Berlin

Little traffic men

According to Google.de and the most recent Google doodle (seriously, I don’t even have to do a lot of thinking to find topics to write about these days), yesterday was the 56th anniversary of the first use of the Ampelmännchen- a quirky design for a street light for pedestrians in former East Germany. After the Berlin Wall fell, traffic light administrators took the design as an icon and honestly, it’s pretty cute, so they continued to use this street sign in the east and it has even spread into the west… mostly west Berlin, but still.

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I had actually meant to write about the Ampelmänner before, and even took a few pictures, so I might as well share one of them now. What’s even more fun is that an Ampelfrauchen (women) is in existence now too.

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sorry about the poor photo quality… but you can see both the stop and go Ampelfrauchen in Dresden here.

While I’m at it, I also had saved some pictures of a multi-level parking lot for bicycles outside one of the S-bahn stations in Berlin. I couldn’t get over the fact that someone had designed devices to put up multiple bikes in public spaces like this, and I really wanted to share this with you.

Other than that, there’s not much to report from Bretzel land, and I guess I’m keeping my head low because the semester is about to start, which means I’ve got a lot of work. Iran nuclear deals are being talked about, we just had hurricane force winds take down a lot of signs/trees throughout northern Germany, but Oktoberfest is basically over, so tourists are slowly trickling back out again. Still, they are taking time to stop by the Festival of Lights happening in Berlin through the end of this weekend (recall that I wrote about this last year), and my brother and I will join them and take advantage of a “golden October.”

Hope there’s some of that golden light in your regions too, this weekend!

Cheers, Dorothea

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German Unity Day 2017

Side note to get us started, but what did we do in the days before Google Doodles? How else did we know why the stores were all closed or which obscure media theorist had his birthday in the middle of July?

The Google Doodle for Tuesday celebrates October 3rd, of course. I talked a lot about the significance of the day for Germans last year here. This year, I used the day off to catch up on work and take advantage of some opportunities in the city with my brother. It was nice to have a mid-week day with him again, too.

We started off having American pancakes in a new personal favorite of mine in Berlin: Zimt und Zucker (Cinnamon and Sugar). It’s a “sweet” little place, in the style of Vienese coffee houses of the 18th and 19th centuries, in Berlin Mitte (kind of the center of Berlin near the old Cold War checkpoints and the Brandenburg Gate, etc.). One has a large menu of breakfast type items to chose from all day, and it is very popular, especially on weekends. I (in a rare moment) thought ahead and had reserved for my bro and me, so it was a nice start to the day. If you are in Berlin, I can recommend the salmon and green onion crepes or the bacon and sour cream pancakes. 🙂

Then, we walked over to the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) that had opened its doors to the public for the holiday. Accordingly, the place was packed, but people were in mostly good spirits and I brushed up on my early modern German history. The exhibits ranged from pre-middle ages to WWII.

Visiting the museum reminded me of the large role the Reformation had in European history, and wouldn’t you know it, but this year it’s been 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door. You can imagine this is being celebrated in Germany, not the least on Reformation Day, which isn’t too long from now: October 31st. Even stoic Berlin, usually exempt from religious holidays, grants its citizens this day off this year.

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So many Protestants… I wonder how much more quickly Luther’s ideas would have spread (and/or been ignored) had there been the internet…

Yesterday, I also used the free entrance to visit the special exhibit to explore the first press-photography in Germany with the Bild Zeitung. Leopald Ullstein was a big name in the late 19th and early 20th centuries being responsible for making photos a part of news for the first time and for his influential role on how the way the population viewed politics. Apparently then, like now, the press liked to focus on the big names on the political scenes and forgot to look at the protests, demonstrations, and stuff happening on the sidelines. It was also interesting to see the role his enterprise played in the Nazi propaganda machine. Since I’m professionally interested in media and its impact on culture, I appreciated the exhibit very much, even if it was crowded, darkish, and one could not take photos. After seeing the other exhibit, the special one was a bit of a letdown. Still, it put into perspective how our media changes over time.

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My brother and I were both impressed with the craftsmanship of this edition, and the ingenuity of writing these laws and their explanations within each other.

After we had our fill of the museum, my brother and I headed down Unter den Linden with the masses of people who were enjoying marginally okay weather. Most people were heading for the street-fest by the Brandenburg Gate, but after the disappointment last year, my bro and I opted for a coffee stop and side streets heading to our next destination: free dance classes as a chance to get to know one of Berlin’s dance schools.

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Typisch Berlin: old, new, and then a TV Tower sticking up in the middle of it all. Fun fact: the old building to the left was the first institution for experimental psychology in Germany. I’m not sure how pleasant a place it was at the time, though.

