Bezirk [1] in Berlin – 10:  August 1, 2011

 

GOOD QUESTION!

 Several years ago, the National Geographic had an article that tried to answer the question, “What is time?”  The article started out by using a definition found on the wall in the restroom at a popular beer joint in Austin, Texas.  [Oddly enough, this was actually the Scholtz’s Beer Garden, frequented by both students and state legislators, with the latter saving it from demolition going on as part of Austin’s ‘urban renewal’ project.]  Here’s the definition:  Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.  After considering far more scientific answers to this questions – and having found them lacking – Nat Geo fell back to the definition most likely offered by some inebriated student.  In any case, that was the last time I remember seeing a truly good question – until last night.

Our daughter-in-law was visiting her folks with the grandkids for the week so we took our son out to dinner.  Berliners far prefer eating outside when weather permits, so (now being Berliners, of course) we chose a place outside, which gave us the opportunity to sit still and examine all the neighborhood peculiarities visible from that particular vantage point.  One thing definitely caught my eye; in fact, it would most likely have caught the eye of Stevie Wonder (whom some of us fondly remember when he was ‘Little Stevie Wonder’).  This question was in letters so large that it took up the entire side of a 6 storey building.  But, as anything truly worth saying, it was short – only these four words:  How long is now?  Please get back to me if you have an answer for this.

It’s entirely possible that I was so enchanted by this question because, just before getting something to eat, we had been to an absinthe bar, where we had tried two varieties (and discovered that the absinthe we had had at the street festival had clearly been watered down more than a little).  The place even offered a variety of absinthe without anise (which kept me puzzled for the better part of the evening – kinda like, say, a lemonade without lemon).  It was there, after the second drink, that I coined the pun, “Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.”  I was also considerably amused by the absinthe bar’s address – it’s located on ‘Weinmeister Strasse’ (i.e., Wine master Street).  We didn’t dare try a third, but next time we go back, we’re definitely going to try the variety with cannabis.

 

 

 

THE BEER BIKE

Describing the ‘Beer Bike’ is going to be a challenge.  Imagine a very small bar (the kind where you might buy beer, as opposed the kind where you might do a plissé, or the kind that might confine you after too much beer has clouded your judgment and landed you in jail).  Then imagine that, instead of regular bar stools, patrons sit on bicycle seats and place their feet on bicycle pedals.  Now imagine that this bar is on trolley tracks, with the longish side of the bar parallel to the street curbs, and that the whole thing is propelled down the street by the patrons’ pedaling.  Kinda odd – moving at right angles to the way you’re pedaling.  Now, for the full impact, imagine that you’ve never heard of such a thing and you’re walking down the street with a buzz from a couple of hearty glasses of absinthe when a bike-bar full of obviously drunk, very loud folks comes zooming by.  Now that my buzz is long since gone, I must wonder what happens with the beer bikes when a trolley happens to be using the tracks.  Not making this up; see for yourself—

http://www.bierbike-berlin.de/

 

WILLIAM

He, of course, continues to grow.  Already he weighs more than his sainted brother, Tsali (God rest his soul).  And he’s only 5 months old!  When cats are 1 year old, they are the equivalent of a human 15 years old; when they are 2 years old, they are the equivalent of a human 24 years old.  (Thereafter, 1 cat year equals 4 human years.)  Therefore, he has at least 7 more months to grow (and perhaps more, as our son had his last growth spurt after he was out of high school).  This could present two significant problems for us:

  • We’re not so strong as we used to be.  For example, I can no longer grab 4 dinner plates out of the cabinet with one hand.  (Well, actually I can—it just means I’ll have a mess to clean up and I’ll be taking a trip to IKEA the next day.)
  • We’re on a fixed income.  With inflation, the diminishing value of the US dollar against the Euro, and the potential total evaporation of all of our life’s savings, it’s entirely possible that we might have to eat dog food so we can afford to keep the kitties in kibbles.

William has often expressed his concern for the environment.  However, as a creature without thumbs, he finds it quite difficult to engage in meaningful re-cycling activities.  At last, he’s found a way to contribute, and he’s over-joyed!  He’s determined that, by licking our dinner plates clean, he can reduce the amount of water we use.  And, to tell you the truth, I think that, as he rummaged around in the re-cycled paper bin, he may have noticed the article in the local paper about the high cost of water in Berlin and also wants to save us money, no doubt to buy him more kibble.

We recently had houseguests for a few days and they were totally charmed by young Master William, giving him even more attention than we do.  After they left, this 24 X 7 episode of ‘All William, All the Time’ ended and he did not suffer the absence of their attention without significant protest!  First, he pulled all the paper towels off the paper towel rack and shredded them.  As part of his multi-media art extravaganza, he also emptied the Kleenex box and turned all the tissues into his representation of snow (which he hasn’t ever seen yet).  Shortly after we cleaned up that, I had to leave for an appointment.  When I returned (2 hours later), Harvey greeted me at the door with, “I’ve done nothing but clean up after William since you left!  He’s been to the bathroom twice in that time!”  [The bathroom is William’s Time-Out place – but, of course, we have to remove the toilet paper, lest he commit yet another crime while still incarcerated for the first one.]  In my absence he had managed to knock over the Brita pitcher, which was completely full of water.  We should just be glad that we had cleaned up the paper mess before that happened, lest we have a ton of papier mache’ on our hands!

