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A walk around my childhood in Cologne

Posted on Dec 26, 2012 in Cologne | 1 comment

On Christmas Day we went for a walk around my childhood neighbourhood on the outer edges of Cologne. Large old homes are characteristic of this area. From here, it is easy to zip into downtown Cologne by streetcar or S-Bahn, but getting out into rural areas for excursions is convenient as well.

It was also convenient for my parents in other ways: we lived across the street from my father’s old family home in a rental apartment, my father worked in my grandfather’s architecture firm in yet another building around the corner, my dad’s brother and his brother-in-law also worked there for a while, and my mother helped them out temporarily with office admin duties.

My German family's home

My great-grandfather built this house in 1904. He brought his family, but also his mother — my great-great-grandmother — to live out the remaining years of her life there. This means it has been home to five generations of my family. The sixth generation, which are my cousin’s children, are not growing up there. My grandfather was 8 or 9 when the house was built and lived here until he died. My father, uncle and aunt, and my two German cousins were born here. My aunt has remained here her whole life until recently.

The backyard of my German family's home

The backyard of my German family’s home.

A bust sculpted by my uncle is gathering moss in the backyard

A bust sculpted by my uncle is gathering moss in the backyard of my German family’s home. My uncle lived in the family home for a long time. He was a sculptor and pottery artist. He passed away a few years ago at age 83.

Fountain on Theo-Burauen-Platz, Cologne, by Klaus Albert

My uncle, the sculptor Klaus Albert, designed this fountain on Theo-Burauen-Platz in downtown Cologne.

My grandfather designed this house

This is one of the many houses and buildings my grandfather designed around the neighbourhood where I grew up. He was an architect, so was his father, and so is his son, who is my father. That continuity of profession is a very German/European custom. And I became a graphic designer, which is a related profession, except that my books and publications can’t kill people if they collapse.

Where I grew up in Cologne

I grew up in this second-story apartment on the right side of this building in Cologne almost right across the street from the big family house where my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins lived, until my parents moved us to our new house in a neighbouring city.

Where I went to Kindergarten

I went to Kindergarten in this house. It was run by a couple of old Catholic bachelor sisters, if I’m not mistaken. My memory from first day of Kindergarten is getting admonished for biting into my yummy lunch sandwich before prayer. This may be why I now eat dessert before dinner whenever I can, generally try to not miss out on anything fun in life even if it means missing out on sleep, and I am a big advocate for letting people, including children to a point, live their lives the way they see fit. Oh, and I don’t bother with the prayer thing either. I am with Christopher Hitchens, who wrote something to the effect of “If there indeed was a God, she would not be so insecure as to constantly require us to tell her we love her.” 😀

View of Cologne from near my aunt's retirement home.

After our Christmas Day visit with my aunt who recently moved to a retirement home, we caught a glimpse of the remarkable twin towers of the Dome of Cologne in the distance.

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Christmas with my German relatives

Posted on Dec 26, 2012 in Cologne | 0 comments

Christmas Eve was a wonderful reunion for my German cousins and I. It was a time to relax and celebrate.

Christmas is never a stressful time for me, as it can be for many people. Jeff and I usually go to his parents or to mine. We don’t have kids, so we don’t feel any urge to decorate, shop for a lot of gifts, or go on major cooking or baking sprees. We usually take care of cooking a nice meal for the whole extended family while we stay at his parents.

This year, we did not give each other anything since we are already taking this Germany trip together. And we are more interested in accumulating experiences rather than more stuff. Yes, we are total DINKs — want to sign up? There is a form provided at the bottom of this page. 😉

So the holiday season is a great time for us to take a well-deserved break from another hard-working year and to relax into the New Year before we get swept up again in our routines.

Christmas Eve at my cousin's

Christmas Eve at my cousin’s place, with his wife and their two kids, and his sister, my other German cousin came from Heidelberg with her husband. That’s Jeff at the left with the wine glass in his hand, doing his best to impersonate the character Julian from the Canadian cult show Trailer Park Boys. Julian always has a rum and coke in his hand, even when he’s climbing out of a crashed car.

Christmas Eve fondue dinner

The table is set for my cousin’s family’s traditional Christmas Eve fondue dinner. With my two cousins, their partners and kids, there were 8 of us enjoying a long leisurely meal after opening the presents.

The reindeer and I

The glitter-reindeer and I on Christmas Eve. One of us may have had a few drinks by this time. I am not showing photos of any other reindeer for privacy reasons.

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This is just a Merry Christmas test

Posted on Dec 25, 2012 in Cologne | 0 comments

Christmas tree animation

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah!

I have been experimenting with continuous-line drawings. This is all one long line. I scanned it in and added colours in Illustrator, then created an animated gif, where you can still see the original black and white line drawing. I am currently experimenting more with this approach. I love drawing but always felt it was somehow inferior to painting. I now know that drawing is an art form in its own right.

Meanwhile, this test serves as my belated Christmas greeting. Yes, I am pre-dating these posts as I am catching up. I am sure this is against all blogger etiquette. But then again, I am not a real blogger. There is no blogosphere around me. I don’t own a pair of vans or chucks. All the true photo bloggers live near Main Street in Vancouver. You can’t swing a pair of skinny jeans on Main Street without hitting a hipster.

We had a wonderful Christmas with my cousins, their partners and kids. We celebrated on Christmas Eve, as Germans do, with opening the gifts and then enjoying a meat fondue with lots of wine. My cousin S. and I got quite drunk. It seems to me that the last time we met, which was way back in 2008? 2006? we also got each other drunk. I did not suffer much the next day, so I have no regrets.

“Everything in moderation — including moderation” (Oscar Wilde, I think).

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How to do a proper German sauna

Posted on Dec 24, 2012 in Cologne | 2 comments

The Mediterana entry at night

The Mediterana entry at night.

Jeff and I love the German wellness tradition, exemplified by their public saunas.

Germany is full of unique day spas that have evolved from a long tradition of spas and healing baths, and are now incorporating elements of Finnish sauna, Roman baths, and Turkish or Arabic hammam spas. The concept of a public swimming pool-type building full of nude people spending hours, or a full day in a German “sauna landscape” where you can swim, shower, suntan, nap, sweat, get a massage, relax, read, eat, and drink beer, alone, or with the whole family, is something I have yet to find in North America.

On December 23, we visited our favourite sauna in my cousin’s city, Bergisch Gladbach. It’s a Moroccan style sauna called Mediterana, it costs just under €30 to spend four hours there and avail yourself of their Indian-Arab and Spanish-Mauric saunas: Persian bath, meditation sauna, precious stone sauna, Ayurveda sauna, rose sauna, Himalayan salt sauna, bain Arabisance, stone sauna, Catalan herbal sauna, Andalusian sauna, Mauric steambath, Finca sauna, candle sauna… plus thermal pools and baths, a hamam, and various resting areas and restaurants. You get an armband with a chip for your visit and anything you eat gets added to your chip. It’s like a vacation for 4 hours (or a full day).

Another resting area in the Mediterana Spa

Another resting area in the Mediterana Spa.

And now, indulge me. I simply must tell you the proper way to do a round of sauna in Germany because I love it so much:

1. You must take all your clothes off. None of that sweating into a bathing suit stuff — that is definitely not healthy. Forget your fake modesty — there’s always someone more fat or wrinkly in there than you are. Nobody is here to show off their bod either. There are all generations represented here.

2. Formal social rules and proper behaviour apply. Assuming you are in Germany, say “Guten Tag” to the room full of other naked people, as you enter a sauna. Bring a big towel to sit on and sweat onto. Kissing and hugging are frowned upon. We are here strictly to sweat and relax.

3. It must be very hot. About 80 to 90 degrees Centigrade is about right for a dry sauna. The steam saunas are of course cooler.

4. You should stay in the sauna until you are sweating all over. Like a pig comes to mind. During your first round it will frankly smell a bit bad because your body is sweating out some toxins. You will be surprised at your own stink. But already in your second round, you will smell like a rose in comparison.


This resting area in the Mediterana Spa features Asian puppets.

5. Don’t talk. This is a time for quiet relaxation and meditation. Plus it’s exhausting to talk when your body is working so hard. How nice to sit in a room full of people and not have to talk for a change.

6. A special event in any sauna is to catch the “Aufguss”. This is a ceremonial ritual where a Sauna Meister comes in and pours water infused with herbs, oils, fruit or spices onto the sauna oven, resulting in a lot of steam which they then spread around by performing rhythmic flicks with a towel. The sauna gets hotter and sweatier than normal. This is usually repeated three times during an Aufguss. Germans are crazy about the Aufguss which only happens once an hour, and the sauna tends to get very full just before the Aufguss time. Sometimes you are handed a cool drink or fresh fruit right after the Aufguss.

7. After working up a good sweat (10 – 12 minutes in a dry sauna should do it, more is unhealthy), remove yourself from the sauna (you may say a quiet “Auf Wiedersehen”) and have a cold shower or hose-down for a minute or so to wash off the sweat.

The Mediterana Indian pool at night

The Mediterana Indian pool at night.

8. Dip into an ice cold dipping pool, usually provided at a proper sauna place. This is the indoor, all-season equivalent to rolling around naked in the snow.

9. Get back into the shower for a couple of minutes, until you feel you have cooled back off to a normal body temperature.

10. At this point, you can wrap yourself up in a robe or towel and take a warm foot bath for a few minutes to prevent yourself from getting too cold.

11. Wrap yourself in a blanket to stay warm, grab a big glass of water, and rest on a chaise for about 15 – 20 minutes. In Germany, they will sell you beer in the ubiquitous sauna bar, but alcohol is not advisable during sauna as it dehydrates the body. Of course, in Germany, beer is not really considered alcohol anyway.

Do this whole cycle 3 times. That will take at least 3-4 hours of basically doing nothing productive. What luxury to do nothing in our crazy-busy world for a full 4 hours! What delicious time wasting! The resulting feeling of physical well-being and mental relaxation is out of this world.


The Mahradja Suite in the Mediterana Spa features large pillows for lounging between sauna cycles.

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David Hockney exhibit in Cologne

Posted on Dec 23, 2012 in Cologne | 0 comments


On December 22, we went downtown Cologne to see the David Hockney exhibit A Bigger Picture at the Museum Ludwig.

I had looked forward to seeing this show for the last 8 months, ever since I discovered Hockney’s newest work and had pre-ordered the exhibition catalogue on Amazon back in March or April. I was seriously considering flying to London while I was based in Berlin to see this exhibit, but then found out it was going to be touring Cologne over Christmas, where I was going anyway to visit my relatives and friends.

I had been a long-time Hockney fan and was thrilled to see his prolific output of traditional landscapes with his own edge after his return from L.A. to his native England. I read the catalogue, I watched the DVD. I feel a kinship with his approach to drawing and am inspired by his drawings, paintings, iPad sketches, videos, and his take on perspective.

But at the exhibit, I was amazed what I was drawn to: his charcoal drawings, his sketchbooks, his videos, and his giant printouts of iPad drawings — rather than his large paintings. The paintings had appealed to me the most from looking at the catalogue, but at the exhibit they felt almost too big and too rough.

After building up our hunger at the exhibit, we had a wonderful meal of greasy “Rievkooche”, the Cologne word for “Reibekuchen” which means potato cakes. They are served hot-fried, with cool apple sauce on the side for dipping.







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