The new year after the fesitivities are over

Here we are now – in a new year which is before us like a piece of unwritten paper that is waiting to be filled with content. We have our  good resolutions for the new year, maybe or not.  And now, after the parties it mixes: The expectations of the new year and the hang-over.

If you live in a country where christmas is celebrated and where the differences of the light of the day are several hours between December and June, and where you have got both cold winters and warm summers, the following might be familiar to you.

Well, the lights in the streets become less. No more christmas and after New Year the decorative lights that shine out through the windows of homes decrease in numbers significantly. Like on many first days of the year, there is no sun to be seen. Outside it is grey and cold and the air is moist. Now this is less of a problem, however, as it is past 5.30 p.m and it is dark outside anyway.  God bless those of you who live in a warmer climate!

And January is the month that feels the longest of the year. The darkness recedes slowly and on grey sundays you feel particularly down somehow.  Initially, you may have liked it. After the summer you feel snug and cosy at home, doing and enjoying your indoor activities that range from playing games with your family, fixing things in your home, doing things on the computer or in the Internet or watching TV.

Now in January, a new year has come which lies ahead of us like the quoted empty sheet of paper.  I start feeling grumpy about this, it really feels grey and dark. I sense the darkness around me stronger, and even the light does not help too much.  It is a silent period of the year, and indeed the Bavarians refer to it as the „stade Zeit“ („silent time“ in their dialect.) Especially sunday afternoon is not a part of a day which you use for activities of your liking, but rather the (half)day before monday.

What great time was it when I have spent these times in Indonesia and Malaysia. No trace of this kind of New Year or January blues. The sun was shining like usual and 1st of January seems to be a normal working day. (Oh, I do not mind to have a day off, on the other hand…)

Next step in the run-up for the brighter days will be carnival which is held in February or early March. Then, at least here in Central Europe, March is the month of transition. It may be very winterly at the beginning and be in full springtime at the end. (In Northern Europe, even April resembles more a winter than a springtime month). Then the street cafés are open and it is in March that I take my bicycle and start my long rides which I love so much.

How do you perceive the changing of the year and the first months of it in your countries, climates and cultures?

Greetings from Frankfurt upon Main.

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Holiday: How we prepare our luggage stress-free

Holiday – best time of the year. Already long before we have made our arrangements or reservations, got information about our destination and we look forward to the day of departure. 

But how do you handle the last day(s) before you leave? Some people find it easy to pack the luggage the day before, and they might be done after one hour. 

Others keep on thinking what to pack, stress themselves in order not to forget anything and then, on their destination, they find out that they have forgotten some things – the pyjama, for example, or another belt for the trousers, the credit card or whatever. 

We make us of Excel (or another programme will do) in order to prepare our luggage. In the left column we have written down the item; e.g. „flight tickets“ or „mosquito repellent“. In the cell adjacing to it, we give a term to which the item fits, in the two examples it would be „documents“ and „Personal Care and medicine“. Once your list is done, you sort the items according to the general terms,and then you work it: Documents, Personal Care and medicine, Electro, Financial, Clothing, Media, you name it. 

In order to save time and avoid stress, we pack on the week-end if we leave during the week. For this we print our list on sheets. Then we see what we want to pack, take the items and put them right into the baggage. (The first thing to pack is the clothing and shoes as this is usually the heaviest and such is put first into the backpack.) 

We make sure that we work our lists not on sundays. Should we see that something is missing we can buy it in one of the stores nearby. 

Valuables are already in the bank vault, keys for the post box are handed to our reliable neighbours, as well as the keys to our flat.  We are lucky to have extremely well relationships with our neighbours. Once somebody is out of the house, the others take care of everything, keeping the flat manned and a close eye on it. Thanks to our watchfullness in our compound, the personal atmosphere and life  burglary is not an issue – a thing that you must work and care for, however. 

And then, it is done. Of course there are items which you may not pack  now – for example some toiletries that you still may need on the day that you leave, and you do not wish to keep two pieces of different items. In my case it is the shaver and the razor gel.  In such cases, we highlight the items. Then, the next morning, we see at one glance what still must be added into our backpacks. 

This system works well, preparing trips is easier and we consider it to be much more stress-free, but well, to each his own. 

