Thursday, 25 January 2018

Interlude ~ The Festival of Lights

Now that I am back home, I get to enjoy the holiday season together with my friends a family, because…


Ah yes, winter in Europe is truly a marvel to behold. As the day grows shorter, layers of snow drape the countryside and cities alike in a pure white garment, and the annual Christmas markets pop illuminate the roads at night as the festival approaches.


…or at the very least that’s how it would have been a few decades ago, but with global warming in top shape, Munich has been seeing less and less snow every year.


As a result, a visit to the Christmas markets of Germany these days looks more like this:


However, this year I’m lucky, and we do still get a few precious snow days. That makes this the first time in almost two years that I’ve seen snow up close, and hear its soft crunch beneath my feet (also, driving a bicycle through snow is loads of fun once you get the hang of it =^,^= ).


But alas, the snow does not last long against these temperatures…


…and soon the world is grey again.


Whoops, that would take us straight to Sylvester. But one thing after the other. For starters, let us begin with…

A Landride to Leipzig


For years now, my godmother Babsi invited my father and me to join them for their Christmas Party in Leipzig. Unfortunately, that’s quite a journey to undertake just for a single-day event. Yet, now that I’ve travelled halfway around the world and back, and travelled an entire country on my own, these local distances have been put into perspective, and so my father and I finally take them up on their offer and one Saturday embark on an about 500 km long journey that takes us halfway through Germany.


Since Germany has an excellent train system (at least by comparison with New Zealand), we immediately agree to go by train. Fortunately, a new high speed line has just recently finished construction, and so we can cover that entire distance in only a little over three hours. Even going by plane would not be significantly faster if you factor in the time to get to the airport, checking in and then waiting for your luggage. Also, this way we get to enjoy the beautiful scenery up close, and even get to see some snow as we pass through the mountains of the Thuringian Forest.



Oh, by the way, in an amazing coincidence, one of Germany’s major transit methods is the InterCity. However, unlike in New Zealand, where those are buses, InterCity refers to trains here in Germany. We are going by InterCityExpress – or ICE for short – which are Germany’s fastest trains which can go as fast as 320 km/h. Go much faster than that, and you’d have to worry about avoiding liftoff!


After a journey of little over 3 hours, we arrive in Leipzig, the central station of which is one of the grandest in all of Germany, possibly even all of Europe, almost resembling a majestic palace.


Since we still have some time before the party, we go for a leisurely evening stroll through the city of Leipzig and check out the Christmas market.


…that’s where “leisurely” ends, because the streets are crowded with approximately twice the city’s total population, and we have to somehow make our way through the throng.


And yet, we still get to take in some of the sights, such as the grand Nicholai’s Church near the city centre.


Afterwards, we join my Godmother Babsi, her husband Josef and their daughter Franziska at their party, and we are hardly the only guests. Altogether, over 60 people convene at this private party that happens a week before Christmas, and even though Babsi and Josef have quite a spacious apartment indeed, the place quickly starts to resemble the Christmas market from earlier. Must be a Leipzig thing.


Apart from all the people, this place is also populated by a piano full of pigs…


…as well as a randy little doggie.


And on top of all of that, there’s even a band of sorts. It’s really quite the event.



Eventually, however, it is time for us to leave. For that purpose, we have rented a small apartment in a nearby building. It’s right next to one of the city’s big tram lines, and every few minutes, you can feel a tram going by.


Oh, and speaking of trams, the some of the trams here sport a peculiar combination of old and new wagons.


Nonetheless, we awake well rested the next morning, and I start the day by taking my father on a lovely little Geocaching Tour around Leipzig.


Along the way, we pass by the mighty city harbour of Leipzig…


…and pass by the artfully designed open-air pool, where a bunch of foxes are presently trying to abduct a freaking whale.


And naturally, there are Geocaches to grab. In fact, my father quite literally catches me in the act.


