Family history

I don’t know much about my family history beyond my grandparents. I don’t even know much about that, it’s never really been a thing. But sometimes, at family gatherings, holidays, etc. stories get shared.

As some of you know, I am half French. My dad is German, my mom is French. I’ve been raised bilingually, spent many school holidays in France, up to four weeks at a time.
There’s more to it, though. My grandpa on my mom’s side used to be German. I knew he was from Husum, northern Germany, but that’s it. I never really asked, he was one of those impressive and a bit scary but also loving grandfather of 26 grandchildren1 in his lifetime. He wasn’t a huge person, his built was average, but his voice, demeanor and strictness scared most of us grandkids. He did have a soft spot in his heart for the German ones2, though.

He died a quiet death in his bed in 1997. I can’t remember if it was then or a few years later when my dad told me the story pépé ((French, affectionate word for grandfather)) had told him one night out on the porch, sharing a few beers.

Grandpa Rudolph was in the military, a stoker/machinist on a German submarine. Well, of course, he was born in one of the northern-most cities in Germany. I don’t know anything about that time in his life, except that the submarine was captured in Lorient, France, when the harbor was taken by the English. He ended up being a prisoner of war, tried to escape three times.
His first two attempts ended up with him being caught in a rowboat on the atlantic, and brought back into camp. On his third attempt he actually got all the way home, but the Mayor – who was a friend of the family, but still – had to send him back because he couldn’t produce any discharge papers from his prisonership. So he got taken back to France. That when he said “Fuck it”, and after being released he just stayed in France. By that time he must’ve gotten a fair command of at least French and English, so he made do with being a day-laborer.
At one point he ended up staying with a peasant for a while, essentially being a farmhand. The guy took a liking to him and in the end tried to marry his daughter off to him, so he’d have someone to pass on the farm. Pépé apparently didn’t like what he’d told my dad was one monster of a woman and fled during one night.

He later married my grandmother Gisèle and did a lot of different jobs from building to being a trucker, which got him to drive from Spain to Russia, from Sweden to Italy and pick up all sorts of languages. My mom apparently got some of the restlessness from him and spent time as an au-pair in London and Berlin, as a late teenager. Then she ended up spending some time in a tiny village in the Moselle valley, working as a waitress in the restaurant/bar my dad and the guys from the orchestra frequented at the time. He was 28ish, she was about 21. He asked her out, she went along to one of the orchestra gigs at a wine festival and nearly got scared off by the guys from the neighboring village telling her: “What? YOU WENT OUT WITH ONE OF THEM?”
In the end all went well, and when my dad told his mom that a) he was gonna be a dad and b) they were gonna get married anyway, she first freaked out and went: “I knew it! It was bound to happen, you always laid with her back in your room! I’m not gonna tell your grandma, that’s up to you.”
To which my dad replied: “FINE!” and went to his grandma, said: “Granny, I’m gonna be a dad!”
My great-grandma’s reply was classic: “Oh. Good. But you know, at your age this didn’t have to happen to you!”3.
My parents married in June 1981. I was born in October that year.

Footnotes
  1. my mom had 12 siblings []
  2. there’s 5 of us, my sis, 3 cousins and me []
  3. as in, don’t get stuck with a kid, you should be smarter than that. but not in a mean way []

Class trip to Tuscany

Something that everyone should get to do is those long arse bus trips to another country with their class, school band or similar group. Someone reminded me of the trips I took when I was at school, notably the one almost exactly 15 years ago.

It had been a long standing tradition at my school to do a trip the year before we’d take our finals and leave. The traditional destinations were either Avignon in France or Tuscany in northern Italy. The trip was called a field excursion where we were supposed to learn something about a foreign country: History, culture, art, that sort of stuff.

We just wanted to go on a vacation, have fun, maybe get wasted once. Or twice. Or every day. That and enjoy ourselves, celebrate, that sort of stuff.

About 50 students aged 18 to 19 and 3 teachers met up on the night of May 1st, boarded a large double-decker bus and the party started.
Sort of. Some already were drunk or had a stash of the forbidden fruit1 in their backpacks because, well, May 1st. We’d been threatened with the usual “if you seem drunk before entering the bus you stay here” but…eh.
May 1st is not only a public holiday in Germany, but – especially in our region – an occasion for local youth and young adults to go camping, bbq and drink a lot.
Anyhoo, we all were pretty excited and got hauled 600 miles through Germany, Switzerland and Northern Italy. It took us 15 hours and a few brief stops and only one student almost sent back home when the teacher found out he had a bottle of Vodka in his backpack.

I still remember how we arrived in Marina di Massa at around 11 a.m., everyone was eager to get out and groaned when our teachers announced they wanted us to stay on the bus and wait until they’d sorted things out.

About an hour later they came back. Turned out the hotel that we’d booked had been demolished.
Oh.
The new one, the replacement? Under construction. You should’ve seen our faces. Of course no other hotel had any vacancies as tourist season was in full bloom.
Our teachers told us to go out and grab some lunch and be back in 90 minutes. Which is what we did. Me and a bunch of close friends went to grab a few bruschetta. I had a budweiser.2

We drank to travel catastrophes and to hoping we wouldn’t have to turn back. No chance of that though, since our bus driver was legally obliged to rest anyway.

It took all of the afternoon and some of the night until they had us all squared away. They put most of the girls into a few spare rooms of the nearby youth hostel. The guys were put into … well, I wouldn’t want to use the word ruins, but there were some unused buildings in the YH’s backyard. They cleaned out a few floors, put mattresses and sheets down in the old beds, distributed blankets and told us to stay out of the 3rd floor. “It’s not safe!”
Some of us were really annoyed, even wanted to go home. I thought of it as a sort of adventure and minor inconvenience. I was just glad we didn’t have to go home.

It turned out to be the best thing that had ever happened to us. We were far enough from anyone so there’d be no noise complaints. We had a huge balcony in one room that hosted a party of cheap wine, beer, booze and silly games like therapy pretty much every night.
In one night we’d jumped fence and spent the night at the nearby beach, waiting for the sunrise.3. One of us fell asleep at the beach and woke up with a massive sunburn on his belly. Well, not his whole belly.

And, because we’d paid for hotel in advance, we got some additional luxury to make up for the derelict accomodation, the showers on the other side of the compound and the shock upon arrival.
Breakfast was awesome. Dinner was even better. Pasta, salads, sauces, all kinds of seafood. Free beer on our last night.


A couple of bottles of wine on each table and a nonchalant “Sure, take an extra bottle for each table when you’re done!”
They filled up the pool.
They paid all of our guided tours in Pisa, Siena, Florence and Lucca. A boat trip to Cinque Terre. A several course meal at a fancy restaurant. We had to walk the last two miles up hill because the bus was too large for the narrow turns and low hanging branches and a waiter dropped a large ravioli in my glass of water, but still.

We sang, partied, had fun.
We drank the Vodka someone of the group had bought while he wasn’t there. Bought him Tequila instead.
I especially remember that one night on the balcony, when Sara poured Vodka into paper cups and handed them out. Shouted “Cheers!” and downed it. We followed suit. About 3 ounces. Ow. How about some Sambucca? We drank that too, My throat hurt after that, so I downed two 11oz cans of Coke ((diet coke. caffeine free. vile stuff.) afterwards and belched so massively that you probably heard me, wherever you were at the time.

In short, we had the time of our lives. We partied without and with our teachers. Took group pictures. Did dumb stuff. Spent money. Sang to our teacher playing the piano rather brilliantly.

I wanna be 18 again.

Footnotes
  1. booze. []
  2. lol []
  3. yes, we were on the west coast, shut up []

Longing for whales

One of the many interests I’ve pretty much always had is whales. I’ve read a German translation of Moby Dick as a preteen, saw the Gregory Peck movie around the same time.

I vaguely remember seeing a dolphin show at an amusement park when I was a kid, I’ve always liked aquariums and it’s difficult to get me away from penguins, seals or walruses at zoos, especially when they’re active. Or sharks. Or whatever.

