Wednesday, 18 December 2013


"Sometimes I wish there was someone I could write a letter to. I look at piles of mail on the floor. They have someone to write to. I bet its not a bad feeling. To be able to reach out. And believe in your heart that someone will be there. I wish I could believe that, too."

 - Henry Rollins

I am lucky to have people who send me things in the mail. The short rush of joy as I open the letter box and see something has arrive for me is such a high. I don't understand why people take drugs, they should just send one another letters instead. Not knowing if or when the letter will arrive causes enough anxiety and receiving something in the mail that is not a bill is so wonderful than one needn't look elsewhere for excitement. 

My mom sent me some of my clothes and things (a flour sifter! measuring spoons and cups! a peppermint crisp! my one blanket!) for which I had to go to the customs office. Yesterday I went again to fetch a surprise Christmas packet a friend had sent (Mrs. Balls chutney! earrings! a personalised calendar!) and also got a letter in the mail from another friend. I know the best people :) 

Pakkie 1

Pakkie 2. Nice stamps :)

Sunday, 15 December 2013


Sometimes you don't know what the hell you are doing.
You get caught up in a senseless routine. Everything seems horrible and pointless.
You don't know why you chose this, because in that moment it equals misery.
Sometimes you just need a win.

And that is what I got: I won.
I have an exciting history with winning: it is never the lotto or a car or money, but it is always an experience. Somehow I end up winning adventures.

The first three times these experiences took me to France (or rather, the French embassy did as part of the annual Francophonie celebrations) and every time I met the most wonderful people. We came from all over the world to share our passion for similar subjects(be it language, the arts or photography), and we bonded in those hot Paris/Perpignan summer weeks filled to the brim with lessons in Frenchness: in between language courses we ate baguettes and went on a cheese tasting, we climbed the Eiffel tower and the steps to Montmartre, and the one time we took the TGV down to Perpignan for the Visa pour l'Image photojournalism conference.

Through one another we learned about other worlds as well: practicing an Iranian dance on the Pont des Arts; eating a maple-shaped cookie whilst hearing about life in Canada; wondering about the strange habits of the girl from Azerbaijan or being taught by a young Serb how my camera works. We reveled in being a young, multicultural group on an all-expenses paid trip to France. The memories from those trips, and the new friends from all over the world will stay with me longer than winning an object in any case.

This time the win was again unexpected. I was skyping with my mother when an unknown number called on my cell. I thought it was the bank or some government agency wanting my non-existent money. Instead, it was a nice man from some company explaining that I had won a dinner for 10 people, cooked in my kitchen by a professional chef. It was part of a promotion by Telekom at various German universities and I had entered through Facebook.

Elisabeth Opel showed up loaded with fabulous food and I had invited some of the other students. It ended up being another fantastic experience. Somehow we managed to squeeze into our little kitchen and different teams worked on different dishes. As a starter we made a parsnip soup; the main course consisted of Spätzle with filet, an onion sauce and onion rings; and dessert was Kaiserschmarrn with apple compote. They had asked if I wanted a specific dish and since I haven't had a traditional German meal in a long time that is what I asked for.

Parsnip soup with croutons and duck breast. 
Spätzle with filet and onion rings. Although Spur's onion rings will always remain #1. 
My German grandmother used to make Spätzle as well with Rouladen and she'd fill our plates with a second enormous helping as soon as they were empty. I don't remember much about her, but her food was always delicious. Her dishes were traditional and time consuming and not really suited to the climate of SA. It must have been strange for her to come to such a hot country knowing only recipes that were suited to the cold - somehow rich and creamy does not work as well when it is 35° (except if it is a rich and creamy ice cream). Now my mom makes Spätzle on occasion as well as a special treat.

With the courses we consumed 6 bottles of white wine, 2 bottles of sparkling wine and 2 bottles of red wine so irrespective if you liked the food or not you would have had enough to drink to make up for any distaste.

