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Portugal: Belém Tower

When I think of my favorite city Lisbon (Portuguese: Lisboa), I see a bright and promising blue. It’s like Lisbon held a patent on this color. You see this it when you get out of the plane and no matter where you are in Lisbon – the sky color is always above you.  The same blue is mirrored in the water of the large Tagus river (Port: Tejo) and its mouth to the Atlantic Ocean that you can see from all viewpoints of the Portuguese capital. But the place where you are surrounded by this intensive and light blue is the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower).


The tower is located in Belém, a civil parish of the municipality of Lisbon. Along with the nearby Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. Both buildings are two of the very few prominent examples of the Manueline style that have survived the catastrophic 1755 Lisbon earthquake.


In the late 15th century, the fortresses of Cascais (Cascais is known today as Portugal’s Hollywood) played the main role in the defense system for the mouth of the Tagus. These fortresses did not completely protect the river’s mouth, so King Manuel I of Portugal commissioned the building of the Belém Tower. The constructions started in 1515 and were finalized in 1521, King Manuel’s year of death. Since this time, the Torre de Belém symbolizes the high period of the Portuguese Sea and Trade Empire.


The tower was built as a lighthouse on an island in the mouth of the Tagus river to the Atlantic Ocean. It welcomed the arriving explorers and merchant vessels. It is written in different historical travel journeys that Portuguese explorers and merchants always were very pleased to see the Belém Tower after weeks or months of absence, because the tower emblematized the return to their home country and their families.


The Torre de Belém was built from a beige-white limestone local to the Lisbon area and thereabouts called lioz. The building is divided into two parts: the bastion and the four story tower located on the north side of the bastion. The Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style is especially apparent in the elaborate rib vaulting, crosses of the Order of Christ, armillary spheres and twisted rope, common to the nautically-inspired organic Manueline style.


There has originally been a twin tower on the other side of the river mouth to take enemy ships in the crossfire, but it was destroyed during the earthquake of 1755.


The dark interior of the tower was used as prison and arsenal in the 19th century. Today, the highest floor (35 m / 115 ft high) of the tower is a viewpoint. In the west you can see the red bridge Ponte 25 de Abril (the world’s second largest suspension bridge after the Tsing Ma Bridge in Hong Kong) and the Tagus coming from Lisbon, and on the east side you look to the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. On sunny days, many sailboats sail in the river mouth what is very beautiful.


Carnival tradition in Germany

Today is Rose Monday, one of the most important Carnival days. The best known Carnival cities are Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Venice (Italy) and Cologne (Germany). The important center of German Carnival is the Rhineland. But also in many other German regions the time before the Christian six-week Lent is celebrated very cheerfully.


Where does this tradition come from? Some people connect the carnival with ancient Mesopotamian, Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Celtic or Germanic feasts. But these were festive days to celebrate gods or the awakening of the nature in spring. What is similar are colorful parades (Rome), showers of roses (Rome), masks (Celts) and the principle of equality (Mesopotamia and Rome). But most researcher doubt in these ancient celebrations being the origin of the Christian carnival. More likely seems the start of it during the emergence of the Christian Lent. Pope Gregory the Great (590–604) decided that fasting would start on Ash Wednesday. The whole carnival event was set before the fasting and there was also the custom that the ruling class would be mocked using masks and disguises. The word « Carnival » may be composed by the Latin word « carne » (meat) and « levare » or « vale » (good bye).


The worldwide tradition is more common in areas with a large Roman Catholic presence. Carnival typically involves a parade combining some elements of a circus, masks and public street party. People wear masks during many such celebrations, an overturning of life’s normal things. There are different carnival cries in Germany. The most popular one is probably « Hellau » – its origin is unknown.

By Sebastian Koppehel (Own work) [CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In many German regions, the Carnival season starts on 11/11 at 11:11 a.m. This dates back to celebrations before the Advent season or with harvest celebrations of St. Martin’s Day.  I remember that date because at primary school in my home village Röderau, we always started a cross-country running at exactly this time. It was obligatory, but at the end of the course each runner got a Berliner Pfannkuchen (similar to a doughnut with no central hole but, with a jam filling) made by the world’s best village bakery 😉 This bakery always made one Pfannkuchen with mustard instead of jam and everybody was half scared (because it was disgusting) and half excited (because it meant luck for one year) who would get the mustard Pfannkuchen.

