Sunday, August 29, 2010

Die Kleine Stadt

Check out this tilt-shift video of Berlin looking like a leetle toy city:

Little Big Berlin from pilpop on Vimeo.


There's also one of New York!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Latest Flickr Upload

Just added a buncha new pics to my flickr, including some nice ones of some of Berlin's famous landmarks during the Festival of Lights waaay back when I first got to Berlin.
Go check it out!
shine on

Kunsthaus Tacheles


Imagine my surprise to open up the NY Times today and find an article about Berlin's Kunsthaus Tacheles!
The article makes the point, using Tacheles' imminent downfall as an example, that Berlin is slowly being sanitized and stripped of all the gritty alternativism that makes it so great, a fact I have myself lamented in this blog. While in Berlin, people often pointed out to me that Berlin is a complete island in Germany--no other city in Germany is at all similar. Berlin is a kind of fluke in the German cultural landscape, and now that it's the capital city, the rest of Germany is seeping into it. A local artist is quoted as saying, "These Bonn people [i.e. the federal government] want a peaceful city, and it just doesn’t work. On the one hand they want to be the cultural capital, but on the other hand they knock everything down that contributes to that."
Yup, pretty much.
Another of the people interviewed compares the cleaning up of Berlin to that of New York. While still undeniably vibrant artistically, NY is in my experience more smoothed over and institutionalized than Berlin--at least for now.
Undoubtedly these things go in cycles. Berlin's been happening recently. It can't last forever, unfortunately. That kind of creative atmosphere, as I noted recently in a post on antlervision about Detroit, can only thrive when bureaucracy and authority aren't paying too close attention. Eventually, they try to regulate it and it falls apart.
I wonder what city will be the next big thing?

Monday, August 9, 2010

What I'll Miss

Obviously there are a million billion things I am going to miss about life in Berlin, but here's an attempt at a list.

1. Plentiful Delicious Falafel
Berlin is the first place I had really really awesome falafel...and now I'm addicted. I already made a post about my top 5 falafel places in Berlin, so go check that out for more details. Main point is that I can't even think of 5 decent falafel places round these parts, much less have trouble narrowing down a top 5. Sigh.

2. Good Beer, and Cheap

Cheapness is a major factor in things I will miss in Berlin, and beer is no exception. The variety pictured above is one of the cheapest beers available, our beloved Sterny, or Sternburg. That bottle you see in the picture is .5L and costs 65 euro cents. Swoon! We even knew a place where you could get 'em for 55 cents each, and buying a case at Kaufland was even cheaper. This beer is far superior to the cheapest beer brands in the US (Natty Ice comes to mind) and costs less. I'll have to drown my sorrow with Hamm's.

3. Adjustable Windows
In most apartments and offices in Berlin, at least in my experience, they have these nifty adjustable windows. You can open it just a crack by tilting it open at the top, or open it sideways all the way. Even our big balcony door functioned this way. It was a great way to get some air flow without freezing, or to air out a kitchen when cooking, or whatever. I found myself wondering why all windows aren't so elegantly engineered. I've never seen such a window stateside.

4. Less Stress
Coming from New York, I'm used to a somewhat frenetic atmosphere in large cities. That was why the calm pace of Berlin was a nice change. Even though it's the capital and has a population of approximately 3 million, Berlin is super chill. My office started work pretty late in the morning, by American standards. Though I lamented shops being closed on Sundays, it was kind of nice to be able to truly relax--knowing that nothing was open anyway, so no point in getting all fussed. Despite the German reputation for rigid efficiency, they, like all Europeans it seems, know how to take a break way better than the Americans.

5. Our Balcony
Our corner balcony with its view of Neukölln rooftops and the Rathaus Neukölln made me so so happy.

It seemed that many more Berlin apartments had balconies than is common in large US cities.

6. Things in Tubes
An aspect to grocery shopping in Berlin that I at first found hilarious (see the picture at the end of this entry), I soon came to appreciate the wisdom of having mustard, mayo, ketchup etc. in toothpaste tubes. Cheese and caviar though? Still really weird.

7. The Stadtbad
Berlin has tons of public pools. Our local one in Neukölln was super sweet, with soaring columns, pretty mosaics of people in togas, and even great statuary:

One visit only cost 2.5eur. It was a great way to get in some exercise in the cold winter months, even though Germans don't seem to believe in proper lap swimming.

8. Prepackaged Hard-Boiled Eggs
No matter what time of year (Easter or otherwise) one can always find packages of colorfully dyed hard-boiled eggs in the supermarket, and hard-boiled eggs can usually be found at bakeries at well. This was extremely convenient. I love hard-boiled eggs. I ate one for breakfast every morning before work and didn't ever have to bother boiling water. I'm surprised that I can't seem to find this in the US, land of convenience, but there you are.

9. Bakeries
1eur sandwiches? Delicious fresh-baked bread? Incredible pastries for a euro or two? On nearly every street? NOMNOMNOMNOM

10. Bread
European bread just tastes better somehow. It's more often and more easily available in fresh-baked form. And in Germany, they have all these wonderful dark breads with seeds. My favorite was pumpkin-seed bread. So much more tasty than gross American white bread *shudders*.

11. Mini Liquors
Late at night? Need a pick-me-up? Don't worry about finding a liquor store or what time of night it is. Every little Spätkauf will have a selection of miniature liquor bottles for your convenience, as well as beer and often wine. Go forth and party! And remember...

12. You Can Drink on the Street
And on the U-Bahn. 'Nuff said.

13. Cheap cheap cheap
My day-to-day expenses were waaaay cheaper than in the US. Rent, food, and alcohol have, I believe, been mentioned. There were also cheaper toiletries that I liked better than all the fancy brands here. Now buying bodywash is such a trial. Numerous brands with bewildering lists of ingredients and uses, with nothing less than 6USD. In Berlin I would buy a big bottle of 1.5eur drugstore-brand exfoliating bodywash and call it good. Le sigh.

14. Staying Out Late
Berlin is the true "city that never sleeps." NY almost never goes til dawn in my experience...unless you're super rich. But in Berlin any night out routinely can, and will, go on well into the next day. No need to stop the fun. The city keeps going and so can you. I'll never forget the time I was awakened by my roomie at 8am calling me to say, "We're going to Poland! Wanna come?" I had left him at a party sometime during the previous night and he was still going. Priceless.

15. Markets
I miss the Turkish Market so damn much. Bountiful fresh produce, cheap!, plus fabric, jewelry making supplies, shoes, clothes, household goods, anything you might need really. So simple and easy. Love it. And then there was the Mauerpark--huge flea market/crafts market/karaoke sesh every Sunday. Why ever shop in a store again?

16. The U-Bahn
This one rings even more true now that I've spent a few weeks on the NY subway system. When standing on a hot, sweaty, dirty platform with no clue when or if my train will come and if it will go to the places I expect it to, how I miss Berlin's clean, efficient and reliable transport system and the little signs telling you how many minutes til the next train. NY needs to take a page out of Berlin's book on this one.

17. Bike Lanes Everywhere
Berlin is easily navigable by bike. This was a plus considering there was no way I was going to drive on those crazy roads and with those gas prices. Plus it's so much nicer to fly through the open air than to ride the underground trains in the dark--at least when it's above freezing outside. I most definitely will not miss the bike cops though.

