Dear London,

I am writing this on my phone at Terminal 2 at Heathrow airport while I am waiting to get back on a plane to Germany. The sun is shining through the huge glass walls and I have never felt more miserable in my entire life. This will be my last blog post and I thought a lot about what I was going to write and how to write it. The first thing I came up with was a sentimental summary of the last couple of weeks, a flashback to all the wonderful memories I get to take home with me, but that seemed rather impersonal and just not like me. That’s why I decided to write this very last post the way I would write it if I were to leave a dear friend behind – by writing a letter.

Dear London, you are – quite frankly – an amazing city. I always suspected as much due to my many holiday trips, but over the last six weeks I got to know you in a completely new and different way. You have been more open, more friendly, and more welcoming than I could have asked you to be and I will miss this unconditional hospitality when I’m back in Germany.

I will miss the underground staff at Victoria station who turned into motivation coaches every morning, shouting “This is a beautiful city, today is a beautiful day, and you are all beautiful people” or “Go out there and spice up your day, Ladys and Gents”. I will miss being greeted with “Hello, love” when I enter a shop or the occasional “Take care” upon exiting. I will miss the smiles people casually threw my way despite the hurry of rush hour. I might even miss the uncomfortable train rides among far too many strangers to safely fit into one carriage.

The truth is that I feel more at home here than I ever did in Germany. Here, I feel like I fit in, like I can be who I am. Thanks to you, I have overcome the last nine years of constant self-doubt and insecurity in a matter of days and for that I cannot thank you enough.

My flight has just been announced for boarding and here I am, blinking back the tears, physically forcing myself to walk towards the boarding pass control. There’s nothing in this world I’d rather do than stay here. Right here. I’d be happy with sitting on my suitcase in the middle of Heathrow airport for the rest of my life, for all I care.

In terms of my career, this internship has been the best experience of my life thus far. In terms of London, this has been the biggest mistake I’ve ever made because now I know what kind of life I’m most likely never going to lead and it breaks my heart to leave it behind.

The first few days were overwhelming, frightening, scary at times, but beautiful altogether. The last few days have been a misery of goodbyes.

I’ve just passed boarding pass control, and I wonder how many people are sitting on Primrose Hill right now, enjoying this beautiful spring evening. I wonder if they are eating Ginger Nuts or Vinegar Crisps and whether they know how lucky they are. London, I don’t know when I’ll see you again. But this time, it will be a much longer wait until our paths cross once again – of that I am sure. Thank you for the best time of my life!

Love,

Leonie

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Geeky London

Or: Where Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond go for a cup of tea

If you’re into literature, London may be your Pandora’s box. Known as a very popular set for novels and stories, it has always been an oasis of inspiration to many writers and creators. And I have never seen a city where literature is so omnipresent and integrated into the everyday life of its residents as in London. Therefore, here comes a Geek Guide to London for all the fans of Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Sherlock, and James Bond.

1. “It’s bigger on the inside.”

Have you ever dreimg_2513amed of travelling through time and space with a madman in a blue Police Box, saving the world from the Darleks and the evil side of the universe in a non-Star Wars way? Then you might want to drop by at “The Baker Street Emporium” and knock on the door of the infamous Tardis. Even if the Doctor’s not home, you can take a picture and pretend you went on an exciting adventure.

Exit tube at Baker Street Station

Calculated budget: none

 

 

2. “Hold tight and pretend it’s a plan.”

This is what Dr. Who paradise looks like: an entire shop filled to the brink with merchandise of the TV series (and a Tardis as well, but in my opinion, it’s not as nice as the one near Baker Street). In case you’re in desperate need of a present for a Dr. Who enthusiast, you’ll find whatever you’ve been looking for right here.

Exit tube station at Upton Park Station

Calculated budget: depends on how much you’d like to spend

 

3. “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

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When you’re in London, there’s no way you can’t go visit the world’s most famous adress of the most beloved fictional character of all time: 221b Baker Street. After buying the ticket at the shop right below the museum, you’re granted entrance to the private rooms of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. To every fan’s delight, you can take as many pictures as you like – even on the two chairs in front of the fireplace with the deerstalker and magnifying glass. But don’t forget to pick up Mr. Holmes’ business card in case you may need his help one day.