In our case it will be a bit of a challenge. Tomorrow we must be at the airport at 7 o.clock. What luck that Frankfurt Airport (FRA) is only four bus stops away from our home. We will get up at 4.45 a.m.  Too early for you? Yes, but we prefer to start the day relaxed. In hectic you may forget some important items. So, we do it safe and slowly.  And after all, we wish to leave in the best possible mood, and not in stress.

And our holiday destination: We fly to Finland; Helsinki first and from there we continue our trip to a friend who lives in Rovaniemi, Northern Finland, just 5 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. There we will explore Northern Finland and Sweden and then we go down to the old town of Turku, where this year  the annual Eurobilltracker meeting is held. 

Could you get some hints from my report? What would you add or make better? Where do you go on holiday this year?  See and read you soon again. 

Jürgen greets you from Frankfurt-upon-Main

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Germany: Glimpses of the day after the World Cup was won

It was great! Our national football (soccer) team has gained the FIFA World Cup for the fourth time, after 1954, 1974 and 1990. While the match of 1990 – also against Argentina – was a dull and undignified one, because the 1:0 was achieved through a simple penalty kick – this year it was different.  Since the day when our team has beaten (up) the Brasilian hosts with 7:1. we were in an estate of inebriatedness. What could go wrong? Nothing. It was next to impossible that we would lose the final match against Argentina, although we certainly should be aware that every match and every opponent is different.

In fact it was a thrilling match in which only one goal was scored again, like in 1990. People watched the match at home, or in the public where large screens were set up, in pubs and bars, or during private barbecue parties. (Due to heavy rains in parts of Germany, this was not always a good idea.)

My Lovely One and me, we were in a Spanish bar – the EscoBar, where we watched the match with many other people, almost everybody clad in white t-shirts and all kinds of accessoires in black, red and yellow. our national colours. Cute to see some foreigners who had taken side with us, too. Most charming was that Indian family of five, all clad in the said clothing and colourings, which really looked exotic and, yes, cute on their dark skins.

Well, we all know the result. Germany is world champion for the fourth time and it is the first time in history that a team from Europe has gained the FIFA World Cup in America. On our way home later that night, many people were in the strees, cheering up and drinking. Very popular are car corsos, where people parade through the strees in long queues of cars, and mostly the cars are decorated in German flags or in other ways in black-red-gold.  Here in Frankfurt, it was peaceful; in other cities the police had more to do with thugs and drunkards, and in Bremen a young man was stabbed to death. (Why?)

Today, when I went by regional train to the office a few towns away, it was a bit more silent. Quite a few people had taken leave so they could celebrate in the night. The electronical news boards in the train station in Frankfurt over and over displayed their gratulations for our team. In the train you could see youngsters clad in German fan-attire and in a state of happiness, drunkenness and tired they hang on the floor and went home. I wonder if one group had made it. They were so drunk that they did not manage to leave the train in time when it had arrived at their destination.

In our company, some ten colleagues were wearing fan-t-shirts, too.  And again this funny mixture: Happiness that we made it after 24 years again, and weariness, because the night was short. Different from me my colleagues had been at work in time but they left early.  On normal mondays, the parking space in front of the building is empty at around 4.45 p.m.. Today, it was half an hour earlier.

Later in the evening, I went to the supermarket just around the corner. Normally, you should try to avoid monday evening for your shopping. And it is true; Until friday there are never more people in it than on monday evenings. But today it was quite empty. Only one person before me at the cash desk. Normally, you have to line up and wait until you can pay.

And so does the day come to an end. Also me, I am still in an estate of joy and „not quite here“. I still have those great pictures of yesterday evening in my mind and I feel hilarious. But it starts taking its toll: Now, while „our boys“ are preparing to board their plane in Rio to fly back to Berlin, my concentration is at a very low level. I am tired and look forward to our bed.

And what about you? Did you watch the matches, too? Were your national teams in Brazil, too? Or what are your favorite sports you support?

Look forward to read from you.