I made it to the school, my brother opted out. I danced Zumba, Salsa, and Boogie-woogie, and called it a day. It was a good day, rounded out with my regular English-language practice with members of the German-American Club of Berlin. As one can see, I really did a little bit of everything.

I imagine all my non-German friends (and those not in Germany) spent the day with normal weekday stuff, but I hope it was good! Hope you have a good rest of the week as well! -Dorothea

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

Sea and See here, time for some time off

Hidyho!

Or not. That expression looks/sounds a bit funny. Anyway, hi.

Last time I posted I was preparing for my mom’s visit, and now she’s here and I’ve been splitting my time between academic work, work work and family time. I’ve been struggling to get some running and blogging time in there too, but since it’s been tough and is only going to get more difficult once my Dad joins us as well, I’ve decided to post the yearly “off on vacation, laters” post now and catch you all when I come back in August-ish.

I’ll continue doing some traveling and cool stuff in Berlin, so there’s something to look forward to reading about when I’m back.

Before I go, I need to tell you about how my mother, brother and I did hit it off right away by visiting the Berlin Zoo.

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Entrance to the Berlin Zoo 

I have mixed feeling about zoos, since I am opposed to the idea of a bunch of animals twice as big as me occupying spaces not much larger than my home in the States, animals not following their hunting or gathering instincts, or how things like agreements for panda bear twins being loaned to the Berlin Zoo can make German citizens forget about human rights grievances in China. On the other hand, it was a nice day in Berlin, the animals could all be outside, and the zoo is a historic feature of Berlin. Still, history shows us that we’ve been able to let go of some barbaric practices… and it’s about time we realized that zoos could go the same way as gladiator fights, slavery, etc.. my idea: rather than allowing more animals to be bred in zoos (which I’ll admit seems a bit cruel, too-but may be the best we can do at this point), allow those domesticated to the point that they wouldn’t survive in the wild to live to a ripe old age and then re-purpose the space for something else cool, like a playground or a park. I did visit the zoo, so I can’t get on my moral high horse. It was a family decision and I didn’t want to spoil the chance to do something nice together. The good news is, we walked ourselves off our feet, and everyone declared they didn’t have to go to another zoo for at least another 10 years, so perhaps by then it won’t even be an option anyway.

Something I had no moral qualms about was a visit to the Baltic Sea. German geography knowers will be aware that Germany borders the North and Baltic Seas to the north. This played a huge role in German trading and wealth through to the 20th century, and one can find imperial wealth along these shores as well. But mostly, one can enjoy beautiful landscapes and amazing bike ways- which is what we did, along with sun bathing, and even a few runs. 

We spent some time on the east and west shores of the German Baltic. The pictures below are from Heiligenhafen in Schleswig-Holstein – the northwestern-most state of Germany. The boardwalk into the sea, Strandkorbe (literally sandbaskets) and dunes are standard for the Baltic and classic features of Germany seaside towns. The idea may sound strange for people used to lounge-chairs and cabanas for the beach, but a Strandkorb is a glorious way to have a place to hang out on the beach, off the sand but able to enjoy sun and be sheltered from the wind. It’s still too early in the season for the beaches to be full, but the weather was gorgeous and I’m looking forward to some summer days on the coasts these next months as well.

I’m sure many of you have beaches in sights soon, as well. Or mountains! At least some sun and fun. Hope everyone has a good summer and I plan to keep-up with your blogs in-between life. Just apologies in advance if I don’t comment.

Stay cool!

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Yo, my star sign is capricorn

Spring cleaning and some new (to me) Berlin

Happy Monday!

Hope you had a good Mother’s Day weekend. I couldn’t be with my mother on Mother’s Day for the first time in a long time (ever, maybe?), and it was harder than I thought it would be. Still modern technology like FaceTime makes these kinds of situations much better.

However, I did use the weekend to prepare for my mother’s imminent arrival in Berlin (yay!), and this resulted in a bit of spring cleaning, both on- and off-line. Yesterday, I randomly got sucked into my email inboxes and deleted all old mails that had been resolved. I forwarded myself the ones I needed to do something with this week, and went from over 400 mails between all my inboxes to “just” 80-ish.

Of course, real-life space is less forgiving and I had a bit of mass to get rid of. Saturday consisted of going throughout the entire apartment (which, as I think I’ve mentioned before, is actually my parent’s apartment?) and cleaning/removing most traces that I’ve been living here like a bachelor for 10 months. It doesn’t help that my brother (the actual bachelor) joined me for four of those, so the task was arduous. But we got it done! And we get to benefit from the cleaner/neater space as well.

I haven’t just been spending my time indoors, though.

