Bezirk [1]in Berlin #8:  July 28, 2011





When we lived in Burke, Virginia, and had to give someone the directions to our house, the directions included ‘Turn left from Braddock Road onto Guinea Road; go down to the next light, which is the corner of Guinea Road and Guinea Road, and turn left.”  Well, we can make ourselves at home here in Berlin, because we found another place that is at the corner of X Strasse and X Strasse.




Yes, there’s more.  And always expect it to be so.  Berlin is the most whimsy-rich place I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been to Disneyland, Disneyworld, Six Flags, Kings Dominion, the Old Country, Williamsburg, and two Lego Lands).

  • Bare Feet:  So far, I’ve seen no one barefoot (at least not on the street).  Although it could be warm enough in the summer to go barefoot, the hot cobblestones  and the prospect of stepping on bits of broken glass or dog poop all mitigate against it.  However, I have seen evidence of one brave sole – actual a pair of bare soles.  [Sorry!  This pun just begged to be made, and who am I to deny such a plea!]  Apparently someone did a paint job and had just the least bit of paint left.  Germans are extraordinarily frugal – they waste nothing.  So, obviously this someone felt compelled to come up with a way to use it, which turned out to be putting his (her?) bare feet in the paint and then walking down the sidewalk until the paint ran out.  So, out of nowhere, some bare footprints appeared, coming from nowhere and ending nowhere in particular.  I can almost hear them – and anyone witnessing this act – just chuckling away, can’t you? [Update:  Obviously, two days after I wrote this, I did indeed someone barefoot on the street.]
  • The Neon Bear:  There’s apparently a club in Berlin, which not only features alcoholic beverages and various games (e.g., bowling, video games, etc.) – maybe a little like Dave and Buster’s in the USA – but also has a nail salon.  In case your date isn’t that fond of bowling, she can get her nails done while she waits.  (Or, if she does bowl and chips her nail polish, it can be repaired immediately.)




Apparently my 5-year-old grandson has a restaurant in a ritzy part of Houston (River Oaks) and another in Los Angeles.  I used to have a restaurant in Chicago named after me, but apparently, I never managed to go there and, due to my obvious negligence, it is there no longer.


Also known as the ‘Incredible Growing Machine’, William is exceptionally diligent when it comes to turning kibble into kitty.   One of three things must be happening – (1) The earth is  increasing its gravitational pull; (2) I am rapidly growing weaker; or (3) William is gaining weight at such a rate as to warrant a mention in Guinness’ Book of World Records.  Of these three options, I much prefer the last; otherwise, in a matter of days I shall no longer be able to pick up so much as a pen!  I weighed him less than a week ago and he was 2.6 kilos; today he was 3.1 kilos.  For those of you not on metric, one kilo = 2.2 pounds, so he’s grown a bit over a pound in a less than a week.  He’s now 6.8 pounds!!  I swear, if he would only stay still for 13.5 nanoseconds, you could almost just see him grow! He’s particularly alert to any of the signs that a meal may be in the offing.  For example, we typically watch a couple of episodes of American TV shows each evening, downloaded from iTunes.  We’re currently enjoying ‘Castle’ (which we highly recommend).  We watch one episode and then take a break for tea and a ‘treat’ of some sort or another, and then watch a second episode.  [Total leisure, if you do it correctly, can be hungry work!]  As the credits are scrolling through at the end of an episode, the music track involves whistling.  Both William and Electra can be so deep in the arms of Morpheus that you almost need to put a mirror under their little noses to make sure they’re still breathing.  Nonetheless, the very second the whistling starts, their ears perk up and they’re 100% ready to dash to the kitchen, while they still have the strength (as it may have been up to 3 hours since they’ve last been fed).  We must endure their reproachful glares and loud remonstrations while we scarf down our own snacks, making them wait until after the second episode for their bedtime snack.  Oh yeah, and if we’re in the kitchen and don’t realize it’s time to feed him, he’ll knock his feeding bowl off the shelf onto the floor, to help us remember.

William is also imposing his own aesthetic sense on our formerly tranquil abode, although I’m not certain that it’s intentional.  In recent years, our cats had aged and the impact of their acrobatic endeavors was limited by their lack of much free time (given that napping required a substantial amount of their time).  Tsali’s arthritis and Electra’s obesity further limited these types of pursuits.  William, on the other hand, suffers from none of these limitations and embraces physical activities with the exuberance appropriate to his age and station in life.  Alas, although his speed and strength are impressive, his agility leaves something to be desired, approaching that of an inebriated giraffe on roller blades.  This conspicuous absence of grace is characteristic of the Siamese and generally precludes the typically feline proclivity for stealth.  (Before you accuse me of racism, we are talking about a breed of cat here.  Oddly enough, the German word for ‘breed’ in this sense is ‘Rasse.’  I’ll let the linguists and social scientists ponder the significance of that interesting tidbit.)  As a consequence of his clumsiness, William is continually re-arranging many of my artful compositions of our many treasures.  Our flat looks nothing like it did pre-William.  Many of my Oaxacan wooden figures are now missing various parts of their bodies – for example, my armadillo has no ears and my jaguar has no tail.  [In fact, the place is starting to look like a group home for mutants, an image that is further enhanced by our semi-bald cat who has ears like a bat, a tail like a rat, an udder like a cow, and eyes that take up more than 50% of her face.]  The carefully arranged displays on top of the buffet and the china cabinet are no longer static, but rather change from day to day (or moment to moment) as a consequence of William’s efforts to challenge my sense of symmetry (which he apparently finds a bit trite) and his preference for a more kinetic approach to interior design.

One of his favorite pastimes is to crawl up into the paper re-cycle bin and play with all the ‘toys’ he finds there.  Such toys are not limited to the paper, but also include his tail.  Apparently he’s deduced that it’s more tactically advantageous to chase his tail in a confined space, as it markedly improves his catch rate.  You can only imagine the peculiar sounds that result from such endeavours.



What two words strike fear and dread into the hearts of parents (and grandparents) and teachers?  HEAD LICE.  Yes, our precious little princess (the one who loves to dress up and is entranced by Hello Kitty, Princess Lillifey, and Pinkalicious) was found to have an infestation, whereupon her Dad had to pick her up from school and start the drill back home – washing bedding and clothing, vacuuming, shampooing hair, etc.  And, naturally, this has to include the entire household (and anyone else who happened to be in close contact within the past two days) – lucky us!  I was tremendously relieved when I checked the website for the Centers for Disease Control and learned that head lice are very particular in their hosts – they are only content to live in the scalps of humans and chimpanzees (yet more evidence of our close kinship, no doubt).  They are not interested in dogs and cats, for example.  I was trying to imagine how we would manage with the cats.  The instructions on the hair treatment are:  (1) comb (this oily, obnoxious substance) through dry hair; (2) wait between 30 and 45 minutes; (3) shampoo hair.  Presumably the Fleas and Ticks Union has a lock on cats and dogs, forcing the lice to live elsewhere.  And, as our cats never go outside, we’re pretty much safe from the FTU members.  However, when we had a house with a yard, our inside cats got fleas.  When I told the vet that they never went outside, he replied that fleas will hitch a ride on humans’ clothing and get into the house that way.  Then they hop onto the cats because humans (at least most of us) aren’t sufficiently hairy to provide a proper home for any self-respecting flea.  So, we gave our cats fleas.  (Please don’t share this information with the ASPCA!  We don’t have a yard anymore, and consequently don’t do any yard work, so our felines are probably safe from us now.)


Nope!  Not another WW II bomb this time.  And, in the grand scheme of things, this was more or less a good thing, as it turns out.  After doing countless loads of laundry in the de-lousing process, I opened the door to my washing machine and discovered some undetermined substance falling out of the clothes.  It’s hard to describe – roughly the color of kitty litter – dull grey and flaky.  At first I feared that there was a problem with the washer.  Given the surprising capabilities William has to cause messes, I was even thinking that perhaps he had somehow thrown some kitty litter in the washer when I wasn’t looking.  Then, as I was going through the laundry, I figured it out – one of my bras had apparently exploded, and that undetermined substance was from the padding (which is there not as false advertising, but rather as a modest attempt to keep everyone within a few yards of me from knowing when I get a little chilled).


My 3-year-old, lice-infested granddaughter asked me to put some barrettes in her hair, which I did.  Then I looked at her and said, ‘You are just the cutest little thing.’  She grinned up at me and said, ‘Grandma, I not a thing.  I a little girl.’  I stand corrected.


Germans are nothing if not systematic in their approach to the world (except, of course, when they’re not).  I’ve noticed that the trees in our neighborhood (and many other places throughout the city) have little tags on them – each tree has its own number.  I’ve often wondered what purpose these tags serve.  Does some official come by periodically for roll call?  What do they do if a tree goes AWOL?  Do they compare the trees to each other, chastising those trees that aren’t as robust as the others, and commanding them to be ‘more like tree Number 432’?  I did notice some official carrying a clipboard going down the street examining the trees and making notes of some sort.  I wanted to ask what she was doing and why the trees were numbered, but we’re coming up for our residency renewal in a month or so and I didn’t want to risk giving offense to the Tree Polezei.  Maybe I’ll discretely ask my neighbor this question.