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My smoking past part 5: THE END

Mid-September 2011. The Eurobilltrackers, an international Internet Community I am a member of, had its annual summer meeting in Barcelona, Spain. Still enjoying my cigarettes and with my sometimes crooky attitude towards life, I was attracted by a fun-T-shirt in one of the souvenir shops. It has shown the puma of the self-same sports company, depicted in the same style, but with a burning cigarette in its mouth. The writing was not “PUMA”, but “FUMA”. This is Spanish and means “He / She smokes.” (This trifling with words goes in Italian language as well.)     My girl friend was not extremely happy when

she saw me with that shirt… 2014-06-09 19 08 57

A few weeks later, there was this article in Reader’s Digest magazine about the findings of Israeli researchers. They have stated that the very first cigarette in the morning, right after waking up, is the worst!  This was bad news because many smokers consider this to be one of the most delicious ones.   So, what was I supposed to do now?  

At first I have stopped rolling me a cigarette and smoking it right after waking up. I went to the bathroom instead to brush my teeth, have a shower and shave and get dressed. Back in the living room then… the first cigarette was lit.  Not exactly the purpose of what these Israeli researchers might have had in mind when announcing their findings, right? And now smoking with freshly brushed teeth!  

But well, let us be honest: It was a beginning!!! Because smoking, that addiction, has got a lot to do with habits. And it was a goddamned habit to have a first cigarette fresh from waking up. This habit was disturbed now.  

For the next few hours and the next day it slipped through my mind that there might be more habits to break – for example the cigarette when waiting for the bus, then the cigarette when waiting for the train, the one after arriving at the railway station of my destination, then the last cigarette before I entered the premises of our company and so on, you name it.   Well, it was no tremendous success. Here and there I did refrain from smoking automatically my usually cigarette but probably more often I did not. And still let us be firm: The habits started to be broken, and this is so important!!!!  

It might have been around early November 2011 that there was a promotional flyer of a therapist who offered a programme for smoking cessation. It sounded good; a combination of talking you an ear off for two hours and a subsequent laser acupuncture.  Time had not yet come to make an appointment but the flyer was well kept, always in a way that I had to see it every day on my desk.  

Friday, November 11th. Bad day. At 9.30 a.m. I have come back to my desk from the backyard, the designated area for smoking in our company. (Smoking inside is forbidden in very most German companies and it is probably the same in many other European countries). 9.30 a.m. and I had finished my seventh “coffin nail” already! (Sargnagel – coffin nail –  is a popular figurative word in our language, because smoking does  speed up your way into the coffin.)   I sat down on my chair and like a flash of lightning, THE question flashed through my brains: Why the are you doing this?  

As if remote controlled, I opend my drawer, grabbed my calculator and made a rough calculation about how much money is blown in the air each year, of course with a rising tendency because taxes on tobacco rise almost on an annual basis.  The result was exactly 1.003 Euro (today 1.368 U$). The real result must be  higher as I did not always roll my cigarettes, due to convenience; each month I bought at least two ready packs of cigarettes, which is more expensive. If we calculate some 95 Euro (130 U$)  per month, this might be more realistic.

On that same day I did not have my lunch cigarette and many of the “regular” cigarettes while waiting for the bus, the train etc. have not been lit as well.   Saturday and sunday I managed to lower my consumption significantly, from up to 30 cigarettes per day to 5-8 only. Right on monday I made an apointment with that laser therapist, further reducing my tobacco consumption, and on friday, 18th November, I was down to one piece per day.  The ability to taste and smell has already started to increase again.  

So I have spent my friday afternoon with the therapist, underwent a very uncomfortable laser puncuation and – went to the restaurant where I was to meet a couple of friends; all of them smokers!!!!  Don’t ask me how I made it, but it was a  nice evening, without any desire for a cigarette!  

Today, 2,5 years later, I am still rather clean.  To be honest, the desire to have a cigarette here and there still persists and almost daily, and once or twice a months one is lit.  But it all works out. Against the craving I suck strong lozenges that in fact do away that taste in my mouth which led to another smoke. (I buy these lozenges in wholesale packs!.)  My senses of taste and smell are much stronger again and my condition is increasing.

Today I do some jogging which was impossible during the last years of tobacco consumption. There is no more coughing in the mornings, no sounds in my lungs when I breathe and no more clearing my throat all day.  

And the money? Well, there is not really much left of the economies. A part goes into another  insurance to increase my old age funds and the other half goes into the contract for my smartphone which I bought last year. But as prices for tobacco consumption have been raised there is a little something left for my pocket. .

