After nine years back in New York

A week ago, I took a vacation in New York, my first visit since nine years. As much as I can recall, the city hadn’t changed much, but I had. The city felt much more hectic, demanding and energy draining. Mind you, I was staying and spending most of my time on Manhattan, but even the more populated areas of Brooklyn, outside the quieter residential areas, were full of action. I only stayed for a week, unlike my friends living there who were kind enough to accommodate me. Their opinion was also that New York is a demanding, difficult city to live in. In addition to the omnipresent restlessness you also have other problems like homeless, pests, excess garbage and so on. But all in all I liked my visit and am happy that I did it.

My friends said that living in New York is mentally very consuming: having impulses, information and sensory stimulus constantly and everywhere takes the juices out of you quickly. The fact that untouched nature is not in arms reach also makes life on Manhattan more demanding. The constant presence of people, no matter where you go outside of your apartment, demands your attention and keeps you alert, adding up to the mental load. I am not sure if some people can get used to it or develop some mechanisms to cope with the constant unfiltered information flow. Maybe some learn to ignore parts of it, so that they can be more on their own, even when there are lots of people around and things happening.

For me the trip showed that I wouldn’t like living in such a big city. I appreciate quietness and untouched nature so much that an urban environment would feel suffocating on the long term. Visits to places like New York are nevertheless in their own way refreshing and stimulating. Experiencing and breathing the relentless pace of a metropolis, taking in the sounds, smells, views and feelings, is invigorating, although sometimes exhausting. And after such a visit, I value the greenery and the gentler soundscape of the woods so much more.

Below I have gathered some pictures from my trip nine years ago and the one I made this year. At least I have grown more hair between the visits. When two pictures are side by side, the leftmost is from 2008 and the rightmost from 2017. Otherwise the picture is from 2008 and 2017, which one, I’ll leave to you for guessing.

My first glimpse at New York after getting our of the subway

A first glimpse at New York






Visiting the Amish Village (yeah, this is not in New York)

The Amish Village





Manufacturing of wheel spokes






An amish coach. It takes you to places






Gospel mass in Harlem

I also visited a gospel mass in Harlem on Easter Sunday. It was a great experience, but I have no pictures from it. It to place in Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, lasted for nearly three hours and was just as full of joy and happiness as I had imagined it would be. Quite a contrast to what Iäm used to seeing in a Lutheran church. If you want to visit a mass in this church, I would recommend getting an hour before start in line to ensure you get in.


Taking a walk on the High Line and back

Looking eastwards from the High Line






Mr. president, the writing’s on the wall






A view at the downtown in the evening






Lady Liberty and the former immigration center on Ellis Island

Lady Liberty in 2008, and a statue in the background
The statue in 2017






Entrance hall to the US until the 1950s.






Ellis Island: immigrants never were that welcome.






A view from Brooklyn Bridge

I took a stroll over the Williamsburg bridge to Brooklyn, then walked south and west, taking the Brooklyn bridge back to Manhattan.

A view from Brooklyn Bridge in 2008
A view from Brooklyn Bridge in 2017






Since 2007 the NYSE has improved its visibility

Wall Street was kind of a must-see, just to get a feel of the finance district, although I could not smell the money present.

Is this the NYSE?
Yes, this is the NYSE.





Eating Ethiopian

The food tasted a lot better than it looks in the photo.






On and inside the Intrepid

Intrepid, a decommissioned air craft carrier, serves as a museum on the West Side. There are a lot of planes the Enterprise and even a Concorde on display.

F-14 Tomcat





My own enterprise





One of Intrepid’s two anchor chains






Intrepid’s anchor chain in comparison to my size 10 foot






The Intrepid’s propeller.






The Empire State Building from street level and my bedroom window

EST by night.





Bedroom lights are on






Looking for Lehmann Brothers, but to no avail

The card from Lehmann said 1271 6th Avenue…?







The UN General Assembly had no speaker in 2008 and some random guy ranting in 2017

General Assembly on recess?
What are you saying? The UN should what?






UN delegate lunch in 2008






My consumable souvenirs from America

My cherished  souvenirs


Poland, bouldering and yoga – a lesson on emotions

I had planned to fly to Poland to take a short vacation there last week. On the eve of my departure, Lufthansa gave notice that due to their pilots’ striking my flight was cancelled. The same evening I looked for alternative flights but couldn’t find any reasonably priced ones that would have allowed to spend enough time in Poland before the return flight. I decided to seize Lufthansa’s offer of cancelling my flights and having the full ticket price remunerated.

Having received the news on the cancellation I was disappointed after anticipating the trip for a couple of months. On the same day as the flight to Poland was cancelled, I went bouldering with my colleagues in a nearby hall. For me it was the first time and I was immediately fascinated. After the bouldering I searched for the alternative flights but couldn’t find any. I then decided to sign up for a basic course on bouldering and to visit the hall two times during my vacation. Somehow this made the disappointment go away, which was kind of strange. I wouldn’t have thought that bouldering in my home town would be equal to traveling to Poland and spending a long weekend there. Coincidentally, I quickly learned that they actually were and that there was a simple explanation to that.

Why do you feel that way?

