A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks since my last post. I left Ireland, traveled to Belgium, and now have been in Germany for the past week. For those of you who don’t know, my original plan did not involve my spending much (if any) time in Belgium or Germany. Great opportunities arose, however, and I changed my plans up a bit.
When I last posted, I was gearing up to go to a city vineyard. I liked the city vineyard so much that I went back a second time. It’s not often that you see a living vineyard in the heart of a city. And, the vineyard attracted the attention of numerous journalist, news agencies, and local dubliners. The fact that it was free AND that the staff periodically gave out freebies like a comfortable picnic blanket (which I’m using pretty frequently) made it that much better. These pictures don’t really do it justice buuut it’s the best I’ve got.
My last days in Dublin were filled to the brim with exploring, live music sessions, and great encounters with strangers. I loved my time on the island and have a feeling that I’ll return to it again some day. Until then, I’ve got lots more exploring to do.
A few weeks before my departure from the United States, I received word that I could attend an all expense paid conference in Brussels on aging in the European Union. So, without quite understanding why the European Commission was willing to fund my attendance, I boarded a Ryanair flight for Brussels. And, my every expectation was far, far surpassed. I was staying at a luxury hotel in the heart of the European Quarter in a deluxe suite with free 25 euro breakfasts.
I would have taken pictures of this but I already felt like I had genuinely tricked someone into letting me come. Here I was with my large backpacking backpack, an unironed suit, and a sixty dollar a day maximum budget standing next to some high rollers. My hotel room, for example, cost at least 250 USD per night. That’s more than I spend in hostels for two weeks.
After some concerns about attending a conference on aging with a wrinkled suit, I found an eco friendly dry cleaner and had the professional outfit set to go for the morning. Before that though, I explored around the city and stumbled across a great little Italian restaurant where no one spoke English, the owner gave me colored pencils and paper to draw with (and then kept my drawing for a collection), and a few glasses of free wine.
Belgium is world famous for it’s chocolates, beers, waffles, and mussels. And, after spending a week in the country, I completely understand why. I could spend a lifetime there. My budget and my waistline told me a week was about enough, though.
I felt like I needed to eat Mussels while in Belgium and so I ordered some at a restaurant in Antwerp. Apparently, eating two pounds of mussels per sitting is normal in Belgium. Challenge accepted!
Brussels also has a thing for peeing statues. I’m not quite sure why.
Anyways, back to the conference. The conference was funded by the European Commission and essentially was an overview of different aging initiatives taken on by the European Member States over the last several years. It was, for the most part, an interesting conference. The single best part about the conference itself, however, was the fact that I sat next to a Dr. Hanneli Dohner from Hamburg, Germany. Hanneli is the head of Eurocarers alliance, a caregiving organization in Germany, and longtime but recently retired professor of social medicine and public health. And, for some reason, she wanted to make a “program” for me to visit Hamburg. I honestly feel like I won the Alzheimer’s and dementia/caregivers research jackpot.
Within a day, Hanneli had several meetings lined up for me and before I knew it my entire week in Hamburg was full of meetings, site visits, and conferences. And, I had my final meeting in Hamburg this morning. I can’t believe my good fortune that I spent the week of World Alzheimer’s Day in the country where it was all discovered (Alois Alzheimer’s was a German man). There is a lot to say about this week and considering the fact that half of my meetings were conducted in German, I learned a lot.
One of the key ideas that made its way into every conversation was this German idea of “solidarity.” The German government and society, for the most part, acknowledges that there is income inequality throughout the country. It is generally accepted, however, that it is for the betterment of the entire country to approach issues like healthcare with little regard to that inequality. 90% of Germans belong to the National Health Care system and only a (relatively) few people slip through the health care cracks. On several occasions, I heard the point stressed that “solidarity” does not mean “sympathy.” The idea is that if you have a healthy society with all of their basic needs met it is better for the overall status of the country.
I also visited a number of care facilities in Hamburg. I didn’t feel right taking photos of the facilities but imagine the typical nursing care facility in the United States and these are pretty much the opposite. The rooms were bright and airy, the patients (for the most part) smiling and laughing, and the air smelled fresh. The manager (and designer) of two day care facilities–that tend to around 15 to 20 Alzheimer’s or dementia victims and 15 “regular” patients per day–explained that the most important thing for him was to make sure that his facilities provided a venue for people to have fun, to feel comfortable, and to continue living.
I also visited another facility this morning called the Living Communities Project. I’ll be honest, the entire meeting was in German and I understood very little. What I did understand though, is that the community is designed to keep relatives involved with the care of their loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Every month, the relatives of all of the patients get together to discuss care tactics, day trips and outings, food, etc. Relatives are made stakeholders and are given the ability to influence the day to day life of their loved one within the home. And, relatives are expected to help care for their loved ones. One of the major ideas of the facility was that you don’t just “leave” your loved ones in the homes. The facilities, again, were bright and welcoming. It was a really inspiring model and I’d like to someday bring parts of it back to the States.
I’ll leave you with a video of an Alzheimer’s and dementia group singing. The video was taken at a caregiving event in Hamburg. And, the idea of the group is to keep victims moving as much as possible..and to have a nice venue for both victims and caregivers alike to come together. EEK. NEVERMIND. It would cost me 60 USD to upload a video to this thing. It was a very moving performance though.
I apologize for the lack of photos…I’ve been in lots of meetings and a bit of rain. Next time will be better. Here are a few from Hamburg: