Bezirk in Berlin© #2 (October 13, 2010)


First houseguests:  At the end of September, we had our first houseguests in our new home, Jim and Tyler (Tyler being female).  I’ve known Tyler for about 6 years, when she first started doing my hair.  Jim was in Berlin to run the Berlin Marathon (which he ran in 4 hours).  He was really just doing it as part of his training for the Marine Marathon in DC in the fall.  The winner did it in a bit over 2 hours, with the 2nd place guy coming in only 2 seconds after him.  (That HAD to hurt!!)

They flew to Frankfurt and rented a car.  We were really impressed that they managed to actually make it to our house on their own, without a GPS (the rental agency had no more cars with GPSs), and using a map that really couldn’t be read without a magnifying glass).  Oh, yeah!  And they speak no German!  The time went so quickly – especially with the Marathon taking up a whole day – that they were persuaded to stay an extra day so we could actually show them Kreuzberg (our neighborhood – aka, our Kiets).  We also took them to Charlottenburg, one of Frederick the Great’s palaces in Berlin.  We had some fantastic laughs during their visit—Tyler has an incredibly infectious laugh!  I wish I had made a .wav file of her laugh to play it from time to time!

On being paranoid:  As I was walking through the U-Bahn station the other day, I was certain that I saw a couple pointing at me and I was absolutely certain that I heard the woman say the word cuckoo.  My previous life as a social worker told me that there are only 2 scenarios where that is likely (both of which mean you really are cuckoo):

  • People really are pointing at you and saying cuckoo (most likely because you’ve covered your head with aluminum foil to keep the government from reading your thoughts—although that’s becoming less and less irrational these days) OR
  • You’re imagining all this.

Not willing to admit to either of these possibilities, I chose to believe that they were pointing at something else (or maybe it just looked like they were pointing) and saying a word that just sounded like cuckoo.  I then walked past a store window in the U-Bahn station (a fairly windy place) and caught a glimpse of myself.  My hair was sticking straight up and I did, indeed, look very much like a cuckoo.

There was a time in my life when that would have embarrassed me to tears.  However, now I realize that situations like this are truly gifts – I was able to give the couple a laugh, and I was given a story to share with all of you!  And, furthermore, there are actually many folks who go to great lengths to get their hair to look like this, and I got it done for the price of an U-Bahn ticket!  [Note for any former victims of my pencil-whipping:  In English, ‘U-Bahn’ is pronounced ‘yew-bahn’ (and starts with a vowel sound, which requires the indefinite article ‘a’) but in German, it is pronounced as ‘oo-bahn’ (a vowel sound requiring the indefinite article ‘an’).]

Speaking of cuckoo:  In our living room, we have two windows, both of which face the street.  Harvey and I each have our laptops on small laptop tables, immediately in front of the windows and facing the street.  The top of each laptop is barely beneath the window sill.  Our flat is a half-level above the street.  Although we’re not visible by folks who are walking down our side of the street, the passers-by across the street see only one old man and one old woman apparently staring out the window.  This image is sometimes enhanced because, as I wait for my machine to come alive, and unwilling to waste a single second of my precious retirement, I use that time to do the exercises that are supposed to minimize the pain in my elbow.  (I’ve somehow acquired something commonly referred to as ‘golfer’s elbow’ – despite never having done more but play a few games of putt-putt.  Which, alas, is consistent with my having earlier acquired tennis elbow without having spent more than an hour – total – in my entire life playing tennis.]  My only consolation is that most Berliners, hoping to avoid stepping in dog poop, focus intently on the sidewalk and consequently are unlikely to notice us at all.

Life’s unexpected gifts:  When we got to Berlin, I bought a sewing machine, both to make some things for the flat (and, theoretically, anyway) save money.  I also hoped to be able to help Steve and Steffi with mending things and to make some things for the kids, all of which have come to pass.  As far as the ‘saving money’ piece, I still have quite a way to go.  When I told the sales rep that I was looking for something simple, I meant ‘inexpensive.’  Her definition of ‘simple’ was ‘easy-to-use.’  And, not surprisingly, ‘easy-to-use’ and ‘inexpensive’ are mutually exclusive qualities.  The one feature that I was totally powerless to resist was that the machine threads the needle for you.  Typically, it takes me about 30 minutes to thread a needle. It’s truly a hit-or-miss experience, as my visual acuity (even with – or perhaps because of) trifocals is limited in such situations.  My limited manual dexterity further diminishes the statistical probability of hitting the mark.  I pondered upon the difficulty of threading a needle myself (and the corresponding likelihood that I would procrastinate on projects because of that) and the time factor (e.g., 30 minutes represents an increasingly greater percentage of the time I have remaining on this planet with every attempt to thread a needle).  That put me right where the sales clerk wanted me, so I bought the machine.  And it IS nice!!!  So far I’ve made 6 pillow covers, a knight’s tunic for Noe, and an apron for Milla to wear when she helps her Dad make pancakes.  I’ve also mended several pairs of pants for Steve – riding a bicycle 8-10 hours a day will absolutely take a toll on them.

Steve recently bought a pair of shorts that, although marked small were still a tad too large for his string-bean physique, so he asked me to take them in a bit.  Part of the reason we came here was to help Steve and his family in the silly ways that parents can enjoy when they live close enough to their kids.  This particular experience offered a little bit more.  It was a sad/happy/melancholy experience — I remember my father lamenting that, as a kid, he was so skinny and tall that his parents could never buy pants/jeans that fit him.  To be long enough, the pants would inevitably be too loose on him.  His mother then had to take them in so much that the pockets met in the back, and he was always horribly self-conscious about it.  [Fortunately, such things are not a problem for Steve – in fact, the goofier the better.]  When I took in Steve’s shorts, the pockets did indeed meet in the back. When I noticed this, it made me really, really wish I could call my Dad and tell him.  I think he might have been able to laugh about it now.  And I know it would please him, in that odd way that parents/grandparents love to see a little of themselves in their offspring (like Harvey loves the eyebrows on Steve and his kids and I love their pointy chins).

Going to the doctor:

How’s THIS for my experience getting a new doctor?

1.  Walk to the spanking new medical bldg 3 blocks from the flat.

2.  Go into the Apoteke and tell the pharmacist that you just moved here and need to get a plain ol’ doctor.

3.  Apoteke tells you what that’s called here and gives you a directory for the medical bldg that shows you where that doctor is.

4.  Walk into the doctor’s office.

5.  Tell the English-speaking receptionist what you need.  She tells you to have a seat.

6.  After 10 minutes, your name comes up on a beautiful flat-screen TV (which, otherwise, had been showing something like ‘Animal Planet’), along with the examining room you are to go to.

7.  Meet the doctor, give him your medical records, and tell him which prescriptions you need refilled.  Doctor chats and explains how things work in Germany w/r/t medical stuff.

8. Doctor keys info into computer, to include a referral for an allergist.  A few minutes later, receptionist comes in and hands him legible, printed Rxs that also serve as receipts to file with health insurance.

9.  Doctor says to come back the next morning (or any morning at my convenience) after fasting so he can do blood work.  He also wants to give me a flu shot, do sonograms and EKG.

10. Go to receptionist to make appointment.  Receptionist says no need to make an appointment; just show up when I’m ready.

10.  Go back to Apoteke and get Rxs.

Total time:  45 minutes

Oh, yeah!  Then I walk up a flight of stairs and go to the allergist, where the receptionist says the doctor can see me today if I can wait (but I have something else I have to do, so I get an appt for another day).  That goes equally easily.

Return visit.

1.  Check in with receptionist.

2.  10 minutes later, TV tells me to go to Exam room 2

3.  Doctor tells me to lie down on exam table.

4.  He does sonogram of pancreas, liver, kidneys, lungs, stomach, and gives me the results right then and there.

5.  Go to next room, where nurse gives me EKG, takes blood, gives me a flu shot and tells me to come back in the next day for the results of the blood test and EKG.

Total time:  40 minutes

No waiting weeks for an appt; no scheduling individual appts for sonogram, EKG, blood work.  No waiting for results on all the tests (some, results, like blood work, do have to wait, but that’s the nature of the test, not the nature of the practice).

Do I have to pay a co-pay or anything up-front?  No.  They’ll mail be a bill, but the receptionist says it may take a few months.  When I get it, I pay it and then submit to my health insurance.

The verdict on the health insurance remains to be seen.  I just need to send the receipts in with a copy of my health insurance card – no filling out forms because (guess what?) they already HAVE the information on me (just like American insurance does, but you STILL have to fill out the freakin’ forms anyway).

Going to the (new) grocery store (in an upscale neighborhood).  I’m still figuring out how to do grocery shopping.  There are several stores within 2 blocks of our flat, but we’re on the fringes of the ‘nice’ shopping district.  You can certainly survive on what these closer stores have to offer, but don’t expect a lot of variety or consistency in product availability.  One day they have something; then you go back for more, and they don’t. But go another 2 blocks, and there is a nice, new Kaiser grocery store – with an in-store coffee shop.  Not like Starbucks, though – limited types of coffee drinks (cappuccino, espresso, or coffee) but a HUGE variety of pastries.  The overall variety here is huge.  I still haven’t figured out the logic behind how products are grouped, though.  [However, when Safeway went to the ‘group by meal’ that really messed me up, too.  What meal is bread to be found under, for example?]  BUT, I noticed a thing sticking up on the handle of the shopping cart.  It had a cover, so I lifted the cover.  You’ll never guess!  It’s a magnifying glass!!!  I know you’re saying ‘No way’ but it’s definitely ‘Yes way’!  Beats the hell out of trying to use the little magnifying glass I had on my key chain back in the States.  [Almost said ‘back home’ but THIS is home now!!]

Update on the Cat Who Went Through the TSA Xray at Dulles:  Tsali is not doing so well as I would hope.  Just before we left the States, he started to ‘favor’ his left rear leg, and we’ve been attributing that to age (he’s 17, which is 87 in human years).

More recently, he’s decided that he prefers our bed to his litter box, and on two occasions, he’s actually peed directly on ME while I’ve been snuggling down to go to sleep.  This behavior was not particularly well-received on my part.  We considered using his litter box as our bed, and letting him have the bed as his litter box, but the math just didn’t work for us.

Often that behavior means ‘Take me to the vet, you fool!’  Which I, of course, did.  Although he responded favorably to some chiropractic intervention from the vet, there is an anomaly on the knee on his troublesome leg.  The good news is that pressure to the knee doesn’t cause him pain; the bad news is that pain would mean something like arthritis, whereas absence of pain may mean cancer.  [There is something infinitely perverse about the relationship of the intensity of pain caused by a malady and the extent to which such malady is life-threatening.  For example, is there anything more painful than a simple cramp (which is only life-threatening if you’re swimming)?  Yet something like high blood pressure is virtually pain-free while you have it and definitely after it kills you.  I think this issue warrants a Federal investigation.

All his blood work came back more or less fine (for an 87-year-old).  Just need to have an X-ray of his troublesome knee. The vet also put him on some pain meds, which have improved his attitude immensely with respect to confusing me with his litter box.  And I certainly hope that he stays well for quite a bit longer.  To do otherwise would be quite inconsiderate, given all the trouble of getting him over here.  To show his appreciation, he should stay healthy (and, oh yeah – CONTINENT) for at least a year!

Home at last!  Our second house guest came in mid-October.  We refer to him as our ‘aesthetic consultant’ but Michael is also Steve’s godfather.  Michael has an artist’s eye for things and designed our garden on both Nancyann Way and Trosby Court, and has helped us with all our other decorative needs, such as putting up the Christmas tree and arranging our painting/photos in our various abodes.  Harvey and I have not a clue whether, for instance, we should hang our ‘Elvis on Black Velvet’ in the same room as our ‘Dogs Playing Poker.’  Michael helps us figure these things out.  Actually, he doesn’t – rather he TELLS us what to do and we just do it.  Obviously, if we could actually figure it out, we’d do it ourselves, wouldn’t we?  This flat presented substantial challenges to him – 13 ft. ceilings and rooms with lots of windows and lots of doors.  For example, we have a 4-room flat.  In that flat, we have 9 doors. The living room alone has 3 double doors, which are typically open.  But, and not surprisingly, Michael met the challenge and our flat finally really looks like home!  And we got to have our traditional Pumpkin Fest, which started when Steve was a toddler.  Michael would take him out to buy a pumpkin and they would come back to the house and carve it while I cooked a feast and baked a pie from fresh pumpkin.  [Note:  The resemblance of fresh pumpkin to canned pumpkin is roughly the equivalent to that of canned asparagus and fresh asparagus – i.e., NONE!  Are these even the same plants?] Eventually, the process evolved – Steve would design the face and Michael would carve it.  Later, Steve would be involved in the carving.  Then, Steve grew up and left home, leaving the 3 of us to continue the tradition without him, although he has continued the pumpkin fest (and pie) with his own family.  This year was the best!  We were all together again, with the addition of Steve’s family.  Milla arrived dressed as a fairy princess (to include a barrette in her hair – verifiable evidence that she’s really getting some hair!!) while Noe was dressed as a pirate.  (I just hope that he doesn’t run away to Somalia when he grows up to pursue his dream of being a pirate!)


21 October 2010:  HUGE sigh of relief!  We got our visa renewed for a year!!  If it hadn’t been extended, then we would have to return to the US for 6 months before we could come back. We have a lot of friends and family, so we may have been able to do the ‘sofa-surfing’ thing for 6 months.  Although it would be great to have some quality time with all of you, I’m not sure my brain-box could have handled it!