What about you? Do you smoke and wish to quit and might like to “talk” to someone? Have you quit and restarted again or are you smoke-free as well since a couple of time? And what are your experiences?  And from my side: It is no shame to confess that you have started to smoke again – remaining strong and not relapsing into this old habit is more difficult than expected.  To quit might be easier.

Let us close this report with the infamous word of  Mark Twain:  

„Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.“

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My smoking past Part 4: Everyday smoker’s life in Germany, Europe and above the clouds

  Ready-made cigarettes from red-white and other boxes, self-rolled ones, I was in the world of the smokers, and I enjoyed it, not really regretting. It was a nice change to have a cigarette here and there while you were sitting on your desk at home, while waiting for the bus or the train or escape the noisy interior of a pub or restaurant and get some fresh air for a while.

During the first years of my “career” which started in November 1987, it was easy. Smoking was allowed in most places, even in travel busses.  In the trains there were particular waggons reserved for smokers but soon I have found that passengers is these smoking departments looked more anti-social, downtrodden, blunt – was I really part of them?

During the first years it was even no big deal to smoke on your working place and in the hospital you did not have to go (or hobble) to the next smoker’s room. In pubs and restaurants hardly anybody thought of forbidding “the blue mist” (German figurative saying) to their guests.

It goes without saying that smoking is and was not allowed in churches or on graveyards – oops, in the context of cigarettes it is getting a bit macabre with the latter…. .   ( You won’t believe it, until the 17th century people were smoking tobacco at churches.)

During the 1990 the smoke and winds were changing. Awareness grew that the passive smoking is very hazardous and causes a high death-toll among non-smokers. In this regard, imagine the air of the working place of a stewardess, a waitress in a restaurant or pub, just to name a few.  

Also on long-distance-flights, it has become a habit that smoking was forbidden. For my then frequent flights to Indonesia I have mainly used their flag-carrier Garuda Indonesia. For a time they were known to be the only airline from Germany to that country where smoking was allowed in designated smokers seats (which I had always booked).

On an Air France-flight to Thailand in 1999 they had at least a corner we we smoker “have met”. Guess these days are gone, too.

What luck that there are not yet areas in European cities like in the (very beautiful) Malaysian city of Malacca: There is a region down town where smoking is completely forbidden in order to increase the air quality in town.  Wonder if this is the way to achieve it… 

In 1999 in Germany a decisive decision was announced by the High Court: Every employee has got the right to have a smoke-free working place. Ever since, smokers have to go to designated areas inside or outside to have their cigarette.

Restaurants can prepare a separated room in which smoking is allowed. For small pubs this law backfires as many smokers want to enjoy their cigarettes over their beer and not going in the fresh air just to have a cigarette. In the consequence, some pubs had to close after their smoking guests have become less.

Owing to a certain autonomy that the German Länder (=federated states) enjoy, ban on smoking in restaurants and other gastronomical entities was introduced in different times. So I remember how much I have enjoyed to have a cigarette right in the bar in the neighbouring Land Rhineland Palatine while here in Hessen we already have to go outside, no matter what the weather. In the meantime, the situation is the same everywhere.

In your hotel room, smoking may be forbidden, too. No more smoker rooms.  So when I stayed in a hotel in the french town of Cergy-Pontoise at the Hôtel Première Classe Cergy it was somewhat uncomfortable to have to get from the 13th floor down to the front door to have a cigarette here and there; also in the morning, right after getting up. What luck I was in Cergy-Pontoise in June and the weather was warm.

Same situation in Italy. No smoking in your hotel room or in gastronomy.  What a pleasure when I visited close-by Republic of San Marino, an indipendent enclave near Rimini. There you could smoke free from your heart in the restaurants, and I have really enjoyed it – killing time with a cigarette while waiting for my pizza!

But let us be honest:

1. I did enjoy going out and returning home with my clothing still fine and not smelling like tobacco.

2. When you cannot smoke whenever you want, you do reflect: Do I really need to have a cigarette now when I have to go out the restaurant first?

