What do you do when one of your favourite articles of clothing looks kind of ridiculous?

Part of the explanation for this odd choice lies in my childhood. Just before I turned five, my Oma made me a dirndl. It was red with coloured flowers and had a white broderie anglaise shirt and matching apron. I loved it. I wore it to my fifth birthday party, my school pictures, and every other chance I got. I was very sad when I outgrew it, but quickly got over it when a frilly flower girl dress took its place. I guess that, given my favourite childhood dress, it’s not surprising one of my favourite dresses is a red, floral-print dirndl.

Five
Here is a picture of my childhood dirndl

I made my dirndl just over a year ago. It’s not the most obvious looking dirndl ever; it doesn’t have any laces up the front and I rarely wear it with a traditional blouse or apron. I find it oddly comfortable and often wear it at home like some people wear sweatpants at home. I generally find full, knee-length skirts very comfortable in the summer, because they’re pretty much the closest you can get to wearing no pants while still remaining clothed. Still, despite its lack of laces or apron, it does look like a dirndl. When I put it on this morning, my boyfriend called me “Rotkäppchen” (Little Red Riding Hood). I’ll wear it around the house, but I feel weird wearing it out and about. I’m not in Munich during Oktoberfest, so it’s a strange clothing choice for a summer day in Berlin. Every time I wear the dirndl and have to run errands or go out somewhere, I’m faced with the same dilemma: do I change, or do I keep wearing it? I don’t really want to change, because it’s comfortable and I like it. But I do care what other people think to an extent and I don’t want to be the weirdo wearing folk dress for no reason.

unfinisheddirndl
I don’t have a picture of the finished dirndl, but here is a photo I took while I was working on it.

About these ads

One of the hardest things about moving to a new country is leaving behind the entertainment you enjoyed at home. Sometimes it’s nice to just kick back and binge-watch your favourite shows in your native language and in Germany, that can be surprisingly hard to do (legally, anyway). Nearly all TV shows are dubbed and a lot of popular series take ages to reach this side of the world. To make things worse, you can’t access US and UK streaming services like Hulu from a German IP address.

One thing you will quickly notice when you get here is that Netflix doesn’t operate in Germany. Apparently, it will launch here in September of this year, but until then, we are still Netflix-free. At the moment, the market for streaming services is pretty fragmented, which means that you get a pretty large selection of services offering a lot of different things. Generally. There are a number of “premium” services that charge a small fee and differ in terms of quality, alongside several free, ad-based services available.

All in all, most services rely on dubbed content. This doesn’t tend to bother me so much and I enjoy most dubbed movies and shows as much as I enjoy the English originals. You do get used to it and it’s a great way to learn German. In some cases you lose a lot in translation (word-related humour, Oscar-worthy performances, etc.) but most movies and shows translate decently and most don’t feature amazing enough acting to get bothered about. I do encourage you to use German-language content to improve your German skills, but I’ve tried to make a point of mentioning services that have English-language content. Some of you probably don’t speak German at all and sometimes it’s nice to have a taste of home.

Disclaimer: the opinions here are entirely my own. I was not paid by any of these services to write reviews. I just wanted to provide a helpful guide to other expats and newcomers to the country. My opinions may not represent everyone’s and any info can be subject to change.

Watchever

Watchever is by far the best service available right now in Germany, though we’ll see how it stacks up once Netflix launches. As it stands, I think it could be a serious competitor. I tried out Watchever last year and was pretty impressed with its offerings. It had a good list of movies and shows and most titles were available in both English and German. Most content wasn’t that recent by North American standards, but it was about as recent as you can get in Germany. I was impressed with the fact that it managed to have the final season of “Breaking Bad” shortly after it aired in the US. I think it’s probably comparable to the Canadian and UK versions of Netflix in terms of access to content.

Maxdome
I got a trial for Maxdome a little over a year ago, and I can’t say I was overly impressed. That being said, that was a while ago and from the looks of things, the service has improved. Maxdome lets you rent videos individually and also offers a subscription package that lets you stream movies in the package for free. I’d say that Watchever’s selection is generally better than Maxdome’s package selection, but the latter isn’t a terrible service when it comes down to it. It’s also useful if you don’t want to subscribe to a streaming service and just want to watch the odd movie in English.

Amazon Instant Video

I used to have a LoveFilm subscription way back when sending DVD rentals through the post was still an innovative idea. I ended my subscription when streaming started to take over, as I wasn’t really thrilled with the selection. Amazon owned LoveFilm and now it has absorbed its instant video service into its own Prime service. You have to have a Prime account to access Amazon Prime Instant Video. I already had one, so I decided to check it out. The selection has not improved much since its LoveFilm days; the movies and shows are decent enough, but there are very few recent titles available, even by German standards. There is also next to no English-language content on the platform, which makes it less appealing to expats. I still use it because it’s free with my Prime account and it’s there, but I wouldn’t decide to get a Prime account based on this service.

I think you can also rent some titles individually and buy digital licenses through Amazon’s regular service, but I’ve not yet tried to do so.

Sky Snap

Sky Snap is run by Sky, so you get a discount on your registration if you are a Sky subscriber. I am not, so I took advantage of its free trial offer.* It has a decent selection of quality TV shows and movies, but the titles are all a bit older. If you are looking for more recent content, Watchever or Maxdome are better bets. It does get some brownie points for offering its content in English and German. My overall verdict here is that if you subscribe to Sky and just want to watch the occasional movie, then this service is passable. Otherwise, I’d skip it.

MyVideo

MyVideo is a free, ad-based streaming service similar to YouTube and DailyMotion. Anyone can upload videos, but it also has contracts with ProSieben, Sat1, and several other private networks. Most of the content is the same schlock you watch on German TV; basically, a lot of horrible reality shows and soaps. I also find the that the ads are really annoying. Still, there are some decent shows on there. I like some of the German comedy programmes like “Switch Reloaded” and “Knallerfrauen.” There is also quite a bit of anime and I find that most of the dubbing on anime is better in German than it is in English (I usually watch TV while I do crafts and things, so I don’t have much interest in Japanese originals).

Viewster

Viewster has a fairly small selection and a lot of it really sucks, but it is free and the ads are less annoying than those on MyVideo. The upside to Viewster is that most of the content is in the original language, which means that most of it is in English. There are a few good British shows on there like “Black Books” and it has a treasure trove of classic cartoons.

YouTube

I tossed and turned over including YouTube on this list, because everyone knows what YouTube is and what to expect from it. However, there are a few Germany-specific issues that I wanted to address. First of all, don’t expect to watch music videos on German YouTube. GEMA has a long-standing dispute with Google over royalties and it has blocked a good chunk of music from the platform. A lot of web series are also blocked, which is no fun. Still, you can access a good chunk of content. I usually get my “Saturday Night Live” and “Conan” fix through YouTube.

If I remember, I’ll add Netflix to this list when it comes out in September and review how it stacks up compared to Canadian Netflix and local streaming services here (I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to American Netflix, because most international services can’t really stack up due to licensing issues).

If I forgot any services, contact me and I’ll add them to this list!

*Free trials are very common in Germany and pretty much all of the paid services on this list offer them. I just wanted to make a note to remind you to cancel subscription before the end of the month if you decide not to continue the service. Germany uses automatic billing, which caught me by surprise, as it’s banned in Canada. Companies are not required to give you any notice that your trial period is over or to automatically cancel it and most will simply start charging you after the trial is up.

20140321-130907.jpg
Ignore my massive hair. I’m still getting used to my natural curls, which came back rather unexpectedly.
Like many people in their late 20s, I am going grey. I found my first grey hair when I was 21. I promptly screamed, then cried, and I’ve been dyeing my hair ever since.

