After the Storm

After the Storm

Preface: This post will be a difficult one and is mainly meant for myself. I you keep on reading, be prepared for a challenging and heavy topic; and also read the addendum.

I think people think drowning isn’t nice. And I agree: it’s not; at least in the beginning.

(Nearly) Every year, for 10 years, a group of friends and I have been on vacation to the same coast section of the North Sea in Denmark. And every year, we enjoyed swimming in the troubled sea, with high waves breaking onto the shore. Why? Because it is a lot of fun: getting lifted by the waves, struggling to keep your balance, hearing the roaring sounds of wind and water. We also thought we know about the dangers and can judge them. But actually, we, or at least I, could not.

And in 2018, I had to experience it myself: As always, we went for a swim during a stormy day, with high waves continuously crashing around us, sometimes far out on the ocean, sometimes only at the last moment when rolling onto the rocky beach. As always, we were staying really close to the land: I was able to feel the ground between most of the waves. And as always, we were watching out for each other; quite a large group this time, some in the ocean, some on land, all of us with the sharp wind in our faces and salt on our lips.

But this time is also different: The waves are irregular and hard to predict, water and wind are cold and unrelenting, and I think I am in control — although I am not. After several minutes of childlike pleasure of dancing in the waves, I slowly realize that I am feeling rather cold. It’s not an abnormal feeling for me: I am rather skinny and my body always cools down quickly in the water. I decide that it’s time to get out and I start to paddle towards the land. It seems only a few metres away and the warmth of the towel already feels in reach. I take some steps and some strokes, always between two breaching waves. Ride the next wave, two strokes, two steps; ride the next wave, two strokes, two steps.

30 seconds later it feels like I should have reached the coast; but I realize I have not gained a single inch. The feeling of cold has already turned into an intense feeling of freezing; my limbs feel numb, my teeth start to chatter. I take stronger strokes, but only get more exhausted. And the waves don’t care. Ride the next wave, two strokes, two steps; ride the next wave, two strokes, two steps. And then: I don’t ride the next wave, it rides me. After I am back on the surface, I try to pull myself together and look around: I did not notice before that we have drifted off from the people on the coast who are already further away than I thought. But next to me is a good friend, still dancing in the waves and enjoying the elements. But it doesn’t feel right to call for help: The coast seems still close, I am a physically fit guy, not a great swimmer, but I have been in this ocean many times before. I can also still sometimes feel the ground below my feet, between the never stopping waves rolling in. And: What should I even tell him? How should he help me?

Another 30 seconds later, I feel as uncomfortable as I have never felt in life before. I still have not made any progress; the harder I try, the less progress happens. I feel a glimpse of fear creeping into my heart and it’s enough that I try to reach out to him, just a few metres away in the water. I tell him I am feeling uncomfortable and that I do feel like I am not able to reach the coast. But the wind carries away every single word from my lips into the far distance. I try it a second time. I try it a third time. And now, the fear isn’t creeping anymore, I am not dancing in the waves anymore. I am an immobile object that gets thrown around in the ocean as easily as a little pebble of sand in the wind. In only one minute I have lost any bit of control I thought I had. And suddenly, there is no weighing up of my manliness against some unknown fear of showing weakness, there is no more time to loose. Suddenly, I realize how serious it is: I need help. And I need it now. I scream, and finally I get noticed. It still takes a few more screams before the seriousness of my situation is clear to him. The next wave crashes above me and my body is slammed into masses of water. There is no sense of up and down, there is only water everywhere. I loose all sense of orientation. I still have air left, but the attempt to find back to the top depletes most of it. Suddenly, I am above the water again, take a deep breath in a hopeless try to fill my lungs again. But the next wave already slams into my body. And it repeats: wave after wave after wave after wave after wave after wave after wave after wave, second after second, every breath shorter than the one before.

I feel that my body slowly disconnects from my thoughts. I cannot feel my limbs let alone control them in any serious attempt. At some point in time, the air gets too scarce. And these few seconds, which feel like eternities, are also the ones where I experience panic and fear as I never done have before. It occupies the mind, every bit of it, fills your bones and muscles, and drowns you a second time, emotionally. There is no deciding any more. The body does what it needs to do: Fights the waves, fights the cold, fights towards land. And the mind does what it needs to do: It does not accept the unthinkable but also doesn’t see a solution. There is only fear. And, like the cold, it paralyzes my body a second time. And the waves keep coming, endlessly rolling above me. And my lungs keep filling, but not with air anymore, but with salty water instead. And slowly everything around fades away. I cannot see anymore, I cannot hear anymore, I am trapped within my brain unable to do anything about my fate.

