December 31, 2011

A New Year

I can't find better words than Neil Gaiman today. He says what I wish for everybody. I for one expect great things in this new stretch on the calendar and it feels like there is a lot to be discovered. The best from last year I will take with me, the rest I will leave there. Please enjoy your start into 2012 and share your joy and positive anticipation of what is to come with your loved ones!

December 15, 2011

Life after work

Wow, life has flown by for the past months. I was so busy that I hardly got time to reflect on all the changes my new job has brought with it. Life before was about family, studies, travel and friends far away. Now that I live in a big city and work full-time it's about work, housekeeping, shopping, and friends in my city.

Of course I miss some things from my old life. I have seen much less of my family, which sometimes makes me sad, because I got so used to having them around me regularly. All the happier I was when my granddad turned 90. Happy birthday again, Rudi! I miss my brother, who has been traveling for months all around the world and will be spending Christmas away from Germany this year. I don't miss my studies too much, but I have noticed that with the end of constant language practice some of my vocabulary is lost (mostly my Spanish, although some Portuguese is kept fresh thanks to doing capoeira). The time to travel will be very limited from now on, but I have already started to dream about where I might go and where to spend my precious free days next year. All that skill at travel planning I have amassed over the last years shouldn't go to waste, right?! Spain is high on the list and who knows, maybe I will be joined by another traveller from the other end of the world.

Mostly though I really have a lot of fun with my new lifestyle. For one, having money gives a nice feeling of freedom although I expected it to make even more of a difference than it does so far. A more noticeable change is that I now live in the same city as many of my oldest and dearest friends. We spend some hours every week to get together and do sports and eat. A week ago we were baking cookies for christmas at different homes on three days in a row. "Weihnachtsplätzchen backen" is a fine German tradition :) And with my new flat being 4 times as big as my old tiny room in Augsburg also comes the opportunity to invite more people to my home. I have already tried it on a few occasions and am quickly getting used to being a host. At the end of the year I will have people over to play videogames and just hang out at my place. I am happy to start a new year here and get an opportunity to build my new life with the people and activities I want in it. Before January I will take some quiet time and imagine what I want to achieve in 2012. Some things I might share here, others I will keep to myself. But you can expect another blog post soon, where I will tell you about my first experiences of what it is like to be a banker after being a sociology student for so long :) Take care and have a nice week!

October 03, 2011

On Work

Then a ploughman said, "Speak to us of Work."
And he answered, saying:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life's procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite. ... And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life, And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life's inmost secret. ... And what is it to work with love? ... It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit ... Work is love made visible.

I am starting my new job tomorrow. It is not only my new job, but also in most ways my first. I am not anxious or afraid, but tense, curious, and slightly uncertain. Will I like what I have to do for money? Will I be able to use my creativity in new ways to further goals other than ideals and my own good life? How can I bring my personality into my new environment to make it richer and not lose myself in work thus making everyone poorer? What new potentials will this unleash in me? What will I discover about myself that nothing up to this point has brought to the surface?

Maybe I have become idle and lost touch with the procession of the seasons. If so, I am going to make up for it now by bringing myself to a new task and breathing life and love into it.

The waiting has an end and the energy is starting to rise again. Here I come :)

And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny

Wherever they drive the boat.

To put meaning in one's life may end in madness,

But life without meaning is the torture

Of restlessness and vague desire--

It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

(Find the full text of Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet" here. The last quote is from the "Spoon River Anthology" by Edgar Lee Masters)

August 15, 2011

Magic of Technology

Fascinating! I wish you a magical week :)

August 07, 2011

About the economy

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." This is the starting quote from Charles Dickens' classic masterpiece "A Tale of Two Cities". The cities are London and Paris, or maybe metaphorically the old Paris and the new Paris, before and after the French revolution of 1789. It is the story of how the privileges of the wealthy and politically powerful, their pride and sense of entitlement, and not least their abject disgust of the less fortunate, who are unable to lift themselves up from poverty, brought about a revolution and all the horror that followed in its wake. It is a cautionary tale about how ugly, emotional, and violent things can get, if the majority of the people in a country is continuously disregarded and feels neglected by their entitled leadership. Of course, there are no parallels to our modern enlightened democracies, where people choose their leaders themselves. Or are there?

I just came across this documentary involving the statements of some politicians and economists done by Al Jazeera English, that makes an excellent case, that there is a growing disconnect between the politically and economically powerful and the majority of Americans.

