Friday, May 25, 2018

Ostara

March was not a great month. Actually, it was one of the darkest months I've had in quite a while. 
The depression was real, and most days I couldn't come up with a reason to get out of bed, aside from the fact that our couch is more comfortable.

I'd been kidding about "We've had three, yes, so why not a fourth full month of dark, snowy winter and being stuck at home with no money and nothing to do waiting around on molasses-slow German bureaucracy to finish processing my life and give me permission to continue living it?!", but that was exactly what I got. 

The highlights of the month were 1) noticing that Netflix got the first-ever season of Pokémon from 1997 and binging the living nostalgic daylights out of it, and 2) looking forward to a long Easter weekend in Rostock and the start of April.

That bunny and the coloured eggs on the left are from Anke; she bought them when she and Marco visited us on St. Patrick's Day, when it was too cold to really do anything. All of the other goodies are from my grandparents. The post here is absolute shit to I had to walk a mile in the rain to where the delivery asshole left their box (somewhere convenient to them, not to the addressee), but imagine my surprise when I saw that it was from grandma and grandpa. I carried it back home and we're still moved that they wanted to send us Easter sweets and greetings, out of nowhere.

The box of See's chocolates was really good, too. 
That one with sprinkles on the bottom right is Scotchmallow, that's my jam.


I also finally switched out the red holiday candles for this one, 
which Alexandra had made and sent me via my mom two Christmases ago.

Easter decorations and candies abound, having appeared in stores several weeks beforehand; this was my favourite holiday as a kid, I guess because my mom's family is Catholic so it was always like a more colourful Christmas, with flowers and cute hats. She always went to amazing lengths so I have very fond memories of this kind of cute kitschy stuff.



An antique shop near us

I was bad and had a quarkhase with my cappuccino one day, which of course made me sick but was totally worth it. Quark is a local variety of sour cream-sort of stuff, and oh man, when you bake with it, the cakes or breads come out so dense and soft and rich, it's delicious.

Other holiday-relevant baked goods include the Osterlamm sheep cake!
Hannes and my mom found these creepy and unsettling while NiQui and Rejon agreed that they are cute. This is a German tradition, like the Osterbrunnen or decorated Easter fountains that I happened upon and decided I wanted very badly to see, but people in the far north and especially the formerly-communist east are just kind of like, "The what is a tradition now?" when you ask about things like this because they're much less religious, or totally non-religious.

This is what I drew in my mom's Easter card, a male zebra finch (because her two little birbs are of that variety). It was the first thing I'd doodled in a long time.

As you might expect, a lot of people like teachers have additional days off on top of the Good Friday and Easter Monday flanking the holiday weekend, so we met up with a few people before heading to Rostock the Thursday night.

I found these at the convenience store we stopped at on the Reeperbahn on the way to see Solvig at Daniel's place because.. why? Creamy swimming pool cocktails in glass bottles are a thing? It seems so random.


The other small highlight - though of course both paled in comparison with the food - was this glorious poster, which Solvig and Daniel had to buy during their six-week trip to China two or three years ago. Fucking lol.


And here it is, beautiful rich Sweet Potato Pogo. 
The recipe comes from a book of punk rock vegan cookery, but it's one of those stews that you can just do whatever with, and this time some fresh snap peas and sweet-spicy curry paste went in. I kept telling her that I'd been thinking about her delicious garlicky sweet potato chickpea stew since she'd made it for us the first time we were in Germany.

While we were over there we met a woman named Ina who travels around a lot for work and was staying in the second free bedroom for a few months. We started talking about me trying to find a job and everything, and as it turns out, she's a professional freelance journalist who had all kinds of useful information and tips for me. When I mentioned English-language magazines based in Hamburg, she named one as an example and said she knew the publishing collective who ran it (and others), having gone to school with one of the guys. 
"That's.. that's one of the ones I bookmarked that I wanted to contact," I told her, mildly amazed at my luck. It's two months later now and the guy never responded, but it was still really good meeting her and finding out more about what she does, and how she's done it. 

Ina told one funny story, for example, about how she was sent to southern Spain to work on an article for a cemetery magazine. Because yes, that's apparently a thing, how did I never know? She said the pay is shit, but I mean, I would love to do that.
Anyway, the only other people on this press trip were very old, like in their 70's and 80's old. I was like, "So are they shopping for somewhere to be buried?" and she was like, "Maybe! I don't know, but that would make sense," and we all laughed. In Spain, of course, there is siesta, and on press trips there is apparently always too much drinking, so Ina was sitting there quietly, smoking, wondering what she was doing trapped in this group of doddering grave-shoppers, watching them crack open one bottle of wine after another with their lunch, and then she realised she was alone with her thoughts, because every single one of them had fallen asleep there at the table, in the heat, after all the food and drinking. She was so embarrassed. I said that the trip itself could have been its own article.

On Thursday, before we left for Rostock, I met Jannes for brunch. We went to a random little café because the gluten-free one I wanted to go to in Altona was closed, and getting there was kind of an endeavour, because there was snow everywhere again.

It looks pretty, yes, but my cheap second-hand boots, which were clearly not made for walking, had crapped out on me, so all I had were my totally flat-bottomed high-tops, which slide around on ice and compacted snow and puddles of water that are secretly ice at the bottom. I was so annoyed.


Yet another brick gothic church; there were two right within sight of each other on this street alone. Still beautiful and epic-looking with all these dark twisted branches and snow, though.




You can see the name of the place in the background, but you can also see that their "guacamole" was orange? and tasted weird but not terrible, so.. Like.. That's all I have to say about that.


They don't advertise it at all, but a lot of things on their menu can be done gluten-free.
Jannes was surprised that I wanted to have a waffle for breakfast? Because apparently that's dessert here, in the land of eating one of thousands of varieties of cake with your coffee every afternoon? And it was an extremely tiny, thin waffle with apple compote that was clearly canned or frozen or something, but it was good.


Jannes and I also took a walk around the area, and this was the most notable graffiti I saw. 
I liked that it was a repeating pattern and looked like letting but wasn't.


Back home, the snow continued. It was getting deep. We started out the window at it.


It continued all night.

This was the second of the three trains - because usually you can take a convenient one straight there that also takes an hour less, but the tracks have been under construction for months now - on the way to Rostock, completely packed for the holiday weekend.

There were Easter baskets waiting for us when we got to Hannes' parents' place, though!

Brunch there is always lovely; in the center there is a nut roll that my grandparents sent
 in that very sweet (literally and figuratively, yes) surprise package.

The view out the window.. Sigh. But, it was okay. We had plans for the whole weekend, and it was a bit cold and snowy, but still going to be lovely.


We took the scenic route after breakfast to the old folks' care home where Anke not only works, but is the boss nurse of the entire team of nurses there. We wanted to visit Irmela for the first time in over two years, a lovely, sweet, frail little woman who is friends with Hannes' grandmother, who has been in declining health, and who has had a place in our hearts since we met her the first time we came to Rostock together.




She's had a hard time lately, but we had a nice chat and she was really happy to see us.

Little Easter trees/shrubs are a thing here, but mostly I just thought they looked kind of sad. It took until mid-April for anything to have leaves, and the little egg ornaments are mostly cheap plastic ones, with people putting a little smattering on the front of the plant and then running out, like a Christmas tree decorated on only one side.

I liked these white ones, though.


Back home, we began the process of colouring four dozen eggs, which Anke seemed to think I had never done before, but that, I clarified, I had, just not since I was little, circa 1996 or something.













I made a rainbow one!


We intentionally cracked a few and dyed them to see what happened.
It.. wasn't as fascinating an experiment as Hannes' face might lead you to believe lol




Eggs, eggs, and yes, more eggs


See that one with the little sticker hat in the middle? It's Irish lol. Hannes did that one.


