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.