Bezirk [1]in Berlin #7:  June 19, 2011




Back when I had to work for a living (God knows how I managed to find the time!), the company I worked for had a major change – it changed the way it styled its name.

It used to look something like this:  Booz●Allen & Hamilton

After some deliberation (and no doubt at great expense), it was decided that the name should be styled differently so now it looks like this:  Booz│Allen│Hamilton

You can no doubt imagine the profound impact this had on the business community, and, of course, all the efforts that went into re-educating employees on how to answer the telephone and printing new stationary and business cards and getting new signs for all the buildings, etc.

Since this was obviously an issue of great importance, you can imagine my chagrin when I opened an umbrella here in Berlin one day and discovered that it had the old name!!  I was deeply concerned about the international consequences of blatantly wielding this contraband in a foreign land.  So, there was nothing to be done but to find out what I should do, so I sent the company this e-mail:

As a former employee, I have an umbrella with the old name style on it – Booz (dot) Allen (ampersand) Hamilton.  I was wondering if it’s still OK to use the umbrella.  If not, could you send me a new one with the current name, or a sticker I could put on my current umbrella so I won’t be displaying the wrong name, please?  Thanks!

I had intended to offer then another option, which would have been to send me a letter authorizing me to continue using this umbrella.  I’ll be interested to see whether the company responds, and if so, what that response might be.

Later:  I did indeed get a response, and fairly quickly.  However, it wasn’t from the Legal dept, nor from the Public Affairs dept, but rather from the Webmaster, who told me it was perfectly fine to continue using my umbrella and thanked me for asking.


 Today we had planned to go to a local restaurant to celebrate Harvey’s birthday.  We got there about 15 minutes before 6 pm, and noticed a sign on the door that said that the restaurant was closing today at 6:00.  Just as people always have to touch the paint to confirm that the ‘Wet Paint’ sign is valid, we ventured into the restaurant to see if it really, really was closing at 6:00.  We’ve been there several times in the past year, and the same waiter has been there.  He said that the reason the restaurant was closing early was to prepare for the following day – it’s the Festival of Cultures and they expect to be busy – but, since we’re regular diners so he would serve us!  It’s so great to be special!!!


Wonder how many ways there are to spell that word?  Which one is right?  But I digress!  The cause for my great joy is that the Müllmeisters FINALLY came and emptied the clear glass bin!!  I can resume my re-cycling full tilt now!!!


I am perpetually astonished at how much havoc a creature without thumbs and with a brain the size of a walnut can create in a limited space.  I suppose we should be glad that we’re no longer in our 4-story, 3300 sq ft house in the US, where he could no doubt generate 3.3 times the havoc he does in our small, single-level flat!  I never know what I’m going to find when I come into the kitchen (or when some ominous sound might come from that general direction).  The kitchen, of course, is the source of all food, so it has a rather significant meaning for William, who, in his eagerness to get to his food, often knocks it out of my hands so kibble is scattered all over the kitchen.  I’ve learned to restrain him with one hand (or, alternatively, to distract him by dropping a piece on the floor while I hastily put his bowl down).

He’s also rather fond of the re-cycled paper.  We have piece of furniture that Idea sells that is primarily for kids’ toys.  It has a wooden frame and you can get plastic bins of various sizes.  We have 2 large bins and 2 small ones and use one of the large ones for re-cycled paper.  The paper bin was on the bottom, but William would drag paper out of it and turn it into confetti, with which he would decorate the flat. So, thinking I could outsmart him, I moved it up a notch.  It took him about a nano-second to get to it, only now he gets inside of it.  The good news is that he will spend long periods inside the bin, shredding to his heart’s content, but not managing to strew it about the flat.  The bad news is that he sometimes knocks the bin off onto the floor when he’s leaving, and it’s perilously close to the water bowl (which I have now re-located in yet another most likely futile attempt to preclude a disaster).

He plays in there like kids play in those ‘ball pools’ – the things filled with plastic balls the size of a baseball that you find at Idea, or McDonald’s, or any other place where parents might want to seek a few moments of peace while their kids happily amuse themselves.  [Unfortunately, these ‘ball pools’ could just as easily be called ‘germ pools’ and the parents may pay a hefty price for those few moments of peace.]

William’s new past-time also requires me to be a bit more circumspect with what paper I put in the recycle bin.  For instance, I can’t put paper towels in the bin if I’ve used them for cleaning and they are saturated with cleaning chemicals.  Naturally, this creates a huge moral dilemma for me, but when it comes to William’s well-being versus the planet’s well-being, the planet just has to come second.


One of the things we love about Berlin is that it’s a multicultural city much like Washington, DC.  That, of course, means lots of interesting restaurants.  In fact, when we lived in the DC area, whenever we hear that there was strife in some Third World country, we always looked forward to enjoying the food of that country, as inevitably many folks who left the country would come to DC and start restaurants.  Every summer, Berlin has its Carnival of Cultures – and more than 1.5 million visitors flock to the district of Kreuzberg (where we live) to celebrate it.  Bear in mind that Berlin has a population of 3.5 million, so that’s about half again as many people as are normally here.  So, tomorrow we hope to venture out to see how this unfolds.  And, lucky us!  We don’t have to worry about finding a parking place or a seat on the U-bahn – just have to walk 2 blocks to be in the thick of things.  It will be interesting to see how disruptive all this is to our generally quiet little Bezirk.  (As it turns out, it wasn’t disruptive at all on our short street.  There was quite a bit of foot traffic on the intersecting street, but even that wasn’t horrendous.

To find out more about this Carnival, go to this link:

Really impressed with the ‘public facilities’ – waay better than ‘Porta-potties.’  They had trailers set up, with real toilets, real lavatories, and real attendants so there was always toilet paper, soap, and paper towels.  How class is THAT!!??!!

Good news/bad news.  Good news is that the food was delightful!  My favorite kiosk was African food – great beans and rice, terrific hot sauce!  [Hard to get spicy/hot food in Germany – even the restaurants where you’d expect to find it, such as Indian, Thai, or Mexican, tone it down for the German palate.]  But the bad news is that these folks don’t have a restaurant in Berlin – only in Hamburg!  What a tease!!!!!

WOW!  I got to walk on the wild side at the Carnival!  I got to try absinthe!  It’s illegal in the States (although it may recently have been legalized) because it’s supposed to make you crazy.  A little late for that, in my case, don’t you think?!!  I think Poe was supposed to be affected by it.  Well, if it helps you write like he did, more power to it!

Alas, we missed the parade.  For reasons I can’t fathom, the website had information on the path of the parade (starting at Hermanplatz and ending at Bluecherplatz, merely 4 blocks from our flat), but apparently whoever wrote the information up determined that the information on time and date (it Carnival lasted 3 days) was either superfluous, or that everyone already knew it.   Being an ailurophile, I would have especially enjoyed the children’s parade, because the theme was the lion.  Last year’s theme was the frog, another one of my favorite animals.  Each school sponsored an entry in the parade, with the children wearing costumes reflecting a wide range of their interpretations of frogs.  My favorite had to be one of the Latin American schools.  So here’s what was involved:

  • Latin American kids
  • In Berlin, Germany
  • Dressed as frogs
  • Marching to the tune of the Macarena
  • On Karl-Marx Strasse

Just love the bizarre juxtaposition of all those elements – the only connection that made sense was ‘Latin American kids’ and ‘Macarena’ (although putting ‘marching’ with ‘Macarena’ results in its own element of the bizarre).


Having spent our formative years in Southeast Texas, both Harvey and I have been somewhat accustomed to the difference in daylight hours in the summer and in the winter being practically negligible.  After more than 30 years in Virginia, we had almost begun to get used to the greater variation, with the short winter days.  In Berlin, we’re even farther north, so the difference is even more drastic.  For example, on June 21, we have 16 hours and 15 minutes of daylight (sunrise is 4:43 and sunset is 9:34); on December 21, we have only 7 hours 33 minutes of sunlight (sunrise is 8:16; sunset is 3:56).  Since we don’t have a rigid schedule like working folks do, it’s easy to stay up late in the summer without even realizing it.  Yeah, we can sleep as late as we want, but when the sun streams through the bedroom window at 4:30, it’s a bit disorienting. The winters are horrendous, with the sun refusing to stir itself until 8 am or so and then scurrying off well before 4 pm.  I can’t imagine having to work an 8-hour day in an office, leaving for work in the hours before sunrise and coming home hours after sunset.  As it is, I rely on a small device that supposedly simulates sunlight to make my body think I’m getting more daylight than I really am.  Don’t know if it’s just the placebo effect or not, but it does seem to help me tolerate the winter a bit more easily.


 Saw a truck the other day for a firm named ‘Bad Idee.’  Well, yeah, ‘Idee’ IS German for ‘idea’ but ‘Bad’ is German for ‘bath.’  So this isn’t a company that supplies bad ideas; rather it is one that supplies ideas for bathrooms.  And that’s a good thing, because it seems like we already have far too many companies promulgating bad ideas.


