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,

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

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


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,


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
Do ya, do ya, do ya, do ya
Know what ya doing, doing to me?
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,

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."

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

Monday, March 1, 2010


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,