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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IMG_7867
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.

Brolove

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.

Serious

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.

Mr_Smooth

Mr. Smooth

Patches

Mr. Patches

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

Costumes

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.)

Unfazed

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.

Aged_Mohawk Boyfriend_Angler Captain_America Fun_Topgun Wizard_of_Oz

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.

Perfectly_Reasonable_Statue

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Them German Signs
Evil Schemes, Photography, Thoughts, Urban

How I Dealt With My Crazy A-Hole Roommate

German dogs are extraordinarily well trained and are allowed to go pretty much anywhere – restaurants, shopping malls, trains, even movie theaters. No one is ever being yanked by their dog down the street screaming at them “NO PULL! NO PULL!” Most dogs I see are off-leash in the middle of the city, cheerfully sniffing and peeing on everything they can right next to busy streets.

One thing Germans do not do well is pick up their dog’s poo. I have become something of an expert poo-dodger, because not only do Germans not pick up their dog’s poo, they also seem to have no problem with their dog squatting and taking a huge dump right in the middle of a sidewalk. Sidewalks are almost certainly German dogs’ preferred place for dumping. Which means when you’re walking cheerfully along, enjoying the beautiful, fresh-smelling day, you’re rather likely to step in a nice juicy one if you haven’t yet developed your expert poo-dodging skills. (It’s all about the peripheral vision, guys. Just gotta hone those periphs.)

There are still signs around like in the States asking people to please DON’T LET YOUR DOG CRAP ON THE SIDEWALK OR IF YOU DO, PICK IT UP FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. But, being German, they are way more explicit. Instead of a nice vectorized vague form of poo with an X over it or something like that, they have this:

German literalism at its best.

German literalism at its best.

My original plan with the Roommate was to collect some juicy sidewalk poo and then get imaginative.

The whole put-it-in-a-bag-set-it-on-fire-on-the-porch-ring-doorbell-run trick doesn’t work here, because we live on the top floor in a building full of apartments and Roommate would never go all the way down the stairs just to see why someone wouldn’t stop ringing the buzzer. I had to think of other options. I literally spent a good hour or two gleefully outlining all the devilish things I could do with this poo. I could just leave it in the bag and hide it under his bed, so it both attracted vermin and made everything smell. I could find a blender, blend it so it was nice and liquified, then pour it into the delicate inner workings of his Playstation. I could also do less destructive things, like take his collection of DVDs, put them on a spool so they’d be safe, and then pour the liquified dog poo into the empty cases. It would both smell awful with seemingly no origin, and the next time he wanted to watch one of his DVDs he’d open the case and instead of the Matrix there’d be POO!

I’m still rather proud of that one. Thinking about it induces instant maniacal giggles.

As soon as I found out I’d be moving out in a month 90% of my rage melted away. Really the things he had done weren’t so bad. Wasn’t I supposed to be the bigger person? The Boyfriend also urged me to step back and view his life from a larger perspective, trying to convince me there was nothing I could do to him that he hadn’t already done to himself.

(Except replace his German copy of Dude Where’s My Car? with dog crap, he probably hadn’t done that).

But it didn’t really work, because I wasn’t after vengeance – I was after justice. Justice, for the time we asked him to please wash the pan on the stove full of his old food because we needed to use it to cook ourselves, as there are five people in the apartment sharing two pans, and he tried to get us kicked out (Thankfully the other roommates responded with, ‘Um, hell-to-the-no.’). Justice, for the times he told me I needed to take out the paper trash because it was attracting flies, when a square yard of the kitchen floor was covered in his half-empty beer bottles that were literally full of flies and I took out the paper trash once a month anyway

Justice, for the time he skipped his cleaning week and didn’t clean for two months, then tried to criticize me for my cleaning ability. Justice, for drinking all our expensive liquor with his friends without asking for permission, and then when I confronted him about it, leaving a 10e bill on the table without apologizing – when he knew the bottle cost 30e! 

The worst was when I decided to play a game called ‘Let’s See How Long it Takes Roommate to Take Out the Trash’ (because in addition to never taking out the trash or put back the dishes from the dish washer, he also never bought household items like toilet paper, soap, trash bags, washing detergent, sugar, cleaning spray, etc.) and nine days later he moved the trash from our kitchen to the apartment stairwell so the whole building smelled like ass, then three days later he finally took it out to the garbage can in the courtyard outside, and then he never put in a new trash liner. Boyfriend and I were keeping our trash in little tied bags in our room and then taking it out every morning. Have no idea what Roommate was doing. Eventually the good roommates returned and put a new trash liner in and bought all the other household things. But Asshole Roommate still never bought anything or took out the trash

And justice most of all for being super nice about it, for taking deep breaths and walking away when I most wanted to shriek and punch the wall, for never confronting him until he confronted me or the Boyfriend. I even tried just cleaning after him, in the hopes that if he saw that everything was always super clean he would start feeling guilty, and we would build a sense of goodwill and mutual understanding and help maintain a clean kitchen where everyone could cook when they needed without having to wash other people’s dirty dishes.

Did I mention he tried to get us kicked out of the apartment because we were dirty?

As you can tell, I’m still a little upset about it.

So, in an effort to stem the utterly psychotic, mass-murdering rampage rage building inside me, I decided to take the thing that most ruined my day – Roommate being an asshole and feeling like I am living with a giant spoiled toddler I can’t discipline and who slams doors and blasts music and is generally rude – and turn it into an art project.

This photography series is called Demon, Thy Name is Hypocrisy, and was gathered over the past week and a half. I only ever take pictures in the morning, giving him 12 – 24 hours to clean before grabbing my camera.

After deciding to turn Roommate’s messes into photographs, my attitude completely changed – I was almost excited for a particularly glorious mess, because it meant more photography opportunities. Forcing myself to find the beauty in something that so infuriated me sucked out the anger in a weird sort of way. It was hard, obviously – these photographs aren’t my best work, for sure – but it helped me let go of my anger. Now instead of determinedly imaging all the ways I could use dog poop to make Roommate’s life miserable, I began to view things with a sort of smugness – he thought he was just pissing me off, when it reality, he was helping me. And he was probably more upset about me than I was about him. Eventually the smugness wore off, and now I’m more at the just-shake-your-head-and-go-get-your-camera stage — which is a healthier place to be I think.

I know this strategy might not work for all situations, but when you’re really angry and you can’t do anything to change anything, that anger hurts yourself more than anyone else. Thinking of a way to repurpose the awful into something you enjoy, forcing yourself to be creative in finding ways to manipulate it to your own advantage, can help let go of those damaging emotions.

I’m happy to say that Boyfriend and I are moving into our own place this weekend, and I hope to never have roommates again. HAZAH!

And in case you were wondering, this is where the German government hopes people will put their dog poo instead of leaving it in the middle of the street. Look how friendly and perfectly unused it is.

poo bucket

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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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