And then it changes. I do not feel the raging ocean or the sharp winds, I do not feel the freezing cold or the rocks on the bottom of the ocean in my face. More importantly, the fear goes away and the panic is silenced. It’s gone. Completely. No more thoughts about what I might miss out on in live. No more thoughts about the persons I am leaving behind. Family. Friends. Hobbies. Work. It’s meaningless. The feeling that replaces these thoughts is much much stronger, it is more powerful. It is Happiness. It is tranquility. Absolutely impossible to put into words, but there it is: absolute salvation. Life can be strenuous, life can be exhausting, life can be difficult, and life can be disappointing. This right here is the opposite. No more distress, no more struggles, no more obligations, no more fear; no more life. If this is what the ending feels like, I am not afraid anymore. I am ready. I am free.

By now, my friend in the water has reached me and tries to push my body towards the shore line. Also, the people on land have noticed. And as you might guess, I got rescued by my friends early enough, but from my point of view it was as close as it could be. What I remember from the last minutes is not much and it’s mostly about my internal feelings. My body cooled down so quickly that I was not able to comprehend most of my surroundings any more. When I got pulled ashore I could not breath, nor see, only barely stand, or talk.

I had to learn that being back on land does not mean that it’s over either. First, it took several hours until my body could navigate this foreign world again. Then, it took some weeks to get my thoughts back in order. The following months after the incident, there were several occasions where I woke up in the middle of the night with panic attacks. For a few seconds I would not realize where I am or what was going on, but only experience the unrestrained panic I experienced in the cold water. And then, it took years to comprehend what this experience means for me, and this process is still ongoing. The year after, not a single one of us went swimming.

When I am writing about it, as I do here for the first time publicly, my hands still shake and my breathing is fast. I have been swimming two times since: The first time in an indoor pool where I could not finish 25 metres without the edge right next to me. As soon as I felt exhaustion in my muscles, I got panic attacks. The second time was in a lake close by and it was already far better. But I still hesitate when to go for the next try.

For me, the scary thing is not that I nearly drowned. I already nearly drowned once before as a little child but cannot remember much. Later in life, I got almost run over on my bike by a really fast car. And I have probably had other close incidents that I am not even aware of, as probably all of us have. For me the scary thing is to remember the feeling of the real happiness I could experience in these last brief moments. It was the most pure feeling I have ever experienced. And I struggle to comprehend it; even more to communicate it properly. I think it’s simply impossible to even remotely describe it, how it was, or what it was; and there is nothing I have found so far that resembles it. Remembering this can make life feel dull from time to time. But the more time passes the harder I can grasp how it felt.

So why am I still here? Because why not. I can be rather certain that there will come the day where I will get to experience that same feeling again; this inexpressible emotion, this other-worldly perfection and completeness I am craving for sometimes. But I learned that there is no hurry. And every moment I have on this world is one moment more that I can cherish for what it is. And thus, every moment here can also feel special no matter how difficult it might be. And it also reminds me: It doesn’t really matter what I am doing here; I have to create purpose myself. Only then I can find some sense.

I think drowning is nice. But it’s not; at least in the beginning.

Addendum: I struggled a lot with these experiences. Not only in the beginning, but also later on. Back then, I also searched intensively for reports from other people on the internet because I wanted to know how they felt, and how they dealt with an equal experience. But such reports seemed to be quite rare; this is also why I decided to share my own report here, even though it is difficult. By now I am fine; but I also got (some) professional help and advise anyone who is unsure, to seek out for help as well. I also have only talked rarely, or not at all, about this with friends and family. Because when speaking it’s even harder to find the right words. So to everybody who is reading this and has not heard about it before: I want to apologize that I can only pass on my thoughts in this form for now instead of telling you personally. And if you wondered: all photos are from the exact same stretch of coast, but from other years.

On Information and Adventure

On Information and Adventure

Information and entropy are closely related: Infrequent events carry more information than frequent ones; or, in other words, the lower the occurrence probability of an event the higher its information content. The total information of all possible events is the sum over their individual information content weighted by their occurrence probability. Conversely, with more information, events can be predicted better. And low information means a high entropy, thus low predictability. This is commonly referred to as the Shannon entropy and does not only apply in computer science.