18. Picturesque Cobblestone Streets
In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, which is a designated "historic district," there are two blocks of cobblestones that everyone swoons over. Well in Berlin it's par for the course--as are shady trees and genteel old buildings. For a history lover and art historian, it was paradise to find such a large city to be so aesthetically pleasing.

19. Seasonal Produce
This might seem like a weird one, but I kinda liked how not everything is available all the time. In the US the supermarkets are always stocked with everything, and while this may seem advantageous, it disconnects you from reality in that what you are eating has no connection whatsoever with what's local and what's in season. Whereas in Berlin, shopping at a combination of Kaufland and the Turkish Market, I really noticed and took advantage of the changing of the seasons. In spring, I grabbed a bagful of fresh peas, and they were the best peas I'd ever had. In the middle of winter, I embraced root vegetables. Etc. I really liked that connection to the earth and to actual growing cycles.

20. Cheap and Plentiful Concerts
I can't even count the number of amazing concerts I saw of bands I love that cost me less than 30eur. It seems that every band on earth comes through Berlin at some point or other and when they do, they charge a much smaller amount than they would in the US (at least the bands I was interested in). I saw The Mountain Goats, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Vampire Weekend, Spoon, Yeasayer, Camera Obscura, Passion Pit, Grizzly Bear, Owl City (man did I get crap for that, haha) and much more, and usually in tiny venues where you can get right up close and even sometimes meet the performers after the show. It was teh sweetness. I will miss that a lot.

21. Diversity
At any given party, you will hear at least 3 or 4 languages being spoken at a time. You get to meet people from all over the world every single day. People think NY is a melting pot? Ha! I found Berlin's diversity to be much more obvious and integrated than in the States. It was great meeting so many different people from such diverse places and backgrounds at every turn.

So there you have it. Many more items than on the "won't miss" list! So much to love about Berlin and, frankly, living abroad in general. I hope I have another chance at it someday.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What I Won't Miss

Now that's it's been a few months since I returned from Berlin and I've finally settled down somewhat after many, many travels, I'm finally getting around to wrapping up this blog with the finished versions of all the half-written posts I promised! To get the negativity out of the way first, I'll start with the things I will not miss about life in Berlin, then move on to greener pastures.
1. Shelf Toilets

I first saw these little gems on a British TV show called "You Are What You Eat" in which the dictator-like healthy eating expert examines the show participant's poo to assess the healthiness of their diets. She explains that they have to use her bathroom with her "German toilet" which has a convenient little shelf that the...um...expulsions fall on so that they can be more easily examined. I figured this was pretty much made up for the show or at least extremely rare so imagine my surprise when there actually was one in my Berlin office. It's pretty embarrassing to go to the bathroom in the office and have everyone know you just did number 2 because the toilet is engineered to leave the poo out in the air until it is flushed away, thus causing a widespread and strong odor to suffuse the bathroom. It's even more embarrassing to have this occur when you are a guest in someone else's home, as happened with the friend I stayed with for a few days in Vienna. Now I have seen many theories as to why these toilets were ever invented, including: wanting to examine one's feces (what?!? surely not. except in the case of the British health expert) or some kind of sick desire for Schadenfreude (a German word meaning pleasure derived from the misfortune of others--I think this explanation is really more of an expat joke than anything plausible). The most widely accepted, however, is the prevention of "splashback." I ask you, is that really worth the (sizeable) discomforts that this toilet brings?!? I'm pretty glad that I won't be finding these in my next place of employment in the US.

2. Cigarettes EVERYWHERE
While many people complained when smoking was banned from inside bars and restaurants in New York City, as a non-smoker and someone who absolutely abhors the smell of smoke, I pretty quickly got used to going out without having to spend the evening breathing in other people's cancer sticks. So you can imagine how much I enjoyed the smokehouse that is every bar or club in Berlin. Sometimes it was so bad that I had trouble breathing and/or developed a headache. But most of the time it didn't bother me too much until I woke up the next morning and realized that everything I had been wearing, and my hair, completely stank stank stank of cigarette smoke. Every time I went out. Even just to a friend's house. Yuck.

3. Closed on Sundays
I was shocked to find that all supermarkets, and most other shops, are closed in Germany on Sundays. Berlin is not some small provincial town, it's the freakin capital city for goodness' sake, but even so there is only one supermarket in the whole city that is a) open on Sundays b) open on public holidays and c) open 24 hours. Coming from a city where I can get diner food, fresh-baked bagels and yes, groceries at all hours of the day or night, no matter the day of the week (and that's within walking distance of my house in Brooklyn, never mind the 24hr playground that is Manhattan), this was kind of jarring. It was absolutely the pits to wake up on a Sunday and realize that unless you wanted to go all the way to Friedrichstrasse, you had no groceries until Monday. This threw a wrench in my eating plans many a time, especially the one memorable occasion when we invited all our friends to a balcony barbecue only to realize we had no means of getting the supplies. Thus we ended up carrying all the groceries and a case of beer home from Friedrichstrasse. Good times. Anyway, for a civilized nation to dictate supermarket opening times based on one religion's traditions is to my mind absurd. Wake up and smell the coffee on this one, Deutschland.

4. Rampant Public Nudity
Ok, perhaps 'rampant' is a strong word, and I hate to admit to my discomfort with naked strangers, but there it is. My country was founded by Puritans, etc. So I was a bit taken aback the first time I went into the changing room at my gym and found butt-naked people acting like it weren't no thang. This also occurred at the public pool, where there were no partitions in the showers, so I just had to suck it up and join in the party--but at least I wrapped a towel around myself when I left the shower area. Now I'm fine with seeing someone's tatas or booty when they're quickly changing or whatever, but to have full-frontal assault for the entirety of my changing room experience (please don't bend over please don't bend over aaaaaah did not need to see that!!!) was a bit much. You know that awkward moment when you open a door and someone else is on the other side, trying to open it from that side? Imagine how much this is magnified when the someone on the other side is a grinning, toothless, extremely old women with her large, liver-spotted breasts and other attributes just hangin out for all to see. Wow. Try to get that image out of your head. I know I can't.

5. Bureaucracy and Rules and Feeling Paranoid
There's a lot of freakin rules in Germany. I have problems enough with authority figures as it is, and when they're barking at me in German, and acting like I'm an idiot because I maybe don't understand every single word they say in a language to which I am not native, it really rubs me the wrong way. You all read my post about the police breaking into our party and acting like total assholes. I don't recall if I wrote about the time I got "caught" riding the U-Bahn without a valid ticket (it's called schwarzfahren, or 'riding black'), but I'll recap: I got caught, not without a ticket, but with the wrong kind of ticket, and when I tried to explain that I'm a foreigner and misunderstood they would have none of it. I had to go in to the BVG office. So I woke up early the next morning to tramp through the snow to do so. On the way I figured I had better buy a single ride ticket. Haha, how silly would it be to get caught on the way to paying a fine? But since I was used to my monthly ticket, which doesn't require validation, I forgot to validate my single ticket. Bam! Nailed, by the same bitch-tastic woman who got me the first time. I immediately burst into tears (it was freakin early and cold and this was ridiculous), but she wouldn't even look at me. I waved the ticket from the day before at her. "Don't you remember me? You gave this to me yesterday. I'm on my way to pay it. I have a clearly newly printed single ticket that I simply forgot to validate. Do you really think I would be so stupid as to not have a valid ticket on the same train at the same time as when I got caught yesterday?!?" Her response was to hold out her hand and ask for my ID again. Can we say BITCH? So I had to go in again the next day and talk myself out of the second fine. The result of encounters of this kind was that even though I was doing my absolute best to be legal in Germany (for instance, I actually registered and de-registered like I was supposed to, unlike many of the expats I knew), I still felt extremely paranoid every time I saw a cop or cop car. I would immediately check over what I was doing to make sure nothing could be construed as illegal, but still felt extremely nervous. Cops don't make me react that way in the States. Something about German rules and bureaucracy was just really kind of scary for a foreigner.

6. Lack of Spice
But for something more lighthearted. I've written about this before, but it had to be on this list: there is patently NO spice to be found in German restaurants. Even Asian places make their food to German taste, meaning no spicy for you. Additionally it is near-impossible to find acceptable Mexican food, even in Berlin. Note to Northern Europe: creme fraiche is NOT an ingredient in guacamole. Having said this, I've realized in the months since my departure that I actually miss one of the two Mexican restaurants I found in Berlin. At first I thought of Dolores as a Chipotle substitute, but I ended up liking it sooo much better than Chipotle. Their mole tofu and spicy-hot habañero sauce was far superior. How's that for irony?

Stay tuned for the more positive aspects of Berlin life!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wieder in Berlin

28 days
22 trains
13 cities, and
8 countries later, I am back in Berlin for the last time in the foreseeable future.
In two days time I close this chapter of my life and return to the States indefinitely. Wah!
I have many half-written posts on Berlin delights and many still to write on the places I visited in Europe this past month so those will be posted retroactively in the coming months.
In the meantime, I leave you with the winning song from last night's Eurovision song contest from, you guessed it, Deutschland! I was watching in a living room in sweden :) Here's "Satellite" by Lena:

Bis bald,
D.

PS. I picked up some new vocabulary in Austria and Switzerland...
trinkfest: able to hold one's liquor. A handy one-word description!
Klugscheiss: wise-ass, literally "wise shit."
Filmriß: blackout...literally, 'film rip', a rip in the film of your evening! I think that's so clever.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Travels Week 1: Praha

Last Sunday night I hopped an overnight bus to Prague to begin a month of travel around Europe with an Interrail pass. The pass is like a Eurail pass, but a cheaper version available to people who both have European citizenship and have resided in the EU for six months or more. It covers unlimited rail travel in 30 European countries, excluding your country of residence. With a 22-day pass bracketed by a bus journey to start and a flight home to end, I was set for a crazy 30 days of travel! Rather than give a blow-by-blow of my days, I'm just going to try and jot down some of what I learned in each place.
So: Prague!
Every guidebook I read recommended checking out the Charles Bridge at dawn, to avoid the crowds. Since I arrived at 4:30am, I figured I might as well take that advice. It was really nice having the bridge to myself, but I have to say that an empty Old Town Square, streetlamps still blazing in the dawning light, was more impressive to me, at least relative to their respective daytime appearances.
On my first day I went straight to the castle and have to caution: do NOT pay for the all-inclusive ticket and audio guide! I didn't have the exchange rate straight in my head and when I realized later what I had spent on that, I kicked myself. Instead, if you have a limited time in Prague like I did, start with a free tour around Old and New Town and then take the optional paid tour with the same company that continues to the other side of the river and the castle. I wish I had done it that way. The paid tour cost less than half what I paid for the stupid audio guide.
Prague is a great city for walking, I recommend just strolling with your eyes wide open and you'll make lots of discoveries, like I did.
I also ate some traditional Czech food, and can highly recommend pickled cheese with your beer (mmmm). I also tried a beef dish in gravy, which came with what they call 'dumplings' but which actually seemed more like slices of bread to me. I reeeally wish I had tried fried cheese, another Czech specialty, and their traditional onion and garlic soups.
I wanted to check out the synagogue converted into a Holocaust memorial, but you can't buy a ticket to that without buying a ticket to all the other sites in the Jewish quarter. Because it covers so many sites, the ticket is pricey, and I only had time for the one museum, so I didn't end up getting it. It's a weird system...had I known in advance, I could have planned to make the ticket worth it, time-wise, but I wasn't able to. Something for a future visit.
The Kampa Museum was cool and I loved the little island-park it's located in. It was being renovated when I was there, so when the renovations are done it will be even better. I learned about a few Czech artists I hadn't known before, and even encountered one of them at some Viennese museums in the days following. I didn't get to make it to the new DOX contemporary art center, unfortunately, nor did I see the Mucha/Dali exhibit in Old Town Square.
What with lack of sleep, it being the first few days of my trip, and a totally incomprehensible language and currency to deal with, I think I was a little loopy and didn't make the most of my two days in Prague. I really want to go back someday! My host did teach me how to make sushi though. That I will always remember.
I've got to dash but stay tuned for more updates as I have time.
Bis bald,
D.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Der Wortschatz

There's a story in the news today about a man getting fined 14,000eur for jumping into a pool. But it wasn't just a normal jump: it was an Arschbombe. Yes, the German word for cannonball is Arschbombe, or 'ass-bomb'. Priceless! In the past months I've learned some other great tidbits of vocabulary, such as:
Handschuhe: the word for gloves translates literally as "hand shoes."
Pickel: not the word for pickle. This means "pimple." I first heard it when watching a German movie about teenagers in Kreuzberg. I assumed at first that it was a slang word for male genitalia, but soon realized from the context--a guy was happy that his "pickel" was getting smaller--that it had to be something else!
Partymaus: literally 'party mouse', this is the equivalent of party animal. I don't really understand how mice got the reputation of being hardcore partiers, haha.
aufmotzen: I encountered this word while watching MTV in English with German subtitles at the gym, a very handy way of learning interesting vocab. In Pimp my Ride, this is the translation of 'to pimp.' At first I thought it was derived from Mütze, which means cap or bonnet. I figured putting a cap on something could kind of be a synonym for pimpin it out. But according to Leo, the online dictionary that probably should have been on my useful websites list, 'aufmotzen' means 'to start something up', which is a much less imaginative translation.
Balkon: one night at the Weinerei a drunk old guy came up and chatted to us for a while and when he walked away, he slyly smiled and complimented my 'Balkon' or 'balcony'. I was wearing a low-cut top at the time (I didn't realize it was that low!) so we surmised that this is a slang word for boobies. hahaha.
verlaufen: this is a recent one. My friend was making a frozen pizza in my oven and I checked the label for the cooking instructions. You're supposed to heat it until the cheese is "gut verlaufen": 'running well'. That made me smile.
I feel sad that I am leaving right when I am just starting to get jokes in German and understand more of the subtleties of what's happening around me linguistically every day. When I visited the US I was kind of relieved to be able to communicate easily with the people I encountered--bartenders, grocery store cashiers, etc--but I also really missed the thrill of having even the most everyday task be a bit of a challenge. Living in a place where you don't speak the language fluently makes every day an adventure and an opportunity to learn, and it's so gratifying when you make progress or are able to get through a whole encounter without the other person realizing you're a foreigner. I don't know if I'll ever live in Germany again, but I hope I'll live in a foreign country again sometime. The daily challenge is fun and exciting.
Tomorrow is May Day and it's going to be nuts!
Bis bald,
D.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hilfreiche Websites

Since one of the first things I did to prepare for Berlin was look for expat blogs with useful information, I'm attempting in my last days in Berlin to share some of the things that I've discovered here. Obviously the internet is a major resource when moving to or even visiting a new city/country, and it saved me a couple of times when I first got to Germany. For instance, I found my apartment through Berlin craigslist, which has posts in both English and German. Here's a list of some other websites that are good to know in Berlin/Germany:

WG-Gesucht
When looking for a sublet in Berlin, this is a good website to look on. It's got tons of postings for WGs (Wohngemeinschafts, living communities). It's probably best if you speak some German when using this site--most of the postings are in German or from German people.

Koka
Konzert-Kasse 36 is a ticket office for most any music event you could want to go to in Berlin. I found their listings invaluable for deciding which concerts I would want to go to. And you can't beat Berlin concert prices...usually around 12-20eur for indie bands and DJs!

Mitfahrgelegenheit
The name of this site means "rideshare opportunity." You put in your date of travel, origin, and destination, and it returns a list of rides or shared train tickets going that route on that day. Then just pick and choose. It's the cheapest way to get from city to city in Germany, because the train tickets are surprisingly expensive. Like WG Gesucht, some German comes in handy. Though it sounds like it could be sketchy, I've used it quite a bit with only one bad experience (nothing scary...just my ride didn't show up!).

Qype
This is just like Yelp (user-generated restaurant reviews and recommendations), but for all of Europe. I love Yelp, so I've had a lot of fun using and contributing to Qype, which is newer and not as comprehensive. Check out my reviews!

The Local
The sub-heading on this website is "Germany's news in English," but they provide more than German news stories in German--they also have movie and event listings and a great series called "Making it in Germany", my favorite of which was about the woman who opened Cupcake, Berlin's first cupcake shop.

Toytown
This is an English language forum in association with The Local that has discussions of current events, listings for expat meetups, parties, etc., recommendations of restaurants and such, and lots of advice for expats in Germany--for instance, I found information about medical care, insurance, and dealing with German bureaucracy. A really good resource!

So there you have it...maybe not so interesting, but definitely useful :)
Bis bald,
D.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Globalization

I saw an interesting article in the NYT today about how globalization is and is not affecting cultural differentiation.
The author, Michael Kimmelman, who has moved from New York to Berlin just like yours truly, writes, "far from succumbing to some devouring juggernaut, culture — and Europe, with its different communities and nations living cheek by jowl, is a Petri dish to prove the point — has only atomized lately as a consequence of the very same globalizing forces that purportedly threaten to homogenize everything."
I was just talking the other day about globalization and how regrettable it is that American models of consumerism are steadily creeping into Europe. But Kimmelman would seem to disagree:
"Nationalism, regionalism and tribalism are all on the rise. Societies are splitting even as they share more common goods and attributes than ever before. Culture is increasingly an instrument to divide and differentiate communities. And the leveling pressures of globalization have at the same time provided more and more people with the technological resources to decide for themselves, culturally speaking, who they are and how they choose to be known, seen, distinguished from others...Culture means many things in this context, but at heart it is a suite of traits we inherit and also choose to disavow or to stress...Anyone may now pick through the marketplace of global culture."
Essentially he argues that the more there is a common denominator in society, the more people will try to distinguish themselves from it, to attach themselves to different "tribal" identities.
Discussing particularly his transition from New York to Berlin, he mentions that one of the first things he noticed was the proliferation of bookstores in Berlin, more than he had been used to noticing in other cities. This, he discovered, stemmed from a conscious effort in Germany to restore "civilization" after the war by supporting an "ecosystem" of small publishers and booksellers. Regarding this episode, he concludes:
"So what was to me as a clueless foreigner an urban curiosity, noticeable just because it wasn’t my usual experience — it was for me a cultural rift or rupture — ended up suggesting some larger truth about the country’s history and ambition. Culture is something we propagate but also something naturally there, existing in and around us, which makes us who we are but which may rise to the level of our consciousness only when one of those ruptures or rifts appear — when some little psychic clash happens between it and our more or less unconscious sense of the everyday world."
Very interesting thoughts. For all that I complain about "globalization" meaning there's a McDonald's on every corner, that doesn't change the fact that while I might call it 'Mickey D's', my Australian flatmate calls it 'Mackers' or that the concept of McCafé, a classier coffeeshop-style McDonald's, is way more popular in Europe than in the US. Even the universal symbol of globalization, McDonald's, is differentiated culturally, so we shouldn't lose hope in cultural differentiation. While the internet and multinational corporations may have changed the scope of cultural identity, they have not by any means obliterated it. Thus I am able to write mildly amusing blogposts about the many subtle (and not so subtle) cultural differences between the US and Germany!
Bis bald,
D.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Top 5 Falafel in Berlin

Berlin's culinary scene is remarkable for many reasons, one of which is the plentiful abundance of falafel and other vegetarian delights, most for super cheap. Not all falafel was created equal, however...the Imbiß (snack stand) on our street for example reheats frozen falafel in the microwave and serves it in too-thick bread with lackluster veggies. This is all too common at your standard snack stand, which is what makes it so exciting to find truly top-quality falafel, and I seek it out all the time. Thus I present to you my five favorite falafel places in Berlin! All of these places cost 2.5 or 3eur for a falafel sandwich, the standard price for above-standard quality :)

1. Nil
This place serves "sudanese style" falafel which means, as far as I can tell, that they add peanut sauce to the usual falafel-bread-veggies equation. But it has earned the top spot because I don't think I will ever forget the feeling of first biting into that hot, crispy falafel. There was something about the über-crispy outside of the falafel balls that just tasted so above and beyond regular falafel stands. The peanut sauce added some nice dimension and the pita and veggies were good quality as well. A+

2. Dada Falafel
I was told by a friend before I arrived in Berlin that this place was "widely considered the best falafel in town," but hadn't tried it until recently. O the error of my ways! It was truly smashing, with three kinds of delicious sauces including hummus, fresh falafel, and lovely fresh veggies. Scrumptious. The hip decor and music don't hurt either.

3. King of Falafel
This little hole in the wall is another recent discovery and earns a high place on the list not just because of deliciousness but because of the obvious care they put into making their product. I stepped up to the window and ordered, then spent an enjoyable 15-20min (it was worth the wait) watching the man carefully scoop out mashed chickpeas and shape it into balls, then while it was frying, lovingly build a pile of carefully placed veggies and hummus on thin pita. When the falafel balls were done, he arranged them just so and wrapped it all up burrito-style with an expert hand. Watching him make it was half the fun, but man was that falafel wrap delicious. Lucikly this one's actually near my house, so I can return frequently.

4. Maroush
I should kind of try this place sober before I put it at #4, but what the heck. It always fills me up good when I happen to be hungry and in the vicinity of Oranienstrasse late at night. Quality stuff and friendly service. Plus I like chillin at their outdoor picnic tables when it's warm enough. Good times.

5. Luxa
People rag on this place, but I have a certain affection for it since it fed my oddly timed jet lagged tummy when I first arrived in Berlin and was staying around the corner. I've never had a bad sandwich here--in my experience the falafel is fresh, as are the veggies, and wrapped up in a pita pocket with delectable sesame sauce it's pretty gosh darn tasty. It's clean and has modern decor and plenty of seating, plus I've met some colorful local characters. For my money it's a keeper.

*Honorable Mention* Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap
Ok so this isn't technically falafel but in the realm of delicious veggie sandwiches it's definitely an amazing variation. Basically they fry up a bunch of veggies (potatoes, zucchini, peppers etc) with seasoning and then pile it into some bread with salad-y topping just like on a falafel or schwarma. They then add a sprinkling of crumbly feta and some lemon juice. And the result is nothing short of divine. I regret the number of times I went to Curry 36, the famous currywurst place just down the street, instead of trying this gem. Now it is a favorite. A must-try for the veggie enthusiast in Berlin! They also have a chicken version for all you carnivores.

So there you have it. Stay tuned for more Berlin "best of" lists from yours truly.
Bis bald,
D.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Berlinische Galerie

Today I biked up to Mitte to try one of Berlin's many famous falafel joints, Dada Falafel. It earned a place in my top five falafel list, coming soon to a blogpost near you.
Afterwards, after a stop to pore over some travel books at a store that carries English books, I headed to the Jewish Museum, which I surprisingly have not been to yet. As I approached the museum, I hopped onto the sidewalk, still riding my bike, in search of somewhere to park it near the museum's entrance. Two surly cops milling around outside the museum did not like this. They scowled and stood in my way while pointing vigorously at the street, with cars whizzing by at their customary death speed. I got off my bike, smiled and told them I was headed to the museum, uselessly indicating the entrance about 20 feet along the sidewalk, but the cop just glared at me and growled that that didn't matter, I should have stayed on the road instead of presuming to bike for 50 feet on the completely unoccupied sidewalk. No wonder Germans always follow the rules. If they don't, some asshole cop won't wait a moment to get all up in their grill. Don't they have better things to do then be mean to people about absurdly minor traffic violations? Sheesh.
After that encounter I was in no mood to face the huge crowd of noisy French schoolchildren totally dominating the Jewish Museum entranceway so I decided to pop around the corner to the Berlinische Galerie instead. And it was awesome!
On the way there were signposts with art-related quotes such as "Farben muß gesehen werden!" (Colors must be seen!) from Walter Benjamin and "Denken ist Form" (Thinking is form) from Joseph Beuys.
When I got there I discovered that they are between special exhibitions, but the permanent collection was more than enough to divert me!
This confronted me in the first room:

Raimund Kummer, Eyecatcher 1994.
I approached it from behind so did not at first realize it was an eye...when I spotted the placard I was delighted by the clever wordplay of the title. And it was certainly eye-catching!
The next piece that caught my attention was a sound installation by Carston Eggers in which small, unobtrusive loudspeakers had been installed down the sides of the main gallery's central staircase which intermittently played a recording of a ping pong ball falling down stairs. The little info blurb hit it bang on the nose by saying, "A double irritation is generated; we not only hear a surprising noise, we are unable to identify its source." I smiled when I realized the sound I was hearing was an art piece.
The auditorium is currently jam-packed with student work from a secondary school in Prenzlauer-Berg and every other piece was interesting. From a piece documenting a student's daily eating habits with flattened food wrappers hung in labelled ziploc bags to a coffee table made from a worn gold picture frame with strings stretched across it, I was really impressed. That was a fun room.
I was thrilled to finally see Steve Johnson's Pedestrian Island No. 5:

which I had seen in the Lange Nacht der Museen catalogue but couldn't figure out what museum to see it in.
Sarah Schönfeld's "genius loci_landscapes" series was really interesting.

"The strange landscapes are nothing more than the edges of carpets, landings, lift doors etc. The poetry of the everyday."
Upstairs with the older works, I was reminded how much I like Naum Gabo.

I also learned the German term 'Lebensbejahung' meaning 'acceptance of life' (it was the title of a piece). Another handy German compound word!
I also loved Brigitte and Martin Matschinsky's smaller metal sculptures:

And I found a new Impressionist friend in Lesser Ury:

This painting

by Wilhelm Gallhof was absolutely scrumptious in person and the reproduction in no way does it justice.
And there was more...but those are the highlights.
This evening we attended another fab Latvian performance piece. Twas wunderbar!
Bid bald,
D.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lustige Fotos

Spotted at the local drugstore:

Hahaha...'bad' means 'bath' in German.
I had a funny language realization recently. Ya know how Ludacris is often referred to as simply 'Luda'...well you may recall from my Karneval post that 'Lude' (same pronunciation) means 'hussy' or 'pimp' in German!
I also saw this recently at our corner store:

Those must be some really awesome tighty-whities.
Last but not least, remember that honeydew melon that came home in Clayton's jacket hood on New Year's Eve? Well it has sat on our balcony since then, even after the snow melted. Take a gander at how it looks now:

Everyone thinks it's a poo when they see it from inside. Probably because they're so used to the dog poo covered streets below, haha.
Bis bald,
D.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cali-for-ny-aye

This post has been sitting in my 'drafts' folder for ages! Finally, a little summary of my California trip and the culture shock I experienced going back to the States for the first time in many months.
So 3 days, 1 party, 1 concert, and 1 sleepless night induced by a sinus infection after I got back from Lisbon, I caught an early morning flight to head out to California for the first time since last June. The bf recently moved to Sacramento, where I had never been, and since it was his birthday and all, I decided it was a good time for a visit. I was visiting people all over NorCal and the Bay Area which meant...
LOTS of driving. And lots of money for gas. In Berlin I had professed to miss driving and my car but I think I can actually do without it most of the time, thank you very much.
It was an interesting trip because the interval between my Thanksgiving trip home and this one was the longest consecutive time I had spent abroad since I was 14, and it was weird but I experienced major culture shock returning to my own country.
Everything in America is so in-your-face. A simple trip to the grocery store is mind boggling. All the different products and colors screaming at you from the shelves and a huge produce section completely unrelated to seasonal availability and racks upon racks of screeching celebrity rags.
ugh.
not to mention, I could not BELIEVE how expensive groceries are. Or eating out. Or going to a bar. Or rent! I mean I guess it's ridiculous to compare anything to Berlin because it's probably got the lowest cost of living of any major world city but my God. I was blown away.
One trip to Whole Foods for some dinner ingredients, drinks, and breakfast foods cost me more than I spent on groceries during the entire month of February in Berlin.
One meal at a Thai restaurant cost more than 10 meals at our Berlin local's Friday buffet.
One decent beer cost waaaay more than our standby Sterni's 65 euro cents.
And the four gas fill-ups that were required during my 10-day stay cost more than my monthly U-Bahn ticket and my bike repairs combined.

That being said.
It was so awesome to see everyone again. And even though I was in California, I felt closer to people in New York too because I could just call or shoot a text instead of coordinating skype meetups with the time difference. Plus:
The WEATHER was amazing. I kept having to remind myself it was still March.
I was definitely disconcerted by feeling a kind of disgust at my own home country. But then again, I had to remind myself of all the times I've been SO FRUSTRATED by the way things are done in Germany. Unfortunately I can't be in two places at once, the story of my life.
Anyhoo despite the insane cost of groceries, we had some fun being all domestic and cooking, especially since Clayton's brand-new kitchen and kitchen equipment were a very far cry from our worn out IKEA supplies in Berlin.
Halibut with mushroom risotto and roast asparagus and tomato:

CK at his table ready to eat Jamie Oliver's pine nut pasta:

I also visited a friend in Marin and got to hang out with her golden retriever:

Yaaay puppy!
We also found this gem while browsing the shops:

For all their "supermarkets are closed on Sundays" (and, apparently, on Good Friday and the Monday after Easter) bullshit, I haven't noticed many Germans being quite that blatant.
But I guess what this trip taught me is even if the American way of life is a bit jarring after living in Germany, there's always something to be said for "home."
Bis bald,
D.

Lisboa

Ok, yes, I know, this post is about a million years overdue. What can I say. I'm a jetsetter.
So at the beginning of March, which is now almost a month ago (pinch, punch, first of the month...) Celia and I went to visit Eric in Lisbon. Yeah!
Check out some of my photos on my flickr and on facebook.
Despite the weather forecast, we continued to believe that we were headed for a sunny, breezy beach vacation.
This was not the case.
When we arrived it was pouring rain. Luckily both of us had at least been sensible enough to pack umbrellas. We had an adventure on the bus system (being made to pay twice when we transferred...ah well), then made our way up some windy, cobblestoned streets to Eric's pad. The high ceilings and wood floors reminded me of a Berlin altbau. His roomie's cat immediately settled on my lap and started clawing the sh*t out of my legs. Which admittedly, I kind of enjoyed.
We headed out, umbrellas in hand, to take a walk around the city and find a bakery to try the local specialty pastry, pastéis de nata. They were indeed delicious. When we emerged from the bakery, it had stopped raining! Yay!
We made our way down the hill through Alfama, an old neighborhood with winding streets and interesting buildings. We crossed through the downtown area and then hopped on a street tram to Belem, another neighborhood, where we saw a HUGE monastery, the outside of the modern art museum, and the Vasco de Gama sculpture on the waterfront. The bridge across the Tagus looks just like the Golden Gate--who knew?
Here's me with the bridge in the background as seen from the giant Jesus statue, which I'll get to in a bit:

That night we stopped by Eric's local grocery store, having gotten back to his neighborhood via wonderful rattling old wooden tram #28. It was housed in an interesting building:

I love going to local supermarkets. We made a delicious pasta dish and had some local beers before passing out.
The next day we decided to take the train to a nearby beach town, Cascais. I wore my swimsuit under my clothes and threatened to swim, but that didn't happen...it was too cold, and besides, I didn't have a towel.
The beach was beautiful though and so was the little town of Cascais...


We wandered all along the coastline, met some hilarious sassy American women while chillin on some rocks by the shore, and wandered back to the train via a park filled with weird birds (peacocks, strutting roosters and hens, ducks, geese, and some weird mothers with tumor-like things on their faces) and the cute winding streets of Cascais. That night we cooked and stayed in again.
The next morning Celia took off for Porto, an old and apparently beautiful city north of Lisbon (and yes, that's where port wine comes from) while Eric and I headed up into the mountains to Sintra, where Lisbon's elite used to spend their summers in the cooler mountain climate. It was pouring rain...all day...but we braved it and explored an awesome estate with crazy grottos, caves, castles and one mysterious underground tower:

We also checked out the estate's mansion which had a neat tower and a secret alchemy lab on the roof.
We were soaked to the skin and pretty tired by then, but we also decided to check out Sintra's royal palace, and got more than we bargained for when a historical dance troupe began performing in the first room:
video
The rest of the palace was also cool, with lots of neat decorative details like the "swan room" (where the dancers performed) with swans on the ceiling, one room with 3D ceramic tiles shaped like corn cobs (Lisbon is known for its tilework; there're beautiful tiles covering facades all over the city, see my flickr set for some examples), and one room with the ceiling painted all over with magpies representing the queen's ladies-in-waiting, something to do with the king being caught flirting with one and claiming that it weren't no thang. There was also a "Goddess Diana courtyard":

Plus the palace is well known for its two HUGE conical kitchen chimneys, and the kitchens were pretty impressive to see, even though they were flooded with rain.
Though the palace was awesome we were truly done for after that and hopped back on the train to Lisbon.
After resting up in the apartment for a while, we headed out to find some dinner (at about 10pm, haha) and found a random little place where they served us small salads, big slabs of fresh salmon with veggies, and chocolate mousse for around 10eur. I was impressed. Afterwards we wandered over to Bairro Alto (high neighborhood), Lisbon's party area. The streets were crammed with revelers and we joined the fray, wandering the narrow, tilted streets with beers in hand.
On Saturday it was sunny and beautiful! We headed to the Saturday flea market in Alfama and I found a cool old enamel pin. Eric found some sunglasses but didn't buy them, a decision he later regretted. And a delightful drunk repeatedly accosted us with his plastic water bottle full of red wine. Good times.
We walked Alfama again and the photographic opportunities had increased a thousandfold with the beautiful sunshine pouring through the alleyways. Eventually we reached the waterfront, and walked along it to catch a ferry across the river. Then we caught a bus up the hill to see the Cristo Rei, a huge statue of Jesus that overlooks the city much like the one in Rio.
Eric had already been up the top but I dutifully paid my entrance, rode the crowded elevator, and bounded up the last few steps to the viewing platform.
The view of the city and surrounding area was breathtaking and the statue, even from up close, was epicly large.

(it was windy up there).
Soon after we got back to the apartment, Celia came back from Porto bearing a bottle of port (yum) and we headed back to Bairro Alto for dinner at a place with a reasonable all-you-can-eat buffet. The food was pretty good for the price and we had a nice last meal. Then we headed around the corner to a crazy bar jam-packed with knick knacks of all descriptions. Eric was sitting in front of the train display:

Then we headed out on the town, passing around the port bottle like the classy folks we are, and took a turn around Bairro Alto before calling it a night, since we had to get up at 4am (!!!) to catch our flight back to Berlin.
Next up: California!
Then: multiple posts about Berlin!
Then: traveling for a month in May with sporadic yet wildly interesting posts!
Bis bald,
D.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"German Efficiency"

Yes, I should probably be posting on the trip to California I got back from yesterday...or the trip to Portugal I got back from two weeks ago...but instead, something I witnessed on the U-Bahn today and a convo I had with my roomie this evening has prompted a post on the myth of German efficiency.
That's right, it's a myth. Or at least that what I've come to believe.
I've ranted before about the jaywalking situation, but to recap, no one does it. Ever. And if you do, you get dirty looks and/or lectures about not doing it in front of the children.
Speaking of children and rule-following, that brings me to what happened on the U-Bahn today (I've translated for convenience, but this took place in German,of course). A little child next to me called loudly to her mother, "Mama!" and pointed at a man behind me. "He's eating!" The man said "Uh-oh" and chuckled good-naturedly. Flustered, the mother explained to her child in breathless, breakneck German (seriously, she was talking so fast she had to stop and catch her breath afterwards) that the rule was really meant for messy foods, like fries dripping ketchup, or döner kebab dropping bits of meat and lettuce (I didn't get a look at what the man was actually eating, but he continued to halfheartedly and uncomfortably chuckle). The kid wasn't having any of it though. She stood up straight and pointed at the sign on the wall. "I READ IT," she proclaimed, and proceeded to read the sign about not eating out loud for everyone's benefit. Then she glared at the man behind me. The mother didn't know what to say. It was hilarious.
So what does this have to do with efficiency being a myth? Well just because you're following rules, doesn't mean you're being efficient. In fact, sometimes the most efficient course of action is not to follow the rules, i.e. when there are no cars on the street and you want to get across it and go home. Thus I propose, with the example of the little girl on the U-Bahn, that the quintessential German quality often mistaken for efficiency is actually just a penchant for following the rules. Always. No matter how irrational it may be to do so.
The only comment in German on my jaywalking post, "Ordung muss leider sein, egal ob es auf der Strasse oder in dem Meldeamt ist." (Unfortunately there must be order, whether it's in the streets or in the registration office) only serves to prove my point (sorry Eryk...but it's true).
The fact that inefficiency is in actual fact quite rampant in Germany is proved by the fact that at the local Stadtbad (public pool), they never divide the pool into lanes so people can swim laps. There are, however, always people trying to swim laps, meaning they have to navigate around grannies and kids who seem purposely to swim in their path. It's quite unpleasant. The first time I encountered this, I figured there must be a separate lap-swimming time. Seeing "Paralellbetrieb" (parallel use) on the schedule, I figured that must be it. No, that means that half the pool is given over to a swimming course, while the remaining half is even more difficult to navigate. Wtf? Not only that, but rather than a time set aside for lap swimming in peace, there is a time set aside for "Spaßbaden"--fun swimming. Again, wtf? Isn't it friggin Spaßbaden all the time? How could anyone witness the poor souls trying in vain to get a workout in and not realize, "Hey, maybe we should have a separate time for lap swimming"? Well, that's not the way we do it. No matter how much more efficient it may be.
The one time I have encountered Germans breaking the rules is when it comes to lines, or as my British side would like to put it, queuing. Buying tickets at the movie theater is a madhouse--multiple registers and no fixed lines. Waiting to get a coat back after a concert is the same--either a big crowd vaguely pushing towards the counter, or people pretending there's more than one line, then subtly edging in in front of you. But I've had the worst luck at airports. Dear God, there is absolutely no respect for a good queue at Tegel or Schönefeld. You have to be really aggressive to prevent someone from casually sidling up and stepping right in front of you like it ain't no thang. So I guess that when it comes to forming a line, the "rules" that those of us with British blood (or half an ounce of common courtesy) tend to follow are too ambiguous and not official, thus meaning they are ignored by a large part of the German population. In this instance, at least, they appear to aim for efficiency.
So next time you make a crack about Germans being super-efficient...remember this post!
Bis bald,
D.

PS. No offense meant, no hard feelings. Just some friendly cultural commentary to keep us all on our toes.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Haarschnitt!

There's a bar in Berlin that offers 10eur haircuts every Monday night. I don't like paying lots of money for haircuts, so this sounded pretty good to me. I suppose it was a risk (understatement of the year) to get a haircut in a corner of a random bar but that's how I roll. We went early so the guy wouldn't have any time to drink. Ha! I can safely say this was the first time I ever drank beer while having my hair cut. I think it turned out pretty swell.

Bis bald,
D.

RIGARIGARIGARIGA


Let it never be said that romance is dead
'Cos there's so little else occupying my head
There is nothing I need 'cept the function to breathe
But I'm not really fussed, doesn't matter to me
RIGARIGARIGARIGA
Do ya, do ya, do ya, do ya
Know what ya doing, doing to me?
RIGARIGARIGARIGA
Due to lack of interest tomorrow is cancelled
Let the clocks be reset and the pendulums held
'Cos there's nothing at all 'cept the space in between
Finding out what you're called and repeating your name
Could it be, could it be, that you're joking with me
And you don't really see you with me
Could it be, could it be, that you're joking with me
And you don't really see you with me
Do ya, do ya, do ya, do ya
What ya doing, doing to me?


Here's the thing about Riga in February. It's still pretty effin cold, but not cold enough for all the built up snow and ice to stay solid. Thus, it is a frequent daily occurence that large snowbanks will slide off of their precarious perches atop Riga's stunning art nouveau architecture and crash to the street below, cars and/or pedestrians be damned!
Most of the sidewalks directly in front of buildings were taped off and unsafe to walk on. Sometimes a doorway was even taped over, which made me wonder, what do you do if you live there?
The answer, apparently, is simply to duck under the tape and risk life and limb for the moment you are exposed to flying ice chunks, such as this:

Or entire colonies of ice chunks such as this:

That was the fate of one poor station wagon who we witnessed being beaten into submission by falling ice-snow. It bleated its alarm in protest but it was already dented up.
Anyway other than imminent death by ice Riga was really awesome. I happened to be there for the Art Academy's annual carnival party and this year's theme was Black & White. It was pretty effin insane. Let's just say I saw one naked guy too many.
The next night the friend I was staying with DJed at a small party in a vintage clothing store. No one else was dancing so I had to do double duty tearin up the dancefloor all by myself. After three hours of that, I decided to take a "rest" and ended up falling asleep on a vintage couch watching the Olympics in black and white on a vintage television. Yep...I know how to party hard.
Then it was Sunday and we ventured into the countryside to my friend's Dad's house. All four of her brothers were in attendance for a large family meal complete with traditional Latvian black bread and hard cheese with carraway seeds. Afterwards, we watched the Latvian version of "So You Think You Can Dance" (riveting) and then headed out through the snow across the backyard to...
the SAUNA.
Yes, they have an old wooden hut at the back of their property which contains a large collection of Latvian antiques and a state-of-the-art sauna.
I was assigned a robe and we got all hot and sweaty. Apparently it's no good unless you turn lobster red, which we did. We went in the sauna three times total, and the last time we slathered ourselves in honey. When we came out, a big earthenware jar of fresh mint tea was waiting for us, as well as a big fluffy gray cat named Cola (for Coca-Cola). The truly traditional experience. It was wonderful.
I fell asleep to the sound of their husky dog howling at the moon and awoke when it was still dark to catch my early morning flight.
Here I am foolin around in the lobby of a cool old school movie theater in Riga. Which one is me? I know it's kkinda hard to tell:

Random statues outside the contemporary art museum, the Arsenal:

A statue on the street illustrating both the snow and ice all over everything and the caution tape stretched across all the sidewalks:

It was awesome seeing the typical tourist stuff, the capital's crazy nightlife, and a glimpse into normal suburban family life. I'm so glad I took the opportunity to visit Riga with a local!
Bis bald,
D.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ich liebe die Berliner Mauer

In a list of the 5 weirdest things people have fallen in love with, I came across this story of a woman who "married" the Berlin wall:
"In the last months of 1989, as the Berlin Wall came down and Germans were tearfully reunited with long lost friends and family, most people around the world celebrated. But it was not a happy day for one woman, who was appalled that those selfish Germans could tear down her beloved husband. Yes, this woman married the Berlin Wall.

Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer (she even changed her last name to Berlin Wall) claims to have fallen in love with the structure when she saw it on TV at the age of seven. She collected pictures of the wall while saving up to pay a visit, eventually getting a chance to visit her love numerous times. They were “married” in 1979, and she says that she had a full, loving, physical relationship with the wall. That’s what we refer to as “holy s**t, too much information you crazy lady!”

Berliner-Mauer was devastated when the wall came down, but she’s moved on and fallen in love with a local garden fence. So her story has a happy ending, as she’s gotten over the “death” of her famous, exotic lover and has settled for the simple fence next door. How heart warming. Wait, no, not heart warming, that other thing. Horrifying."

Wow.
Photos/updates from Riga and Lisbon coming soon I proooomise.
Bis bald,
D.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sveiki

That's 'hello' in Latvian.
This morning at 5am I woke up in a house surrounded by huge snowbanks in the Latvian countryside. Now I'm in the midst of a normal work day back in Berlin. It's pretty surreal.
I'll post more on Latvia when I upload pictures/am not at work, but for now here's a youtube video of the band I'm seeing in concert tonight.

Whoo jetset lifestyle!
Bis bald,
D.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Vampire Weekend

Perhaps the most anticipated show in Berlin this month was last night's Vampire Weekend concert, and the roomies and I had tickets! It was a great, exhilarating gig. I waited and waited for them to play "Cape Cod"...finally they did, the last song of the encore, and I jumped up and down in joy the whole time.
When they played "Giving up the Gun," they announced that the video for it had just come out yesterday. So I had to seek it out, and man, is it awesome.
Starring RZA, L'il Jon, Jake Gyllenhaal and, randomly, Joe Jonas, it portrays a tennis competition with RZA as the line judge, L'il Jon as the magic encouraging coach and Jake Gyllenhaal and Joe Jonas as opponents. Jake drinks whiskey from a flask while he plays, haha.
Enjoy!

Bis bald,
D.

KARNEVAL!

An overdue post on last weekend's visit to the Karneval festivities in Köln!
Karneval is the Rhineland's version of what is called Mardi Gras or Carneval elsewhere in the world--i.e. the big celebration/sinfest before Lent, where excess and indulgence is encouraged. In Köln, the party starts on a Thursday and goes until the next Tuesday, with the Monday (Rosenmontag) being the craziest day. I had to be in Berlin on Saturday night, so I took a rideshare on Sunday to be there for Sunday evening festivities.
Part of going crazy Kölle-style is everyone wears a costume everywhere, so I reprised my zebra costume from Halloween but with warmer zebra print pajamas (yes I own more than one pair...thanks Mom!). Dini and Mari were Piraten, and Jan was a Gärtner:

And we were ready to go out on the town!
On the way, Jan pulled out little bottles of fruit schnapps from his overalls (haha) and we drank them in a particular way: you have to hit the top of the bottle against something--either a surface or the top of another bottle--then put the cap on your nose and balance it there while downing the bottle's contents. I noticed at the parade the next day that some people had crimped the bottle tops to their noses and just left them there, haha.
Our destination was a huge tent in the town center where you had to have a ticket to get in. The costumes were varied and crazy--Elvises, convicts, schoolgirls, farmers, angels, frogs, and basically everything you could imagine as well as just random crazy outfits.
There were also other zebras:

And one guy dressed as Bert as in Bert and Ernie. Dini asked if I knew what Sesame Street was, and when I told her it was American, she was super surprised. Turns out Jan and Dini thought Sesame Street was a German show! Strange.
Karneval music is hilarious, and I learned quite a few of the songs. This was one of my favorites:

The lyrics are in the video, and the chorus translates roughly as:
And I fly, fly fly
Like a flyer
I'm so strong, strong, strong
Like a tiger
And so tall, tall, tall
Like a giraffe
So high
Whoa oh oh
And I jump, jump, jump
Again and again
And I swim, swim, swim
Over to you
And I take, take, take
You by the hand because I like you
And I say
Today is such a lovely day
Lalalalala

When you say "flieg, flieg, flieg" you flap your arms like flying, "stark, stark, stark" flex your biceps, "groß, groß, groß" stretch your arm up as if measuring a tall thing, "spring, spring, spring" you jump, "schwim, schwim, schwim" you make a breast stroke motion, and "nehm, nehm, nehm" you grab the hands of the people around you and dance with them :) It was so fun! And my companions seemed proud that I caught on so quickly, haha.
Here's another fun one:

Translation of the chorus:
Unfortunately I don't know anymore what you look like
I don't know your name
Don't give a shit! DRUNK!
(repeat once, then...)
Shala-lalala-lala-lalalala-lala-la-lala
DRUNK!!!
etc.
Hahaha.
or this lovely little number, by the same guy:

Chrous:
Oh...Joana (you horny sow!)
Born to give love (you hussy!)
To experience forbidden dreams (you motherfucker!)
Without question until the morning, aha, aha, aha...
Classy, no? The famous German tallk show host Stefan Raab thought it would be funny to serenade Rihanna with that song on his show...when he translated, she was none too pleased.
There are also tamer Karneval staples such as Viva Colonia.
The next day we went into the city to see the Rosenmontag Karnevalzug (Karneval parade). Basically you stand for 3-4 hours by the side of the parade route while innumerable floats and marching people in costume come by and throw candy, flowers, and sometimes toys into the crowd. Instead of flashing to earn these gifts, people scream "CAMELLA!" (at least I think that's how you spell it), meaning candy. When it gets thrown people go nuts, scrambling on the ground and snatching at treats. They fill great big bags with them, or umbrellas if hanging from a window above:

I was given a bag to hold, not understanding that the intention was for me to keep everything that got put in it! Yikes! I also got wounded by flying chocolate bars more than once. Seriously, it's dangerous! They throw great big chocolate bars and whole boxes of chocolates. By the end, I thought I was developing a twitch from flinching so much, haha. It was fun though, and I got to show off my new-found knowledge of Karneval songs by singing along with the crowd. I will say though that I have never seen so much blackface. Um? Inappropriate. Since when is that ok?

I also didn't even know that yellowface existed, but apparently it does:

Plus there were these:

It kind of weirded me out/seriously offended me.
There were also lots of politically themed floats making fun of Obama...and only one making fun of Merkel. This particularly classy example shows Obama farting in the Statue of Liberty's face:


Also, despite the number of small children in attendance, there were some disturbing floats:

and some explicit ones:

Hm yeah so that aspect was...interesting.
It started snowing right as the parade ended and I had to hurry off to catch my ride back to Berlin.
All in all an awesome whirlwind trip and certainly a cultural experience not to be missed!
Bis bald,
D.

PS. The haul: