drachenfells
Germany, History, Landscapes, Photography

Photography: Drachenfels

I got my camera as a gift years ago, but I’ve only become serious about taking pictures in the last six months or so. I’ve really gained respect for photography as an art form and I’m starting to focus on developing my own skills as a photographer, rather than only focusing on video.

The boyfriend and I try to go on a new adventure every Saturday, and earlier this month we went to Drachenfels, which is some kind of something that may involve two castles, a waterfall, and a bunch of paths in the woods outside of a beautiful little village between Bonn and Cologne. I’m not really sure which part of the pretty-old-things complex/village is Drachenfels specifically, but drachen means dragon in German, so doesn’t really matter – basically all-over awesome.

I loved how German it was. Cologne, and the surrounding cities, while of course ‘German’, are more modernized and sort of mass-marketed than the old villages. I saw a lot of the traditional German styles my first time in Germany, and I loved it then and miss it now.

Awesome fancy wood beams.

Awesome fancy wood beams.

Super German sign. No idea what it says.

Super German sign. No idea what it says.

And without further ado – my first photography post ever! Let me know what you think, and if you have any advice or suggestions for improvement, let ‘em fly.

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Germany, Photography, Thoughts

The Drunkfest-Contradiction that is Germany’s Karneval

I’ve just lived through my first Karneval as an honorary Kölner, and nothing else I have seen thus far so perfectly exemplifies the strange contradictions that make up German culture.

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Germans are known to be efficient, direct, and somewhat humourless. They are known for their powerhouse economy, a bunch of scientific and artistic achievements, trying to take over the world twice, and beer. Less well known, but equally valid, is their intense eye contact, innate need to explain jokes after the fact, and a propensity for Jack Wolfskin outerwear.

Now that I’ve lived here for two years the German view of the world, and how it affects every aspect of their lives, is beginning to slowly make sense, and I will attempt to explain it here:

Germans never show up late and always follow the rules of a party. Meaning if the entire city is invited to a giant costume party where everyone is supposed to sing the same songs and get drunk in the streets, they show up promptly, in their costumes, already hammered.

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There were about five more of them, all equally fabulous.

Germans do everything with a single-minded intensity, which means they work hard, and play equally hard. Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, other dressing up and drinking holidays in the States – one day. Karneval? THREE MONTHS, ending in one WEEK of constant madness.

One tiny segment of the late-night drunk parade.

One tiny segment of the late-night drunk parade, day three.

Germans have very serious faces. They just have resting intense-face. Which makes it particularly fun when they wear clown noses and/or dress like a giant banana.

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Dejected bananas.

Dejected bananas.

Germans answer questions honestly. Respected adults can (and do) answer questions like, “What did you do last night?” with “I drank twelve beers and threw up in a plant outside the bar,” if that’s what they actually did last night.

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Mr. Smooth

Patches

Mr. Patches

Germans do not feel cold, as exemplified by all these people outside, because it was super damn cold.

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People in costumes – and also George R. R. Martin.

Germans don’t mind trashing the streets. They are totes fine with waking up super damn early and cleaning it all up again by 9am.

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Police barricade? Pfffft.

Germans are unfazed – unless you start singing Kölle Alaaf, in which case everyone will immediately stop what they’re doing and sing. (This works similarly with a certain specific kind of hooting – my theory is that this is the secret German mating call.)

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Germans view drinking like child birth and grocery shopping – it’s just another part of life. The aforementioned respected adults have no problem talking about their drunken exploits, or dressing up in costume and drinking madly in the streets. The whole American drinking culture is wrapped up in shame and prejudice – either you’re a ‘cool’ young kid drinking irresponsibly, you’re a slightly more responsible young person still drinking to be ‘cool’ or to find someone to have sex with, or you’re middle-aged and drinking is reserved for family gatherings or alone at home. German drinking culture is consistent whether you are 17 or 77 – they go to bars, they go out on the streets, they sing songs and yell and laugh, then stagger home.

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I couldn’t get over how serious everyone was followed by such reckless abandon – but watching them, I began to realise. The beauty of the contradiction between the dignified, hard-working German and the masses of costumed fiends in the streets is that it is not a contradiction at all. We as Americans have a tendency to prioritize appearance over substance, form over function. Germans are the opposite of that in every way. Germans say what they mean and mean what they say. They do with a similar bluntness and lack of shame. They cut straight to the truth, and if the truth is that you are good to your family or good at your job, whether it be as a janitor, student, account executive, or politician, it doesn’t matter how you look or how drunk you get in your free time.

Is it not the appearance that matters, it is the truth – which makes the Karneval tradition of silly disguise a much deeper, more interesting topic than the drunkfest it first appears to be.

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Evil Schemes, Germany, Thoughts

How I Dealt With My Crazy A-Hole Neighbor

Last night was cray. Good news – the police in Germany are courteous, prompt, and super chill.

It started with a note, scrawled with orange and black marker in all-caps, determinedly scotch-taped to our box by the cellar door. We’d finished moving all our stuff up the stairs at midnight and had left a giant Ikea box leaning unobtrusively against the wall to be cut up and thrown away in the morning. We weren’t planning on leaving it there that long, but were helping the people who helped us move to move, so we’d left it there while we were moving furniture and boxes into another apartment uptown.

We returned at 3am. We read the note as best we could and took the offending box upstairs. It said something like:

YOU CAN’T JUST LEAVE BOXES HERE!! THE GARBAGE MAN WILL NOT TAKE IT UNTIL IT IS CUT INTO LITTLE PIECES AND PUT IN THE PAPER GARBAGE CAN!!! THAT’S THE BLUE ONE!!

Whoever had written the note had emerged from their apartment some time between midnight and 3am and looked around long enough to find the relatively-hidden box by the cellar door. We had tried to be as quiet as possible, but there was a chance we had awakened them, so them being awake at all wasn’t notable – what disturbed me was the determination with which they set out to discover as much as they could about the source of the noise after the noise had ceased. I imagined them lying awake in bed, waiting until the distant hum of our van’s motor had disappeared, then getting up from bed, finding some sort of clothing and shoes, wandering around the empty stairwell, finding the box, returning to their apartment, finding not just a black marker but also an orange one, writing the note with enough force to wrinkle the paper with ink, finding tape, going back out into the stairwell to tape the note onto the box, then going back to bed — all sometime between 1am and 3am!

I began to imagine who our friendly neighbor downstairs could be. We live on the second floor – the first floor apartment is home to a sweet 90 year-old German woman, and the apartment above us was empty at the time. I couldn’t imagine either of them writing such a note. We’d never seen the person who lived in the ground floor apartment, but we walked passed their windows every day and we’d never seen the heavy metal shutters Germans roll down over their windows at night open. The shutters were also covered in a century worth of dirt, so it was unlikely they were often opened when we weren’t looking.

We faintly heard the distant bark of a dog emanating from the ground floor apartment. It wasn’t annoying and what we could see of the dog itself from our balcony seemed friendly in a hyper way.

Then the next note appeared.

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It was a note perhaps for the garbage man, perhaps for whoever else it was who was taking out their garbage incorrectly. It basically says:

Apparently it doesn’t work without a note. So PLEASE LOOK AT THIS NOTE!!! The door to the garbage must be closed properly! You have to make sure it is LATCHED. Otherwise there is COLD AND VERMIN AND BURGLARS! The LATCH must be turned this direction!

The tone and general vehemence was perhaps a little much, but maybe they were particularly paranoid about burglars despite the extremely low crime rate in the city, and maybe they’d already asked the garbage man to please shut the door all the way multiple times and they’d just had enough at that point. Still – odd enough to take a picture and carefully Google translate every word.

I decided the person in the ground floor apartment was male, old, and full of hate for the world. He loved his dog (so he had that going for him), but he never left his apartment and lived in a musty world without sunlight. He hated everyone who made noise, or smiled, or took out their trash.

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Basically this guy.

Then the music began.

It had actually been going on for some time, but it took a few weeks for the boyfriend and I to realize there was a pattern. A couple times a week bass with enough force and ferocity to rattle us out of our deepest dreams would boom at us from the walls and floor. It was hard to identify the source of the sound. It played most often (and loudest) on Tuesdays, starting after midnight and ending around 8am.

Strangest of all – we became sure it was the same song played over and over for eight hours. The repetition of the bass line was too clear to ignore. We started humming to it and dancing to it in an effort to make it our own, and thus rid it of its power.

One night we passed a party in an apartment a building away from ours. We were shocked their bass could reach us in our apartment, but they must’ve had almighty subwoofers and were probably some sort of fraternity with a very odd and specific party-schedule. We closed the case on the loud music.

Basically these guys.

Basically these guys.

Then the third note appeared. It had replaced the first and the thickness and orange-ness of the letters clearly showed the growing ferocity.

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It was accompanied by a second note, this one taped directly to the garbage can.

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They’re super upset that the garbage man (or whoever) isn’t closing the door to the tiny garbage-courtyard thing properly. They’re also unhappy about the distribution of garbage per-can.

Aaaaaand another one:

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In this one they’re still upset about all the usual things, but they also ask if the offending garbage-handlers are retarded or not, and if the retarded garbage handlers had any further questions that they should contact the landlord.

Then we contacted the landlord.

He came over to help us with a small mold problem. We asked, as nonchalantly as possible, about the other tenants in the building. He was immediately alert. We told him we were asking because of a slew of aggressive, exclamation-mark-filled letters. Our landlord might possibly be the best landlord of all time. He is super excited about everything and immediately answers our questions regardless of the time of day – as in, we’ll send him an email, and four minutes later our phone rings. His English is great, but in trying to describe the ground floor tenant he was reduced to gestures.

“It is a woman. She can be nice. But she’s sick. She has…” Here he made his hand flat and ridged and placed it along the bridge of his nose. “… zwei Gesichtsstörung.”

“She has… two faces? She’s two-faced?”

“Yes. It is a disease. She is two people, different sides. But she can be nice.”

Then the boyfriend met her.

He was coming home one day the same time she was. And she wasn’t old or miserly or obviously full of malice. She was extremely nice. Offered to help us out if there was anything we needed. He offered the same back. They introduced themselves and shook hands. She was young, early thirties at the latest, with tightly curled red hair and an open face.

We were both excited and terrified. What did having a disease that made you two-faced, two people, mean exactly? Did she actually have split personality disorder? Did she know she had split personality disorder? Had the boyfriend met the nice one, and did the mean one only come out when garbage or sunlight was involved? Should we talk to her? Should we avoid her? Should we try to find out more things about her?

Then one sunny Wednesday morning the usual Tuesday night bass continued a bit longer, and as we headed down the stairs and out the front door to work, we realized:

It was her. The music had been her’s the whole time.

Now that we were closer, we could clearly understand the words that had only been hinted at in the groggy dark of 4am. It was rap, hard and full of pop-capping violence, and was playing so loudly the perpetually closed shutters rattled with each measured pound of the bass.

Now, last night.

The boyfriend and I arrived late after our trip from Belgium. Because of the Christmas holiday and a broken train it’d taken us five hours to travel a distance that usually took one and a half, and we were exhausted. We got home, threw our luggage all over the floor, and crawled into bed.

At 12:20, the music started.

We realized it was Tuesday night and thus in for a long one.

Unlike most nights, we were not awakened from a very deep sleep. We’d only just gone to bed. Also unlike most nights, we were simultaneously exhausted and oddly wired. Our cheeks were still cold from the wind outside. We could not fall asleep with that music.

I got dressed and went downstairs, determined to solve this like an adult but terrified her Mr. Hyde, violent gangsta rapper personality would be in control and she would pop a cap in my ass. I rang the doorbell over and over and knocked on the door, becoming more confident the longer there was no response. After a few minutes I went back upstairs.

We then texted our landlord a lengthy message about how we didn’t want to disturb him so late, but there was some really loud music coming from the bottom apartment and we weren’t sure what to do about it.

Forty seconds later, he called back.

“Call the police. I’ve texted you the number.” He said. “Let me know how it goes – don’t worry about waking me up.”

So I called the police. I was now imagining the consequences of the police showing up. What if she turned off the music before they arrived? What if she got angry and blew open our door and murdered us in our sleep? What if she started posting angry notes all over the place?

The police dispatcher was the single most cheerful person I have ever heard, minus the man who sold me ham this afternoon. She let out a chiming, “Good morning!” and asked what I needed and what my address was, then transferred me to the noise-complaint office.

(I’ve since learned 1 in 2 Germans have called the police at some point with a noise complaint. The police department may have actually had a noise-complaint office.)

The guy I talked to was super chill. He couldn’t speak English and my German was sloppy at best but he charged on like poor communication wasn’t ain’t nothin’ but a thang. He got my name and address and told me an officer should arrive soon to go up to our apartment, listen to the music, determine whether or not it was loud enough to justify a complaint, then deal with it accordingly. He didn’t make me feel like I was wasting his time, like I had something to hide, or like my complaint was a stupid one. At the end he said, “Yo! Ciao!” which only super hip trendy Germans do.

I hung up and waited. I was nervous but feeling like I’d done the right thing.

I woke up two hours later to the most almighty terrifying racket of my life.

Someone was screaming at the top of their lungs, not with fear, but with rage. The music was still blasting and I could easily distinguish her words above it, the shrieking was so loud.

She was screaming noooooooo noooooo and a bunch of curse words in English. She was also slamming her door open and shut as hard as she could.

It was this crazy crashing that startled me out of sleep with such force.

The lights were on and I was fully dressed. The police had never come, or if they had, they hadn’t tried to ring our doorbell or come up to our apartment.

The banging started again, echoing across the whole block – the whole damn city. The boyfriend locked the front door and we prepared for war. BAM BAM BAM BAM.

I called the police again. Was greeted with another glorious, “Good morning! Köln police!” Announced I was the one with bad German who had a loud neighbor. Was transferred. The super chill guy answered and recognized me immediately. I asked him if the police had come and he was surprised. Said not only had the police come, but they had determined the music was loud enough to justify a complaint from the street and had already spoken to the tenant at length. I said the music was going again loud and strong and now there was also screaming and terrifyingly aggressive door-slamming. He said he would send them again right away.

“Yo! Night! Ciao!”

I didn’t hear the police come, but I’m guessing they must’ve because when I woke up around 6am, confused as to why I had so many clothes on and why all the lights were on, the apartment was silent.

I have no idea what might happen next. It could be nothing – it could be anything. I’m a little relieved we’ll be in Berlin next Tuesday. But the Tuesday after that and all Tuesdays thereafter? Who knows.

The garbage man came this morning. When I went downstairs, I saw that he had not only left the door open, but had drug the stinkiest of the many garbage cans into the hallway and left it there, just a few feet from the ground floor apartment’s front door.

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Animals, Germany, Photography

Photography: Kölner Zoo

I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with both monkeys and tigers. Monkeys, because I took a fantastic human origins course last semester of college that was 30% about people and 70% about the ruthless, sweet, disturbingly human lives of various kinds of monkeys and apes. Tigers, because the tiger is one of those amazing animals that is very close to extinction.

The Kölner Zoo is gorgeous with large enclosures, and the animals seem to have zero fear of humans, and the humans zero fear of animals – the cheetahs pacing restlessly around their gently shaded lawn could have easily jumped over the low plexiglass fence and eaten me, if they so desired. They didn’t, so instead it was just awesome.

If you ever have the opportunity to go to the Kölner Zoo, I highly recommend it. It’s been there longer than New Mexico has been a state and is worth a whole day.

What brought on this sudden awakening about a phrase I’d heard so often it had begun to take on that alien timbre of a word said too many times in a row – hovering on the brink of extinction – was that I read somewhere that for a species to be doomed, it does not have to be dead; it just has to have a certain low number of individuals able to breed with each other who are too genetically similar to maintain a varied population. This is the worst sort of death, because it is seen from miles away, and it is utterly implacable. Two animals, regardless of how often they breed and how often their children breed, cannot re-create a species.

The tiger is almost there. As are many other species, but (apologies to all other slowly-dying species) the tiger takes priority with me.

There are plans to help wild tigers reach each other through man-made ‘pathways’ – narrow swatches of untouched forest connecting isolated populations. This way tigers have the opportunity to breed across a wider gene pool. It takes a great deal of effort and governments working together to both keep those stretches of forest untouched and to keep poachers away.

I have no idea what I could possibly do to help, but at the very least, knowing about it stresses me out.

Seeing a giant, beautiful tiger playing super cute in the water was the absolute best! I still can’t believe I managed to get this sequence, all in focus. He would jump, swim around to the edge, half-jump up the wall and make all the kids squeal, paddle back to the grass, shake himself off, and do it all over again.

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