Shortly after that, we cross the bridge across the mighty Elsterbecken (Magpie Basin), an artificial lake of sorts that was created to contain the effects of flooding in the area after the historic flood of 1909. Its construction was somehow impeded by the occurrence of World War I, and so it was only completed in 1925. Today, not even a century later, the Elsterbecken faces sedimentation issues. Originally planned at a modest depth of 1.50 m, the basin nowadays is barely half as deep in parts, and plans exist to dig a new bypass river and have the Elsterbecken repurposed into a proper lake and flood basin.


Incidentally, I take note that similar to Poseidon’s personal driveway, which I came across back in Auckland (See Book I ~ Final Chapter ~ The Tail of the Tale), this seems to be the location of Poseidon’s personal tram stop. My bet is that it’s probably called “Atlantis West” or “Hy-Brasil” or something.


Near the basin, we also come across mysterious structures that line the basin on either side in irregular intervals. Neither I nor my father nor my godmother can guess what their purpose might be. Can you figure it out?


Our stroll ends near the Red Bull Arena. The site of this place was once a magalomanically humongous Third Reich stadium that fell into a state of disrepair after World War II. Recently, however, Red Bull has sponsored a new stadium to be built inside the remnants of the old stadium, giving the place a most curious structure.


Funnily, one of the parts of the old stadium that remain up to this day is the macabrely-named Soulbinder-Tower.


Afterwards, we take one of the odd old new trams…


…and ride it to the odd old new city centre…


…where we go into the oddest restaurant…


…with odd old washbasins…


…and have a not-so-odd burger meal.


However, the coffee my father orders afterwards definitely falls back into the “odd” category (also, since I didn’t order one, we even ordered an odd number of coffees).


After that, our stay in Leipzig draws to a close, and we return to the truly marvellously big central station, where we await the ICE that will take us back home to Munich.


We Wish You a Foxy Christmas…


It’s the week of the Festival of Lights, and for me that means: It’s time to bake some Christmas Cookies!


The ingredients are quite simple. All you need is some flour, eggs, sugar, butter, baking powder, vanilla sugar and lemon aroma for the dough, as well as icing sugar and sprinkles for the icing. In addition, this year I’m trying out some experimental decorations featuring cinnamon and un-iced icing sugar.


But the most integral assets are no doubt the cookie cutters. Looking at my selection, I notice that I do seem to have quite an array of vulpines among other beasts. One might even assume that people just keep giving those to me!


And just like that, I get ready to dish out tray after tray of delicious Christmas cookies…


…and then glaze them with a variety of tasty toppings.


With a plate of tasty Christmas Cookies on display, the Festival is all set to begin.


Well, actually. Not quite. There is yet one thing to be done: Decorating the Tree of Light...


…using my family’s vast supplies of decorations.


I don’t know exactly when it started, but setting up the decorations for the Festival of Lights has probably been my job for decades by now. Those also include a small crib beneath the tree.


At night, we then have a traditional dinner of WeiƟwurscht and Bretzen with Senf…


…and then it’s time to illuminate the candles on our amazing revolving tree, which is also outfitted with a music box. This unique custom-made contraption has been owned by my family longer than I’ve been around, and the Festival simply wouldn’t be the same without it.



By the way, “we”, that includes my father Peter, his Girlfriend Doro, and her dog Sunny, a little Franzuskaya Bolonka.


As usual, we wrap up the Festival with some punch (alcohol free for me), and the traditional exchange of presents, before letting the evening slowly fade out.


…and a Fiery New Year!


Next up is my favourite time of the year, and one that I’ve missed dearly during both of the two times I’ve been abroad so far (once in the USA in 2004, and the other time in New Zealand in 2016).


It’s on the day of Sylvester that my best friends and I congregate at the Fox Den, each with his personal stack of explosives, and we assemble it all together to create a mighty arsenal. Meanwhile, my father and his girlfriend (and her dog) have retreated into the Jachenau, a peaceful municipality to the south of Munich, near the border to Austria – their personal traditional retreat for this time of the year – leaving the apartment to me and my friends.