Hello new friends.
So glad I now have an apron. 
I was a bit apprehensive at the beginning of the evening, because in Pretoria I would know exactly whom to invite and how to lay the table. I'd have had everything we needed in an enormous kitchen, and we could've eaten outside on the porch, enjoying the spring. Here, the kitchen is quite small and none of the utensils are mine (I have a knife). Also, I just invited the first 10 people that I saw during the course of that day, so it could have been quite a fail. Luckily everyone was really into the cooking-together thing and I hope that it may have sort of laid a good foundation for moving from being merely people who study together and are all new in this city to actual friendship.

Sunday, 8 December 2013


ondergronds het ’n rif geskuif
die aarde struikel
verward swik die son

toe sy asem hom verlaat het in die nag
het die sterre geduisel
want alles is verstrengel
wurgend aan sy dood
sy dood en die dood alleen

ineens is alles droef
asof ons in ’n groot skadu staan
asof glas deur ons breek
asof klip in ons splinter
asof ons gedagtes in fluisterende wanhopige groepe rondvlug
soos assegaaie in die grond bly vassteek


in Qunu weier die beeste vanoggend om uit die kraal te gaan
by Lusikisiki lê die visse na aan die oppervlakte
in Mvezo maak die korhane geen geluid nie

die gedagte aan Mandela laat ons binnekante knak
(ons wou sy sterwende liggaam nie sien nie)
ons kan selfs nie die mond oopmaak nie
(ons wou sy sterwende liggaam nie sien nie)
om te begin praat oor sy dood om te praat oor sy dade
(ons wou sy sterwende liggaam nie sien nie)
oor sy bloed wat pyl soos ’n luiperd na geregtigheid
(ons wou sy sterwende liggaam nie sien nie)
om te vertel van sy werke, sy sagte ongelooflike krag
(ons wou sy sterwende liggaam nie sien nie)
die lieflike nate van sy blommende vergewende kopbeen
(ons wou sy sterwende liggaam nie sien nie)
die stormram van sy tong
wat toekomste tot ’n verbonde kern wring

ons kan nie reg laat geskied aan Ons Grote
(ons wou sy sterwende liggaam nie sien nie)
ons wil dit nie sien nie

in die voetpaaie, op die sypaadjies, in busse langs die paaie
bondel ons swyend bymekaar, ons die gewones
ons sprinkel ons trane oor hom
ons besprinkel die erflating
van die Vreeslose Kryger wat ons eenmaal regeer het
ons besprinkel die lyk wat gewas moet word
ons besprinkel die geopende bloed van Mandela
ons gewones was hom nie met water nie maar met liedere

met droefheid neem ons sy liggaam
ons was dit, ons bad dit
met hande wat hom liefhet, raak ons aan sy dade
ons gee hom aan, van hand tot hand
hoog bokant ons koppe
die man wat ons van onsself gered het

o singende bloed van die seun van uNosekeni
o palms van Mvezo vol sterre en reën aan die oewers
o arms van Qunu wat ’n land se diepste wonde omhels

die Groot Aanmekaarbinder
niemand se strottehoof kan Mandela se lied end-uit sing nie
niemand ontglans ooit ons Groot Saambinder vir ons nie
niemand oortref hom in morele gesag nie
geen leier is nog ooit só deur sy mense lief gehad nie
hy wat ons beste gesig was
hy wat ons aan onsself teruggegee het

die beliggaming van die wêreld se smagting
na iemand wat omgee
wie se dade onbeskaamd goedheid wou bring

geliefde Mandela, bring seën op ons, jou kinders
laat jou lewe sy vingerafdruk op ons almal laat
dit sal lank duur voordat ons ooit weer ’n mens so edel
iemand so genesend en koppig mooi
so taai van inbors so streng insluitend van beginsel
so elegant en oorrompelend van hart in ons sterflike arms kan hou

– Antjie Krog

(Gebaseer op die weeklaag geskryf vir Moshoeshoe 1, “LITHOKHOKISO tsa Moshoeshoe le tse ling” deur David Cranmer Theko Bereng.)

Maya Angelou also wrote a tribute poem entitled His Day is Done

Saturday, 7 December 2013

My salvation lies in your love

Yesterday, incredulously, I watched as President Zuma announced Nelson Mandela's death. Until now he had always bounced back from his numerous hospital stays. What it must feel like to be home, now, to share in the sadness of his passing and the joy his life had brought. In Germany an epic storm is causing floods and blowing away trucks, but what nature inflicts on itself seems tame compared to what people can do to others - it took an indomitable will and a humanity that most lack to be able to forgive one's oppressor as Mandela did.

My whiteness and my youth prevents me from truly understanding what the struggle was, what had been sacrificed and what it meant to live in a country where race controls your life. Actually, no : I have never not had freedom, but I know that race is still a deciding factor in SA. It is a ripple underneath everyday life that somehow refuses to disappear. I notice when I am the only white person because I feel it makes me vulnerable. white + girl = better watch your back. Not always, not everywhere, not because everyone is some criminal, but simply because the ripple of racism is closely followed by the ripple of crime and corruption that washes over any hope for a better future.

I wrote at the beginning that it is astounding what one person can do to another. I wonder if now we have moved past racism to class difference being the main social problem: those who have nothing see no moral qualms in killing another for a cellphone. However, if you have a roof over your head and enough money in your bank account you might wonder how someone could be so dismissive of the rights (and in the worst case scenario the life) of another.

It is difficult for me to speak on these issues while sitting in another country, starting a new life here. But within two weeks three of my friends were assaulted in one way or another and it is very hard to remain 'Proudly South African', to say wonderful things about your home and assure people that the crime is 'not that bad'. I miss my family, my friends and my country all the time, especially after hearing news like this. I miss the sunshine, December holidays at the beach and not looking like a pale vampire. I miss feeling like I belong.

But I also enjoy not having to be afraid all the time and being able to walk home, alone, at 3 AM after a friend's house warming and not worrying about being robbed.

As the blanket of sorrow falls over South Africa and everyone is in a state of mourning, I wonder what Madiba's death will mean for the future of the country. What influence did he still wield, if any? How will power relations in the ANC shift? Will Zuma stay on for a second term? Why do people not see that at least in part they are voting for their own demise? It will be an exciting time to observe what happens to Mandela's legacy, and whether the people of the rainbow nation will manage to find a pot of gold at its end or fail in this endeavour. I choose to cling to optimism because historically South Africans have fought too hard to attain the rights listed in the current constitution. It cannot have been for nothing.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Blower's Daughter

The harbour on a beautiful day.
The university started a week late because a strong wind arose and blew parts of the roof away. It was tragically funny because I had been very excited about starting the Master's degree, and yet my inner student also had to rejoice in not having any classes.

Instead I wandered to the Ostseebad, a beach a few kilometres from my apartment, and was confronted with the damage the wind had done. At the university it was shocking not only to see the destruction but also to realise that the building, which is only 10 years old, was shoddily built and that instead of parts of the roof falling on cars in the parking lot nearby they could've landed on one of the students or lecturers. But luckily no one was hurt, insurance claims must have been filed and now the main building is being repaired/renovated.

The Ostseebad also has a park and quite a few of the trees had been felled by the wind. I only took a few photographs because the sun had set and the inner voice that tells me darkness=danger forced me to return to the safety of my room.

I went again a few days later, this time before sunset (light=safe). Haha, it wouldn't have been so safe if one of the trees had fallen on me.

Oh no Cinderella, the sun is setting. Time to go home. 

This ability to walk around alone at all times is strange to me. The cold hand of fear refuses to let go and there always remains a subconscious scanning of my environment, checking for suspicious characters. Maybe that is another reason I am missing the sun and its warmth so very much: darkness means danger and an autumn where the sky is mostly covered by heavy clouds, obscuring a sun which only rises from 8-16 o'clock, well, hides not only the light but also its security.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Knife Party

When my sister started school, I was very jealous. She is three years older than I am and it was my greatest pleasure to go with my mom to fetch her at school and carry her bag. She also did acrobatics and was part of the girl scouts. So many things for a little sister to be jealous of.

By the time I started school we were in a different country and I had no friends in Grade 1. The other children asked me once why I wasn't black if I came from Africa. There were also no extracurricular classes at school. My mom took us to a wonderful art class where someone drove a Porsche and one scaring summer my sister and I took part in a sailing course for children. It was terrifying.

