Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 24:  February 26, 2012


 It’s 20 F now; it will get down to 10 F tonight.[2]  If will be 9 more days before it gets above freezing.  It’s colder than a well-digger’s ass in Montana.  It’s colder than a witch’s tit.  It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.  It’s so cold that I’m wearing long underwear, and a scarf, and a hat …. INDOORS!  I’m almost afraid to go outside (but, maybe if I did, it would feel warm inside when I came back, at least for a while).  It’s a good thing that some other damned fools discovered the North and South Poles because, I guaran-damn-tee you, that if it were up to me to find them, those places would never have been discovered.


I’m reading the biography of Catherine the Great of Russia.  As you may imagine, the city of Moscow comes up from time to time.  The description of her return to Moscow after she has de-throned Peter the Dolt makes a reference to the distinctive skyline of the city, with its unique architecture involving those onion-shaped domes, more often than not gilded with gold (which may be redundant, as I think the word ‘gilded’ means ‘to cover with gold’ – whereas covering something with a thin layer of silver apparently requires a different verb).  This is one of the cases where what I thought I saw was far more amusing than what I actually saw.  The text read ‘gilded onion domes’ and I read ‘grilled onion domes.’  Being half-blind has its advantages!  But now I have a hankerin’ for some grilled onions!


One cat is traipsing across the top of the book case, ever so gently removing artificial flowers from a vase and dropping them on the floor.  Another cat is standing on top of the printer, stretching up the wall to paw at a mask hanging over the printer.  What time is it?  Well, it definitely ain’t Howdy Doody Time!  It’s[3] 5 minutes before feeding time and we’re being reminded that these piteous beasts are only seconds away from total starvation (or so it must seem to them).


As I lovingly place each little apple seed, used tea bag, or rejected lettuce leaf into my little compost bucket, I take comfort in knowing that each morsel has yet to fulfill its potential.  For I know that it won’t be going to the landfill, where its essence will be encapsulated in other now useless materials, and even its water may remain trapped for all eternity.  Instead, its destiny is to go to a place where first it can decompose, releasing methane gas that can be used for fuel and returning its water to the atmosphere.  That accomplished, it will be allowed to enrich the soil in which other plants can grow, starting this cycle all over again.  I am totally outraged when I get to the Hof where all the different recycling bins are standing by to help us get more mileage out of stuff we don’t need any more, only to find that some moron has dared to do something egregious (such as putting a whole sack of spoiled apples into the trash for stuff that goes to the landfill instead of into the compost bin).  When I can reach something like that, I’ll make the necessary correction and put it in the right bin.  When I can’t reach it, I feel a bit unsettled for the better part of the day.  But today I encountered a situation that will most certainly traumatize me for the rest of the week!  The compost bin was overflowing!  There was absolutely NO place for my offerings!!  If the paper bin is full, I can easily take my paper back inside and wait until it’s empty again; if the glass bin is full, I can take my glass a block or two to the public glass recycling bins.  But there’s only one thing other option I have with stuff destined for the compost bin – and that’s to put it in the trash bin, where it will be doomed to go to the landfill!  Oh, the horror!!!


Monday, between 10 and 11 am, I’m going to have my fondest wish fulfilled!!  We’re having a dryer delivered!  No more wrinkled clothes because I refuse to iron them!  No more waiting 3 days for my thickest sweater to dry!  I can freshen up my pillows by spinning them in the dryer for 10 minutes!  It’s my Anniversary-Christmas-Anniversary[4]-Birthday-Valentine’s Day-Easter-Mother’s Day present!!!  Alas, both dryers and washers available here take an inordinately long time to process a load of laundry.  For example, the combo washer-dryer machine takes 4 hours to wash and dry a load of laundry (and even so, it won’t get clothes totally dry).  You need to get a stand-alone dryer to achieve that objective.  Really don’t understand why that is.  In addition to the high cost of electricity, there’s another reason why most folks don’t have a dryer.  In the US, dryers typically have to be vented.  In the land of 200-year-old buildings and 2-foot-thick walls, accommodating a dryer vent is a non-trivial pursuit.  Add that to the fact that the vast majority of folks rent – rather than own – their homes and you get a situation that doesn’t readily lend itself to such changes.  However, they have a condensation dryer.  No, I don’t know how it works.  All I know is that, as the clothes are dried, the moisture accumulates in a plastic container.  When the cycle is finished, you remove the container and pour out the water.  We’ll still probably use our drying rack to save energy – it’s just that we’ll let the clothes dry a bit first and let the dryer finish them off.  It will also be handy when we have laundry emergencies or guests.  Oh, Happy Day!!!  We may even start celebrating ‘Dryer Day’ along with our other holidays!


We took the grandkids to Legoland today and, as always, we took them to lunch, where our 6-year-old grandson apparently got bored and resorted to the time-honored response to boredom – sticking his finger up his nose.  I gave him a Kleenex and told him to use that if his nose itched.  He, of course, dutifully did as he was told, tossed the Kleenex, and then promptly resumed his nose-picking.  And, as was my duty, I gave him a stern look, to which he responded by giving me his totally angelic smile and – the kicker – he winked at me!  And it was one of those slow, I’m-just-learning-how-to-wink-so-I’m-gonna-concentrate-really-hard kind of winks.  Wanna guess how long the stern look lasted?


Yep!  That’s me!  For example, this morning I put on a load of laundry and used up the last of both the detergent and the fabric softener—at the same time!  And no one was watching, so there’s no point in calling  Guinness!  How often does that happen!  Harvey had an uncle who habitually made things come out even—such as shrimp and tartar sauce—but he cheated, adding however much he needed of the one to make it come out with the other.  Personally, I think it was just his way of getting to eat more shrimp, though.


Berlin really is “Music City.”  For example, when I was enrolled in a German language class of about 20 folks, there were only 2 of us who weren’t musicians – the other person was an artist.  There were classical artists – opera singers and concert pianists – as well as your standard rock musicians and even a techno-music guy.  The classical artists were here studying their art; the other musicians were here trying to earn a living.  For the former group, just being a student at a reputable music school was sufficient grounds for extending a visa beyond 90 days.  For those who were just playing music on street corners between trying to nail gigs, the German government required something more to justify letting them stay beyond 90 days.  Being enrolled in a school – any school – was sufficient.  And what better school than a German language school?  Kill two birds with one stone – learn the language and get your visa extended.  And, with few – but nonetheless extraordinary – exceptions, playing music for a living won’t make you rich.  What that means for us non-musicians is that you get to hear a lot of live music for free (or, almost free).  Sometimes roving musicians stroll down the street, playing in front of restaurants.  Sometimes they play in U-bahn stations; and sometimes they play on the U-bahn cars.  This evening, for example, we were treated to a fantastic saxophone/guitar duo playing some lovely jazz.  The good news is that it was cheap (we gave the guys a Euro); the bad news is that the performance was short, because the musicians typically play on one car, collect coins, get off, and hop onto the next car.  [Thinking back, we could have followed them to the next car, I suppose.  I’ll have to remember that next time!]  And for the musicians, it’s a pretty easy way to earn some money.  I mean, after all, it’s not like you need a really huge repertoire!!


I admit to being lazy and desultory when it comes to focusing on learning German.  Having spent most of my waking hours responding to demands on my time made by other people for the previous 65 years – parents, teachers, employers – I’ve been in no mood to submit myself to the discipline required to become proficient in a language.  Besides, I suffered from the delusion that learning German would be easy.  After all, I made A’s in the 5 semesters of German I had taken in college (albeit 48 years ago), did fairly well in a traditional (but brief) class had taken a couple of years ago here, and managed to muddle through on our relatively brief visits here before we moved.  Further, there are so many commonalities between the two languages, how hard could it possibly be?  Well, I’ve been rudely disabused of my former delusions that this would be an easy undertaking.  Easy?  Definitely not!  Undertaking?  Probably, as it may well be the death of me.  For instance, ‘gift’ sounds like a German word, doesn’t it?  Well, it is.  The only problem is that it means ‘poison’, so when you tell someone you have a gift for them, you can be puzzled by the look of horror on their face.[5]  Living in Berlin—where every piteous attempt to speak German gets, at best, a response in English and, at worst, a look of total confusion—doesn’t help.  Even when I make desultory attempts to better tune my ear to the language, I’m met with resistance.  For instance, I listen to the radio while I’m doing other things.  Well, today, I turned it on and the first station I got just happened to be playing Spanish songs – not that they weren’t nice, but I doubt that this is going to help me one little bit.  So, I changed the station.  Wanna guess what language most of the songs on other stations are?  Yep!  English!  [Currently listing to ‘Am I Man or a Muppet’ – REALLY!  ]  So finding a station where you can listen to German continuously is also a challenge.  Or, I suppose another way to look at this is that these people are just ‘enablers’ – supporting my addiction to English and thwarting my every effort to achieve fluency!

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

[2] Written in early February; as of now (late February), we have begun to have tolerable weather!

[3] Damn you, Word Spell/Grammar Check!  You’re telling me that I should use the possessive form of ‘it’ here rather than the contraction of ‘it is’!  YOU’RE WRONG, LABZOID!!!

[4] Two instances of ‘Anniversary’ is not a typo – we got married first by a Justice of the Peace and then later in a church.  And, YES!  We DO celebrate BOTH!  Another story for another day….

[5] And, yes, I know that the pronouns ‘them’ and ‘their’ do NOT agree with the antecedent ‘someone’ – and have often mercilessly stressed this point to those who were routinely subjected to the stern ministrations of my red pen.  But, as I said earlier, I’m lazy now…..