Conversations with the dog

Laura holding SofieWith my husband away, my dog and I are getting to spend lots of quality time together. It’s a good thing she thinks I’m a witty and insightful conversationalist as I’ve been talking to her a lot!

No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does.

~Christopher Morley
American author

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Silvester madness

The remnants of the Monumentenbrucke Silvester celebrationsNew Year’s Eve is called Silvester in Germany (as well as a few other parts of Europe) and comes with a whole host of traditions that were new to us. The most obvious (and loudest!) was the prevalence of firecrackers and fireworks.

If the number of fireworks shops that popped up in the days leading up to 31 December wasn’t enough of a hint that massive explosions were on their way, the fluorescent packages blazoned with names like ‘Skypainter’ and ‘Power Bang’ certainly tipped us off. I was surprised that Berliners of all ages are into fireworks; in Vancouver playing with publicly-available explosives is mostly left to teenagers. Not so in Berlin – everyone appears to love them here. The day before New Year’s Eve, our grocery cart seemed to be the only one without munitions. 

My husband went for a run late in the afternoon on Silvester and returned with reports of people launching fireworks off balconies and casually tossing lit firecrackers out of windows. It was barely twilight and already the streets were alight and all safety precautions had been discarded.

We were hoping to duck most of the celebratory craziness (we’re not big NYE partiers and firecrackers make our dog, Sofie, exceptionally anxious) and had planned a quiet evening. Curiosity and the noise from the street, however, drew us outside about half an hour before midnight.

The smell of gunpowder hit immediately outside the building door. Sparkly streaks broke through the smoky haze accompanied by an auditory assault of cracks, pops, and bangs. The street was crowded with revelers (most of whom carried bottles of booze and sticks of fireworks), with more arriving by the minute.

We’re quite close to a train bridge with clear sightlines to the large fireworks display at Brandenburger Tor, which attracted a large enough crowd to temporarily turn the bridge into a pedestrian-only crossing. (Berlin has a huge public Silvester celebration with more than a million people and massive fireworks.) People were lighting fireworks set in empty bottles or pushed into the ground and there were explosions everywhere. All before the end of the year had actually happened!

It was overwhelming and, truthfully, more than a little scary.

Returning to the safety and sanity of our flat, we heard the world explode at midnight. The near-constant bangs continued for at least an hour, with sporadic firecrackers going off fairly frequently for the next full day.

It was such a change from New Year’s Eve in Vancouver (relatively quiet and with far fewer fireworks) and explained why I’ve heard Europeans complain that Canadian celebrations are boring.

As if the insanity of the local Silvester celebrations wasn’t astonishing enough, the aftermath raised the shock level even more.

Generally, our neighbourhood is quite clean. There’s graffiti, of course, and more dog crap goes unscooped than desirable, but the plethora of civic garbage cans keep litter at a minimum.

The morning of New Year’s Day, however, the sidewalks were covered with bottles, streamers, cups, and the remains of all the firecrackers and fireworks. So much for the German reputation for neatness and order!

Amazingly, there didn’t appear to be any property damage. Vehicles parked along the bridge were stacked with bottles and people had used their fingers to write messages in the frost covering a few of them, but there were no broken windows or punctured tires. Parts of the pavement were charred by fireworks, but no trees or buildings had been set on fire.

As we walked Sofie on the morning of 1 January, there were a few people gathering up some of the garbage (including a family who looked like they’d made it into a game for their young sons), but mostly people just ignored the mess. The clean-up started more earnestly on the second day of 2014 and continues today with street sweepers out in force.

There are large piles of Silvester debris (shown in the lower image above) awaiting pick up and most of the broken glass has been swept away. Our neighbourhood is getting close to being clean again and I heard no firecrackers at all while walking Sofie this morning. My astonishment at the scale of the celebrations and the immense mess left behind, however, is going to take a little longer to fade.

I suspect we’ll seeking out a quiet locale (maybe somewhere fireworks/firecrackers are banned!) to celebrate New Year’s Eve 2014. I hear rural Norway’s nice 🙂

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Dropping ‘yoga’

No, I’m not really letting go of practicing, teaching, or writing about yoga… I’m just losing it from my website. Because I’m not currently teaching and I’m posting less about yoga and more about our travels, I’m dropping the ‘yoga’ part from my blog address. What was yoga.2ndavenue.ca is now just 2ndavenue.ca.

