June 30, 2018 Camping and hiking at Haltern am See!
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When I was small, like really small, my parents took me to camping once a year in summer. At that time, it was simply an annual event that I had to go through. Even though I had no particular sentiment for it, probably I wouldn't have been fond of it if I did. It's a weird feeling that I'm organizing it myself, years later. But it's not only about me. There are a lot of people who didn't like to go hiking when they were small. It's a wonder how radically a person can change.
Yes, we went camping this weekend. And I must say, it was not an easy decision for me. The idea was around for quite some time, but I could not make a decisive step. Probably I was hoping I would meet someone like Adrián, who would have organized a trip like this independently. It never happened, but the idea of going hiking fascinated me for quite some time. In the end, I decided to do it myself. Not just for fun, but also as an experience.
It makes little sense to go camping nearby, like why should we ever camp in Düsseldorf. On the other hand, with virtually no experience I did not want to go very far and fail. Haltern, which is close to Essen, appeared to me like a good compromise between distance and handiness. It is still within the VRR region, so even if we fail, it is still easy to go back home, but still fairly far away so that camping makes sense.
Usually there's at least one camping ground at each major lake. There was one at Haltern, "Hoher Niemen", which was not directly at the train station, but not quite far away (~3km?). With all the stuff like tents and grills, I thought still it was too far away. So I asked Denis if he could bring his car, so that we can stuff his car with all the equipment at the train station and we see each other at the camping site, then go hiking together. I had essentially zero idea of how many people would go hiking. So except for having talked about the necessity of maybe a few cars, I did not specifically ask anyone to bring their cars.
I was naïve. I realized how naïve I was a few weeks before the event, as the number of people signed up easily surpassed 50. I secured a few cars more and still it wasn't clear, whether we'd manage to transport all the stuff. Also there was a question of BBQ, since my mini grill that I bought for my personal usage was way too hopeless in view of this number of people.
Instead of previous evening, I created the WhatsApp group a few days before the hike, to enable those who didn't have a tent to look for someone who can share a spot or two. It looked like everyone was speaking and no one was listening. There were a few people who must have been planning to joining us, but probably looking at what was happening there, they must have given up the hope.
The weather wasn't particularly bad last week, but this weekend, we saw that the already a week of good weather saw an extremely good weather. It's not that surprising that it doesn't rain so much in summer, but I would have certainly not hoped more than what we saw today.
At Düsseldorf central in the morning, there were already quite some people in the morning with quite some equipment. Of course they were all about to go camping with us, but somewhere in my mind, I was wondering "what are these people expecting?", as if I was a complete outsider, or actually even worse, I was having the sensation of being a person who was about to destroy the expectations of a large group of people. Somewhere in my mind, I still couldn't believe that they were trusting me after all.
At Haltern am See, there was a free parking right next to the train station. There were around 7 cars already there waiting for us. In that moment, we were already something like 40 people. Good that there wasn't only Denis's car... We put all the stuff in the cars and headed to the camping ground. The cars in the meantime went to the camping ground. Even though I only connected the train station and the camping ground via some paths, it was actually quite lovely. And somehow we also managed to avoid all the bikes which are omnipresent around Haltern due to its flat landscape.
The camping ground was run by a couple who looked like it was their hobby to run that camping ground. We were fully stuck in the conversation with them. Those who didn't understand German were wondering how we could be talking as much. In this moment, we found out that the beach of Haltern was closed this weekend because of a festival. We had to start getting worried about the
The hike after that seemed almost like going through a chore before achieving the real purpose of the trip. Just like the first part of the trail, there were only few cyclists. We must have been really lucky in this part.
Break right next to the river, that led to the lake in Haltern. It looked like the perfect place to spend the evening afterwards. Pity that it was a bit far away from the camping ground. In this lovely place, we tried to collect the information on what we want to eat during BBQ in the evening. Fortunately there was very little to do for me as Jen took it almost entirely over. We had essentially no idea whether what we buy is going to be enough or too scarce, although BBQ tends to leave a lot of stuff afterwards, but this time we decided to let everyone write whatever they come up with and buy all the stuff.
At the end of the break, we collected the paper. It was a great mixture of chaos. Anyway, we walked back to the camping ground going along a lovely path just as we were seeing the whole day (in this sense this could very well have been a normal hike today).
When we were about to leave the camping ground, it appeared to me like everyone wanted to change what they had written on the paper. Anyway we went to the nearby EDEKA by Jan's car. Not easy to decipher some mysterious items some people wanted. Anyway we got all what we needed.
Back at the camping ground, the others had already put up the tents. They had made a circle and in the middle there were grills. Looked like a native American tribe (or at least what I imagine native Americans did). I brought my newly bought small grill. I bought this one, because there are disposable grills in Germany, which consist of aluminium frame with charcoal of horrible quality. The idea of having a hand bag sized grill, however, was very attractive to me. So instead of using disposable grills, I decided to buy a solid one of similar size. Hopefully I'll be able to do BBQ in different places this summer.
We have done BBQ already a few times this year, but this time it felt like a whole new experience. Maybe the number of people (around 40) or maybe because we were camping. Anyway this was a great moment that marked the difference between a normal weekend trip and a camping trip. Some people also told me what a nice experience it was. And it was not out of politeness.
During the BBQ, Jen gathered all the money from every person. Luckily, I had pretty much nothing to do during the whole evening. It's really great to enjoy the event without having to do anything organizational.
After the BBQ, we went over to the lake, or more precisely, we went to the river and stayed there the rest of the evening. Some of them started swimming. The guitars Ben brought made a hippie-ish atmosphere. And somewhat it was what I imagined what a perfect summer night would look like with really cool people. Some of them started swimming in the river as well. I had drunk way too much beer, so I decided not to go into water because I wasn't really sure if I would keep equilibrium. Some people even started smoking marijuana, which was brought from the neighboring Dutch city. We had slightly less beer than what we needed and we finished the last bit of wine on the spot, although it was maybe good that there wasn't more alcohol in that moment.
Sometime in the night we went back to the camping ground. I fell asleep really quickly. So good to be able to do so much nonsense and to be able to sleep there directly.
Next day, somehow we all woke up around 9am. Pretty much all of us had ordered breakfast at the camping ground, which was supposed to be two bread rolls with a cup of tea or coffee. Even though they insisted we order on the previous day (which we did), they did not prepare anything beforehand, which made each of us wait something like 30 min. Besides the two rolls turned out to be one roll cut in two parts. This for 4 € is hard to explain...
After some discussion, we decided to go to Silbersee, which was not quite far away from Haltern. Just as yesterday, we did the first part on foot while the cars went back to the same station as yesterday. We were burning under the never ending blue sky.
There was maybe still 2 or 3 kilometers to go before the entrance of Silbersee, we started spotting the traffic jam caused by the holiday makers. We were really lucky that we decided to go there on foot instead of by car. At least for pedestrians there was no queue or whatsoever.
Even though the traffic jam was horrible, the park itself wasn't as full as I had feared, although it would have well been uncomfortable if there had been 10% more people. We got a place quickly and went to the water, which was, just as everywhere in Germany, not the best quality, but still you wouldn't mind swimming there in contrast to many German lakes (which has been reported for example here recently).
We stayed there until the end of the day. As the time went by, there were less and less people from our group. We were essentially the last ones to leave the place. From Haltern Olaf drove me back to Düsseldorf. And our extremely long and concentrated weekend went to an end.
And so was the end of my very first experience to organize a hiking trip. Just by reading this report, it is certainly difficult for you to figure out what an enriching experience it was, although I hope you still understand it meant a lot to me. In many aspects it went beyond my expectations. My concern consisted of three main issues; firstly, I was not sure if this trip was going to be something special, i.e. I was not sure if this was more than two hikes on two days. Secondly, I thought there could be problems with money/time schedule or whatsoever that had to be treated centrally. Lastly, and most importantly, I was afraid of having unexpected trouble, which is of course the most horrifying issue, although I was extremely curious about this point.
Concerning the first two points, I've already made implicit statements that they did not present any problem at all, although I should probably say Jen took over a large amount of work so I might not be the right person to give a judgement. For the last part, I should probably say that there wasn't any unexpected problem, but still I'd like to point out one thing: during the entire trip I had to answer tons of questions, ranging from how long the hike was, who's going to buy stuff for BBQ to what the weather will be like, whether we should go for breakfast together, etc. They were all innocent questions and as a scientist, it would be horribly wrong if I'd forbid questions, but just by doing the simple math, let's say if every person asks three questions, I'd get easily more than 100 questions. And there's a certain number of people who tend to simply ask as many questions as they can think of. Even though I still don't want to criticize them, I have to find a way to avoid this situation next time, by assigning more organizers or giving tasks to other people.
Except for this, I list a few points that should be done better next time:
- We had to buy cutlery and dishes this time, which produced only waste in many aspects. We should ask the participants to bring their own stuff for the BBQ.
- Since we have to collect money, it's extremely important to have a lot of coins in advance.
- The cost of BBQ (around 7€ per person) was not quite negligible for those who don't get a salary, although for those who work it was like nothing. We should think about how to distribute the cost better in order for everyone to be able to participate with no hindrance.
- We should have bought the charcoal beforehand so that while we were going shopping the others could have started putting fire.
- Jen brought garbage bags but I should have brought some as well (actually we need quite a large number of them on the spot).
June 24, 2018 Hiking from Blumenkamp to Xanten!
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The world cup started last week, and here in Germany. You might still remember the well deserved win for Germany four years ago. Of course here in Germany, people were expecting a great tournament, at least until we saw a dull defeat against Mexico last Sunday. Yesterday, I was in the city center watching the game between Sweden and Germany, where I arrived in the bar at the end of the first half. When I arrived, Sweden was leading by 1-0. Of course people still remember the bitter lost to Mexico just a few days ago. The bar was silent. The second half started. Germany scored a few minutes after it started. The dynamics came back, at least until Boateng was sent away with a red car. We were about to believe in an out for Germany until the last minute, when Kroos marked the last goal exactly in the last minute. This drama made the city center of Düsseldorf crazy. I was essentially crossing it just to go back home, but the city center was like the busiest subway in Tokyo in the 90s, just they were dancing at the same time. We were maybe lucky that nothing happened there.
It's been more than a week since summer ended. When I created today's hike, from Blumenkamp to Xanten, I was still expecting a great day with 30 °C. Today, it went maybe up to 20 °C. What a deception. At least it didn't rain. What more do you expect here.
I might have mentioned when we went to Xanten last year (cf. this article), but Xanten is a famous Roman city next to Trier in this region. Besides, there was a Roman festival today, which also motivated this hike.