Insider tipp: visit at 5 pm to avoid queuing for entrance and taking photographs

Opening times: 09.30 am – 06.00 pm (closed on Christmas Day)

Calculated budget: £15 – £30 per person (including souvenir budget)

 

4. “We solve crimes, I blog about it, and he forgets his pants.”

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If the modern BBC series of Sherlock is more up your alley and you’d like to see where the magic happens, North Gower Street is the place to go. Since this is merely a filming location, it’s only a house façade and a café that await you here. But if you’re lucky enough to get a table at Speedy’s, you can admire a whole gallery of fanart and photographs from behind the scenes of filming the series. And I hear the Sherlock Wrap is pretty tasty…

187 North Gower Street, London NW1 2NJ

Opening times for Speedy’s:

06.30 am – 03.30 pm (Saturday 07.30 am – 01.30 pm, closed on Sunday)

Exit tube at Euston Square, North Gower Street Exit

Calculated budget: none

 

5. “Bond. James Bond.”

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The Secret Intelligence Service‘s headquarters are a real eye-catcher when taking a walk along the Thamse. Even if you’re not into James Bond, it’s quite an intimidating sight and the atmosphere of secrecy and the resemblance to a fortress makes you wonder what is going on in there. While I get why people call it the “Babylon-on-Thames”, I really can’t see how anyone came up with the name “Legoland”.

85 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, Lambeth

Exit tube at Vauxhall Cross

Calculated budget: none

 

6. “Shaken, not stirred.”

Dine like James Bond himself at the Rules Restaurant in Covent Garden. Scenes from the latest Bond film Spectre were shot at this historic restaurant which exists for more than 200 years and has seen guests like Charles Dickens and Charlie Chaplin. And when I say ‘dine like James Bond’, I mean it because there’s a dresscode (which can be probably expected from a restaurant that close to the Savoy). Posh, exclusive, fancy – nothing I’d set a foot into, but you’re very welcome to email me your experience.

35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7LB

Exit tube at Southampton Street Station or arrive with style in an Aston Martin

Calculated budget: if you’re brave enough, peer at the menu while casually walking past

 

7. “You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”

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Harry Potter fans, buckle your seatbelts … for the ultimate Harry Potter fanshop Platform 9 3/4. When I went to King’s Cross in order to take a photo of the baggage car which is fixed in the very wall where platform 9 3/4 is located in the stories, I was gobsmacked. In 2010, there was nothing but said baggage car, but now there’s an entire Harry Potter fanshop selling everything from the Harry Potter world you can possibly imagine. From all the Geeky sights, this is (in my opinion) by far the best! And for everyone who’s still disappointed that they haven’t gotten their Hogwarts letter: You can pick it up there.

The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 3/4, Kings Cross Station, London N1 9AP

Opening times: 08.00 am – 10.00 pm (Sunday 09.00 am – 09.00 pm, closed on Christmas and Boxing Day)

Exit tube at King’s Cross St Pancras

Calculated budget: depends on how much you’d like to spend

8. “Welcome home!”

[P H O T O G R A P H]

You’ve always wondered what Butterbeer tastes like? You’ve always dreamed of walking down the Diagon Alley? The fanshop’s nice but you want to see the real thing? Then the Harry Potter studios are what you’re looking for. Located twenty train minutes outside of London, you’re granted access to the very studios the Harry Potter films were shot at – with all film sets, costumes, and props still in place. If you consider going to Leavesden, you should plan an entire day for your visit and enough budget because, let’s be realistic, this is not a cheap experience. The tickets must be booked in advance and I recommend choosing the earliest possible time to avoid the masses.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden WD25 7LR

Opening times: 10.00 am – 08.00 pm (in summer until 10.00 pm)

Exit train at Watford Junction and proceed with shuttle busses

Calculated budget: £60 – £100 per person (including souvenir budget and tickets for train/shuttle bus)

 

Sign Language

Or: When someone has too much fun at their job
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British churches come with status updates, apparently… (Stoke Newington)

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or: a heated argument between Brits (Camden)

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Real Queens queue on the left side of the pole. (Windsor Castle)

 

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Brexit first, America second. (Camden)

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Pass you shall. (Shoreditch)

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Drastic way to ask people to drive slowly. (Tower Hamlets)

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When one is on one’s way to drop the kids off at the pool…(Kensington Palace)

 

The Brexit Files – Part 2

Or: Was Brexit a fault of the younger generation?

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Ever since the Brexit referendum, there have been accusations from the Millennials that the older generations voted Brexit and therefore have ruined their future. As I explained in my last post on the matter, nostalgia was one of the main reasons why so many voted in favour of Leave, but is the outcome really down to them?

In February this year, the BBC has published a statistical analysis of the Brexit referendum demographics and one of their key findings is that older people were more likely to vote Leave. However, the findings clearly indicate that education was a much bigger influence on people’s voting decision than any other demographic aspect. Of course, it’s easy and comfortable to blame the older generations for voting the way they did when they don’t have to live with the consequences for as long as their children and grandchildren.

However, Sky News published their analysis too and it reveals something many might have already suspected: There was a rather poor polling when it comes to younger voters. Only 36% of young adults between 18 and 24 years went to the polls – the lowest turnout out of all age groups. In comparison, 58% of all 25 to 34 year olds voted and 72% of the 35 to 44 made their cross. In short: only every third adolescent used their voice to express their political opinion.

So, is their anger over the outcome of the referendum justified?

Yes. Well, at least those who went to the polls and tried to shape the future of their country according to their own world view have every right to be angry. But it’s not the older generations they should blame, it’s their fellow peers who decided to remain silent that are responsible for Brexit. The date of the referendum, June 23, was in the middle of the semester and many students complained that they weren’t able to vote because they didn’t register for the city where they go to university.

In Britain, you can’t just head to the polls and vote as you like – you have to register first for the town, village, or community you live in. The process of a registration takes approximately five minutes and occurs on the internet at the official website of the British government. All you need for the procedure is your British passport and your National Insurance number. The deadline for the registration for the EU referendum was early June. David Cameron, the former PM of the UK, announced in February when the referendum would be held – more than enough time to look up all the information one would need in order to go to the polls.

Whether you are busy with university work or not, whether you’re in town or at home with your parents – five minutes of online registration won’t do you any harm; quite the opposite, in fact. The question why young people still failed to vote remains unanswered even now. But of one fact we can be certain: Those who made use of their voices cannot be blamed by those who don’t like their opinion, however debatable it may be. Those who wanted to punish the government, failed to register, or were simply too lazy – those are the ones who are to blame.

In TV interviews, some tried to defend their inactivity with how they never would have suspected such an outcome. Well, that’s the funny thing about elections – you suddenly realise how many people out there are actually thinking differently from yourself. Being presumptuous when it comes to your own future is a luxury that nobody should have the right to claim for themselves.

However, what’s past is past and there’s a new general election coming up on June 8. The deadline for your online registration is May 22 and if you’re unhappy with the Brexit referendum outcome, I suggest you use your voice as long as you still can.

A day out in Windsor

Or: Who wants to queue forever?

“There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.”

– G. K. CHESTERTON

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Windsor Castle as seen from the train.

In order to escape the Easter weekend’s madness, I decided to cross another tourist sight off of my To-Do-List and spent a day in Windsor, the home of Queen Elizabeth II. Located approximately half an hour train ride outside of London, Windsor is a small town with probably more tourists than residents. Nonetheless, rumour has it that visiting Her Majesty’s home is something you shouldn’t miss when you’re in London – or should you?

The train for Oxford leaves Paddington Station at around half past ten in the morning at a speed that would put every ICE in Germany to shame and I’m not nearly awake enough for that kind of experience, but who’s the British railway service to care about sleepy tourists? Adding to the blurred green-brown-soup beyond the train windows, the train is packed with foreigners. The only indicator that we’ll all be changing trains at Slough together is the occasional “Windsor” that filters through the incomprehensible mix of languages that echo through the train compartment.

Indeed, we arrive at the monorail train station of Windsor exactly 26 minutes later and it’s nothing like what I’ve expected. In Germany, I grew up in a small village with barely more than 5,000 residents and even our train station is busier than Windsor’s. Though maybe not as posh. There’s an old steam locomotive on display, a signpost pointing towards a castle that is hidden behind little cafés and pubs. In all fairness, the first impression is that Windsor is surprisingly down to earth for the home of the British Queen.

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Leaving the train station and a handful of designer stores behind, I stumble up a cobblestone street and need a moment to process that I’m already standing in front of Windsor Castle. Didn’t I just come out of a train station? It’s probably handy for the Queen to live in close proximity to public transport – but it’s not like she uses it, does she? The town layout is nothing what I expected and it throws me off a bit, but before I get to adjust to this strange environment, people start to line up alongside the street. It’s 11.30 a.m. – time for the changing of the guards, apparently. It’s not nearly as spectacular as their colleague’s performance in London, but it satisfies the curious tourists and their need to block everyone’s view with their selfie-sticks.

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A part of the queue (which was twice as long as seen on this picture)

After roughly five minutes, the guards have walked past us and I’m patiently waiting for the crowds to scatter into all kind of directions so that I can finally find the queue for the tickets. Only they stay right there where they are, lining the streets as if waiting for a parade and I’m starting to sense that queuing might be the same as the changing of the guards: very different from London. After a short chat with one of the castle’s staff members, I have been informed that yes, this is in fact the queue for the tickets. Approximate waiting time: little more than an hour. Well, it can’t be helped, I’ll have to endure it. On the upside, it’s neither raining nor is it particularly cold, so the waiting could be far worse. I don’t know if I really queued for an hour, though it felt much longer, to be honest.

Eventually, after having succeeded in Britain’s national sport number one, I am finally standing inside Windsor Castle. Prince Philip greets me through the headphones of my audio guide and I can’t help but admire the beauty that surrounds me. The fantastic thing about British castles is that they seem so simple and plain on the outside, but once you set a foot inside the great halls, the splendour will render you utterly speechless. And Windsor Castle is – much like Edinburgh Castle – no exception to that rule.

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If you’re not much of a history fan and have little to no knowledge of the British kings and queens, the audio guided tour through the castle might be a bit overwhelming and too much at once. Since I have studied this culture for two years now, there was hardly anything that was news to me, but those who are familiar with the Tudor dynasty, the Wars of the Roses, and Henry VIII won’t be disappointed.

The entire interior architecture is based on this time period, playing with the Lancaster and York symbols and referring to the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the roundtable on many occasions. No matter how long you look at the wallpaper, paintings, furniture, and ceilings, you’ll always find something of a deeper historical meaning. And this very architecture, the way of interlacing a country’s history to the very last detail with the present, made me fall in love with Britain in the first place. You can see that this castle wasn’t built to blind you with wealth. It was built with the purpose of displaying centuries of history to a foreign visitor, almost as if it demands every visitor to understand where this nation comes from.

I would have loved to take photos, but sadly it’s strictly forbidden. Also, I won’t bore you with historical facts because you have to stand in the very room where Edward III was born in 1312 in order to marvel at the many, many faces this old hoar castle has seen. If you consider to visit Windsor Castle, I recommend an early train in order to avoid long queues (especially if you’re visiting with children). Since I visited on the Easter weekend, there were special events just for kids where they got to dress up like Elizabeth I or Henry VIII – I’ve listened to the host for a couple of minutes and it was really entertaining and the costumes were amazing!

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Windsor itself is rather unspectacular but after leaving the castle, I was quite thankful for the quiet little streets and the relaxing atmosphere. In terms of budget, Windsor is slightly more expensive than London due the Royal neighbours. While there are cheap restaurants, I don’t recommend dining near the castle – you pay more for the view rather than the food and staring at a wall gets boring after five minutes.