The old address will re-direct to the new one and hopefully not much gets lost in the shuffle! But please leave a comment or send me an email if something’s not working the way you think it should.

The move is also a great occasion to tweak the look of the site and add some new functionality. It’s now easy to move to the next or previous post (using the links at the bottom of each post), the front page shows the most recent posts, and you can subscribe to get new posts delivered by email.

I’m looking forward to writing more in the months to come – and hopefully making your reading experience better!

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Frohe Weihnachten!

Laura and Sofie with a snowflake border

Wishing everyone Frohe Weihnachten (Merry Christmas) and a gutes neues Jahr (Happy New Year)!

Hope your holidays are filled with family, friends, fun, and lots of good food – and that the new year brings you all kinds of wonderful new experiences!

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From the dark of winter

Let us love winter, for it is the spring of geniusThe darkest day of the year is almost here and it certainly feels like the depths of winter in Berlin. The sun sets early and whatever rays are able to peek through the clouds are weak. It feels like time to hibernate.

Gloria Latham (founder of Semperviva Yoga in Vancouver) posted recently that It’s Dark for a Reason and I’m inclined to agree. In addition to the long nights encouraging long sleep-ins, cuddles with loved ones, and carbohydrate consumption, the darkness is also conducive to reflection, reading and writing, and generally taking stock.

Winter prods us to look inwards as we spend time indoors. And with any luck, that introspection leads to inspiration for the year to come!

Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.

Pietro Aretino
Italian author, playwright, poet, and satirist

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Cold north wind

Ferry on the crossing between Denmark and GermanyWhen we left the hotel on our last morning in Copenhagen, the front desk clerk said “Stay safe!” We thought it was an odd way to say farewell, but figured it might be a cultural thing; perhaps Danes are particularly safety conscious.

Leaving the restaurant after bunch, our server also urged us to be safe. This time, my husband asked what she meant by it.

Turns out a massive storm (known as Cyclone Bodil in Denmark and Xaver elsewhere in Northern Europe) was on its way to Copenhagen. Not knowing Danish, we had missed the memo.

The rain and wind picked up throughout Thursday and we spent most of our last day in Copenhagen inside. By early evening, the storm had arrived in window-shaking, traffic-light-toppling force. From what we were able to glean from Danish-speaking news coverage, it was expected to pass within 12 hours, but had shut down transport throughout Northern Europe – airports, bridges, ferries, and trains were all closed. We crossed our fingers that we’d be able to travel back to Berlin the next day by train and ferry.

By Friday morning, the worst of the storm had passed through Denmark leaving minimal damage. Other areas hadn’t been so lucky and we’d heard that there were no trains running in Northern Europe – increasing the degree of difficulty getting from Copenhagen to Berlin. We headed to Copenhagen’s central station around midday, expecting the worst and thinking that we’d be in Copenhagen for another night.

The train was running… but only to Rødby (the ferry terminal at the Danish border) not all the way to Hamburg. The ferry that carries the train across the Baltic Sea between Denmark (Rødby) and Germany (Puttgarden) wasn’t running. (Yes, that’s right – the train goes on the ferry! There are tracks right next to the buses, trucks, and cars.)

The lovely Danish rail staff (including a spokesman who had been all over the TV coverage and had probably been up all night) advised us that the ferry was anticipated to run that afternoon and suggested getting on the train to Rødby. Over the two hour trip from Copenhagen to Rødby, the conductor updated us regularly that the ferries were not running… but that they still might.

Map of the Danish/German ferry crossingAt Nykøbing (the last station before the ferry) the conductor indicated that the ferry to Puttgarden, Germany was not yet running. The train we were on would continue to Rødby to collect stranded passengers before returning to Copenhagen or we could disembark at Nykøbing and return to Copenhagen on an earlier train. We elected to stay on the train to the Danish border and 20 minutes later a cheer erupted from our fellow passengers as the conductor unexpectedly announced that the ferry was running and we could sail as walk-ons.

The train passengers rushed onto the ferry, where we were obviously not expected, and we cast off shortly after.

The sailing was rough with lots of rolling waves and people clinging to handrails. It’s regularly a 45 minute crossing, but when we reached the German side the ferry was unable to dock and we spent at least an hour waiting for a berth. When we finally docked in Puttgarden, high winds made it unsafe to lower the gangway, so foot passengers waited until all vehicle traffic was off and then walked off from the car deck.