Recently, I’ve had a growing concern for the things I put on my body and down the drain. On the body side of things, I have a large number of allergies and I’ve noticed that my skin is increasingly irritable. On the drain side of things, I want to make a conscious effort to use products that won’t harm the environment. I also find it important to buy environmentally and socially sustainable products.

Keeping in line with that concern, hair dye didn’t seem like the best product. I used to get my hair dyed at a salon, but my student and post-student budget no longer allowed that. Home hair dyes always left a burning, itching feeling on my scalp, which can’t be good. I decided to give them up, but letting my hair go grey didn’t feel like an option I was willing to try at 29.

Enter the world of natural hair dyes. Henna is the most popular choice amongst the crunchy, but I wasn’t sold. I dyed my hair with henna when I was a teenager and my stylist at the time gave me a huge lecture about how horrible it is for your hair. This may or may not be correct, but it is pretty permanent and the selection of colors here in Germany is limited. In addition, I still have to do some research on its sustainability. This is hard to do, because those who love it rave about how “natural” it is and those who hate it, well, hate it. I might still give it a try, but I wanted something to tide me over in the meantime.

I read a few blogger accounts of dyeing hair with coffee. I thought, “This one can’t hurt. I already drink a fair bit of coffee and have a constant supply of grounds.” I decided to try it.

It worked – sort of. It gave some coverage to my greys, reducing their appearance. However, it didn’t mask them completely. I’ll give you a run-through of the whole experience.

The Recipe:
Several blogs recommend mixing a cup of conditioner with 3/4 cups of brewed coffee and 2 tbsps of grounds. This seemed like it would be runny and would produce an extreme amount of “dye” for my shoulder-length hair. Another blogger recommended leaving out the brewed coffee as it made the mixture too runny, but I felt that just grounds and conditioner would be too pasty. I just ended up plopping some conditioner I had in the back of my closet (I normally condition my hair with apple cider vinegar) with a couple of tbsps each of brewed coffee from the bottom of the pot (classy) and the grounds left in the machine. It seemed fine, so I used it.

The Method:
I mixed everything in a bowl in the kitchen, then went to the bathroom and applied it to my hair. I covered my hair with a bag and let it sit for just over an hour. I rinsed it out in the shower. It took quite a bit of rinsing to get it out.

The Pros:

  • It’s all natural and recycles stuff I use in my kitchen.
  • It makes your hair smell wonderful.
  • It doesn’t irritate your skin.
  • It will not stain your skin at all.
  • It does colour your hair.
  • It doesn’t dry out your hair or leave it looking fried.
  • It’s super cheap.

The Cons:

  • Its coverage is kind of minimal.
  • It doesn’t last very long. I suspect I’ll have to repeat the process within the next two weeks.
  • It takes a long time to set. You need a good block of time to sit around the house with a bag over your hair.
  • Goodness, is it ever messy. It’s probably not worse than henna, from what I read, but you will get grounds everywhere.
  • It’s hard to rinse out.
  • You will shed coffee grounds for a while afterwards.
  • You may need to apply your “dye” twice in a row.

It may seem like the cons outweigh the pros, but most of the cons are fairly minor. It’s messy, but it’s easy to clean up. You need to apply it more often, but it’s not hard on your hair. You get the idea.

A few tips:

  • For the love of all that is holy, apply it over the sink or in the tub. You’ll find the cleanup easier if you can just wash away the grounds.
  • Coffee can stain fabric, so use an old towel to drape your shoulders or wear an old or black shirt.
  • If you use homemade shampoo like I do (I wash my hair with a mixture of baking soda and water), you may find it hard to rinse out your hair. Don’t be tempted to use normal shampoo like I was. After over a month of my homemade shampoo routine, it made my scalp itch and flake like crazy. The second time I applied it, I rinsed it out using conditioner, which was much kinder to my skin.
  • Make sure the conditioner you use is eco-friendly. I’m just saying this because, if you’re considering this, there’s a good chance that you care about this sort of thing. I’ve noticed that a lot of conditioners contain palm oil, which can be problematic.
  • You may want to warn your boyfriend/husband/roommates/family that you’re trying this.
  • You can only do this on brown hair. It will not work on blonde, red, or fully grey hair. Worse, it may just make your hair look dirty.

