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Every day a little bit more light again

Posted: 2011-12-23 16:50:48, Categories: Travel, General, Germany, 200 words (permalink)

Christmas bells in Memmingen, Germany. Two days ago was the shortest day and longest night of the year on the northern hemisphere of our planet. Now the light has won again, every day is a little bit longer than the previous one.

The autumn here in Southern Germany has been mostly sunny and beautiful. In November my mother Helena and brother Erkki came for a visit. They had a chance to see how Sandra and I are living nowadays, and we got to hear how things are going in Finland. We had a nice tour to the Alps and a couple of nearby towns, including Oberstdorf and Füssen.

The last couple of weeks have been busy especially for Sandra. She organized a series of small product tasting events in her shop. I helped a little bit at home by packaging small presents for her best customers, but mostly it was her and her employees who were taking care of all the Christmas preparations.

I will spend the Christmas and New Year in Germany together with Sandra, visiting and hosting friends. We both wish you all peaceful holiday times and lots of happiness for year 2012! Our card is available in English, in Finnish and in German.

From library to library on two wheels

Posted: 2011-06-18 14:55:49, Categories: Travel, Work, Ecology, Cycling, Germany, Cyc4lib, Denmark, 641 words (permalink)

Cycling to
Libraries tour approaching the bridge to Møn island. The Cycling for Libraries tour was an experiment on what comes up in the minds of library professionals when they go out and ride bicycles for nine days together. Answer: far-reaching discussions about the future of libraries in the changing world, and a great team spirit as the group worked it's way 700 km from Copenhagen to Berlin.

In the beginning we got to know each other and figured out by trial and error how to travel in a group. We saw beautiful Danish seaside landscapes, enjoyed meals prepared for us by our cook, were warmly welcomed in a local libraries, spent much more time on the road that the organizers had expected, got tired fixing punctured tyres in the rain, felt the bliss of a hot shower and slept side by side on the floor in a school.

After a couple of days the weather became more sunny, daily distances a bit shorter, bicycles were in better shape and also other topics than cycling and survival started to pop up in the discussions. As we didn't have books, documents or Internet in front of us, it was easier to think of broader topics than details. We talked about our projects, library politics, online presense and social changes — and of course about cycling, traveling and other hobbies.

The organizers had prepared for each day a theme, which was announced in the morning briefing. That guided the discussions a little bit, but ultimately it was up to each participant if they wanted to follow the theme, pick some other topic or simply listen to the nature and enjoy cycling. In the evening we were usually too tired and at the same time excited about what had happened during the day, that it was not easy to focus on any common theme other than food, beer and sleep.

A topic I found particularly interesting was the role of libraries as participants in social and environmental issues. One idea which came up was to create a global warming information finding aid: a shelf containing books, dvds and other resources on the topic, including hints what people can do themselves in everyday life. Libraries taking part in the campaign would place the shelf in a prominent place where visitors would easily see it. Different viewpoints should be offered to maintain the reputation of libraries as an impartial and trusted source of information.

Just as media can influence the thoughts and focus of its audience by choosing the topics to write about, libraries have more subtle but similar power through choosing which books and other resources are most visibly presented - including recommendations given by librarians online. Whether or not and how that power should be used is naturally not a trivial question. In any case, libraries can provide resources which give both a broader view and go deeper than a single TV show or newspaper article ever will.

One goal of the trip was to get library folks outdoors and challenge them. Several participants were first time taking part on a longer cycling tour. Accommodation was modest so people were together also in the evenings instead of locking themselves in hotel rooms. Day by day the team spirit grew, people helped each other and made sure nobody got lost or left behind. Everybody made it until the end, and many wrote afterwards that in their minds they were still cycling several days after the trip.

The Kirjastokaista team with their video cameras were with us during the whole tour. Almost everything was therefore freshly documented in detail and a short video of each day's events was posted online every evening. In that way the tour itself was an example of rapid information sharing using modern channels. A half an hour documentary is planned to come out later in the autumn. I'm looking forward to watching it.

Life in Germany

Posted: 2011-02-04 23:55:31, Categories: Travel, General, Work, Germany, 1028 words (permalink)

Posing for the camera in the bedroom. Since August 2010 I'm living in Germany together with my girlfriend Sandra. I've learned a new language and gotten used to not having to buy food in a supermarket any more. I continue to work part-time, but now from home instead of going to an office.

On a typical day the alarm clock wakes us up at 7:30, early enough for Sandra to get dressed, drive 40 km to her shop and open the doors for customers an hour later. I either get up at the same time or continue sleeping for an hour or two, depending on how tired I'm feeling. Then I do my morning yoga, have a breakfast while reading the daily newspaper and go upstairs in my home office. I'm still working for CSC on cultural data and digital preservation projects, although technically I'm a freelancer instead of a CSC employee now.

Working from home has the advantage of almost complete freedom in choosing the working hours. Nobody will knock on the door when I'm writing a document and I can listen to music without fear of disturbing colleagues. On the other hand it requires self-discipline to actually focus on work projects in a home environment. On some days I don't really get started and end up spending most of the day on personal emails or reading articles online. I'm also missing a bit all the short discussions with colleagues which happen naturally in the office during lunch and shorter breaks.

I have lunch around three in the afternoon, typically a salad and a warm dish consisting of food left from previous days. After that I continue with some more work on the computer, language studies, a walk or a bike ride outside, housework or hobbies before Sandra comes home around 19:30. Then we have dinner which we usually also prepare together, unless I've been a good man and cooked something already in advance.

Food is always around at the house. Every day Sandra brings home a box loaded with vegetables and fruit which have brown spots or other defects causing the customers to avoid them. In between are jars of yoghurt, pieces of tofu and other packaged products whose best before date has just gone by. We stock the boxes on top of each other in the cellar and do our best to cook and eat everything as long as it's still good.

I had never studied German at school and even after meeting Sandra didn't attend a language course in Finland. In Memmingen I started by walking to the library, borrowed a couple of books for self-study and a month later enrolled on a German course in the community college (Volkshochschule). I skipped the beginners level starting on a B1 level course, which ran from September until the end of the year two 90 minute lessons a week. The course was slightly difficult at first but not too hard when spending a bit of extra time on homework. I also took the habit of reading the daily newspaper Memminger Zeitung every morning and trying to make sense of the news stories on the front page, looking up words in a dictionary when necessary.

A few months was enough to reach a reasonable conversational level. Jokes, proverbs and strong dialects are still hard, but otherwise I can mostly follow and participate in discussions as long as rather simple words are used. I continue to make loads of mistakes in grammar, in particular with prepositions, gender (der/die/das) and various conjugations, but can usually make myself understood. Many of Sandra's friends don't speak English even nearly as well as she does, so I have plenty of opportunities to practise my new skill and knowing German makes it also more fun to spend time with them.

Memmingen is a town of about 40 000 inhabitants, situated 100 km west from Munich. It has a beautiful and pleasant old center with many pedestrian streets and is relatively cyclist friendly. I also found a nice yoga studio where I attend classes once or twice a week. It has not been difficult to get used to living here. One thing I miss a bit is the cultural life in Helsinki. There are of course concerts and events in Memmingen and nearby, but for a comparable variety of music and small alternative cultural happenings one would have to go until Munich. That's a bit too far for a spontaneous evening out, seeing a band for an hour or two.

Sandra and I are sharing a half of a two-family house 2 km away from center with her brother Thomas. The bottom floor consists of the kitchen and a common living room, Thomas has the first floor for him and we have two rooms just under the roof. One of them is the bedroom, the other being used as our private living room, home office and guest room. Occasionally we have a dinner at home or go out all three together, but mostly Sandra and I have our own life and Thomas has his. We get along but simply have different thinking and interests.

When Sandra has free days from the shop, I'm usually also taking those days off so that we can do something together. Most often we go for walks in the mountains or visit friends. Occasionally we relax in one of the big public baths with several saunas, where Saunameisters throw water on the stones, twirl a towel in the middle of the sauna and entertain people sitting on the benches. A few times we've traveled to neighbouring countries but not as often as we would like — with one less employee since October Sandra hasn't been able to arrange as much free time as before.