Although this report is specifically describing the American situation, it is not an American problem. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening or already as wide as it gets in many countries of this world. I could cite GINI coefficients or top tax rates to make this point, but the sad thing is that we are all already very aware of the inequality in the world.

But there are two very different outlooks on the problem and how to solve it. Some say: "Well, if we could only get the world economy on it's feet again and finally relax those trade rules to get government out of the way and stop pussy-footing around who is really creating value on this planet.", while others say "We are in a desperate situation, where the rich control politics through money. Trickle down economy has been proven wrong, but they try to keep people oblivious. If we could only get the rich to pay their fair share, maybe through a global tax on financial transactions, or there will be hell to pay."

I personally believe in the democratic process of debate and compromise. I also have a high opinion of meritocracy, when it comes to economic issues, but not when it comes to social class. You should not have to earn your right to speak by having enough money, but every voice should be represented independent of its weight in gold. Politicians who do not follow this guideline of balancing the interests of all members of society, irrespective of economic power, but based on their human value as citizens, are making a devil's bargain. They are becoming puppets of interests other than the common good.

I happen to agree with the rating agency Standard & Poors on their assessment of "America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed." I think one way out of this mess is to re-establish reliability and accountability in politics. Not by "brinksmanship", as the Republicans have shown by holding the country's future hostage, but by putting every opinion out there and having an unemotional and reasonable debate that does not negate any of the facts. A compromise is when all sides give a little and everybody albeit grudgingly still supports the final deal. It would definitely make policymaking a lot more predictable and effective! And, hopeless idealist that I am, I think also a little more just...

August 02, 2011

Open choices

You are free, but you have to choose something. My mother used to say: "an open oven bakes no bread" -- Paulo Coelho

Sometimes I feel like I don't have a choice. There is no choosing without alternatives. Well, alternative choices are all around us. Life itself is a series of choices: subconscious choices, immediate choices, well-thought-through choices, forced choices, emotional choices, hurried choices, bad choices, good choices. Living is choosing. And one recipe to give ourselves room to make good choices is openness. Openness about the direction a choice might take us in.

I am a social scientist, an intellectual, a people person, a traveler, but I might as well describe myself as a manager, an entrepreneur, an analytic brain, and a good networker. It's about the self-definition, not about the contents or skills of my person. By realizing this, a lot more choices open up to me. I don't have to follow a pre-drawn path that is determined by what I have done in the past. The Self that made those decisions does not exist, because every time a decision was made there was a random collection of (mostly unconscious) decisions about what experiences to pick from my past and what behaviors to nominate as "characteristic" of myself (my self!).
WWID - What Would I Do? in this situation is the question that many people ask themselves to feel consistent in their self-image. But a consistent self-image is a trap. It locks your choices into a cage that becomes harder and harder to break. To minimize the pain and anguish at our limitation, we proceed to rationalize the cage as the real us, our personality, and if we are lucky we can say of ourselves (our selves!) that we are what we have always wanted to be. there is so much more out there. Throwing the past overboard can be healthy. It's never too late to start looking again for what you wanna do with your life. Maybe you would love to start a new career, there are usually lots of new places that you would like to see before you die, or you could be looking for a hobby by crowd-sourcing the search.

What helps me are my advisors, the people around me that challenge my arguments for doing the things I do, but never stop me from doing something they did not really expect. Friends and family know me well enough to trust my decisions, once I have made them and still help me while I collect arguments for or against a certain idea. Change is always scary, but with people like this, it is half as bad!

July 23, 2011


The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with. ~Tony Robbins

The search for a job is a difficult phase, especially when you are quite new to it as I am. There are so many variables in this equation of interests between you and your potential employers. You you can never have all the data you want before your decision (although you will surely get it after you have decided).

On the employers' side there are mechanisms that try to filter people:
instruments like formal requirements (resumé, cover letter, correct spelling, good grades), personal tests (assessment centers, interviews), and criteria your character should fit (authenticity, honesty, ability to work in a team, analytical thinking, creative traits, business understanding, etc). The aim of any employer will be to find the most qualified and motivated person to fit the organisation's goals and culture for a productive work together. Only problem with this is that there is no perfect applicant and if there is, no amount of interviewing will ascertain to 100% that this work relationship will work out.

On the candidate's side there is even more uncertainty. It starts with the selection of possible future jobs, let alone employers that you could imagine. The most detailed research cannot rule out the possibility that you missed a very important point about your new job: the work environment feels oppressive, you find it hard to deal with your new tasks, you would rather be working at the other end of the world. Of course, few jobs are perfect, and they are not meant to be fun, but being productive and happy depends to a large extent on you doing something you are good at and feel comfortable doing. And there are only very few, if any, people who always know exactly what that is.