So whenever I had the opportunity to go to an aquarium, I went. Denmark, UK, New Zealand, Virginia Beach, etc.

But even befor that, whales were special. I had non-fiction books on whales, I watched the occasional documentary or movie if it just involved whales. I think that’s part of the reason why Star Trek IV is one of my favorite Star Trek movies.

I don’t think I ever thought I’d actually see real, big whales out in the wild. They’re not exactly commonplace in Germany or wherever I’d been in the first 20 years of my life, but then I got invited to visit a friend in Seattle in 2006. I’d already had my flights book when we had to cancel the whole thing due to him becoming a father for the first time. Would’ve been awkard because the day I’d arrived was the actual birth day of his daughter. Or within a few days at least.

Needless to say, while happy for him I was angry at the fate and the world, because one of the things we might’ve done while I was there: Go watch Orcas. Actual black and white beautiful whales in the wild. Even if only from far, that would’ve made my decade.
So I sulked around and talked to a friend on instant messenger who tried to console me and told me to find another trip somewhere beautiful. Googled a bit and said “How about Iceland? Iceland has whales!”
So I booked a trip to Iceland and reserved a seat on a whale watching tour on one of the days with nothing else planned. I was giddy with excitement, right up until the moment the telephone in my hotel room rang and the receptionist told me the trip had been called off due to bad weather.

Iceland was absolutely gorgeous, though.

iceland_493

The next time I even considered the possibility of seeing whales was on my trip to New Zealand in 2013. Unfortunately we didn’t find any whale watching opportunities on our North Island round trip, and we didn’t catch any whales on the week on Norfolk Island afterwards.

What consoled me a little was the fact that we saw a school of dolphins on the boat rip to White Island. Seeing those beautiful creatures swim, jump and frolic all around as felt magical.

 

southpac_0381

southpac_0385

And my first time snorkeling (Emily Bay, Norfolk Island) also made for an awesome experience and nice pictures.

IMGP0177

 

Right now I’m working on my next attempt at seeing whales in the wild, planning for my trip to the US west coast followed by 5 days on Maui. Hopefully catching a whale or three in my lens and finally having that experience.

 

Well, maybe not that trippy, even though that’d be might cool.

Papillon

A while ago in a twitter conversation about lifechanging books, @CairnRodrigues mentioned Henri Charrière’s Papillon, a book I have read.1
That book actually has some relevance for me when you think about turning points in life. Somehow.

13 years and about a month ago I was about to take my oral and final examination for my Abitur2.
The subject was geography. I was neither worried nor comfortable with it. I never had any phobic reactions to exams but I didn’t go into them as if it was nothing either.
In theory, this examination could cover anything we talked about in the final two or three years at school. In fact, the three students that had to go through this exam, me included, had a meeting with our teacher and we got a few subtle hints on what to prepare for.
And, of course, the usual “keep up to date with the news, it’s always good to work current events into what you have to say”.

Tradition had it, that during the two days of the examinations the students of the year before the final provided cake and coffee for those being under the scrutiny while waiting and preparing. So a few of us sat there, waiting, munching cake without much appetite, until our respective teacher came in, led us to an empty room and handed us a sheet of questions to think about for about 30 minutes.
After that they put a collar on us and led us to the gallows3.

When I entered the room, I noticed a few things.
The front desk, where I would sit.
All of the schools current geography teachers, including the headmaster and one teacher who always made fun about geography but apparently wanted to see how I’d do ((he was my history, German and philosophy teacher at the time)) were looking at me. Oh dear.
There was a map and the blackboard.

My geography teacher led me into the room, ushered me to the front desk and said: “Feel free to use the map or blackboard if you want to show or visualize something!”

What I said was something like “Ok” or “Thanks”.
What I thought was “I’m not going to get up from this damn chair until this ordeal is over!”

Next I talked for maybe ten to fifteen minutes about the questions and information they gave me to prepare, a little bit about US oil policy, climate in different locations and I think agriculture in Northern America.4

After that I answered a few questions, responded to a hint or two. Then the teachers grilling me looked at each other. “Ok?” “Yes.” “Good.” *nods all around*
Then one of them asked me the final question: “Is there anything you want to add, maybe something you read in the past few days…?”

