Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 26:  April 15, 2012


 For 15 years, I worked for a company where we had to work on some of the Federal holidays (which is in itself ironic, as our client was the Federal government, so we had to work on days when the Government shut down, making life a tad complicated for my colleagues who worked on the Government site).  So we move to a country where, not only do they celebrate every holiday known to man, but it’s also mandatory to take these holidays.  For example, Good Friday is even a holiday, as is the Monday following Easter.  Sounds great, right?  Well, for one thing, retired folks don’t really treasure holidays as much as working folks do – EVERY day is a holiday for us.  Ordinarily this wouldn’t make any difference, except that in Germany, with the exception of restaurants, all businesses [to include all the stores – department stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, and every other kind of store you can think of] close down for holidays.  Add this to the fact that they’re also closed on Sundays, and we’re looking at a week-end where we have to pay very close attention to these holidays, since stores will be closed Friday, Sunday, and Monday.  Since we have minimal storage for food, we have to really plan ahead and make sure that we get whatever we’re going to need on for the week-end on Thursday and Saturday.  All the same, I suppose I’d still rather ‘endure’ this than work full-time!


This from the news – a guy set fire to 80 cars in Berlin last year.  He’s been convicted y of one count of aggravated arson, another 79 of arson and 6 of attempted arson. In keeping with German privacy rules, it didn’t identify him. WOW!  If you’re just suspected of committing a crime in the US, the papers will print your name, but even after a conviction, your name isn’t released here!


You know times are tough when somebody steals your plastic grocery bag!!  Like most bikers here, I keep a grocery bag over my bike seat to protect it from the rain.  It wasn’t raining, so I was too lazy to put it on my bike when I popped into the Apoteke for a few moments and I just left it in my bike basket.  When I came out, it was gone!  It’s not unusual for folks to actually PUT trash in your bike basket; that happens all the time (even though there are lots of trash bins everywhere for such occasional trash).  But this is the first time I’ve ever had someone take trash OUT of my basket!  Oh, well!  They must have needed it worse than I did!


You generally know when a Turkish wedding party leaves the church, because there’s a stream of honking cars following the bridal couple’s car.  This time I saw something interesting.  You know in the US when there’s a funeral procession headed from the ceremony to cemetery, the funeral home typically has some flags they put on the cars so – hopefully – other motorists will show a little respect and let the procession stay together.  Well, the cars in the wedding procession also had flags – but they had a photo of the bridal couple!  It’s too late for most of the folks I know to use this idea, but you can certainly pass it on.


William, the Wonder Cat, has most recently weighed in at 16.2 pounds.  Just to give you a sense of what that means, I have a friend whose grandson (aka, Jelly Bean) was so excited to meet his Mom, Dad, and grandparents that he came a couple of months early, weighing in at a bit over 3 pounds.  He’s now over 4 pounds.  We’re expecting our newest grandson any day now and he’ll likely weigh about 6 pounds.  So, the combined weights of these two little boys amounts to less than ¾ of what William weighs!  He also weighs more than twice what the sainted Tsali weighed!

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


 Sweet Jesus!  It’s been 17 months since I had a decent Mexican meal!!  Periodically we try what claims to be a Mexican restaurant, but are invariably disappointed.  Somehow, the dish loses its credibility as authentic Mexican when it has peanuts and rahmkase and when it doesn’t have cilantro or cumin, and is decidedly NOT ‘scharf’ [German for ‘hot with pepper’].  I can understand how a restaurant may tone town the fire-factor; Germans just don’t have a palate for hot peppers and that’s something you could add at the table to suit yourself (provided, of course, that such condiments were made available – which they typically aren’t).  However, the presence of peanuts and rahmkase and the absence of the right seasonings is unforgivable!  I thought we had found a promising place, since it offered both Mexican and Indian cuisine.  I assumed that these types of foods are both ‘scharf’ and maybe some enterprising German had decided to appeal to folks who love that stuff from two different perspectives.  Ah, well, we suffered disappointment yet again.  There were no peanuts and there was no rahmkase – so a step in the right direction – and extra pepper was available, but still no cilantro!  However, all was not lost – the waitress recommended another restaurant that she said her Mexican friends liked, so, with that endorsement, we decided to try it out.  SUCCESS!!  All the right spices!  Three types of salsa (one of which was habanero!) were brought to the table without even asking!  I basked in the warm after-glow of the habanero burn!  We will be back!!  We were on the verge of trying one last measure for finding a good Mexican place.  We were going to try going to the Mexican embassy around lunch time and following folks when they left for lunch.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to go that far.  Now all we need to do is find a good Cajun place and we’re all set.  Alas, I don’t think I have the option of finding the Cajun Embassy and stalking its employees at lunch, so we’ll have to rely on a combination of Internet searches and incessant questioning.  Wish us luck!


We were on the U-bahn when a young woman got on and asked us, “What type of a ticket do you have?”  She wasn’t a BVG police officer checking to see whether we had a ticket or not, but rather was asking us what kind of ticket we had.  That’s certainly an interesting approach to starting a conversation, isn’t it?  So we told her we had an annual ticket.  Then she asked, “Will you take me with you?”  Well, so far as we knew, just about anybody can get on the U-bahn and come along for the ride, without our permission to do so.  Just to be polite, we said, “Sure.”  We were initially puzzled by this whole thing.  Then it dawned on us!  If you have a monthly or annual ticket, on Sundays one other person can travel with you for free!  So, she didn’t have a ticket and was hedging her bets—if the BVG folks checked tickets, she could just say she was with us.  Brilliant!!  [The U-bahn operates on a semi “honor” system; you don’t need to have a ticket to access the train; just hop right on.  BUT the G police periodically go through trains to check to see if folks have tickets, and if they don’t, they make them get off and they have to pay a fine of something like 30 Euros (about $45 US).]


