Glasses. OK, so the rimless glasses can make you pretend you’re not actually wearing glasses. However, that invisible quality has its downsides, particularly when you start having lots of birthdays. You need to think these things through:

• It’s harder to see when you don’t have your glasses on.
• Oddly enough, you don’t (usually) have your glasses on when you’re looking for your glasses.
• Rimless glasses are harder to see.
• You probably selected a color you like for the legs on the glasses.
• Lots of the other stuff in your house is probably a similar color.

You see where I’m going, don’t you? It’s going to be really, really hard to find your rimless glasses. The bad news is that, sooner or later, you’re going to plop your butt down on your $700 rimless glasses, camouflaged by your bedspread or the surface of some other piece of furniture you should have had the good sense NOT to lay your glasses on. The good news is that this offers a certain self-limiting factor – you’ll have a perfectly legitimate excuse to replace those invisible things with something more practical and easy to find. So, next time, buy something in a nice Day-Glo orange or lime green. Come on, you’ve been wearing sensible shoes for 10 years now; you may as well make the full commitment to Geezerhood. You might look a bit silly, but you’re old – you can get away with ‘silly’ now. In fact, it’s expected of you! You’re OLD!

Husband Logic

Husband: Dear, please look to see whether or not I’ve found all your rings. I knocked over your ring-holder while I was closing the drapes.
Wife: Why didn’t you move it before you closed the drapes?
Husband: Because it was dark and I didn’t see it.
Wife: Why didn’t you turn on the light first?
Husband: Because I didn’t need it.

Blessed are those who are easily amused for they shall walk through life with a grin. I count myself among those who are easily amused (which, from time to time, has made for some awkward moments when a situation didn’t strike others as quite so funny as it did me). For example, I can get a chuckle out of merely reading the grocery ads in the newspaper. Try this and see if it doesn’t just make you smile: Würstchenparade. Most English speaking folks know that ‘wurst’ means sausage (e.g., bratwurst, etc.) and many also know that ‘chen’ is a suffix Germans use for the diminutive. ‘Parade’ doesn’t need translation at all – it’s German for ‘parade’ (just as ‘Ball’ is German for ‘ball’). Apparently the product in question is an assortment of small sausages, but my mind’s eye translated it rather literally, as a parade of little sausages. As you’re likely to hear in the South regarding such images, ‘Isn’t that just the darlin’ est little ol’ thing you ever did see?’

Cats—Bald in Berlin. As the owner of semi-bald cat, this ad caught my eye. [Well, she’s not supposed to be bald, like the Sphinx – she’s a Devon Rex, who is supposed to have short, curly hair all over her body. Alas, she has it only on her head and legs, giving the impression that we’ve had her groomed as a poodle.) Naturally, my first inclination was to think that this might be a story about what it’s like for a cat to be bald in Berlin. NOT! It was an ad for the play. And, although ‘in’ means the same thing (more often than not) in both German and English, ‘bald’ is one of those pseudo-cognates. It looks like an English word we all know and love (some more than others), but in German it means ‘soon.’ Rather than a documentary about life as a bald cat in Berlin, it’s merely an announcement that the play is coming to Berlin soon. While I’m sure it’s a great play, I am a tad disappointed that it wasn’t what I thought it was.

Native Americans. Apparently there’s a tribe of which I’ve been blissfully unaware (which is not unexpected, as there remain at least 500 tribes today). I’ve discovered this by watching a German cartoon series about the adventures of a young man named Yakari. This tribe lives in tipis, uses birch bark canoes, makes pottery that looks remarkably like that of the Navajo, and, oddly enough, speaks German. Pretty eclectic tribe!

Roses – they ain’t just for romance. Extracts for cooking have a different name here – they’re called ‘aromas’ – which is technically more accurate, particularly when most of them aren’t really extracted from the flavors they claim to be. One of the more interesting aromas is rose, which is actually used for cooking here. It’s mild, and nice. Plus, you get a two-fer! You can put a few drops in your cookies as well as behind your ears!

Every molecule matters. If you like to indulge your Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and are really into saving the planet, Germany is the place for you! I approach recycling with an enthusiasm that approaches evangelical fervor, so you can only imagine the ecstasy with which I have greeted the recycling system in Germany. They even recycle the grit they put on the streets when they’re icy! As far as recycling daily trash goes (which I actually get to participate in), imagine this:

• You get to take your batteries to the grocery store or the drugstore to be recycled.
• You get to return glass beer bottles and even plastic soda bottles to get your deposit back.
• You get to separate your other glass, into white, green, AND brown!!
• Of course, you have the standard bin for paper.
• We have a bin for Leicht Verpacknung, which includes all plastic, wax paper, and all metals.
• My very favorite is the bin for Biogut (which is for composting stuff). I finally get to redeem myself! After we moved from a single family house to a townhouse, I had to give up composting. For 6 years, I experienced almost physical pain whenever I put coffee grinds or any other thing into the trash. In Germany, you can even recycle this if you live in an apartment, as we do. Oh, Happy Day!!
• And we’re getting yet another bin – apparently for Stark Verpacknung, for such things as small appliances and old wood.
• Then we have a bin for the stuff that doesn’t fit in any other category (and I always feel a little sad about having somehow failed to find another use for this trash).

Imagine getting to sort your refuse into EIGHT different categories!! And the Biogut doesn’t just go directly into the earth (which would be good enough) – it gets used TWICE! They first capture the methane gas that comes from decomposition and use that to generate electricity. Then they use what’s left to enrich the soil. And, of course, there’s the extra advantage that the water in the compost gets back into the environment more quickly (and more cleanly) that it would in a land fill. How totally cool is THAT??

There is a side of this that I really wish hadn’t occurred to me, which is that I get to pay for stuff twice (or maybe even three times), if you really think about it. First, I get to buy the food and other products, which includes the price of the packaging. Second, as part of my rent, I get to pay to have all my refuse carted away. Third, whenever I buy new products, if the packaging is made from recycled materials, I get to pay for it yet again. If some of the packaging is made of petroleum products, some of the petroleum is recovered and used to generate energy, which I have to pay for. And with the Biogut, I get to pay for not only the electricity that’s generated from its decomposition but also the new foods that may have been fertilized with the compost. But I suppose that’s still better than having to live with the consequences of a continually growing landfill, or having to cart it all off myself – after all, I’m a very busily retired person.

And, yes, I WILL put a single grape seed or grain of rice in the Biogut – thanks for asking!

Gernunnghhh? This is my attempt to capture the sound our friend Dave makes when he’s trying to emulate a profoundly puzzled Afghan hound who found himself in the unenviable position of having a 3-year-old’s finger jammed up his nose. Anyway, I always think of this sound when I see something that puzzles me, which happens almost on a daily basis. Don’t know whether I’m just a tad simple or if the world really is a puzzling place for most of us. There are those who seem to think that I just happen to have a knack for noticing this kind of thing. For example:

• Big Willy: Want a big willy? Gee, who doesn’t? Well, just go to http://www.ille.eu and you can get as many Big Willies as you want. You may be disappointed, though. That’s one of the brand names of those humongous toilet paper rolls you sometimes see in restrooms.
• Genuine Doc Martens Sold Here: This is a sign in a display window of a store on Bergmanstrasse. (For those of you from the Washington, DC, area, think ‘Georgetown.’) No puzzle there, you’d think. It’s just that the display window is filled with things such as black leather bodices trimmed in red lace and ladies’ boots (black, trimmed in red) with 6-inch stiletto heels. I didn’t see any masks or whips, but I’ll bet you can buy them there. Not what most of us think of when we’re looking for Doc Martens.
• German Pub: OK. It’s Berlin. Lord knows they have pubs by the hundreds here. What’s puzzling is that the pub by this name happens to be closed down (and appears to have been closed for a long time). Gee! You’d think if there’s any place called the ‘German Pub’ could make it, Berlin would be that place. Apparently not.