I knew what they were talking about, but I have always been bad keeping up with current events and even though I knew it might be relevant, I never bothered during the wait for the big day. I pretty much went about my days the way I’d always done. I read through my materials about the topics relevant for the exams, but that was pretty much it.

My answer to the questions provoked a few things. One of them made a “He didn’t really just say that face”, anotherone just grinned, and then my teacher said: “Ok, thank you, you’re done here. You will all get the results tomorrow at 4PM.”

What I said was: “Papillon, but I doubt that will help me here!”

I got 12 out of 15 points, if anyone cares.

Footnotes
  1. woo! []
  2. the secondary school certificate  required to study at a university. which I didn’t. []
  3. examination room []
  4. Germany approaches Geography in a very global way, it not only covers locations of places, but also economy, climate and maybe even politics and the way they might be affected by geographical conditions. It’s a coincidence that this year NA was part of the topic []

English was my favorite subject in school

Today I am somewhere upstate New York, so here’s another prescheduled one. Hope you like it. :-)

English WAS my favorite subject in school. As you probably know by now, even if you just got here, I am German.  Not everyone knows that I have been raised bilingually1, German and French.

In my fifth school year I started learning English, and having learned my first foreign language pretty much from day one, the third one came easy to me. I never really had to do anything to pick it up. I just listened, read, did my homework and learned it.

When you learn a language at school in Germany, you start with the usual basics. Telling someone about yourself, describing things and people, one adjective, noun and verb after another.

At some point you get to working with texts, fictional and non-fictional, and barring the occasional grammar lesson, you gradually transition into a sort of literature and culture class that is held in a foreign language.2.

Being a natural, I started reading English books for fun when I was around fifteen3.

Shortly after I began working funny stuff into exams, because…well, I don’t know, I just got inspired. One of the exams was about an interview that someone conducted with Aldous Huxley, and we were supposed to pick up how they viewed certain things differently on account of having grown up in different time periods. I had been listening to a lot of Running Wild at the time, so I used their song title “Prisoners Of Our Time” to describe the idea in a more colorful way.

In another exam about how language plays a role in George Orwell’s 1984 I used a joke I knew from one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels4.

The highlight of my English exam shenanigans was one of our last exams, about William Shakespeare’s Hamlet5.

It was our final year in school, we were a small class and our teacher was pretty relaxed and  didn’t pay much attention to us. At one point one of my best friends, Alex, turned around to me and said, proudly: “I just used the word vortex in my essay!”
I replied: “Ha, I can beat that!” and found a way to incorporate maelstrom into mine.

Philipp, sitting behind me, piped up: “What’s this going to be?  A competition?”

We wondered if our teacher would mention it upon returning the exam, but he didn’t. So we actually asked which of the two words puzzled/annoyed him more, and what can I say…it was close, but mine was more horrible!

Thanks to @CareyTorg for reminding me of this episode and inspiring me. Follow her on twitter, read her blog and be nice to her, she’s awesome! Also buy her book in December, ok? Thanks!

Footnotes
  1. my mother is French. In a way. That’s a story for another day, probably []
  2. in theory []
  3. I bought Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather on a class trip to Munich because I didn’t want to wait a year for the translated paperback []
  4. the one about the Inuit having 100 words for snow but none of them worth printing []
  5. see my limerick blog post for additional unrelated entertainment []

the black things are the music

As some of you already know, I play the tuba. I started in 1993 with a baritone (I was just a wee lad, then) and switched to a rather small tuba within a few years.
I got into it because…well, to be blunt I was sort of forced.
It was either that or sports, probably because my parents wanted me to interact with local people so I get more friends. When I stopped wanting to go to the track and field stuff that I had been doing and that division kind of fell apart anyway, I got put into music.