I guess what all this means is that while there is no way to know what is the best path, everybody eventually finds some thing to do with their lives. Where you land is hugely determined by luck and how well you can motivate yourself to take action towards the few things you actually are sure about. This is easier said than done, but it may help to look at the situation from the outside and remind yourself that your uncertainty is not limited to you. After all this is what life is about, we just need to take it one step at a time!

June 09, 2011

Search for inspiration

This is Bono giving a commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania. It is customary at universities in the United States to have a notable speaker to celebrate another year of graduates leaving the institution with a degree. I wish this was also a tradition at universities in Germany because it gives graduates like me something they are very much in need of: inspiration.

Now you might say "come on, you just got a degree, you are young and successful, so if you can't come up with brilliant ideas for your life, no one can", but it is not as simple as that.
Yes, it is true, people with masters degrees are certainly less likely to end up unemployed (statistics tell me this, while the clichee still goes about students of humanities driving cabs and selling hot dogs). I acknowledge that I am privileged. I am well-educated, safely funded, and able-bodied.

Nothing can stop people like me. Except for ourselves.

Inspiration is the spark that can make this generation live up to its potential, but it does not grow in an environment of "no, you can't" or of "yes, but". When there is high unemployment we are told to go for security and are discouraged from our dreams because really, what does my generation know about making a career. When the job market is good, we are encouraged to go for the jobs that pay best. Security and money seem like the most obvious categories by which to judge the quality of a job. And it feels limiting. When I turn on the news I listen to politicians naming job creation as their highest priority, as if work was a value in itself. It is not. A healthy, happy, and just global society however is! The shortsighted requirements of creating jobs for our economy to sustain the unsustainable goal of infinite growth are sending a signal that does not lead to the best outcomes.

Everybody has something that inspires them! For me it is the interaction with people, the collaboration to do something good. I also draw energy from things that upset me, from phone companies' bad service, to educational inequality, preventable environmental disasters, global poverty and disease, and the incredibly slow pace of change. If I can harness my passionate instinct to help out with the emergency situation of poverty, environmental change, migration, lack of education in most parts of the world, I am sure to be more productive and more fulfilled in the long run.

The inspiration to help must be steeled against frustration, shielded from cynicism and, very often, from pragmatism. Bono speaks about idealism under attack, and he is right. For years I have learned about the inequalities that our society produces, about the structures that keep the poor in poverty and the uneducated dumb. I know that the time to act has come.

I know that my role in this world is somewhere out there, helping to organize a future that is more just that our past, setting up the structures that will lead to less violence and more education. I have a dream that my children will live in a world that is not shackled by the responsibility for a neglected Global South. In my dream university graduates will not have the odd feeling of choosing between their ideals and a sensible career. This is my mission statement. Feel free to make your own!

May 22, 2011

What is Netanyahu doing?!

Recently I have written less about politics. One of the reasons is that when you are going on public record with a personal opinion you better be well-informed and prepared to handle the reactions. Often I feel either not informed enough or not passionate enough about the issues to write about them. Sometimes however, things need to be said, because politics lives from public discourse and I definitely welcome discussions.

What got me upset was an interaction between two nations, the United States and Israel, and their respective leaders, Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. On May 19th, President Obama held a speech on American foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. He was gracious, welcoming and thoughtful about the chances and risks facing the countries shaken up by the so-called Arab Spring. This movement for democracy has spread from Tunisia to Egypt and is sparking a lot of resistence from the political establishment, resulting in turmoil and violence especially in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Obama pledged support for the young democracies without disputing their right to form their own future without US meddling.

However, it was not his proposed policies that sent the news cycles spinning, but the last part of his speech where he focused on the issue of Israel and Palestine. He said "Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist" and also "The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation". If this sounds even-handed and just to you, you are right. It is completely fair and has been the cornerstone of US policy for a very long time. Just like the following bit: "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states." Like I mentioned this is not outlandish, just reasonable and direct, setting up another round of talks that is ultimately meant to secure Israel's standing in the Middle East while ending the violent and horrific oppression of Palestinians.

Netanyahu's reaction however was something to behold. In a statement he let the world know that he "expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004" and enraged a lot of Americans who found it inappropiate for Netanyahu to reprimand the US president who continues to double over ensuring Israel about his support, for proposing that it make some concessions to a lasting peace itself. By taking this position Bibi continues to alienate more and more people outside (and inside) Israel, a tactically very unwise move. Part of his reasoning for not being able to accept the 1967 borders is that demographic changes have occurred that make those lines indefensible. But what seems more indefensible to me is the fact that population density in Israel, even while it is continuing to expand settlements in occupied territory is at 360 people per square kilometer, while in the Gaza strip 4100 people live in that same space inside borders sealed off by Israeli military.

