Sunday, January 31, 2010

Letzte Woche

I need to post more than once a week so I can avoid these "week in review" posts...I'll work on that.
In the meantime, last week in review:
Tuesday was our fourth supper club! You can read all about it here. We had a Meditteranean-themed menu and were at full capacity again with 12 people! It was a good group and we had a lot of fun. Plus the food was delicious, if I do say so myself.
On Wednesday our friend Linda, who works at a gallery in Mitte, had invited us to their latest opening. I have been meaning to make it to the gallery for ages, and finally I went! The show was interesting and some other friends also showed up. New friends were made--in fact, I met a guy who participated in the same Halloween costume contest as I did! He had been dressed as the joker...I of course was a zebra. We had a good laugh when we realized. Small world...
Afterwards some of us tumbled down into Kreuzberg to go to the music quiz at Madame Claude's, where Charlie was quizmaster. We were at the back of the bar and couldn't hear too well, prompting half our team to give up. I wouldn't let the competitive flame go out, however, and moved to the front, squatting on the floor in front of the DJ booth. Another teammate joined me, and based solely on our efforts we ended up tying for second! So we weren't too embarassed.
The walk to the bus station through snowy Görlitzer Park in the near-darkness was gorgeous.
Thursday I went to morning yoga and in the afternoon Josh and I caught two movies in a row. Where the Wild Things Are, which I'd wanted to see for months, was a slowboiler of a movie, plodding along through gorgeous scenery without much actually happening. After that we saw Sherlock Holmes. The verdict? Certifiably badass.
Friday night we had a party at the apartment! After sleeping in (the first time in ages!) and going to the gym, I spent the rest of the day laying in supplies and cleaning the apartment. We had to shovel the snow on the balcony into piles so that people would be able to go out there to smoke. It also made a convenient outdoor fridge.

Soon enough people started showing up...then more people...then more people.
The cops came. They did not come into the apartment. They simply told us, with a smile, to turn down the music. We did, and told people to keep a little quieter. Josh knew, from previous party experience, that it was a three strike system, so we figured the first warning was not a big deal.
Twenty minutes later and some arriving guests tell us there are four cop cars in the street. Then suddenly 8 policemen are charging up the stairs and chomping at the bit to come into the apartment. We argued with them up and down but they insisted on shutting the party down, right there and then. No third warning. No respect.
We told them to stay on the landing, that we would handle it, but as soon as we turned to do so they swarmed into the apartment. Many Germans in attendance corroborated our belief that this was illegal.
They started turning on lights and kicking people out. Meanwhile I was standing in the hallway telling them to get the EFF out of my apartment, that I did not invite them in, that they had no right.
Able to tell that I was not a native German speaker, they spoke condescendingly, saying the police always have the right to come in to someone's apartment if someone else has made a complaint. This, I was told afterward, is patently false, but I started backing off because it occurred to me that I really don't know the law here, and I didn't want to cause too much trouble.
Until I noticed one pudgy old cop, who'd been particularly rude to me, standing defiantly in the middle of my bedroom, even though no one was left in there.
I told him to get out. He refused. This is my bedroom, I said calmly, you need to leave. No one else is in here. Get out. He refused. Tipsy enough to get bellig, I then started yelling at him to get out, and even attempted to push his arm. It was then that he asked for my passport. I refused. No. No. Why?!? No. But then all the other cops got in on it, saying to refuse was a crime, that it would be a 1000eur fine if I didn't comply, etc. Again, I would have fought more if I felt like I knew the law. But I didn't. And they insisted that it wasn't just a noise complaint, that someone in our neighborhood wanted to make a formal complaint, and that they were obliged, for this reason, to take down my information.
I kinda think that they were just bullying me because they could tell I was a foreigner and that they got pissed when I started fighting back so they pretended it was more serious than it was. Either way they acted really disrespectfully and all the locals who witnessed their behavior swore up and down that it was illegal and a few even took the officers' badge numbers and promised to report them.
The party was over of course but it was good while it lasted and most people ended up in the same bar downstairs so it was ok. we are legends.
If and when I get something in the mail from the cops, I think we have plenty of reason to fight the charges.
Last night was considerably more tame. It was the Lange Nacht der Museen (long night of the museums), when many museums in Berlin are open from 6pm-2am and one ticket will get you into all of them. I had been excited for this for a while and headed out to start with the Hamburger Bahnhof, the contemporary art museum.

Only to find it...closed? Turns out it wasn't participating in the long night. Neither were any of the Museuminsel museums except the Bodes, which I'd already seen. When I finally got my hands on a pamphlet with actual information, turns out most of the participating museums were small and not too noteworthy.
But I had already bought my kombiticket so I decided to make the most of it.
I saw the George Grosz exhibit at the Akademie der Künste and it was a good excuse to pop into that cool building for the first time. Pariser Platz looked lovely dusted with snow:

I saw "Utopia Matters!" at the Deutsche Guggenheim, which was an interesting mish-mash of an exhibition with works from Pre-Raphaelites as well as Russian Constructivists and others. They had a cool gift shop, and it was also a cool building with a glassed-in courtyard.
I stopped in to the Berliner Dom because I'd never actually been inside and it was absolutely gorgeous. Plus they were having a choir service and it was lovely, lovely, lovely.

I walked over to the Nikolaiviertel, the oldest neighborhood in Berlin (we're talking medieval) to a small historical house museum, the Knoblauchhaus, and a Rococo palace, the Ephraim Palais, which is a museum of Berlin history and art, currently with exhibits on artworks dealing with the Berlin wall. They're two museums I probably never would have gone to on my own time, so that was really worth it.
I then decided I was too tired to make it to the Jewish museum, and got home around 12:30.
I wish they did this nighttime museum thing more was awesome.
I'm excited to head to England next week!
Bis bald,


So as I mentioned in my last post, I spent last weekend in Leverkusen visiting the family that I stayed with on my first trip to Germany, back when I was 12 or 13 years old. Sorry the post is overdue, but I was waiting on them to send me some pictures. Since the pics still haven't arrived, I'm just going to go ahead and give the general gist.
There's a great website here when you can find rideshares online so I had lined up two rides to and from Köln, which Leverkusen is near, for far less than a train ticket would have been. I got up and at 'em Friday morning to catch a 10am rideshare. Unfortunately I was tired and mildly hungover so my frenzied last minute packing managed not to include the batch of chocolate chip cookies I had baked special to bring to the family. D'oh!
After six hours in a car with strangers and no food (whoo) I arrived at Köln Hauptbahnhof (main station) right under the imposing cathedral, the view of which I still remembered from my youth (it is a sight one would not easily forget).
I remembered the Family Ellenberger quite well--Dad Roland, Mom Bärbel, and two very blond, very tan children: Jan, younger than me by about 5 years, and Nadine (Dini), who is my age and who I formed a pretty tight bond with when I was there the first time. We used to write letters back and forth on Diddl Maus stationary, but over the years we lost touch. I was kind of nervous to see them all again. Especially knowing that none of them speak very good English anymore and that my German was going to be put to the test!
Anyway I recognized Jan right away outside the Hauptbahnhof. He's taller but still has the same blond hair. We chatted away in German while we waited for the S-Bahn to Leverkusen. So far, so good.
They've moved down the street into Grandma Ellenberger's house, but the street still looked vaguely familiar, and we drove by the old house, which looked smaller than I remembered--it always surprises me when that happens, when things look smaller than you remembered simply because you were a smaller person the last time you saw them (although that wasn't true of the huge honking Kölner Dom). Bärbel came out to meet us--her hair is shorter and lighter, but she has the same welcoming smile. Roland looked smaller to me too (I'm much taller than both parents now!) but has the same loud, joyful laugh. Bärbel had made pear cake, and we sat around the table and chatted and caught up. My German was shaky at times but I think pulled through pretty well.
We all went out to dinner where Dini met us with her boyfriend, a footballer for the local second-string team, and we also met some family friends who I had supposedly met ten years prior but did not, sadly, remember. Again my German held up and I was feeling more and more comfortable with it!
The next day Bärbel made her famous goulash and it was just as scrumptious as I remembered. Then, since they had asked what I wanted to do, we went to Köln's contemporary art museum, the Ludwig, where I learned about some German artists I hadn't previously known of and saw some great pieces by artists I already knew. What a great museum--views of the Rhine and the Dom and a huge collection. I was really surprised at how good it was.
That night, we drove to Düsseldorf, which I hadn't realized was so close, for a round of disco bowling!
And the next morning I hopped back in a rideshare and headed home.
It was a quick visit but so good to see everyone again. And, most importantly, I found that my German is much more fluent than I tend to give myself credit for. If I had to live in a total immersion situation, I could totally handle it. I wouldn't be able to express too-complicated ideas right away, but I learned so much in that short time that I think it would come quick enough. It makes me feel a bit sad that I chose Berlin and non-German roommates, but then again, now I know that the skills are there, for whenever I may need them.
They invited me back for Karneval (the Rhineland's answer to Mardi Gras!) in a couple of weeks and I think I'm going to go and see if my zebra costume goes over better there than it did at Halloween :)
Bis bald,

Monday, January 25, 2010

Letzte Woche

Last week on Wednesday I was invited to the birthday party of a friend of a friend who is also in my yoga class. Her name is Margo and she's a Latvian cabaret singer. There's a creatively vibrant group of Latvian emigrants here in Neukoelln that includes Margo; my friend Galka, a costume designer; my friend Linards, a VJ; and a woman who designs hats and has a small hat boutique round the corner from my flat. The birthday party was at the hat shop. When I walked in there were several performances and everyone was wearing hats and I asked some guy I had just met (turned out to be the shirtless cellist later) where he had gotten his hat and it turned out there was a make-your-own-hat station!!! So I made a lovely hat which was finished just in time to take part in the hat fashion show which involved climbing up on a ladder and saying your name, the name of your hat, and explaining something about it. I said my hat was called "Nocturne in Grey and Burgundy (I hope to god I didn't accidentally use someone's scarf to make this hat)." It was a smashing success!

O the Latvians...and o Berlin.
The next night, a friend and I returned to Magnet Club (site of the awesome Mountain Goats show) to see Thao with the Get Down Stay Down. It was epic! Magnet is such a small venue, so we got right up front and sang along and danced and when it was over she came down into the audience and we met her and chatted about the Bay Area and she signed autographs for us :)

It was an epic night!
The next morning I hopped in a rideshare to head to Leverkusen and see my original German host family for the first time in 10 years...but that's a story for my next blog post.
Bis bald,

Monday, January 18, 2010

La Ville de Lumières

Finally taking advantage of my proximity to the rest of Europe, I spent last weekend in PARIS!
I arrived late Wednesday night and made my way to my friend's apartment in the 19th arrondisement, where I was soon happily passed out. The next day I met my friend for lunch after her morning classes and then we headed to the Pompidou, one of my fav museums in Paris (it's a toss-up between the Pompidou and the d'Orsay) for their Pierre Soulages retrospective. I had never heard of Soulages but apparently everyone at Annabelle's school was buzzing about the show. Believe the hype! It was great. The bulk of it consisted of his 3D all-black canvases with paint so thick it creates texture and shape. They reflect the light in amazing ways. He calls it "outrenoir"--"beyond black."

"One day when I was painting the black took over the canvas. And in this extreme I saw, in a way, the negation of black, the different textures reflecting the light to differing degrees. Out of darkness came light, a pictorial light whose particular emotional force provoked in me a desire to paint--I like it that this violent color induces an inward reaction. My instrument was no longer the black but this secret light it radiated, all the more powerful in its effects for coming from the greatest absence of light. That is the path I followed, and in following it I am always discovering new horizons."
We also discovered the Atelier Brancusi next door--Brancusi's studio reassembled in its entirety in a small building specially designed by Renzo Piano. He bequeathed it to the French government on the condition that it be shown complete, as he considered it a work of art in itself, with finished pieces carefully arranged next to raw materials, tools, and works in progress.
That night to celebrate Annabelle's birthday her boyfriend took us to a fondue restaurant where we shared a cheese fondue and then a chocolate one. Suuuper healthy. and delicious. The cheese fondue had wine in it--enough that I tasted it immediately--and the boyfriend claimed this was necessary in a fondue. Who am I to say?
Afterwards I headed by myself to the Cité Universitaire to meet two other old friends from Brooklyn and we had such a grand old time that we were up til the RER started running again...I got home around 7am.
The next day I again met Annabelle for lunch and we went to a restaurant known for its falafel. Yum! The Picasso Museum is closed until 2012 apparently (sadface) so we headed to Pere Lachaise, the famous cemetery, where I had never been. We splurged on a tourist-y map of the famous graves at a newsstand. An hour later, having tramped through half the cemetery but only having found a few of the people supposedly buried there, a security guard informed us that a) the penalty for walking on the grass is they take your shoes (his idea of a joke) and b) our map was wrong and a scam. Go us. Luckily he gave us his map and we ended up seeing a good number of famous graves, including Proust, Balzac, Bizet, Oscar Wilde, Gericault, Chopin, and of course Jim Morrison (had to do it). We missed, unfortunately, Seurat, Moliere, Apolloinaire, Eluard, Ernst, Daumier, Corot, and a host of others, but it was getting dark and cold and our feet hurt.
There were also lots of other interesting monuments and I took more pictures at the cemetery than anywhere else (does this say something about me? I mean I did write two papers about Greenwood Cemetery as a young'un).

Wilde's grave was covered in lipstick kisses (kinda cute) and scrawled messages (not so's called defacing, assholes). When I ran my fingers over the carved letters of his name, I got lipstick on them. Um. Gross. Thanks Oscar!

I was more interested in the awesome trees round that part of the cemetery...full of big black crows. The place was also crawling with black cats. Wtf? Do they do that on purpose to make it creepier?

Gericault's grave was hilarious. It was topped by a lounging figure daintily holding an artist's palette and brush. Below was a bronze version of his painting The Raft of the Medusa. It was surrounded by a fence made up of the letter G and little hearts. Can we say inflated self-importance? Although it did help me recognize the grave.

That night, Annabelle's roomie hosted a party at the flat for the combined birthdays of Annabelle, the roomie's boyfriend, and one of their friends. She cooked a whole ton of delicious "nibblies" so I sat and stuffed my face with French cheese and pate while everyone else spoke French. Haha seriously though, it was funny, I attempted to listen and sometimes people took pity and spoke English to me for a while.
I soon headed out to meet a friend at "Le Rhummerie," a bar devoted to rum, where I sampled two of their famous mango mojitos and went home happy at 3am, despite having to transfer to the bus because the Metro stopped running. Even in Berlin they know to have the trains run all night on Fridays and Saturdays. Ah well.
On Saturday it was raining but Annabelle and I decided to make good on our plan to visit Versaille because I'd never been! It was really cool and surreal to be there. Of course I'll have to go back again someday to see the gardens in full bloom, and to see Marie Antoinette's mini-palace or whatever it is. Still, the rainy day had its own aesthetic charms.

This random deer head was not explained:

Neither was anything really...the audio guide was appallingly bad. It left me thirsting for more...I'm adding biographies of Marie Antoinette and Napoleon to my reading list.
I met Courbet in a hallway full of busts of famous Frenchmen (no women):

His beard was magnifique.
That night we went out for drinks, I tumbled home at 2, finished packing at 3, and got up to catch my flight at 6. Woot!
I was back in my apartment in Berlin by 11am, and back to work today. Craziness.
As usual after visiting Paris I now want to a) live there and b) learn French. I plan on starting goal b when I leave Germany. One language at a time.
It was funny how when I encountered a person who did not speak English, my instinct was to try German before English. It was no more likely--in fact probably less likely--that they would speak it, but I guess I've just gotten used to busting out the German when I have a communication issue. That's a good thing, I think?
Bis bald,

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


On Sunday there was a HUGE snowball fight in Görlitzer Park pitting my neighborhood, Neukölln, and the next-door neighborhood, Kreuzberg, against each other.
As we trekked through the snow from another delicious Berlin brunch we heard a loud roaring sound coming from the center of the park. When we rounded the corner, we saw a ginormous crowd of people with snowballs flying every which way in the air above!
We soon found our crew and were illuminated as to which side of the divide we should be fighting on, and dove right in.
War drums thumped in the background as wave after wave from the Kreuzberg side came up against our front line, yelling and throwing deathballs of snow and ice. Small children, dogs, and people in giant snowmen outfits cavorted in the death strip between the two sides. Occasionally someone would try a new strategy, like riding a sled down the divide, pelting snowballs as they sped by, or trying a double attack with one person on another's shoulders. While from a tactical perspective these were usually failures they certainly provided hilarity.
Some people had shields, some people had slings to carry snow or pre-made snowballs at an easy-to-reach level, some had intense winter gear like goggles or snowsuits. Me, I had gloves that stuck to the snow and managed to rip my jeans. Clearly I was ill-prepared.
Sadly I did not have my camera with me but I have taken some photos from the facebook event to give an idea of what is was like:

I think this sling device is why I almost went deaf in one ear after receiving a particularly hard snowball to the side of my head:

Berliners sure love their outdoor spaces...even in winter. Just this morning I had to wade through a bunch of little kids, their mothers clutching sleds, on the U-Bahn platform. Everyone uses these great old school wooden sleds with runners and I see them being carried on public transport all the time.
Off to Paris tonight!
Bis bald,

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Silvester & Feuerwerk

'Silvester' is how to say New Year's Eve in German. But the more important word to know for this particular holiday is 'Feuerwerk'--fireworks!!!
Apparently everyone and their grandma has piles of fireworks and starting Christmas Eve and continuing through to New Year's Day, they set them off in the streets, off their balconys, in the middle of tram tracks and wherever else they goddamn please at all hours of the day and night.
This means that we were treated not only to our own personal fireworks show with big pretty explosions right off our balcony, but also to periodic (and ever-more-frequent) loud and ominous bangs echoing through the neighborhood for a week straight.
I'd been told that NYE itself is like a warzone--crazy drunk people wandering the streets with armfuls of fireworks and firing them off at passers-by, fireworks landing on one's head from the balconies and roofs above, etc. This proved true when, walking to the bus station to head to our house party of choice, two drunk men pointed fireworks directly at us and some innocent women nearby. When we yelled, they retreated down the street a bit, only to fire distance missiles at us, one nearly hitting one of the other women. It was nuts!
At the party, we watched from a top floor balcony as the entire skyline burst into life at midnight. The noise was cacophonus. Fireworks were everywhere. It was beautiful...even, dare I say, magical. Soon someone thrust 'fireworks' that looked suspiciously like dynamite into our hands and we tossed them into the street with wild abandon. Just like the locals!
Later we trekked through the snow to a big party at the Neukölln Brauerei. Having paid 5eur to get in we were pretty disappointed when the music and dancefloors kinda sucked. But we found a display of free tropical fruit and decided it would all be worth it if we each stole 5eur worth of fruit. That's how I ended up walking home with two pineapples stuffed down the front of my jacket and how some poor sap who made the mistake of pelting Josh with a snowball got a pear thrown at him in return (Josh does not remember that happening, but I have witnesses). Also we still have a cracked honeydew melon, which came home in the hood of Clayton's jacket, nestled into our balcony snow.
I didn't take many photos but here's a sampling.
Clayton pulled our magnum out of the balcony snowdrift (see two posts ago) and popped the cork into the cold night air:

It left a champagne-shaped hole in our snow which has since been covered over:

We enjoyed posing with the magnum for various photos. My outfit was very shiny:

And here's a short video of a firework exploding right in front of our balcony:

I stand by our decision not to go to an overpriced club night...we had a really fun and crazy night for less than 10eur each!
Bis bald,


Loooong overdue post on Christmas!
The day after the fam departed for Christmas at home in Brooklyn, my friend Danielle, who I've known since I was 9, arrived to spend Christmas with me!
We went out to explore the city, and the Holocaust Memorial was beautiful in the fading afternoon light, covered in icy rivulets and frost:

We also baked some gingerbread cookies using my collection of Berlin cookie cutters: the Brandenburg Gate, the TV tower, and the Ampelmänner--the little men in the walk and don't walk lights at crosswalks. Plus a star shape for good measure.

We decorated them with icing, too!

On Christmas Eve we attempted to go ride the ferris wheel at the Alexa Christmas market, but it was closed! As was Weinachtszeit in front of the Rote Rathaus. I had heard that in Germany, and Europe in general I think, Christmas Eve is more the holiday than Christmas Day--that's when presents are opened and a large family meal consumed--but somehow I hadn't made the connection that that would mean everything was shut down. Ah well. We grabbed some Chinese food instead, haha. The weather was shite, anyway...the TV tower was shrouded in mist at midday:

And then it was CHRISTMAS!
We got up early and prepared the turkeys and stuffing and got them into the oven. I had never roasted a turkey before, but luckily Dani had some experience, and between us we managed to do ok! (despite the somewhat lacking pan situation and not-well-calibrated oven in my kitchen)
We fixed some mimosas and gathered round the tiny tree with my roomie Josh to open some prezzies. Josh had never heard of a mimosa before, and neither had his dad and brother when they arrived--guess they don't make them in Australia!

We spent the rest of the morning cooking and soon our guests arrived for a feast of epic proportions!!!

That's two small roast turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, peas, cranberry sauce, and gravy.
The turkeys and veg were easy enough to get, and my mother brought me canned Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and Stovetop stuffing mix from the States for a taste of home. I couldn't find a baster or an aluminum pan, but I found a meat thermometer and improvised the rest with lots of foil and a ladle.
And of course I wore my hideous thrift store Christmas vest. Woot!

Dessert was even more epic...I baked two batches of muffins (chocolate and banana-chocolate-chunk) and the gingerbread cookies, we had mince pies and krumkaage (norwegain cookies) brought to me by my mother, and the piece de resistance, a christmas pudding from KaDeWe (brit tradition via my father), soaked in brandy, set on fire, and served with homemade brandy butter. Mmmm.
Then of course we also had piles of various chocolates including the liquor-infused ones hung on the tree. Yum!
All in all...I was able to recreate some of my family traditions, other families were able to come together, and I think everyone had fun.

Next up: New Year's Eve. And maybe then I'll finally be up to speed!
Bis bald,

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Frohes Neues Jahr!

Ok I know, I know, I haven't updated in ages.
I plead holiday season craziness and a straight *month* of visitors from the States!
Some highlights:
Pre-Christmas "princess party":

Visit from the 'rents and little bro, Dec. 15-22:

This delightful traditional beverage was described to us as "like Glühwein, but more alcoholic." And how!
We also had great fun rediscovering an old Grandpa Bowers favorite: Lamumbas, aka alcoholic hot chocolate (at the Weichnachsmärkte, with rum or amaretto; grandpa B used to serve 'em with chocolate milk and Spanish brandy).
I took the fam for a Berlin specialty: currywurst! It's a chopped sausage smothered in curry ketchup and curry powder. This is the German idea of spicy. At least at Curry 36, supposedly one of the best currywurst stands in the city, you can add extra chili flakes which actually do pack a punch. Here's a picture with some typical accompaniments, an order of fries (pommes) with ketchup and mayo and a nice cold Berliner Kindl:

Mostly the food at Christmas markets is a smorgasbord of traditional German delights, but this stand in Spandau was going for a different approach:

Very authentic I'm sure.
It snowed every day they were here! leading to some very nice views of snowy (and cold!) Berlin:

Especially walking home from the Museuminsel (this was at 5pm-ish):

My parent's hotel, the Radisson near Alex, had a giant aquarium in the lobby...pretty surreal going up the elevator in the middle of it and looking out at the hotel through schools of fish:

We attended almost every major Christmas market in Berlin to sample the goods ( alcohol. and bratwurst) and the fanciest one (with a 1eur entry charge!) was at the Gendarmenmarkt:

We enjoyed watching a bunch of ducks and swans get fed by a German family on a snowy walk through Park Sansoucci in Potsdam:

...that's my brief recap of the family visit. I'll update again soon on Christmas and New Year's celebrations!
Bis bald,