[[File-Karnevalswagen Kardinal Meisner 2005.jpg|thumb|Karnevalswagen Kardinal Meisner 2005]]

The most active Carnival week begins on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, with parades during the weekend, and finishes at midnight before Ash Wednesday, with the main festivities occurring around Rose Monday (Rosenmontag). This time is also called the « Fifth Season ». The parades are marked by  floats, walking bands, dancing formations, costumes, masks and showers of sweets and confetti. The floats demonstrate often in a satirical way famous persons and events of the last year.


The « Funkengarde » plays an important role. It’s a guard of young men wearing uniforms  in eye-catching colors (to be understood as a persiflage). Besides there are dancing female guards of so called « Funkenmariechen » (Funken Marys). Their typical outfits are composed of tricorn, a short dress in the guard’s or club’s colors, and boots. Guard dance is a special dance style characterized by march dance, ballet elements, varying pictures (diagonals, semicircles, Vs, etc.) and acrobatic (split, cartwheel, etc.). Very important is synchronism and precision.


I come from a protestant German region. Luther’s Reformation put into question the Lent before Eastern. That is why customs related to the Lent – like Carnival – became more and more unimportant in these regions. There were a few Carnival celebrations, but it was smaller and shorter than in Roman Catholic areas. Nevertheless, the TV is broadcasting many many Carnival shows especially from the Rhineland, so the excitement for it grows in the protestant regions, too. I’m sure Carnival will grow in the next 10 years as did Halloween in Germany in the past. And therefore I conclude my post with a threefold Hellau – Hellau – Hellau!


Most pictures: Peter Eichardt | Ascherslebener Carnevalsclub

Mangrove forests

The ecosystem Mangrove is originated by salt tolerant types of trees up to medium height and by shrubs that grow in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropics with a water temperature of about 68°F (20°C). The mangrove forest areas of the world in 2005 was about 58,000 mi² (150,000 km²) spanning 118 countries and territories. Approximately 75% of world’s mangroves are found in just 15 countries. Asia has the largest amount (42%) of the world’s mangroves, followed by Africa (21%), North/Central America (15%), Oceania (12%) and South America (11%). All the pictures you can see in this post were taken on the North coast of the Dominican Republic.


Mangroves are adapted to live in harsh coastal conditions. They contain a complex salt filtration system and complex root system to cope with salt water immersion and wave action. They are adapted to the low oxygen conditions of waterlogged mud.

The term « mangrove » came from Portuguese through Spanish to English and is likely to originate from the Amerindian language Guaraní. It was earlier « mangrow » (from Portuguese mangue), but this word was corrupted via folk etymology influence of the word « grove ».

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Why do I write about mangroves in a blog that is about culture? Because humans depend on mangrove forests and the culture of the people in regions where these forests are native is influenced by this ecosystem. Magrove forests are endangered by shrimp farming (especially in Asia, but also in Latin America), by oil pollution (Panama, Persian Gulf, Niger delta) and by draining of mangrove areas for housing development on the coasts.


Protecting the mangrove ecosystem is not only necessary regarding the climate change. There are much more reasons to preserve it. Mangrove swamps protect coastal areas from erosion, storm surge (especially during hurricanes) and tsunamis. Also, the unique ecosystem found in the intricate mesh of mangrove roots offers a quiet marine region for young organisms. In areas where roots are permanently submerged, the organisms they host include algae, barnacles, oysters, sponges and bryozoans, which all require a hard surface for anchoring while they filter feed. Shrimps and mud lobsters use the muddy bottoms as their home. Mangrove crabs munch on the mangrove leaves, adding nutritients to the mangal muds for other bottom feeders. And what about the people who live on mangrove forest coasts? They use the wood as firewood and for charcoal or tanning agents making. It is also proved that coast fishing decreased dramatically where mangroves were deforested extensively. All that shows that deforesting destroys the traditional way of life of many local people.