This conflict has been going on for decades and violence has been committed by people on both sides, and today more than ever before it is inequivocal who is preventing a peaceful and just solution. The mind of Netanyahu is a miracle to me, but I am convinced that he is very wrong and needs to change, if he wants this to end well for himself and his country. I hope he will come to his senses soon, because even though I hope he is wrong these are Netanyahu's own words: We don't have a large margin for error and (...) history will not give the Jewish people another chance.

May 15, 2011


In keeping with my blog's name and my personal philosophy I would like to suggest you watch 8 minutes of scientific facts that should convince even the most hard-core frowner to smile more often:

Among many people I know it is already common knowledge that smiling is good for you. I have embraced this wisdom long ago and friends sometimes doubt that I am ever not smiling and cheerful. However there are difficult times and sad situations, when I feel my face go a little droopy, tired, or sad. Gladly the people close to me always lend me a smile whenever I run out. So if you are currently in need of inspiration to smile, try these two previously posted videos that always help me: here and here.

And if you think spreading joy and happiness around you is not a sufficient argument to smile, maybe business success will convince you. My recommendation is to re-read Dale Carnegie's long time bestseller "How to Win Friends and Influence People" :)

May 02, 2011

Justice has been done

(...or has it?)

So the leader of the world's most feared terrorist organization is dead. His influence was destructive and I am glad he is no longer going to influence people to take up arms for a radical cause. However it is a fact that he has already succeeded in making the world more violent, and as a martyr he might just continue to do so for a while, if somebody does not stop this vicious cycle. There will be others and an idea cannot die like a person.

Put it however you like, I just don't think that the death of a man is a reason to party in the streets. It is eerie to imagine the similarity in feeling between the terrorists after a successful attack and those civilians celebrating the death of their enemy.

Maybe we should take the moment to reflect on some perspectives we are less used to in the west. So here is an article about reactions from parts of the arab world.
And I would like to invite you to something even more interesting than reading about what other people think. Listen to a sociologist for a couple of minutes and let him help you explore an interesting way to think empathetically about other people. His experiment sure had an effect on me, maybe it will on you: Sam Richards' Radical Experiment in Empathy

Hope you are all having a happy and peaceful day out there!

April 21, 2011

"Go have fun now"

(thanks to Roy for that advice! Glad to report a successful mission.)

My trip is drawing to a close and I look back on months of traveling and getting to know people in many ways along the road. In Mississippi I talked to a man on a train, who was trying to convince me that the government should never interfere with the economy because (quote) the market always works (end quote).There was Nicolas Cage starring in a brilliant subplot to my travels, where he almost assaulted my host in New Orleans at her workplace and now got arrested in recent days. Hopefully he gets his life in order! I have ridden a bike on Beale Street and across a university campus. Old friends and their families have provided me with food, shelter, dog walks, dance parties, tours to graveyards, and afternoon tea in the sun. My host in Austin showed me a place where he used to float along a river with his buddy on inflatable rafts, drinking beer. I went hiking with an extraordinary new friend, who I hadn't met until we shared the same room for two weeks all through Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. In San Francisco I have connected with some gentle *g* people that I had only known via the internet. A podcast led me to a meditation center, where I got to know a peace activist, who gave me a place to stay. A blog led me to the house of an Iranian journalist, who is everything I had hoped for after having read her blog some years ago: warm, engaged, strong, and loving.

I have slept in tents, motels, on couches, on beds, on the floor, even in the back of my car. When I took along a hitch-hiker in Sonoma County, I was not murdered, and when I was hitch-hiking for a couple of miles in Flagstaff, I got to know a Texan couple, and a guy with a bed in the back of his van. I have not felt unsafe or unwelcome anywhere I went and can truly say that this is a hospitable nation. Certainly I will be back here.

After three months on the road the world has become smaller for me, more beautiful, and more colorful! When the world comes knocking on my door I will be sure to let it in and give it a big hug :)

April 11, 2011

California, the Golden State

The last part of my journey is in full swing!

