Archive for Oktober, 2013

To troedeln

Path 2013-10-19 19_19Where the Brits have their car-boot sales, the Germans have their flea markets or ‚Flohmarkt‘. Also known as a ‚Trödelmarkt‘ which I prefer. I’m not sure where the word stems from, but I like the fact that the verb ‚trödeln‘ means to dally or dawdle which I think pretty much sums up the approach to a day at a flea market. They seem to be everywhere. Not quite the chic, slightly commercialised coolness of London’s Portobello or Spitalfields market, but more akin to its car-boot sale compatriot, with a low-key, relaxed atmosphere where you never know what you might find. The nearby city of Wuppertal actually boasts the world’s largest flea-market, where more than 250,000 people descend once-yearly every September, and yet most people have probably never heard of it.

Visiting flea markets is on my list of ‚things-I- like-doing-but-do-not-find-the-time-for‘. All the more rewarding then to stumble upon a wonderful night-time flea-market in my own city.

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Arriving there felt almost like entering the East end of London. And ‚trödelling‘ was even more fun with a beer in the hand and accompanied by tunes from a pretty good rock band.

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Aside from the flea-market, the event in an old factory turned out to be a mixture of music, exhibition space and performance art. I found some amazing vintage pieces for such a bargain price that I had to ask why they were being sold. ‚There are reasons why you want to let things go“, I was told. And then she promptly turned to her friend and said „well, that was the last piece of him“. I wonder what the sad story behind my loot is. This only adds to my love of finding second-hand treasures. Let’s hope my purchases have a happier ending though.

King of the instruments

IMG_20131020_193838On a tip from an acquaintance, I ended up at one of the organ concerts taking place as part of the International Düsseldorf Organ Festival. Who would have known that Düsseldorf has almost 200 organs of concert standard? The festival programme (spanning over 5 weeks!) looks rich, varied and quirky with performances combining the organ with guitar, folk singing, drums and even the didgeridoo and spans from traditional church music to jazz and opera. Presumingly aiming to get more people interested in the instrument.

Although organs are invariably associated with the church, they are reported to have been built in the centuries before Christ, where initially water was used to pump air through the pipes. Known as the ‚king of instruments‘, it can can produce the lowest and highest notes of all instruments.

At the end of another glorious autumnal weekend, as the evening drew, there was something cosy  and fitting about sitting in the back row of a church, wrapped up in a shawl listening to works by Verdi and Wagner conveyed by the single and multiple, both soothing and terrifying, tones of the organ.



The music I listen to is fairly diverse: the silky voices of jazz singers in the 30s and 40s for melancholy days, tidying up the flat to french and german hip-hop, dancing to funk, soul and electro and attending orchestra and chamber concerts in churches and music halls. Amidst all of this, there is always a place  for a good pop track. Most pop songs are bearable, easy on the ear and standard, a few grating and some plain terrible. You sort of know you are getting older when pop music seems less and less interesting. Every once in a while though, one pops up which has a new sound which stands out from the rest.

At the moment I am a fan of  the edgy beat, mature vocals and fun text of Royals by Lorde and the vulnerability and sweetness of Wings by Birdy. Even more impressive is how remarkably assured the 16 year-old Kiwi and the 17 year-old Brit seem, despite their tender age.


Despite several years of experience of working hospital night shifts, I never really get used to them – physically or psychologically. Falling asleep during the day is not really the problem, but feeling fresh after broken (although technically sufficient) sleep during the day is a status I have never achieved.

Research centred on shift-workers tells you that they are at increased risk of getting colds and the flu, have increased risk of obesity, high cholesterol and as a consequence heart disease. No surprise when eating patterns and sleep are so erratic and the normal, healthy appetite is unexplainably replaced by the innate desire to eat a fry-up every morning (if only there was someone there to cook it) and opt for take-out food in the evening. I’m lucky that I don’t do them that often and have a job at the moment where I am allowed to get a couple of hours of sleep at night, but I know the non-stop kind too.

Here are my tips for a better set of nights:

1. Plan a reward for the end of the night-shifts: a pedicure, a haircut, a night-out, a weekend away, wandering around the tiny shops in your neighbourhood which are normally closed by the time you get home from work, breakfast at your favourite cafe poring over a glossy magazine , buy yourself some flowers – whatever makes you happy. (I’m really not sure how the boys reward themselves.)

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2. Think about that wonderful feeling when the last shift is over on a Friday morning and you get to start your 3-day weekend when everyone else has to go to work.

3. Try and do some exercise during the week. I admit the motivation to go on a run before a shift often fails me, but I do know that when accomplished, it invariably energises and make you feel much better.

4. Remember that there are tons of others out there working nights and try not to feel so sorry for yourself. Although some empathy from family and friends is always appreciated.

