‘Twas the Night before the Race- HaSpa marathon

I’m starting to think that I only need one site, not three. The problem is, I will probably annoy everyone who subscribed to my other blogs (running and reading) just to read about those things. However, I’m getting to the point where I don’t care, especially for this post, since it is the juncture where Hamburg study-abroad meets my running passion: the Hamburg Marathon (more on that later in the post). In reflection, all my passions juncture with one another and I think I may be more successful (a term I define for myself in this context as reaching as many readers as possible) if I consolidate all my writings into this one blog to create a better platform for me to express myself.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflection lately. There are creative writing projects blooming in my notebooks and I am about to complete my third marathon after a two year injury-healing cycle. I consider today a little like the day before my birthday, the night before Christmas where the anticipation slowly builds for what the next day will hold.

This poem from comes to mind:



Tomorrow, April 26th, while many runners will be getting ready for the London Marathon, I’ll be starting in Hamburg’s 30th annual marathon.When I signed up back in December, I knew I was heading into something big.

However, as January saw me plagued by bad plantar fasciitis in my right foot, and January and February were struggles to the death with my MA thesis, training fell to the wayside. I was still running, and I tried to get in at least 25-30 miles a week, but I wasn’t able to get long runs in.

Then, as the thesis fog cleared and my feet itched to get out, I slowly got into serious marathon training. The first few days in March I spent researching whether I would even be able to train in time (less than two months), but I decided to just get started and see how far I could get.

As opposed to the last two marathons I started training for, but got injured during training, I did not follow a plan and was extra attentive to the signs my body gave me. This time around, I also had a foam roller, ice packs, regular cross training, and orthopedics in my regular day-shoes on my side.

All in all, starting February (where I was doing regular 11 miles, so not completely unfit) my long runs progressed like this: 12, 13, 15, 16, 20, 8… 26.2

It was a bit of a (read: a huge, what was I thinking?) risk jumping from 12 to 20 miles in five weeks. However, I only took the risk because I needed the confidence boost. Since then (two weeks ago), I have been extremely careful (ha ha, not really… soccer game last Sunday?), and very laissez faire. This past week, I’ve been feeling a bit run down, and I did not expect differently. I skipped the run I wanted to go on Thursday, and feel better about that decision. I realized at that point that pushing myself out the door was not as wise as just laying back to put forth my efforts tomorrow.


Packet pick-up hub-hub


It may be difficult to tell, but the row for the men to pick up their packets was twice as long as it was for the women (at the end).

Gah! Tomorrow? Yup, tomorrow, I run a marathon. Yesterday (Friday) the expo opened. Being the impatient dork that I am, I made sure to get there right away.

The best part about visiting a race expo in Hamburg is that I get to see two important corners of the city: the convention center (Messe) and the famous park (Planten und Blomben) that borders it. (the pictures I took were with my iPod,  Excuse the crookedness, please!

 Fueling with white asparagus (Spargel) in the days leading up the race. It's a customary German dish with potatoes and hollandaise sause (that has nothing to do with Holland) 

Fueling with white asparagus (Spargel) in the days leading up the race. It’s a customary German dish with potatoes and hollandaise sause (that has nothing to do with Holland)


IMG_1108 Hamburg Messehallen (convention center)




Some beautiful forehead wrinkles and tents set up for the race

I met up with a few fellow soccer players at the expo, saw a girl who is going to the U.S. next year through my same program (two VDAC students will be running!), and exchanged some nervousness.

Also, I was interviewed with the others by a German TV station (SAT.1). Who knows if they will use that excerpt? But how cool is that?!

Finally, I spent yesterday and this morning getting some excellent German carbs in my belly (if I do well tomorrow, then it’s only because German Broetchen are the best in the world).

One thing the Germans don’t do as well however, as I noticed yesterday, was that they don’t give away as many free things. The expo yesterday had one table with free alcohol-free beer (not bad stuff) and a table with free tasters of Cliff bars (I noted how US products appear and are promoted in German spaces), but otherwise the pickings were fairly dry. I’m too excited by other things to spend a lot of time thinking about that right now though. I just thought I’d note it.

In conclusion, I feel fairly well-prepared for tomorrow. I am very excited that there are many of my dorm-mates who will come out to support me, and that this time tomorrow I’ll hopefully be finishing (reach goal is 3:45). One obstacle I’ll still have to overcome is that I’ll have to think in terms of kilometers rather than miles! Geez… 42 sounds much scarier than 26.. but it is what it is. Cultural experience number five million.

All the best to anyone racing tomorrow!

Tl; dr: I am a little kid, anxious for race day to get here because I’m excited about all that it promises to hold. Also, I am merging my blogs. The end.


Die Weihnachtsmärkte öffnen

Weihnachtsstimmung in Deutschland faengt an. German tradition calls for decorations to wait until the day after Toten Sonntag. This is a day of observance for those who passed away in the past year and it is recognized in Germany. I was surprised that I haven’t heard Christmas music yet, but it’s because the observance of this day is still respected across Germany.

I think it’s good that commercialism doesn’t take over everything. Even though Christmas specialties, advent calendars, and decorations have been out in the stores since the end of October, it was a little low-keyed. However, I’m about to see the transformation of Hamburg into a winter wonderland.

I found this in the paper on Thursday. All the markets open on November 24th.

I found this in the paper on Thursday. All the markets open on November 24th.

Because today is Toten Sonntag, this means  the markets open tomorrow! I already saw some markets being put up over the past two weeks. However, I didn’t see how much they’ve gotten done since last weekend, and so I was impressed by the Berlin decorations I saw over the weekend. I imagine Hamburg looks similar (sans Europa Center and Gedaechnis Kirche). I’ll go exploring throughout the rest of the time here before I return home for the holidays.

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I am super excited by all of this because it’s something I don’t get to experience in the States, never mind sunny south Florida. Although there are many Jewish and Muslim people in Germany, it’s culture is still largely oriented around Christian holidays and so the state supports the decorating and  logistics for holiday celebrations. So much sparkled and glittered…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.


Last week, Halloween. This week, St. Martin’s Day!

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Oh no, I’m a horrible photographer, I know. I just wanted to get an image of the different lights all together as the people were walking.

I am currently attending a DaF (German as a Foreign Language) class that uses as its content discussions of what is typically German (typisch Deutsch). At one point during the second class meeting, my professor asked the class what aspects of life we consider to be part of culture, and my answer was “Feste und Feiertagen [festivities and holidays].” My professor didn’t add this to the list on the board because he considered my answer to belong to “traditions.” But for me, festivities and holidays of a nation belong to traditions just as much as food does, and food got written down, so I am respectfully annoyed at Mr. Prof. Dr.

But that aside, I recognize the holidays and festivities of a nation as helping to define the culture of that nation since culture includes shared values and beliefs, and the holidays and festivities of a nation celebrate those values and beliefs. Often, these beliefs are religiously connected. In many nations in the world, the religions are more homogeneous than in the US, so these holiday seasons seem even more festive in places like, for example, Germany. However, this is a bit complicated in the U.S. that tries to be inclusive for all the different people and beliefs living within its borders. Yet, an entire nation having the 4th of July off, for example, is a collective experience that praegts the collective attitude of what that day represents. This is of course again a bit complicated when one considers Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that has been celebrated since the U.S. Civil War as a way to bring divided people together. However, it is tainted by it’s colonial origins… and it’s a day of mourning for a few groups in the U.S. while celebrated by many others.

I’m not here to talk about Thanksgiving though, since I’m in Germany and won’t be celebrating that holiday with my family this year (sad face).

But I did get to participate in a traditional German holiday (albeit celebrated a few days early, since it involves little children who shouldn’t be up too late on a school night).

Most people know what St. Nicholas day is, celebrated on the 6th of December,since St. Nick is known world-wide for his charity and for being the precursor to the modern day Santa Claus. In Germany, a lesser known charitable saint is celebrated in early November by a reenactment and a procession with homemade lanterns.

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St. Martin’s Tag.

These images are from the St. Martinszug that I was invited to witness (and be part of!). The Martinszug is one of several rites to celebrate the Saint’s work, which were explained to me in a skit put on by several classmates of the girl whose parents invited me to the Zug. I had the girl on my shoulders for most of the skit, so I couldn’t really follow it, but I think the main idea was that he was charitable.

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St. Martin’s Day is on November 11th. Mostly celebrated in Old Bavaria and Austria (and apparently also in Hamburg), it is the memorial day of St. Martin of Tours. He is remembered in Central Europe by numerous rites including the the Martinszug, the St. Martin’s goose dinner, and Martin singing.