Last Saturday, instead of being in Poland, I went to the regular yoga class. Our yoga teacher told us about how we should always probe our feelings and the reasons behind them. For example, if your spouse comes home from work and sits at the dinner table and just eats without saying a word, you might get upset. If you asked yourself for the reason, you might answer yourself that receiving no thanks from your spouse for the prepared dinner makes you feel bad. You might also find that saying this aloud helps no just release your bad feeling, but might also fix the problem: your spouse might realize the effort you have put in and thank you for it.

Instead of immediately blasting your bad feelings at your spouse, you might say that not receiving any recognition for your efforts makes you feel bad. Arguably this is more efficient communication and gets to the root of your feelings. This probing also helps you get better in touch with your emotions and their causes.

During the yoga lesson I quickly realized why I had been hardly upset by the cancellation of my flight. First I asked myself, why I had wanted to travel to Poland in the first place. The answer was: to try something new, to get out of the rut. Second I asked myself, why I was so keen on getting more into bouldering. The answer: to try something new, to get out of the rut. So obviously, although my vacation in Poland did not take place, the ultimate goal of trying something new was realized in bouldering. Also, as I found bouldering to be something I want to do more, it should provide something new on the long-term.

From business consulting to emotions

Probably all business consultants and many industry managers know the so called “five times why” -method that dates back to the 1950’s Toyota and Taiichi Ohno. The method is known for its application in business and engineering problems, but I have never heard of it being applied to human emotions, which is kind of strange. The method on its own is not dependent on any problem domain, but lends itself to any problem where asking ‘why’ is sensible. As my yoga teacher made me realize, we should ask ourselves ‘why’ when feeling a certain emotion. The answer might help us understand what we are missing, what needs to be fixed and how to communicate this to others.

The root cause of our feelings, be they good or bad, might be caused by people around us, our wanting something or any other reason. Whatever the reason, by asking ourselves “Why do I feel this way?”, we can find that reason and act upon it. If we ask ourselves why we are happy in a given moment, we are one step closer to finding the keys to our own happiness.

Praise to maintenance

In a recent podcast on maintenance Freakonomics discusses the importance of maintenance and its relationship to innovation. The amount of maintenance our society needs just to keep running made me think, how importance maintenance is, both in the society and in our personal lives, and how new things can make maintenance become a burden.

We are inclined to see new things as being better than old ones, be they hobbies, jobs or public goods. Public infrastructure projects are often welcomed, especially if it’s something new, e.g. new roads that are built to allegedly improve traffic connections and reduce congestion. But seldom, if ever, do we discuss what the maintenance of this new infrastructure will cost. We ask what it costs to build, but hardly ever do we think, what it’ll cost to maintain and if we can afford it.

Like with public projects, in our private we tend to give new things more value than to old ones. New and more seems to be better, as the western consumerism requires us to believe. However, our possessions might become a burden, a realization that is in the center minimalism, a counter-trend to consumerism.

Acquiring and owning things doesn’t only give us the freedom to use them. Our belongings also bind us and oblige us to take care of them, for without maintenance they will eventually fail and we will lose the freedom to use them, while becoming free from the previously required maintenance efforts. I would bet that of all the people looking for a house, a larger portion is thinking about their own yard and the nice living room instead of contemplating on having to clean the drainpipes of leaves every autumn.

When acquiring or taking on something new, we should consider what we are trying to improve. If this novelty is to truly improve our lives, it must allow us to give up something else. Otherwise we are increasing our maintenance efforts, since we are not giving anything up but are introducing something new in to our lives. This pertains to many aspects of life, like work, hobbies and belongings. Acquiring something new means acquiring new responsibilities and duties. Wouldn’t you want to give some of the existing ones away before taking new ones?

All you need is friends, a view and some good cognac

Here a couple of pictures I have been meaning to post for a while now. In the summer of 2013 two friends visited me while I was writing my master’s thesis in Switzerland. We did a trip to central Switzerland including some light hiking. Before departing we bought a small bottle of cognac by the liter at a small store in Zürich’s old town to be consumed on a good spot.

Below you see one of my friends and me sitting and enjoying the view. The bottle is not in sight, but it is there somewhere, maybe between us. My other friend was the camera man. A big thank-you to both of them; it was a great trip with good experiences and memories, including Lars the llama, a very fatty Swiss sausage and disproportionate salad portions at the university cafeteria.

The philosophers
The philosophers
The travelers
The travelers


Last weekend I participated to the May 1st Slow-up event. During Slow-up a section of the main streets are closed for motorized traffic for one day, forming a bike route between the participating cities and towns.

The Slow-up I participated in consisted of a 40 kilometer route between multiple towns. Although the weather was rainy, many people participated and spent part of their Sunday riding the route by bike and enjoying the other activities and the food and refreshments organized along the route by local producers, shops and associations.

I only completed part of the route and by foot, so I had some time to think, and I asked myself, what it would take to slow-up on a more permanent basis: How could we make streets less crowded without having negative side effects? Since for example in the EU road transport corresponds to about 73% of the total person kilometer and to about 50% of the total tonne-kilometers, reducing this traffic is no trivial task, since it is the backbone of modern logistics. However, the optimist asks, how to reduce road traffic by replacing it or making part of it redundant, while the pessimist only sees the threats to modern logistics. How to reduce and replace transport of goods and people on the road to make the unavoidable use of the roads more pleasant?

I will be writing a related post to this subject to briefly discuss the incentives and mechanisms in making roads less crowded.

EU Transport in Figures: Statistical Pocketbook 2015
EU Transport in Figures: Statistical Pocketbook 2015