5. Apparently wearing dark glasses on your way home from work helps. Never tried it.

6. Avoid alcohol. Although, if you need to be told this, it’s worrying. Drink lots of water instead. That’s always good right? A charge nurse I work with brings in a huge can of freshly brewed mint tea with honey to nights (which he is always happy to share). That’s even better than water. Definitely healthier than relying on coffee and cans of coke through the night.

7. Eat healthily. It’s hard. But you will have fewer spots and feel better. Shop for all the healthy stuff before you start your nights.

8. Try to leave work at work when you get home. And don’t run too many errands or make too many appointments during the day, as tempting as it is to get everything done. Yes you can finally make it to the post-office, the bank, the GP, the garage and every official body in your city, but there will be a queue everywhere and you need to get some sleep.

9. Listen to a couple of tracks of feel-good/energetic music before you leave the house. Music makes everything better.

10. Remember to appreciate the pure luxury of sleeping during the day, whatever the circumstances.


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On a cold, dark rainy Thursday evening this week, after a longish day at work, I drove up to the Philharmonie in Essen to listen to Verdi’s Requiem for the first time. Sitting in the midst of the silver-haired audience, I was relieved to nestle into my seat just in time. As the music began, I was surprised at how dramatic and theatrical the Requiem was – trumpet fanfares, whispered passages and a ferocious ‚Dies Irae‘ (which most people will recognise  when they hear it). In fact, it felt like pure Opera. No surprise to learn later then, that this was the only large-scale piece Verdi wrote which wasn’t an opera. And interestingly, that Verdi was a suspected agnostic. He even included female voices in his score and convinced the church and its archbishops to allow them to sing in the church, which at the time was not routine practice.

The Requiem is off course, the traditional Roman Catholic mass for the dead. Hundreds have been written since the middle ages by countless composers. A few are however particularly well known and often performed. In the last couple of years I have had the chance to perform the Brahms Requiem and the Requiem from Fauré with my choir.

Otherwise known as „A German Requiem“, Brahms Requiem is sung in German rather than Latin and said to be humanist and non-liturgical. Listening to its powerful text, intricate melodies both firm and gentle, could bring nothing other than comfort to the dying and those left behind.

If I had to choose a favourite, it would probably be the Requiem from Gabriel Fauré. It has a softness and sweetness which speaks peace. No wrath, no indignation, just beauty and peace.

All 3 Requiems were written in the late 19th century, all written as expected in commemoration and remembrance. Granted, penned by an Italian, a German and a Frenchman respectively, but still surprising in their completely differing interpretation and delivery.  All have a fitting place. It reminded me of the stages of grief as described by Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These emotions and attitudes are certainly to be found in all these pieces in varying degrees. In the words of Heinrich Heine: „Where words leave off, music begins.”


A New World

In June this year, in the midst of the NSA scandal, Angela Merkel made the mistake of describing the internet as ‚Neuland‘, literally new land, but really more unchartered territory. The twitterati, bloggers and media-types found this instantly amusing. ‚#Neuland‘ was irresistible fodder for quips and banter for a number of days. But for the rest of us, this unfortunate turn of phrase is not so far from the truth.

In the last few weeks, I have trawled through forums about the various blog themes, watched a tutorial about WordPress and even read a book about blogging. All of this is definitely unchartered territory for me. And the new world? That has to be the discovery of the blogoshpere, which is mind-bogglingly expansive. It has meant a glimpse into the lives, travels, experiences and opinions of others; the tale of two sisters in Manhatten (A good hostess), the walks and beautiful photographs of a Swede wandering through the architecturally rich streets of Berlin (Sandra Juto), inspiring cookery blogs for those moments when I find time to cook (The minimalist bakery), incredibly sweet mother-child blogs (Mama Dalston), as well as the private blog of journalists (Franziskript and Indiskretion Ehrensache) who sort of act as curators through this unchartered world.

My decision to start a blog had a lot to do with the passion that my husband has for the blogging world – more so than ever now with his new career direction – which spilled over to me and made me curious. But above all, it was an underlying desire to not just be a spectator, but to take part in the unlimited conversation. I just didn’t know I would have so much fun doing it.

Sebastian Matthes (1)For years now, and acutely so since moving away from the UK, my favourite on-line news site has been the liberal voice of the Guardian – with its comprehensive cover of serious news but also trustworthy film and travel reviews, a brilliant weekly politics podcast (which I often cook to) and a Friday evening fashion videoblog (which I love starting the weekend with). I still haven’t found a German equivalent of this. As the Huffington Post Germany starts today, I’m wondering if it will fill this gap, with it’s promise not only to provide comprehensive news, but also to provide a platform for which readers can exchange with authors, and where professional journalists write alongside hobby-writers and experts from all walks of life. Good luck to the team. I’m certainly looking forward to discovering even more fascinating blogs over a cup of tea this evening.