The verdict? I’d try this again. I might seek out a good permanent solution, but it works as a good temporary way to hide my greys.

Justin Bieber
I really, really don’t. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Paint.

Justin Bieber – according to my Facebook and Twitter feeds, everyone loves to hate him. There are probably a lot of people who love him too, but since I’m pushing 30, I don’t know any of those people.

Personally, I have a lot of trouble mustering up any strong opinions or feelings about the Biebs. He’s an artist that teens love but I just don’t get, and that’s about it. Teenagers have loved music that older people didn’t care much for since the dawn of time; it’s nothing revolutionary. He seems like an okay singer; not great, but definitely not terrible. His music itself is pretty bad, but it’s also pretty bland. It’s kind of like muzak or those songs they play when you’re put on hold; it blends in with the background. I can easily ignore it, which is pretty much all I ask of music I don’t like. Basically, it’s not really worth the time and energy it takes to be annoyed by him. I just don’t care.

“But,” you ask, “If you don’t care about him, why are you writing this post?”

Because, dear readers, you won’t stop talking about him. I don’t follow celebrity gossip and as I just said, I can easily ignore his music, but I can’t ignore the constant posts about him on my Facebook news feed. You are the only thing standing in my way of reveling in perfect, ignorant bliss about the existence of Justin Bieber, and I kind of resent you for it.

I forgive you a little bit if you live in Canada, because CanCon* laws mean that the same songs get played over and over again on the radio. When I lived in Canada, I even hated songs I liked after a while, just because I got so sick of hearing them repeatedly throughout the day. The rest of you, however, need to give it up and shut up. It’s like that Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode where the advertisements come to life; if you don’t talk about him, he will go away. I mean, he won’t really go away, because teenage girls love him, but unless you have a 14-year old daughter or relative, you can pretend he doesn’t exist. Just sit back and let the bland music fade into the background. You’ll be happy you did.

In the meantime, find something truly grating to complain about. It’s not like there is any shortage of contenders.

*Canadian Content laws dictate that a certain percentage of the programming on radio and television stations must be Canadian in some way. The percentage varies depending on the station’s licensing, but is usually somewhere between 20 ad 40 percent. The system was established in 1971 to give Canadian artists the chance to gain exposure in their own country, which wasn’t happening too much at the time. I highly support CanCon and think it generally helps Canadian artists. I’d rather see these laws in place and have to listen to Nickelback 10 times a day than see Canadian artists struggling to get airplay in their own country.

vinyl collection
A small selection of my records

It all started with my parents’ record collection. When I was very young, they loved to listen to lots of music and the bulk of their music consisted of classic rock records. They weren’t really fans of the popular music of the ’80s and they weren’t big on country. Since they spend a good chunk of the ’80s in northern British Columbia, they didn’t invest in a lot of new music. The records from their teens and twenties stayed on the turntable and the music of Beatles and Elton John became the soundtrack of my early childhood. One of my earliest memories is of dancing to “Obla-di Obla-da” (a very danceable tune, if I may say so). Each year, my mom would play “Birthday” on our birthdays.*

As I grew older, I developed my own appreciation for the music of the past. I was a quirky teen and I had little interest in Britney Spears, N*Sync, the Backstreet Boys, or any of the other radio fare of the late ’90s and early ’00s. I formed somewhat of an obsession with the Beatles. Many girls around that time became obsessed with boy bands. In a way, I was no different – I just got obsessed with a band that girls fawned over two decades before I was born. It’s not that I was in love with Lennon or McCartney; I just loved their singable melodies and creative lyrics. While many girls my age were hanging posters of Justin Timberlake and Nick Carter on their walls, I started tacking Beatles quotes around my walls. I also read every book I could find on the band and listened to their music on repeat for the better part of a year. The Beatles were somewhat of a gateway band to other music. I started listening to my parents’ records on my own, exploring the other artists in their collection, such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jim Croche, and Paul Simon.