Toiletten. Unlike the US, German automated voice response systems don’t offer options such as ‘Press 1 for German; press 2 for English.’ However, the Germans do offer readily understood options for flushing the toilet – Press 1 for Number 1; Press 2 for Number 2 – each option offering a sufficient volume of water to accomplish its respective objectives. Unlike in the States, where 20+ years ago the Yankee Government decided to help conserve water by mandating low-volume toilets, the German system actually DOES conserve water (whereas in the U.S., it actually wastes water – how many times have you had to flush more than once to achieve the desired results?) without having to resort to ‘If it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.’ EWWWWW!

Customer service. Germans really aren’t into it that much. A friend of mine worked for an international telecom company and said that one of the Germans made the statement, “You Americans worry too much about customer service.” However, owing to the lack of general helpfulness on the part of customer service personnel, the customers themselves take up the slack and are really helpful. Oddly enough, this lack of interest in customer service on the part of employees seems to make other customers more inclined to be helpful. For instance, in my best German (which admittedly ain’t that great), I asked a clerk in the grocery store where to find Tahini. She didn’t understand me. A Turkish lady overheard me and repeated my question (in understandable German) to the clerk, who then told me they didn’t have it. The Turkish lady also tried to tell me about a nearby store that carried it. She spoke only German, which I still have trouble understanding. Then a guy overheard us and he translated what the Turkish lady had said into English for me. That kind of thing happens literally all the time! Alas, it makes me lazy in terms of improving my German!

I am antibiotic-worthy! I’m getting over a bout of bronchitis. German doctors must think that breathing is pretty important – the doctor actually gave me an antibiotic, which is reserved for those who would otherwise face certain death or, apparently, who need to breathe.

Sights in Kreuzberg. OK, DC has its Segways (as does Berlin), but I think Berlin can go DC one better – I just saw a girl on a unicycle, although I told Harvey just now that it was a ‘unicorn’ – which made him doubt my vision or my sanity. Yet another example of the difference between the right word and the almost-right word, described by Mark Twain as like the difference between lightening and a lightening bug.

What are the odds? When we came to Berlin 7 months ago to look for a place to live, we looked at only 5 flats, 2 of which were in the same building. Flash forward to today. Harvey has a friend (currently living in Virginia) who is French and used to live in Berlin. She was headed to France to spend Christmas with her family and had stopped in Berlin for a few days on her way to Paris. We met for drinks and were joined by a few of her Berlin friends. One of these friends had recently moved back to Berlin after having lived in New York for several years. When you meet someone for the first time, there are a series of standard questions most of us use to get the conversation started, among them “Where do you live?” It turns out that this woman lives in the flat that we almost rented! From a practical standpoint, it would have been a better choice than our flat – it was a corner flat, with two balconies, and was a tad less expensive. But it was Neubau (i.e., a new, modern building) and our flat is Altbau (i.e., an old building, and was built sometime in the 1700s) and we fell in love with its totally impractical architectural details—

• The high ceilings (which makes the place hard to heat)
• The double doors between each of the three main rooms (which makes it difficult to decorate – do you hang stuff on the walls with the doors closed or with the doors open – and limits your options for arranging the furniture)
• The exquisite molding around the ceilings in all the rooms, and the lovely mural of the Kreuzberg above the entrance to the building, neither of which offers any practical advantage at all.

But, our flat is a half a flight up from the ground level – high enough off the ground to deter the casual thief and not too many stairs for a pair of old codgers to climb. And when flats have 13-foot ceilings, climbing up just one full flight of stairs is nothing to sneeze at. We also have a back door, a fairly uncommon feature for most flats. Clearly we took some practical factors into consideration. But, more importantly, we didn’t want to lose face with our daughter-in-law, who not only found this lovely flat, but also fervidly eschews Neubau – I think she’d almost rather live on the hot air vent at the corner of Constitution Ave and 21st St., NW (in DC) rather than in a Neubau flat. And we do love the flat – and the neighborhood – more every day!

And, by the way, when we had dinner later at this lady’s place, we noticed that her husband has a unicycle.

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