Bezirk in Berlin© – 21: December 29, 2011

OH, HAPPY DAY!! We can stop sweating bullets—at least for almost 2 years! We got our visas extended until October 2013!!

AHEAD OF THE CURVE!! I’ve been among the luckiest folks on the planet when it comes to my office spouses. After all, you often spend 8 waking hours a day with them, which is more than you spend with your legal spouse, so I figure that qualifies as a ‘spouse.’ In any case, one of my office spouses – I’ll just call him ‘Joe’ – and I used to beguile the tedium of writing documents full of weasel words by sometimes just finding a new word in the dictionary. After all, we also used that book to make sure that the words we used actually meant what we assumed they meant (a practice all too rare these days). One word that caught our fancy was ‘tergiversate’ – which means “to change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate.” What we especially loved about this word was it described precisely what the client group had polished to a fine art. Imagine my delight to discover that this word was selected as Dictionary.com’s ‘Word of the Year’!! I’ve been retired for almost 2 years; Joe and I haven’t been office spouses for at least 5 years, so we were at least 7 years ahead of the pack on this one!!

HOW SAD IS THAT??!! One of my cousins and her husband came to visit us for a week. They decided to brave a December visit to Berlin for two reasons—she wanted to see the German Christmas markets and he had ‘use or lose’ leave. You don’t really need to check the weather during December in Berlin. Well, you can, but it’s more or less a waste of time, because the weather will be cold and the statistical probability of precipitation (at least part of the day) approaches 1. The only variable is whether the precip will be rain or snow–depending on the temperature—and whether or not there’s the slightest chance of a precipitation-free hour or so. Plus, the days are short, with sunrise about 8:15 and sunset about 4:00 pm. Despite all of this, however, we all had a great time, and the visit yielded a few stories worth telling (which is, after all, what life is all about—gathering and sharing stories), one of which I must relate here. It was late afternoon. The four of us had ventured down to Unter den Linden (most famous for its Brandenburg Gate). After dining sumptuously, our husbands had ventured off to explore such fascinating sites as the Soviet War Memorial (the highlight of which was a pair of Soviet tanks). Such things can amuse our boys for hours. Lest my cousin and I endure the level of boredom that would make us welcome the opportunity to do virtually ANYthing else (to include walking barefoot over hot coals while being pursued by rabid hyenas), the two of us went off in the other direction, intent on visiting the largest chocolate shop on the planet (Fassbender-Rausch) [http://www.fassbender-rausch.com/] In addition to the world’s longest truffle counter (with truffles of any flavor you can imagine – and many you could never imagine), the shop has various sculptures in chocolate, such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and a gargantuan bear. After wandering through the shop, we decided to head to one Christmas market that had piqued our interest – the Jewish Christmas Market, at the Jewish Museum. We really wanted to see how the concept of a Christmas market would be presented by this community. Having already wandered through one market en route to the chocolate shop, and having seen a sign that said that the Jewish Museum was 1.2 kilometers away, AND not having credible clue how to get to the place from where we were, I decided it would be a good idea to spare our feet (and the frustration of getting lost) by taking a taxi. Alas, we got there only to discover to our great disappointment that the Christmas market had been canceled. By now, it’s dark. Plus, I’m so directionally impaired that simply blinking can disorient me, especially when I’m tired. The Museum was located a bit off the beaten path—no readily discernible U-bahn or S-bahn stops; there were few shops, and most of them were closed, or would be soon. After making a feeble attempt to walk a bit, hoping to find a U-bahn stop, I surrendered to fatigue and common sense and hollered ‘Uncle’ (which, for some of you not raised in the South, means ‘I gave up’ on getting out of there under my own steam). Thankfully, in Berlin you can walk down almost any street and never be out of sight of at least one Apoteke (pharmacy). I popped into the first one I saw and said, in my very best German, “We are lost, tired, cold, and wet, and I don’t have my cell phone [aka, ‘Handy’ here] with me. Can you please help us and call us a taxi?” It is usually the case here in Berlin when I say something auf Deutsch, the other person responds in their best English (which, sadly, is often better than my best German), which was the case this time as well. The Apotekerin replied that she would be glad to do that and then asked me, “Where do you live?” (No doubt she thought that I lived in, say, the USA). I was forced to reply honestly and say (much to my chagrin), “Berlin.”

AMERICANS AREN’T THE ONLY CRAZY PEOPLE ON THE PLANET.  I think these two individual events – starting a giggle-fest and going pants-less on the U-bahn – certainly qualify as among the silliest things I’ve encountered in quite a while. It’s a good thing I like silly, because I’m definitely in the right place! http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/arts-post/post/berlin-laughter-project-gets-entire-subway-car-giggling-whats-so-funny/2011/12/16/gIQAyhDbyO_blog.html

FINALLY!!!! I’ve finally found something ‘positive’ to say about winter in Berlin – there aren’t nearly so many diners on the sidewalks in front of restaurants. Do notice that I said ‘nearly’ – because Berliners are hardy folks who, even in the dead of winter, will enjoy an espresso or a beer sitting outside, holding their cups with gloved hands. Many restaurants even provide blankets to throw across your lap!

CAUTION!! In the winter, it is sometimes necessary to wear more than one layer of clothing. On really cold days when I’m going to be out on my bike, I may wear 3 layers of clothes. For example, I may have on long silk underwear, regular pants, and ‘Regenhosen’ (i.e., rain pants). This, of course, is in addition to my regular underwear. When you wear this many layers of clothing and need to go to the bathroom, you need to be very cautious about making sure that you lower all four layers before you sit down. Just sayin’……

BANKING– Aside from the website being in a foreign (for me, anyway) language, online banking in Germany is easy and pretty secure. In addition to needing a logonid and a password to access your account, you also need a transaction number (TAN) to make a payment. When you open your account, you are given a hardcopy TAN list. Every time you make a payment, you are asked for a particular (but random) TAN number. For example, you may be asked for ‘TAN 19’ so you go to your list, look up TAN 19, and then enter the 6-digit number associated with that TAN. [Oddly enough, I made a payment of Christmas Day and was asked to provide ‘TAN 25’ – do you think that was a coincidence or maybe something some programmer did for amusement?] So, you’re asking yourself, “Why would you be paying a bill on Christmas Day?” Well, there’s a perfectly good reason for that. Another way the bank protects you is by putting a limit on how much you can pay per day. It so happens that I got a rather large bill and, because of the daily transaction limit, I have to pay it over a period of 4 days. Aside from being a bit compulsive about paying my bills as soon as I receive them, I figure that when you’re trying to establish residency in a foreign country, it can’t hurt to demonstrate that you pay your bills on time.

YOU CAN DRESS HER UP, BUT….. You know, used to be, I could certainly qualify on the ‘can dress her up’ part, even if I couldn’t quite pull off the ‘take her anywhere’ part. Now it’s getting to where I can’t even manage the ‘dress her up’ part. It’s Christmas Day. We’re going to a nice restaurant for dinner. I thought I’d crank it up a notch, since I’ve not so much as put on a pair of panty hose since about July 2010. After devoting the better part of the afternoon to retrieving these things from their various hiding places, I put on some nice slacks, a nice sweater, shoes with heels, and some of my favorite jewelry. This is a set Harvey got for me for our 25th wedding anniversary when we went to Mexico. Of course, it’s silver (surely you guessed that, between ‘25th anniversary’ and ‘Mexico’). The necklace is a jaguar, which wraps around the neck, with the gorgeous head and the tip of the tail coming together in the front. The set includes a matching bracelet and matching earrings. You know how sometimes you need to put a necklace on backwards so you can manage the clasp? [And thank God for the magnifying make-up mirror so I could see the clasp!] Well, I’m really glad I checked the mirror before I left! Yep! I had forgotten to turn the necklace around frontwards — lookin’ good, with a huge jaguar head at the base of the back of my head! Sheesh!!

BUSY-NESS– We’ve been here for 17 months. In that time, we’ve:

• Had 10 visits from friends and family, involving 17 people

• Taken 4 trips together (one each to the US, UK, the Schwarzwald, and Denmark) – and Harvey took an additional trip to the US with Steve

It’s not yet New Year’s and our calender for 2012 is already partially populated, with anticipated visitors in January and May, the arrival of a 3rd grandchild in April, and a trip to Munich either in late July or early August. And sometime next year, I have to leave Germany – if only for a day – so I can qualify for my visitor’s health insurance again. So, along with our time with the grandkids, I guess that our sense of having been busy is based on reality! And we enjoy every second of it!! Time flies when you’re having fun!!

