Experiences Abroad

It’s Coalition Time: Quick Facts to the German National Election

Posting this, I am back in Germany and operating on little sleep while embracing nicer temps than those in Florida. It’s weird to be back after being in the US again. Yet, I’m also noticing how much less I’ve reverted to old US habits. I guess I didn’t integrate into the culture as much this time; if I’m not careful, I’ll end up taking on expat habits. However, I also know I just have to balance my bicultural identity a bit better. Part of that is taking an active interest in the politics of both nations. I’m not ashamed to say that choosing between coming back on Sept. 23rd and Sept. 25th was a matter of being able to cast my vote on Sept. 24th.

The current Google doodle

Yep, this Sunday Germans are heading to voting stations to vote for candidates and parliamentary parties to take power in the Bundestag. Since no one lives in a vacuum in this globalized age, I figured many readers may be interested in a little more information about what’s at stake and what it could mean.

  • Germany is a parliamentary democracy
  • It has the fourth largest economy in the world
  • It is one of the founding members of the European Union
  • Germany has two houses of Parliament, the Bundestag (lower house) and Bundesrat (upper house, representing the 16 federal states).
  • Each German state has its own parliament and a regular election, and every four years the national parliament is newly elected
  • Germany has a complex voting system for electing its Bundestag, or lower house, largely due to negative experiencesduring the Weimar Republic. The post WWII system seeks to combine the benefits of both direct and proportional representation while guarding against political fragementation. More specific facts here
  • The ballot contains two votes: one for a candidate- the district representitatve- and one for a party
  • There are 598 total seats in parliament; 299 of these are the winners of the constituent vote. The other 299 are delegated  proportional to the percentage of the vote won by the party.
  • There are six recognized major parties: CDU (center right), SPD (center left), FDP (libertarian), Linken (left/neo-communists), Grünen (environmentalist and center left), and the AFD (anti-Europe/nationalist/right).
  • There are over a dozen other parties up for election and seats
  • Anyone wanting to disassociate him/herself from the neo-Nazis will disassociate him/herself from the AFD
  • The party with the most seats has the most power in parliament
  • The leader of the party with the most votes is the Chancelor
  • The German chancellor is head of state and has the most political power in the nation
  • Dr. Angela Merkel (CDU) has served three terms
  • There is also a president, a largely symbolic head of state, currently Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former foreign minister who was sworn in in March 2017.
  • While the party with the most seats has the most power, it cannot rule alone unless it has 50% of the seats. Therefore, the leading party will often join into a coalition with a junior partner with which it can pass most legislation.
  • For the past four years, CDU and SPD were coallied, which made for very bland, centered decisions.
  • This year, that coalition may be an option as well as CDU-FDP-Grünen or SPD-Linken-Grünen.
  • No one wants a coalition with the AFD.
  • However, no one (in their humane mind) wants them as the main opposing party in parliament either
  • This is getting a large number of German voters hopefully mobilized.
  • More than 60 Million Germans are eligible to vote in the 2017 election

My brother and I are two of those voters. We’re interested in the results. Hope I could raise some interest in you as well.

Fun fact: The Berlin Marathon is also happening on Sunday. How Berliners will navigate the logistics of getting to their voting stations will be interesting to follow.

Edited to add: the AfD has more than 80+ seats in parliament as of 19 o’clock. This is… well, the adjective I’d like to use wouldn’t be very polite.  Also up for election in Berlin was keeping use of the Tegel Airport, thought to become obsolete once the BER airport is finally completed.  I flew in there yesterday and like to fly there, since the ‘port is so small (easily navigated) and close to home.

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The Summer of the Hanse

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Vincent D’Onofrio in Daredevil (2015) from the IMDB database

A line from Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil Season One, episode 9 really resonated with me: the moment where Wilson Fisk (played achingly well by Vincent D’Onofrio) states that his one “character flaw” is his inability to quiet the mind. I mean, disregarding the fact that it is not his “one flaw,” I sympathize with his difficulties (though I’m not on par with him being a brutal homicidal guy with messed up ethics). I’ve been pushed by my unquiet mind to finally write this post, in the hope that it will give me the mind-space to deal with some significant life responsibilities. In return, you shall be caught-up on my adventures!

There’s a bit to report from my summer in Germany, but it really came from the last three weeks I was there. I love being a student in Germany. I really do. But one setback is that the semester runs April through the middle of July and once that’s done, there’s not much summer left to overlap with the vacation the rest of my family has. So, most of what I did that was interesting was after the semester had ended and I could take longer trips.

However, I did have a few adventures before that:

Dresden: though I surprisingly took NO photos, it was a very nice two days there. You’ll just have to believe me.

A rose festival: just outside of Hansestadt Rostock, a rose farm finds some people to play some bluegrass and country, some people to sell tea and cake, and then display a vast array of some of the most beautiful roses you’ve ever seen, and if you’re lucky, some available for sale. It was a beautiful day and the music wasn’t bad, so it was kind of cool.

An organ sermon in the chapel to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. These happen every Saturday at 6 pm, and while the organist may have improvised a little too crazily, a few classic pieces were played too, and it was a nice respite from the hustle of one of Berlin’s main shopping and tourist districts right outside.

A few bike rides: mostly on the Baltic coast, mostly in good weather and as always with beautiful scenery; the sheep on the roof summarize the vast array of quirky things there are to see up north.

When I wasn’t squeezing in family or friend time, I was finishing up the second semester of PhD colloquium at the Freie Uni and keeping up with my part-part time position as secretary to a secretary.

Once the semester was done, my parents rented a car and we used it to go all the places in the north of Germany. I didn’t go anywhere I hadn’t been before, I but I got to know old places in new ways. Plus, we seemed weirdly attracted to the Hanseatic League, visiting four of the remaining cities retaining the “Hansestadt” moniker in Germany: Stralsund, Rostock, Wismar and Luebeck.

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You know you’re in a Hanse city when the harbor hosts a bunch of ships. You know you’ve met a LotRs fan when s/he names his/her boat after Tolkien. Someone must have taken the name J.R.R. Tolkien

For those that want a brush-up on European history, the Hanseatic League was kind of one of the first European Unions. Tired of having to pay taxes or worry about diplomacy everytime a nation’s water territory was crossed, traders, merchants and fishermen agreed that my fish is your fish and saved their tax allotment to build their cities instead. Stralsund we just drove through to get to the beautifully tucked-away island of Hiddensee, and Rostock is the nearest major city of our normal summer haunting-grounds, but Wismar and Luebeck were pleasant surprises in how they’d developed over the last 10 years. Luebeck was especially nice to see again.

Luebeck architecture, like much of the League, was influenced by the Swedish and the vastly popular red brick gothic building style. The Holstentor (top right) and facades of the buildings in Luebeck are very famous throughout the world. I was also enchanted by small courtyards behind almost every house. Fun bonus fact: Luebeck was not attacked during World War II the way other German cities and harbors were because the Allies already knew that they would get that part of Germany as a part of the reparations. They didn’t want to destroy that which they’d later have to occupy.

As mentioned, we also visited Hiddensee (the name does not mean what it looks like it would). There are absolutely no cars allowed on the island as it hosts one of the nation’s largest natural parks and therefore preserves a large number of the native Baltic wildlife. It’s a great island for hiking and I enjoyed walking on the edges of cliffs, eating fish, and seeing a few deer. One gets to the island by ferry and the last one to leave the island was at sunset, so you can imagine the view was amazing. The water was also so still, that at one point, the fine line between earth and sky was almost invisible if it weren’t for a small hint of land.

The weather was not good enough this summer to be motivated to do a whole lot of exploring, so my family did a lot of the same things we do every year, which is sometimes also good.

The time for my parents to return to work and routine was creeping up, though, and now, here we are, back in south Florida and sun and sweat.

However, right before we left, my mother, brother and I visited an art exhibit in Potsdam (that big city outside Berlin, capital of the state of Brandenburg). Called From Hopper to Rothko: America’s Road to Modern Art, I got a good dose of US culture. If you want to get an idea of how Western Expansion weighed on the collective psyche of the US people, consider the change in artwork from the beginning of the 19th century through WWI. While the perspectives excluded a few narratives of racism and genocide, the vitality of America’s frontier mentality- the ability to organize and survive in the face of raw nature, as we see most recently in the Texan’s response to H/TS Harvey, is visceral to the art.