 When we left the US, we got rid of at least 75% of the stuff we’d acquired over the past 40+ years of marriage.  Then when what remained of our stuff reached Berlin, we puzzled over a couple of things:  (1) Why the heck did we decide to take ‘X’? and (2) Why didn’t ‘X’ make it here?  We took care of #1 by donating about 6 more boxes of stuff to Synanon; then, as we gradually determined we didn’t need some other stuff, we just set it out in the foyer of our building to participate in the lovely recycling process known as ‘mit nehmen’ – if you have something you no longer need/want, just put it out for anyone to take.  Most of the stuff found a home; some of the other stuff had to be forced upon Synanon.  And we resigned ourselves to accepting the loss of the stuff that we intended to take but somehow didn’t – the Universe was continuing to help us downsize, if a bit more painfully than we might have wished.  We continued to ‘downsize’ when the shelves in the china closet collapsed, substantially diminishing the complete china service for 12 that my father’s cousin had hand-painted about 70 years ago—another painful loss.  [This china had made it from Austria and Japan to Oklahoma; then to San Diego, CA; then to San Francisco, CA; then to Vienna, VA; and then on to Berlin.]  And, we lost a few mugs by storing our mugs in the kitchen cabinet in the winter and pouring hot liquids into them.  Having learned our lesson, we now store them somewhere that’s a bit unconventional in a drawer in the buffet but is a tad warmer in the winter.

Now we have further help with downsizing, in the form of a furry dynamo, who goes by the name of “Wild William West.”  In his eagerness to protect us from the dangerous flowers in a vase on the china closet, he knocked the vase onto the floor, where it was smashed to smithereens (and no doubt startled our downstairs neighbor, while the two of us hearing-impaired old folks managed to sleep through all the excitement).  We had bought the vase in Pigeon Forge, NC, and was one of the very first new decorations for our beloved house on Nancyann Way.  But, we enjoyed it for 27 years, so I guess we can’t complain too much.  Unless both Harvey and I manage to depart this veil of tears simultaneously, one of us will have to further downsize, as this flat seems a tad big for just one person, so William is just helping us out in that regard – we needn’t make difficult decisions and can downsize through attrition rather than harsh actions.


A few weeks ago, they found an un-exploded bomb from WWII in the canal about a kilometer away from us.  Fortunately, it was disarmed without incident. Then, more recently, another such bomb in Bavaria detonated by itself, and, again, no one was injured – the only reason it made the news is that a man discovered the crater it left.  Amazingly, more than 65 years after the war, it’s estimated that more than 3,000 bombs are still buried beneath Berlin alone, many of which are regularly discovered in construction work.  Such stories don’t always have a happy ending – in June, one bomb (thought to be British) exploded while folks were trying to diffuse it, killing 3 and seriously injuring 2.


Haven’t missed it one little bit, either!  And I’m willing to bet that some of you never have done this, and never will.  What is ‘this’?  It’s defrosting a refrigerator.  Since ‘’frost-free’ translates into ‘high electric bills’ common folks here don’t have them.  We’ve been here almost 11 months and this is the first time I’ve defrosted the freezer.  I suppose the good news is that the freezer is only about 2 cubic feet, so it’s not a gigantic job (and would be even easier if I did it more frequently).


Germany now has an official hiking trail for nudists.  It opened last year in central Germany following a series of altercations between nudists and clothes-wearing hikers on regular trails.  [I can only begin to imagine what such altercations may have involved.]

The nudist trail is in the Harz Mountains and is marked with warning notices ‘to ensure that clothes-wearing hikers won’t encounter any big surprises,’ German newspaper Bild reports. The signs are emblazoned with photos of a male and female hiker wearing only boots and backpacks, and say, ‘Anyone who doesn’t want to see naked bodies may not proceed further!’ [Wonder how many times they’ll have to replace those signs; I’m tempted to steal one myself.]

One hiker, who carries a scarf when walking nude to wrap it around himself in case he encounters clothed hikers, told the Swiss paper that a sanctioned clothes-optional trail would give people the chance to experience the ‘bodily freedom’ of nude hiking, an experience that ‘fills you with happiness.’

NOPE!  Not making this up!  If you don’t believe me, go to:  But don’t be surprised if Google starts offering you some strange pop-ups!


There seems to be no end to the whimsical things throughout Berlin.  I’ve seen:

  • An old VW van with a custom paint job.  Nope!  Not sunflowers, daisies or a psychedelic hodge-podge.  This one was pink and white PLAID!  And, I might add, rather precisely executed!  C’mon!  Tell me this didn’t make you smile a bit!
  • Some stenciled graffiti. Two figures—a Pegasus and an astronaut.  Interesting juxtaposition, don’t you think?
  • Toga.  Almost missed it.  I was sitting here at my laptop and just happened to look up, and there before me, across the street, I saw a guy walking down the sidewalk wearing a toga.  Really.  Why?  Who knows?  Somewhere I have a photo of Harvey wearing a toga – some high school Latin club presentation.  Those of you who know him won’t find this surprising.  In fact, for a brief moment I thought it might have been Harvey – I had to turn my head to see where he actually was when I saw toga-guy.

[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’