would definitely go again if I had the chance…thanks for the memories Taylor!

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Auf Wiedersehen Köln!

 


So, did you enjoy my post about Taylor’s concert?

Have you already been to/planning to go to one of her 1989 Tour dates?


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Cologne: The Famous Cologne Cathedral And The Schildergasse Shopping Street

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Cologne Cathedral

On Saturday we took a six hour train ride from Passau to Cologne or Köln for the Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour Concert. Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany and is most famous for its massive Cologne Cathedral or Kölner Dom.

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Love padlocks on the Hohenzollern Bridge

To get to the Cologne Cathedral, we had to cross the Rhine river by walking over the Hohenzollern Bridge, which is the most heavily used railway bridge in Germany with more than 1,200 trains crossing it daily. As you can see from the photo, the bridge is also popular for other reasons – mainly as a place for couples to attach their love locks.

Attaching padlocks to famous landmarks with lovers’ names inscribed on them is a popular trend around the world but it can also cause pretty big problems. Just earlier this month, love locks were taken down from the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris because the weight of all of the padlocks made part of the bridge collapse.

In 2009 the bridge operator of the Hohenzollern Bridge also threatened to take down the love locks, but gave up after public opposition.

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The Cologne Cathedral is the city’s most famous and popular landmark, drawing in an average of 20,000 tourists a day. The building is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and stands tall at a height of 157 metres. It is also classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Inside the Cologne Cathedral

This cathedral was huge but so, so busy. The amount of tourists milling around inside the building sort of ruined the whole church experience for me, but the architecture style and sheer size of it was awe inspiring, none the less.

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Found my name amidst all of the graffiti!

And for some crazy reason we decided to pay money to climb more than 530 stone steps to the viewing platform of the Cologne Cathedral, which was 97 metres high. The spiral staircase was narrow and full of so many tourists going up and down that the 30 minute return walk quickly turned into more than an hour. (I don’t recommend doing this if you’re in a hurry or don’t have much time!)

When we got to the top, we had a 360 degree view of the city, which was pretty cool. What was not cool however, was the amount of graffiti over literally every surface of the old stone walls and stairwells. Was it really necessary for visitors to deface every possible surface of a historic landmark? (And bridges too, for that matter!)

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Great St. Martin Church

Another famous Cologne landmark is the Great St. Martin Church, which is a Romanesque Catholic church.

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Primark building with an ice cream sculpture on top

Now, what is a trip to a big city without having some shopping time, right? We got to go to the massive Primark store in the Neumarkt plaza, which is a huge clothing shop that is popular across Europe.

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Schildergasse shopping street

The Schildergasse is the busiest shopping street in Europe, with more than 13,000 people passing through every hour. The street had all of the usual suspects like H & M, Mango, Vero Moda, C & A, Bijou Bridgette – just bigger versions of them. Every shopper’s paradise!

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Our hotel room number – perfect for the occasion!

Luckily for us, the hotel we booked was a five minute walk to the arena where the concert was on and the Cathedral, shopping precinct and railway and bus station were all in walking distance – which helped a lot. I really enjoyed our whirlwind trip to Cologne, besides the really cold weather, and the concert made it especially worth it – even the 9 hour bus ride home!

 


So, did you learn something new about Cologne?

Click the button below for my next post about the Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour Concert!


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Amy’s Art: My DIY Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour T-shirt

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We’re off to Cologne tomorrow to see Taylor Swift live at Lanxess Arena for her 1989 World Tour and I am SO EXCITED. I’ve been listening to Taylor since I was a young whippersnapper in her Tim McGraw and Our Song days, which is nearly ten years ago now (man, she has done a lot in that time).

I missed her the last time she was in New Zealand for her Red Tour and the 1989 Tour isn’t even going there this time, so I was determined not to miss this opportunity while I was in Germany. Plus, my sweet Schnucki got me tickets last Christmas (thank you!). So in honour of this special occasion, I decided to paint a T-shirt for tomorrow night.

Now, in an ideal world where I would actually prepare things in advance, I would have drawn up a design weeks ago and then sent it away to get professionally printed onto a T-shirt. But this is the real world and I am a lazy person that only does things at the last minute and under pressure. So…here we go.

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First, I went out and bought a basic white T-shirt at H & M. I think I got it for  just under five Euros.

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I got a piece of cardboard and put it inside the top and stretched the fabric over it as tight as it would go, then pegged all of the corners down. This would make it easier to paint on and keep everything in its place.

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Next, I got my trusty Acrylic Gesso out and painted a circle on my T-shirt board. The Gesso provides a nice foundation for the acrylic paint, which I was going to use afterwards. Again, in a perfect world, I would have used proper fabric paint so the top could be washed and worn again, but I was running out of time and resources, so acrylic paint was just going to have to do.

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Now it was time to block out the main shapes and colours with acrylic.

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Then it was time for some detail. I always liked the seagull imagery used on the 1989 CD cover, so I knew I wanted to incorporate that into my painting somehow.

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And then a little more detail and…we’re done! Easy peasy. I still wish I had gotten onto this quicker and had a design professionally printed but maybe next time, huh.

 


So, did you like my T-shirt design?

Are you going to any of the Taylor Swift 1989 Tour dates too?


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