3. Does it really kill you when you cannot smoke in the train or the plane for hours on end?

At the same time, health started to decline: Permanently clearing my throat, coughing in the morning, jogging impossible due to the inability to run more than a cool 20 meters, a very bad condition and the bad consciousness for my body increased. Along came the question on how to survive when I grow old and pensions will not be enough for a nice life; if I need power to work some more even after retirement.

Gradually declining health and a fear of cancer, other smoking-related diseases and the increasing ban on smoking had it that very slowly a new awareness started to grow in me. And in late 2011, after exactly 24 years of smoking, my life was to change drastically.

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My smoking past Part 3: Rolling cigarettes

During the first few years I smoked cigarettes from the box. In Germany you do not only get them in supermarkets, kiosks or convenience stores, but also from vending machines placed on the sidewalks. (Needless to say that demolition in order to grab the coins inside occur over and over again.)  I have tried many cigarettes and I cannot really say that I had a favorite brand. Of course, frequently there were these red and white boxes in my pocket and very often other ones. 

After a few years we were on winter holidays in the Austrian Alps. (Gries im Sellrain). 

A nice group of Dutch guys stayed in the same guest house that we did. They have smoked, but only self-rolled cigarettes.  They have asked me to try and roll myself.  Well, with two left hands, this was not exactly a success! Until I had finished what looked like a cigarette, the whole party around the table shrieked with laughter.  I took one courageous breath – and probably there was more tobacco in my mouth than in that would-be cigarette.

A few years later I made friends with a guy who rolled his „coffin nails“ (German popular expression for cigarettes) himself. He used a machine in which he stuffed the tobacco, then the sheets and by closing the machine a cigarette turned up.  I have tried with that machine, too, and it went well.  The rolled cigarettes tasted better and more genuine than the ready ones. (The self-made ones had no filters which contain perfume stuff). Moreover, it was cheaper.  Durng a party another guy saw me rolling my cigarettes with a machine instead of hand, and very cool he said: „Dude, you’ve never been in the jailhouse, right?“  Fatter-of-mactly, I never was, not even as a visitor. But who cares if I did it by hand or with a machine: I enjoyed them and compared to cigarettes from the box, it was some 30% less money that was blown into the fresh air. 


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My smoking past – Part 2: The first few weeks as a smoker

My previous report described my touch with smoking from early childhood, due to smoking parents and how I have become a smoker during my military service in the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces. 

The first two weeks were harmless. My first pack (with 25 cigarettes content) lasted for almost two weeks. It happened that in the evening, after my supper cigarette, I have locked the cigarettes in my locker, saying “Enough cigarettes for today!” The second pack was finished after a couple of days only.

Friday was the time of the so-called “NATO-ralley”: Soldiers have left their barrack stations for the week-end, crowding the trains and the highways.  Until sunday evening we were at home with our relatives and families, girl friends, other friends and else. So my people got to know that I have acquired a habbit which I was not to shake off for almost one quarter of a century.

My mother was not really happy about me smoking, but what could she say? After all, I grew up see her smoking during my first seven years of childhood. Bad situation for a mom.  Judith, my then girl friend, was not happy at all. “Why did you have to start this – do you want to end up like my father?” For ten packs of cigarettes he did not need longer than three days, and that was the maximum time! His voice, fitness and complexion were accordingly, and the other thing…. Well, ask his wife.

My ex-girlfriend ran into me one day in the street while I was smoking a cigarette . She saw it and pointed at it and asked me if I knew what I am doing to myself? (Bla bla bla) And then: “If you would have smoked during our relationship I would not have kissed you anymore.”  At that time I was glad that I had broken up with her one and a half year before because that would have had the effect of a cold turkey: She was a talented kisser! Hardly any girl respectively  woman after her could kiss and lick my lips like she used to do. But in the end she did not care about my smoking. (She had found another boyfriend and I was really glad for her – our separation had hurt her very much. Until today I feel sorry for that but sometimes we leave people who may not really deserve it, if we see it rationally, and we give our hearts to others who in the end are not worth it at all. (Well, that’s another story and probably the very great bulk of you shares such experiences.))

Another reaction was from the band leader of the brass band where I played the drums. He only said “I thought you were gifted with more brains!”

Let us be honest: Starting to smoke is not exactly a masterpiece of mind!
/ to be continued.

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