Wann sag ich wieder mein und meine alle?

Berlin, 9 november 1989.
A huge crowd of agitated citizens gathers at the wall which splits their country in two parts. A physical wall, seperating loved ones, family, friendships. An idealistic wall, dividing two political systems, two utterly different beliefs in how to cope with a society and all its problems. A symbolic wall, representing fear and misunderstanding.
The people scream, push and try to climb the ‘Mauer’ in a struggle for unity. The guards – and they too, have a voice- totally overwhelmed by the mass, hesitate and at last, cannot hold back the mass.
There falls the wall. The physical wall. The temporary wall.

Facebook, 9 november 2016.
An invisible wall divides the country across the sea. It is invisible but can be felt by every single person. It is a wall that stretches across the ocean, pushes forward across the internet into peoples bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens. It grows into people’s hearts. We built it. And are still building it.

All Roads Lead to…

I left Essen a week ago…

Thinking back feels weird.
I cannot describe how I felt on sunday, when arriving here in Brussels… It was like a million years had passed during the car trip from Essen to Brussels, as if I was thrown into a completely different world and my time in Essen had only existed in a dream.

Hmm.. I guess the lack of sleep also played a major role in how I felt ^^

Still miss it every day, but I adapted to the life here in Brussels more quickly than I thought I would.

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Bruxelles, ma belle, ik heb je toch wel gemist…

 

Maybe it’s because I missed my lovely friends here in Brussels and I was glad to see them back, maybe it’s because I have loads of work to do, maybe it’s because I went home and spent some time with my family…
Most probably it’s because the most crazy friend I’ve ever met visited me on wednesday. Vino’s visit didn’t only cheer me up, it showed me that the world is still as small as it was in Essen, that there are many ways to keep contact with the people you love and that all roads lead to…

Friendship 🙂

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I want to say thank you to everyone who joined me on my Erasmus journey: Thank you to my friends in Essen, to my friends and family who waited patiently for my return and to you, my readers, for letting me share my important and less important experiences.

This is the last article of this blog, but certainly not the last one I’ll ever write.

Keep dreaming, keep making friends, travelling, talking, reading, writing, dancing,…
and most importantly, don’t forget to share your dinner table every now and then: you never know who will come and join you.

x Lien

Young Birds in Stormy Weather

Someone once told me:

“Only when we discover other life outside our planet, we will feel connected to the other inhabitants of our world. Only then we will identify with our fellow ‘earthlings’.”

Is that true?
Do we construct our identity solely in opposition to others?

There is a certain logic in this statement.

I only knew what it feels like to be Belgian when I met someone from another country for the very first time.  I could compare my identity as a Belgian with that of someone else. It became clear what it means to share a geographical region, a government (well, six governments in our case. But that’s a different story), certain habits and ideas, a common history. Therefore all of a sudden I saw the connection with other Belgians in a whole new light. I found out that people can have other ideas about the world than the ones I was used to, things that I had taken for granted were suddenly questioned.

The more people I met the more clearly my identity was shaped. I felt ‘Belgian’, but also ‘Hasselaar‘, ‘Vlaming‘, Western European citizen, European citizen, ‘Brusselaar‘, ‘Limburger‘…
And all these labels indeed referred to differences with other groups and a sense of community within a group. So in a certain sense, yes, my identity is shaped in opposition to others.

But hey, let’s put things in perspective.

Searching for identity also means to define and redefine these labels, because that is what they are after all.
Labels.
Names that we gave to concepts in order to understand them.

I never labelled myself as an ‘earthling’, because indeed, there is no need to in reference to other life.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t identify as one. Here on Erasmus I met people from all over the world -from Sri Lanka to Italy to Bolivia- and I learned that we resemble one another more than can be seen at the first glance. I never felt a stronger connection to people from other cultures than now.

We are all young people, open to other cultures, open to get to know the world. Let’s try not to forget this once we are out of this dream-like Erasmus bubble and re-enter the ‘real world’.