You know how when you’re watching a news story on US TV and it’s about something happening elsewhere in the world and the announcer is explaining things in English, but you can hear the folks in the background speaking their native language?  No real problem, right?— because you can’t understand what the foreign folks are saying anyway.  Well, it’s different when the folks in the background are speaking your own native language and the announcer is speaking a language you barely understand.  You just wanna be able to tune OUT the announcer and tune UP the background speakers.  Shouldn’t there be a software application for that somewhere?  Oh, yeah!  This is Germany; they speak German here.  And there IS a software application for that – it’s between my ears and it’s called, “Learn the language, Dummy!”  Unfortunately, it’s not yet been fully installed.


And while I acknowledge, and take full responsibility for, the piteous state of my German language skills, I still don’t find it acceptable for total strangers to reprimand me.  Right after I left my German lesson, I stopped for a bite of lunch before I did my grocery shopping.  (Never want to go shopping on an empty stomach!)  As I did my very best to pronounce the name of the sandwich I wanted, a man standing next to me said, “You need to take more German lessons.”  Duely chastened, I muttered something like, “I know.”  After the moment had passed, I started to develop a slow burn, and thought of a better response, something like, “No shit, Sherlock!” or “Why do you seem to think you should be answering a question I haven’t asked, such as ‘How is my German?’”  Or, “How am I supposed to learn German when every time I try to speak it, folks respond to me in English?”  But I think the best response would have been this:  “And YOU need to take more lessons on good manners.”  So THERE!!!  He, of course, is long gone, but I’ll be prepared NEXT time!

And this is not necessarily a rare occurrence.  Germans—at least those in Berlin—are not likely to greet strangers when they pass you on the street.  This is unlike Texas, where we grew up.  I’ve seen my father-in-law strike up a lengthy conversation on the street and later we’d ask him who the person was.  His answer—“How the Hell should I know?  I’ve never seen him before in my life!”  Berliners don’t do that.  However, they feel perfectly comfortable rebuking a total stranger, as this guy did.  And you can’t rightly say you’ve been to Berlin if you haven’t been chewed out by a shopkeeper.  The first time for me was when we had our grandson with us and passed a tourist shop.  It had a little car that caught my grandson’s eye.  He picked it up to look at it, and the shopkeeper swooped down on him like a chicken on a June bug, snatching it out of his grubby little 3-year-old hands and reprimanding both him (for his outrageous behavior) and us (for our oh-so-obvious lack of parenting skills).  You’d think that, at least in the tourist parts of the city, they’d consider catering to tourists so they can separate them from their money.  But apparently not.


Speaking of language, there’s another ‘false friend’ (as my German teacher calls the pseudo-cognates between German and English).  It’s a verb, and it means ‘confused’ (as in when you’re directionally impaired and you’re trying to follow directions give to you by someone who says stuff like “Head north for 45 meters and then turn west; go 36 meters and turn south” when the only way you really understand directions is when they’re something like “When you leave the flat, turn right.  Then go to the end of the street (where you’ll see an entrance to the park).  Cross the street there and turn left.  Then go to the end of that block.  You’ll be at the corner of Yorckstr. and Mockernstr.  You’ll see a furniture store named ‘Moove’ on your right.  Turn right there.  Keep walking until you go under an overpass and look for the Yorckstr. U-Bahn station on the right.”  ANYWAY, back to this word.  One of three German words for ‘confused’ is ‘irritieren.’  So you can imagine the potential for conflict in a relationship when the German speaker is saying he’s confused but his English-speaking companion thinks he’s irritated.   (Or, conversely, when the native German speaker is trying to have a conversation in English and thinks he’s saying he’s confused but is actually saying he’s irritated.


I saw a guy wearing knickers the other day!  And he looked smashing!  Of course, he was an older gentleman (well, OK, about my age!) and was tall and slender.  (Don’t think knickers would look all that great on a vertically challenged, portly gentleman.)  His whole outfit was in various, but coordinated, shades of grey, to include his long socks, and he was wearing a driving cap.  Wish I’d had my camera!  It was waay cool


Remember in Bezirk #25 when I mentioned the candies named after cat parts, particularly tongues and paws?  Well, I’ve come across another – cat ears! Yep!  And I asked whether there were any candies based on the body parts of dogs, and was told that there were no such things.  Why cats and not dogs?  Why body parts in the first place?  [Although I guess English-speakers do have bear claws and elephant ears…..]


 In addition to getting authentic Mexican food from the Easter Bunny, he gave me treats of visual delights – more German whimsy!  Two of the buildings near the Santa Maria restaurant had wonderful architectural details.  Have a look at these and just begin to imagine the fits of apoplexy such decorations would stimulate in your average city planning committee or homeowners’ association meetings!  I’m especially thinking of the Vienna, VA, committee that passes judgment on commercial signs to determine their worthiness!

 One was adorned with masks:

Another was adorned with various sea creatures.


And, directly across from the restaurant, there was a store selling artwork made of ‘found’ objects, a further manifestation of the Germans’ reluctance to waste ANYthing!

All this stuff just makes me LAUGH!!


I was riding my bike in the cold rain, freezing my butt off! [Well, actually, freezing weather doesn’t appear to be a very effective way of reducing the size of one’s butt – if so, I’d ride my bike in the cold a lot more and I’d have a smaller butt, but I digress….]  I saw a fish.  It was either plastic or one of those dehydrated-to-oblivion kinds of fish that Germans have such a fondness for.  It was taped to a tree.  Of course, duct tape was indeed the tape of choice for this purpose.  Really!  Not making this up.  WTF???

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