The history of the building where the exhibit was is interesting too. It was sponsored by by operative SAP buisinessman Hasso Plattner. The museum exists on a square that was rebuilt only a few years ago and eerily remove one to a different century. It’s something one definitely does not get in Berlin anymore. Too many new buildings have been built next to the old ones for this kind of impression to be made. Still, there’s a beauty to both.

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Check out my mad cloud-designing skills: the Vocation School for Art, Nikolai Church, and Old Market of Potsdam

aaand that’s that. I’m now happily in my parent’s home in Florida, taking advantage of sun, the pool, and the local library. Hope the school year is starting well and fall doesn’t creep up too nastily.

Cheers, -Dorothea

Update on Life in Berlin in Winter

A week ago I wrote on my running site that I was going to post to my “other” (this) blog soon. A week is still “soon,” right? So much for posting about life in general. I guess  I’m too busy living it to write about it much. But let it be said, things are mostly good and Berlin is cold and gray, but still a lot of fun.

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Things I did recently worth writing about:

  • I visited a national Turnkunst exhibition. Turnen is a sport similar to gymnastics, but while we associate gymnastics in the US with girls, it used to be a “bro” sport in Europe and involved the typical bro culture. In Germany especially, Turnen fraternities were largely responsible for the mobilization that lead the to the (failed) 1848 revolution to get Germany to unite from all its little kingdoms and townships. Going there introduced me to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
  • I also visited the International Grune Woche: basically a convention for world produce, agriculture, bee culture, farm culture, rock gardens, nutrition…, I think you get the idea. I was impressed by a device exhibited that’s supposed to determine the sex of the chicken in an egg while it’s still an eg. This device would help prevent waiting for the egg to hatch before killing the chicken if it’s a male. I was also excited about all kinds of free samples and thought it was neat to be in Berlin’s convention center for the first time. It was pretty cool!
  • Finally, I most recently  (as mentioned in my running log) traveled with my brother to Lower-Saxony and had a skiing vacation in mountains of the Harz national park. It’s so beautiful there… and has a reputation for its deli specialties and witch motif. Apparently, witches celebrate Walpurgis Night (featured in Goethe’s Faust as well as re-imagined in Joyce’s Ulysses) on the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz, and the theme is carried out in all the shops, restaurants and hotels- partially for the sake of tourists, but also an homage to this history and it’s suitable for the region. Wandering around the quaint German town (I had forgotten about the German architectural stereotypes living in Berlin now) after dark was a bit exhilarating.

Looking forward, the Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Fest is currently in its 67th rendtion, and I am actually willingly leaving my flat on weekends to participate. I’ve opted for only one day of the weekends, not both, and I’ve limited myself to watching 5 of the many, many options. I’ve never participated in a media event of this magnitude before. I guess living in Berlin does have it’s perks!

And it’s not all gray.

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p.s. I continue to follow the news in the US with great interest.

US civic duty while across the pond 

This isn’t going to be a last-minute candidate support post. Really. I’m actually only interested in basic politics and promoting the basic rights we citizens of the US have as a part of  a democracy. I’m here to remind you to go out and make democracy count… and I guess that means I don’t care who you vote for–just go and vote. 

I’m sure no one has forgotten about the culmination of one of the craziest campaigns in my living memory… and from what I’ve heard, perhaps of all time: Election Day: November 8th 2016. It’s here! 

I definitely haven’t forgotten. In fact, I’ve been reminded about it since coming back to Germany. All people want to talk about lately is “what do you [as the American] think about the election?” I’ve also had to plan for this election differently because of my status of being absentee. 

On my way home from work yesterday, where I finally managed to fax my ballot, I thought about the pros and cons of absentee voting. Pros: don’t have to wait in line for possibly a long time, being stuck accidentally talking to people I’ve never met before and may not meet again, even if we do live in the same district, or being stuck trying ignore them for (possibly) several hours. Cons: Maybe I would have gotten to have interesting conversations while on line. I don’t get an “I’ve voted” sticker. I also got stuck with the  logistics of requesting a ballot in time (30 days in most states), receiving that ballot, filling it out and sending it back, paying at least postage fees if not faxing charges.