Let’s get a little sentimental (I am allowed to, it’s almost the end of my Erasmus!)
I love you, my fellow earthlings… 🙂

 

credits: cover photo Lotte Stockmans

Wanderlust – Interview with Oskar Schuster

There is no word that describes the urgent desire to explore, to travel, to see the world better than the German word ‘Wanderlust’.

IMG_1821My path has led me to Berlin, where I am meeting a very inspiring person for my first interview ever. His name is Oskar Schuster, a young German composer with a warm character and a soft voice.

It is cold when I arrive in Berlin, the snow gives every street a touch of magic. It makes me think of Oskar’s album Sneeuwland (snowland), which I discovered by chance when listening to piano music on youtube.
At first I thought the composer was a Belgian or a Dutchman, because of the Dutch title, but I was quite surprised to find out that I was mistaken. It made me IMG_1895curious to know more about the artist, so I sent him an e-mail and he invited me to come to Berlin.

I am excited and a little nervous the moment I press the doorbell with the name ‘Schuster’. An old wooden staircase leads the way up to the second floor, where Oskar welcomes me in his little appartment.
In the small hallway I am invited to take off my shoes. The wooden floor creaks at some places, the ceilings are very high. Two colourful paintings -art works from his mother, as he tells me later on- contribute to the cosiness of the place.
Apparently we are both a little shy.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

‘Yes, please.’

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I describe to him how I discovered his music and how I was intrigued by the fact that he had used a Dutch title for his album.

‘Why did you choose this title?’

‘A friend of mine from the Netherlands once told me that she has this imaginary place in her head where everything is quiet and pretty, where she can be at peace. She calls it sneeuwland. I really like this image and also the sound of the word.
Some people even think I am Icelandic, because I have quite some compositions with Icelandic titles. But I use a lot of other foreign languages too, such as French and Finnish.
The reason I do this is because most listeners are not familiar with these languages and I want my titles to leave space for imagination, I want them to pay attention to the sounds and the atmosphere it provokes rather than to search for meaning.’

‘Do you make the video clips that go with your music yourself?’

‘Not all pieces have a music video, but the once that do have, I edited myself. For Valtameri for example, I have used some stretches of little unlicensed IMG_1856films from the 60’s 70’s and 80’s that I put together in slow motion. For Damascus I worked together with a friend. It is a kind of stopmotion clip that I made with an analog camera.’

(scroll down for the links to these music videos! 😀 )

‘You are fairly fond of old things, aren’t you? Analog cameras, old pianos, a gramophone, we can even hear the sound of a typewriter in a couple of your songs. What is the charm of old stuff?’

He smiles when I ask him this question and takes a sip from his tea before answering.

‘I don’t know actually… My music is nostalgic. I want to provide a counterpart for the modern technology, for the modern things that always have to be perfect. I like to work with old things, because they have a soul, they allow you to make something imperfect, even magical in a certain way, because it doesn’t seem to belong in this world.’

A cat is mewing at the door to be let in. Kafka is the name. The silky grey cat walks into the room in a very elegant way and seats itself at our feet.
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‘Kafka is one of my great sources of inspiration. Many people only think about dark horror stories when they think about Kafka, but I often think his work is very humorous. His novels are so absurd, they provoke a dreamlike world and that’s what I use in my music.’

‘If you had to name one artist which influenced you the most, who would it be?’

‘That’s a difficult question to answer. I guess inspiration is the combination of many different experiences in life. I think I am influenced by a lot of artists, but probably the most direct influences in my music are Beirut and Yann Tiersen. But also Chopin, which I played a lot when I was 15, 16  years old and the Beatles have left a great impression on me.’

‘Would you like to play a little piece for me on one of your pianos please?’

‘Yes, of course. Which one would you like to hear?’

Matilda is one of my favourites.’

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‘In what way, according to you, can art “feed” us?’

‘There are many ways to approach the concept of art. I think that it is different for every one of us. For me personally, art is the way to express myself, to create something beautiful and meaningful. It represents a compensation for something that society couldn’t give: life can be very boring sometimes, that’s why you need music to add some magic. You could even call it a spiritual experience.’

‘Are you religious?’

