Friday, January 31, 2014

Adventures in Oktoberfest: International Edition

Photo: Evangelos-Athanassios Mylonas 

Introducing Wild World of World Wide Oktoberfest

As I've stated in previous posts, like this one and this one, I managed to find a job as an International Event Manager and procure a German residence permit right before my Danish residence permit was due to expire. It wasn't exactly the type of position I had hoped for since a large part of me going back to school for my master's degree was to help me transition out of event management. But beggars certainly can't be choosers and this job would help keep me on the continent of Europe, even if I wasn't in the country of Denmark.

So what exactly would I be doing? Well, the short answer is managing Oktoberfest events in Aarhus, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Stockholm, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Amsterdam. I would travel around Europe like a circus carney, filling people up with ok beer and bad food. Needless to say, my mother was not excited about my new job and said, "so you got another degree to become a beer wench?" Thanks mom.

A more in-depth description of my responsibilities would be that I was charged with helping my boss C, develop his organization into a true production company and help him expand his business in the English market. C was a former financier who left the banking world to live out his dream of building an Oktoberfest empire and knew more about money than event production. 

When C contacted me for an interview, small alarm bells went off when I couldn't find any information about his company. But my doubts were assuaged when we met and I found out that the company was basically just him. This was his first attempt at expansion and I would be his first full-time employee. Any other doubts that developed were quickly snuffed out with the belief that getting into a company right at the beginning would be the perfect opportunity for me to put my mark on it. I could see several areas I could improve and looked forward to shaping his company into one that was more efficient and productive. 

First stop, Aarhus

Before C would give me a contract, he had me work a test event in Aarhus. I would be paid for my efforts and if we both agreed that things went well, I would be hired full-time. He paid for the transportation and hotel accommodations and I would pay for my own food when I wasn't on duty. I thought it sounded fair and met him in Vojens, Denmark. There, we would load up the trailer trucks and drive to Aarhus together. Also in for the ride was the company intern, Julie. When discussing the trial run, C mentioned that another person would be working me. But when I asked about my partner, C said that they changed their mind. He added that they were German and Germans didn't like to work. More alarm bells went off. And again I ignored them. Stupid girl.

All in all, the first event was pretty easy. C had hired a group of gentlemen from Poland that did most of the hard labor, including setting up the benches and tables, and building up the bar and kitchen. Professional builders constructed the tent and Julie handled the tickets. I was put in charge of the gift shop and was responsible for the inventory and making sure the girls didn't steal. Poor planning on C's part meant that Aarhus Oktoberfest coincided with a major music festival featuring Alicia Keys. Also, he missed the "Oktober" in Oktoberfest and this event took place in July. Suffice to say we had few customers. He still broke even, but I was surprised since it looked like we never had more than 100 people in a tent with a capacity for almost 2,000. 

The event ran from Thursday to Saturday with breakdown all day Sunday. When the last guests on Saturday left, C thanked me for a job well-done and said I could take it easy the next day. Now, I've learned the ropes of production in MTV and there, everyone is expected to participate in de-rig and breakdown. So staying in my hotel while everyone else is working hard didn't sit well with me and I still showed up Sunday morning to see if I could help. C was genuinely surprised when he saw me and asked what I was doing. I explained that I've always helped during the breakdown of events and wanted to see if I could lend a hand. He laughed at my eagerness and told me to either go shopping or go back to the hotel since the crew had everything under control. He even gave me a few extra kroner for my efforts. 

I spent so little time on site that I was able to use the same ticket for the bus back to my hotel. The next day we packed up and I was put on a train back to Copenhagen. "I guess this won't be too bad," I thought as the train swayed softly, making its way through Denmark. Unfortunately, my thought was premature as the following cities would soon show. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Friends in Unexpected Places

Making friends in a new country is hard. If your move abroad was to continue your education, then you're one of the lucky ones since campus life can act as a buffer against total isolation. Even if you fail to make deep connections, you still have the opportunity to interact with other individuals. 

But when you make the move to a foreign country in a non-academic setting, things are completely different. Even with roommates, it's possible to go days without talking to anyone. And If you're a social person like me, this is especially frustrating. So getting out the house on a regular basis is key. 

Until you find friends to entertain you, you'll have to find ways to entertain yourself. Coffee shops are good, but can become repetitive. My solution was the film noir series at the M√ľnchner Stadtmuseum. For only €4, you can experience the beauty of 50's cinema, like a young Marlon Brando in a Streetcar Named Desire. And with an adjacent cafe offering light plates and a lovely Pino Noir, you can turn the experience into a personal date night.  But be quick since the series ends February 15th.

Young Marlon Brando

Eventually, even the gangsters and detectives lost their luster. I longed for human interaction and intelligent conversation. And this is when I turned to the expat board,Toytown Germany

Normally, I shy away from expat groups. I'm clumsy and awkward and meeting large groups of new people makes me go into my own head and overanalyze everything around me. But my friend suggested Toytown since she had good experience meeting cool people there. So when I saw they were having a Christmas party that was pretty close to my home, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and went. 

Good lord, the party was everything that I had feared. It was just as uncomfortable as a high school dance when you're the new kid in town. But at least there was booze to help mask my discomfort. And I did meet a really nice couple. But they told me they were leaving the country for good next month and this was probably their last event. Dang.

Not to be discouraged, I decided to give Toytown another chance and found a writing group that sounded pretty interesting. 

Fellow writers pouring out our creative souls

This time, I fit right in. The group is small, so conversations between the members is easy. And sharing your writing is such an intimate act that after a few meetings and a few beers, you start to feel connected to each other. Absences are noticed and constructive criticism is given from a place of love and respect. 

Also, by meeting in smaller groups, you're able to discuss the expat experience in a more personal manner. One of the members, Pam, has lived in almost as many cities as years I've been alive. She reminds me of a more subdued version of Auntie Mame with her tales of foreign suiters and beautiful vintage jewelry. The information and advice that she and the others have offered has helped to make the transition to Germany a little easier. I feel a little less alone.

Another strategy that has been helpful to my friend in Berlin was joining a church. But I like to drink and swear and most church members would interpret that as heathen behavior, so I can't really recommend that route. However, I will not discourage anyone from using Jesus for companionship. If you're in Munich, there are several churches with services in English. I've checked out the Munich International Community Church and can say that it's not too bad. The service starts at 3:30pm and they have free cake afterwards, so you get to sleep late and get rewarded with sweets for being good. 

I guess the trick to meeting new people is to be willing to try new experiences, which is probably the reason why you moved to a new country in the first place. And remember, that even in your loneliest hour, there are people out there who feel exactly how you feel. You just have to have the courage to find them.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tis better to give than to recieve

When I was about 6, my favorite outfit was a pair of yellow corduroy stirrups and a pink and yellow striped sweater. I would have worn it everyday if my mother let me and even when it was obvious that I had outgrown the pants (they rose way past my ankles and I used two pairs of slouched socks to cover my exposed legs) I would not give them up. Fed up with her daughter wearing highwaters, my mother informed me that my beloved pants would be going to the daughter of a good family friend. 

And I threw such a fit. How could she, didn't she know that those garments were a part of me? That they and I were one? Once I calmed down enough to listen to reason, she said that the clothes were only meant to be with me temporarily and it was now time for me to say good-bye. As the head of a Christian household, she asked "how can you expect to receive blessings when your hands are closed and unwilling to bless others?" Ouch. So it was with a very heavy and reluctant heart that I said good-bye to my fabric friends and gave them to a girl that I knew wouldn't love them as much as I did. Little bitch.

Now that I have a few more years under my belt, it has become much easier to say good-bye to things in closet. My mother's words still ring in my ears and I am more than happy to pass on the blessings that I have received. I often set aside items that I think will look good on my friends and surprise them with gifts when they visit. Interestingly enough, my wardrobe improves whenever I get rid of things and pass them on. I guess the act of reduction allows the remaining items to stand out more. There have been countless times where I totally forgot about an item until I cleaned out my closet/ suitcase/ drawer and it magically appeared. 

Additionally, I have been the fortunate recipient of my friends' purges. Much of my current wardrobe comes from my best friend whom I love dearly. She always has a garbage bag full of clothes at her house, waiting to be donated to the local charity. When she picked me up from the airport during a trip home and informed me that such a bag was in the trunk of her car, I literally stripped in the middle of the street and gleefully ravaged it. 

Above is just a few of the items I've been really fortunate to get from my friends. Unbeknownst to my girls, their items came when I needed them most and could hardly afford food much less new gloves or warm sweaters. And being on the receiving end of such love pushes me to be even more generous. I've given away leather jackets, boots, designers shoes, and even electronics, all in the name of paying it forward. 

So if you're looking to purge your closets and help out a few strangers, there are a number of options. The most obvious one is a charity shop. I however, use them as a last resort as I would like my clothes to be free to those who need them most. Instead, when I am in Copenhagen, I use the clothing drop in Christiania. Located a few steps away from Moonfisher, people can take and leave whatever they like. Another option is Facebook. There are numerous groups dedicated to facilitating free exchanges between people living in the same area. This one is for Copenhagen while this one is for people living in Munich. To find similar ones in your area, just do a search for "free your stuff" plus your city. Craigslist is always an option, but if the items you're looking to unload are from your home country and hard to find in you present location, I suggest an expat board like Toy Town Germany.  

Remember, the goal is the help others out while also unburdening yourself of unnecessary items. So be nice and refrain from donating garbage. If the pants, shirt, or coat is beyond repair, throw it away. Follow the golden rule of donation; give onto others as you would like others to give onto you. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Bucking the Trend

For the past two years, the fashion world has been assaulted by "tribal" prints and candy colored satchels. Anyone with a Pinterest account has undoubtedly seen numerous pins of oversized sweaters, tiny mini skirts, and second-skin leggings with Aztec inspired patterns coupled with the ubiquitous Cambridge satchel, or more recently, the new "it" bag by Celine . Nothing is wrong with this. However, the danger lies in following these (as well as other) trends and ending up with a wardrobe that looks dated. Sure those skinny jeans with ten different colors look great now, but will they still look good in 1-2 years when black is again the new black and you're one of the few people still sporting rainbow colored attire?

Part of the secret of building up a great wardrobe on a shoe string budget is the ability to pick pieces that are timeless. Individually or collectively, your garments should be able to blend into any decade and only stand out because of their fabulousness. For example, dark skinny jeans aren't going anywhere. Even if the fashion gods dictate a new age of acid wash bell bottoms, dark skinny jeans will always look good, as long as they are paired with the right accessories. 

So what is a person to do who wants to be both in style and timeless? My method has been to isolate the parts of the trend that works best for my personal style and incorporate them into my wardrobe. For instance, I love bold graphic prints and bright colors. But instead of purchasing several pairs of multi-colored leggings or skirts, I instead found an infinity scarf with a great pattern. The neutral colors allow the pattern to really stand out, but gives it enough versatility for me to be able to pair it with a black leather bomber jacket, a red vintage shirtwaist dress, or a pea green cashmere sweater. 

Scarf, Monki with red vintage dress, green cashmere sweater and black moto jacket

Likewise, the satchel will most likely fade in popularity and those stuck with such a bag may very well regret their purchase. I like the satchel primarily because of its structure; I'm a sucker for a bag that does not slouch under its own weight. But paying $100+ for such a season specific item is simply not an option. Instead, I found a vintage leather backpack that had the structure that I love in an iconic style. Popular since the 60's, the bag will look good several years from now. And as its age already demonstrates, the bag only gets better with time as the leather takes on a more weathered look. Plus, I found it in a vintage store for kun 240 DKK or about 34 euro. If you would like your own, Ebay has some from time to time. Just stay away from anything faux and look for small time sellers that have a few items to sell instead of the big ones from Asia. 

Red vintage Dutch style leather backpack

The only caveat to the "beware of fashion trends" advice is oxfords. I predict those things are here to stay so long as the economy is in the crapper and people are unable/ unwilling to buy shoes that are unpractical (I'm looking at you, 5" stilettos). Unlike ballet flats, a good pair will literally last you years, even with everyday use. A cobbler can fix up the heel when they start to wear and a good shoe polish can restore the leather to almost new. Plus, they have the comfort of sneakers with the sophistication of an old English gentleman. I am very, very fortunate that my mother bought this lovely pair for me when the cheap ones I bought from Old Navy literally fell apart. Of course she found them at New York's discount heaven, Century 21, for less than half of their normal retail price. For those of you in the UK or Germany who are unable to take a trip to New York just for discount shoes, TK Maxx  has a number of lovely brogues on sale, many for less than 50 pounds or euros. I'm a fan of the Bertie. Unfortunately, only the English site supports online sales, which means everyone else will have to actually go to TK Maxx for the shoes of their choice.