I never did standard girly things like acrobatics or ballet, but I also never minded very much. Who needs girly things if you know how not to drown (after sailing lessons we moved again and eventually learnt how to swim properly, which is now my favourite sport)?! Instead, I'd like to see the performance below live:  

Javier Pérez - EN PUNTAS (extracts) from Javier Pérez on Vimeo.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The city

I know my city. Not every nook and cranny, but enough to be confident without a map. I knew my city, because it is no longer mine. Now I live in a city where you don't need a car to get around because it is so small that the longest I could walk to any point is 45 minutes. Or I could just take the bus. On the one hand I hated driving, hated being confined in a box, hated being a sitting duck at a robot, waiting to be smash-and-grabbed. But it also means no more singing loudly to *NSYNC while cruising around my hood for the neighbourhood patrol, no more leaving when I want to out of fear for missing the bus. This car thing, it is a two-way street. 

Luckily, my friend could borrow her mom's car for a road trip to Denmark a few weeks ago. There was no real border. One moment we were still in Germany, and the next we were in Denmark, on our way to Aarhus. 

We had no real plan for what we wanted to do there, with the only thing on our list being the Aros art museum. We arrived in Aarhus and parked the car near the harbour. Because we had no Danish money we drew some at an ATM, bought coffee and a three-chocolate-hot-chocolate to get small change and then discovered that the parking machine also accepted cards. However, when we had inserted the card into the machine it very cleverly tried to tell us something, in Danish. My friend and I both just looked at the screen, rummaging through every language we knew to somehow deduce what it wanted. Luckily a friendly Danish lady helped us out: "You need to take your card now". Ah, ok.

We ate our packed lunches in the car, looking at the bleak weather, and explored the city in the rain. Basically we just went to a church, the art museum and our hostel.  

This would be the church.

Aros from a distance.
Everyone said we would need a lot of time at Aros, but after doing the very cool colour wheel first the rest was a bit of a disappointment. There was an exhibition by the king and queen of Denmark, with his poems and her collages and other art works. The Danish people seemed to really enjoy this, but I found it very strange. If they had not been royalty I doubt their work would have been exhibited.

The 180° thing didn't work out too well. 

Ron Mueck, Boy. 
In the basement of the museum they also have an area entitled 9 spaces, with nine different rooms containing various installations that are more tactile than work that is normally exhibited at a distance. The one room contained what looked like an elevator shaft of mirrors and then the viewer would also be infinitely reflected. Another room emphasized all five senses and you could touch everything, even a furry wall like the one in Get Him to the Greek

After our visit to the museum we wandered back to our hostel through the rain. Somehow we were both exhausted. It was also quite funny finding out that when the hostel said online to 'bring own bedding' it only meant duvet covers and a towel, not blankets and cushions and the kitchen sink (as we had brought). Later we strolled to the beach and then walked back to the city centre through a large park, again in the rain.

Oooh, the Baltic Sea. 

Aros by night. You might notice I quite dig the colour wheel. 
The next day we just ate breakfast and started driving again. Our plan was to head to the western shore, look at some of the little villages and then head back east to Flensburg. Somehow the GPS system assumed we were heading to one place and we assumed it was taking us to another, so we ended up next to a field in the middle of nowhere with the GPS telling us: "You have arrived at your destination". As my friend said at the beginning of the trip, it isn't a road trip without a u-turn. So we trusted the GPS again and were on our way. I really enjoyed driving through the countryside, singing along to The Beatles and not really knowing where we were.

Hahaha. 'Farten'. Fart. Laughing like a child.
This was in one of the sea side towns we drove through on our way back to Flensburg. 

Ah, the North Sea. 
We ambled around two towns whose names I can't recall, were drenched slightly by the rain at the North Sea, had more sandwiches which we took along from the hostel's breakfast buffet in the car and after stopping for a warm coffee in Köping we returned to Flensburg. 

A watch shop. 
The only moment we saw the sun the entire weekend was an hour before we crossed back into Germany. 
Flensburg harbour at night. 
I know it was only a very short road trip, but besides spending time with my friend I thoroughly enjoyed Denmark. Everyone looked so stylish and I appreciated the packaging in the supermarkets. In Germany it seems like no thought is given to the design of the packaging and of the stores in general. It is just piling as much produce as possible into the space, which after years of being spoilt by Woolworths is quite a change.

Come springtime I'll buy myself a bike and explore Denkmark some more :)

Monday, 11 November 2013

Slow it down

I feel like I am constantly in some existential crisis here. It hits me at random moments: I'll see myself in the mirror and suddenly the mind/body split seems almost tangible. It is as though I am standing outside of myself and seeing flesh that is not mine. Physically I might be here, now, but there seems to be no intrinsic connection to my brain that makes me feel at ease here.

I get over this level of asking existential-Angst-fueled questions pretty quickly, but then I'll get lost in language. Language has always belonged to me, somehow. I am used to hearing entire conversations I cannot understand happening all around me. The ladies at the tills, the people queuing with me, the actors in shows like Muvhango or Stokvel, they are all conversing outside of my language skill set. But it has never felt strange, it is usual to have to switch often, riding various intercepting language tracks in a short space of time. Here, it is German. Just German.

I was under the impression that the university would be offering at least half of the core subjects in English, but now only one subject (Literature) is actually not in German. Add to that the fact that any other communication here (be it with friends, roommates or some governmental organisation that wants my money) happens in German as well and you'll understand that I get slightly overwhelmed at times. Salvation then comes in tiny little increments made possible by modern technology - whatsapping with friends or Skyping with my mom. I don't want to make the mistake of living in another country and permanently wanting to Skype with those back home, because then having left would be rather pointless. But it is immeasurably reassuring to be drinking tea in my room and listening to my mom talk about unimportant everyday occurrences. Hearing about what goes on in the lives of others helps with forgetting that I haven't found my sea legs here, yet.

The third wave of existential crisis is much less in my mind. Instead, it is solidly tied to my bank balance. I was not excessively naive when I applied for Bafög (a type of governmental student loan system where you have minimal interest and only have to partially pay back the money you received), but apparently here every time you fart there is a stack of paperwork to fill out so everything takes forever. Not knowing if I'll receive any money or if I do how high the amount will be is also quite frustrating.

Time to see if I'll sink or swim in these strange waters.

Thursday, 31 October 2013


Two weeks ago my friend finished her Master's degree and celebrated her birthday, so because she has always been the one to visit me it was my turn to get on a bus and meet the faces to the names she is always talking about. It was a bit nerve-wracking getting there, because a) I am overanxious when travelling and plan for 5000 things to go wrong and b) I don't sleep well before heading somewhere because I think I'll oversleep and tragically miss everything. Hah. I had arranged two lifts to get there, but the one cancelled and back-up plan 47 (taking the bus) kicked in.

In SA the bus was late, took forever and somehow reeked of mankind at its worst : the smells of the old, the very young and the sleep-deprived fuse into a potent smell that makes you want to get off the bus as soon as possible. Here, the bus was super on time and had Wi-Fi but still smelled like to many people were cooped up in the same small space. 

On my way there it had been raining raining raining (as I have learned it does, all the freaking time) when for a short while the sun burst through these magnificent clouds and everything was bathed in light that reminded me of a Free State afternoon. Tremendous. 

Göttingen itself is very precious, with every building seeming wreaked with history. My friend tried to explain some of the history to me, but besides standing at the point where you could see all four churches I don't remember too much of it. The excursions into the woods and to a castle nearby were very cool because they felt authentic. In the city there are always shops and people and things you could spend money on, but in the woods the most fun is trying to be photobombed by a white deer. Totally more fun than throwing money at things.

A church for every foot.


Needs must. Simple as that.
View from a nearby castle
At the birthday party I was shocked at how much beer Germans consume. Even now, it still astounds me how much they can drink. Beer to me feels like drinking a loaf of bread and my friendship with bread in any case is like one of those Facebook friend requests you send after having met someone once and then you realise you don't really like each other and it was all a friendship made for the FB servers in California and not the annals of history. Luckily on occasion there is still cider to be loyal to and there are always still real friends to visit.