How many words does English have for ‘to’ – ummm,  ONE!  How many ways can you use ‘to’ –ummm, TWO!  It can be a preposition or it can be part of an infinitive (which, I’ll grant you, does seem to be an odd combination).  And when it’s a preposition, it can be used a jillion ways – I’m going to the [ANYwhere – moon, work, movies, Japan]; I gave the hand grenade to the monkey.  How many different words to you need to know to say ‘to’ in German?  FIVE!!

  • Zu
  • Nach
  • In
  • An
  • Auf

ZU (which you also use for infinitives, by the way):  Use this when you’re going to the doctor (or any other professional), places in your own city or town (destinations that you can probably get to without having to pee first – if you’re a young person and not pregnant), work, school, lakes, stations in the U-bahn, and formal events, such as weddings and funerals.

NACH (which also means ‘after’):  Use when you’re going to places you might need to take a toothbrush (other cities or countries), other parts of town (far enough so that you probably should pee first, regardless of your age or fertility status), and when you’re telling someone how to adjust a picture (move it to the top, bottom, right, or left).

IN (which also means ‘in’ or ‘into’):  Use when you’re talking about going to a building (e.g., the prison), countries (but only when they have an article in front of them – some countries do, some countries don’t), or a street.

AN (which also means ‘at’):  Use when you’re going to a sea or a coast (but, remember, if you’re going to a lake, you use ‘zu’ – so my initial thought about using ‘an’ when you’re going to a body of water won’t work; gotta revise that to when you’re going to a small body of water).

AUF (which also means ‘on’):  Use when you’re going to an informal gathering (e.g.,  young people’s parties – as opposed to a party at the embassy, where you’d use ‘zu’), or to indie concerts (as opposed to a concert at the Opera House, where you’d use ‘zu’), or to the toilet (although this makes sense, because ‘auf’ also means ‘on’ – as in sitting on the toilet – which conveys a whole different image in English than does ‘going to the Ladies Room’).

One more thing – before you can figure out when to use ‘nach’ and when to use ‘in’ when you’re going to a country, you have to know whether or not (in German), the country has an article.  We have a few such countries—the United States, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and the Virgin Islands.  But in German, they call Switzerland ‘die Schweitz’ (so use ‘in’) but France is Frankreich (so use ‘nach’).  Go figure!

As if that wasn’t sufficiently complex, some of the words for ‘to’ take the accusative case and others take the dative case, so you also have to remember that little tidbit so you can properly decline the noun following the ‘to’ (while simultaneously remembering the gender and number of that noun, yet another factor in declining the noun).  And don’t forget that you have to decline a noun’s modifiers, too.  So you have a lot of things to figure out before you can say “She went to the little red school.”

Got that?  It’s like it’s a whole ‘nother language, or something!

HEY!  WAIT A MINUTE!!!  Do you think my German teacher is just messing with me?  Maybe there really is only one way to say ‘to’ and she’s just making this all up!  At least there would be some logic to that!!  LATER:  I’ve asked my German neighbor about this and she confirms that it’s true (unless, of course, she’s in cahoots with my German teacher).

The particularly unfortunate thing is that, although I’ve not successfully acquired German as a language, it appears that I’m gradually losing my facility with English (at least as a spoken language).  I find myself using German structure (e.g., Do you want to come with?) in English sentences.  Nonetheless, I’m still not up to snuff on the proper use of German structure.  I have managed to pick up an idiom or two, though.  For instance, ‘Mir ist eine Laus über die Leber gelaufen.’  Literally translated, it means ‘There’s a louse walking across my liver.’  But, of course, there’s a bit more to translation that the literal aspect and it’s often not a one-to-one thing.  In this case, coming from Texas, I’d translate its meaning as ‘I’ve got a bee up my butt.’


Strawberry Hut Squashes German Pensioner

A 77-year-old German woman was killed after being crushed by a roadside hut selling strawberries that blew over in strong winds, authorities said Thursday.  The pensioner on Wednesday took shelter behind the hut when the weather suddenly worsened. But a gust blew it on top of her, police in Konstanz in southern Germany said. She died from her injuries in hospital.

At least this lady didn’t have a boring obituary.  And maybe she shouldn’t have gone to the hospital if ‘her injuries in hospital’ was what actually killed her.  [Obviously, the reporter who wrote this didn’t fully appreciate his/her mission, which is not only to write so that you can be understood, but to also write so that you can NOT be MISunderstood.]