 But I didn’t really have a choice so…

I was able to request my absentee ballot per decent length application per email, and received it per email. I did have to mail a hard copy of my request for it to be counted, and I wasn’t allowed to email my ballot either. Still, I could send in my ballot in time, even if my email did get caught up in the junkmail folder and I only found out I had it Sunday. At least I didn’t have to give up my right to a secret ballot. At least I found a fax machine I was gracefully allowed by my interested coworkers to use for free. Everything went well, and if I could manage to get it done, you probably can, too. 

Asides from that, I think the term absentee is interesting. It implies that I’m absent from the place and situation I should be. I really should be in the US right now (and it would make following the post-poll closure coverage a lot easier!), but I’m here, and luckily, due to the conflation of space with modern technologies, I’m not totally absent. I voted, I’m going to find people to watch the results with, and overall, I am invested in the fate of my country. 

 Of course, since I plan to be here at least two more years, some people may say that I won’t be immediately affected by the outcome of this election… but those people are unaware of the extent to which we are globalized. I’m sorry to say, there’s a reason the election is being covered so closely here in Germany. It’s not just because of the fact that the US is already kind of great. It’s because diplomatic relations are important in a world where “isolation” doesn’t exist and German leaders will maybe have some trouble with whomever may win. This is true of most of the world, and I hope that’s not ethnocentric thinking,  but I really do think the outcome of this election will have ramifications for international diplomacy, and of course the global stock market. 

I guess I just have to wait and see with the rest of the US citizens. 

Just know, you can’t complain about the election if you don’t even take part. 

Also, no matter what candidate wins, we still need to have serious talks about the state of the US.

But finally, just for fun: Key of Awesome parody (you don’t have to click if you don’t want to!)

Halloween Happenings in Berlin

I posted something about Halloween in Germany a long time ago (two years ago, actually), but this time the foreignness of the idea isn’t getting to me as much. I’ve accepted that Germany has accepted most of the US’s commercial holidays, including St. Patty’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day, so I just appreciate what I do see.

If I’m not mistaken, the Germans do have a Thanksgiving- even if it’s called “Harvest Thank Fest (Erntedankfest)” and even if it is closer to the harvest time in early October (Oct. 2nd, I believe).– I write “not mistaken” and “I believe” as though I don’t have internet and Google. I do. In fact, I just spent a ridiculous amount of time playing Google’s Halloween game. I can confirm that the above statements are true. —

In other news, I still find daily incentives to just get out and about the city by bike, if possible. The Allied Forces Museum is actually on the route to one of my University’s campuses. It’s almost right across from the US Consulate, where I may or may not have recently asked whether I could just vote at the US Embassy in center Berlin if I don’t get my absentee ballot on time.

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Here’s a photo from Platz der Luftbrücke. If you don’t know about the  Berliner Luftbrücke, or Airlift, I invite you to look it up.

This museum is in former west Berlin. The actual airport where the planes (like the one above) landed is much further in the east. I happened to walk by there today on my way home from a race.

The museum is one I really want to visit, as well as the Museum of Communications. Seeing as I’m doing my doctorate with media studies, I should inform myself about them as much as I can.

Today, it’s finally sunny after weeks of dreary clouds in Berlin. I spent all morning appreciating the sun, but now have to sit at my desk and work. At least the sun is gone now at 5 p.m. (Daylight Savings ended here!), so I feel less guilty.

Otherwise, life is pretty okay.

 

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I love this monument to freedom after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Makes me happy just to be able to see it on my commute.

I have one positive and one negative thing to say about living in Germany, or in Berlin:

(negative first, to get it over with): insurance laws are confusing as f***. Then again, they are in the US too, so can’t complain too much.

positive: the public transportation is such a huge quality-of-life booster. If I don’t have to get somewhere at a certain time, I can always get lost and find another way back to where I need to go. One transportation line always crosses with a line I’ll recognize, so I’m never lost for long. Of course, when I do have to be somewhere by a certain time… well, let’s just say I always need to plan a bit extra.

Hope everyone has a great week! Happy Halloween, tomorrow! I may not be dressing up, but I have my orange black cat socks I’ll be wearing.

German-American Day 2016

As citizens, we celebrate our national holidays and heritage. As people of a faith and/or culture, we celebrate our religious holidays. However, how many days do we take to celebrate cooperation between nations? Are we capable of realizing ourselves as planetary citizens, and celebrating that together? The only other holidays I can think of that are shared by more than one country are remembrance days. One has memorial days for the soldiers and civilians who died in World War One and Two, or other memorial days for when people do horrible things to one another. However, where are the days where we celebrate the positive interactions between nations? They are there, we just don’t know a lot about them.

For example, German-America Day has been in effect since former President Reagan signed Resolution 109 for it in 1987. How many Germans know about it? Even less US Americans seems to know, and yet it’s been faithfully celebrated on or around Oct. 6th for 29 years, now. The Federation of German American Clubs has a lot to do with this, and I am grateful to have participated in this weekends event in München, perhaps one of the most “German” of all cities.

When I got to München Hauptbahnhof (main train station), I was presented with a site of trains, Brezn (Bayrisch for pretzels), and Trachten (traditional Bavarian clothing). Finding the city that hosts a lot of Germany and the world for Oktoberfest (fun fact: Octoberfest is over by the first week of October), this came as no surprise. What continues to surprise me though, is that this is the image people have of Germany. Raised by a north German and spending almost all my time when in Germany in the north, I think of many other things when I think of this country.  However, of course my perspective comes from the fact that I have more experiences and encounters than Munich train station and Wies’n.

Still, my view of Germany would also not be complete without having been to this beautiful city. I can count the previous number of hours I’ve spent in München on my fingers and toes. I’d only once spent the night here, and that was this past summer. This time, I was spending two nights in the city. They were full days.

I was lucky to have been invited by the VDAC (Verband der Deutsch-Amerikanischen Clubs, Federation of German-American Clubs) to be a part of the orientation seminar for US students who had just come to start their exchange year in various universities throughout Germany, and the return seminar for all the German students who had just come from a year in the US.

Long readers of my blog will remember that I started this blog to report on my experiences in Germany while an exchange student. Now, I happen to be pursuing my PhD independently of the VDAC in Berlin, but that does not mean I am not still involved with them, and in many ways I can be grateful for their support, past and present. Visiting the seminar this weekend was an attempt to give back a bit, provide my experiences and advice as a US alumni of the program, but somehow, they managed to spoil me again. I leave again in the debt of having free room and board, and a great cultural and political program provided. In a desperate attempt to show my gratitude, I turned down the offer to reimburse the travel costs.  I just have to remind myself that while members of the VDAC are well to do, they work hard for the money to host 40+ students for these seminars, not to mention the scholarships themselves. I can’t contribute generous paychecks, but I can be generous with my time and with the money I would have spent anyway to spend a good time in Munich.

I mentioned a great cultural program… and opera fans will be jealous to know I got a behind-the-scenes look in the Staatsoper, home turf of the ridiculously good-looking Jonas Kaufmann. I also got to sit in the old Ratshaus, or town hall, and drink a good Dunkles in a Bavarian Brauhaus. Of course, there were the seminar sittings where new and returned exchange students talked about cultural differences (post to come out about that soon!), differences between colleges experiences in Germany and the US, and first impressions/practical tips. I like to think that as the only US kid having gone through the VDAC there, other than the guy coordinating the whole thing (his experience lies a few years back), I had some good advice to give, but the German students reminded me that there are some things about the system I still have to learn. Still, I’ll repeat a bit of what I said in future post as well.

Then there was the main event of the weekend, celebrating German-American Day 2016. Short story, a bunch of speeches were given, national anthems sung, returning students given certificates of having gone through the program and in honor of supporting cultural change, a very prestigious medal awarded to an important facilitator of German-US relations, musical interludes, and a reception with drinks and some of the best mini-wraps I’ve ever had. Long story- the speeches were incredibly well-given and thought provoking, and I had more fun at the reception than I would have thought.

The most memorable quote of the evening for me was that memory and gratitude cannot always sit at the same table as politics (loose translation of Friedrich Merz, recipient of the Medal). The history of Germany and the U.S. , especially after WWII, is filled with a lot of reasons for the Germans to be grateful to the US. However, current politics cannot always be driven by this thankfullness. Just like the British settlers were once grateful to their British forefathers for making travels to the “New Land” possible, they also learned to come into their own in relations with the Brits. A friendship should always be shared by equal partners, and in the case of the US and Germany, they are constantly figuring this out for themselves. But it’s good, and that’s why dialogue is so important and it’s good to see it successfully being carried out through events like these.