MYSTERIES

The mystery of the door-knockers: Help me understand why folks insist upon knocking on the door instead of using the doorbell! We used to live in a 4-storey townhouse. It was 40 ft. deep. So the statistical probability of 2 half-deaf people [which, I must remind you, is definitely NOT the same as one person with unimpaired auditory functions] hearing someone knock gently on the front door approaches zero. We had a doorbell. The doorbell had ringers on each floor, specifically so we could hear it when it rang. Nonetheless, folks would still knock – rather than ring – and we would never know they had come. This is particularly annoying when you find a note on the door that UPS had tried to deliver a package to you, when, in fact, you were at home. I think Germans are similarly afflicted with respect to doorbell phobia.

The mystery of the food, or rather, the mystery of the mystery of the food: Cats tend to prefer a boring diet and don’t respond very well when you try to introduce a different food. [Of course, some cats are always trying to taste every food substance that stimulates their visual or olfactory senses; this is not the same thing as having variety in their regularly scheduled meals.] We have only changed the primary food for our cats when they required a special food (such as an old cat with kidney troubles) or when we moved to a foreign country where the previous food is not available. This leads up to the mystery of the mystery of the food. For reasons we’ve not been able to deduce, every time we put food down for Ms. Electra (whether it’s the wet food we offer twice a day or the dry food we offer about 5 times a day), she doesn’t race for it like William does. Rather, she slowly walks up to it. When she gets about a foot away from it, she stares at it for a while, and then slowly ambles up to it. Then she sniffs it ever so cautiously, and finally, she begins to eat it. It’s not as if she should have any reason to be totally mystified by the substance appearing in her bowl. And let me clarify—this is NOT because she has no appetite. In fact, in all likelihood, she has been making a total nuisance of herself for the previous 30 minutes as a way of letting us know that dinner time is approaching. Her favorite strategy for bringing this fact to our attention is to jump on the top of the printer, which then enables her to reach one of the masks we have hanging on the wall, where she gingerly attempts to remove some of the decorations on the mask – in particular, some hair-like material (which, when such efforts are successful, allows her to further irritate us by puking on the rub). So, it’s a mystery to us why the substance we put in her food dish appears to be a mystery to Electra—one that she is apparently unable to solve, despite the unlimited opportunities to do so.

The mystery of the shower curtain: Even with continued research into the matter, William cannot figure out the shower curtain. Unless he’s otherwise engaged, whenever he hears the door to the bathroom open, he comes thundering down the hall in hopes of getting into the bathroom, where he jumps into the bathtub and spends as many nanoseconds as he can getting up-close-and-personal with the shower curtain. In fact, once, when left unattended, his research efforts resulting in his pulling the entire shower curtain holder out of the wall—something that required substantial effort and ingenuity on Harvey’s part to repair. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the fact that it’s transparent (an effort on my part to avoid the claustrophobic feeling of showering in a space that’s about 1/4th the size of our shower in the US). Despite how good their distance vision may be, cats don’t have very good vision when something is right in front of them. It may be that he simply can’t see the shower curtain at all and is trying to resolve the dissonance between what he his visual senses are telling him and what his tactile senses are telling him. Nonetheless, these numerous and intense (although brief) research efforts have done nothing to bring him a bit closer to solving this mystery.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! I want to wish all of you in Bloglandia a fabulous New Year! At first I thought I’d paraphrase Mac Davis’s song, “Happiness is Lubbock Texas in My Rearview Mirror” and say something like—

May 2012 bring you happiness and put all your worst travails in your rearview mirror.

However, it occurred to me that such a message could be ambiguous. For one thing, in the song lyrics, the fool goes BACK to Lubbock, and I certainly wouldn’t wish that you revisit your worst travails. For another, some things in your rearview mirror could actually be following you, and eventually catch up with you, like, for instance, a police car. This is definitely NOT what I had in mind for all of you.

What I mean to say is something like—

May you already have experienced the worst things that life has in store for you (whether that’s cancer or broken sewer pipes), and may your future bring you joy and certainly nothing worse than mere annoyances (such as loose soles on your shoes or nasty weather on your vacation).

And I hope you know that I’m certainly not WISHING that the soles will come off your shoes, but rather that this type of thing is the WORST unpleasantness you have to look forward to, not just in 2012, but for the rest of your life.

NOTE: The editor in my blog asked me if I really meant to say ‘loose souls on your shoes.’ Ummm…don’t THINK so!!

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