Home is…

Home is organized drawersNot having a permanent address has made me think a lot about ‘home’. Is it a single location? Is it a feeling? Is it a situation? What makes somewhere ‘home’?

I’ve realized that ‘home’ is a moving target. It can be my parents’ house (where I grew up), a rented flat, a hotel room, a friends’ apartment.

Our flat in Berlin has certainly been ‘home’ for the last few months; we unpacked, settled in, and got really comfortable. The clothes are neatly organized. The products in the bathroom cabinet are sorted by type. The mailbox bears our names. Even the kitchen cupboards are arranged so they make the most sense to us.

Unpacking goes a long way towards making me feel comfortable. Whenever we move, all the boxes and bags are unpacked within the first 24 hours. As long as there’s closet/drawer space available, I empty out my luggage – even if I’m only there for a couple nights.

We leave this flat in just a few days and my definition of ‘home’ will shift again. But some components of ‘home’ stay the same. Home is familiar and comfortable. Home is where my husband and dog are.  Home is settled and secure.

Home is where the drawers are organized.

Is Parliament Hill this interesting?

The exterior of the Reichstag building in Berlin at nightI’ve been in Ottawa a couple of times over the last few years and seen Parliament Hill (the seat of Canadian politics), but only from the outside. I haven’t been on a guided tour or attended a debate, but a visit to the German parliament (the Deutscher Bundestag) last week will make a real tour a priority the next time I’m in the Canadian capital!

The Reichstag Building (where the Deutscher Bundestag meets) is a huge tourist attraction in Berlin. Not only is there the fascination of seeing where the republic is governed, there’s also a roof terrace with great views of the city… and the tours are entirely free!

There weren’t many options when we booked the tour, so we wound up with one at 8pm. Turns out evening is a great time to see the Reichstag. Our guide was able to take us into many areas that aren’t accessible during the work day and the nighttime views of Berlin were astonishing.

The German parliament chamber with its Reichstag blue seatsOur guide was exceptionally well-educated (with a PhD in Political Science!) and spoke perfect English. He gave us all kinds of tit-bits about the building and its history, outlined how the Bundestag functions, and fielded questions on everything from statuary to parliamentary procedure. I was particularly interested to learn that the seats in the parliamentary chamber are deliberately non-partisan; they’re covered in ‘Bundestag blue’, specifically selected because it isn’t affiliated with any German political party.

Touring the Reichstag awakened my interest in visiting government seats in other countries. We may not make it to the Hague on our upcoming trip to the Netherlands and Belgium, but we will be in Brussels, home to both the Palais de la Nation and the European Parliament.

And the next time I’m in Ottawa, I’ll see how Canada measures up!

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 🙂

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!

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