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This is me in front of the famous Neues Ratshaus, or new Town Hall. You can see St. Peter’s bell towers of the Frauenkirche in the background.

I hope to be able to attend the next year’s events, which will be the 30th anniversary of the first German-American Day of October 6, 1987.

Berlin adventures in October so far

[…] Before you go to sleep,
Say a little prayer,
Every day
In every way,
It’s getting better and better,

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Out on the ocean sailing away,
I can hardly wait
To see you to come of age,
But I guess we’ll both
Just have to be patient,

‘Cause it’s a long way to go,
A hard row to hoe
Yes, it’s a long way to go
But in the meantime,

Before you cross the street,
Take my hand,
Life is what happens to you,
While you’re busy making other plans […]

First of all, I’m my mother’s daughter and a Lennon fan. This song has been running through my head recently. It makes me sad that he sings “I can hardly wait/ To see you come of age”; but “Life is what happens to you,/ while you’re busy making other plans” is my current mantra.

It’s gotten to the point where I make lists of what I want to blog about, and transfer these from week to week in my planner.

On the one hand, I’ve been unusually flexible. I’ve been more giving in my time and energy, and I haven’t said “no” to every opportunity to go out, meet someone, step-a bit outside my comfort zone. On the other hand, I like my routines for a reason- they help me get things done.

Still, I went on a few adventures since my last outing to the Brandenburg Gate on German Unity Day.

First, there’s the trip to Munich that deserves (and will get) it’s own special post.

Then, there’s the Festival of Lights that I almost would have missed if it hadn’t been for the US VDAC exchange student who is currently living in Potsdam, a city just outside of Berlin. He and I met one day after work, and just wandered around. Then, I saw Potsdamer Platz lit up by projected lights, dynamic and fascinating, giving a review of 20th century German history. Then, we wandered over to the Brandenburg Gate, and I was in awe at the science and art of the light display. Berlin is famous for this yearly event, and this year the city celebrated its tenth anniversary of hosting hundreds of thousands of people to see the architecture brought to special life. Being a part of this event gave me another reason to love this city.

I also went on an outing to the Maybachufer, one of Berlin’s most famous Turkish markets, and then on a walk where I saw bits of Berlin I normally don’t see (since it’s more in the east and a 45 minute public transportation trip).

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Germany is becoming more and more of an atheistic society, but its churches will always be reminders of bygone eras, and the protestant religion is still a cited part of the Berlin culture

Coincidentally, (almost all) stores are closed on Sundays in Germany. Perhaps an unnecessary remnant of holy Sundays (and more and more stores are open a few hours on Sunday), but I actually like not having the option of running errands on Sundays. It forces me to get done what I need to before Sunday, and leaves me one day a week for pure relaxation. However, there are a few (8) days in the year where Berlin stores are legally allowed to be open. These days are chosen by the Berlin senate and usually coincide with another special event in the city, in this case, it was the Festival of Lights.

Jedes Jahr bestimmt der Berliner Senat acht feste Termine, an denen alle Geschäfte in Berlin an einem Sonntag ihre Türen öffnen dürfen. Teilnehmende Läden und Einkaufscenter können an den verkaufsoffenen Sonntagen freiwillig von 13 bis 20 Uhr öffnen. Grund für die Sonntagsöffnungen sind in Berlin stattfindende Events bzw. Anlässe.

I didn’t participate in Verkaufsoffener Sonntag on Oct. 16th. It was  the first day in about two weeks where I didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything for anyone other than myself, and I stayed at home all day. Why ruin a perfectly good Sunday to do what I could do any other day of the week?

My most recent adventures involve school. I’ve still been working my part time job, but more importantly, I got my school enrollment papers! And the uni started. Nothing like fall rain to get you out early on a school day. Just kidding. I’ll ride my bike through anything but a steady rain.

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These sights get me out the door, though.

So that’s been life. It happened while I was busy making other plans, but at least it happened well.