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.