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Tiergarten Town Hall

 Most recently, I’ve discovered Berlin-Moabit, the grungy sister to Prenzlauer Berg (where all the starter-ups and hipsters hang out). It’s part of the greater district Tiergarten (home to the famous huge park of the same name in the middle of Berlin) and a little more low-key compared to the rest of Berlin, but still very cool.

In Moabit, my brother and I discovered a hole in the wall there that’s been turned into a burger-joint and plays mix-tapes (from actual boom-boxes hung on the walls). I also discovered one of Berlin’s old 10 in-door markets right across from, I kid you not(!), a training ground for bicycle riders. I couldn’t get a good photo yet, but one day I will post the tickle-me-pink neatness of the road and bike lane replicas, the traffic lights and street signs that are to aid the youth of Berlin in navigating the city on their bikes safely.

Moabit is also home to a lot of great old Berlin architecture and generally not visited by many tourists, so I think I’ll visit there more often, if just to get away from the steadily increasing masses on Ku’damm, in Potsdamer Platz, and all Berlin’s main attractions.

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Pickles in a jar, pringles and bagels that weren’t half bad when I toasted them

In other news, Aldi (which extended its long arm to the US a while ago in Trader Joe’s, and now under its own name) had “America Week” this past week, where all it’s special items were America-inspired. Asides from the items I bought, they had a whole assortment of peanut-caramel-chocolate concoctions that they think represented US sweets. Good job, you guys.

Finally, in spring news, this being my first spring with actual planting space, I’ve discovered my thumb is more green than I previously believed.  Growing up in south Florida, there was gardening to be done year round and I always associated it with trimming hedges and trees, pulling weeds that never froze and died, or digging in a sandy soil that was as unforgiving on my hands as for the plants. I never thought of the fun part of gardening where things you plant in fall pop out in spring. Turns out, I like gardening!

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Oh, and finally for real this time, I got that scholarship I was hoping for last time I wrote. You are now reading the work of a fully-funded PhD student. My parents are so relieved proud. 

Hope you have a good week! -Dorothea

The New Synagogue in Berlin

I’ve barely been back in Berlin for a week, but I’ve already noticed how much more free time I have since being demoted to 8 hours a week. Granted, it means I have less money and am on the brink of an exist-ential crisis, and I should be using my extra time to work on my dissertation, but I’m also using it to fall back in love with Berlin in Spring.

While on my way to revisit the Dorotheenfriedhof with a friend who had come into town, we passed by the Jewish Synagogue, which is about 1 km from Friedrichstrasse S-Bahnhof (Cold War buffs will know this was the crossing point from East to West for civilians). While I was excited to show my friend the graves of Brecht, Fichte, et al., I did suggest we visit the Synagogue.

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©1999 Valerie Kreutzer

My friend, who had been to Berlin several times but never made it inside, since the last time the opportunity presented itself, a series of bomb threats closed the place down for a few weeks (months?).  Even if the Synagogue and museum were now open, there were police guarding it, as they do every Jewish or Turkish building of significance in Berlin. It’s, as one person in Google Reviews posted, sobering. Germans are in a constant battle against their history and themselves in the form of blatant or covert neo-nazism.

Still, while the same Google Review comments largely suggested that going inside the museum was a waste of time and money, I think I already mentioned that I had the time, and the 5 Euro on museum entrance and visit to the dome weren’t terrible. Granted, I thought I would be able to go into the main hall of the Synagogue, since I’d been able to visit the Old New Synagogue in Prague once upon a time, which impressed heavily on my faith questioning as a teenager, but I understand why that area would be closed to the public.

At any rate, I paid my five euros and spent about thirty minutes going through the exhibition. First of all, the Synagogue isn’t new, but it was the new one when it opened in 1866.  A lot of the information in the exhibit was about the destruction of the building in the 1938 Pogrom-Kristallnacht and World War II, as well as the rebuilding. But what I liked about the exhibit was how much information was given about how the Berlin Jewish population was living in Berlin in the 1930s and 40s. One got insight into the Jewish Schools for Boys and Girls in the surrounding area, famous artists like Maz Liebermann who were part of the congregation, and the way members of the congregation would worship, celebrate and learn in the building. After seeing how the large orthodox Jewish population in south Florida observed Passover the past week, I was personally moved by the way this building afforded a place of security and community for more than fifty years and hundreds of thousands of people before Hitler and the Nazis came to power.