Police are investigating the discovery of cannabis plants growing at a Thuringia office of the environmentalist Greens party, prompting a political firestorm in the state. 

Police discovered the plants in flower boxes at a Green party district office in Gera, the Thüringische Landeszeitung newspaper reported Thursday.  Police are investigating possible drug law violations although preliminary reports were that the plants may only have been used for producing hemp. Prosecutors will decide whether charges should be laid, the newspaper reported.  But the discovery led to a firestorm of criticism from state politicians, including Wolfgang Fiedler, a state parliament member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union.  He told the newspaper that any Greens members who tolerated the cultivation of cannabis “must resign their high parliamentary office.”

One of the leading members of the Greens in Thuringia, Astrid Rothe-Beinlich, said she didn’t know about the plants beforehand and had asked for an explanation from staff.  Asked how the plants had got there, a state party spokeswoman Daniela Hoffmann-Weber said: “That would interest us.” [I HAVE NO DOUBT ABOUT THAT!]  “No one will seriously believe that we’re making hemp here,” she said.


I haven’t ridden my new bike in at least a month—I got so tense when I was trying to re-learn this that it sparked a bout of shingles and I only recently worked up the nerve to try it again.  God bless my nurturing neighbor!  She offered to take me out biking (as I’m scared to death to go alone – need somebody to call the ambulance and next of kin for the accident that’s just waiting to happen).  She has the patience of a saint (but then, she’s doing a marvelous job of raising a beautiful, high-energy, intelligent, curious, physically strong, and insatiably curious 2-year-old).  She had to navigate her bike (with a very active 2-year-old on a seat at her handlebars) while she looked out for me, simultaneously negotiating traffic, which included not only other bikers and automobiles, but also pedestrians—the greatest threat of all.  Some have dogs on leashes – a particularly treacherous combination, as the pedestrian-leash-dog combination can suddenly create a ‘fence’ across your path.  Others are walking along with their iPods, making it even more difficult for them to hear bikes behind them, especially if they’re lost in the music or podcast.  And, of course, there are the children – some riding bikes with greater skill than I – but all of whom are unpredictable and may dart across your path to get a better look at the swan in the canal, or abruptly squat down to watch an ant.  All the while, my neighbor is trying to coach me through this kaleidoscope of potential collisions.  Not surprisingly, it wasn’t my behind that got sore on the bike ride – it was my hands, from the death-grip I had on the handlebars.  But she’s game to do this again, while I get my bike skills back.  [Wonder if it had anything to do with the apricot pie I made as a reward for her bravery?]

I really have to curb the urge to shout out warnings to people I encounter, something like ‘Look out!  Runaway Granny on a bike coming your way!’  Unfortunately I’m generally not that articulate – what mainly comes out of my mouth is some sound resembling that of a demented baboon (which doesn’t have the desired effect, as it tends to make folks look up into the trees, rather than on the bike path).  In any case, I think I would feel a bit better if I had some sort of a warning sign like they have on the driver’s ed cars—something like ‘Student Biker’.



When our son was 13, his father took him to the mall.  As they approached the doors to the mall, our son positioned himself between the door and his Dad and said, ‘Dad, whatever you do in there, please don’t embarrass me.’  Well, I saw something in Expatica (a news service for expats) today that has inspired me:

German Pensioners Take To Clowning Around:   Ulrike Lueke-Rosendhal used to be a schoolteacher, but now it’s the 63-year-old who acts the fool, not her pupils, touring Germany in a troupe of clowns made up of retirees.

AND I can enlist the help of his godmother, who left a good Government job to go to work for the circus.  Although she went to work as an administrative aide to the Legal Counsel for Ringling Brothers, she felt it would enhance her understanding of her new milieu if she went to clown school, so she did.  Who knows what we might come up with!!  [Of course, some of my friends would assert that ‘acting the fool’ is neither new nor ‘acting’ for me.]


Saw this in the Washington Post today:

U.S. support essentially guarantees that French finance minister Christine LaGarde will become the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund. The fund’s board meets today and could reach a decision on a new leader.

There was also a photo of Ms. LaGarde, with the caption “LaGarde gets broad support.”  Well, of course broads are going to support her!  Million dollar question:  Was whoever wrote the caption intentionally clever (in which case I applaud him/her) or just oblivious (in which case I mock him/her).



We’ve been in Berlin just 3 week shy of a year and I just saw my very first Hummer here.  Wonder how many nanoseconds folks in the States can go without seeing one.

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