Music is also important for Sandra, probably more than for me. Whenever there is a cool band playing in Kaminwerk, the only regular live concert venue in Memmingen, we're usually there. Often we've also driven 35 km south to Kempten or some other nearby city for concerts. Through Sandra and her friends I've discovered a few artists which I hadn't even heard of before but liked immediately. Three I can recommend and have also seen live are Anyone's Daughter, Jamaram and Unheilig.

Moving to Memmingen

Posted: 2010-06-26 14:56:59, Categories: Travel, Finland, Germany, 337 words (permalink)

The center of Memmingen photographed from the St. Martin church tower. At the end of July I will be moving to Memmingen, Germany to live together with my girlfriend Sandra. I'm planning to stay there until the end of the year and after that we'll see what to do.

Memmingen is a town of about 40000 inhabitants in Bavaria, Southern Germany. It's the smallest place where I've lived this far in my life - all the others were cities with at least a few hundred thousand inhabitants. The closest big city is Munich about 100 km to the east. The Alps in the south are only about 60 km away which is great for hiking.

More important change than the location is that this will be the first time for me to live together with a partner. I've shared rooms and apartments with other students during my student years, but this is of course different. We've been meeting each other for more than a year now but I'm curious to see how the relationship will change when we'll be living under the same roof.

Renting out my apartment in Helsinki was surprisingly easy. I posted an announcement on a web forum and one hour later an old friend of mine answered that he needs temporary housing for his small family because their apartment will have pipe renovation. That's a good deal for both of us: I can leave most of my stuff inside and they can move into an apartment which is already furnished and has all kitchenware + other stuff needed for daily living in place.

I've been discussing with my employer about possibilities of working remotely from Germany. At the time of writing this it's still unsure whether it'll work out but I'm not too worried about it. Whatever the end result will be I'm sure it'll have more good than bad sides in it.

I will probably write more about my life in Memmingen in the autumn. However, before that I will have summer holidays, including a sailing trip, Rainbow Gathering in Finland, hiking and some cycling as well.

My new travel companion

Posted: 2009-11-30 23:03:37, Categories: Travel, General, Finland, Norway, Hospitality exchange, Germany, 487 words (permalink)

Me and Sandra on the slopes of Mt. Roan, Telemark, Norway. In the picture you can see me and Sandra on the way to Mt. Roan in Norway. She is my new companion on my travels — and in life.

We met in Helsinki in March 2009 at a Hospitality Club sauna party and ended up cooking together in the middle of the night. Quite soon after that Sandra came for a few days visit at my place, then for a week, and I also visited her in Memmingen, Southern Germany. Since then we've tried to spend at least one week per month together.

Sandra has an organic food store which is great for one of our shared hobbies: cooking. Her brother looked at us once in the kitchen and asked how can we eat all that food. Because it's tasty, of course! We also like to go out and do sports so gaining weight hasn't been a problem so far. Actually Sandra has been more worried of me being too thin and suggested that I should eat more chocolate.

Other activities which we share are hiking, cycling, listening to music, going to concerts and traveling. In the summer we traveled together for six weeks, mainly in Southern and Central Norway. It was a road trip by Sandra's car combined with many hikes in national parks. Mountains and fjords were beautiful although Norwegian weather made it quite a wet experience: out of 31 days there were only two when it didn't rain at all. But we survived and enjoyed five days of sunshine in Finland right after leaving Norway and driving quickly through Sweden.

On the road our lifestyles fit together quite well. We're both more into going out walking and wild camping in the nature than booking a plush hotel and lying on the beach. We also contact locals through hospitality exchange sites and stay with them — just as we both did already before when traveling alone. One big difference compared to my earlier trips has been less time spent in Internet cafes and writing blog articles, but perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

Life is funny. I never studied German at school or spent much time in Germany but love isn't restricted by country borders. We have both traveled quite a bit and lived abroad in the past. And although we're communicating mainly in English there's now an extra motivator for both of us to learn a new language.

I'm still living in Helsinki and Sandra in Memmingen near her shop. We don't have any immediate plans of moving together, but in the long term it doesn't make sense to continue flying back and forth. However, that's what we're doing now about once a month and send messages or call in between. Sandra is not a computer person but she has for the first time in her life gotten used to writing long emails. That helps a bit in communicating with a nerd like me. :-)

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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