We took one week off before the Easter holidays, but it’s difficult to plan vacations in these uncertain times. For two days and one night we took our T4 and went out into the unknown towards the Southern Harz Mountains. With little information what to expect, what to do, or where to sleep. For me, the less information, the more it feels like adventure. If you want to read in detail what we did, check out the latest blog post from Mädchen Klitzeklein. I will just show some of the photos I shot.


Our sleeping location was on top of a small hill and there was a wonderful evening mood and night sky. The views were calming and the colors powerful. The sun set slowly behind a group of trees and left behind unusually warm air for this time of the year. After another hour, the full moon rose over the next town.


The morning started early at 6 p.m. with some shots of the distant wind turbines. I also couldn’t resist to try some macro captures with the morning dew. The sun reflected beautifully on all the water droplets in the background.


Most of all, I am proud of the following macro shots of toads, ants, and oil beetles. Oil beetles are rather rare in our region, but on one of our hikes we saw multiple ones on a single path. On another hike, we stumbled over a lonely toad on the way. Very excitedly I took some shots before it leaped into the deeper grass towards the water reservoir. When we hiked further, more and more toads were crossing our path, which culminated in a section where it was even becoming difficult to avoid stepping onto them. I made well over 100 photos, but these three are the ones I like the most. The capture of the ant on the tree trunk is also Mädchen Klitzeklein’s merit who evoked the ants’ interest.

Finding Balance

Finding Balance

The composition of a photo can be balanced when the objects are equally positioned in the frame; the colors can be balanced by choosing a consistent or diverging color palette; the brightness can be balanced when the luminosities are equally distributed. Photos that are in balance can look more pleasing or calm and can help to guide the viewer through the frame. However, imbalance of specific aspects can also be used deliberately: to concentrate focus on specific areas, to evoke feelings of discomfort, or to cause tension.

In mathematics, when a target function is non-convex there are multiple local optima and finding the global optimum is difficult. Imagine the landscape around you: If you always ascend in the steepest direction you will likely end up on a hill, but not the highest one. And then it’s hard to leave, because at first, all surrounding areas will be lower. To reach the global optimum, you need to adapt your strategy and find balance: Where should you start your search? How large should be the steps you are taking? Is the steepest direction always the best one? And might it be worth to leave the current local optimum to find a better one?

Balance is important in life: Most of all, balance between work and spare time, but also between friends and family, between body and mind, balanced sleep, balanced food, and so much more. When I am working long hours, I am craving for some free time; when I have longer stretches of free time, I get restless or feel useless. As in photography, the difficult part is to choose what should be in balance right now and in which aspects some imbalance might be fine: How to choose the right colors? How to tune the brightness? How to position all objects of interest in one single frame? And as in mathematics, the path of finding the right balance is uncertain as well: When to leave a local optimum? When to take larger steps? How to find the global optimum? In life even more so, because the landscape is not static with the highest peak fixed at a certain position instead the landscape changes with time and a high peek once found may become a valley over time.

When I have been outside in the recent weeks to find some balance, I have been mainly shooting early spring flowers. But we also visited lambs in the neighborhood and goose are roaming the fields where we often go for an evening walk.

Love is in the Air

Love is in the Air

Last Sunday, I explored a small nature reserve close to our home I haven’t visited before. It’s characterized by small, shallow lakes, surrounded by reed belts and swampy meadows. The weather was rather disappointing but also typical for such an early spring day. The wind was blowing strong and cold from the east and the clouds scurried quickly across the dark sky. I had abandoned the first lens I bought back in October last year in favor of my newer ones, but I retrieved it for that day. It was an enjoyable change, trying to shoot some simple landscapes and to capture the mood of the moment. I also experimented quite a bit with some of the more hidden options of my camera and felt the black and white mode was appropriate for the scenery:

The day before, I had also spotted a lonely stork at the same nature reserve when driving by. He was on a wooden post that had not been occupied the year before, but I stopped only briefly for some quick photos:

So on Sunday I was hoping to meet him again to shoot some additional pictures. I was not only not disappointed, but this time he also had company. And both of them seemed to be neither interested in the dull weather and the light rain nor in the cautious photographer. Instead, they were rather occupied with themselves. They checked their nest under construction, watched each other gently, and synchronized their movements (intentionally, as it seemed to the external observer). In these situations, it is easy to forget the weather, the rain, the place, and time. I hope I can come back soon, and if the weather plays along, I am hoping for a picture of the two in front of the full moon next week.

At the moment I often feel as fortunate as I imagine these two storks feel in their newly built home. I also have someone to share home with, someone to fool around with, someone to synchronize with. It takes time, and sometimes it takes effort, but most of all it doesn’t take, but it gives: It gives moments of bliss and happiness and moments of gratitude and comfort. It’s the short daily breakfast, and the long adventures outdoors; it’s the willingness to try something new, and the teasing and playful banter; it’s the more profound conversation, and it’s the silent walks. And I feel my love growing more and more from day to day.

Bees, Data, and Everyday Life

Bees, Data, and Everyday Life

Bees are responsible for the pollination of <insert your favorite number here> percent of all agricultural crop.

Some website, at some time, somewhere on the internet.

If you are searching long enough, you can find every information you are looking for somewhere on the internet — and it’s tiring. Oftentimes, I want to answer a seemingly simple question (For how much pollination of agricultural crops are bees responsible?) and then I am occupied for the rest of the evening searching for some truth within a vast number of secondary sources. This post was supposed to be a short one about some evening photos of the first bees I spotted; instead it is a collection of thoughts about information on the internet, and the environment.

There is quite some stuff going wrong in this world and I think one of the causes is the complexity, variety, and multiplicity of available data. Thus, people who want to push their agenda can easily select, transform, or present data to support their point. Or just manufacture false data that becomes hardly distinguishable from ‘real’ data and blurs the line between fact and fiction. How scary this can get can be easily seen when looking at the election interference during the 2016 presidential election in the USA or the general data manipulation and surveillance in China. But also in everyday life, I find it increasingly difficult to make informed decisions because finding the best data is time intensive and one has to weigh up many different aspects:

You want to support the environment by avoiding plastic packaging? Sounds like a superb idea, but be prepared to invest some thoughts about the alternatives. Single-use glass and bottle packaging is probably worse due to increased weight and associated CO2 emissions. Cotton bags are too resource-intensive in their production. Paper packaging is even worse with respect to its carbon footprint and uses lots of wood- and water-resources. And in general: Is it even worth it when looking at the amounts of waste that is produced in the general economy? (However, you should definitely try it and also (if you are German-speaking) check out this.)

You want to stop livestock farming by going vegan? Also wonderful, but be prepared to closely question all of the substitute products which will in turn be wrapped in tons of plastic, destroy rain forests with their palm oil, and are shipped twice around the world. When looking at the health side, it becomes even more complex: Inconclusive studies with diverging results about how diets do or don’t influence your health depending on your physical condition, characteristics of your diet, and other factors. (However, you should also definitely do it because exploiting or killing animals surely cannot be the alternative.)

And then there is climate change in general: Can you justify to fly several times a year or that you to have two cars? Can you justify a large flat with enormous heating and electricity costs? And what is the most effective way as an individual to achieve a small CO2-footprint? Is it enough to pay for carbon compensation for these things? How does carbon compensation even work? And then there are the popular politicians who still believe in coal until 2038, drive off renewable energies to foreign countries, and do not care about the next generations that will inhabit the planet. We, as individuals, need to strongly adapt our lifestyle, and we, as a community, probably need to restructure our society to be prepared for the changes that are coming.

For now, I guess, I can only focus on some areas and try to progressively add more and more data, and thus more and more changes into my life that are based on informed decision and coincide with my moral and ethical values.

By the way, depending on how and where you are counting, bees are responsible for some of the pollination of agricultural crops, depending mainly on the crop itself, the trans-regional and regional context, the year of observation, and a multitude of other factors. Bees are also declining faster than ever before, however, it is also difficult to confidently quantify this decline. Depending on the country, research seems to agree that their yearly decline is from 10-50%. The following photos are from the first bees I spotted at one of the large intersections in my home town. I adore my macro-lens, the Fujinon 80mm f2.8, as well as the bees — they are wonderful.

And in compliance with all the other articles out there I was too lazy to include any sources for all of the claims here; you have to take the journey yourself and will likely arrive at different conclusions in the end.

Fog Clears the View

Fog Clears the View

Forecast: Clear skies, sun the whole day, frosty temperatures in the morning. Reality: Dense fog, no sun for the first hours of daylight, temperatures not cold enough for frost.

That’s how it mostly is – it never comes as expected. I still have to learn to adapt my expectations from forecast to reality. On this particular morning I hoped for ice crystals in front of the rising sun – what I got instead were goose painted on a blank canvas.

Fog drowns the noise and highlights only what is in front of you. And sometimes the unexpected is even better than the forecast: The grey heron was hunting mice directly in front of me and I was able to get closer than ever before.

Know Your Resources

Know Your Resources

On an ordinary day during the last autumn, I saw, for the first time, the common kingfisher – what a beautiful bird. Despite its divergent blue and orange coloring, it is quite hard to spot when sitting still. Only when the kingfisher changes its branch from which it hunts you see a brief blue shimmer darting close above the water. It belongs to the family Alcedinidae whose species are scattered across the whole globe; and most of them are at least as colorful as the common kingfisher (e.g. check out the oriental dwarf kingfisher!). Since then, we have seen the common kingfisher multiple times at a lake close to our home and I have tried to get in on camera at multiple other locations around our town. I spoke with others where to find it, I spent lots of time waiting for it, and I made hundreds of photos of empty branches and little blue dots in the far distance. On some occasions I was somewhat successful, but the clear sight was always interrupted by branches at the locations I visited. Then, last Friday evening after another day of home office, I sought out one of the last spots around our town I haven’t been before during my search for the kingfisher. It’s only 3 minutes from my normal working location but due to the current situation I haven’t been there for a year. And there, directly at a small pond, the perfect location for the king fisher is prepared: A stick curved above the water, a sign that warns uninterested bystanders of the curiosity, and nearby benches and bushes for the interested photographer. I guess, I have to come back next autumn and try my luck here; in the photos below you see my best attempts from this winter.

Work often feels similar to this experience: You search something for a long time before you unexpectedly find it somewhere else. And sometimes you find even more: In this case it was a wonderful sunset and the first spring flowers:

Black and White Spring

Black and White Spring

I don’t like thinking in black and white. I don’t think liking black and white-thinking is sensible: There is always an in-between, an uncertainty, missing knowledge. My side is not correct and your side is not wrong, truth is on both sides. While it’s easy to say, it’s hard to act on: Being empathetic in heated situations, seeing purpose when everything seems empty, or noticing progress when stagnation feels permanent – it takes effort to spot and point at the grey areas. It is exhausting to discuss the subtleties and understand the intricacies of the in-between.
And still, sometimes it is necessary to treat things as if they were black and white, because otherwise we would still be discussing the shades of grey – as long as we are aware of the underlying simplifications. Maybe we should just do it as in modern photography: Take the picture in color, from purple to pink, from dark corners to bright skies, include all shades in between. And then: Edit and redact it, remove undesired colors, increase the contrast, do it careful, and you are left with a delicate black and white version of truth while knowing the steps you took to get there.

I am very happy how the images from today’s morning walk turned out: First, everything looked quite dull and I couldn’t find anything interesting. On my first passing of this field, where small water droplets gathered at the growing seeds, I quickly moved onward when the first pictures did not turn out as expected. I had the wrong settings and not enough patience to find an interesting perspective. Then, on my second passing on my way home, I tried it again and this time I did not want to give up. And after many, many failed attempts of pictures that only showed grass and water droplets, I was able (at least to some extent) to capture the beauty I was hoping to find: Small sceneries of nature in light and shadow that allow the imagination to roam free. Now, I not only see grass and water droplets, but I can see small individuals, I can see groups of fairy-tale characters, I can see them holding lanterns to find there way through illuminated towns in the dark between moon-lit flowers.

… or sunrise?

… or sunrise?

Being out at sunrise feels exciting. Nature awakes and prepares for the day, people jog in circles, in life and around the lake, traffic noises drown the early birds; and we stare and wait for the orange dot at the horizon. When it arrives, the frozen fog begins to shine, flowers begin to bloom, our cameras begin to click, and birds win the second round against the traffic. And then the excitement gives way to everyday life, routines are repeating themselves, and we join the others and continue our own circle, in life and around the lake.

Sunset …

Sunset …

Being out at sunset feels calming. Nature slows down and prepares for the night, people vanish from the streets, windows light up the city; and we relish the moment, above, reflect on the day, fool around with the last rays of a distant star, devour bread and cookies, and, for a moment, forget the before and after: we live in the present, love in the present, are in the present. Briefly after, it’s already over – darkness settles, cold air creeps under clothes, and we join the others, return from the moment, and prepare for a new week.