I was also surprised to learn that of the 14 synagogues attacked in the night of November 9, 1938, the New Synagogue was largely able to escape most of the destruction due to the intervention of the chief of police of the precinct, Wilhelm Kruetzfel. While most of the fire brigade and police on that night stood by and watched, Kruetzfel and those under his command forced the SA troops to leave and then called the fire brigade. Of course, he had to answer for it and managed to get by on the point that the building was a “historic cite” and deserved protection, but I believe it was more than that and I’m glad to know that somehow, in the face of a majority who go along with what is morally and ethically wrong, there are those who resist- or those who at least stand by what they know to be right.

Anyway, after the exhibit, my friend and I spent a while trying to find the way to the dome. When we found it, we did indeed find a smallish room with a not terribly spectacular view of surrounding Berlin, but I appreciated it. One got an idea of how “mitten drin” the Synogogue was in the center and I had a chance to reflect on the purpose for the dome as bringing closer to God and as a symbol.

My friend and I talked a little more about the symbolism of the building and the police guarding it after leaving. We both agreed that of all place to attack, a synagogue would not present a lot of victims and really just is a pile of fancy looking bricks. Still, I commented on the symbol of the place, and the way it has regrown into a center for learning and worship for the Jewish community, and that the message an attack would send, even if the destruction were not too terrible, would be enough to cause a good amount of damage to the feelings of community, security and tolerance the place provide. So, yeah.Good reasons to guard it.

We ran out of time (I guess I still do have some limits) to see the Friedhof, but I’m glad I went inside the Synagogue for a bit of history and reflection. I’m also always amazed at how well Berlin derails me from plans and often offers me better ones instead.

100 posts and there are green leaves against blue sky outside my window

Well, it certainly feels like it’s been at least a year since I last posted, but it’s just been a month and a few weeks. Time is a funny thing.

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In this time, I turned 26, flew more than 10,000 miles, was invited for a scholarship interview and had that interview. Went from part-time to part-part time work (i.e. 8 hours versus 20). Celebrated Easter with my family. Celebrated my birthday, a friend’s birthday, and my cousin’s birthday. April babies= best babies; no bias there. Basically I lived and celebrated living.

In the meantime, I wanted to write a kind of special post. Seeing as this marks the centennial edition of my humble beginning in July 2014, I decided to reflect on blogging and what it means to me, and why I find it worthwhile to continue. Basically, I’m here to say “I’m back! And even if I take breaks, I will likely always come back.”

First of all, I thought long and hard about why I write. There are a lot of reasons, but in the end, I noticed blog writing is about celebrating ourselves and our productivity as writers. I see a level of egoism in this and a kind of consumerism, but on the other hand, I value the positive things blogging can bring, so I will focus on that.

I write to:

  1. motivate myself to get something done by asking for some implicit accountability
  2. share experiences I’ve had and things I’ve seen or thought, partially as checkpoint for others taking the same or similar journey, partly to record these things for myself. I do occasionally go back and read posts and am often surprised by the person I was then, and how I still understand this person like it was me, but see her as separate from me. I can always learn something from this person
  3. inform the few family and real life friends who do check up on me with this blog what I’m up to and that I’m still alive. I’m not as bad in staying in contact as I tend to make myself seem, though. Most of my family and friends don’t rely on my blog to know what I’m doing or how I am. That’s what coffee dates, Skyping, and lengthy personal emails are for, still these kinds of readers are at the back of my mind when I write
  4. find affirmation for the choices I’ve made and the person I present myself to be
  5. for therapy, I can work through certain fears and challenges by writing them out, but also benefit from the comments made at the same time… because otherwise, honestly I could just focus on my hard-copy journal
  6. gain practice in writing. 10000 hours, after all

Of these six reasons (too bad it’s six, but I didn’t want to fake a 7th for the sake of a nicer, for me, number), the one thing I learned over the past month(s) is that I don’t need to write for number 4 anymore. I mean, I still have my insecurities and brand of ego to share and fuel, but I don’t really think I have to anymore.

Of these six reasons, I plan to whittle the list down the reasons to 2, 5 and 6.

In other news, a three month construction project started in my apartment building, which has meant power-drilling at 7 AM and maybe is helping me wake up earlier even if I still have jet lag and need to work on getting to bed earlier as well. My mother broke her second bone in 5 months, got operated on, but is on her way to full recovery, I may finally have financial security to stay in Berlin for at least three years as of the Fall, I am moving forward with my dissertation, barely run more than 10 miles a week and have found my peace with that, and a lot of other things that will slowly become relevant as I post regularly (for me, it’s meant about 2 posts a month) again.

I still read a lot of WordPress even if I don’t post myself, but I don’t mind if you tell me one (or three) significant things that has happened since I last posted. How do you deal with in-house construction at what feels like o’dark thirty on a hangover? Do you do mental checks with yourselves to refigure out why you’re doing something?

Cheers,

Dorothea