Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Holidays: Not Over Yet

In my comparisons between the way Christmas is celebrated in the States and in Germany, I've been watching the crowds in the stores and the streets. As you all know, Christmas in the States is a consumer frenzy, with fights breaking out over toys and electronics, elbowing crowds of cranky last-minute shoppers, and traffic traffic traffic. Here, there are no fights, there are laughing, benevolent crowds, and still traffic traffic traffic. I suppose the screeching tires and angry shouts out driver's side windows could count as fights, as I imagine they could come to blows eventually, but for the most part, it is still a joyous occasion here, even if one has to wait in line at the department store for thirty minutes. They really keep the people entertained in the malls and stores here, with fairy tales being told for the little ones, live music (even if it's a sad rendition of You Are the Sunshine of My Life, at least they're trying), and bizarre circus characters, wandering around to ensure a continued contentment even if the bill comes out to six hundred Euros.
in KaDeWe
Yes, those people are on stilts. And, yes, they are in front of a pillar emblazoned with the image of, of all things, St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. This picture was taken in the infamous KaDeWe, which stands for Kaufhaus des Westens, or Department Store of the West. It's sort of like Nordstrom's or Bloomingdale's, but bigger and more expensive.
The crowds, though, are not only in the stores. They are also still in the streets, despite the below freezing weather, putting their kids on rides and then standing there watching them and drinking warm liquor. In the area around KaDeWe, along the street called Kurfurstendamm and the towering Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, the Weihnachts Markt is in full swing.
Me, looking tiny
Tonight is most likely the last night of these markets, as the Germans celebrate their gift-giving and church-going Christmas on the 24th of December, with the 25th being a day of feasting and the 26th being a day of family and recuperation. Therefore, the next three days will be pretty quiet here in Berlin, so I'm just sitting here in our toasty apartment, writing my blog and wearing these little pink gloves that are supposed to keep my hands hydrated. It's really very dry here. If it rained, it would be snow, but it's extremely arid. My poor sinuses. The consistently wrong weather report tells me that tonight and tomorrow it'll snow, but I'm not so sure.
And soon, we'll be off to Poland. I'll most likely add another small message to my blog before we go, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, but in prelude to that, here's a Chrismas greeting from Brad and Santa Claus (or Weihnachts Mann, if you'd prefer his German name).
Brad and Weihnachts Mann

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Finally! I'm back in the land of blog.

Finally! I'm officially and legally able to work for regular paychecks in Deutschland. I spent a few hours waiting at the ausländerbehörde and procured my work permit. It was our umpteenth trip to that place (Brad, though he didn't need anything from the immigration office, went with me, and Thank Goodness! They don't speak any English there). I imagine that the immigration office in any city is a nightmare, but it was my first experience with the dreary waiting rooms and severe German officials, and to say I'm glad it's over is something of an understatement.

Finally! We figured out what we're going to do for our holiday. I believe I told you previously that we were planning a trip to Sweden and Denmark, but after a lot of deliberating, we decided it would be too dark, and too expensive. We then decided to go to Munich, but somehow, we simply couldn't get excited about that. I think both of us are eager to go to a different country. So, after much hemming and hawing, we decided to go to Poland; it's inexpensive, it's close, and I've always wanted to go there. I'm quite excited! We'll visit Poznan, Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw, pronounced, apparently, Vrots-waff. I'll be really leaning on my phrasebook there, but hopefully our combined knowledge of German and Russian will help us navigate. Anyone want anything from Poland?

Finally! I have pictures to share, and they are quite lovely, if I do say so myself. We went this weekend to Dresden, and though I'd heard it was a beautiful city, it was even more beautiful than I'd imagined. The Deutsche Bahn offers a special fare to Dresden around the holidays, as Dresden has what is supposedly the most wonderful Weihnachts Markt in Germany (Christmas Market, that is). I thought to myself before we left that I would take advantage of the fare to get a cheap trip to Dresden and not spend too much time at the market, but once we got there, the outdoor stands offering wooden toys, delicious snacks, candles and sweets were nearly hypnotizing. Behold:
Weihnachts grandeur
There were many of those wooden carousels spread throughout the city, as the market filled every square and wide-open space (and even some cramped spaces!). This one was the most magnificent, probably twenty-five feet tall, if you can't tell by the picture. The city was full of holiday cheer, and though it was about 25 degrees outside, the Glühwein kept everyone warm. Glühwein, for those who don't know, is a warm, spicy wine, sometimes with a shot of rum in it. It's delicious, but I generally forego alcohol, so I made do with hot cocoa. The streets were overflowing, sometimes nearly impossible to walk through, but it was so lovely that I didn't mind toddling along, surrounded by people much taller than me. The background of amazing architecture didn't hurt, either.
Looking down that slim lane of Christmas, you can see the Frauenkirche at the end. It was bombed during the war and collapsed, so it's been arduous to rebuild, but they've done a wonderful job. Nearly the whole city was destroyed during WWII, but these days it's hard to tell, what with the forests of Soviet buildings and the gothic, looming stone buildings that survived. When we got away from the old town's Weihnachts Markt and across the bridge to the newer section of town, the landscape of the city was almost unbelievable.
from the Neustadt
As we crossed the bridge back to these buildings, there were hundreds of birds circling the belltower. It was dusk, and people were stopped all along the bridge, standing in the freezing wind and staring at the lights. I felt so lucky. Brad took a picture of me earlier in the day, looking very much like I felt lucky. I tried to smile at the camera, and for a couple of moments, I think I did, but my eyes kept veering off in other directions, unable to separate themselves from the amazing landscape. I was awestruck the whole day.
feeling lucky
I highly recommend Dresden to visitors. There is some talk of Dresden being a city of a high concentration of, ahem, white supremacists, but that aspect of it was shrouded when I was there, covered up by warm crepes, warm drinks, various smells of roasted pork and the constant presence of Christmas music, both in English and in German. The night before, we had spent a few hours battling the crowds in Berlin's Christmas markets, but nothing could've prepared me for the pure, unadulterated celebration we found in Dresden. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend.
I'll leave you with a final image, one which I think shows both the baroque beauty of Dresden and the very contemporary machinations of a modern-day festival. Happy holidays indeed.
kirche/ferris wheel

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Dear Reader

I have no fun excursions to report on, nor do I have any beautiful photos of the last few days of work and relaxation, I am simply saying hello, and that things are coming along quite nicely, thank you very much. I find myself strangely very content today. Recovered from a few days of a mild common cold and ready to go to work this evening (as a kindermädchen, of course), watching the rain outside, I feel pretty happy. I've got some language-exchanges set for the next few days, in Russian and in German, and my brain thanks me for this workout. Brad and I are planning our winter vacation; we have pretty much settled on Denmark and Sweden as our destinations, and though it will be frightfully sad to be apart from my family for the holidays, it will be, surely, a winter wonderland in Northern Europe, the likes of which are not available on the west coast of the United States. It may be a winter wonderland of unforgiving sleet and ice, but will be lovely nonetheless. New Year's on the Baltic Sea!
It's autumn here in Berlin, to the extreme. The leaves rain through the air in a way that most Californians are pretty much unfamiliar with, and I must look like a crazy person as I stare at the cascades as I stumble down the sidewalk; the Germans, after all, are used to the seasons.
All in all, all is well. Welcome to November.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lazy Sunday

Unbeknownst to either Brad or me, daylight savings hit Berlin today. Were it not for the inexplicable talents of my computer, I would probably still think it was an hour later than it "actually" is (what is actual, anyway?). That, however, is not very important, as it is a sleepy Sunday of laundry and cranked-up radiators. It's as good a day as any for an extra hour.
The last week was busy with work and friends in town (both of which are still current events). A strange fog moved into the city and riled up my sinuses, so I'm glad for a couple days of home-bound tasks and reading. (I've been reading the Pulitzer-Prize winning book Middlesex, which, despite my misgivings, is very well-written). And, of course, now I have time for you.
I've got a couple weeks to tell you about, don't I? Alright then.
Two weekends ago, Brad and I went to a town called Leipzig. Anyone been there? I see some hands.
It was a small town, at least compared to Berlin. A university town, I couldn't tell if their "Stamp out White Power" march (or whatever it was called) was for or against the aforementioned Power. I almost thought it was a party of soccer houligans. That aside, though, it was a very picturesque little community with an obsession with Bach and shopping.
Leipzig's Stasi Museum occupied the building that was formerly the Stasi headquarters. Though I have no photos of it, it smelled funny in there. It was cold, white and cubic. Aside from that, though, Leipzig was grand and friendly. The narrow cobblestone streets almost always gave way to unexpected and lovely structures, and the people were jolly. The "new" parliament building was storybook-worthy (except for the modern rust of electricity and gas in the foreground).
Neues Rathaus
We only spent two days there, but that was pretty much enough. It was very charming, but I was glad to return to Berlin. The longer I'm here, the more at home I feel, and there's nothing to emphasize that like going away and coming back. To amplify that sensation even more, the bizarre but awesome October Lights festival went on here for two weeks, and it was worth fighting the cold for. Crowds of people roamed the city with tripods and friends and snapped pictures of already-eerie building with even more eerie lights cast on them. Here is the Berliner Dom with the TV Tower in the background:
Berliner Dom
And the Brandenburger Tor:
Brandenburger Tor
While I'm not always impressed by the Brandenburger Gate's appearance, I am impressed by the fact that Napoleon dragged the chariot on top all the way to France, and that it was then dragged all the way back. There is a distracting amount of construction going on around the Gate, and that sort of dampens its magnificence, as well. All of Berlin is a construction zone.
We took the opportunity, given the nighttime sight-seeing, to actually go into the Reichstag. It only took a half an hour waiting in the cold, rather than two or more hours like it can sometimes take, and I suppose it was worth it. The inside of it has been well-documented by any and all travel books about Berlin and/or current German parliament, but it's irresistible, once you're inside. It's like every person thinks "I can take THE defining picture of this, I just know it". Here was my attempt:
Reichstag too
OK, it's a little blurry, and the eagle is visible but not detailed, and the flag is present but a little stick-like, but hey. I gave it a shot. The walk to the top had made me a little woozy, anyway. Not usually afraid of heights, there was something about the spiral march to the top of the dome that gave me a touch of vertigo. It was awesome.
And now, it'll be a pretty standard week. Maybe a couple hours of struggling to get a tax-id number, a sum of a few hours on the train to various works and back, and, with any luck, sufficient sleep. Should be pretty uneventful. The constantly-running CNN International being broadcast into my living room will bring me excitement enough - you know, fires in California, flooding in the Congo, Putin, the frenzy of hopeful Democratic presidential candidates. (It turns out that CNN International is much better than its domestic counterpart, thank heavens). Hope all is well elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Just a Little Hello

It's the middle of what is proving to be a fairly long week. With a friend in town and work continuing (thankfully), I haven't had much time to sit and call forth any interesting vignettes, nor have I had the time to find my way to the internet cafe to post any pictures. However, I thought it best to check in.
What's in store for next time:
a. Some lovely pictures and lovely tales from a wonderful weekend in the university town of Leipzig, about two hours from Berlin by car. I know the distance by car because that's how we got there. We don't have a car; rather, we caught a ride there and back with strangers, and it was a very odd and somewhat un-American experience (Americans, as some may know, are wary of long car rides with strangers). Leipzig was beautiful and quite lively, except for a few hours on Sunday afternoon when all the stores were closed.
b. Some images from the still-continuing October Lights festival that's going on here in Berlin. All the major monuments are eerily lit with different colors and flashing lights. I believe they do this because it's beginning to get a little chilly out and it keeps the people still feeling happy. I've never seen so many people with tripods. The Brandenburger Tor and the TV Tower, among other things, are decorated with strange images. It was quite beautiful, and also quite cold.
c. I went into the Reichstag, finally. The wait was thirty or so minutes, though we went at night. During the day, the wait can take hours. It was fairly beautiful on the inside.
I'm sure that by the time I get around to sharing words and images about these things, I will have even more fun times to report on. However, it being past one in the morning, I'll leave it for later. And happy birthday to my Uncle Billy!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

This'll Be a Long One

As I sit listening to the strains of Family Guy in German (not as funny as the original, I'll tell ya), I'm feeling a little longing for home. All is well, though; a little homesickness is to be expected. (The voice on the tv shrieks "Luke Perry ist schwul?")
I've been passing the time working, going to museums, and sometimes venturing outside the city limits to see the ruins of former DDR towns. These ventures have been very interesting, educational, and sometimes frustrating, as I find out that the famed Deutsche Bahn, supposedly the most efficient and punctual rail system in Europe, is not so ideal. We went, last weekend, to a small town about an hour outside Berlin called Brandenburg an der Havel. We sort of structure our lives around the advice of the writers of Lonely Planet guidebooks (a shameless plug but well-deserved) and the lack of information about Brandenburg should've been a sign. However, lovers of desolate Soviet wastelands that we are, we thought we'd take a day trip there. As a town, it's sort of beautiful in a dusty way, a grimy way; there were truly, really cobwebs flying from everything; from signposts, from the corners of buildings, from cars. It was a sign, I think, of abandonment. The streets were nearly empty, and though there were pretty churches, it wasn't very picturesque, all in all. It was obvious that everyone had moved to the West or the city as soon as they could when the wall came down. But, for the most part, it was very quaint and pretty, despite the remnants of a former Russian presence. Well, this can't be called a "remnant", really. It's a little too big.
For viewing purposes
This tower was on top of a hill and offered a view of the whole town. We didn't go up in it. It seemed, somehow, out of place amidst the town's red brick architecture and generally pastoral attitude. And then, returning to Berlin from humble Brandenburg, we weren't able to simply the board the train, due to a collision on the tracks, so we had to stand around with about a hundred and fifty surly Germans who didn't know any more than we did about how to get where we are all going. After about an hour and a half of waiting, a single bus pulled up to save us, which seemed a little meager. We got on it, amidst a lot less pushing than I was expecting, considering the circumstances. The only benefit of this ersatzverkehr was that we were able to see much more of the countryside than we would have otherwise. All in all, it was tiring and frustrating but maybe...and only just maybe...redeemed itself with pretty scenery.
Speaking of pretty scenery... I feel obligated to include this, for the viewers at home.
The Reichstag
It's the Reichstag! Berlin debates and legislates here! I stayed far away from the throngs of tourists! And I went to the museum...
The longer I'm here, the more I am discovering that Berlin is hiding in her vast expanse a multitude of museums and galleries, some so hidden that the only trace of them is a bell at ground level. They are really quite wonderful. Touring these galleries, I'm beginning to see the Berlin that I thought I would find when I arrived here; the modern art, the minimalism and brilliantly ironic design, the freakish photography and video art that leaves me staring for literally minutes at a time (I know, that doesn't seem like a long time, just is). Even the metro stations hang striking, sometimes disturbing art on their greasy, blackened walls. Particularly compelling is this series by Turkish artist Nezaket Ekici, housed in the U2 station at Alexanderplatz.
Nezaket Ekici 2
Nezaket Ekici art in the U-Bahn
The pictures don't do justice to the surreal moment one finds oneself in when one is simply waiting for the train and begins to wonder, what are these pictures doing here? Are they ads? No. They are art.
But I'll close this rather long and rambling episode with a bit of art made by Bradley.
Brad's dinner
What's that, you ask? That's a dinner that he made for us while I was teaching English to a small but loud group of kindergarteners on Monday. It's couscous with a little cinnamon, wraps full of fresh veggies and bierwurst and cheese, and some amazingly fluffy meatballs full of walnuts, onions, cinnamon and coriander. It was a very lovely dinner.
And so, until next time. I'm happy that I get to share, thanks to the wonder of the internet, of which I am still suspicious. It makes me feel a little closer to home.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Oakland, Flashback

I had a dream.
Yesterday I talked to my friend Josh (who, shamefully, doesn't read my blog much) and he told me Oakland was the same ol', same ol'. People getting shot, mattresses in the street, etc. And then, last night, I had this dream.
In the dream, I was living in an apartment on College Avenue, not far from the bookstore where I used to work. Except this version of College was a bit darker and seedier than the affluent wonderland that is Rockridge. In my version, there were dog fights, people getting stabbed, people fighting, trash everywhere. And try as we, the tenants, might, we simply couldn't get the area cleaned up. Call the BPD, they'd say it was the OPD's responsibility. Call the OPD, they'd say Berkeley. Keep in mind this is somewhere around 60th and Telegraph, where the geography is a bit split up like that. That's pretty much all I have to say about that; I just thought it was interesting. Like home reaching out to me with a little bit of irony.
Another version of home reaching out to me (and one much more friendly) is that I went to see Jonathan Lethem read tonight. It was at a gallery called Das Haus der Kulturen der Welt (The House of World Cultures) and it wasn't the sort of intimate, folding-chair reading that I'm used to. It was an auditorium, and complete with very serious commentary by two women in black, who debated and reacted and got into the problems of copyright and influence. I was pleased. Jon Lethem was, actually, wonderful. I think so many stacks of so many copies of his books over the last few years caused me to turn away from him (though some very dear friends of mine endorsed him fervently). He was humble and well-spoken and truly interested in things other than himself (which is not always the case with Very Popular Writers) and so I come away with both thumbs firmly up. Unfortunately, a paperback copy of his new book cost almost 18 Euros, which is about 24 or 25 dollars, and I simply couldn't justify the expense. A shame, that, because the excerpts he read from his newest book, You Don't Love Me Yet, were wonderful.
And so, I had a 24 hour period of little bits of the Bay, and now I'll go back into Berlin, into tandem language partners and tax numbers. Stories from that to follow shortly.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Histories, Personal and Public

As I was saying in my last post, I spent the last week with an old dear friend, and so in tandem with the picture I posted of the two of us as children, here is one from more recent days.
katie and efrat
In addition to being a very complimentary photo of our small kitchen table, it's tangible evidence of something going right. Thank goodness. Now she's gone home but it was very special. Years and years ago, we were friends in a pretty foreign land, and that's the situation once again. I take it to mean that Taiwan 1984 was meant to be, as is Berlin 2007.
She came to Berlin with her longtime boyfriend, and while they were here we traipsed all over the city, in sun and in showers. We went to a Very Huge art opening, Art Forum Berlin, which we were able to get into because one of Efrat's professors had some work in the exhibition. It was a place to see and be seen, for sure, a place where skinny goth women slipped past wealthy fat men smoking cigars, trying to impress their Dynasty-era dates with names and numbers. There were hundreds of people there. It was distracting. I wasn't able to look at the art at all, actually...too much in my periphery. It was, though, fascinating to see such a ground-zero affair.
We went, too, to the Jewish Museum, and I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the permanent collection. The special exhibitions were works by Charlotte Salomon and Chantal Akerman, and both of them were beautiful. A picture of the Akerman installation:
Chantal Akerman installation
I was proud that I could even make this picture come out properly. It was an awesome installation, and I didn't do it justice, but I tried.
Other than these visiting shows, though, the permanent museum was a bit - how should I say - pandering? Thousands of years of Jewish history in Fun! Interactive! Multicolored! displays. It was as if they were trying to make it digestible. It looked like a children's museum. The design of the building is supposed to be groundbreaking, and I suppose the fact that the only entrance or exit to the building is underground is fairly interesting, but the whole thing was a bit pat. The only piece of interest was the clanging, ghostly Memory Void.
memory void, afar
There, you had to walk over all these iron faces, mouths agape, and each of them made a horrible, sharp noise, ringing against all the other screaming faces. It was quite haunting, but it was the only part of the museum that evoked any emotion in me whatsoever. Try as I might, I couldn't walk quietly.
And now, in two days, we'll celebrate German Unity. I'll have two whole days blissfully free, and I'll go to museums, be a tourist/artist as I stop in the middle of sidewalk to get lost/take a picture, and I'll try and relax a little after a couple weeks of endless running around. I'll be in touch.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

An Excused Absence

I have had this reason for not putting up a post in the last few days: a friend of mine whom I haven't seen for, oh, about 23 years has been in town! And we've seen each other! And now it's been only a few hours since we've seen each other. It's quite miraculous, actually, and owes a lot to the wonders of the internet, which I choose to boil down to human tenacity and ingenuity. It was quite amazing and now she's gone and I have to say that I'm a little sad about it. But check out her photos - I've added a link to her Flickr page to the right-hand side of this page, so that everyone can enjoy her pictures and appreciate the fact that we are once again in touch. For anyone interested, here's what we looked like the last time we saw one another:
taiwan 1984
As you can see, things have changed quite a bit.
In other news, though, thanks to all who sent me good wishes regarding finding work - things went swimmingly and I find myself with three definite weekly engagements and more surely on the way! What luck! Or perhaps it was hard work, I don't know. What I do know is that it is very exciting that I feel that my life here in Berlin is becoming more established, that I'm actually a part of the city now and not just a visitor. In honor of that, I've finally followed through with my promise to show a little more of the sights one would see when just living in Berlin, rather than snapping sightseeing shots. Here's one now.
That one is Brad on a really big swing at Mauerpark, which is a park that still has part of the Berlin wall up. To the right is a large field and a very large flea market, which the following picture does only so much justice.
To the left is the standing part of the wall, which is being liberally painted on by quite a lot of people. The American perception of graffiti as a sign of a bad neighborhood doesn't really exist here. Here, it's still a viable form of expression. See?
But that's enough of that. That's really only one panoramic scene of one place in Berlin (in a district called Prenzlauer Berg). There is plenty of art to be seen all over the city, not just in this one place. However, I still haven't captured enough of that art to show a good cross-section of styles and forms. This one building caught my eye - wonder why?...
That building is found in our district, called Friedrichshain. There are so many more things I will show you...
I'm getting more settled here, partially due to finding various forms of work, and also because in the pursuit of these various jobs, I've really been all over the city, so I feel that I'm getting my bearings in a sort of accelerated way. There are days that I spend at least two hours on public transport, and that's a lower limit. It's giving me a chance to see the outskirts, the less urban parts of the city, the rich places, the poor places, the extremely quiet and residential places, and the clogged places. I've gone in plenty of bookstores, several clothing stores, a few museums and a few churches and synagogues in various levels of glory or disrepair. Things are coming along...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

There's something about new German films

As far as a good travel narrative, this forthcoming ramble may be a little dissatisfying. However, some film buffs that read my blog may take interest. There's something about new German films.
OK, it's not an across-the-board issue I have, it's pretty half-and-half. However, the bad half is, well, horrid. Here's the issue: the non-ending.
Now, there seems to be a stereotype here about how Germans like non-endings and Americans can't stand them; we want more of a fist-in-the-air closure at the end of our films, apparently. And, maybe, I'm a little guilty of that myself. But I also consider myself a fan of the slow, silent European film, and my tolerance for dangling is quite high. However.
We watched some very good movies, don't get me wrong. We watched a movie that was half German and half Romanian called Offset that was excellent, the kind of movie that you think about the next day without meaning to. We watched Elementarteilchen (Elementary Particles), a film based on a Michel Houellebecq novel, and a movie about anarchism in East Germany called Was Tun, Wenn's Brennt (What To Do In Case Of Fire), both of which sometimes wandered, but both worth watching. And, of course, we watched Goodbye, Lenin and Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (The Princess and the Warrior), which are both wonderful. We haven't yet watched Lola Rennt again, but we probably will. The Berliners seem particularly taken with that film, as they are with Goodbye, Lenin, and I think I know why. They have endings!
Here are some movies we watched that had no ending: Milchwald, Montag Kommen die Fenster, and, to a lesser degree, Berlin is in Germany. That last, though it had a rather soft ending, still left me feeling sort of satisfied in an "I just watched a movie" kind of way. The previous two, however, left me feeling like I was staring at a blank wall for two hours, with not even the shadows changing. They both had pretty cinematic moments, but for the most part didn't work hard enough to leave off as emptily as they did.
On a positive note, watching all these German movies has helped with my language acquisition! I've refused to watch anything in the English language, and we always watch the films with subtitles on, either English if the dialogue is particulary fast or difficult, or German if the language is simpler and we're feeling a little more exuberant. It's very helpful.
This weekend we wandered through a large chunk of the city, but I'll save my tales of that until I can put the pictures up, too. It occured to me that I've only been really showing images of sort of touristy places with castles and churches and happy clouds, so lately I've been trying to get pictures of what's more like the real Berlin, pictures of places that real people go and not just the sightseeing crowd. It'll be a whole new side of Berlin for the home audience. And also for me.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I've Had a Little Hiatus

I took a little break from blogging because I took a little break from doing interesting things. I spent a few days being a bit stressed out and wondering what I should be doing. Brad says, "Just think of it like time off! Relax!" and I say, "I'm not really good at time off. I like to have places to go and schedules and such" and I don't particularly like not speaking the language and only being able to 1) walk around, and 2) clean the house. Sense some stir-craziness? Part of the frustration is that in many situations, were I without something to do, I would go to a bookstore and browse for hours, but here the books are mainly in German, which is sort of prohibitive, to say the least.
However, we spent the weekend going places and doing things and I didn't feel the least bit stir-crazy. We went to the expansive Treptower Park and walked along the river, lost and looking for the market and some sausages. The weather was beautiful and the Soviet monuments plentiful.
We finally found the fabulously grungy flea market (it was full of Americans, strangely - I guess we love bargains). We walked along the Spree River, and somewhat impossible to miss is this huge, curious, shiny trio rising out of the water. I'd only seen it from a bridge far off, so I wasn't fully aware that it was Quite So Huge. I'm not sure what it's purpose is. It's very playful, and surely isn't stamping out fascism like the towering figure we'd just seen.
The previous day we went to a suburb of Berlin called Spandau, which was quaint and sweet and had a cute little market going on, with many laughing children and jolly adults. In the center of this market was a church, called Nikolaikirche. Both inside and outside were modest and austere, and it was quite lovely. Apparently, people from Spandau are more loyal to Spandau than they are to Berlin, and it was obvious when we were there. Very precious, you know? Spandau also has a citadel, though, a real citadel! Complete with moat! It had a nice monument, too. Lots of exuberance and triumph in the monuments around here...
Finally, we just walked around the old town, and it was a simple, peaceful afternoon. I didn't want to take this picture because I thought it would be, like Spandau, very precious, but here you have it anyway.
That's gonna be it for now. My German is improving and my familiarity with the layout of the city is growing, and next time I blog I'll be more organized and hopefully have some good news about work! In the meantime, I've discovered a passionate love for sauerkraut...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I've Got Two Job Interviews Tomorrow

Wish me luck.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Gone to the West Side

Today was a quiet day, a stay-in day, but we've been mostly roaming as much as possible. We went to the requisite tourist attraction that is the square kilometer that holds the Brandenburg Gate (of "Tear this wall down" Reagan fame) and the Reichstag.* There were the requisite tourists, the expected crowds. Hilariously enough, we forgot the camera that day. No worries. We'll go back, many times I'm sure.
We did, thankfully, not forget the camera when we visited the Schloss Charlottenburg in the western district of Charlottenburg. Brad took this amazing picture.
Just look at it. Let it soak in. In the expansive gardens surrounding this palace, there were people practicing martial arts, people speaking Russian, old women sitting on benches, and tons of banana slugs. Actually there are banana slugs everywhere here.
We saw, too, the broken and burned Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche. It was built in the last decade of the 19th century and almost destroyed in the middle of the 20th. Now it stands in the midst of a commercial district full of street vendors, designer stores and flashing cameras, kitty corner from the infamous Erotic Museum (which was very interesting to visit but not particularly erotic to the non-trench-coat crowd). Despite the tawdry surrounding, though, the church still looms with austerity.
kaiser wilhelm church
Later that day we saw a different sort of monument, one about which I was less than delighted.
Germany recently had a tussle with the Scientologists, so I'm surprised that they would have such a huge building in the center of Berlin. They're nothing if not stubborn.
And, as I said, today was a quiet day. I did, however, manage to go to a bakery all by myself and order some pastries and pay, all without saying "Wie, bitte?" (Rough translation: I'm sorry, I'm stunted). That was quite satisfying. Mostly I allow Brad to do the talking because, a) he speaks more German than I do, and b) he looks more German than I do. This has resulted in generally clean interactions, with the occasional compliment to his accent and one strange instance of someone accusing him of being Austrian, and therefore slow. It was both an insult and a compliment, I suppose.
Finally, on a personal and domestic note, I have killed absolutely none of the plants that we are now living with. My involvement with them has been limited but ten days in my company usually converts plants to compost, at best. I'm on a roll.

*We went to the Berlin Airlift Museum the other day, which is where I learned about how apparently important that Reagan speech was. It was being played on a continuous loop; it didn't bring tears to my eyes. It was, however, a fascinating museum.

Friday, September 07, 2007

So I'm Getting a Bit More Comfortable

It's our ninth day here, and I'm beginning to not feel like such a foreigner. Learning the language would probably help. I've been attempting to speak it and have generally not made a fool of myself, and maybe I'm learning more of it than I think I am, what with the immersion and all, but it's still a struggle. But really - when you order a coffee to go in the States, do they ask if you want a lid with it? No, they assume you'll just need one. This was one of the problems. So for further reference - Deckel means lid.
Today we went to two distinctly different neighborhoods. One was populated mainly by Turks, the other mainly by hipsters. And when I say hipsters, I mean Chuck Taylor- wearin, dyed hair-havin, studded belt-sportin hipsters. I felt like I was in the Mission district, except it was populated with Europeans and not North Americans. Lots of record stores and trendy shoes and locked hair in topknots. One thing missing: tasty burritos.
And now for some non-sequiters:
Just watched the movie Charade for the umpteenth time. Still good.
According to the two-screened TV that plays in the U-Bahn, 31% of kids ages 13-17 in our district smoke cigarettes. What is going on there?
I'd like to get a job.
Stay tuned for pictures of the inside of the Kuhlschrank.
Today we ate at a Russian stand - an Imbiss. I had some awesome pelmeni with dill on it. My Russian came back easily. I consider it a personal triumph that I was relieved to hear someone say "Надо еше?"

Monday, September 03, 2007

It's Only Been Five Days

I estimate that we've walked perhaps twenty miles or more since we've arrived here. It's nice but sort of a shock to legs grown lazy from cars and couches. A very helpful source tells me that calcium and potassium are necessary for muscle contraction and relaxation (hi mom!). We are eating helpful vitamins. Additionally, they are coming to us in the form of vegetables that are a bit more tasty than those back home. The tomatoes and the cucumbers have flavor! The eggs are delicious! Today we made pelmeni from scratch! Other funny food things: the wrappers at McDonald's have nutrition information, all based on a 2000-calorie diet; popular here is currywurst, a sausage with ketchup and curry powder all over it; there is practically no Russian food.
As for the sights around the city:
soviet tv tower
That's the Soviet TV tower.
totally soviet art
That's a very Soviet statue. Recognize a theme?
old concentration camp
That is an old sort of concentration camp. It wasn't a fatal place to be, and the people concentrated there were apparently politicians, held so they wouldn't interfere with the actions of Hitler. Now it's a pleasant sight in the middle of a leafy, upscale 'hood called Prenzlauer Berg, a district for which I have a distinct liking.
We ventured a bit east and went to a smaller city called Potsdam, which was the relaxation grounds for Kaiser Wilhelm. It was quite beautiful, and the countryside getting there was not blistered by the century as Berlin was. The more I walk through the city, the more the fact of war sets in. There are so many buildings in disrepair, so many memorials and preserved centers of fallen powers. It's really quite staggering.

Friday, August 31, 2007

And Here We Are
good photo.
This is our apartment.
This is also our apartment:
If you look closely at the bathroom, you'll see that it is sort of funny. It is, however, a fabulous aparment and just the right size for the two of us and the apartment is in a section of the city that resembles Moscow in a way that, frankly, took my by surprise. We live in what used to be East Berlin, so it's not surprising that the architecture and grid system is sort of Soviet, but I wasn't expecting it. The East, though, has done a good job of preserving some of the more grandiose, fourteenth-century buildings, too, though; it's not a black and white distinction between East and West. And despite the Soviet-style aesthetic, the palpable air of casual intolerance and violence of Moscow is not here, of course. Moscow was an Olympic-grade hater.
It's only been two days, so I haven't much else to say, except that we've probably walked about ten miles so far (or fifteen or so kilometers - I don't get the metric system yet, nor do I have a realistic grasp on the dollar-to-euro conversion). We've seen about a half mile of the Berlin wall, we've walked on Pushkinskaya - excuse me, Puschkin Allee - and we've been through at least enough of the city to see astounding postmodern design adorning the buildings, about a hundred hair salons and a statue of Lenin, neatly tucked into a little parking lot. People here have lots of dogs and kids. It's all very lovely.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Things I've Learned From Selling Harry Potter

1. People who are into it are suspicious of those who are not. They shut down and back away; won't look you in the eye.

2. I began to think to myself by the end of the night that maybe I should buy one. It's not because I would read it right away, and it's not because I think it'll become a collector's edition anytime soon - they printed so many millions of them. It's because they became a commodity like a cell phone or an ipod - you simply must have one! What, you don't have one yet? You're a holdout.

3. Only one person asked for it by its full name. "Hi, do you have a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?" I laughed. He said, "why are you laughing?" I told him that most others truncated it. "The new Harry Potter book?" "Harry Potter?" "Harry?" These were the timid ones.

4. People from every fashion, age- and income-range of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora are seeking out this book.

5. I wish I lived in a big, spooky castle where I could creep through damp hallways with a candelabrum and then arrive at a stony, tapestried room, where I would then sit and read James and the Giant Peach.

6. As a bookseller, there has been and is no other thing in the store that is sold with the same ferocity as This. (Well, one thing - but I won't go into that). This becomes the opposite of the "forest for the trees" thing.

7. Many people deny themselves sleep.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Don't Usually Do This

I am generally quite against blog posts that are comprised of nothing but diatribes about this or that, but I am disgusted with Scholastic. I can't believe how lawsuit-crazy they have become. Remember when you were in elementary school and you'd get those thin little newspapers that invited you into the Weekly Reader Book Club, and many of those books were Scholastic books, struggling to get noticed and bought for the totally reasonable price of a dollar ninety-nine? Now Scholastic is pretty much giving the finger to any little kid on a budget that can't afford a thirty-five dollar book. It's a cash cow, but it's a book for kids, so it's ethically sound - this renders its makers untouchable. It lives again, reincarnated by the wonder of film. It's a bit Augustus Gloop.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Here I Am Again.

I've been remiss in my blogging because
a) I've been in school and really boring,
b) I sort of forgot I had a blog, and
c) I've not been taking pictures that are interesting in the slightest and people really like pictures and don't so much want to read about how boring a class on Modern Art might be or how many people ask a bookseller where the nonfiction section is.
I am moving to Berlin. This means lots of pictures! And also a great distance between you, dear reader, and I. For that reason you will need to see my face only through virtual means, and in doing so you will see pictures of interesting Germany! And Poland! and France! and Pompeii!
Stay tuned!

over the pier