Archive for March, 2009


After I rush back from Ice swimming, I run into my room. Nearly everything I accumulated over the time of a year disappears one by one in big, black suitcases. Big, black suitcases with red buttons and red leather covers, red plastic lines defining the shape.

Yesterday I fulfilled my dream of further customizing my things – coloring the camera was part of a bigger project; everything that I have should look a specific way. On the airport, you’re never sure which suitcase is yours, because about ten people have similar ones, and by default, all of them are black. So, I took the suitcases out in the street, put them in the snow and sprayed parts of them red.

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I run to the Second Cup on the backside of the library building. The feeling inside is similar to the Starbucks atmosphere, and I come here often since it is a five minute walk from my house. Under my arm, I have an Austrian Specialties cookbook and a Poker book. I borrowed the latter one from the son of my boss, Jeshia. The Austrian cookbook is for Naomi, so she can feel connected with our wonderful Austrian way to eat – no Maple Syrup but a lot of Germknoedel, Schnitzel and Kasnocken. We talk for a while over two coffees. Then I hug Naomi and say goodbye to her.
She gave me so many chances and opportunities, and I am really thankful for it.

When I come back, I find a beautiful drawing on my suitcase, together with a small note:

“See you somewhere in the world. Keep Creative!!! -Yukkunn”

I am really moved by this present. I had a great time with my roommates in Montreal, nearly seven months – and now everything is over. It is the end of my service. It is my last day in Canada, and it’s the last day of February. Tomorrow, everything will be different. Everything will be new. Tomorrow will be another world.

When Yukkunn is about to leave for his Ju Jistu practice,  we say goodbye. We give each other a hug, and it is a good hug. I think, hugging is an important part of saying goodbye to a friend for a long time, regardless if it is a man or a woman. Michka left in the morning, and I hugged him too. During my year abroad i grew much more mature about the question of touching others – especially because I got fired for touching children’s shoulders.

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My room as I left it for the future roommate Polin, a Quebecoir girl.

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My last roommate Clement helps me with the heavy suitcases – and I have never had that much luggage: Two heavy suitcases, of which the bigger one has no extendable handle (so I have to walk hunchbacked to drag it on its rolls), a backpack full of books on which a bag with a photo reflector and a heavy book is mounted. Three bags of shoes and an 18″ laptop under my arm, not to forget about the camera dangling from my neck. I have no idea how I will manage to get around with all that luggage in the tight New York public transport system. Clement says goodbye – the last hug to my French roommates – and that was it. Montreal is history, for me, for now.
Would I have been born 50 years earlier, chances are high that I would never meet my roommates again. Nowadays, through technology I am connected with them for as long as the internet exists.

On the bus, I meet a woman who lives in Montreal and travels a lot through the US. Upon the question how she manages the travelling and work, she tells me that she is a massage therapist. I like this. The journey to New York will last about seven hours, so I give her a book to read: The Great Gatsby. In the meantime, I start reading a book as well. Lorena gave it to me for Christmas. It is called…

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Tuesdays with Morrie

by Mitch Albom

Morrie is an old University Professor, diagnosed with the deadly disease ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis gradually shuts down those nerves that control muscles; starting from the feet, going up to the lungs and head. Morrie is a dying man, giving life advice. (see nightline story)

It is, simply said, the best book I have ever read.

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As I continue talking to the woman on the opposite side of the aisle, we hear the bus driver shouting “DON’T TALK SO LOUD!”. We lower our voices, but five minutes later, “WHY DON’T YOU JUST SIT DOWN NEXT TO HER?!”. The bus driver is not a humorous man, so we both continue reading.

The final moment comes – the Canadian-American border. When it is my turn, I am shakingly nervous on the inside but very relaxed on the outside.
“Hello Sir”, I say.
“Ah .. mmmh ok, you have a tourist visa. What is your status in Canada? What are you planning to do in the U.S.? For how long? Where, with whom, when?”