But before we proceed to set it off, we have a delightful day of board games ahead of us. Those that have assembled on this day are, from left to right, Peter, a relatively recent addition and an avid board gamer, Robert, a Software Consultant and PhD of Chemistry, as well as my very best friend whom I’ve met almost 20 years ago in a class of gifted children, and Stephan, the very archetype of a scatter-brained artist and possibly crazy inventor whom I’ve met during my time in university.


That evening, we have our traditional Sylvester raclette, where we melt various combinations of cheese, and combine them with grilled mushrooms, bacon and shrimps.


And then, the time has come. As 2017 finally runs out, my friends and I proceed outside to set the skies ablaze. Once again, due to our incredible arsenal, we manage to keep shooting for a full two hours, easily outlasting the entire neighbourhood (particularly those twits that illegally started setting of their fireworks four to five hours early). Notably, this should also be the year where Peter's Pyro-Petarde (Patent Pending) almost set an enemy balcony on fire. By now, one of those mishaps is pretty much standard in our Sylvester Fireworks. In past years, we already had the Siggy Stray-Shot Battery, Robert's Rocket Roulette® as well as Kira's Kaos Karoussel. Fortunately, despite everything, we all managed to obey Rule #1 for yet another year.



The next morning, it’s clean-up time. I’m actually one of the few people in the entire neighbourhood to personally clean up their Sylvester mess, but I think that’s just the right thing to do. Also, after all the things I did in New Zealand, cleaning up for half an hour the next morning is nothing! Cleaning up the big bits is always easy enough, however, getting all the small fragments scattered through the grass can be quite tedious indeed.


Munich ~ Fox at Work


This is only going to be a short chapter, but I figured I’d at least mention it for Arky’s sake. Finding a job isn’t exactly easy here in Germany, especially for such a short time. However, after a lot of back and forth, I managed to find something nice. From a cute little office in the inner city of Munich, overlooking a little courtyard that actually looks quite picturesque on those few precious snowy days…


…I work for a company by the name of NetFira. The atmosphere there is really nice, especially when put into direct contrast with my last employer (you know, the one with the million of African equids united by their distinctive black and white striped coats). In fact, on some days I have the entire office to myself, and on others I can even work from my home office, giving me more time to invest into my projects, such as the Chronicles of Ceal or this very blog. By the way, if there are any able programmers reading this, we’re still hiring!


The work is quite tricky, and I have to deal mostly with stuff I never touched before and where most people would have to study for a couple of years to get it. Fortunately, I’m a fox, and so I’m good at improvising and adapting if at nothing else. Within the time frame of two months, I’ve learned to use PowerShell, Octopus Deploy, TeamCity, MSSQL, Visual Basic, AdvancedInstaller, VMWare, and created an automatic installer that literally installs everything but the kitchen sink. I was a bit nervous about it at first, thinking I might have bitten more than I could chew, but I managed to bite my way through it anyway. And now, as my contract with NetFira comes to a close, I am told with delight that I have managed to impress them with my vulpine prowess, and that they would like to keep me employed as a freelancer during my next big adventure. Of course, that’s a big load of my shoulders, since it’ll mean I won’t have to worry too much about not finding a job very quickly if I can just take on assignments from NetFira whenever I have some extra time to spare. So yay! I’m happy and grateful that things turned out this way. =^,^=

One Last Ride


The winter has been a massive let-down this year. However, the lack of snow also has its good sides: For one, I can indulge in the bicycling-mania which I’ve developed back in New Zealand and ride my bike pretty much everywhere, be it to work, to board game meetings, or just to go shopping. The final of those cycling tours is when I decide to ride my bike to a day-long board game meeting in the district of Harthof on January 5th in the morning, and back again in the dead of night.


First off, here’s why I like living in this part of Munich so much, not even five minutes from where I live, the residential areas look like this, in the middle of the biggest city of Bavaria!


Since I took off with some time to spare, I naturally go after some Geocaches along the way. One of them leads me to an old, abandoned train station near the Olympia Park. Back when the Olympic games were hosted in Munich back in 1972, this was one of the main public transit access ways to the stadium, along with the recently completed subway. However, it has been deprecated ever since, and nature has long reclaimed the platform.


Naturally, that means I’m not far from the Olympia Park with its trademark the Olympic Tower and the sweeping canopies of acrylic glass stabilized by a rigging of metal ropes. This amazing construction was ground-breaking and futuristic at the time, and is still a landmark of Munich op to this very day.


That corner of Munich has quite a few architectonical curiosities. For example, just a short was further, there’s the unique BMW tower and museum…


…and who ever said that there aren’t any queer murals to be found in Germany (although, to be fair, the amount of murals in public spaces in New Zealand easily exceeds that of Germany by a whole order of magnitude).


By the way, I believe I already mentioned this a few chapters back, but Munich is a city with lots of greenery, not unlike the cities of New Zealand, and there are many strips of parks that make cycling here quite a pleasure.


My final challenge before arriving in Harthof is a tricky cache hidden up a tree. Without my claws, climbing up there isn’t quite as easy, and I pretty much reach my limit. But in the end, I succeed, and the cache hidden at a height of 5m is mine!


And then, I arrive at a cosy little community centre in Harthof…


…where I get to enjoy the rest of the day playing all sorts board games with fellow geeks before finally cycling back home in the dead of night.


The Road Ahead


By now, the time of my next great adventure is rapidly approaching. Little longer than a week from now, I am going to board the plane headed east for adventure again. The place I’m headed for actually has quite a few things in common with New Zealand. It is an island nation composed of multiple islands at the western end of the Pacific Ocean, and it is frequented by earth quakes. Also, like New Zealand, it is a mountainous country, and the majority of its land is covered with forests. Its language even shares the same roots as that of the Maori. However, that is where the similarities end, because culturally, the two countries are almost polar opposites. I wonder how I’ll fare over there.


But I’ve kept you guessing for long enough now. Some of you may already have figured it out by now, some might have heard it either from myself or from the grapes, and some might have seen it coming from way over there. My next destination is the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan. It’s the land where my kind are revered as messengers of the goddess of rice and prosperity, O-Inari-Sama, in the animistic local religion of Shinto, and a veritable jewel box of tales of mischievous fox spirits. I’ve been fascinated with this place ever since my Awakening, and have learned Japanese for several years, hoping to one day go there. My first attempt during my time in college was thwarted by an unfortunate nuclear reactor meltdown near the Island of Luck, but this time around, I’m going for sure.


This is the last time I’ll be able to make a working holiday like this. You can only get a Visa until you’re 30 years of age, and I’ve passed that milestone last October. Fortunately, the Visa is valid for a full year, and allows me to work in Japan for up to one year starting from the day of my arrival. But speaking of which, getting the Visa was already a major pain in the tail. Unlike for New Zealand, where I was able to get the visa in 15 minutes flat using an uncomplicated and streamlined online procedure, for Japan, I had to prepare a whole stack of documents, including travelling insurance, flight tickets, a letter of motivation, and a detailed travelling plan. Then, I had to go to the Japanese General Consulate with all of that, drop off my documents, wait for a full week, and then return to find out if my Visa had even been granted. Mind you I had to buy tickets and an insurance before that. Fortunately, they gave me little trouble, and I was able to procure a valid Work and travel Visa with only about an order of magnitude more of an effort than it took for New Zealand.


Now, all that’s left is to pack my bags, and then it’s off to adventure again! Naturally, I’m a bit nervous. Scared, even. But New Zealand worked out, so I’m sure I’ll be fine in Japan too. To a point, it even feels like my year in New Zealand has given me the courage to finally pull through with this.

What sorts of exciting events will I experience there? We are just about to find out! So stay tuned, and look forward to the soon-to-be published first issue of…