My dad had been in the local orchestra since he was young as well, and he always had been in the comittee that ran the show. Since I had no actual preference or special talents, they gave me a baritone and said “tuba later”. My dad plays the tuba. Yes, I’ve been through the usual phases where I didn’t really like it, was frustrated with the kind of music we play1 but overall I enjoyed and still enjoy it. No small thanks to the projects and orchestras I was and still am a part off beside the vintner’s orchestra2 that is the core of our local music association3.

The one thing that probably kept me from wanting to ditch the whole thing during teenage years was my school orchestra. Our “Big Band”.  An orchestra consisting of about 40 students aged 12 to 19 lead by one of the school’s music teachers.4

I joined the band in 1996 and it was probably the best decision I have made in my whole time as a student. I made friends, and while musically it might have been dubious5 but it was one hell of a fun time. Our new headmaster had connections to various European projects so we went to Poland in 1997, to Sweden in ’98, Bulgaria ’99, then Poland again in 2000 and 2001. The last trip I joined started the day after I graduated from school and it was our year’s farewell tour. Quite a number of friends from my school year were in the band at that time.

Charles, our band leader turned 60 in 2013 and retired. One of the girls that I think is graduating this year had an awesome idea. She started a year before to contact former students who played in the Big Band that Charles had been leading for more than 25 years. And she made it. His family (two daughters who had also been playing with us) kept it secret and we organized a surprise party and concert in the school gym.

We met up early in the morning, got our old sheet music and rehearsed for a couple of hours. Of course we had a few breaks to catch up with people we hadn’t seen in years, socialise with people who’d played in the band long before we even started. Or after we’d left in my case. We made a wall with old photographs, wrote memories and quotes on it6 and took long trips down memory lane.

It was an awesome group of 60 musicians, about 30 current and 30 former members of the band. When Charles was announced to arrive in a few minutes we all hid in the next room and tried to stay quite. It wasn’t easy, we were quite giddy with excitement. His family led him into the gym and he let out an all too familiar groan. This orchestra sat there. A few teachers, friends, the headmaster, his family. When he sat down, the orchestra started playing one of our “classics”.  Tequila, by the champs. We had agreed on repeating one part over and over and have the former members entering the gym, ordered by age, youngest first. I was somewhere in the middle, having left about 12 years ago.

It was brilliant, we walked in with our instruments, waved, sat down and joined in playing Tequila, finishing the song after all the orchestra was complete. The girl leading the conspiracy said a few words and then handed us over to his lead again. She gave him the cues as to what we’d play next and it was just like old times for about an hour. His current 8th grade class sang a song for him and the current headmaster said a few words about how awesome it was that he made such an impact on people throughout the years to make us gather on a saturday afternoon and play for him. Charles said a few words as well, and it was hard not to start bawling for a lot of us, when we saw his slightly wet eyes.

He was blown away. I think it was one of the most beautiful things I have been a part of, and I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it. Which accounts for my slightly incoherent style today. Please forgive me.

He also impressed us by calling each of us out by name, no matter if we’d finished school one, five, ten or 20 years ago.

And I still get somehow giddy with excitement and a little sad with nostalgia, when I close with the words that he addressed us with so often, when we were about to play the encore, usually “Barbara Ann”.

And now everybody as fast and as loud as they can!

 

Oh, and here’s the new picture for www.52photosproject.com

I didn’t put one up last week because I couldn’t find anything minty or limey to save my life, so here goes. For the blog post obviously something related to music or the orchestra would have been good, but I found something else while looking through pictures of meeting people7

Campfire, Cologne/Germany, 2005

Campfire, Cologne/Germany, 2005

Footnotes
  1. I still sometimes get that []
  2. I live in a region that is very focused on growing wine []
  3. est. 1925 []
  4. let’s call him Charles, because reasons []
  5. playing loud and fast often took priority over precision and intonation []
  6. “the black things are the music” was an alltime favorite, along with “listen up!”, “ok, from the beginning, for the eleventh-last time” and “don’t drink more than you can force into you” []
  7. online friends, for reference see http://www.ollicrusoe.net/2013/12/here-be-dragons-friends-from-the-internet/ []

my one true love

Don’t fret, it’s not as cheesy as the title might suggest. As some others, this blog post was prompted by the 52 photos project. This week’s photo prompt: hearts.