Los Angeles has been different from what I expected. My image was of a spread-out dry city on flat terrain with a cloak of smog that only sometimes allows you to see the Hollywood letters in the distance. Nevertheless after a night on the train my friend and I arrived in a green bustling city of hills and completely different neighborhoods. In a couple of days I discovered the green variety of the Huntington Gardens and Schabarum Park (in West Covina, where our couchsurfer lived), the great architecture and art of the Getty Center high above the city, and the beachside beauty of Santa Monica and a sunset at Venice Beach.

One day was spent at the Universal Studios theme park, which is expensive but also great fun, from highspeed roller-coasters to brilliantly staged scenes straight from the movie Waterworld. We sat in the "soak zone" and left afterwards still dripping and laughing, happy about the warm sun quickly drying our clothes before the next ride.

Since parting ways with my trusty travel friend (Go Robeth!) I have been driving up the coast in my rental car and adventures lined up there as well. In San Luis Obispo I camped out in my car next to the beach and had a surf class with an ex-pro-surfer on Pismo Beach. Surfing is loads of fun and I look at the ocean differently now (tempted to jump in and always looking for the perfect wave)! If I am ever to live near a beach, one of the first things I would buy is a board and a wetsuit!

And now I have finally reached the Bay Area of San Francisco, the final destination of this trip. So far I have already found great friends (like Mary who is contagiously happy and generous in spite of having little herself), I have helped set up a volunteer fair, and gone on a daylong retreat at Insight Meditation Center with Gil Fronsdal. Now I have checked in at a hostel in downtown San Francisco and am ready to discover this beautiful place for the remaining two weeks.

While enjoying all the awesomeness of the last two weeks I have started to look forward to seeing my friends and family again! I hope all of you are well and happy!

March 30, 2011


My roadtrip across the National Parks has ended. Here are my personal top three sights along the trip (because there is no way to recount every single bit of awesome, but I can at least make you want to come here, too *g*):

#3 The Delicate Arch
I could not imagine after countless postcards how this arch was more special than the tens and hundreds of different sized arches in - you guessed it - Arches National Park. But gladly I still went up the trodden path to it, because some things no photo could show me. The way leads over smoothly polished stone surfaces marked only by little "cairns" (towers made from small stones) to a stone bowl as big as a football field and on the edge of it there is a cliff where finally you see the huge arch. True highlight!

#2 Antelope Canyon
Countless calendars have been made with pictures of this canyons colorful wavey-lined sandstone walls. But this place is not only in the top three because it did not disappoint, but of how you get to the canyon. The whole place is owned by the Navajo Indians and a couple of companies run shuttle services to the canyon entrance with convoys of five trucks across a sandy track. The shouting and laughing in the back of the truck as we all realized that our driver was not just avoiding ditches, but actually racing the other drivers and having fun with it, is among the coolest memories from the trip.

#1 The Grand Canyon
Just because :) I saw sunset and sunrise at this place and hiked down it half way. Absolutely magnificent! And on top of being wonderful, the whole organization of tourism is flawless here, so my travel friend and I had no problem finding a place to find everything, camp, hike, shop, and get around. Great experience!


Now I have already changed location to California, but that is a story for a whole other post :)

March 25, 2011

"Unexpectedly detained by the world"

This is how Neil Gaiman put it in his book Stardust. Traveling has kept me from reporting all my experiences back, but I will do my best to share some of my stories again, while computers get more accessible. Here are the places I have been sleeping in since my last post:

- Greyhound bus station in Houston
The second part of my trip from New Orleans to Austin over night was canceled unexpectedly, so I took out my sleeping bag and got some sleep while waiting for my connection in the morning.

- Austin
Being there during the SXSW festival I missed my brother, who would have been the perfect companion to explore the movies that had their world premiere here. But I was not bored and while people crowded downtown I did sweaty yoga - so good! - and played in the park, both events thanked to awesome guides native to the couchsurfing community :)

- Greyhound bus
A 24-hour bus drive took me to Flagstaff via Dallas, Amarillo, Albuquerque, during which I sat next to an overweight black woman, a chatty ex-convict, and a very small Asian girl, who apparently did not know much English but looked grateful when I offered my towel as a blanket when we all got cold during an overlay in Amarillo.