Today, we were supposed to change trains at Wesel, but the train we took at Düsseldorf had already more delay than the time we had at Wesel. Somehow this time, the train managed to catch up and we could still get the connection. This happens fairly often these days with the German Railway. Maybe because there's a competition from a different company, flexitrain, that's been in operation for some time now.
Blumenkamp, where we started, was a typical town near the Dutch border: the population is small, but because of the endless flat landscape, it stretched in every direction. But in contrast to last week's hike, we were very often going on dykes, which offer very good views over the Rhein.
There's this guy, Jake, who recently finished his Abitur (and is accordingly very young). I wasn't much involved in talking with him last week, but today, somehow we started talking about what I was doing at my workplace. I'm not a big fan of talking about theoretical physics (because the consequence of doing so is often not particularly encouraging), but talking about what future should look like was fun. The reason is probably, he still hasn't decided what he is going to do next, but is still full of expectations in life. In my age, which is exactly 10 years more than him, that's not the hottest topic that I would usually have in my daily life. Yet, I am personally still dreaming of a bright future, as if I was just as young as he is. But I must say, anyway we're not living in a world where we would die if we don't earn money to buy our daily bread. Why can't we talk about what kind of bright future we could wish? We really cannot afford illusionary conversations like this one?
We had a break on the dyke. It was the perfect place with a café nearby and had a great view over the Rhein, with this Dutch breeze that makes you feel that the reality is after all not as speedy as we might have thought. I had my lunch very quickly, and headed for the café, which was a typical one for cyclists. Some of the people joined me at the café and had cake and coffee. There was this one girl, Wafaa, who was amazed to discover the area nearby. I can still understand the feeling, after wasting so much time without knowing what the closest region looks like. It's really a pity that so much goes by and we don't even know how much fun could be there.
Our break took some time more (because of the cake). Some people obviously wanted to go earlier. Here's comes the good thing about being the organizer. No one disappears before I arrive.
At some point, we had to take a ferry to cross the Rhein for 1€40. For the experience it wasn't that bad. We could have had a break there as well.
At the end, we arrived in Xanten, where we were planning to join the Roman festival. However it was already 5pm and there was only one hour more to go for the festival. Anyway we entered the site quickly. All the performances were already over, but still we could see costumes and other stuff from that time. One hour might have been the right amount of time.
So, here's one thing that was actually positive in an accidental way: the entrance fee would have been 13€ per person, but since it was already over when we arrived there, they apparently did not say anything. Indeed, I have the feeling that whenever we try to combine different main events, it doesn't work very well. What works well is to offer the hike and something rather small, like going to the Roman festival for one hour.
There was one train per hour to go back to Düsseldorf. We had something like 45 min to wait for the train. We went to the local kebab shop and swallowed the kebab after we had to wait quite some time there.
June 17, 2018 Hiking from Kalkum to Ratingen and Angermunder See!
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Today, we saw that summer was already over.
I was in Kassel last week (and Weimar two weeks ago) for a seminar organized by yfu, which is an organization for exchange programmes for high school students. These high school students, who usually live for an entire school year in Germany, have crash courses over three weeks. And since I had already participated as a teacher (you're very welcome to read this article), I was this time invited as a trainer. "Invited" is maybe not the right word because except for the train tickets and the hostel stay that were offered, there was no benefit, so depending on the point of view, I might rather say "I was exploited". However, it was a really refreshing seminar which was probably also an important experience itself. There are several important things that come to my mind and I'm not going to talk about all of them, but there's one particularly important thing that yfu taught me: giving feedbacks. Whenever they do something, there's a feedback round afterwards. It's not only about the trainees, but also the trainers are to be assessed by the trainees. For me this was so strikingly refreshing, because in my institute or in our research area, we don't do it. Indeed, what you get from these feedback rounds is very small, but rather than the effect of the feedback rounds, we see the effect of not giving feedbacks in our field, because there are clearly problems for example with the organization of scientific conferences, which has essentially been the same in the last 100 years, maybe except for the power point presentations that must have been introduced at some point. With the development of modern technologies, I see no point in organizing conferences altogether, but it continues, and no one gives any feedback whatsoever.
All this, just to say one thing: I wasn't here in the last two weeks. And it was extremely hot in the last two weeks. I was expecting a similar weather today, so I decided to go to Angermunder See this time, which is a lake near Düsseldorf, a very famous place where it's forbidden to swim and everyone swims. Despite my very high expectations, however, the weather obviously did not want to follow me; we were having something like 20 degrees today. It is satisfactory for Germany, especially because there was no rain. Who wants more?
Angermund is technically still inside Düsseldorf. I've done this trail some time last year by bicycle. At that time, I did not know how to make hiking trails, so I wanted to make sure that I get the entire trail from the internet or I check it out myself. It wasn't long after that that I realized it is really easy to make a hiking trail, but at that time I really appreciated my "luck" while cycling, thinking I got a really good trail by chance.
Anyway, I was somewhat looking forward to today's trail regardless of the temperature. And I must say it was quite convenient to do a hike in Düsseldorf again, even if I'm not a big fan of riding a small subway train for a long time.
May is over, and we could see that the number of participants declined drastically, with maybe 20 people or so. This is related to how people organize their vacations here. Just as everywhere, schoolchildren have their vacations late July and in August, so families with children disappear in this period of time. University students usually have vacations before the new semester begins, so they disappear rather in September. We, those who work but don't have children, usually take vacations now in June, in order to avoid collision with other social groups. I don't know when I am going to go on holiday, which actually I don't really need since I'm quite satisfied with the hikes that I organize every weekend. But I don't have to be strategic either since if I go on holiday it's gonna be an unusual place, like Armenia. Maybe mountain biking over there. Anyway, I have to think about it.
One of the main attractions of today was the castle in Kalkum, which is not particularly impressive but I thought it could give a different taste; it was being renovated and there was essentially nothing more than the fact that there was a large building.
At some point, we reached the other side of the airport, which I was aware of but I completely forgot about mentioning it in the event description. Of course the fence was completely closed but we could see the planes flying away and arriving. Flying itself is not a special experience anymore, but still the airport is a special area, and it is extremely rare to see the landing field without being inside the airport. Sajjad even suggested to stay there just to watch planes.
Half way through, we crossed a bridge that went over the railways. This was the only one place where we climbed somewhat. Then we reached the Angermund lake, which was not easy to find according to the map that I had. But probably it was a good thing because this must have led to the calmness without holiday goers that this lake offers, even though it has really beautiful beaches and clear water. Because of the temperature I did not bring my swimming stuff, but some others did. The water was actually not that cold. In the couch surfing event I had just mentioned that there was a lake, but I did not say it was possible to swim there, because I'm pretty sure that it's officially forbidden in Germany and I don't know what I'd be made responsible for if I write something like that in the event page as the organizer. Anyway, there was also someone who joined us for the first time and didn't know that the possibility of swimming was there. He simply got naked and started swimming. It's a normal thing in Germanic countries, although somehow it's also normal in Japan as well. It might have appeared crazy to some people depending on where they came from.
I was busy with playing the guitar that I brought this time after quite some time, because I knew that there were a few Russian people and I still love singing Cheburashka with them.
Looking at the distance, it was that much today, but the trail got us really exhausted. It might be because it was flat all the time. We had a similar experience when we went to Marl-Sinsen (and I wasn't the only one who had this impression). At that time, we thought it was because of the monotonous landscape, but that trail was also very flat. And since the landscape changed a lot today, I guess the flatness is a good explanation. In particular, I guess it's important to use different muscles.
So I didn't mention anything about one important thing right now: world cup. And today was the match between Germany and Mexico. We arrived in Ratingen right at the beginning of the match. And although Ratingen was a small city, it was large enough to enjoy the festive atmosphere during the world cup in Germany. The entire market place was filled with people. We stayed there for the first half and then we went back home. The match ended up with 1-0 for Mexico. Not because Germany lost, but the match itself wasn't particularly exciting.
May 31, 2018 Hiking from Remscheid to Schwelm!
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You might already know that I studied in Göttingen around 10 years ago, where I must say I was rather a different person and there's little relationship between my life here and there. The only one, however, would be Mami, who came to Germany in 2009 and studied in Göttingen. She is to become 30 years old tomorrow. Since she is herself not here tomorrow and today was a holiday, we thought it would be okay to organize a birthday party yesterday and we watched a Japanese movie: memories of Matsuko. I watched it around 10 years ago and at that time, I thought it was a pure comedy. As I found out this time, it was actually a quite sad movie. I think it's still worth watching it, but maybe not on someone's birthday...
Today, in the morning, there were quite some people saying their trains were having a delay. Everywhere, I essentially said that we wouldn't wait, until we found out that the Essen group was also late. Since we were going to Remscheid, it was too dangerous to ignore the people from Essen, since by doing so, we would virtually ignore all the people from the Ruhr region. Even though the event always starts from Düsseldorf and therefore the largest proportion comes from there, the chunk from the Ruhr region is not to ignore anymore these days. This just reflects the importance of this region in this country...
Since the train station where we started was already outside Remscheid, we could directly start walking in the forest after the train station. It was hot. It's not even June yet and it's been hot all the time.
Because of the extended weekend, I was expecting a low turnout, which was more or less true. So, I took a fairly long trail today, with some up and down on the way. With this temperature, we were probably lucky that there almost only those who join us regularly. Still, some people started grumbling on the way before the break.
Elham's mother was visiting her this month, who doesn't speak English. So today for the first time it made sense that I spoke Persian, although it got a bit rusty over time. In the end Elham was the interpreter, but still I could say a couple of words. It's somehow encouraging if there are opportunities to speak a foreign language. And I kind of wonder whether these hikes are making a difference in this sense, which certainly is the case. Anyway, I'm probably going to see her at the next hike so I'll try to refresh my Persian by then.
We had a break at Beyenburg, but a few hundred meters before the spot where I wanted to have a break, because obviously some people were too exhausted to make any step further. Ben had brought his guitalele today. After the hit last time when there was a ukulele, we could have expected a similar hit today, but due to the low number of people, and especially because the Latin people were missing, it came short today. I guess I'll bring a guitar next time if there's Hernán coming (who now calls me "Depacito man").
After the break, I talked to this new guy, Adrià from Barcelona. He spoke fluent German, but started to learn French only recently. He was telling me it's difficult to find a place to speak French, or to find French people to talk to. Today, essentially I became his tandem partner on the way. It made me want to speak Spanish on the other hand. So we talked something like 30 min in French and then 30 min in Spanish and so on. In the end, I talked only with him until the end of the day after the break.
The destination of today's hike was Schwelm, which has a cozy city center with an ice cream parlor. I usually have an ice cream or a glass of beer, but never both of them at the same time, which I did today for the first time. I feel like Sheldon for thinking I was making a crazy step by doing so.