I received my first record as a gift for my 16th birthday.** It was a copy of “Electric Ladyland” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I listened to it on repeat, closing my eyes and getting lost in Hendrix’ guitar solos. The record launched my own vinyl collection. We didn’t have any record stores in Campbell River, so I browsed through the offerings in thrift stores and garage sales. The pickings were usually pretty slim, but I did manage to find a lot of interesting classical selections and got a few great deals, including Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall.”

I frequented record stores whenever we went out of town. I scoured through the bins at The Turntable and Ditch Records whenever we went to visit my aunt and uncle in Victoria. Shopping trips to Nanaimo always included a stop at Fascinating Rhythm. My collection grew quickly. At the time, vinyl was still somewhat of a geek obsession. Record stores resembled Rob Gordon’s shop in “High Fidelity”; they were full of music nerds obsessing over rare titles, posters and flyers for local shows plastered all over the walls and cash register area, and surly employees/owners who knew more about music than you could ever hope to learn.*** Few people who weren’t true music fans had any interest in records and people were still unloading their collections from the ’60s and ’70s, which meant that vinyl was much cheaper than CDs at the time. I loved classic rock, folk, jazz, blues, and classical, which meant that most of the music I enjoyed was first released on vinyl. This gave me a cheaper source for my massive collecting habit. Music downloading became popular around that time, but mp3s weren’t tangible. Records were big and that made them somehow real to me. Besides, anyone could type a song or album title into a search engine; it took real effort to find a good record.

Simon and Garfunkel Bookends
I was too lazy to remove the price tags on most of my records. Like many of my albums, this one cost me $5, circa 2004

After I graduated high school, my collecting habits really exploded. I got a turntable as a graduation gift so I could play my own albums when I moved to Victoria for university. This move put me in close proximity to The Turntable and Ditch records. Suddenly, I could go to record stores whenever I wanted. Later, when I moved to Nanaimo, I went to Fascinating Rhythm every few weeks or so to pick up some new titles. I also continued to look for deals in thrift stores and bargain bins, which helped make my collection eclectic.

I drove my friends crazy. Shopping with me often meant spending at least half an hour in a record store or thrift store. A few fellow collectors shared my enthusiasm, but most friends imposed time limits on how long they were willing to stand there while I flipped through countless shelves and bins.

radiohead record
To be fair, that doesn’t mean they don’t support my hobby. Many good friends give me records. A friend here in Berlin gave me this Radiohead one, because it came with his CD and he doesn’t have a turntable.

My move to Berlin halted my collecting habits for a long time. I didn’t have a turntable when I first came here and I found records prohibitively expensive. I was not (and am still not) willing to pay 20 Euros for something that cost me $5-7 in Canada, especially when I had nothing to play it on. I finally bought a turntable in 2009 after I found a very attractive deal on Craigslist. I slowly started bringing over my beloved collection from Canada.

duke ellington record
Some of my albums have crossed the world a couple of times. I bought this in Canada, but it originally came from Germany. I brought it back again.

Now, I’ve started collecting again, albeit much more slowly than I did before. There are deals to be found here if you know where to look. There is an oversupply of classical records and fewer people have interest in that kind of music, which makes them extremely cheap. Some flea market stalls offer them for two for a Euro. Germans also seem to have very little interest in radio rock from the ’70s, so artists like Elton John and Eric Clapton often end up in bargain bins. I’ve occasionally (and inexplicably) found cheap jazz and blues titles. I suppose hipsters aren’t into blues. I have an eye for the strange and quirky, so sometimes I end up with interesting purchases.

vinyl album
Like this one. I bargained it down from 2 Euros to 1 Euro. In a very “Berlin” sort of way, the seller told me “If you want to pay a Euro, pay a Euro.”

I continue to treasure my collection. There’s a skill to collecting vinyl that other formats lack. You can’t get any title you want whenever you want; you have to have patience. When you find something good, you have to make sure it’s playable, or you risk bad sound and wearing down your turntable’s needle. Because hipsters have picked up on record collecting, you also have to hunt harder for deals. It’s much more akin to treasure hunting than shopping. The time and effort I spend looking for records makes me value them all the more.

record collection
As of now, I have about 60 records here. This isn’t even 1/4 of my total collection

When you play a record, you can hear each speck of dust on the disk. They are also fragile and require a lot of care. You have to continually clean them, maintain your turntable, and store them properly. They’re heavy and they take up a lot of space. Basically, they aren’t remotely convenient, so I understand why they fell out of favour. Still, these things that make them different and inconvenient make them treasures to people like me. Maintaining a record collection is kind of like owning real silver cutlery; owning such a thing requires a lot of time and effort, but you feel like you have something of value that you can pass down. Who can say that about an mp3?

*I still do this.

**Full disclosure: I’m not really 100 percent sure about this. I know I got that record sometime that summer and that I got a record as a gift that year, but I could have also bought this copy at The Turntable during a trip to Victoria. Both stories sound totally plausible to me, so I just picked one and went with it. I do know that Electric Ladyland was my first record.

***Actually, some things never change.

beach at bansin in the winter

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I headed up to Usedom, an island in the Baltic Sea, for a visit. My first question was, “What do you do in Usedom in the winter?” It’s a popular resort area in the summer and people crowd to the beach as soon as the weather gets hot. It was much quieter in the winter, but there were still a few people around. There are a lot of lovely towns and cities on the island and it’s a great place to walk around. The icy beaches were beautiful. I come from a slightly warmer coast, so it was something special to see.

winter beach landscape

icy baltic

ice floating in the baltic sea

tree roots
I like to take pictures of trees

dormant tree

typical Baltic style house
This style of house is traditional in the area. Note the straw roof. This one looks fairly new and is probably built to look old, but it’s still interesting.

old stone church in koserow
An old stone church in Koserow

Just say no to yolo

It’s finally happened: I’m getting old. I know this because there is an increasing number of words and phrases that I can’t stand. When I hear people (especially younger people) say them, it grates on my nerves like the sound cardboard makes when it tears (for the record, I really hate that sound). Here are a few examples. I’ll even define them for you in case you have absolutely no knowledge of pop culture.

YOLO
An abbreviation of “You only live once.” I always hear teens say it on TV when they’re about to do something especially stupid and ill-advised. It sounds ridiculous and as a result of its usage, I associate it with stupid things.

Rando
Short for “Random,” as in “Random guy,” or “random girl.” When did we start saying this? It’s not even just those goddarned kids either. I hear grown women using this word. Even worse, I see it frequently in written form. Stop it.

Cray Cray
People say this in place of “Crazy,” even though it has the same number of syllables. Like “Rando,” this one is frequently used by older people as well as teens. It kind of reminds me of the way the characters talk in the post-apocalyptic chapters of “Cloud Atlas” (both the film and the book). For the record, these characters are illiterate, so that’s not a compliment.

Hashtag
As in the social media command. If you need to start talking exactly like you type on Twitter, you need to stop it immediately. Hashtag kids these days.

I guess the rest don’t particularly annoy me to cardboard-ripping proportions, but I do get the feeling that I’m old when I hear teens speak. Excuse me while I go buy a house with a porch so I can sit on it and tell kids to get off my lawn.

*note: I did some research while researching slang words to see if I missed any (I didn’t) and apparently “Fetch” is happening. It took 10 years, but Gretchen Wieners can finally die happy. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, get back in your box.

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