Internationally, the medical profession is moving away from naming diseases after their founder. In fact, in the last few years, many conditions have been stripped of their eponymous names and replaced with more descriptive terms, often describing the underlying pathological process. An example of this is the rebirth of Wegener’s granulomatosis as Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis. Just as sometimes the colonial name of Calcutta tipples of my tongue (instead if its rightful name of Kolkata), it can be hard to move away from an often used, familiar medical term. And diagnosing someone with Wegener’s seems much less of a mouthful than with granulomatosis with polyangiitis.

Other than the fact that using these eponymous names leads to dilemas revolving around whether or not the possessive form of the name should be used (Parkinson’s disease or Parkinson disease?), it can lead to other problems too.

In one of my first few months on a German ward, I was asked by a patient if it was possible that he may have `Pfeiffersches Drüsenfieber`? After asking him to repeat the name of this disease 3 times and still not knowing what it could possibly be, I found myself in the difficult position of having to admit to a patient that he had apparently located a (clearly large) gap in my medical knowledge. Checking up on it later though, I found out that this was the eponymous name for infectious mononucleosis, or glandular fever as commonly referred to in England. (Such a common disease, that you would be right to be worried if your doctor had never heard of it.) I had however simply never heard the term Pfeiffer’s disease, which is in honour of the German pediatrician, Emil Pfeiffer, who first reported clusters of the illness in 1889.

Another case which perplexed me was the disease referred to as Morbus Basedow by my colleagues. A condition I had never before heard of. Looking into the history books solves this conundrum. In Great Britain, this autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland is referred to as Grave’s disease after the Irishman Robert James Graves who described a swelling of the thyroid gland and the eyes in 1835. On the continent, the disease carries the name of the German Karl Adolph von Basedow who reported the typical symptoms in 1840.

Clearly the usage of these names reflects a certain sense of pride in each country’s own contribution to the medical field. Descriptive terms would in some cases make it much easier to learn and remember just what exactly the illness does, as well as crossing international borders with more ease. Saying that, a complete renaming of diseases would seem like an affront to the pioneers and discoverers over the centuries who have made the field of medicine what it is today. For this reason, I presume medical students will still be learning about Hashimoto, Huntington, Gilbert, Gaucher and Co. for quite a few years to come.


concert_programmeReading the programme from concerts is normally worth it. I like learning about the composer, the inspiration for the piece of music and what I am supposed to look out for in the various passages, as well as usually being a little bit curious about where the soloist comes from and how old they are.

Annoyingly, I seem to forget almost everything I have read. The ‘Quartet for the End of Time’ by Olivier Messiaen is however an exception to this, because the story behind it, as the title suggests, is simply exceptional. Messiaen was taken as a prisoner of war from France to Görlitz, Germany in 1940. A sympathetic camp guard gave him manuscript paper and means to write when he found out that he was a composer. Three other musicians were also in the camp, which is why Messiaen composed this piece of work for a rather unusual quartet of piano, clarinet, cello and violin. A fellow prisoner-of-war drew the program above for the concert which premiered in one of the prison barracks, with a reported audience of 4000 – prisoners and their camp officers alike.

Messiaen was deeply religious and the work is about the apocalypse – so the biblical end of time – and is composed in 8 movements. This summer, I heard a stunning performance of one of the movements written for cello and piano in the romanesque church at Neuss, which blew me away with its eery beauty and brought me to the verge of tears. The music is minimalist, ethereal and full of light. The complete opposite of how the circumstances must have been in the camp, with every prisoner there wondering whether they were nearing the end of their time in this world.

It worked out well for Messiaen, who was repatriated to France in the spring of 1941 and continued to compose until his death in 1992.

I’m still on the look out to hear the entire piece in concert somewhere. Until then, the message is to keep reading programmes. There are lots of interesting stories out there.


goodbyeMy line of work means that I come into contact with death and dying on a regular basis. Whilst the physical and psychological symptoms of the terminally ill are hopefully well cared for in the palliative setting, the plight of nearest relatives and friends can be overlooked. All the more reason that I found this recent article describing the ‘10-year goodbye’ of a wife to her dying husband particularly moving.

It also reminded me of a wonderful book I read last year, ‚Alice‘ by Judith Hermann(German original but English translation available), depicting five very different stories of loss and bereavement in the life of the central figure Alice. Each scenario intensively observed, beautifully described and immensely thought-provoking.

We all know that bereavement and mourning is a part of life. Yet most of us are probably ill-prepared for it and often ill-supported when it does occur. Reading the stories of others, both real-life and fictional, enriches us emotionally, prepares us in some measure, and most of all (as sentimental as it sounds), reminds us to treasure those people close to us all the more.

Additionally for me, it reminds me to ask how the person at the bedside of my patient is doing.

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