Special hike: Weekend hike to Ahrweiler!
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When we finished our last trip in April, it was clear that this story was not to end there. Fortunately, even before that trip I had already booked a hostel in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, a region not far away from Blankenheim. But the funny thing is, since I was not quite motivated for the last one before going there, I was not so sure if we'd do the trip to Ahrweiler this time (by the way, I'm going to call Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler just Ahrweiler for the sake of simplicity). Anyway, luckily I decided not to cancel the event. And not quite surprisingly, most of the people from last time signed up this time as well.
Just as last time, I had initially booked 20 places at the hostel in Ahrweiler. Additionally, I also booked a group ticket for the train this time, because it was outside North Rhine-Westphalia and the local train connection was horribly bad. However, just as last time there were more people in the end and I had to extend the reservation. However, there was one girl who spontaneously decided to join us two days before the hike. I booked a bed at the hostel then (but she didn't need a train ticket since she was living nearby). And a day before, she cancelled, leaving this one bed in organizational limbo.The funny thing is, this was the very girl who organized a similar trip last year and subsequently cancelled it, complaining the people were not cooperative.
A day before, on Friday, I organized the usual movie session at my place. Since it was a Friday, not many people joined for the movie, but those who lived far away from Düsseldorf who were to go to Ahrweiler with us came to stay overnight at my place. Since they did not have to go anywhere after the movie, the session itself became longer than usual. We were paying no respect to the fact that we were going on a hike on the next day. My long weekend was starting...
In the morning, we all got up at 8am (train leaving at 9:30am). Whatever the source of energy was, they managed to reproduce the dance floor in the living room, completely ignoring Karina, who was not coming, sleeping in her room.
This time, we were really lucky that there was no fuzz with the train journey. Everyone arrived in time and our train also departed in time. So weird that everything goes well with the German railway. We also caught the connection at Remagen.
It's true that it's end of May now. So we were somehow expecting a good weather. But I was certainly not expecting the temperature going towards 30 °C. The endless blue sky was almost torturing us while we were waiting for the train at Remagen. This was particularly the case when we left the train station at Mayschoß and started to go uphill right away. The vineyards surrounding us were extremely beautiful but we were still really happy whenever we could be in the shadow. At least we had a good mixture of forests and fields.
The hiking trail we were following, Ahrsteig, starts at Blankenheim and goes up to Sinzig, which was also our destination of the second day. Strangely, the landscape around Ahrweiler has nothing to do with what we saw in Blankenheim, maybe because of the steep vineyards around Ahrweiler, whereas Blankenheim had more forest and was relatively flat. Right before we had a break, we were going up an extremely steep hill. I don't know when I sweated so much last time.
On top of the mountain there was one restaurant that was closed, but tables and the benches were outside. And it was in the forest. This time I brought my hammock, which I used to use when I was travelling 5 years ago and when I was writing my Ph.D thesis 2 years ago in Lyon in summer, but I didn't know how to tighten the ropes anymore. With the help of Krithika, who told me she learned the techniques for cows (maybe this is what they call lasso instead of rope). She managed to do it quickly but I myself could not use it long: when Christina took out a volleyball, I left the place and it was gone to other people. While the hammock was not that important to me, we should have guessed that playing volleyball on top of a mountain is not a very good idea.
There was also a tower which must have been used as a watchtower before. A great view over the region.
I didn't mind staying there for a long time, but we had to move on, because Jen had already booked a wine tasting for 6pm. Actually, I was always thinking that it was for 7pm and organized everything accordingly. So there was generally little space everywhere. We made a group photo quickly and we went forward.
As you can see on the map, we were going down an extreme hill making a zigzag. After going uphills for quite some time, it was another huge exercise. We had another small break after this downhill where there was fresh water coming out of a rocky hillside.
Around this time, we realized that we had to go really quickly to the hostel, as the time was running out for the wine tasting. Jen in the meantime tried to delay the reservation, but apparently the wine grower but they were inviting an external guide and therefore it could not be postponed. We were so much in a hurry that essentially we all lost each other, although somehow we all managed to get to the youth hostel more or less at the same time.
Whereas it took quite some time to check in last time, they gave the keys right away, and this even to Jen (because she arrived earlier than me) whose name was written nowhere in the reservation. We took the keys. The others rushed into their rooms and took a shower. I got stuck at the entrance, because there was a piano. It was nice to see that while I was playing the piano, there were more people who came to the entrance hall. Anyway, each of them had apparently something like 3 min for the shower and we hurried to the wine tasting. I was almost getting dizzy on the way, probably because of the temperature during the day. Kind of a wonder that we were going to drink wine.
So, this winegrower, Kriechel, was chosen because it was the only one that had space for 15 people (not all of us went there). But this week, I talked accidentally about this trip to Ahrweiler with a colleague of mine, who comes from this region. And even though I hadn't mentioned the wine tasting at that moment, the very first thing he said about Ahrweiler was his favorite winegrower that he visits every year, which happened to be ours.
The guide must have been a typical local person with a strong accent. Even though all of us spoke German, I'm pretty sure that not many of them understood much, also because the vocabulary was fairly special. Anyway we had a cheerful moment with a well-trained oratorio, where some people couldn't stay standing at some point while we were going through the production line.
We had 6 different wines in total. I must say, they were really bad or too expensive for the price, but still we had some discoveries during the wine tasting: firstly, when you close the nose while drinking (which was a funny scene with all of us holding the nose at the same time), the wine loses its particularities. So if you drink Beaujolais, it'll taste like the statistical intersection of all of what you think of Beaujolais. Actually if you take a pinch of cinnamon and eat it while you hold your nose, you don't taste it, but if you remove your hand, you start tasting the cinnamon even though it's already in your mouth (which was by the way another experiment that the guide had prepared). Another discovery was that if you have two glasses, one of which a normal and another one an opaque, then the same wine doesn't taste the same. And lastly, by changing the form of the wine glass, the taste changes as well. Actually if you drink wine from a normal glass for water, it tastes really harsh whereas if you take a wine glass, it becomes really mild. Weird, isn't it?
Despite my first concern, I survived the wine tasting quite well, although it was clear that the atmosphere changed A LOT before and after the wine tasting: it almost looked like a party when we were about to finish.
After the wine tasting, I directly went back to the hostel. The others must have been to a restaurant for dinner. The ones who did not join us on the wine tasting were watching soccer on TV. Fortunately, the bar was open until midnight. We went out towards the river and continued the drinking session. Mixing different alcoholic drinks is not a good idea, but I really needed beer in that moment.
We might have been lucky that the bar was open only until midnight. The riverside was a perfect place to stay so otherwise we might have partied all night long.
Next day, the sunlight early in the morning coming through the not particularly large window appeared to me like a punishment. When we got up, we had more than enough time for the breakfast.
After the breakfast, I got prepared quickly to get back to the piano ... It was locked ... I don't know if they did it personally because of me or just out of routine. Anyway it was fairly noisy for this small and well resonant room.
I could feel the exhaustion from the evening, partially because I mixed beer and wine partially because of the tough trail. The latter might have not been as relevant, since those who did not join on the wine tasting looked completely fine. I guess the most affected were Stefan and Sherri. As for Sherri, I had more or less guessed that it would be hard for her, since it was quite some time ago that she joined us on a hike, and I must say it was not the distance that you can do without preparation. Stefan was hit hard probably because the guide was particularly fond of him and he poured twice as much wine in his glass. Actually I didn't really notice but apparently he was feeling way worse than I had thought.
Just as the very beginning of the hike, the very first part after the youth hostel was going uphill for a few kilometers. We were having exactly the same strong sunlight pouring over us. I wasn't expecting to sweat as much right after we depart.
I must say whereas the trail was fairly hard, there was no reward like a great view from the top of the mountain, in contrast to the first day. Besides, the weather was getting clearly worse.
There was a small city on the way, Heimersheim, which had a small Italian/Turkish restaurant, where the owner was obviously not expecting anyone today. Since most of us nothing to eat, we invaded the place together. With all of us together, there was no place remaining anymore. The owner looked thrilled to see so many people arriving.
In my daily life, it's extremely rare that I eat meat. I myself never buy it, so essentially I eat it only when it's offered to me. But here in this moment in this restaurant, the hunger and exhaustion changed something in me, and I couldn't resist the shining 1/2 chicken. Probably I won't eat as much meat until the end of this year.
A few minutes after we left the restaurant, it started raining. And of course I was the stupid one who wasn't prepared for this moment. Nikola found an umbrella on the street at some point. I don't understand who throws an umbrella away on a rainy day...
The vineyard was still more or less continuing, and it would have been a beautiful landscape with some slopes, but in the rain and also because of the exhaustion from yesterday that could be seen on everyone's face, it was more like we were just going towards the goal. Cláudia even made the trail shorter in the last part and apparently everyone agreed (I wasn't there in that moment), so it was not just my impression, but they were already too tired to walk more. And this was even though it was still around 3pm. The second day was going to an end way earlier than I had thought.
So, as I had already written above, I had bought a train ticket to Ahrweiler, but I did not buy the return ticket, mainly because it was obviously easy to come back by local train. The thing is, even though the Ahr was outside North Rhine-Westphalia (which means the students cannot travel for free and we cannot buy an NRW ticket), it was apparently within the VRS region, which I previously thought was just part of North Rhine-Westphalia. This means in particular, for each VRR ticket we could buy two extension tickets in order for two people to be able to travel. Since I was not so sure about the system, I called the VRR service center while hiking. And as it turned out this was indeed possible. So 6,60 € per person to come back from Ahrweiler. It's really not bad.
I was fighting with my sweat when we were crossing the city of Sinzig. The rain had already stopped, but it felt like it made it just more humid. The entire weekend was like a never ending fight with sweat. This must have contributed to the exhaustion as well.
From Sinzig, the train directly went back to Düsseldorf. Hernán was busy taking photos of people sleeping everywhere. I had the feeling that we were all completely dead, but Mami later told me that she could have walked more and she did not need the shortcut we took at the end. The difference might have been the wine tasting. Indeed, those who went there looked more tired, especially Stefan, who at the end told me that if he had been at home he would have left the bed on the second day.
Nevertheless, this trip was quite some success, maybe not as much as the last one, probably because it was more challenging this time and most of the people joined again, which makes it less "new". So in this sense, I should be probably glad that it wasn't a disappointment. Yet, one thing became clearer to me: when we stay somewhere overnight, we do expect that we won't go to bed very early, just as was the case this time and last time. So we should be more realistic on the second day and reduce the amount of walk or introduce a different activity. In my opinion, it is not easy to simply reduce the amount of walk, which ends up with an early end like this time or disproportionate amount of breaks like last time. I can imagine something like kayaking or team building programme on the second day, but it will of course depend on the local offer.
Growing mushrooms with coffee grounds
The story began on my 30th birthday. I got a mushroom kit as a present, which was just a box filled with straw. According to its instructions, I was just supposed to spray once or twice a day so that the mushrooms can simply come out from the box and they can be harvested at some point. The first mushroom came out after some time, but I somehow didn't really harvest it. It dried out very quickly. After removing it, nothing really came out, but I didn't really try to figure out what was the problem, probably because I knew that this mushroom kit was designed to be used once and not quite like plants where you can give water and nutrients and they grow forever.
Still my interest grew and I wanted to know if there was a possibility of growing mushrooms myself, also because before getting this mushroom kit, I knew essentially nothing about growing mushrooms, except for this one thing that what we call mushroom is the waste product of what the bacteria eat in the soil/wood/straw etc.
Independently, I was talking about the possibility of making use of coffee grounds with my coworker, Liam, who is actually also a kind of a person who's interested in a lot of things. Anyway, I was saying that even though the coffee grounds contain a lot of nutrients, we usually simply throw them away. Moreover we're apparently using only 0.2 % of what we buy as coffee beans inside the beverage (cf. hln.be). But we thought as well that they are acid, which would damage the soil. He then brought up the idea that maybe the coffee grounds can be mixed with eggshells, which contain a lot of calcium and could neutralize the acidity of coffee. So I decided to try it out myself; I mixed them together, put the mixture in the soil where there were basil and leaks growing. They died really quickly. My first thought was then to compost the coffee grounds first. And for me, composting is the same thing as having mushrooms grow, which in turn led me to the idea that edible mushrooms could grow out of coffee grounds.
After a quick research in the internet I realized that my assumption was fairly correct. Then without really knowing how to do it, I simply decided to open up the mushroom kit that I got for my birthday and mixed it with coffee. After a few days, I saw it was full of mould. I thought I did it wrongly. I threw it into my compost bin, not quite sure what was the problem.
Anyway, I'm a scientist. And looking for information from the previous trials is almost my daily routine. I took a few representative websites (you can find them below) and created a summary of what came out here.
Summary of literature research
- Prepare fresh coffee grounds (of any quantity) and a container, like a plastic bag or milk packaging
- Prepare fully colonized substrate (spawn) which should be about 20% of the coffee grounds in weight.
- Wash your hands
- Mix the entire coffee grounds and 90% of the spawn, put the mixture into the container.
- Make a layer of spawn on top of the surface (which prevents foreign spores to start colonizing)
- Make a few holes at the side of the container.
- Leave the container in a dark place (of around 20 °C) for 15 to 20 days until the substrate becomes fully colonized (i.e. completely white).
- If the substrate becomes green instead of white, it's colonized by other fungi. If the green region is not large, you can still maintain the hope that your mushroom beats the vermin fungi but otherwise it goes to the trash bin.
- If necessary, spray the substrate every now and then.
- If the primordial mushrooms appear, move it to a bright place, without direct sunlight (the keyword seems to be "enough light to read a newspaper")
- Spray mushrooms twice a day
- When the edge of the caps begin to turn upwards, it's time to harvest
- Different fungi cannot coexist, because they secrete secondary metabolites and proteins that are toxic to the competitor to defend their nutritional niche (cf. Institute of Microbiology, ETH Zürich).
- There are a couple of startups: Back to the roots, Blanc de Gris, Chidos, Startnext, Permafungi.
- There are also books: Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms (this one seems to be the standard book), cultivez vos champignons.
- It is possible to use tea leaves, but they contain anti-fungal substances (cf. Chukowry et al. 2008).
- According to Mushroom growers handbook 1 (which I'll refer to as "MGH 1" hereafter), the optimal C/N ratio for button mushroom is 17 and for oyster mushroom it should be higher. Hoa et al. investigated yield etc. for various C/N ratio in the range of 35 and 50 and their results show that in this range, all values indicate the lower the C/N ratio the better. Yang et al. reported a similar observation. According to Compost chemistry, Cornell University, the C/N ratio of coffee grounds is around 20.
- MGH 1 says the optimal pH value ranges from 6 to 8, depending on the mushroom type. According to Coffee as Fertilizer, Illinois University, the pH of coffee grounds is around 6.5 to 6.8. The common understanding that coffee is acidic refers to the beverage, but the remaining coffee grounds are apparently near neutral. The same applies to caffeine (cf. wikipedia), which is considered as harmful to living organisms, as it is highly soluble in boiling water and therefore does not remain in the coffee grounds.
- It is written in MGH 1 pp. 57 that the original colonized culture is inoculated and incubated in a different substrate and this can be used further as the mother culture.
At my department in my institute, we produce something like 500g of coffee grounds everyday. This makes about one litre in volume, which is perfect for one milk package. What you see on the photo is all I used for the first batch, although the mushroom spawn you can see on the photo (which I ordered from this page) is only partially used.
I mixed up all the stuff and simply put it into the box. In contrary to what I wrote above, I did not create an extra layer of fully colonized substrate on top of the surface. For this batch it did not make a problem, but I'll talk about the possible consequences below. I made a few holes with a knife (one on each side) and closed the top end with a clothespin.
I left it simply in my room, which gets a little bit of sunlight in the morning. Since the box itself is opaque, it was most likely not necessary to leave it in a dark place. If you do it with a transparent plastic bag, you might think about where to put it more seriously.
In the meantime, there was a small discovery in my compost: the original substrate that I got on my birthday which I had mixed with coffee grounds and threw away eventually had mushrooms on it. Actually the mould that I saw on the substrate was the primordial mushrooms. So I took the colonized soil out of the compost and stored it in the fridge.
Anyway, after about a week of incubation in the milk package, I saw that the originally black coffee grounds fully turned white, which is a good sign as stated above. Meanwhile, I created one batch every day with the coffee grounds that I brought back from the institute. It's great that my coworkers are used to all the weird things that I do at the institute.
After two weeks of incubation, the first mushrooms came out of one of the boxes (a bit surprisingly this was the third batch I prepared). I must say it looks really disgusting, but it looks like it is going the right way so far.
Surprisingly, it's going quite well so far, maybe except for a few flies that started to hover over the mushrooms, which was also mentioned in this article.
Three days later, the mushrooms looked like they are already ready to be on sale. But over the three days it went through a few transformations in color: first they completely white. Then they became somewhat gray (like they were themselves full of mould). And now it looks somewhat yellowish like a piece of bread. It feels like it's fleshier than the mushrooms you can find in the supermarkets. Maybe fresh mushrooms are fleshy. What was striking (and not quite intuitive) was that the growth is significant during the daytime. So whenever I came back from work, I could see a significant difference, whereas before and after I go to sleep there's virtually no noticeable change.
In the meantime, there was this one milk package which saw a completely different situation on the surface: it became green, which is a bad sign. When you mix the spawn with substrate, it is therefore extremely important to make sure that the surface is going to be colonized by your spawn first, which can be done by creating a layer of spawn. As I already stated above, different fungi apparently cannot coexist, so if the majority is set beforehand, then I guess you won't see a green surface.
Another piece of bad news arrived a few days later. The mushrooms on the photo above became dry very quickly, even though I sprayed twice a day just as written everywhere. A significant difference between what I have and what other people describe on their websites is the size of the container; in my case the milk package can contain around 500 g of coffee grounds, whereas almost everywhere they talk about 2.5 kg of coffee grounds. There might be a critical volume below which the mushrooms cannot fully grow. This being said, it was not like the mushrooms were to small to consume, so if this is the reason, I should probably consume the mushrooms simply earlier than it seems appropriate. In the meantime, I'll try to find out if there's another possibility (of having full size mushrooms).
A few days later, I made another observation. I was spraying the mushrooms on the photo in the morning just as usual, but instead of simply leaving the package there, I was watching what happens to the water. Then I realized that the entire water, which made a glittering surface on the roofs of the mushrooms, was absorbed within a few seconds. I knew that water was vital, as it makes up around 92% of mushroom (cf. wikipedia), but I did not know exactly what was the source of water. I was vaguely thinking that it comes from the ground, just as plants. But probably in reality, mushrooms absorb the water directly through their roofs, like when it rains in the nature. I continued spraying the mushrooms, but every time the water was entirely absorbed, with no water dropping from the mushrooms. So in the end, even though probably "spray twice a day", which is written on many websites, is more or less correct, it does not mean that you can spray and leave the package there, but you must repeat it several times until sufficient amount of water is stored in the mushrooms. With this in mind, it looks like I managed to revive these mushrooms on this photo (you might recognize the partially dry edges on the photo) and I'll wait to see what happens to them.
Last update: June 23, 2018
|Mushroom type ||Oyster|
|Material ||2.5 kg coffee + 500 g spawn|
|Amount of light||Dark place (airing cupboard, under a bed, in a cupboard in a heated room etc) while spawning and a little light when growing|
|Container ||2l freezer bag, empty ice-cream tub or milk carton with 4x5mm holes in the side|
|Temperature ||18-25 °C|
|Duration ||3 weeks for colonization, 1 week for growing|
|Watering ||Nothing during spawning. Spray twice a day during growing|
|Trustworthiness||Photo + Length + Non business = 3|
|Mushroom type ||Oyster and shiitake|
|Material ||Coffee grounds|
|Amount of light||Dark corner during colonization and shady lit windowsill while growing|
|Container ||8 to 20l bucket with holes and cellophane during colonization|
|Temperature ||15-23 °C|
|Duration ||15 to 20 days for colonization|
|Watering ||Nothing during spawning. Spray twice a day during growing|
|Trustworthiness||Photo + Length + Non business = 3|
|Mushroom type ||Oyster|
|Material ||2.5 kg coffee + 500 g spawn (1 kg of spawn for king oyster)|
|Amount of light||Dark place during colonization|
|Container ||5 l bag or tub with four holes of 10 to 15 mm in diameter|
|Temperature ||20 °C|
|Duration ||7 to 14 days for colonization. 7 to 10 days later primordia appear. Harvest 5 to 7 days later.|
|Watering ||Nothing during spawning. Mist a couple of times a day during growing|
|Trustworthiness||Photo + Length + Non business|
|Mushroom type ||Oyster mushroom|
|Material ||Coffee grounds|
|Amount of light||Shadowy place, or outside in summer (but not much sunlight)|
|Container ||Flower pot|
|Temperature ||20 °C|
|Duration ||14 to 28 days for the colonization.|
|Watering ||Not until two weeks, then every 3 to 4 days.|
|Trustworthiness||Photo + Length|
|Comment ||This is where I ordered my spawn.|
|Mushroom type ||Oyster, pink oyster, golden oyster, poplar|
|Material ||Coffee grounds and 15 to 20 percent spawn|
|Amount of light|
|Container ||Mushroom kit|
|Temperature ||20 to 25 °C|
|Duration ||2 to 3 weeks for colonization. Another 2 to 3 weeks for growing.|
|Watering ||Spray if needed during colonization. Spray sufficiently during growing.|
|Comment ||It says in the first stage, coffee grounds should be added every 3rd day.|
|Mushroom type ||Oyster|
|Material ||500 g spawn and 2.5 kg coffee ground|
|Amount of light||Dark place for colonization|
|Container ||Milk packaging, ice cream packaging or freezer bag|
|Temperature ||18 to 25 °C|
|Duration ||3 weeks for colonization and 5 to 7 days for growing|
|Watering ||Nothing during colonization and spray during growing|
|Trustworthiness||Length + Non business + Pictures = 3|
|Comment ||Oyster mushrooms, champignons and shiitake like different substrates.|
|Comment ||It looks likes this page is identical to pilzmaennchen.de|
|Mushroom type ||Oyster mushroom|
|Material ||Coffee grounds|
|Amount of light||Dark (like in a closet) during colonization. Then in a bright place without direct sunshine|
|Container ||Freezer bag|
|Temperature ||Warm place|
|Duration ||3 weeks for colonization (wait until the substrate becomes completely white)|
|Watering ||Spray twice a day during growing|
|Trustworthiness||Length + Pictures = 2|
|Comment ||I got my first mushroom set from here.|
May 20, 2018 Hiking at Rummenohl!
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After a quite miserable weekend, we were expecting another rainy weekend until a few days ago. Fortunately this time, the weather forecast made a dynamic turn until it announced a clear blue sky for Sunday. I was twice as anxious as the others, since we were going to Hagen this time. And Hagen is really not funny when it's raining.
I talked about the problem with maps.me. I now figured out what was the problem and managed to create an extra programme that converts a normal kml file to a maps.me-compatible file. So finally after a few weeks I had the map. Nevertheless, the guide was done by Cláudia.
Right after we left the train station, it went quite uphill. And the place offered a great view over a valley, which might not have a name but it was a great place. The newcomers looked impressed by the view, probably thinking it is always like this whenever we go hiking. They'll never know that I was myself quite impressed...
There was one Chinese guy (sorry I forgot the name...), who brought a ukulele to the hike. When I was in France, my flatmate, Adrián, used to play the ukulele and pretty much everyone learned it because of him. Except for me, because I always had a guitar. This time, my guitar was not there. And I was extremely interested in playing the ukulele for the first time. When we started a break in the middle of a field (in the middle of nowhere), I first went near him and asked him to play something. He was to shy to do so, although I'm pretty sure that he can play it very well. Partly to make it easier for him, partly because I wanted to play it myself, I asked him if it would be okay to play it. The tuning of ukuleles is nothing but baffling. For someone who plays only European classical instruments it is mere nonsense. Anyway I started playing a couple of chords, and realized that there were quite some Russian speakers this time. You might remember this article or this article where I played the guitar and sang Russian songs in front of people from the former Soviet countries. I somehow managed to play all these songs with the ukulele this time. There was no vodka coming out of nowhere this time, but the Russian speakers (we had some Russians, one Belarusian and one Kazakh today) obviously liked it. The problem was, no one really knew the lyrics so in the end I was essentially singing alone.
While playing the ukulele, the break was over. I never thought we had been there for more than an hour (and of course I didn't have lunch). Learning how to play the ukulele is probably easier than anyone thinks. I then went to other songs, and quite obviously, the Latin songs were quite some hit. In the middle of this silent forest, the never ending Macarena sung by Hernán and me must have been a really weird scene to see.
There was just one train per hour from Hagen Rummenohl. When we were about 500 m away from the train station, I noticed that the train was coming in 6 or 7 min. Those who were in front went quickly to the train station, but some of them obviously didn't see it. We held the door, somehow no one complained. We must have created a delay of a few minutes for that, but luckily everyone managed to enter the train.
May 13, 2018 Hiking from Ronsdorf to Schaberg!
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Being optimistic is a good thing, to keep up the spirits, but this time, the weather forecast was right, for the first time after quite some time. It rained. Quite a lot. Me, not quite believing what they were saying, did not take an umbrella, which I should have, especially regarding the fact that somehow my passport was in my backpack.
But it looked quite similar among those who came today. Not many trusted the weather forecast, maybe it has been like this for quite some time. But at the same time, it is not that surprising that they did not trust the weather forecast, because probably only those who did not trust it came today. Maybe also because it wasn't raining until we took our first train. And the situation deteriorated very quickly. We were observing heavy rain from the train.
During the first half of the hike, the situation never got really better. Hikes in Wuppertal are a bit cursed after having done another one during a snow storm around half a year ago. And Wuppertal is relatively hilly, so that we don't really like to hike there when the weather is bad. Somehow, Stefan and Nikola were there today, too, just as at the last snow storm session. Not bad they still came today.
Just as last week, my app did not work today. So just as last week, I could only follow Cláudia and Stefan. I had essentially no idea where we were going. The problem of smart phones is of course when there's too much rain, it doesn't react on the fingers anymore. It is just horrible to have to wait in rain without being able to show where to go.
By the time we were having a break, quite some people had given up and took a bus to go back home. We decided to stay in a nearby city, where we had lunch quickly outside (under the roof in front of a closed shop) and we went to an Italian restaurant. I got the feeling that the waiters didn't particularly want to have us there but they did not deny our entry either. Nice to be inside in a warm place.
The situation got much better after the break. Even though we could not see the sunlight, the rain stopped. I'm pretty sure that today's hiking trail would have been really beautiful if only the weather was good.
May 10, 2018 Hiking at Borken and Bierbörse!
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Probably for the first time since the hike at Externsteine, it was extremely discouraging during the preparation period.
Firstly, the weather forecast predicted rain for the first time in a few weeks, as if the season was already over, even though today a long weekend has started. Temperature was supposedly dropping by around 10 °C, although this time the temperature until yesterday (nearly 30 °C) was just crazy.
And then there was an indigenous German writing on the event page: "Hi, why borken? I'm from there and I cannot recommend it." It's not rare that indigenous people don't understand why we are interested in their places of origin (and they are mostly wrong), but it was the first time that there was someone writing blatantly a comment like this just a day before the event. Nevertheless, I decided to take a look at the map several times. Still there was virtually no modification to make. Since the place, Borken, was so far away from where we usually hike, I thought she might be right, which lowered MY own motivation.
All this together, it wasn't that surprising that there were even less than 20 people this time (and I was the first person to arrive at Düsseldorf Hbf this morning!). I'm happy that still I got a ticket, especially because it would have been quite expensive considering the distance we had to do by train.
We changed trains at Essen. The one we took for Borken was leaving from a distant platform, which we didn't even know existed. Essen was the first station of this line, and Borken was the last one. We crossed the entire VRR region. In fact Blankenheim was just as far away as Borken from Düsseldorf Hbf.
So just as last week, I didn't have a map, because my beloved open street maps based app does not work properly anymore since the last update. Fortunately, Google maps apparently started to work correctly with the trail since some time ago, although I don't have Google maps on my phone, so I followed simply Cláudia.
Going right next to OBI and other industrial chains, my fear of having chosen a horrible hiking trail today grew.
However, the situation changed drastically within a few minutes; the road was still made of concrete, but it was quite green everywhere. What's more, we had woods and fields with a lot of animals. Actually, we saw way more animals than humans today over the hike, mainly horses. Besides, it actually never rained there where we were, even though we could see thick clouds nearby. We were extremely lucky in this regard.
There was exactly one restaurant near the hiking trail today. If this one wasn't there, no modification would have been possible to include a restaurant today. It was open, and was a pretty cool place. Pretty cool, also because there was a group of middle age drunk people on a party bus that came towards us to leave a case of mixed drinks (of coke and beer).
Finally after the break there was a forest path without asphalt. But I must say, the entire trail was not that bad despite the asphalted paths. Not a surprise that there were only positive reviews on the website, which today's trail was based on.
The beer festival was pretty much like the one at Mülheim last year (cf. this article). People dancing and drinking overpriced beer. But at least the weather was fairly good. It wasn't like the weather until yesterday, but the weather forecasts were definitely wrong. Too bad for those who decided not to come in the last minute.
May 6, 2018 Hiking at Bochum and Kirmes!
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May merely started, and the temperature sky-rocketed. Apparently, we were reaching the peak today. Regarding this point, It wasn't quite surprising that there were 80 people who signed up for the event today. Many of them did not turn up, but still we must have been around 50, 60 people.
There was a Kirmes near Bochum, for which I already had a hiking trail nearby. I don't know exactly where I got it, but I'm sure that I did not make it myself, as it looked simply horrible. I changed quite some parts, although maybe half of the original trail remained, even though it still looked quite horrible. Rather than the details, I was extremely excited about the fact that I had included the Ruhr river for the break, and the possibility of swimming there. I did not explicitly write it down in the description, since it was clear to me that swimming there was officially illegal. But they make it often illegal in Germany because they don't want to hire life savers and take responsibility in case something happens. So as long as I stay cautious and I don't expect anyone's help in case of emergency, it is usually fine (although some Germans love to complain, in which case they just complain in order to complain and there's no logics in it).
Surprisingly, the trail from the train station to the river was quite good. We were walking through a deep forest going up and down, but in a manner that we could enjoy walking. Right before the break, we had a great view over the Ruhr, quite unexpectedly since I couldn't see it on my map.
At the river side, there were actually already quite some people swimming. To be honest, it was certainly not the cleanest water, but after walking in the infinite sunshine, it was nice to be in the cold water. There were only 3 or 4 people more who brought swimming stuff along with me. Maybe I should have made it clearer that this possibility was there.
Right after the break, my original map was apparently showing a path going through a cyclist lane. The problem was, since the last update, my iPhone app (maps.me) does not work properly. Particularly, it does not show any custom trail. So, I did not have a choice today other than following the others. Fortunately, they were flexible enough and did not need my decision. The hike went on as if there was no problem.
However, the fact alone that we were flexible did not help a lot: there were cyclists everywhere. The second half of today's hike was quite strenuous, especially those who cycle along the Ruhr (as everywhere in Germany when there is a cycling lane) are not the most professional cyclists. Along with the lack of trees and the extreme sunshine, this part of the hike was a disaster for me. I don't know how the others felt about it, but certainly not quite encouraging for those who participated for the first time. Maybe that was also the reason why some people did not want to be on the group photo.
And the kirmes was quite small, so that most of the people chose to go to the city center. I stayed there with a couple of people, drinking beer. Martin and Sandra, who joined us spontaneously at the weekend hike two weeks ago (which was also their first hike), were there today. Nice that the relationship continues since then.
From here it's not directly related to today's hike, but while talking about whether or not going somewhere during the long weekends in May, something came to my mind: many of them do. I, on the other hand, am not a big fan of flying far from where I live. Actually even if it's a paid vacation, like flying to Spain for my work, I often refuse the offer. Many people might think that's because of the carbon footprint, which is certainly true, especially after reading this nature article that came out right after this hike, it's really not encouraging to travel far.
Yet, there's something that I've been thinking about for quite some time. As you might already know, I grew up in a family where I was praised for having done what I liked, and learning for school was something rather frowned upon. So even though very often success in life is contrasted with enjoying life in the society, there was virtually no difference between them for me. Finding something I like nearby has already been always what I did. In this regard, it's not quite surprising that I don't have to leave my local life to enjoy my life.
However, I should probably understand that it is not the same for many people. After all, the modern society certainly still requires a certain number of people who have to do work that no one wants to do. And I guess many people grow up believing that work is something they don't like. And so, it's not surprising that they want to leave their local lives. In the modern society, where buying a plane ticket is merely a matter of a few minutes, it's easy to understand that people do it.
I used to sympathize with those people, although I was not making any difference myself. Now, after having organized so many hikes and seeing so many people who gave it a try and indeed enjoyed it, I'm more and more convinced that I can make more people give up meaningless displacements like via flying. Even though the effect must be tiny, it satisfies my ethics. After all, I'm a scientist, and bringing a better future to everyone is part of my job.
You don't have to go far to find happiness. This is a great example of this fortunate fact.
April 28, 2018 Hiking to Dortmund & food and music festival!
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After the hike to the Eifel, it was far more than visible that they did not want to end the story, as I could see quite some discussions going on in the WhatsApp group. In fact it was so intense that at some point I thought about leaving the group. At the same time, most of them signed up for the next weekend trip, this time to Bad Neuenahr.
Just as every year, May has somehow quite some holidays, and we'll have a couple of long weekends. This weekend was the first one, bridging to the labor day (although the labor day is Tuesday and somehow our institute is open on Monday). I didn't expect a high turnout. I only started to realize I was wrong when I saw 60 people signing up for the event today. By the way, you might have noticed that today was Saturday. That's because tomorrow I'm going to run a team marathon with my colleagues in Düsseldorf. It's a fully charged weekend.
Dortmund is of course part of the Ruhr region. Despite having never been there, I had somehow a flat region in my mind, and industrial, of course. Right after we left Wittbräucke station, we went uphills, following a non-existing trail. Then it went down, and up again. It might have been good to bear in mind that we were hiking near the Ruhr river, which is somehow always a little bit hilly. Fortunately, I wasn't the one leading the group; Cláudia, looking at the completely useless trail that I sent to everyone before the session, led the way towards whatever looked like what we should be following.
I listened to Conrad's advice and included Syburg castle in today's hike, which is the background of the group picture. After all it's not a place that we can reach easily by train, so it was a precious opportunity to get there today. We had a great view over the Ruhr from there (although I don't know how often we were having a view like that).
The trail got clearly less wild over time. Nice to see that south of Dortmund is so green though. We made a weird turn right before the break, which I planned intentionally because I couldn't find any better place nearby. It was worth doing that as there was not only a restaurant, but also well maintained grass field. I had lunch there and joined some other people who went to the restaurant for a cup of coffee.
I guess the distance to the break spot was a bit too long for some people, as they seemed to be somewhat worried about what was still remaining. Fortunately, we had already done most of the distance for today anyway. Arriving at Dortmund, we directly crashed the street food and music festival. Everything was hopelessly expensive, but the atmosphere was quite nice. I guess we can combine it with the hikes in the future in other cities too.
April 21, 2018 Weekend hike at Blankenheim!
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Exactly 6 months ago today, we did our very first weekend trip to Traben-Trarbach. Here is what I wrote right after the hike:
...I'm now not so sure if I'd organize another trip in the near future. This is because in total, I don't really see why we should stay at one place overnight. The reality is that anyway for living in Düsseldorf, we can go out in the evening together. Especially, we organize movie sessions and other fancy stuff at my place. And it's working perfectly. In this sense, there was no reason that we sleep at the same place. And I must say, I could feel high expectations of everyone, just as mine. And I guess everyone felt the same as I did...
As a matter of fact, this statement was already not exactly true, because the fact that I did not see any difference between an event at my place in Düsseldorf and at Traben-Trarbach was only from my perspective. In reality, (most of the) people come to my place and have to go back home after the event whenever it takes place at my place. Nevertheless, I had a really hard time figuring out how to make the trip better. And in the end I did not come up with anything. Yet the idea of going somewhere over a weekend somehow attracted me so much. I tried to organize one over the Easter weekend; then I cancelled it. This time, for the third time, I organized it, with quite some doubt, but I did it, probably because there were so many people who encouraged me to do so. After all, even if it goes totally wrong, it would still be just a question of money.
The organization turned out to be somewhat more cumbersome than last time, mainly because we could not fill up all the 20 places that I had reserved at the youth hostel. Almost until the last moment I had to look for people. Except for this, just as last time, the overall organization went quite well. Most of them were somehow thankful for what I did, but actually there was pretty much nothing. After all, I cannot start making more people participate in this event. So I was happy to see that all the spots were taken a week before. And as I had expected, there were quite some people in the last few days who contacted me to ask if there were still more spots available. It might have been a good idea to rely upon this last moment last time over the Easter weekend.
The place we visited, Blankenheim, is in the Eifel national park, which is a famous leisure area for people living in the Ruhr region, when they want to go hiking nearby. The decisive factor was the Blankenheim castle, because this is now a youth hostel and I could directly make a reservation for 20 people. This was by the way Jen's recommendation, as she was saying she stayed there long time ago. I personally had no idea what the Eifel national park looked like.
Since it wasn't quite far away from Düsseldorf, we took only local trains. This also allowed everyone to take the same train starting from Dortmund. It was a huge relief for me since there are always delays with the German Railway, which almost made some people miss our train last time (which did not happen last time either, because the train we took from Düsseldorf was already having a huge delay).
At Cologne central station, where we had to change trains, they changed the platform twice or three times. We could not find the train, thinking it wasn't there. It was, and I saw it by some chance. Exactly in this moment, I saw Benno, one of the spontaneous participants of this weekend's hike, but we both had to run to the train. At the same time I had to call all the others, as they were standing extremely far away from the train, even though it was the right platform.
We saw an extremely weird week this week, as the temperature was reaching almost 30 °C. This weather continued until this weekend, so that we were essentially going under the over-motivated sun. Already a quite different situation than the last weekend hike.
So, even though Blankenheim itself was quite attractive, I wasn't so sure about the hiking path. The Eifel national park may be famous, but the hiking paths might not be always good. I decided to take a relatively safe way, namely the Eifelsteig. I was a little bit worried that it would be too much forest. As it turned out, it was rather the contrary: I was extremely suffering in this temperature. I was carrying shorts, for the first time this year, but still I could not stop sweating. Obviously it was the same for everyone.
When I cancelled the event over the Easter weekend, I was particularly sorry to Stefan, who apparently had a small fight with his girlfriend because he wanted to join us whereas she didn't. In the end, she organized something just for herself, but as I cancelled the event, Stefan stayed at home virtually all the time (except for the one horrible hiking you can see below). I was really happy when he said he would join us this time, as it somehow showed he decided to trust me this time (although it is maybe worth mentioning that I said I would organize even if I had to carry all the cost if no one wanted to join, which was what I meant seriously). And apparently, he was the one who was particularly enjoying the event this time. But it's true that in contrast to my first concern, there was a good mixture of fields and forests.
On the other hand, it wasn't easy to find a place to have a break on the way, which was already something that was known to me during the organization stage. Lately, I decided to have breaks only if there are restaurants nearby, after getting quite some feedbacks saying that the lack of toilets was an obstacle. Despite the relatively long distance on the first day (18 km), we did half of the trail before we had our first break, where theoretically there was a restaurant nearby, although no one went there. Maybe it was because the location was perfect: we were on top of a hill, looking upon a field going to a valley. In this calm place, I was strongly feeling the meaning of going far from Düsseldorf.
Right after this break, we joined the Eifelsteig, which was a huge reassurance, as I had to make up the path towards the Eifelsteig and I wasn't sure if it was a good trail or not. Right after we joined the Eifelsteig, there was this river, Ahr, which was a relatively famous river in this region, probably because of its wines. I didn't know that the beginning of the Ahr was at Blankenheim. Since it was along the hiking trail, some of us (including me) decided to go in the river. Since the distance was very short, it was a good way to make it longer as I wasn't used to walking barefoot this season. Summer is coming. And it was the first time feeling the change of season.
It was almost 7pm when we arrived at the Blankenheim castle. At the reception, I had to reveal my mistake: I had forgotten to take my youth hostel membership card (btw. in Germany it is called "international membership", even though there's nothing international about it). The stupid thing is, if the group membership is not there, it costs 22 € per person, even though the group membership costs only 30 € for the entire group. I noticed the problem while walking today. And it had a hugely negative effect on the rest of my day. Anyway, at the reception, I was told that I can scan it afterwards. Nice :). Anyway I got a very positive impression at the reception.
This Blankenheim castle was a typical medieval castle. So in front of the castle, there was a small city, where we had our dinner at the restaurant right in front of the market place. Last time, we had a rough time looking for a place for dinner, as it was quite cold outside and there was no place for so many people. This time, it was nice to sit outside and this small city had somehow quite some restaurants. So one of my biggest concerns was quickly removed.
So in a European medieval castle, there's always a cellar. It is nowadays used in various different ways, but in the case of Blankenheim, it was a self-service bar, i.e. we could go there at any moment and get beer/wine/whatever we could find there. We just had to make strokes to mark how much we consumed. It appeared to me extremely against the idea of "youth" hostel, but why not. I was thinking I would be there maybe until midnight, but despite the already physically hard day, we somehow managed to stay there until 2am. I was more than dead when I was in my bed.
Next day, I was sleeping tight when the first alarm rang at 6am. The breakfast was supposed to be at 8am. I don't understand why some people were so overly motivated... But somehow I wasn't as exhausted as I had feared when I went to bed. At 8am, even though I was indeed complaining, I was quite okay to start a new hiking day.
And so at 9:30, we could already start hiking. From the Blankenheim castle, we only had to follow the Eifelsteig. No need for me to guide the group. Some time after we left the castle, we met some other hikers on the way, saying "good morning". It appeared so weird to me to hear the word "morning" during a hike, as it is never in the morning when we go hiking around Düsseldorf.
I did not notice myself, but some others were saying the trail on the second day was easier and more beautiful. Strangely, they attributed this to my strategical planning, even though there was no way to know the elevation profile for me.
On the second day, it was much easier to find a place to get something to eat. Anyway I was planning to go to Nettersheim for lunch, where coincidentally there was a festival, commemorating the 30-year anniversary of twin towns. Stefan asked some locals which town was the twin town. No one knew it. So much for the motivation of organizing a festival.
Since we had quite some time, we took several breaks on the way. It was obviously almost too much for some people. Especially when we were in Nettersheim, we were in a beer garden and somehow there was always someone ordering something to eat or drink, so that there was no chance to determine the moment to leave. In the end, people simply stood up even though in that moment Olaf's French fries were arriving.
I must say, the end of the trail was extremely beautiful. We were going through a forest with a steep cliff on the side, in which we found caves. There must have been bats inside. After the forest we were in an infinite field. The weather was still great, with summer-ish clouds everywhere to see. It was almost a pity that we were finishing the hike in this moment.
At Urft, we took a train back to Cologne. And from there back to Düsseldorf. It wasn't so surprising that some of the people came to my place for dinner afterwards, to enjoy the last moment of this weekend.
If you read all of what I wrote above, you probably understand how I felt after the hike: it largely overshot my expectations. In short, I guess the following points were the most striking ones for this. Firstly, the weather was way better than the last time, as last time we pretty much never saw the sun with sporadic rain. And this time, it was almost like summer. Secondly, the place where we stayed, Blankenheim, was much more appropriate to our trip, as we could go to a local restaurant quickly and we had a perfect cellar. Other than these points, I don't know exactly what contributed to this success. One way or other, it was an encouraging one. I'm looking forward to the next session, which is going to take place next month, at Bad Neuenahr :)
April 15, 2018 Hiking from Bochum to Castrop and Kirmes!
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It took several days to fully recover from my birthday party last week. Maybe partly because of the age, but maybe also because it went on for a couple of days afterwards, as Eduard, an old friend of mine from Göttingen, stayed at my place for a few days and there were always people coming to my apartment. Whatever the reason was, there's so much going on everyday here. Summer is coming, there'll be even more going on.
In this sense, today was like the beginning of the season, because I specifically chose this hike from Bochum to Castrop in order to go to the Kirmes of Castrop, which is a moving amusement park. And it was the first time for me to go to Castrop anyway, which I would probably not visit otherwise since it's in the Ruhr region far away from the Ruhr river.
Bochum, Zeche Constantin, which was a subway stop and our starting point. It doesn't look bad, but noisy. It took us something like half an hour until we were truly walking inside the nature. I don't really understand why no one starts complaining. But those who knew Castrop must have been surprised that after crossing the highway, it was extremely green everywhere. It looked like we were truly walking in a forest.
Since we were still inside the Ruhr region, it was extremely easy to find a place to have a break. This time we had a very large park, with an ... Ice cream stand! Just as it was nice to have a nap outside. Some people were playing Frisbee. I was eating an ice cream :)
Today it was fully guided by Cláudia. These days, I have pretty much nothing to do anymore whenever we go hiking. I just post the event on CS. Then there'll be someone who can take me to the hiking location for free, and there's also a guide. I just have to say whenever I want to have break. Such a great event. I don't understand why people don't want to do that.
I must say I was surprised to see so many trees in the second half of the trail, especially looking at it from the map. And it was not entirely flat either. It was almost not so wrong to call it a hike in the end
For the entire day, I was not really sure if the place I chose for the ending was the right place for the Kirmes. It was. Even though the aspect of amusement park was not that important, we still enjoyed the atmosphere.
Next week is our weekend hike to Blankenheim. Let's see what it's gonna be like :)
To my 30th birthday
The 20th century was a weird period of time, in which two different systems, socialism and capitalism, were competing on the same ideology: economy. Even though economy itself cannot be ideology following my definition (because the economic policy is the consequence of an ideology), it certainly determined the direction of each country. In this sense, it was not particularly important to have a vision at that time.
Today, it is probably clear to everyone's eyes, that the same course is not sustainable anymore. At least after the range of economic policies, such as quantitative easing and zero-interest rate policy, we are still not seeing the same progress as we did at that time.
In such a world, it is up to the ideology of everyone to determine where the society should go. And quite obviously, not having any idea is not sustainable either, just as we saw in the UK or US (and more recently, in Catalonia). And the price these countries pay is the loss of the greatest brains, because in such a flexible and handy world, we may discuss and debate, but we don't have to protest. If one country is not suitable, we can simply go to another country, which is of course easy for those who have specific skills. And especially when certain mindless countries take irresponsible decisions, which is economically suicidal, politically senseless and ethically questionable, those who have a little bit of comprehension would leave quickly.
Independently, the aspect of being a constituent of the society was important until merely several years ago, since each individual could not do much without others' help. Behold the science. Next to scientists' work, we needed manufacturers who deliver the experimental equipment, companies that deliver the samples, secretaries who contact these people and looked for train tickets in case of research trips, for which probably travel agencies had to be involved, etc. Today, all this can be by one person, and still there's probably enough space for this person to perform scientific work. In this sense, what we need is not people who do what they were told to, but creative people, who do things differently than others.
In such a world, why would we ever need someone who has good marks at school, which are anyway based on the idea that everyone should do the same things?
Fortunately, I come from an extremely liberal family, that didn't particularly care about grades at school. I was lucky, because Japan at that time was going through an uncertain period of time; parents forcing children to study at auxiliary schools were everywhere to see. Anyway, as you might already know, learning for school was considered as nonsense at my parents' place. At least I did not have to be worried about it.
Still, grades were like byproducts of "having done something" for me. So during my study in physics at the university, I loved to see my grades, especially in subjects for which I spent a lot of time. I totally sucked at experimental stuff, but that was also perfectly fine, or even I was happy to get horrible scores in subjects I sucked at, because it was like the proof that the marks are not random labels. And after all, I loved theoretical physics. And it was just important to me to spend a lot of time in it. The byproducts, my marks, underpinned the effort and the time I invested.
Those happy days went to an end rather abruptly. Well, I don't know what kind of understanding you have for physics, but for me, physics describes the nature by deducing from intuitive understandings (or other way around, we may simply induce from simple observations). And if you know a little bit about the modern development of physics, you certainly know that there are two important branches of physics that were initiated at the beginning of last century: general relativity and quantum physics. General relativity has essentially two conditions. One, nothing is faster than the light. Two, the physics is the same in any system, regardless of at which speed the system moves. Maybe this doesn't sound so simple, but after some time, we can already start thinking about the consequences of these assumptions.
Quantum physics, on the other hand, is very different: there are the Schrödinger equation, probability interpretation of wave functions, Pauli's exclusion principle, Heisenberg uncertainty... People explain the origin of each of them, but basically, I understood nothing at the university at that time.
Quantum physics being so important in theoretical physics, I felt so humiliated for my incapacity, especially after spending so much time. But after all this, I could still accept the reality, because not understanding something is not wrong. In the end, I gave up, and it's fair to say that in that moment, in summer 2009, I went to the final exam in the hope of seeing a bad mark.
This exam, however, delivered a completely different outcome: if you come from the Western world, you probably know Hans Christian Andersen's "Emperor's New Clothes". I felt like I was living in that world, in the moment I saw, that I was the one who got the best score in quantum physics.
So in the end, I did understand that my once beloved subject physics was just a chunk of lies and shams. And the marks, which I believed were the byproducts of "having spent time to acquire new understanding" turned into just a symbol of slaving away. In the end, physics became just a lie for me. And I didn't want to know anything about it anymore.
My summer 2009 was miserable. I did literally nothing and spent most of my time in the field in front of the physics department. Not quite surprisingly, it was not much later that I decided to cycle from Europe to Japan, leaving physics and especially the society, which had been a popular idea at least in the last couple of decades. I talked about opening a pizzeria in Georgia, which many people thought was a joke, and which wasn't. I preferred to live honestly in the middle of nowhere, rather than just pretending to understand something.
At that time, I got a girlfriend from France, who soon became the focus of my life, not because I liked her so much, but because there was nothing anymore to pursue for me. I knew it wouldn't be sustainable to live like this, but I convinced myself that's what life was like. There was still one semester to go, and I was basically waiting for the end of my bachelor degree. So when I got a very good mark in thermodynamics and statistical physics, which was the last course in theoretical physics, it still did not get rid of the feeling of being surrounded by people who didn't daresay the emperor was naked. Yet, I decided to write my bachelor thesis in the work group of Marcus Müller, who gave the lecture in thermodynamics and statistical physics. And my supervisor, Kostas Daoulas, already knew me due to the mark I got in this subject. In contrast to his high expectations, my motivation was dreadfully low.
There's this thing called Molecular Dynamics in physics, which is essentially the simplest implementation of the Newtonian mechanics. I always considered it as a way to make beautiful videos to show how atoms might behave. But not more than that, because the core of this method, the interactions between the atoms, is mostly not based on analytical physics but they are given empirically. Physics appeared to me even more ridiculous when I found out that my bachelor thesis would be based on Molecular Dynamics.
Each day, I spent very little time in my office and did as little as possible, just in order to muddle through. It must have been frustrating for Kostas to see me every time with very little progress. While observing him virtually writing my bachelor thesis, I was wondering, how a person can spend his entire life on such a stupid thing. Yet, it seemed to me like Kostas was trying to show me something. Something really important.
And indeed, he was, or at least I started to understand a new aspect of physics: It is true that the ultimate purpose of physics is explain the nature on the basis of intuitive perceptions, but such a simple connection of A to B is not to be seen every time, because there are also physical phenomena, that simply cannot be explained with what we know. In this case, we create something called "models", which would somehow systematically reproduce these physical phenomena, even though in many cases they don't explain why we observe them, and we often don't know where these models come from. So in this sense, we are actually not understanding the nature. But in fact, we are not trying to, because there are real problems in physics that have to be solved. And whether we do understand what we are doing is a conceptually different question.
In the end, what I thought about quantum mechanics was fundamentally wrong. We, physicists, never claim that quantum physics delivers facts. Yet within the range of what we see it does, and if it is what we want it to do, then we still continue employing it, because what we are doing is to solve real problems, and not explaining the metaphysics of the basis.
Day by day, I could feel this new understanding growing, but it was hopelessly and miserably too late. At the end, my bachelor thesis, which I would have loved if I had followed Kostas from the beginning, had pretty much nothing to claim. And the very person, Kostas, who brought me back from my despair and who had high expectations in me, left his final words:
"I'm deeply disappointed in you."
Summer 2010. It was a strangely long and tasteless period of time, in which the only one important thing for me was to launch a new life. After this hateful summer, I ended the relationship with my girlfriend, applied for an exchange year in France, where I wrote my master thesis, in which I invested all my passion and vehemence and got the highest mark anyone had ever heard of at the university of Lyon, and cycled from France to Japan, without stopping in Georgia.
In the dark forest of Georgia, in the vast desert of Gobi, I had to realize every time that nothing I learned during my study would save my life. The fact that I still did not give up on physics afterwards could solely attributed to what Kostas made me understand. Many travellers like me love to be in the middle of wilderness, which I did as well. But deep in me, there was something that was also looking forward to going back to science.
Just as I was expecting, my final mark of master had no meaning for my Ph.D. Together with my master thesis, for which I was also getting salary from a company, my claim, that marks play no role after the study, turned out to be 100% true. And anyway there's no mark for the Ph.D thesis, which conceptually makes sense (also for the reasons I mentioned above, I also support the idea of abolishing marks altogether everywhere).
But apparently a human being requires some kind of systematic measure. And the more it is simplistic and stupid, the more it becomes popular. And this time, it was not called "mark", but "paper", "H-index" or "impact factor". It's incredible that in the scientific community such an extremely unscientific thing is casually used. And we can only wonder, how much rubbish people can publish, just in order to increase those numbers.
Here, again. I went my way, because for me, the scientific articles are written only for the sake of the development of science. The question for me was how much you can fascinate the audience.
As a person just entering the scientific world, I didn't have strong support, except from my supervisor, Michel Perez. He himself always behaved distinctly and gave unorthodox presentations, which are strikingly dynamical every time. Having his strong support, I could fully enjoy my freedom of expression.
Even though I could go ahead with my way by saying "my boss agrees", the same thing did not seem to be the same. Basically, everyone was talking about the importance of publishing papers. In the end, my Ph.D thesis consisted of 4 chapters and each of them was supposed to be a paper. However, I could still not justify this "unscientific" publishing. After all, if science is all about publishing, I didn't really want to continue there.
During my Ph.D, I published ONE paper. Exactly one. People around me were puzzled by what I was doing. At that time, I was already seriously starting to think about going a different way. To be true, going to Georgia was getting more and more realistic to me. Anyway, there was pretty much no institute where I wanted to work after my Ph.D. And working in a company was out of question for me anyway.
Yet, there was one institute where I was wishing I'd be work: Max Planck institute in Düsseldorf, Germany. There was one very particular article written by one of the coworkers, Ali Nematollahi, that caught my attention. I read a couple of others published by the people there. With each article, my interest grew. In the end, I asked Michel to choose one of the directors of the MPIE, Jörg Neugebauer, for the Ph.D defence committee and then I wrote him a message, to ask if he would be interested to hire me. MPIE being a world class institute, I did not expect to get a positive answer.
To my great surprise, I did. And this showed me, that someone like Jörg Neugebauer does decide to take a person by their research content, and not by the number of papers published.
Some time after I came to Düsseldorf, I found out, that here at my institute, there was this computer programme called SPHInX that no one knows outside my institute and anyway no one really uses even in my institute. Everywhere around the world, people use what is called VASP instead, which is a commercial product developed at the university of Vienna. VASP is not created in the way that it could be modified by normal people, whereas SPHInX is. However, due to its performance VASP has been always the standard, and we call what we can get form VASP science. It's not only about VASP, what we scientists do is to serve existing programs, and we obtain results only as much as those programmes allow.
Yes, just as we did not think of a world without dictators merely a few centuries ago, we scientists don't deplore the fact that our possibilities are fully limited by existing computer programmes. Yet we should realize that there'll be the French revolution that will change what we think of science and what our work is. And for this reason, we need someone like Christoph Freysoldt, who is the main developer of SPHInX and believes SPHInX is the future of science. And that's why we need someone like Jörg Neugebauer, who had the strong philosophy of creating the platform which will place the scientists above computer programmes. We are witnessing the transition to democracy in the scientific community, where we'll be able to express ourselves freely. All this has already started, here at my institute. And just as Kostas and Michel supported some time in the past, now I get full support of my current supervisor, Tilmann, and the director of the department, Jörg, both of whom placed me at the core of this story.
Looking back on the last 10 years, my mind was more and more deviating from the "social standards" and I was more and more becoming a lone wolf. Yet, there were the greatest minds of the 21st century who brought me back to the society. I did hesitate. I did doubt the meaning of life. Not anymore. Things will be different, because we are the very people who will make those differences, and those bright minds made me understand that how the limited human capacity can make an unlimited bright future. I wasn't expecting this moment. But if I had known 10 years ago that such a future was ahead of us, I certainly would have hoped I'd be there. And here I am, after the stormy 10 years, my stage is ready, my contribution is awaited.
And I'll make you see what the 21st century should look like.
April 8, 2018 Hiking to Venlo!
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Couple of months ago, I started thinking about how to organize my birthday party. At that time, I thought of going to a Chinese restaurant or occupying an entire pub etc. Something we can enjoy together. In the end, I didn't really have any idea. I'm not particularly proud of myself for organizing the ravioli party at my place again, on the day of my 30th birthday. For me, it was another way to give some activity to the people so that my apartment wouldn't become a disco. It dramatically failed. Some time before midnight it went off. Fortunately my neighbours did not complain. Interestingly, the party itself went to an end around 3am. It was similar when Eduard organized a party for his 30th birthday. Maybe it's just because of the age. We cannot make it until 5am anymore... However, obviously sense of responsibility did not really grow over time, as I organized a hike to Venlo today.
At 9:30am. I was lying in my bed, completely dead. I got up, helped Perle to clear up the dishwasher, and went back to bed. All the others (there were some people staying over at my place after the party) looked okay. I felt so stupid that I was lying while others were cleaning up my apartment.
At 11:30am, we were standing in front of Düsseldorf Hbf. A couple of minutes later, we went towards the platform. Then it was announced that the platform had changed. We moved to the announced platform. The train did not come. Apparently they announced a wrong platform. I was having a truly thrilling beginning of my 30th birthday.
One hour later, the train indeed came this time, even though they sent us everywhere again. It did not matter a lot in my case, as I was asleep pretty much all the time. I was feeling somewhat better when we arrived at Kaldenkirchen, the last station in Germany before entering the Netherlands.
Some people were already waiting for us there, drinking beer. I must say the city center of Kaldenkirchen looked also quite attractive. It's really a pity that this is the last station in Germany, since we might start from this city but it's not very likely that we would ever finish there.
Because of my birthday, I wanted to do a special hike, even if going to Venlo is not particularly spectacular. Regardless of how special it was this time, we have already walked from Kaldenkirchen to Venlo, although we went exactly in the opposite direction last time when we left the city. After that success, I was rather afraid of organizing a less interesting one. But I must say, the weather was particularly promising. It looked like spring started today, exactly on my birthday. And also accordingly, there were quite some people, clearly more than 50.
I wasn't feeling very well while walking, but still I walked, silently. It appeared to me like torture to have to smile at everyone who wished me a happy birthday. I was just walking.
In contrast to last time, there was no sign or what so ever at the border. What a disappointment. Anyway since we started very late today, we decided to have a break there, also because there was a restaurant nearby. It was the first time that the weather was so good that it made me want to have a nap for some time, although I had a good reason to do so anyway...
After lunch, there were some people going quite slowly, so I decided to walk slowly myself too so that they would not get lost. I knew that most of the people were way ahead of us, but I thought they would wait for us to take a group picture. They didn't, mainly because some of them had to go back to Düsseldorf early, which was not surprising considering the starting time. In the end, on my 30th birthday, I was not on the group photo. I hope today was not the omen of what my life will look like in the coming 10 years...
We were quite looking forward to going to an ice cream parlor after the hike, where we were last time. It was closed, but not closed the entire day. It was closed just 15 min before we arrived. Another moment to hate German railway. Anyway, we managed to go back home. And it wasn't quite over when we were back, since we still had to finish the stuff from yesterday.
April 1, 2018 Hiking from Mettmann to Kettwig!
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The summer-ish weather of last week crumbled quickly this week, towards Easter. It reached the minimum today. When I got up this morning, it was raining. The sky looked like politicians: gray, not really clear what it wanted to say. Since it was in the middle of Easter, I was anyway not expecting a high turnout, so I put a relatively long trail in the middle of a dull region. And this weather. It was a wonder that there were still people willing to go hiking with us.
Now you might be wondering, why we did a boring hiking trail even though there are way more trails than Sundays that I have in Düsseldorf. That's related to how the railway lines are organised in this region. There are two horizontal lines that go from East to West, i.e. the one that goes from Dortmund to Duisburg, and the one that goes from Hagen to Düsseldorf. And there are three vertical lines that go from South to North, namely the one from Düsseldorf to Duisburg, the one from Wuppertal to Essen and the one from Hagen to Dortmund. With two horizontal lines and three vertical lines, it leaves two empty squares. Today's trail would somewhat fill one of the squares, the western one. All this just to say one thing: I wanted to do this trail for geometric reasons, not because it was a beautiful trail.
Today's starting point, Mettmann, lies on a train line, which starts at Düsseldorf and ends at Mettmann, i.e. everyone had to come to Düsseldorf first in order to go there. Of course I did it on purpose, so that someone can take me for free on his/her ticket. It must have been a nightmare for those coming from Bochum for example today. Not bad that there were still some of them. Even Thomas skipped.
Anyway, we were 12 when we left Mettmann. It was already raining, although not very strongly. This already not very beautiful city, Mettmann, looked even uglier today.
Some time last year, I must have cycled this way all the way from Mettmann to Kettwig. Somehow I thought it was completely flat except for the last part. Certainly we cannot say it was mountainous, but it was not very flat either. Regarding the fact that we did not have a break up to Heiligenhaus, which was already 11 km away from Mettmann, it was not surprising that we were starting to be silent after some time.
When we arrived at Heiligenhaus, the rain became even stronger. We sat under the roof in front of a closed café. It was cold, but I kind of liked watching the rain there. Well, it's a common feeling that we all like to watch rain from dry space.
There's this part between Heiligenhaus and Kettwig that I was looking forward to. Just as everywhere next to the Ruhr on the south side, it was a steep hill. So we could have a great view over the Ruhr. Luckily, the weather was not particularly bad in that moment.
Even though Kettwig is rather famous for its old city and therefore a touristic place, there was almost nothing open today. I was expecting to be one ice cream parlor to be open (because it was Italian and not German), but even that one was closed. Somehow, there was this one German pub that was open. At least we could have warm drinks inside. It was a long journey today, after all.
So much for the last hike in my 20s. The weather forecast predicts an extremely good weather for next weekend. That's all about my life. I'll look forward to it :)