NOTE:  To FULLY appreciate Evie’s wonderful cartoons, please enlarge your screen so you can see the extra little tidbits she’s added!

I’m sure you’ve seen a cat or dog chase its tail.  Well, William is no exception.  Where he is a tad original in this pursuit is that he sometimes chases the base of his tail, whereas most of his fellow cats tend to focus on chasing the tips of their tails. Or maybe he’s not chasing his tail; maybe the fool is just biting himself on the butt and spinning around in backwards circles.  Either way, it’s certainly a sight to behold!

And he continues to grow!  Today (7/25) he’s 4.1 kilos (a hair over 9 pounds)!

DUMB AMERICANS

  • Checkpoint Charlie:  I overheard an American woman (about 40) ask this:

 Why does that sign say ‘You are now leaving the American sector’?

  • Brandenburg Gate:  In Starbucks there, this guy asked the barista:

Where does Hitler live?

She asked him to repeat the question because she wasn’t sure she heard him correctly, to which he responded:

You know – your Chancellor?

She politely explained that he had been dead for the over 60 years.

INEFFICIENT AMERICANS

 Before we lived in Berlin, I mailed quite a few packages from the US to Germany.  Not long before we moved, the USPS changed the customs form.  It’s now about half the size of an 8 X 11 piece of paper and has something like 7 copies.  You get one copy, and God only knows where the rest of the copies go and how many USPS employees have to handle them.  It also involves some poor USPS employee manually entering the data on the form into some database.  You are required to provide the following information:

  • What’s in the package, and its value
  • The recipient’s address
  • The sender’s address
  • The weight
  • The purpose (i.e., whether it’s a gift (or 2 other categories, which I never remember because I only sent gifts)
  • The date
  • Your signature

And, oh yeah – you have to know the weight BEFORE you fill out the form, because you use a different form for packages under 4 pounds than you do for packages over 4 pounds.  Why?  Don’t know.

Compare this to the form you have to complete to send a package from Germany to the US.  The form is about 1/4th  the size of a 3 X 5 card.  (It’s early in the morning right now; I haven’t had my coffee, so YOU do the math!)  It has no copies at all.  You must provide the following information:

  • What’s in the package
  • How much it’s worth

Then you have to sign it (no date required).  They just stick the form on the package.

Why is it so simple?  Well, DUH!  They only ask for information that they don’t already have (i.e., what’s in the box and how much it costs) and your signature.  Don’t need the sender/receiver address because it’s on the package.  Don’t need the weight because their machine will tell them when they calculate the cost.  Don’t need to ask the date because you’re mailing it TODAY and they can read a calendar, and the date will be on the postage.  (I’ve certainly never had anyone at the USPS even look at the date by my signature – I could put July 2, 1776, or a year from now, or a completely bogus date, such as Juvember 39, 9A77 – and they’d never question it.)

 PAYBACKS

 You know what they say about paybacks, don’t you?  Well, over the past couple of decades I’ve used so much red ink editing papers that you could probably float an aircraft carrier in it.  I’ll bet all those folks whom I’ve pencil-whipped into a coma would just love to sit in on my private German lessons – I’m lucky if I can get 2 words together before I’m corrected!

IMPRESSIVE!

 Berlin makes precious few accommodations for folks with limited mobility.  Sometimes there are elevators at the U-bahn station; sometimes not.  Sometimes there are escalators; sometimes not.  Some stations have multiple levels and may have an elevator or escalator that takes you between some – but not all – levels.  Today I saw something that wasn’t simply impressive – it was beyond impressive!  There was a young man – in his 20s, I guess – who had only one leg, which appeared to have been amputated at the hip.  I saw him approach the stairs to enter the U-bahn station at Checkpoint Charlie.  He had a folding wheel chair, with a cushion for his back.  He got out of the chair, folded up the chair, and with the chair in one hand and the cushion in the other, hopped on his one leg down all the steps!  Faster that I could walk down them myself (which, admittedly, isn’t that fast)!  He didn’t even hold onto the rail!!  For a moment, several of the bystanders (us included) clearly thought about offering to help him, but quickly saw that it wasn’t necessary.  If it wouldn’t have embarrassed him, I think we all would have liked to have given him a standing ovation!!   Clearly, he had his youth and apparently healthy body working for him. Nonetheless, imagine what it must have taken for him to go from losing his leg to accomplishing this innovative and incredibly strenuous approach to overcoming his mobility obstacles!  Really – think about this for a bit!  I do worry, however, how he’ll manage as he ages.  I have a friend whose fabulous son is a robotics engineer for NASA.  Some of his work has also been used to develop prostheses for amputees.  [Just remember this when somebody says NASA’s work doesn’t have any implications outside the space program, and it’s something we should cut back on.]  Maybe by the time this German guy gets older, this remarkable technology will have advanced even further, and he’ll have access to some of it.  But in the meantime, he can most certainly serve as an inspiration for the rest of us, don’t you think!


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

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