Efforts to restore the mangroves are made for example in Vietnam, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Despite these efforts the destruction of mangroves continues in many regions.


Munich – New Town Hall and Maypole

Munich (German: München) is the capital of the German region Bavaria (Bayern). With 1,5 million inhabitants, Munich is the 3rd biggest city of Germany (after Berlin and Hamburg). Munich is known especially for its famous Oktoberfest. Two other emblems are the New Town Hall and the Maypole at the Viktualienmarkt.

New Town Hall Munich 2

The New Town Hall of Munich is domicile of the municipality of the city since 1874. Georg von Hauberrisser built it from 1867 to 1908 in a Gothic Revival architecture style. The main facade is richly decorated with frescos of saints and folklike figures. The main tower has a height of 85 m and is available for visitors with an elevator. On the top thrones the Münchner Kindl, Munich’s emblem. The carillon of the tower is the fifth-largest in Europe. An apparatus can perform 4 different melodies with 43 bells.

May Pole Munich

The Maypole is the center of the Viktualienmarkt, a permanent grocery market in the Old Town of Munich. The origin of erecting a maypole (Maibaum) mostly on May 1 is a tradition in some Germanophone regions and goes back to the 16th century. In Bavaria, the pole is usually painted in the Bavarian colours of white and blue and decorated with emblems depicting local crafts and industry. The maypole of the Viktualienmarkt is sponsored by the Association of Munich’s Breweries.

German food tradition on New Year’s Eve

« What will your family eat on Christmas? » is an often asked question in decembers. But what do people eat on New Year’s Eve? My family would answer the same as many other Germans, too: carp.

The tradition of eating carp on Christmas or New Year’s Eve is very common in many parts of Germany as same as in Bohemia (Czech Republic) and Austria. But why having carp on New Year’s Eve? The answer is simple: the popular belief is that a carp scale or a chondral-like part of the fishbone would bring luck and money in the new year when you put it in your wallet.


Carp breeding is very common in Germany, Poland, Bohemia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia,  Hungary and many Asian regions. In Germany, we buy the carp directly from the breeder. When the carp was bred in a muddy lake like in the lake of Moritzburg Castle, people keep the carp alive for a couple of days before slaughtering it. They put the living carp in a tub with fresh and clean water, so the carp cleans its gills from mud and other substances that would make the fish tasting earthy and strawy. These days of waiting give kids the opportunity to observe and fondle the fish… When you buy carp from clean lakes, like a gravel pit, it can be slaughtered directly by the breeder.


There are different ways of preparing carp. My family puts the whole fish with vegetables in the oven. It’s delicious.


Hamburg city beach in the early morning

This morning, I got up at 5 a.m. in order to spend the early morning at Hamburg’s city beach at Elbe River. One of my favorite scenes in my novel will play at that same beach in an early April morning. The weather played along, because it rained as it does very often here.


It was still dark when I arrived by ferry at Övelgönne-Neumühlen. Only one other person left the ferry with me. Two people were waiting at the bus station, but apart of them, I was alone. I made my way along Övelgönne to the beach, but as it was still dark, I was to scared to walk on the beach, so I looked for a refuge. Except of a raised bush there was nothing. After ten minutes under that drippy bush, I decided to go back to the port Neumühlen where I found a station refuge right on the waterfront. I sat down and tried to forget the fact that my winter coat is not waterproofed. I watched the huge Hamburg Süd container ship in front of me and several other giants that passed in front of me. My hometown Riesa is located on the Elbe bank, too, and it’s always relaxing and peaceful watching the river. But this morning, it was impressing watching those gigantic ships passing me in addition. I opened my notebook and started to write the scene I had in my mind. The cold was forgotten.


