Archive for März, 2014

A few days in Bremen

I had such a great first experience with airbnb in Barcelona last year when I was there for a work thing (I loved my loft-style apartment in the heart of the gothic quarter, feeling more like a part of the neighbourhood than a tourist by the end of the week ), that my initial concerns of using it on my own were swept away.

This year, as our yearly lung meeting in Bremen was approaching, and I hadn’t got round to booking myself a place to stay, I turned again fairly last minute to airbnb. And I wasn’t disappointed. Arriving on the cherry blossom and magnolia lined street with large, elegant town houses made me feel like I had arrived in London’s Bayswater. My hosts, although I didn’t have much of a chance to chat to them, were welcoming and helpful, ready with emergency numbers, directions and restaurant tips for the wonderfully vibrant and slightly edgy neighbourhood of Ostertor. Above all though, I loved their tastefully decorated and spacious guest area. Worlds apart from the standard, impersonal business hotel room I could have got and at a fraction of the price.

Interestingly, it’s not the price that is the sole attraction. Even those who are on business trips with fully-paid expenses are searching for an alternative to the perfectly adequate but soulless chain hotel.

10,000 views! 8 ways in which blogging has changed my life

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The blog has reached the 10,000 views mark! Sure, it’s just a number, but it somehow feels like a milestone. And who doesn’t love celebrating a milestone? So a huge thank you to all of you for clicking, reading, sharing and commenting. The feedback has been incredibly positive, and the initial  feeling of surprise has given way to a feeling of being, well, rather chuffed . But apart from the kind comments, what I get asked the most is: why do you do it? (and perhaps, where do you find the time?).

Thinking back on the last almost 8 months, here are the things I’ve got out of blogging and why you should think about doing it too. All of them unexpected and some of them surprisingly rewarding.

1. Life is full of stories!

A blog needs regular material to keep it alive. But guess what? You don’t need to look far for this because life is full of interesting material: fun facts, pretty images and beautiful words. Writing a journal type blog like I do, has made me think more about every book I read, about the songs I hear randomly on the radio or the buildings I walk past on a walk into town. Once you start blogging, you realise that there is a story to be found everywhere. As a pleasant by-product, it has given me a heightened sense of appreciation for all the little things in life – be it the weekly farmer’s market, a run in the cool evening air or a walk in the English countryside on a trip back home.

2. It’s made me less of an introvert

I’m naturally more on the quiet side (here is a great article telling you if you might share some characteristics of an introvert too).  I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but I know that shying away from life can sometimes mean that you miss out. Having a blog has made my voice stronger. It’s made small talk easier and even made me a little better at networking. I’ve already been in situations where my blog has been a conversation starter (for example from friend’s of friends), which is a pretty good way of breaking the ice. And a blog is both a potential talking point for a conversation as well as something which thrives on new knowledge. And what better way to gain that than to meet others and hear their stories?

3. It’s made me open up to life and share my story

Before I started blogging, I wondered what I could possibly write about that would be interesting to someone else. And what is so special about my life anyway that it is worth blogging about? But then I realised how much I enjoyed reading about  the life of an old friend in New York  – probably because, let’s face it, I will probably never get a chance to live in that amazing city – or about the lives of young mums, quite surprisingly even though I don’t have kids. I’ve never asked myself why I am interested in reading that. I just am. Researchers have looked at the science behind stories that ‚go viral‘ on the internet. Stories that are positively framed and which  touch us emotionally are the most likely to be successful. My most successful text on ‚How to be German‘ tickled the humour of many Germans (yes, they do have a sense of humour). Why not share yours?

4. Being creative

I love being a medic. I can’t really think of a more challenging and interesting day job which would suit me. But I regret the lack of creativity. Having a blog means constantly thinking of ideas, finding suitable images and writing. It’s not always easy turning these ideas into readable text, but that’s part of the fun of it. I’m more of an early bird than a night owl, but my blog has kept me up well past my bedtime on quite a few occasions. There is however no better feeling than the one after a text is completed and published.

5. Keeping up with friends and family

I can guarantee that your mother will be the first fan of your blog and your most loyal reader. Mothers simply love to know what you are up to, and this is pretty much the perfect way for them to keep an extra eye on you. But surprisingly, wider family and friends are just as interested. The only contact I had with blogs for a long time, was the travel blogs of friends who went round the world or who worked in hospitals in Africa or with children in Papua New Guinea. I followed them faithfully. But the posts stopped after they got home. Why should life stop being interesting and worth sharing just because we are no longer away from home?  

6. Being an expert

We all walk a different way through life and even when we don’t always see it as we go about our daily jobs, we become experts in our field. Having written about some fun facts on snoring, efforts to educate people on the risks of smoking or the curious medical complaints of tuba players and violinists, I’m surprised myself at how many aspects of my day job have interested others.

7. Meeting new people

Having a blog is not it seems a solitary hobby for loners. A big part of blogging is interacting with readers and other bloggers.  Building this sort of ‚community‘ takes time, and I can’t say that I’ve achieved it yet. But blogging has brought me to things I wouldn’t have imagined doing, such as attending a blogging awards ceremony or finding a common ground with people in other parts of the world through exchanges on Twitter and on my blog.

8. Being passionate about new technology

My grasp of new technology was always pretty basic. Being able to handle Microsoft Office is pretty much enough to get by in the medical world. Indeed, medics seem to lag behind on the technology band wagon. Sure, there are aps to practice reading ECGs or accessing drug dosages at an instance, but twittering from a big medical conference? Not done. Having a blog suddenly gives a new meaning to all things tech – from choosing and running a WordPress site (with a lot of help from my friend over at Media Engine), to debating which mobile phone meets my needs, to playing around with more aps  to finding a new meaning to social media.  I still have a lot to learn, but the big difference now is that I want to learn it.

Smoking: ever thought of quitting?

A good friend – who I would label as a chain smoker – decided to quit smoking this year. And I couldn’t be happier about it. While I have never directly tried to persuade him to stop, he says, that my unobtrusively informative comments (ok, those are my words) over the last few years played at least a little part in his decision. I assume it must be related to my warning of breathlessness which limits you and a persistent slimy cough that no medicine can take away. He has promised to blog about his tips for how a heavy smoker can quit. I’d love to pass them on here, but apparently I count as an unbelievable source, seeing as I am a never-smoker and it’s sort of my job to advise people to stop smoking.

Deciding to quit smoking is a personal decision. My job is just to inform patients about the facts. I spend more and more time discussing smoking cessation with patients suffering from an array of lung diseases, simply because I know that it is the one thing which will definitely positively influence their health. And this is not wasted time, because research has shown that a 3-minute period of counselling from a health-care professional increases the quit rate by 5-10%. And if I do this for my patients, then why not for my friends?

wpid-mtf_vOUxs_955.jpgThe image of coolness is particularly hard to break in Germany. I love reading novels set in the roaring 20s: discussing life, love and philosophy at a Parisian cafe over coffee and cigarettes, dancing in dimly lit smoky jazz clubs and elegant women with monogrammed cigarette cases. It’s hard to imagine any of it without smoking. But as many of my older patients tell me ‚we didn’t know back then‘ (of all the ways that smoking is bad for you). Well we do now. In the UK, two thirds of smokers took it up before the age of 18. And 80% of smokers started before the age of 20. It seems silly to further project this image of coolness to generations which should know better. 

Taking risks are part of life. But why take one where you unnecessarily limit your quality of life in later years?The next time you meet an active 70 year old whose energy astounds you and who looks at least 10 years younger, ask them if they smoke. My bet is no.

A few hours in London

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Last weekend I made a whistle-stop less than 24 hour visit to London. I stayed with a friend in a suburb some 30 minutes from central London, which was quiet and green and where life seemed closer to village life than one in greater London.

When I did make in into the ‚real London‘, I arrived at Piccadilly circus on a sunny afternoon. What struck me instantly was not just the magnificence of the surrounding buildings or the sudden mass of people, but the pure energy and the feeling that the city is not just for show but busy at work. This scene on one of the side streets on the way to my lunch spot in Soho describes it perfectly: tourists, construction workers, a street market crowded with those at lunch and a corner pub trading early Friday afternoon beer.

The few hours were just enough for a leisurely walk through St. James’s Park, Green Park and a long chat with friends whilst soaking up the unexpected rays of sunshine at the cafe on the edge of the Serpentine lake at the heart of Hyde Park.

Even the rush hour tube ride to Euston station couldn’t dampen my mood or stop me planning my next trip to this very special city.

How to survive Karneval in the Rhineland

As the Brits were busy raiding their larders for flour and eggs for pancake day, the Germans – at least in the Rheinland area – were donning their last costume with a heavy heart and drinking their last beer to mark the end of the carnival season. I already posted about my experience at a carnival gathering a few weeks ago. Although ‚Karneval‘ officially starts on the 11th of November, the festivities intensify on the Thursday before Shrove Tuesday drawing to a close in the early hours of Ash Wednesday with a daily array of street parties, parades and pub nights. For this period, the city is a surreal world of costumed adults who don’t seem to be at work.

It took me 5 Karneval seasons to finally understand what makes it special. And this is not a Brit in Germany thing. Germans from Hamburg and Berlin for example find the whole thing just as absurd, often without ever having given it a try. Here are my tips for a good Karneval experience.

1. Find yourself the right crowd

You need a crowd that comes from the city you are celebrating in. You need to surround yourself with these fanatics. You can spot these easily by asking them how many costumes they have. When they say ’not many‘ but mention in the same breath they are in possession of a costume trunk for a purpose other than the entertainment of their children, you can be pretty sure that you have found a true ‚Karnevalist‘.

2. Dress for the occasion

Anything goes. You can make yourself a costume, buy something from the many costume shops which pop up around the place at Karneval season or borrow something from a Karnevalist that you have befriended. It’s not Rio, and the costumes make grown-ups look silly rather than fabulous. There is no pressure to turn up with new costumes at every event, but it’s fun if you can. Most add a new Karneval costume to their trunk every year, much the same way as collecting a few baubles for the Christmas tree every year. Remember that the parade on Rosenmontag (the highlight of Karneval) is an outdoor event and dress appropriately (as a big warm, furry creature for example).

3. Listen to the songs before hand 

The music is not for highbrows. It’s simple, melodious and ridiculously catchy, either paying homage to the hometown or philosophising about life and love.The classics will be played 3 or 4 times in one evening, so you will have ample opportunity to pick up the chorus. Everyone around you will be singing along and they will be happy to sing the words into your ears so that you pick it up quickly. If you have the chance though, listen to a few tracks before hand. Tracks by the ‚Brings‘ or ‚Bläck Fööss‘  are a pretty good place to start.

4. Count your beers

Beer, wine and water costs the same at most events. Someone will press a glass of local ale into your hand before you have had the chance to finish the last one. The party is long. Count your beers. If you don’t drink alcohol, that’s fine. As long as you dance and sing no-one will force you into anything. If you don’t mind alcohol but are not into beer,  that’s a problem.

5. Quiz the Karnevalist

Actually you don’t have to do any journalistic work here. Karnevalists will voluntarily indulge you with all information related to Karneval. They want you to love it as much as they do. From the local history to the events leading up to the Nubbelverbrennung. It gives meaning to the madness.

6. Get some stamina

Not been to a Karneval event before and unsure what to expect? Well, it goes something like this: Think about a student union bar on a costume night, where the playlist more or less repeats itself every Friday. Replace the cheesy pop songs with the folk music/golden oldies you learnt about in point 2.  Remove the cliques and the cool kids and make everyone in the crowd happy. Fast-forward to the last song of the night and imagine the euphoria and the energy as everyone locks arm in arm and sings along. Capture this feeling and reproduce it for at least 6 hours in a row. Reproduce it regardless of if you are in an overcrowded traditional pub or out on the street watching a parade and regardless of late winter sun, rain or chilliness. Now repeat 6 days in a row. Are you exhausted yet? Well, I was after one night.

Karneval

 

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