At first I was caught by surprise. Hearts? I don’t have anything to do with hearts in my archive! Where am I going to find something heartsy to photograph?

Well, here’s what I came up with.

my one true love

my one true love

Yup. If I ever had a “true love”, it’s probably books. Lost in a good book is when I’m happiest. It’s my escape from everything. My personal time machine, my portal into another world. The story might be sad or even gruesome but reading, living a fictional character’s feelings has always allowed me to forget everything around me for a while.

Even when I didn’t need it, I enjoyed it.

Some proverb says “a book is like a garden in your pocket”. I like to think that a book is like a vacation.

I’ve started early, and I’ve read pretty much every kind of story, I guess. As a toddler1 I couldn’t get enough of a certain children’s book. I’ve had it read to me so often that at the age of three or four I “read”2 it to my sister who is two and a half years younger than me.

It must have been bliss for my parents when I started to read by myself.
Comics from the doctor’s waiting room are among my earliest memories. The “Fury” novels by Miller3 and the Winnetou stories by Karl May4 probably were my first novels, I must have started with them at the age of  nine.

I had two main sources of books. Our village library, ran by the church, was one of them. I’d usually spend my Thursday afternoons there, browsing for new books to read. That is, as soon as I overcame my initial shyness and started going there on my own. It was ridiculously cheap to rent a book for up to a fortnight5 and I never returned a book late.

The second source was friends of the family. People that somehow knew6 that I was the bookish kind. Those were the best days, when a box of old books was dropped off at my parents’ place and I had a new pile of books to devour. I think I was about 12 when I first read Moby Dick.7

Starting with the bibliography of Karl May and his wild west/Northern Africa stories I devoured everything from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to Alister MacLean’s WWII thrillers. Spy stories was something I grew into in my early teens, but I also didn’t stop at the classic adventure stuff of J.F. Cooper or Jack London.

Back then, finding gifts for my birthdays or Christmas was really easy. I’d usually get some book and the warning “don’t read it all in one night”.

Ha, one night? Yup. One night. A lot of kids fight with their parents about staying up late to watch TV. I never did. I went to bed early, opened a book, turned off the light when my mom shouted, waited 20 minutes, turned it on again, hoping nobody would notice. Occasionally they did.

Practise made me a fast reader, so one of the requirements for book gifts I kiddingly gave when asked would be “600 pages plus”.  I also never had trouble reading books more than once. When I watch a movie or play a video game for a second time, it occasionally feels like a waste of time to me. This NEVER happened to me with a book. There are several books8 that I know I have read probably about 20 times each. I am not exaggerating.

Being a rather fast reader helps, I suppose. I don’t skim books, I actually remember lots of details from the books I’ve read. But starting early and literally reading heaps of books of nearly every genre helped with that.

To illustrate: I must have been about 16 when I went into the library, not exactly knowing what to look for. So I asked the librarian, who’d known me for a while, if there was anything interesting, preferably long. She asked me if I’d heard about Noah Gordon’s “The Physician”9. I hadn’t, so I took it with me. On a Thursday. You should’ve seen her face when I brought it back on Sunday (the next day the library would open). It took me two and a half days to read it.

Of course I’ve  always had phases in my life where I didn’t read that much. I just wasn’t in the mood, couldn’t find anything that kindled my interest for a while, didn’t want to reread any of the books I had around or simply didn’t have time and leisure because I was in the military. But there was always a point where I turned back to my one true love. Books.

A big “reading phase” started when I was introduced to the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. It was in 1997, on our first orchestra trip to Poland. I sat next to the drummer for about 18 hours, and he had a book with him. Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures. He giggled a lot, so at some point I skimmed over a dialoge between Victor and Gaspode (yes, I remember). He noticed and told me I could read along if I liked. I was a little puzzled, hadn’t talked much to him before, but since we had nothing else to do and I was faster than him anyway, I just followed it for a while. Then at some point he got tired and handed me the book. “Start from the beginning if you want to.”

I finished the book before he woke up again, borrowed a few Discworld  novels from him after we came back and owned about 20 less than a year later.

Basically it became my big reading obsession for the following years, and I will buy every Pratchett novel on release day as long as he keeps publishing.

Hang on, you might notice that I’ve read a lot, you probably know I like fantasy and scifi. I didn’t write about Tolkien yet. Well, Tolkien. Long story short, I can’t remember at what age I first read the Lord of the Rings, but I must have been just out of my single digits. Then I nearly forgot about it and about 5-7 years later remembered it and got the English green paperback. Satisfied? Not every book nerd started with Tolkien, but yes, it’s been a big thing for me too.

Anyway, in my late teens/early twenties I couldn’t enter a book store without coming back out with an armful of books, apart from that I occasionally asked friends or the local book store for recommendations. Shelf space was becoming an issue, since I was unwilling to throw away books. Ever. I still have some of my earliest, boxed away for pure nostalgia.

That kind of became a dampener for my reading of new things. Money never was much of an issue, books probably were my biggest expense until I moved out of my parents’ house and that wasn’t that long ago. Shelf space, though…

Enter eBooks. I have long been reluctant to get an eBook reader. I felt weird for paying money for something that was “only” the infrastructure for content. I feel weird when I remember myself thinking that. But at some point a positive review from a friend and christmas changed that. I jumped over my shadow and told my parents when the inevitable and dreaded question about what I wanted for Christmas arose again: “A Kindle would be good.”

I got one and right now I wonder why I didn’t do it earlier. I’ve had it for two years now, and while I will always order or buy paper books, my eBook reader has become indispensible.

Hesitating to buy a book unless I felt it was too expensive for now10 is a thing of the past. I don’t mind the prices, because I pay for the content, not for the medium. And my sporadic contact to writers on twitter, their blogs and other sources made me a little more sensitive to how book prices are made up11 and how creatures actually do depend on that money or the sales figures, so I won’t ever bitch about the price difference between eBooks and paper books again.

While paper books are a pretty thing I actually get more value from eBooks. Sure, there’s some disadvantage,s and they might be tied to my account at a company, etc.

But my reading habits don’t leave me with much of a choice. Before ebooks, when travelling I usually took a big book with me. And was stuck with it. I had to be careful so I wouldn’t read it all on the flight to my destination or even lose interest in it. And I’d have to lug something like Tad Williams’ “Otherworld” or one of the hard fantasy political intrigue gorefests of G.R.R. Martin with me for a 10.000 mile round trip, just to buy a massive paperback at the airport so I’d have something to read for the flight back home.

This is where I love my Kindle most, aside from not breaking my wrist when reading a 900 page cold war thriller in bed. I took it with me on a trip to the South Pacific, had two dozen books on it, some new, some old, got a pre-ordered one while on the free wi-fi at Auckland Airport and it all weighs less than a regular paperback novel. I just stuff it in my backpack along with a charger and I have a whole archive to choose from. Things can’t get better for someone who reads up to 200 pages an hour.

My book collection keeps growing, due to following and occasionally interacting with writers on twitter, and probably the biggest money drain in that directon, following John Scalzi’s (he writes awesome sci-fi, too)) blog at http://whatever.scalzi.com . He regularly posts the “Big Idea” guest blogs, where writers can post about their new books, specifically the big ideas behind them.

He got me hooked on Myke Cole and Seanan McGuire, to name just two, and the most recent post is about “The Martian” by Andy Weir, a really gripping story about a man stranded on Mars after his mission went belly-up.

Side note: read this post. Get the book.

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/02/11/the-big-idea-andy-weir/

I’ve sort of followed Andy Weir from his earlier web comic days to his creative writing forays and am thrilled that he finally gets the recognition he deserves, and he is a really nice fellow, too. (Hi Andy, should you ever read this!)

Ok. Books. My one true love.

I’ve you’ve read this far, congratulations. And thank you for bearing with me, for looking into my past and into my soul.

I guess if you did, you are a reader anyway. If you have the chance to influence kids, encourage them to read. It is the greatest gift you can give. Don’t force them though.

Myke Cole (who wrote the awesome Shadow Ops Trilogy, the final novel just having been published in January)  is leading with an example I cannot label any different than awesome. He has an ongoing deal with his niece that he will buy her any book she wants. As simple as that. I will try to follow in his footsteps in that regard, hoping to be the godfather or uncle of a child soon enough, so I can maybe pass my love for books along.

Good night, I’m going to go read something now.

Footnotes
  1. so I was told []
  2. well, recited []
  3. that black mustang stallion, you might remember the old monochrome TV show []
  4. a German classic, not sure how well they are known in other countries []
  5. I love that word []
  6. I suspect my parents told []
  7. as I said, I read about everything []
  8. some of the Winnetou stuff, Terry Pratchett’s “Interesting Times” and Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” to name a few []
  9. It’s a story set in the early middle ages, German paperback had roughly 1200 pages []
  10. even though I can afford it, I won’t pay any price []
  11. not talking about the German fixed price thing []

The first rule of Gluttony Club

You do not talk about Gluttony Club.

Actually we do talk about it. But let’s start at the beginning. In late 2000 one of my closest real friends at school1 suggested celebrating New Year’s Eve together with a few friends and – if applicable – their partners.  So we went grocery shopping together, met up at his parents’ place, invaded the basement and had a traditional German New Year’s Eve Dinner.
Raclette.
Around midnight all of us gathered outside to kick off the New Year with a glass of sparkling wine.2

We had a great deal of fun, so we decided to repeat this the following year and a tradition was born. The group grew and changed a little3, I opted out one year to go to Edinburgh.
Apart from those minor disruptions the core group basically remained the same.

After a few years of preparing dinner together, one of us suggested changing the setup a little.4
So for the next year we decided to split up, assign the courses (starters, salad, main course, dessert) to the participants and try to keep the actual food a surprise until the very last moment, where possible.5.

It was a raging success, so the updated tradition went on and expanded. Until at one point we were pretty much continuously serving and preparing new courses in one night, starting at 7pm and having dessert at about 3am.
Routine and different choices of food formed the whole process to the point where we’d usually start at about 7pm, having the main course around 11pm and dessert after midnight.

The following day we would meet again, finish cleaning up and having breakfast together, often with the parents whose house we’d invaded that year.

Our annual dinner is probably the one fixed date I look forward the most every year and the one date the whole group can be together without too much of a hassle, since everyone of us usually returns to their home for Christmas and New Year’s, even though some have moved between 150 and 450 miles away.

Next  This year will probably be the first time we will not celebrate at someone’s parents’ place, but maybe in the house one of us bought about 450 miles away. We will see. I’m already looking forward to it.

And to finish this nostalgic post with a little bit a load of deliciousness, here are a few impressions from  this year’s gluttony.

silent anticipation

field salad with mushrooms, onions and walnuts , honey mustard dressing

field salad with mushrooms, onions and walnuts , honey mustard dressing

vegetable curry with chickpea pancake

vegetable curry with chickpea pancake

salad with ham-wrapped feta cheese

salad with ham-wrapped feta cheese

fried swordfish steak with baked vegetables, garlic / honey mustard dip

fried swordfish steak with baked vegetables, garlic / honey mustard dip

ricotta cheese cake

ricotta cheese cake

Ricotta cheesecake

 

Happy New Year!

 

the aftermath of a typical NYE celebration in Germany, taken for http://www.52photosproject.com/

aftermath of a typical NYE celebration in Germany, taken for www.52photosproject.com – check it out, it’s awesome

 

Footnotes
  1. it was our final year []
  2. well, one of us missed it by a minute, deciding he needed to pee at 23:58 []
  3. due to changing relationships and in one case someone dropping off the radar and not even replying to mails or text messages anymore []
  4. we ran out of ideas after having fondue, raclette, burritos and a different kind of fondue []
  5. You DO NOT talk about Gluttony Club. This was made easier by having a lot of people being open-minded as to food. Well, baring one very special case, but that is another story []