‘Not in the traditional sense, but I believe in a kind of connecting energy. I think it is important to explain the world to yourself in some way, it doesn’t matter how, as long as you provide some explanation for yourself.’

‘How did you start your career?’

‘I studied musicology at the university of Munich and after that I applied at the university IMG_1869of arts in Berlin, but they did not accept me, because my music didn’t fit in. I don’t regret it, because I think it would have been too academic for me, my art is more a spontaneous expression.
In september 2011 I released my first album Dear Utopia, on which I had been working for two years. In 2014 my next album came out, called Sneeuwland. It is the album which I am most satisfied about. You can hear in my first album that I was still experimenting, searching for my style and I guess in Sneeuwland I have found my own sound. My last album Tristesse Téléscopique came out in september 2015.’

‘Can we expect some more art of you in the future?’

‘It is a dream of mine to once publish a novel actually! Next to music, I also love to write and draw, but for the moment I want to stay focussed on music. There is still inspiration left for a new album…’

‘I am very curious! I have got one last question for you: What is you favourite dish in the world? 😉 ‘

‘I am fond of the Vietnamese cuisine! Tofu, noodles, I love it.’

Eating Around the Globe: Germany

I know what you are thinking:

“Lien, you are on Erasmus in Germany! When are you finally going to write about the German cuisine?”
Well, your patience has been put to the test, but your waiting will be rewarded! Especially for you this article contains two recipes instead of one 😉 and I have some more good news for the sweet tooth amogst you:

Today I am baking German winter cookies with my wonderful buddy: Vanessa!

12405265_1086090121415195_1707645135_oI must say, the people who organize the Erasmus buddy pairs have done a great job in matching me to Vanessa. She is an amazingly caring person, who made me feel welcome in Essen even before I arrived. She’s funny, sweet, enthusiastic and a wonderfully talented painter.

Born in Germany to Chinese parents, she identifies strongly with both cultures.
Interesting to see how two cultures can be so divergent and yet they can learn so much from each other. For instance, one of the most important values in chinese culture is respect: respect to older people, respect to strangers… For exemple, when people don’t know each other very well or have just met, they IMG_1645tend to keep a certain distance in order to show each other respect. Keeping your distance has a fairly negative connotation in western culture, but in my opinion it is a use we have forgotten to appreciate. Keeping a certain distance gives the other person space. It allows us to get to know each other more slowly and not to judge too quickly.

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On the picture above: Vanessa with her mothers’ cooking chopsticks, one of the two unmissable tools in the Asian kitchen! (The other being a quite impressive, large chopping knife)

By the way, how do you like my house slippers? 😉

Vanessa is currently studying French and arts at the university of Essen to become a teacher. She can speak German, Mandarin Chinese, French, English and is also recently starting to learn Spanish!

She likes to teach me German expressions. Some are particularly funny! Thanks to Vanessa I know now that I was ‘built close to water’…

Ehmm.. what?

Yes, indeed. I was built close to water. Ich bin nahe am Wasser gebaut. This means that I am a sensitive person, who cries quickly when something sad or moving happens.

Or do you ever hear people having a conversation and you ‘only understand trainstation‘?
No?
Well, Germans do. Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof is an expression used when you cannot understand anything of what is being said.

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Or – to stay in the food metaphor – did you know that in Germany something can be ‘stewing in the gossip kitchen’? I don’t think this expression needs an explanation, the image speaks for itself 😉 Da brodelt die Gerüchteküche…

But we are busy in a different kind of kitchen today: We are baking two kinds of Weihnachtsgebäck  (christmas pastries) plätzchen and Zimtsterne. 
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The two of us are not very experienced bakers and on top of that I cannot eat gluten or milk, so we have to change some of the basic ingredients…

Be prepared 😉

As soon as we start baking, Vanessa puts on some christmas music and we don’t stop listening till we are finsihed! It’s all about the atmosphere 🙂

What you need for the Plätzchen:

  • 100 gr. Buckwheatmeal and 50 gr. oatmeal (or you can use 150 gr. of plain white flour)
  • 1 egg
  • 100 gr. coconut oil (or butter)
  • 30 gr. sugar and 30 gr. agave nectar (or 60 gr. sugar)
  • cinnamon
  • vanilla sugar (about 10 gr.)
  • lemon zeste

Mix all the ingredients togehter in a large mixing bowl. Let the dough rest in the fridge for about an hour. When you take it aout of the fridge, spread out your dough and flatten until approximately 0,5 centimeter. Use your favourite cookie moulds to shape the Plätzchen!

Bake them in a preheated oven of 200°c for 10-12 minutes.

The cookies turned out to be a little bit dry, so I suggest you use a little more of the coconut oil.

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For the Zimtsterne:

  • 250 gr. ground almonds
  • 150 gr. powdered sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • cinnamon

for the frosting:

  • 70 gr. of powdered sugar
  • 1 egg white

Whip the egg whites with the powdered sugar, then carefully add the ground almonds and the cinnamon. Spread the dough on a flat surface and roll it until it’s about a cenitmeter thick. Use star moulds to shap the cookies. And then you get these beautiful little stars!!!

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oww…

Well, that didn’t go according to plan…

Be sure to add enough ground almonds!  Just add some more of it when you see the dough is too soft, otherwise you’ll end up with these little monsters… hihi 🙂

Guten Appetit!

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Eating Around the Globe: Sri Lanka

 

“Traveling without a book is like cooking curry without spices”
Tell them I said so.

With Oliver Twist as my travel companion, I am taking the U-bahn to Vino’s student residence in ‘Margarethenhöhe’, a lovely neighbourhood in Essen. Lots of trees and an early 19th century architecture make it a very picturesque district.

I am so exciteIMG_1057d! He is going to show me how to cook chicken curry, one of my favourite dishes of all time.

Vino knows how to make people smile, whether it is by telling an anecdote from his endless list of crazy party stories or by taking care of his friends.
In the chaotic cosiness of his room, every object is in some way typical of his personality. A short list of items, just to give you an idea:

A massive Black Tea bag, which is actually a shopping bag with wheels.

An untuned guitar.

An impressive painting of two books playing chess. This was a birthday gift from a russian friend with whom he used to play. He couldn’t defeat Vino and therefore painted this in honour of his chess skills.

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IMG_1108Lots of candles!

And finally, ‘la pièce de résistence’: a fork, rendered completely unusable, because Vino and his flatmates use it to open their doors when they forget their keys inside…

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Vino was born and raised in Sri Lanka. Six years ago he came to Germany and is now studying biomedicine at the university of Duisburg-Essen.
His mother tongue is ‘Tamil’, a language belonging to the Dravidian family, mainly spoken by people from Sri Lanka, Singapore and the southern part of India. It has a fascinating script in which a consonant is always accompanied by a vowel in order to form a character. “The vowels are the soul of the character,” Vino says, “whereas the consonants represent the body. Without vowels, the consonants are dead.”

I guess it’s high time to begin cooking, because I can hear your stomach growling from all the way overhere 😉
Grab all spices you can find in your cupbord, let’s get started!

What you will need for 4 persons:

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– 2 onions
– 3 cloves of garlic
– a little piece of ginger
– 1 red pepper (paprika)
– 1 big tomato
– approximately 1 kilo of chicken meat
– coconut milk
– Rice
– the spices:
mustard grains
cumin grains
clove buds (2)
Madras curry powder
Chili powder
cinnamon powder
coriander powder
salt
– aromatic spices to cook with the rice:
clove buds (2)
black cardamom (1)
salt

This is how you prepare it:

Fry the spices in a little bit of coconut oil. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and paprika and give it a stir.
IMG_1090When this has all combined together into a nice curry paste, you can add in the chicken and fry until the skin has a nice golden brown colour. Then put in the tomatoes.
When these have become soft you can pour in the coconut milk.
While that is simmering away, you cook the rice together with the aromas in another pan.
Make sure the chicken is well cooked through, before you serve it.

Enjoy your savoury, lip-smacking curry!

நல்லா சாப்பிடுங்கோ. Nallah Saappidungo!

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