- Flagstaff and a whole bunch of motels all across 4 states
It was to become the starting point of a round-trip through the four corner states (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico). After meeting up with my travel companion we got ourselves a rental car and hit the road. The following is just a list of places we visited. I know a list does not say much, but my fascination with some of these places will have to find room in another blog post:

- Grand Canyon National Park
- Zion NP
- Bryce Canyon NP
- Antelope Canyon
- Arches NP
- Canyonlands NP
- Mesa Verde NP

I am back in Flagstaff today and will soon be leaving for Nevada and California. There will be new pictures in the album shortly! I hope all of you are doing well! Sunny greetings from the colorful and diverse Colorado Plateau :)

March 06, 2011

New Orleans

Oh, New Orleans, how I love you! This charming place that should be a swamp, if it weren't for humans, has so much life in it. Although I have heard a few stories of people being robbed somewhere in the city there hasn't been an instance in which I felt uncomfortable here. Not when I was walking all across town after dark or waiting for a bus in a less busy neighborhood. The warm climate and the mounting party atmosphere during Mardi Gras season definitely helps, too.

The city is quickly getting more crazy. Costumed people walk in the streets and bars are open 24 hours. Unlike in any other city in the US you are allowed to drink alcohol openly in the streets and that is what people are doing. Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras, the carnival days after which begins the period of Lent, will be the culmination of what is already going on in the streets of the French Quarter.

There are daily parades of dancing troupes, big bands, and so-called floats, that are typically huge decorated platforms - drawn by a small tractor - with costumed people throwing gifts down into the crowds at the roadside. There is a whole variety of "krewes", i. e. Mardi Gras associations for the purpose of raising funds among themselves and organizing parades for public entertainment. The number one thing that the krewe-members throw from their floats are (plastic) beads. Those beads are found all over town, around people's necks, in the street, on trees and frequently flying through the air :) The custom is that women flash their breasts for men that give them beads, but while there is some nudity during the parades, I have not seen this happen (yet). I have however collected a huge stack of beads that look pretty, if nothing else :)

So while all this is going on in the city and I have been enjoying it immensely, I needed a break for some days and took a rental car for a short trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It was severely hit by the BP oil spill and the beach front is still flattened and has no buildings. That leaves a nice view for the motels in the second row. Skye told me that many people have received thousands of dollars for missed income from BP in exchange for not suing the company. The gulf coast is also known for its casinos, so I saw it as a nice opportunity to try myself at gambling. The atmosphere is strange in those luxurious halls. Thousands of slot machines will take your money for credits and randomize symbols until you have lost all your credits or took out your wins. The majority of players at the slot machines are middle aged and older women, who sometimes play with huge amounts of credits, looking rather bored while they press the buttons repeatedly. I spent 20 dollars and lost 15 of it over the course of 1.5 hours. I did get the appeal of losing, but I did not understand the addictive effect it obviously has on so many. In any case it was quite an interesting experience.

This is it for now. I will leave you with some new pictures in the album on the top right hand side. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

February 23, 2011

Couchsurfing to the Gulf Coast

I left Memphis last weekend, and the day before I leave one city I usually check back with all my possible hosts in the city of my destination. But this time, there weren't any hosts available. I must have overestimated the size of Jackson, Mississippi, and their infrastructure when it comes to backpackers, because their website really does a fabulous marketing job. So I asked a friend I had only met at a nice birthday party the night before, and she immediately got on the case and found me the perfect host! My one night in Mississippi was spent with a family, that lives a beautiful suburban life in a peaceful town in the middle of this rural state of alligators and magnolia trees. The son of the family is currently at a German high school, so when I arrived at their home they were all chatting with him on Skype and jaws dropped when they heard us talk in German for a while. So everybody was quite happy and Mississippi left a very positive memory when I moved on to New Orleans the next day.

Now New Orleans, as you should know is sometimes called a European city, because it has quite a bit of French influence and also it gets a certain flair from tourists running all over the place *g*. You will have heard that it has weathered one of the heaviest catastrophies a city can endure when hurricane Katrina came through and devastated large parts of the area when the levies broke. Yet New Orleans or NOLA is also called The Big Easy and its spirit seems unbroken. From the moment I stepped off the train and breathed the warm air and heard marching bands practicing in schools on my way, I felt relaxed. I spent the first night at a huge hostel that was once an orphanage and that still retained some of the strangely creepy atmosphere that long corridors and high ceilings create in those old buildings. I slept in a 20-bed dormitory which I shared with only one other traveller who had a sad personal story and who I wish the best for the future.

On the second day I met up with an old friend I will call Skye. When we first met she moved into my shared house in Spain and the next day we went on a four-day trip of Andalusia. We immediately found our old vibe and had so many stories to share that it became a wonderful reunion. I will stay at her house until after Mardi Gras (March 8) and see how the city grows more and more insane over this biggest carnival the States have to offer. I will post soon about my adventures in this wonderful place, but for now some initial teaser pictures will have to suffice (see the album to the top right).