The process actually went really quickly, and was really easy. 
I guess it just seems like a big, messy deal when there are little kids involved.

Hrnnngg packaging design

A marzipan bunny from one of the baskets

We even watched most of The Ten Commandments in German, and in super-HD! 
Which was weird! Also, when I say "we watched" I mean that I watched, while Hannes and his dad fell asleep.


Oh, Joshua!

Now... we had seen the forecast days in advance, and everybody had discussed and complained about it. We knew it was supposed to snow exactly when the Osterfeuer was.

What is an Osterfeuer you ask? Well, it's an old tradition of having a big ol' bonfire for Easter. The extra-traditional version involves the townsfolk carrying torches to it and then throwing them in; it's very Frankenstein. Solvig, Ina, Jannes, and however many other people also instantly said "-slight cringe and teeth sucking sound- Ooh, okay, well.." when we told them about our holiday plans, because these kinds of traditions and images have very Nazi-ish connotations now. People in the countryside, in the-middle-of-nowhere-Germany, hicks, rednecks do this kind of thing, people with shaved heads who start fights when they're drunk and hate immigrants.

And, of course, there are those tiki torch photos from that one major white supremacist rally in the States. Hannes was also not super excited to be photographed carrying something that looked like a tiki torch, marching with other torch-bearing people through the old village, looking like they were about to expel the mad scientist's poor misunderstood monster from their midst, or maybe set fire to a resettlement camp full of non-white foreign families benefiting from taxpayer money.

Aside from admittedly being lowkey worried about looking like a Nazi, I really didn't care about these reactions as they applied to our plans in always-charming Warnemünde, because I knew it wasn't like that. It's not that kind of place with those kind of people, at least not in numbers that show; it's a resort town with a huge, lovely beach on the Baltic shore. It would be totally normal families, and the fire would be on that lovely beach. We'd take drinks, I'd take part in a tradition that Hannes and Andrea and various other people who have lived in the area most of their lives had never even done, and it'd be perfect!

Ah, but let us not forget about the forecast. 
Looking like Nazis turned out to be the very least of our worries.


"Okaaay, Hanna, let's get some candy from.. the Easter Bunny.. agh, god, fuck, I can't see, this is terrible.."

It started snowing shortly before we left and didn't stop. 
It didn't stop, and it just kept getting worse.


The flakes were massive and extremely wet. You can see in the photos and videos that people not only had like three centimetres of buildup on their heads and shoulders but that, despite the below-freezing temperatures, they were also visibly soaked.


We tried to enjoy our drinks anyway, and waited to have the local fire department light our torches for us. Hanna's skeptical face here captures the mood pretty well, I think.





Yeah. Putting on makeup was a mistake. Look at how drenched we are. Within minutes I was a panda. The big flakes weren't just falling peacefully, either, they were blowing into our faces and whipping us in the eyes, so that our faces were also totally wet and we really had a hard time keeping our eyes open. But - look there! Andrea is having a good time! x'D

She and Hanna always look cute no matter what, honestly, 
but the rest of us couldn't believe this shit. 

It took quite a long time for the slow death march toward the beach to begin, through the bucolic cobblestone streets, and the snow just kept getting worse while we were waiting, and while we were walking. It's one of those things where you can't believe everyone hasn't dropped everything and gone home, because the conditions are so bad that everything should probably just be cancelled while everyone can still get home.

Anke said that she had never seen such massive snowflakes. They were more like snowchunks. I said that they were exactly the same size and density as the falafel she had made earlier, and I think that's a standard unit of measurement for us all now. On a scale that ranges from Dry Dust to Soggy Falafel, this snow was absolutely on the latter extreme end of the scale.

It was near-whiteout conditions. A blizzard. A fucking blizzard on the fucking beach.


Hahah aww yay soggy panda! ><


I wrapped my thick-knit scarf around my face, and found it astonishingly effective. 
I could still see through the little gaps, and I could actually keep my eyes open.