In the celebration put on by the Grundschule (elementary school) my friend’s daughter attends, there was the singing, the Zug (with a rider in a large white cape on a live horse, a torch procession and many small children with lanterns), and the goose dinner that consisted of large goose shaped cookies that were cut in half to ensure that there were enough for all the kids. The girl (who also had me hold her lantern a few times throughout the evening) ate her cookie half before I could get a photo- so sorry, no photo of half goose cookie.

But I did get a lot of photos of the beautiful lanterns, some bought, most homemade, and I had my first cup of Gluhwein (delicious warm, spiced wine). I also froze my butt off since it was in the low 30s and I still have my Florida mentality…

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What was Hello Kitty doing here? The highlight of my evening, maybe.

It was a pleasure to be part of! And now I feel like I’ve gotten a good dose of authentic German culture (sans Hello Kitty lantern… though, if we want to get into a discussion of culture, culture changes so…wait, I wanted to end this post, not start that discussion).


Cultural Observation of the Day #2: Holes

By holes, I mean specifically the holes found on the side of papers in Germany. Also, I should probably have tried to save one cultural observation for tomorrow, to get a sort of routine started, but I was thinking about the spices yesterday and the holes in paper today… plus, I’m sure I’ll notice something else to comment on soon.

One would think that office supplies around world are the same; at least, I think the U.S. supplies are pretty darn good and practical for anyone and I’ve made it through my BA with what the U.S. has to offer. I am especially thinking of the way there’s wide-ruled and college-ruled paper, and how I felt accredited, somehow, when I used college-ruled paper while in college. My writing was always neatly equally measured in height. Then I came to Germany and discovered that everyone writes on graph paper–not just the engineers, but the literature students too. Apparently, the Germans like their writing to be neatly ordered in height and width.

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so much for order. My notes have never been properly orderly.

Had I been more economically enterprising as a youth, I would have imported these notebooks into the States for my Algebra-Calculus classmates. I could have made three dollar profit and still sold the notebooks for less than in the U.S.

As one can see from the picture, the holes are differently numbered and spaced than in the U.S; this particular notebook has four holes in the pages. Sometimes there are two, but usually four.

I bought two of these notebooks during the first week of classes and have been storing all my papers in the notebooks (one for Russian language, one for everything else) for four weeks now. Needless to say, there’s a limit to the practicality of that process. I decided I needed to start storing the papers in a more, shall we say “dignified” (for the paper, I mean) way.

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I tried to take a picture which includes the binder (Ordner), the dividers with their holes (practical in that they can work in any binder in the world), and the TWO-hole-puncher (not three hole, ahem).

Because of the logistics presented by the paper, it would have been silly to try to put them in in my U.S. binder from Office Depot. Instead, I rode by Staples (yep, they’re here too, though surprisingly German-fied by the Advent Calendars scattered all over the store) and picked up a binder (called Ordner since the function is organizing more than binding), some dividers, and a hole-puncher. I wanted to get the fancy brand name one, but my sense and budget told me the Staples version was fine. Good thing that the German staplers are the same as in the U.S., so it was easy to buy replacement staples (at Staples).

Now because of my new binder, I have the imponderable joy of organizing my notes and reading material and putting them on my shelf at the end of the day. Maybe, it’ll be so delightful that I get another binder for my thesis notes!

Now, aren’t you happy you learned something about the differences in school supplies?

Cultural Observation of the Day: Spices

Generally, I can find all the spices I would usually find in the US: fennel, cloves, parsley, basil, rosemary, etc. However, one spice (or rather, spice mixture) that I did not think I would find was pumpkin spice. U.S. Americans at the beginning of fall cannot stop talking about their use/consumption of pumpkin spice. People talk about pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice oatmeal, pumpkin spice pancakes, and of course the drink so famous it has its own acronym: the PSL (seriously, I don’t even drink and I know what that is. Don’t make me spell it out for you). It’s uniquely, typically U.S. American, right?

But guess what? (go on, guess… it’s not that hard 😉 )

photo not mine! There exists a spice mixture of clove, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice… and it’s called Spekulatius Gewuerz-Mischung. The spekulatius cookie, commonly eaten around Christmas-time in Germany, is basically a pumpkin spice cookie with an imprint that can be very elaborate. The cookies are good! But the spice is delightful in many of the ways one uses pumpkin spice in the US. I enjoy it lately in the morning in my oatmeal.

So there you have it! Guess people around the world can agree on what tastes good.