Some of you might know that Windsor is not only famous for being the home of Queen Lizzy but also of one of Britain’s most exclusive colleges: Eton. No less than 19 Prime Ministers were educated there and if you’re in town for a royal visit, you might as well walk the short distance to Eton College. Although it is not always open to the public, the exterior alone suggests how posh the students must be who are privileged enough to study here. It’s strange when you think about it – this college was founded by Henry VI in 1440 as a charity project for poor choir boys. Today, parents pay £12,354 per school term, registration, acceptance, and extra fees excluded.

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Eton College

My visit to Windsor ends in the most un-royal way possible: with a hamburger and a milkshake. Long live the Queen!

Running up that Hill

Or: The Virgin Money London Marathon

“If you are losing your faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”

– KATHRINE SWITZER

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No, this is not what rush hour in London looks like, though there are some striking similarities. Today, another beautiful sunny Sunday and St George’s Day, too, was the day of the Virgin Money London Marathon. A total of 40,382 runners filled the city’s streets to take part in the 37th event on British soil – a record-breaking high. There were actually a few record broken today, including women’s-only world record time (Mary Keitany), fastest Viking to win a marathon (Paul Richards), fastest male elf, and fastest crustacean. In my opinion, there should have been an award for creativity, too, but I was only one of 800,000 spectators cheering them on, so I’m probably easy to impress.

The race, separated into elite men’s and mass races, began at 10 a.m. and was officially started by the Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge, as well as Prince Harry. The 26 miles (42.195 kilometres) long route started in Greenwich, South East London and ended on the Mall near Buckingham Palace where the competitors were greeted with music, a very entertaining commentator, and the cheering of the crowd. I must say that I have never attended a sports event with an atmosphere comparable to this.

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Daniel Wanjiru, winner of the men’s elite race, on his way to the finish.

I arrived just in time to witness the winners of the marathon enter the home stretch. But to be honest, I wasn’t that much interested in the Olympic winners and elite runners that made it look like these kind of races are part of their morning routines. Of course, it’s a fantastic accomplishment to win a marathon or to finish a 26-miles-run in only 2.5 hours and I congratulate them on their achievements, but they are professionals, right? They do this often enough for it to become part of their realities.

Part of the race were also some celebrities, media personas, and journalists who supported charities and ran for a good cause. I will edit this post again when I know the exact amount of money that has been raised, but right now there are no confirmed numbers.

Money aside, there were far more important moments to remember: To me, the most emotional one of the race was when David Wyeth collapsed only a few feet away from where I was watching. I’ll never forget the look on his deadly pale face, those eyes staring straight ahead towards the finishing line while his legs gave out from exhaustion. It was heartbreaking to witness how someone who has fought so much breaks down only 200 metres from the finish. Everybody around me kept cheering him on, encouraging him to get up again and walk the last few metres, but he simply couldn’t keep himself upright anymore. Paramedics were already on their way towards him when another runner, Matthew Rees, stopped and bent down. He must have said something because his lips were moving, but the crowd was too noisy to hear anything. It took only a few attempts and Matthew Rees dragged one of David Wyeth’s arms over his shoulder and carried him down the Mall. The crowd, of course, rewarded his selfless sportsmanship with a massive cheer until they both made it through the finish.

Not only did Matthew Rees stop to help another runner, he risked his own best time for a complete stranger. So Katherine Switzer is right after all: going out and watching a marathon does restore one’s faith in human nature. And it was worth the pain and the tears: The medals were awarded to the tired competitors by no one other than William, Kate, and Harry. I reckon it can’t have been comfortable to shake hands with someone who looks glamorous enough to step on the red carpet at any second when you’ve just finished a 26 miles run, flushed and sweaty. However, the runners managed to outshine any royalty with ease and I’m sure none of them cared about their appearance right then and there.

So here is a last salute to anyone who has and hasn’t crossed the finishing line today, no matter if it took you two hours or six – I could have never done what you did and I hope you’ve had all your favourite food for dinner. You absolutely deserve it for you didn’t run up a hill today, you climbed an entire mountain!