After a while, I realized that the dark was gone and the still hiding sun was already lightening the morning. I put away my notebook and walked to the beach. On my way, some joggers passed me, but the beach was still empty. No wind, still a bit drizzle and small waves. I watched the Hamburg Süd container ship on the other river side getting unloaded. No other ship passed, so I became a bit bored. Where should my scene happen? Right here or further down the beach? What is Anna thinking while she stands here? Is she still lost in thought or already angry? Two dogs played around my legs and I decided to walk along the beach to get a better idea of the setting. I found the perfect place for the main part of my scene and made my way back and to the center of Ottensen.

Now, I’m chilling in a nice café in the heart of Ottensen, having a delicious vegan breakfast (I am allergic to dairy). After posting that blog post, I will write the whole scene that took shape in my head this morning on Hamburg’s city beach.

Louise Lecavalier – Ikon of contemporary dance

Impressing and outstanding. Different and unique. Particular and herself. These are some words that come in my mind when I think of Louise Lecavalier who I was honored to see dancing on Friday night in the European Center of Arts Dresden « Hellerau ». How can a person have so much energy, express her story by an incomparable sharing dance and amaze me so much, that I was not able to close my mouth during her 65 minutes of dance?


How did she do that? No, she did not change her clothes all 10 minutes from rocker to sexy to colorful. She didn’t use props or songs that everybody knows. No. What she did was dancing her own choreography with a story that was easy to understand only when you are able to forget everything you know from show dance where music, costumes and smiling or sad faces reveal very clearly the story. Forget about all that and watch her dancing. Look at the scene: a square dance flooring which spends very clear borders which are crossed by the dancers from time to time with no caution and no hurry, just very naturally. And then you see the high wall at the and of the square flooring. But Battleground doesn’t care about walls. The two dancers use it as a very normal part of the stage and roll themselves over the floor using the wall as a welcome and simple part during their move.

Dance Company : Fou Glorieux Title english : BATTLEGROUND Titre français: Mille Batailles Choreographer : Louise Lcavalier Dancers: Louise Lecavalier & Rob AbuboPhoto: André Cornellier

Dance Company : Fou Glorieux Title english : BATTLEGROUND Titre français: Mille Batailles Choreographer : Louise Lcavalier Dancers: Louise Lecavalier & Rob AbuboPhoto: André Cornellier

What I liked very much was the simple clothes of the three artists: the dancers Louise Lecavalier and Robert Abubo and the live DJ Antoine Berthiaume wore black. That helps to focus on the choreography, the incredible and fantastic light design show by Alain Lortie and great beat of the contemporary electronic live music – I should mention that Lecavalier’s dance company Fou glorieux (glorious madman) comes from Montreal – a capital for contemporary and nonstandard music. Montreal is a colorful, wild and open city with a very innovating art scene – and it is hometown and home of Louise Lecavalier.

Battleground_MilleBatailles_Katja Illner_1Photo: Katja Illner

Who is Louise Lecavalier? What should surprise everybody who saw her dancing is the fact that she was born in 1958. She grew up in Montreal in the Canadian Province Quebec. At the age of 15, she decided to become a dancer and became three years later part of the company Groupe Nouvelle Aire where she met the choreographer Édouard Lock. In 1981, they founded La La La Human Steps, travelled around the world with this dance company and became very popular. In 1990, Lecavalier played the leading female part in David Bowie’s music video Fame. In 2010, she was awarded the Order of Canada. Her first dance choreography So blue premiered in 2012 in Düsseldorf (Germany).  Battleground premiered this month in the same city and was inspired by Italo Calvino’s Il cavaliere inesistente (1959; The Nonexisting Knight). She still lives with her family in Montreal. As Montréalaise, she speaks French and English, but has also very good other language skills as for example in German.

Battleground_Mille_Batailles_Katja_Illner_5Photo: Katja Illner

Dance Company : Fou Glorieux Title english : BATTLEGROUND Titre français: Mille Batailles Choreographer : Louise Lcavalier Dancers: Louise Lecavalier & Rob AbuboPhoto: André Cornellier

Photo: André CornellierPhoto: André Cornellier

I was impressed by the dance style that was a bit provocative, but choreographed also with a lot of love for detail. The relationship between the two dancers is not comparable to anything else I have already seen: there was no forced romantic, no touches all along. They were a great team and developed romance in the respectful behavior towards each other. In the first quarter or third of the dance, Louise Lecavalier danced by herself. Then, Robert Abubo walked on her side in the square dance floor. Moves she had danced alone in the first part were later repeated together in a slightly amended version – it was wonderful to see that. One of my favorite parts was the farewell scene in the last five minutes which was still part of the dance; the dancers danced modified bows and imitated the coming backs on the stage – bowing – leaving – coming back – bowing etc. tradition – what I liked is that they did not dance it in a satirical comedian, but rather in a reflecting and unemotional way. I recommend everybody to watch a Louise Lecavalier choreography. It inspires you to break up with ordinariness.

Dance Company : Fou Glorieux Title english : BATTLEGROUND Titre français: Mille Batailles Choreographer : Louise Lcavalier Dancers: Louise Lecavalier & Rob AbuboPhoto: André Cornellier

Many thanks to the Government Representative Office of Québec and the European Center of Arts Dresden « Hellerau » for the invitation to that wonderful evening with the artists Louise Lecavalier, Robert Abubo and Antoine Berthiaume.

(Titelfoto: Louise Lecavalier | ©André Cornellier)

Cabarete (Dominican Republic)

Cabarete is a village on the North coast of the Dominican Republic. It was founded in 1835 by Zephaniah Kingsley and his mixed-race family (he practiced polygamy and married four black women), and 53 slaves he freed from his Florida plantations.

In 1984, a Canadian wind surfer discovered Cabarete as an exceptional hot spot for wind surfing. Subsequently, the outstanding surf conditions of the bay of the until that unimportant fishing village was promoted in surfer magazines in Canada and the USA, and today, Cabarete is one of the most popular surfer beaches in the world for kitesurfing and windsurfing.

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Bryant Park in New York City

As I come from a small town in Germany, huge cities like New York stress me after some days. My favorite NYC places to relax are Central Park and the High Line. But when you’re walking in the Time Square area and you need a break, go to Bryant Park. There are benches, and in summer you can sit on the grass and enjoy a green spot in the center of rush.


In 1686, when the area was still a wilderness, New York’s colonial governor at that time designated the area as a public space. George Washington’s troops crossed the area while retreating from the Battle of Long Island in 1776. Beginning in 1823, the future park was designated a graveyard for the poor and remained so until 1840, when thousands of bodies were moved to Wards Island.


The first park at this site opened in 1847 as Reservoir Square. It was named after its neighbor, the Croton Distributing Reservoir. In 1853, the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations took place in the park. The square was used for military drills during the American Civil War. In 1884, Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park, to honor the New York Evening Post editor and abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. In 1899, the Reservoir structure was removed and construction of the New York Public Library building began. Terrace gardens, public facilities, and kiosks were added to the park.


Bryant Park is located in Midtown Manhattan between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. The Main Branch of the New York Public Library forms the park’s functional eastern boundary. Bryant Park is located entirely over an underground structure that houses the library’s stacks, which were built in the 1980s when the park was closed to the public and excavated; the new library facilities were built below ground level while the park was restored above it. Since 1980, the park is managed by the private not-for-profit corporation Bryant Park Corporation.


Numerous events are hosted on the Great Lawn at Bryant Park, for example the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival and free musical performances. The park has a chess concession at the west end that offers chess boards and lessons. There is also a court for practitioners of the French game Pétanque, and two ping pong tables. Also popular are free classes in juggling, yoga, tai chi and knitting. Since its restoration, Bryant Park has become a favored setting for movies, like Ghostbusters (1984) or Sex and the city (2008). In December, you can go to The Holiday Shops, modeled on Europe’s Christkindlmarkt, and buy crafts and commercial merchandise from vendors. In Winter, there is also a free-admission ice skating rink that instantly became a fixture in the Manhattan holiday scene.


For me, it was a great place to relax before walking around Times Square and visiting the beautiful New York Publish Library. I recommend to buy your lunch nearby and to eat in the park laying on the grass as many real New Yorkers do it during their lunch break.


Leipzig – A city with book tradition

Leipzig (Germany) was once one of the major European centers of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing and plays still an important role in these fields. How did this happen and which role does the Leipzig Trade Fair plays in this development?


In the Middle Ages, Leipzig was the intersection of two very important trade roads of the Holy Roman Empire in Europe: Via Regia (from East to West) and Via Imperii (from North to South). Being located on this spot, Leipzig got endowed with city and market privileges in 1165 and opened its Trade Fair, an event of international importance. In 1409, the « Alma Mater Lipsiensis » – the University of Leipzig – was founded as one of the first universities in Germany. In 1497, Leipzig received the title of Imperial Trade Fair and by that the monopoly for regional and long-distance trading. The city evolved from a regional trade place into an international trade fair site and played an important role especially in the East-West-trading. The Leipzig Trade Fair is the oldest remaining trade fair in the world.


The inhabitants of Leipzig – characterized by the twice yearly trade fairs – were « through acquaintances and contact with the world and its inhabitants […] more cultured and enlightened than those in other German trading cities » (Johann Gottfried Langermann, 1794).


The world’s first daily newspaper appeared in Leipzig in 1650. In the 18th century, the city became the center for instructive journalism, alongside scientific journals there were also literary criticism and periodicals for women and children. In 1780, there was one writer for every 170 inhabitants in Leipzig (in Berlin it was 1:675). Censorship was in the hands of the City Council and the university and was therefore liberal. Without being hindered by the mandatory membership of a guild, as was the case elsewhere, publishers were able to control type foundries, printing works, book binding, publishing and the book trade, which led to the location of a large number of publishing houses in Leipzig.


The free intellectual atmosphere made Leipzig the commercial book trade center of Germany, which had already surpassed the Frankfurt Book Fair in importance in the 17th century. It was only in 1945 when Frankfurt was able to take back the leading role as German book trade metropolis. Today, Leipzig is the second largest book fair in Germany and continues to grow every year since the unification of Germany in 1990. Welcoming 186,000 book fair visitors in 2015, last week (from March 17th to 20, 2016) there were 195,000 visitors.


Why do so many people – professionals and consumers – come to the Leipzig Book Fair? What does Leipzig differ from Frankfurt? It’s the new profile. Today, the fair in Leipzig aims to be for the public, above all, and to emphasize the relationship between the authors and the fair’s visitors through readings. The new orientation is necessary to compete with Frankfurt Book Fair, which sees a much larger volume of industry trading. During the four-day fair Leipzig hosts over 1,800 events both in the city (see picture above) and at the fairgrounds, making it the largest events of its kind in Europe. The Leipzig Fair was one of the first to recognize the growing market for audiobooks and incorporate this trend into its concept. Hélia Correia, one of the most important Portuguese authors, told us in an interview that she usually does not accept invitations to book fairs because she doesn’t like the blatant advertising of the books; but she got told that the book fair in Leipzig was different, with a strong concentration on the texts and the readers, so she accepted to come to Leipzig and was happy about this decision because here she got the confirmation that it was true.

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Another very important part of the new Leipzig Book Fair is the Manga-Comic-Convention, the first event of the year for lovers of comics, manga, cosplay, Japan and games. The trade fairground provides an own hall for this event, but you can see the cosplayers everywhere. Cosplayers are mostly teenagers who wear costumes and act to represent a character of manga and anime, comic books and cartoons and video games as closely as possible to the original. This tradition comes from Japan.


I had a great time on the fairground, even though it was tiring to walk through the mass of visitors. But the thousands and thousands of books from small and big publishers and the great readings from German and international authors compensated the stress in a wonderful way.

Und für alle, die dem Deutschen mächtig sind und mal lesen wollen, wie die Messe für den deutschen Autoren André Herrmann war (lebt in Brüssel), kann seinen sehr empfehlenswerten Blogartikel dazu lesen.