Let it goooo, let it goooo


I like this one quite a lot, actually. The Stagehand and the Garbage Bags demonstrate resilience while highlighting a unique example of German communist architecture during a beach blizzard.

I took one photo of the fire and then walked away. We all walked away, met up again, and decided to have another drink or two before calling it and going home.

And when I say "drinks" I mean glühwein, because this was second Christmas. And as I said and everyone agreed, it was even Christmassier than the actual Christmas.




Look at this nonsense! It's supposed to be springtime!




Nico ran off to get the car while we waited under the outdoor bar's tarp. 
But he forgot the little parking slip thing, that the machine prints for you when you drive it and that you then use to pay.
Ivanhoe ran (or I guess jogged carefully) after him in the ongoing moist falafel deluge with it a few minutes later.
Nico came back from a different direction, having realised that he forgot it. "Ahh, damn it!" he replied when we told him, running off again, but this time after Ivi. It was like a classic slapstick comedy routine.

Nico then drove us all back to Anke and Marco's through the whiteout and ever-deepening snow on the road. Everybody was soggy and cold and disappointed, and stripped off their shoes, socks, and sweaters in the corridor and doorway.

I managed to snap a good one.


The next day, we were effectively snowed in. We had planned on going to a large local animal park that mostly has birds you can interact with, called Vogelpark Marlow.

"Hey, wake up," Hannes was saying to me in the loft. He was already dressed while I was still sleeping, per usual. He had his phone in his hand and was excited about something.
"That bird park we were gonna go to today? Look. There are pictures online. It literally got completely destroyed by the snow. 30 - 40 centimetres of snow fell on it, that never happens."

Welp.

Mostly the park has large, open enclosures encircled by trees that have bird nets over the top to keep the various birds inside, so as you can see, those didn't stand a chance. The employees had rushed in on Saturday night when the weather took that shocking turn and were able to get a lot of the animals to shelter, but they lost track of several birds. Two snow owls escaped, but I mean, those are probably fine. They lost a fucking eagle. Not gonna find that again.

So, March was a real bust. This was the one thing I'd been looking forward to for a month, going to the Easter bonfire after colouring eggs, and petting bunnies and birds at a nice animal park, not a dank depressing one like they have in Japan. And we did colour those eggs, and that whole day was nice, but no one could believe that a massive freak snowstorm - and this region really does not see that level of snowfall, there were all kinds of road closures and train delays and no one was prepared for it - whited-out the beach bonfire and actually, literally destroyed the other place we'd wanted to go to. And of course, there was no alternative for the Sunday, except to stay in.

Anke kept saying she was sorry because she knew I'd been depressed and looking forward to the weekend, but I mean, it's weather. I told her the story of how Rejon and I went to Yehliu on the northern coast of Taiwan the summer before but didn't plan well enough for the daily afternoon thunderstorm, which is often torrential, thinking we would have enough time to get to the beach afterward. We cooked on the rocks for the first half of the day, and the second half was a reenactment of that scene from The Shawshank Redemption. I'll get to those blog posts within the next few months.

Point is, it happens. I kept telling Rejon I was sorry, too, since it was my plan, so I felt like it was my fault or something, but no one has any control over this kind of stuff. Nico, Andrea, Hanna, and the rest of their family had a great time that day building not one, but two snowbunnies. At least it was a memorable one.


And of course, there was dinner to look forward to.


My mushrooms and potatoes were almost too blackened to eat and my tempeh sticks were super dry because Marco has never cooked tempeh before, but all in all it was pretty good, and it's great of him to cook for us whenever we're there.


The train ride home. About halfway, the snow was gone. We found out that the couple of Osterfeuer people had had in and around Hamburg were normal; it didn't snow there again. Sigh. 

Well, hopefully next year we can go to Lower Saxony or Bavaria or something and see some of those elaborately-decorated Easter fountains!