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How I started apologising to my cup of tea

Or: British politeness at its very worst

“Sorry, excuse me, please, sorry” is one of the most common phrases I have heard on the London underground, followed by an answering “So sorry, Sir/Madame, excuse me”. At first, I didn’t think much of it since the British are known for their politeness. I didn’t even mind when I started to mirror their constant stream of excuses. Only when I muttered an apology to my cup of Earl Grey after putting it on the table with more force than intended I began to seriously worry. It is one thing to say sorry to a person, but addressing an inanimate object takes apologising to an entire new level.

But when did I become so British that I completely forgot about my German ignorance?

Ever since I caught myself saying sorry to all kind of things, I started observing the British and what I now call their “sorry culture”. If I ever attempted to count the times an average British citizen apologises on one day alone, I bet it would be far more than one hundred times. To someone who comes from a society with a very direct way of saying things, it took me quite some time getting used to the British way of phrasing a polite request, never mind a sincere apology. The way of saying sorry is not only defining when it comes to the culture, but also the mentality of the two countries.

We Germans hardly ever apologise, at least not in our everyday lives. We communicate a lot through looks and facial expressions or acknowledging nods. There’s no need to voice your regrets when bumping into someone while exiting the train when you can communicate the feeling with shoving your way through the crowd. In Germany, people don’t care. It’s rush hour, the train is crowded, you have to get out, so you make your way through. It’s physics, isn’t it? Newton proved that there can only be one body in one place at a time. So we believe Newton and we just assume that our fellow train travellers understand and would do the same were the roles reversed.

In Britain, there’s one simple rule: never assume anything, not even laws of nature defined by an English physicist. Or if you do, then assume the worst case scenario and try your very best to prevent it. If you’re British and find yourself on a train at the peak of rush hour, it’ll likely be your worst nightmare. Bumping into the person in front of you is completely out of question because then they’ll think you did it on purpose and will report you to the police which will result in you ending up with imprisonment for assault. Following that logic, shifting back and risk bumping into the person behind you in order to prevent collision with person nr. 1 is not going to happen either. And don’t step onto the feet of the pregnant woman sitting to your right, because that will guarantee you the loathing stares of all passengers on the carriage – just like doing the same unforgivable thing to the old lady to your left. Vanishing into thin air or disappearing altogether are your only options, really – or at least pretend to look like you’re trying to disappear.

In all fairness, that was (only slightly) exaggerated and it was written with nothing but fondness for this charmingly awkward way of thinking. But the British will probably never understand what kind of minefields we Non-Brits are walking when entering a conversation with one of you. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time vehemently declining things I really wanted out of sheer terror that I might be too presumptuous by accepting them on the spot with nothing but an honest ‘thank you’. I reckon that the rule of thumb of accepting a cookie only after the fifth time it’s been offered to you does apply. Therefore, being overly careful has turned into something akin to a mantra for me, settling so deep in my subconsciousness that I even started apologising to tea cups. After all, I don’t want to be a walking stereotype for German rudeness and being too direct.

For instance, on my way home I witnessed a scene on the underground so British it might as well have been straight out of a film. A man offered an elderly lady his seat. The passenger sitting next to her realised that she was accompanied by her husband and daughter, therefore, he stood up as well and offered the seat to the lady’s husband who politely declined. Instead, he motioned for the man to sit down again, but instead of doing so, the man went to offer his seat to the couple’s daughter who also refused to sit down. They argued for half of the time it took the train to travel from Oxford Circus to Warren Street until, eventually, the daughter took the man’s seat. In Germany, we don’t have these kind of problems because people don’t offer seats to others in the first place. In that conversation alone, it must habe been half a dozen excuses.

But what if you’re really sorry?

That question keeps haunting me because if you keep apologising simply for existing, then how is a ‘Sorry’ still of the same value it represents according to the Oxford dictionary? The definition says that ‘Sorry’ is a word referring to “feeling sadness, sympathy, or disappointment, especially because something unpleasant has happened or been done.” So maybe, there’s an urgent need in Britain to look that definition up once in a while and to remember that “Sorry” is not the equivalent of a conversation starter, another word to fill the awkward silence or a way to make other people realise that it’s actually them who should be the ones apologising.

For once, maybe the British can actually learn something from us Germans: Sometimes, a gesture says so much more than words, though maybe not an elbow to the ribs in an overcrowded underground carriage.