Have a great week y'all and take it easy :)

February 17, 2011

Walking in Memphis

The last weekend Leila and I traveled from Knoxville to Nashville, where we spent a couple of great days with her parents. We went to another beautiful cemetary which is one of the activities that come from hanging out with egyptologists that spend months working on papers about writings on ancient tombs :) Cemetaries have a very peculiar and usually very peaceful atmosphere, especially if they are old. And the cemetaries I have been to on this trip have both been from the mid-nineteenth century. Great places for sunny afternoon walks!

So now, since Monday, I am in Memphis. I am staying with a couchsurfer near the University of Memphis, which is one of the two universities in town. The campus is about 10 kilometers from downtown, so I would be a little cut off from the life of the city, if it it wasn't for my great host who lets me borrow his bike. My face is tan and my hair is all sunny and bushy from the driving wind all day. I went geocaching of course, which led me to great places such as Chickasaw Park which I doubt many tourists ever get to see, because it is a secluded rather rich neighbourhood with a lake in the middle. They even have turtles in their pond that disappear under water when one gets too close. Places like these let you forget that Memphis is one of the cities with the highest murder rates in the US.

Everybody I have talked to has warned me of certain things. Don't ride the Greyhound bus (which I have done twice now, without any problems), stay away from the dangerous areas of town, don't you dare to hitchhike (remember: axe-murderers everywhere) and don't come close to the border with Mexico. The drug cartels sometimes kidnap people like me for ransom. So this fear and fright that is ever present when talking to Americans about my trip has left me wondering. Am I really a target? Is this a dangerous country? I agree that there are guns everywhere and every major city in the world has areas you should not be wandering around in at night, but my experience so far has been extremely positive. It's always better to be on the safe side, so I mind every warning I get, but if every driver on the road was an axe-murderer, where do all the normal people drive?

Anyway :) I have installed an album for all who want some pictures to illustrate my stories here in the upper right corner of this blog. Just click on the picture and you are directly transferred to the album at Picasaweb. It's the easiest way for me to constantly update and share pictures with you, so check back with the album every once in a while for updates.

Have a great week everybody!

February 07, 2011

Swing and a Sermon

My days have been incredibly varied. I will pick out two highlights from this past weekend. Saturday evening after watching "Scott Pilgrim vs the world" on DVD (so good! watch it!), Jon, Leila and I went to meet the other swing dancers at a concert. Now when I say we went out to go dancing at a concert don't imagine people bouncing up and down in front of a stage. The place we went to is called "Barley's", a tap hall which has all different kinds of beer, even German ones. It's a huge place and in the middle there is an area for the band and enough room for swing dancers to pull off quite a show. The first band of the evening was "Blair Crimmins and the Hookers", that played awesome bluegrassy, lift-you-off-your-seat-to-dance music, was quite a surprise to a lot of the swing dancers that were gathered there, because they had never heard of it. The second band was local and was founded by a fellow swing dancer back in the day. Today "Christabel and the Jons" have made it onto iTunes. Their also very danceable country bluegrass repertoire was more relaxing after the highspeed ride with Blair Crimmins. BTW, if you have never seen Lindy Hop, you must watch some of this, to give you an idea of the kind of atmosphere the dancers create. We danced and talked from 10 to 2 and had a really great night!

Then yesterday, with slight sleep deprivation, I went to church. Although spirituality is a big topic in my life, I don't feel particularly Christian or as belonging to any other organized religion for that matter. In earlier posts I have discussed some of my views, so suffice it to say that I don't go to church very often. But this time it was quite different, because the advertising for Knoxville's "Knoxlife" church says it is "church for non-church people". Also, it is located in the backroom of my hosts favorite coffee house, which was quite a recommendation. After 20 minutes of Christian rock music (which could have been worse, but will never be my favorite) everybody was free to get coffee and bagels from a buffet. Then the sermon started and Sean, who believes he was told by God to open this church in Knoxville with his wife, surprised me. I had small expectations, but this devout Christian, most of whose beliefs I don't share, got a few points across that I would love to hear from believers of all kind. "You can't make friends with ulterior motifs" was one, and "You can't go out converting people and checking them off your list. That is just weird." was another one. Basically his message was that Christians should first of all be normal people who try to improve their capacity to love other people simply because they are human. Whenever Christianity (or any other religion) helps people to understand that, I am all for it!

I wish all of you a great week!