Getting onto German soil was not the end of the day’s travel challenges.

Xaver was still going strong in Northern Germany and there was no way to get from the isle of Fehmarn (where Puttgarden is) to the German mainland. Trains weren’t running and the only bridge off the island was closed due to two wind-related accidents.

Puttgarden is a tiny village that exists almost exclusively because of the ferry terminal. There’s one large hotel and a number of vacation lodges that are mostly only open in the summer. We hurried to the hotel from the ferry after learning that there were no buses or trains off the island on Friday night, only to find it completely booked.

Much wandering followed, while being buffeted by high winds that we worried might lift our 7kg dog entirely off the ground! We made it to another hotel, just in time to see the last room keys they had handed over to other people.

Thanks to the assistance of a kindly taxi driver, we travelled it to the larger village of Burg auf Fehmarn (not all that large at 6000 residents!) and, after striking out with another four packed hotels, we found a room for the night. Burg is quite picturesque, but mostly a summer town and was obviously not prepared to accommodate hundreds of travellers stuck on the island!

We slept well on Friday night (although would have preferred to be sleeping in Berlin!) and awoke to clearer skies. Our dog was thrilled with all the fallen sticks and continued gusts of wind as we walked her on Saturday morning and found the Burg train station. We were less than thrilled that the station was tiny and that there was no one to ask questions of, just a ticket vending machine.

The Deutsche Bahn website was inconclusive about whether trains were running from Burg to Hamburg and then on to Berlin (the Hamburg/Berlin line had been closed the day before) but there was a midday train leaving Burg that looked promising.

We got on that midday train. Five trains later (local rail from Burg to Lübeck, commuter rail from Lübeck to Hamburg, the ICE from Hamburg to Berlin, and then both S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains in Berlin) and many silent cheers as each rail connection worked out, we arrived back at our flat in Kreuzberg.

We survived Xaver, learnt how helpful Danish people are (and how good their English is!), managed to navigate small-town Northern Germany, and got to see parts of the country we likely wouldn’t have otherwise. But it was more adventure (and a lot more wind!) than we had anticipated and I’d certainly like to avoid cyclone-force gales on future trips!

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‘Permanent’, really?

Paper pop-up house

Photo credit: elod beregszaszi via Compfight cc

We had our first experience with German bureaucracy today and it was surprisingly (and delightfully!) free of confusing questions and difficult forms. The most challenging part was actually getting to our appointment!

As we’ll be in Berlin for a little over three months, we needed to file an Anmeldung or residence registration.

Whenever anyone in German changes permanent residences, they have to register with the local authorities. The registration requirement applies to German citizens and foreigners and the information is used for taxation and census purposes… and maybe even mail delivery. Most of the information is in German, so it’s hard for me to really understand!

Given that there’s no such a process in Canada and English-language information is sparse, it seemed a little strange. Further research revealed that resident registration is pretty common in the EU and, thankfully, the process wasn’t that hard.

After making an appointment online, we printed out the necessary form at an Internet cafe; my husband translated the entirely German document into workable English and we filled it out; we researched how to get to the office via the S-Bahn and set an alarm for Monday morning.

There are lots of Einwohnermeldeamt (Residents’ Registration Office) throughout Berlin and the first appointment we could get turned out to be further away than we thought – essentially on the outskirts of the city. Our trip out to the Berlin suburbs was further complicated by construction and part way through the trip we gave up on transit and hopped in a taxi. Thankfully, the taxi driver knew exactly where we were going because we really didn’t!

After almost an hour and a half in transit, the actual appointment was pleasantly anti-climactic. It was entirely in German (I nodded along while my husband earnestly communicated in halting and hard-fought German) and took under 10 minutes.

We left with a stamped piece of paper bearing our names and ‘permanent’ address in Berlin, which will facilitate getting library cards, bank accounts, and maybe even jobs! Although we have no real plans to look for work in the near future – there’s too much to see!

We’re moving to our new neighbourhood later this week and will be there until the middle of February. The flat we’re in feels transitory and we’re still living out of bags, so it will be nice to get a little more settled. Although February will bring a new city and new ‘permanent’ residence, so we shouldn’t get too comfortable!

On a side note, how incredible is this pop-up house! The artist has lots of other astonishing pieces on this Flickr stream and at the Popupology website – the Budapest Opera House is my favourite. There are also ‘how-tos’ for creating paper pop-ups, although I suspect they’re a little too intricate for beginners – or at least my clumsy scissor skills 🙂

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Most of all, I hope

Most of all, I hope you know deep love and powerful joy

Background photo credit: Pensiero via Compfight cc

It’s been more than two weeks since I taught my last yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre. I’m already feeling the absence of teaching and I’m missing the students at my Friday evening class.

The last class I taught fell on the last Friday of October, which meant I did a lovely long relaxation. Leading students through yoga nidra (guided relaxation) and then a quiet savasana (corpse pose) is often a transcendent experience; my mind calms and time stands still.

There was such a deep stillness in my last class at Bound Lotus, it was hard for me to bring the students out of their relaxation. I wished the class would never end.

But there was a workshop immediately following the class and I knew that students probably had places to be (and meals to eat!) afterwards. Savasana ended, students woke up, class was over.

I usually close the class with an impromptu blessing of sorts and that last Friday class was no exception. These are my wishes, my hopes for my final class at Bound Lotus.

I hope you’re all able to drift home and have beautiful sleeps filled with amazing dreams.

I hope you awaken tomorrow feeling refreshed and renewed, ready to take on whatever your day, your week, your month, your year holds.

I hope you feel secure, supported, and comforted; that you are respected and prosperous. 

I hope your lives are filled with meaning, with friendship, with adventure… and that you create many amazing memories.

Most of all, I hope you know deep love and powerful joy.

I share those same hopes with everyone who reads this and everyone I’ve ever taught. May you all know deep love and powerful joy.

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Got something to say?

Laura crouching to teachHave you taken a class I’ve taught and liked it? Would you recommend my classes to someone else? Have you already referred another student?

I’m hoping to continue teaching yoga throughout our travels and would love to have student testimonials to back me up! If you’ve been in a class I’ve taught and have feedback that would be useful for studio owners/managers who might want to hire me, please share it!

There are four easy ways to do so:

  1. Submit a comment on this blog post below.
  2. Post something on my Facebook page.
  3. Write a review on my YogaTrail profile. (YogaTrail is a neat new site that helps connect yoga practitioners all over the world with studios, classes, and teachers that suit them.)
  4. Email me directly and privately at laura@2ndavenue.ca (letting me know if you’re comfortable with me posting quotes from you on my website).

I may include your testimonials on my website in the future, but rest assured, I will never post your full name!

Your feedback will be fantastically useful as I woo German yogis! Help me bring some yin yoga to what seems to be a pretty yang culture! If you have the time and inclination to write me a reference as a teacher, I would really appreciate it 🙂

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Ask, accept, trust

Ask Accept TrustThe process of selling our place, paring down to the essentials, loading up a new storage locker, and heading overseas is intense. Keeping up show-home cleanliness, handling administrative stuff, managing our worried dog, hiding during condo showings, cooking with an ever-diminishing pantry, moving furniture, and getting through our to-do lists takes a lot of energy… and is emotionally taxing.

Thankfully, we have amazing friends and family who jump in – and even wonderfully supportive acquaintances! I’m awed by how willing people are to help and continually remind myself that it’s okay to seek assistance.

Ask for the support you need.
Graciously accept the help you’re given.
And trust in those who offer assistance.

Asking for help before the situation feels dire is a good thing. Most people are more than willing to provide support, they just need to be asked. Sometimes I wait until things feel desperate before asking for what I need, but it’s a lot easier to extend a courteous request when it’s not do-or-die!

Accepting aid with humility and thankfulness, rather than protesting, is an important part of cultivating relationships. Who hasn’t been through an awkward battle over a cheque where both parties want to treat the other? Often, a ‘Thank you’ is what’s really desired and resisting attempts to be taken care of leads to disagreements and ill will.

Trusting that people will not offer more than they can give is sometimes the hardest part. My husband likes to say that the worth of a favour is measured by how much it means to the recipient, which sometimes means that the offer feels enormous to the recipient and seems like no imposition at all to the giver. I try not to look gift horses in the mouth and have faith in the generosity of others, presuming that they will not compromise their own feelings or sacrifice their own needs.

Deep relationships are forged in times of change; asking for and accepting assistance is a big part of intensifying bonds and developing strong connections. Moving away from these amazingly supportive people is incredibly challenging, but at least I have been able to experience the depths of their generosity and have faith in the strength of the relationships. I know that all this support will continue regardless of how many time zones separate us!

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