After minutes of hoping, staring at my calm fingers and wishing to bite these nails, I get a tourist visa for three more months in the United States. I plan to stay for two months in Los Angeles, mainly because of Lorena, hopefully to find a job that sponsors me a proper visa. Now, I have a tourist visa to stay for two months. The first step is done.
I am so happy.
So happy that I have to take a really big shit.

When I return from the border patrol toilet, the bus driver is about to leave and I hop in as the last passenger, just in time. He would have left without me, would I have taken longer to wipe my buttocks. He really doesn’t like me, I think. I am too loud, have too heavy luggage, take too long dumps. Something must be wrong with me, so I continue reading.
Then the station comes where the woman has to get off the bus. “Thank you very much for lending it to me, I came halfway through”, she says and returns The Great Gatsby. She smiles. I look at the book.
It is a Christmas present from Lorena.
“Actually, I would like to give it to you. I hope you will enjoy it.”, I respond and give her the book. She smiles and gets off the bus.

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He believes his coins are worth lots of dollars

Two hours before New York, there is a bus check, so we have to get off and wait inside a station. I meet a guy from France who shows me proudly two huge gold coins he bought on flea markets in Europe. He believes they are worth much more than the initial selling price. When he leaves, I sit next to a guy who looks like a drug addict.
” ‘sup man”, he says with half closed eyes. “Hi.”
I find out that he did not sleep for 48 hours and worked very long. While we talk, his eyes close and he drops his iPod. Bunk.
He picks it up again, looks at me, says two sentences and falls asleep again.
After a couple of wake-ups and fall-asleeps he manages to tell me that he plans to go to South America with friends and a Van. Bunk.
“Where do you come from”, he asks.
“Austria.”
“Wasn’t it something like Austria-Hungary?”
“Yeah, before the first world war.”
“Ah. Yeah, right.” Bunk.
He’s a good guy.

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Arriving in New York City, I manage my luggage. I open the thick snowboard jacket, put the huge laptop inside and zip the jacket. The backpack on the back, the reflector and book dangling, three bags hanging from my hand, hunchbacked to drag both suitcases and carry them up and down stairs. I feel like a cripple. Sometimes people offer me help. I guess my luggage weighted altogether 50kg.


The public transport terminal of JFK airport

After about one and a half hours later of walking through Times Square, riding subways and squeezing myself and the luggage through the narrow tunnels of NYC’s subway stations, I arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport. It is three in the morning. I am not tired, have no desire to sleep. All I think about revolves around the girl that I am going to meet in the next airport. The whole time I feel my body is getting closer and closer to where my heart was for the last months. It is not a good idea to move to a new city while wishing to be somewhere else.
I moved to Montreal but wished all the time I would be with Lorena in Los Angeles.
Long-Distance relationships in general suck and can be painful. The reward for waiting so long, namely seeing each other again, is incredibly intense and unforgettable.

I walk to the men’s bathroom, put down all my stuff and start to undress myself. I change my clothes to the black, classy pants I wore when working as a tourguide in the Museum of Tolerance, and the blue shirt that Lorena chose for me. A black tie to finish off. When I walk out of the bathroom, small birds fly by and pick bread crumbs from the floor of the food court.

I check in my luggage at 5AM. 25$ fee because I have two suitcases. I put all my hand luggage on a bar table and walk to a McDonalds that is inside the Airport. “One big coke!”, I say while watching my luggage from the corner of my eyes. I have to pay and lose the luggage out of sight for a moment. The girl behind the counter gives me the Coke and I walk back to my stuff. No laptop.
FUCK, where is the laptop! I go through all my things, throw my snowboard jacket tpo the floor – nothing. No laptop. I look around. A guy in a suit eats maccaroni next to me. Maybe he saw something. In the corner, there is a security guard, he holds a laptop under his arm. My laptop.

“Never leave your stuff somewhere, sir. You are in New York city now. Take care.”, he says with a grin while giving the laptop back to me. I was so close to shit my pants.

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This year of doing my Holocaust Memorial Service was without question the best year of my life. I lived together with a paranoid scizophrenic in a gorgeous apartment overlooking Los Angeles. I worked in the Museum of Tolerance and made hundreds of students and adults reconsider their acceptance towards others. I worked with people four times as old as me and learnt that old people are the best teachers when it comes to life experience. I went to auditions and performed in small student plays and student movies. I had a serious car crash that could have ended much worse than it did. I met hundreds of genuinly unique people. I got fired while being an unpaid intern.
I met a girl that I love more than anything I know. I moved to Canada and travelled all over it. I lived on a couch for two months. I accumulated a perverted French vocabulary. I am Louis the XIV. I saw places rarely seen by human eyes before. I held presentations in high schools and colleges and taught these students about Austrias role in the Holocaust.
I found meaning in everything I did. Apart from having an open relationship with Lorena and hurting her with it, I have no regrets. I grew mature and am proud of keeping my childishness. I opened myself towards others and through that had more experiences than I could have ever imagined. I became part of other people’s life, became part of societies far from what I knew before.

It was a year of learning. Learning about the most precious thing: Life.

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At 11AM, I arrive in Los Angeles. I walk with my big bunch of hand luggage through a long corridor, ending in the arrival area that is open to the public. I sit down on a bench, put all my stuff next to me, covering the laptop and camera with the snowboard jacket. I take off my black tie and wrap it around my head, blindfolding myself.
It was the best year of my life. I am sitting on LAX, blindfolded, not seeing, not knowing what is going to come.

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The only thing I know is that this end is a new beginning.
-THE END-

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P.S.: Thank you, Mama and Papa, for making all this possible.

Stefan and another friend from Montreal invited me to an ice swimming event in Montreal. It would be the last event I’d attend in Montreal. So, at 1PM on Saturday, a group of couchsurfers meet Stefan and me on the Island St. Helene. Only three of us brought bathing clothes, the other ten “just wanted to watch” .. what a disappointing number of wussies and pussies.

After a little walk we arrive at a frozen lake in the middle of the island. A crowd of people is gathered around a hole in the ice. Three tents accompany the group and seem to be there for medical reasons. We pass two abulance cars, ten paramedics, two policemen on horses and a squad of about 20 policemen next to the hole. There are four divers in wetsuits sitting on the border of the hole and swing their legs in the water. Huge mascots stand on ice blocks which were cut out to create the water pool – they are at least half a meter thick. Some guy is holding a metal torch to symbolize the Olympic background of this event – it is a fundraiser for the Special Olympics in Montreal.

Fundraiser. That’s the part that made us doubt if we would participate – officially, you have to “donate” 50$ to jump in the water. We negotiate with the organizers, but no chance. Either you pay 50$, or you can just watch. Three people over fourty are holding hands and finally jump in the water. Everyone is cheering. They climb out of the water to make space for a fat man in a Hawaii shirt and an ugly hat.

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We decide that there’s a better way than to pay 50$ just to be supervised by a supersized police corp and medical assistance. “This river, over there!”, suggests Yan, the only guy manly enough apart from Stefan and me who brought swimming equipment. We go to the river “over there”, but instead of a river, we find a cover of deep snow – hard to show off swimming skills in there. The last possibility is the St. Laurent river, a large masss of floating water and ice that surrounds Montreal island. We get to the shore but encounter a five meter wide ice platform – not a safe place to jump in the powerful current and get out quickly enough to not freeze – oustide temperatures of -10° C combined with a water that is around 0° C can be pretty lethal.

At this point, I knew I had to return to downtown with the subway to say goodbye to my boss Naomi and catch my bus to New York city. Stefan, this hardcore Gedenkdiener and Yan, the hardline couchsurfer tough, took the brave bath. They went to the other side of the island and found a decent spot that allowed them to get into the river and out again. I couldn’t witness it myself, but this photo looks real:

My service is coming to an end, so it is time to admit a couple of things:

  • Altough my dandyish presence at golfing, I am still only into girls.
  • To be more precise, I am only into one girl: Lorena.
  • I wear long underwear combined with karate pants and jeans to fight the cold weather. Everything warmer than -13°C is for pussies, to be honest.
  • After a long phase of denial, I have to admit my addiction to maple syrup. In the last week it grew so extreme that I had a bottle standing in my room, constantly sipping out of it when entering or exiting my living space.

This addiction drove me to the conclusion that to get the full Quebec experience, I have to visit a cabane d’ sucre, or in simple English, a sugar shack.

Peter, undoubtedly one of my favorite roatrip friends, offers his car. I bring Stefan, Chris and Manel. We drive about an hour far outside of the city and park in front of a huge one-story wooden cottage. Many expensive cars are parked around us. It wouldn’t be a different picture if we would have driven to a cocaine farm – both maple syrup and the white powder are simply powerful drugs.

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A great Band I met on the subway station – their violin-guitar sounds could be a movie soundtrack. Le Macadam Orkestra


The guy who runs the sugar farm. In the background long tables to get fat, colored in red-white. I am reminded of Austria.


Cooking the fat


Our 15$-each dinner… Vive la Canada!

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The food is fatty. Really fatty. There are dark brown fries that look like cookies (I believe their original color was bright yellow before they were soaked with grease), sausages, omlettes, bread (which itself is not fatty, but its being served with a mashed fat cream) … and all of that stuff, of course, is subject to be put on a plate and bathed in maple syrup by the Canadian consumer. To that, you drink milk. Free of charge. 15$ for the eating orgy.
As we think about health issues, a perfectly rounded man of about 250kg rolls through the rows of benches. He seems to be a regular customer.

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Back at home, we start the party. Peter gives me a package of Kangaroo Jerky as a goodbye present. If you know Beef jerky – well, Kangaroo looks a little lighter, has a similar consistence and tastes like beef. I am first disgusted by the thought of eating a Kangaroo, but my curiosity forces my appetite for those hopping animals, and many pieces of them hop down my throat. As the party gets started and people start rolling in, I take shelter in Michka’s room. It is one of these bonding moments where my roommates Yukkunn, Michka, his good friend Raphael and me end up talking about men stuff, listening and giving advice to each other. Amazing. Someone interrupts us, and as I look outside, the living room is filled with people. I return to the room, and when I come out half an hour later, everyone has their coats on and is leaving.
“What’s up?”, I ask.
“No alcohol left, we’re going to a bar.”
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Real Australian Kangaroo Jerky.

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No alcohol, no problem: I just come with them. I observe my colleague Chris giving women dating advice about men. “Men are so simple. They are like monkeys.” is my favorite. This man knows what he is talking about. At 4AM I fall asleep in a chaotic room, half packed, half empty. Only a couple of hours left.

Montreal is a city that wraps around a little mountain, and this mountain gives the city its name: Mont-Real. Pretty much right in front of downtown, on mid-height of the majestic skyscrapers you find a terrace offereing a stunning view. I’ve been up there once when I went nordic skiing with my roommate Michka, but this time I am there to take pictures.

It’s quite a sight; and Austrian with a bloodred lens on a semiprofessional camera limping like a retard up the mountain. You can choose to start at the Tam-Tam statue and work your way up a boring serpentine street covered in snow, or you take the little bolder approach and just walk straight to the stairs, which lead you directly up to the belvedere:

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Arriving on the snowy top of Montreal is one of the best feelings in the world: The city lies beyond you in an eternal stillness, and yet at the same time you hear distant noise, wind blowing through the streets, cars howling in the night. Little lights are dancing along pearl chains, and the power of this stillness is overwhelming. If you happen to be in Montreal, this should be one of the first things you want to see.