January 30, 2011

New friends

I have been in the US for 5 days and 4 times I have been out in the evening at parties and to eat. I discovered Atlanta for two days and was most impressed by the Martin Luther King Memorial Site. They have a really good mix of media to teach you about the civil rights movement and who MLK was. Although I have been fascinated by Ghandi and Desmond Tutu and have read about them quite a bit, King has so far been kind of a blank slate for me. I basically just knew about the "I have a dream" speech, but after visiting this memorial site I feel much more connected to him. He has become one of my heroes :)

On Friday I came to Knoxville on a Greyhound bus. All Americans I have met have been either generally opposed or very cautious about the idea of me taking the Greyhound. Somehow in their mind it is not quite safe. Well, if you take into consideration that most everybody has a car, this rather cheap way of public transportation is for those who cannot afford a car or got out of jail recently. But it's also for young travellers like me :) And so I soon made friends again. Oby from Asheville used to study creative writing at Columbia University, Michael is a 19-year-old Christian who was quite interested in whichever county I thought was better, Germany or the US. When the conversation became about religion, Oby, always the critic, founded a new religion on the spot and made us all his followers.

In Knoxville I am currently living with Leila, an old friend who used to study in Germany. She is an egyptologist so the revolutionary things going on in Egypt are a big topic. Save the mummies!! She shares a house with another friend and Jacob the cat. I even have my own bedroom. She is a swing dancer and so we went to a party of one swing dancer who is, lo and behold, off to study in Germany for a semester and was celebrating his farewell. I met an interesting American Sign Language teacher from Trinidad and learnt how to say "I am German" and "Cool".

Now I am off to another day of exploring with my Leila. Hope everything is alright wherever you are!

January 26, 2011


I have landed in Atlanta, both physically and mentally. The journey was ok, with only a slight delay due to de-icing at Munich airport. I watched the Last Airbender movie on the plane and had a good chat with a Turkish father on his way to a poultry trade fair, who was sitting next to me. We arrived well on time.

On the train across town I met two Southerners who had been hosting international students in the past and were very interested to learn about couchsurfing. Also, if I should ever hike the Appalachian trail, I will show up at their Inn in Damascus, Virginia.

Just so you get a feel of the surroundings I tell you about Tyrone, who was on the phone with several girls while I was on the bus. He was 'sweet-talkin'' them into letting him take them out, but unsuccessfully. He did not let it spoil his mood and even showed me a picture of one of his targets, a pretty lady. While talking to the bus driver about where to get off, a woman who had served in the miliary and had once been stationed in Germany joined the conversation and shared some of her German with us. So far, there wasn't a single place where I did not strike up some kind of interesting conversation. And this was only the journey to where I am sitting right now.

After a change of plans yesterday I was taken in by a nice couchsurfer who offered me not only a place for the night, but entertainment at a couchsurfer meeting to fight the jetlag, The motto was a "soup party", so everybody had brought different kinds of soup. "Broccoli, garlic, onion" was one of my favorites, as was "chipotle, quinoa". The crowd was international and interesting. This was much for a first half day, but I wanted to report before it faded in the background of all that is to come! The adventure has begun :)

January 16, 2011

My new action hero...

...His Holiness The Dalai Lama :) I really liked this TED talk by Jody Williams, the woman behind the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. She received the Nobel Peace Prize for it and talks about some of the most inspiring people on the world stage right now. Their common theme is taking action. Don't just sit there! Get up and do something, however much time you have. It does not matter, just don't keep on sitting there just watching and moaning about all the suffering in the world (maybe including your own). I am trying to find the best way to make "taking good action" my livelyhood!

January 10, 2011

Home is wherever I'm with you

While leaving behind this city, slowly moving back in with my parents, and with my upcoming trip to the United States in mind, I have been thinking about what "home" means to me. For a long time now I have been using that word for both my childhood home and my flat in Augsburg. Of course I am gonna miss this place. It has been my very own shelter and a place of calm and warmth for five years now.
But the feeling it's not just about this place, more about the memories and people that are connected with the time I spent here. In the movie Garden State, Zach Braff talks about family as "a group of people who are missing the same imaginary place". Yes, in this sense, Augsburg has been my home, as there will always be people who will be missing this same imaginary place. The most important friends won't disappear from my life, while some others will go their own ways again, just like I am doing, maybe connecting from time to time somewhere out in the world. And there will always be some true friends, who I will share my life with, and who will find me wherever I go just as I will find them. I wish that all of you have such people that feel like home to you!

Enjoy a beautiful cover version below of this beautiful song called Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros:

January 07, 2011

How to live an awesome life

Just watch this poetic, inspiring, funny, touching, and wise TED-talk: