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Confessions of a secret mermaid

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Mermaiding? What’s that?”

This is the answer Julia gets when she tells someone mermaiding is her hobby. “Mermaiding” is the practice of swimming with a mermaid tail costume; as I didn’t know anything about the sport, I decided to find out what it was all about.

A really new idea?

The idea of mermaiding actually dates back over 100 years ago: in 1911 the Australian professional swimmer and actress Anette Kellerman was the first actress to wear a swimmable mermaid costume in her first movie, called The Mermaid. Later, she acted many times as a real-life mermaid, designing her own costumes and sometimes tailoring them by herself. Since then, mermaiding has become popular in the US and all over the world. The must-see attraction for all mermaid fans is the Weeky Wachee Springs, Florida, which hosts mermaid shows in natural springs. The audience stays behind big, underwater windows to see the stunning show in the crystalline water on the floor of the sea. In 1984, with the movie Splash which tells the story of a man who falls in love with a woman who is secretly a mermaid, the sport earned its place in pop culture.

A sport´s discipline?

Nowadays, mermaiding is not only practised in swimming pools, but also in the open sea. Often it’s not only considered a sport but also as an environmental activity which helps to protect sea animals. In order to find out what mermaiding is really about, I interviewed Julia, who does this sport regularly and who set up her own website recently.

You do mermaiding as a sport. Can you explain how it works?

Mermaiding is basically swimming with flippers. You swim with a „monoflipper“ on your feet and a kind of tube made of cloth or wetsuit material to cover your legs up to your belly, just like a mermaid. It´s quite similar to dolphin swimming. You have to learn the technique…but that´s not too difficult.

Where did you get the idea from? And how long have you been doing it?

It’s always been my dream to swim like Ariel. I discovered the website “Magictail,” where you can buy the mermaid tails. Last year for Christmas I bought one in my favourite colour and since then I’ve been practicing in a pool in Brandenburg. Of course, you should ask for permission to swim with the costume 🙂

If someone were to say to you „But that´s for kids; it´s not a real sport“, how would you respond?

I’d say that it’s an official sport! In many cities, there are even mermaid swimming schools.

What are the things you like most about mermaiding?

I like realizing my dream and the freedom you feel while doing it. And you get a lot of attention: because it’s not common, kids in the pool often shout, “Mum, look, there’s a mermaid!”

How does the training work? Is it really exhausting?

I do it by myself, because it’s difficult to find people who want to join. You have to focus on the technique (like a wave movement), and fitness: Freediving, holding your breath… is more difficult than it sounds! In order to move, you need a lot of energy!

Would you say that it’s a girls’ sport, or do men also participate?

Haha, good question! I would say men can also do it. I was swimming with my boyfriend half a year ago, me as a mermaid and he was just swimming “normally.” Then one day he wanted to try it himself, and one week later he bought his own mermaid tail.

I’ve heard that it’s really popular in the US, and also that the salary for professional mermaids is high. Is it similar in Germany?

Yes, there are more swimming schools and also professional models that do mermaiding. For example, Mermaidkat is quite a famous mermaid model. She also sells her own costumes. In Germany, it hasn’t become quite so popular yet; I don’t even know if there are any models.

What qualifications do you need to do mermaiding? And what kind of equipment do you need?

Well, first: You have to know how to swim and dive, as you spend more time underwater than swimming. Secondly, you need suitable equipment. The best things to have are a „monoflipper“ and the leg tube, which you can buy at different online shops or make yourself; there are a lot of tutorials about it on YouTube.

What’s the most difficult thing about the sport?

Being able to hold your breath for a long time. Also moving with the tail is really exhausting.

But it´s a lot of fun!

Author: Franziska Wühr
Picture: private

Berlin Experience Extraordinaire

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Travelling is a great way to spend lots of money. It doesn’t always have to be super expensive though. One way of saving money while travelling is to start by exploring your own country. Germany has a lot to offer, among others my favourite city: Berlin. There’s so much to do there that it can be hard to decide what to do first. So here’s a list of my favourite things to do in the capital.

Berlin’s oldest secret: Don’t ever take one of the tourist buses! Seriously, don’t take one unless you enjoy wasting money on things no one needs. Take the bus #200 from Alex to Zoo and the #100 back and I swear you’ll see everything you need to see and more. And if you already have a day ticket you don’t even have any extra expenses. You won’t have anyone telling you when the Reichstag was built or how tall the TV Tower is, but if you really want to know all that, check out a Berlin Guide from your local library and spend the money you saved on food or books.

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Dussmann
berlin 3Everyone who knows me, knows Dussmann. Why? Because I talk about it pretty much 24/7. It’s a bookstore made of five floors of awesomeness. You need the Latin edition of Harry Potter? Go to Dussmann. Or are you looking for your favourite band’s latest album? You’ll find it at Dussmann. Maybe you prefer it as vinyl? Dussmann is your place to be. The best thing about Dussmann, though, is the English bookshop which you’ll find at the very back on the ground floor. I am pretty sure it’s the biggest English bookshop in the whole of Germany, and definitely worth a visit!
http://www.kulturkaufhaus.de/


Wonderpots/Friedrichsstraße

berlin 4The best frozen yogurt in town! Wonderpots has three different locations in Berlin but the one on Friedrichsstrasse is without a doubt the coolest one. The frozen yogurt is super yummy but it’s also a really great place to just hang out. You can enjoy your froyo sitting on a garden chair or if you like it a bit more comfy on one of their sofas. My special tip: Choose one of the seats outside. You’ll have a perfect view of the Humboldt University Library and let’s be honest: there is something awfully satisfying about knowing that students inside are studying for exams or working on their thesis while you’re enjoying the food of the gods.
http://www.wonderpots.de/

Burgermeister                                                   berlin 5
A burger joint in an old school restroom may sound a bit strange but the burger at Burgermeister is seriously one of the best I’ve ever had. Judging from the long line that will await you there, I’m not the only one who thinks so.  Their choice of burgers isn’t huge but there’s still a burger for every taste. They are fresh, super tasty and surprisingly cheap. So if you don’t mind eating your burger while standing squeezed in between two relatively busy roads, you should give Burgermeister a try.
http://www.burgermeister.berlin/

Author & Pictures: Katrin Bottke

A Dream of History

History has always been one of my favorite subjects in school. This isn’t just because of what happened in the past but also because of what connects the past with the present and thus with the future. When I went to the US this summer, I experienced one of my most vivid and interesting dreams about one specific place there: The Gardens at Great Oaks in Roswell, Georgia. After going there on a hot summer’s day and listening to stories being told about the history of this place, I dreamt about it.

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In my dream, I was travelling back in time to when the first family lived on this gorgeous estate. The house and gardens were a gift from a groom to his bride in 1842. My dream sent me back to exactly that day; the day of the wedding of Reverend Nathaniel Pratt and Catherine Barrington King. All the guests were gathered in the gardens after the happy couple’s ceremony. The maids and helps were busy preparing the wedding dinner in the outside and inside kitchens. Butlers were hurrying to get more cider for the guests and the couple to have a toast at that little pavilion that is still there today. After the toast, dinner was served in a building called Ajax Hall, which is across the meadow and not far away from the main house.

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As it was getting dark outside, the maids were lighting hundreds of candles everywhere in the gardens, making it look so romantic and pretty. People were having good conversations or strolling around, enjoying the air getting cooler as it had been a really hot summer’s day. I can still feel the heat of the rays of sun touching my skin.

The next morning Mr. and Mrs. Pratt woke up to a wonderful symphony of the chirping of birds and the aromatic scent of roses as well as the warmth of the sun shining through their windows. Catherine Pratt got up and, only with her nightgown on, went down the stairs, through the narrow hallways of the house, passing by the living room with the superb piano and chess table, through the back porch with its rocking chair, into the beauty of her new gardens. That feeling she felt when she opened the last door keeping her inside was breathtaking. Catherine went outside, with bare feet, feeling the still damp grass between her toes. After passing the red carriage and all the little bird houses, she finally decided to sit down in the pavilion closest to Ajax Hall. She was surrounded by nature, listening and just relaxing.

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When I woke up, I remembered everything as if it were real. I remembered everything as if I had been there. The next time I went to the Gardens at Great Oaks, I strolled through the estate the same way Catherine did in my dream, imagining what her and her new husband’s life might have looked like.

Author & Pictures: Susann Tallmadge

The day after

What is it like to live in a country in which a state of emergency has been declared? How do the people of a country whose capital has just been struck by the hardest massacre since the end of World War II feel? In the middle of a catastrophe, how does a nation find its way back to normality? Many questions and the desperate search for answers…

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The only promising thing about this leaden Monday morning with its grey clouds hanging deep down over the city of Bordeaux is probably the fact that the working week is about to start and the certainty that a lost weekend in November has finally come to an end, although it never really seemed to end. The first day of trying to win back control of everyday life falls on the second day after the state of emergency in France has been declared.

Personally, I was not in the mood to choose the usual way to university today. Instead, I decided for an unexpected encounter with a large crowd of people standing in the forecourt of the Hôtel de la Ville, the city hall in Bordeaux. At midday, the governing mayor invited every citizen to assemble for a minute’s silence at the seat of the ninth biggest town in France. On this 16th November thousands of people are coming together at several places in Bordeaux and all over the country to remember the victims of an incomprehensible tragedy. Three days after a bloody series of terrorist attacks in the French capital killed more than a 120 innocent people.

thedayafter 2On my way to the ceremony, I made a short stop at the Place de la Bourse. Letters of condolence, flowers and colorful banners with various slogans like “Pray for Paris”, “Not afraid” or “Keep calm” have been put down in front of the big fountain on the place. A young man was carefully re-lighting the candles which have been blown out over night. I asked him for the lighter, feeling a bit embarrassed about the little tea light I had in my pocket though. Despite it being the moment of the worst heartache, I want to feel with the country and its people I‘ve come to love in the short time I have been living here. I came to France as a stranger for my Erasmus Semester. During the last three months I have become a child of Bordeaux, studying, enjoying and loving life like everybody else in this beautiful town. I lit the tea light and put it down beside the other candles forming the omnipresent and almost fateful five letters – Paris.

Shortly afterward, I was going past a newspaper stand next to the town hall. The latest issue of the French daily Le Monde was grabbing my attention. Its cover all in black showing two crime scene technicians covering a dead body. One phrase is enough to tell the reader what was going on: „Vendredi 13 novembre, 21 h 20 – La terreur à Paris“(Friday, 13th November 21 h 20 – the terror in Paris). I took the newspaper and put it on the counter. „Deux euros vingt, s’il vous plaît“, said the seller, probably just about to stop his work for the minute’s silence. His eyes were filled with tears. I don’t know if he‘d lost someone in Paris who was near to him or if he knew someone who‘d lost a friend or family member. Nobody knows. It’s all but certain that at least a part of the „bordelais“ (that’s the French name for the people who are from here) are directly affected. Just when these thoughts were crossing my mind, I got a message from a friend telling me that her art teacher from uni was among the victims of the massacre in the Bataclan. Silence.

I began to read the first few lines of an article on the front page of the newspaper. In fact, it’s a report about the night by the journalist Florence Aubenas. Boulevard du Montparnasse, in Paris, people are leaving the cinema, small happy groups. Its almost midnight, they have not been informed yet. On the pavement, the others are turning back to them. Someone says: Shush, to two young girls who are laughing loudly. Suddenly they realize that the crowd around them is touched by a particular gravity. What has happened? We went to the cinema and when we came out, everything has changed

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This reminds me of my personal night on Friday. I also went to the cinema with some friends to watch the new James Bond movie. Obviously a genre which is principally known for a lot of violence, shootings and explosions. Right after the movie had finished, the first people in the cinema found out on their mobile phones about what had happened in Paris. Immediately I thought of two of my best friends from Bordeaux who wanted to spend the weekend in the city of love. A short glance at my mobile phone and I knew that they were safe. A feeling of relief. Nevertheless, I understood that the love must suddenly have disappeared in Paris, replaced overnight by fear, panic and shock. The violent scenes of a fictional movie have just turned into reality in a city which is not more than five hours away from here.

After my friends and I spoke to our loved ones at home, assuring them that we were alright; we decided not to go home racking our brains about the occurrences but to go to a pub and taking a schnapps together. In the pub, some of the people around us were already drunk and probably didn’t notice anything from outside. The work flow behind the bar just carried on, enormous amounts of beer were filled into huge glasses and the music kept on playing. But what should you do in such a situation? Remind everybody of what has happened? Should the bartender have closed the pub, telling everybody to go home?

Two days after, on 15th November, the French government declared a state of emergency for the whole country. Suddenly the wonderful, free city of Bordeaux is affected by the same drastic measures which are in fact all too logical in a situation like this. In the days after the terrorist attack the number of heavily-armed policemen has been increased visibly in the city centre, the tram stations have been provided with the warnings that all passengers should be on their guard while moving freely and the municipal government has advised the citizens not to gather together in bigger crowds of people in public.

Suddenly the three keywords of the French identity „Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité“ are torn apart. Our values which the terrorists hate the most have all changed. It seemed as if the terrorists have achieved their aim, before we, the people, could have responded at all.

Back in the forecourt of the „Hôtel de la Ville“, it‘s almost 12 o’clock. It is the same picture as the last days in town. Several policemen are guarding the entrance of the city hall checking everybody’s clothes and bags. I’m one of the first in the forecourt waiting for the mayor of Bordeaux who will deliver a speech here in a couple of minutes. Little by little, the court fills up with more and more people standing behind me. I turn around and look at partly mourning, partly stressed faces. It is an atmosphere of sorrow, speechlessness and composed silence when the mayor finally walks onto the stage with party members of the municipal parliament. „Hate, hostility and terror; that is the Daesh (IS). Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, these are our values, not only for France, but for the entire western world. Together we will defend our values“, states the Mayor in his speech. „Of course, he’s right“, I think. Another thought contradicts this, though: „If everything were as simple as that,“ or „who actually started the war in the Middle East?“

I talk myself into thinking that these questions don’t belong here, not today, on a day when the calm reflection of a tragedy and the remembrance of its victims has priority. One minute of silence. Then the mayor calls people to sing the Marseillaise, the French national anthem. A totally uplifting, goose-bumps-like moment in which I catch myself singing lustily the first few lines until I come unstuck over the following: „To arms citizens – form your battalions – march, march – let impure blood – water our furrows. “This magnificent anthem with its wonderful melody doesn’t hide the fact that it expresses words of violence and war, at a moment you’re praying for peace and harmony in the world, not only here, but in Ankara, Beirut and Sinai. The fact that the French President, Francois Hollande, said only the day before „we are in a state of war“ and that the French army recently started to bomb IS positions in Syria gives the ceremony a bitter aftertaste. Am I the only one here who doesn’t want to admit that we‘re already in a state of war with an unknown, abstract power?

Either way, my eyes fill with tears at the moment when a thousand voices behind me are chanting „Marchons, Marchons!“. I’m back in my right mind  –  I’m sure the anthem must have the same meaning for them as for me. Today I’m a Frenchman, now more than ever.

Text & Pictures: Julius Reuter

Why I’m giving up negativity during Lent

lent 1Ash Wednesday is today and that marks the beginning of Lent. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this religious holiday, Lent is a Christian holiday that lasts 40 days beginning with Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. During this time, people tend to fast or give something up, as for a lot of Christians it is a way of remembering when Jesus fasted in the desert and also a way of testing self-discipline.

I grew up in a very religious and conservative country, where people consider Lent as sacred time and even though I never really gave anything up or fasted during these 40 days while growing up I do know a lot of people who did. Personally, I never felt the need to make a sacrifice, probably because at a young age I really didn’t know what it was all about but I do remember seeing a lot of my classmates on Ash Wednesday with the cross on their foreheads really early in the morning or not eating red meat on Fridays during Lent.

I think it’s important to mention that my family was not as conservative as the rest of the families in my country and also while growing up I never really went to Church on Sundays; it was really rare if I did, not because I didn’t believe in God, but because I didn’t think it was important to leave your home when you could talk to God on your own through a prayer, which is what I usually did. All of this might sound really religious and I know it is a controversial topic, but for once I felt that the time was right for me to come clean with my story. I know that people come from different backgrounds and we have different beliefs but since I live in Bavaria now and it is considered the most conservative state in Germany I thought why not address this topic?

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Since the year started I decided I wanted to make a huge change in my life, even though I’m a happy person most of the times I do have my low points and most of them have to do with negative comments from people or rejection, which is why for this holy time I decided that instead of fasting I’m going to be giving up negativity. I think that giving this up is a bigger effort than giving up some sort of food or habit that I have and it will take me through an emotional journey of self- discovery and hopefully it will make me a better person.

The reason I chose to give up negativity is because in this day and age it is so hard to not make any negative comments about things or even be negative towards ourselves. Also because I’m a firm believer that when you have negative thoughts or are negative towards life in general, you’re only attracting more negativity and bad things to yourself that you definitely don’t need and I want to change this. I want to be a positive person and attract only positive things, and who knows, probably even inspire someone to change their mindset as well.

Have you ever had those moments where you think “I’m so dumb why did I have to do that?” or you found yourself criticizing someone by the way they look without even noticing? These are the type of things I want to battle against these next 40 days and beyond if possible.

I’m a very critical person when it comes to me, I try to do everything as perfect as I can while still having negative thoughts towards my work: what if I fail? What if my professor doesn’t like my writing? What if I never make my parents proud? This constant negativity is around every single thing of our lives and we’re bringing ourselves down without even thinking about it. Like I said before, I want to try and be a better person and make a change for me, try to finally start putting into work everything I believe in but still my doubts and negative thoughts haven’t allowed me to do yet. I want to stop gossiping about people for once or criticizing them just because I don’t like the way they look or what they’re wearing, I’m nobody to judge and people shouldn’t judge me either on any decision I make.

During the next 40 days by giving up negativity I will obviously gain something in return: I will practice patience, humility, self-discipline, things that are so common yet not everyone has the chance to put to practice. I am expecting to become a happier person, more open to the endless possibilities and overall to stop the constant nagging, complaining and whining about everything that goes wrong and finally look at it from a different perspective and grow from the experience.

I am really looking forward to the next 40 days of positivity and happiness. What are you giving up during Lent?

Author & Pictures: Roma Rodriguez

A trip to the Aran Islands

Leabharlann – that’s the one Irish word I learned and can remember from my recent trip to Ireland. In one part of the country my group and I went to the Irish language is still spoken by many: the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. You can only reach Inisheer, Inishmaan and the largest island, Innishmore (Inis Mór) by boat or plane. If you take the boat and you’re lucky, the weather will be fine so you can stand on deck and try to spot dolphins. During our boat ride to Innishmore it was raining, but it cleared up almost as soon as we arrived, and the sun shone for the rest of the day. Sadly, there were no dolphins, but we saw a few seals along one part of the coast, so our daily dose of cuteness was filled!

aran islands 5Once on the island, you can rent bikes, or if you’re a bit on the lazy side like we were, you can choose a minibus that comes fully equipped with a driver (in our case, a Que sera, sera-singing driver). If you’re romantically inclined, you might want to go for one of the horse-drawn carriages waiting for business at the quay. In any case, when you’re touring the island, you’ll see many of the typical stone walls, which mostly function as enclosures for cattle and which are astonishingly resilient (the walls and cows, just look at them!). There are some green fields that farmers have had to cultivate with seaweed and sand because the island doesn’t have naturally fertile soil.

Innishmore is home to about 900 residents, who mostly live in villages that, to me, seemed more like loose clusters of a few solitary houses than anything else. You can still find a few of the traditional thatched cottages, too. Many families used to live off fishing, but now tourism has taken on a major role. The island’s past and present have been connected cleverly, though. The knitwear from the Aran Islands is widely renowned. You can buy sweaters, scarves, and many other garments sporting traditional patterns. Every fishing family has developed their own pattern, for a rather gruesome reason: sometimes fishermen went missing at sea and their bodies would be washed ashore days later. They could only be identified from the pattern on their clothes. So a Jennings sweater looks different from an O’Flaherty or a Sheehan sweater!

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Like on the mainland, you can find church ruins and a lot of ancient history on Innishmore. One stone fort, called Dún Aengus, was especially impressive. It dates back to prehistoric times and was built right on a cliff with a 60m drop to the sea below. Lying on your stomach and looking down to where the sea is crashing against the cliff is an amazing feeling!

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But a one-day trip is definitely not enough to explore all there is to see on Innishmore. Like me, you’ll probably want to go back and give your calves a work-out biking across the island in order to discover its many stunning sights! Oh, and btw, Leabharlann means library :).

Text & Pictures: Lena Schwarz

Why ice hockey should be much more popular in Germany

icehockey 1I wasn’t too thrilled when my dad told me that we would watch the ice hockey finals of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Back then, I was eleven years old and all about soccer, American football, and basketball. Ice hockey was the game my brother used to play on our local ponds, not something to watch on TV and get excited about. Then, the game started, and I was hooked. Canada won against the USA, and the game was everything I came to love about ice hockey: fast-paced, rough, and electrifying. After that, though, there wasn’t much hockey on TV anymore. Only the DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga) playoffs and that was pretty much it. And then the day came on which pay TV finally began to broadcast the NHL (National Hockey League), and my love affair with hockey continued and quickly blossomed into a lifelong marriage to this wonderful sport. But soon I wondered: why is ice hockey not much more popular in Germany?

Hockey is such an easy sport to follow and the rules are really not hard to learn. There’s also little difference between the basic rules of the NHL and the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation). The biggest differences are the size of the rink and the overtime procedures. The other differences are so detailed that really only die-hard fans need to know them. The best and most fun way to learn the rules of both the NHL and the IIHF is, of course, by watching hockey games. So you should really start watching games right now, if you want to learn something really interesting for a change 😉

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The only thing I ever had trouble with watching both, DEL and NHL games, were the German words used for basically the same thing. For illegal plays like slashing, Germans say Stockschlag. The result of such plays is not a penalty but simply a Zeitstrafe. At the same time, Germans say penalty shooting when they actually mean shootout (three shots that determine the winner when the game is still tied after overtime), and in English, a penalty shot is something different altogether. So confusing! Yet the weirdest expression is bully. This is the German word for face-off, the dropping of the puck to continue a game. I guess I might be the only one who is bothered by this, though.

Overall, it’s really such a great sport and even though the German national team hasn’t been doing too well in international tournaments and didn’t qualify for the last Olympic Games, things sure look up when you consider the numerous Germans now playing in the NHL, e. g. Tom Kühnhackl, Leon Draisaitl, Tobias Rieder, or Dennis Seidenberg.

Additionally, ice hockey has given me the best memory of my life as a sports fan when my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009 in a nerve-wracking game seven against the Detroit Red Wings, which reminded me yet again why I love this sport so much. So it’s really kind of sad that I can count the hockey fans that I’ve met in Germany on one hand, although everyone I’ve talked to seems to like at least some sports – hell I’ve even met some German baseballs fans. I thought once I’m studying in Augsburg, this is all going to change – they have the Panthers after all. But that wasn’t the case either since the only hockey fans that I’ve encountered were standing in front of the train station getting ready to leave for an away game. Go figure!

In my opinion, ice hockey is also still sorely overlooked by the media, even though it’s gotten better over the last couple of years and the DEL is now shown on free-TV. So if you’re into sports, just do me a favor: go and see a game if you haven’t yet, even if it’s just on TV and see if you like it (I’m sure you will!). Alternatively, start by watching a movie about hockey, e.g. Mircale. It’s about the surprise victory of the US national team in the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid. It’s one of my favorites! And maybe then, ice hockey will charm you just as much as it charmed me 14 years ago.

Author & Pictures: Alisa Lechky