Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 27:  May 27, 2012


Our clothes washer is a front-loader, with a glass door.  Apparently, it has a dual function, which is to serve as a receiver for CATV-Berlin.  William never tires of the shows offered on CATV.  Alas, the washer is in the bathroom, a place that offers him unlimited opportunities for mischief, so I can’t let him watch CATV unsupervised.  [Needless to say, I’ve not yet developed a full appreciation of the entertainment offered on CATV, and I grow bored after watching about 5 seconds.]  For example, he rather enjoys turning the toilet paper into confetti (far more than I enjoy cleaning this up).  And then there’s the shower curtain, which taunts him mercilessly.  One time, it went so far that he had no choice but to pull it down (to include pulling the curtain hanger fixture completely out of the wall).  Details to follow….

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


Those of us who have pets are familiar with that sense of dread provoked by an unanticipated noise, particularly if it is loud.  Although I’ve never had an indoor dog, I still think it’s a pretty safe assumption that, in general, cats are more agile than dogs and undoubtedly far fewer things are accessible to dogs.  For instance, I’m pretty sure that the top of the china closet is not something you have to worry about protecting from your dog (assuming your dog isn’t the size of a bear and might knock the whole thing over).   You never know how much time, trouble, and money it’s gonna cost you to fix what you just heard break.  William, the Wonder Cat, has often given us ways to spend our hard-earned retirement leisure and income.  For example, repairing the wall after he pulled the shower curtain down.

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


Regardless of how much you may groan when you hear a pun, you have to admit that they’re clever.  And when you can make a bi-lingual pun, that’s a step beyond.  Well, there’s a driving school we walked by yesterday and its name is “Eins, Zwei, Drive”!  Gotta love it!

One of my favorite jokes involves a bilingual play that approaches that of a pun.  A Spanish-speaking guy goes into a store in the US to buy some socks.  He speaks no English and the clerk speaks no Spanish.  As they struggle to understand each other, the Spanish-speaking guy spies some socks, and he says, “Eso si que es!”  To which the English-speaking guy says, ‘Well!  We could have found them a lot sooner if you had just spelled it at first!”


I had tended to assume that a physical condition that required using a cane would be inconsistent with the ability to ride a bike.  WRONG!!  Today as I was going to the grocery store, I saw a lady on a bike, with a cane in her basket.  She got off the bike at the grocery store, and retrieved her cane.  Upon second though, perhaps if you needed a cane to walk, you’d be even more interested in riding a bike, where, instead of plodding along encumbered, you could take advantage of the greater ‘bang for the buck’ that your bike gets you, in terms of distance traveled for effort expended.  Duh!


We have been in Berlin for almost 2 years now (and visited it – often twice a year, for a month each time).  I have been going to the stores in our neighborhood for that long, several times a week.  And, yet, today I did it again!  I nearly knocked my brains out when I went up to the door and acted as though there was a motion detector that would automatically open the door for me.  They have them some places here, but I rarely encounter them.  Nonetheless, I periodically act as though, THIS time, the door is gonna open for me.  It will be interesting to see which dies first – this old habit or this old girl!


Try as I might, whenever I try speaking German, if the person to whom I’m speaking knows English, he will invariably reply in English.   Although such folks can translate their German into English in the literal sense, they may not know the precise English/American word or idiom for what they want to say.  [For example, one German idiom translates literally into “He has a flea running across his liver.”  That phrase has no meaning for a native English speaker, of course.  If you want to translate that idiom into something that an English speaker from Texas such as myself would understand, you’d have to say “He has a bee up his butt.”]  Yesterday, we were at a park with the grandkids and I went to the concession stand to get us a snack.  I used what (for me anyway) was my best German.  The guy at the concession stand responded in English and, in doing so, asked me what the idiom for ‘keeping food warm’ was.  The literal German was something like ‘keeping the heat in.’  In any case, I had to struggle to come up with the right answer, leading me to lament that, after 2 years here, I’d not yet learned German but was rapidly forgetting my English, which put me in a terrible bind.  Another customer joined in the conversation and asked me where I was from, to which I replied, “Washington, DC.”   His reply was, “But you speak English much better than people from Texas.”  This is richly ironic on so many levels, the first one being that a German is judging who speaks better English.  Then, of course, he unwittingly says I speak better English than someone from Texas does (although I spent my formative years there).   Having been away from Texas for more than half my life, I contend that I have no drawl at all (and, indeed, folks in Texas and Louisiana think I talk like a Yankee).  However, Yankees contend that I most certainly do have a drawl, which I can’t hear (unless I listen to a recording of my voice – such as the greeting on my voice mail – which even I have to admit has residual hint of a Southern drawl).


Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you surely know about texting, and about how the technology tries to “help” you out by anticipating what you’re trying to type.  In fact, there are entire blogs – and even at least one book – about the odd communications resulting from this “help.”   Presumably these helpful hints are based, in part, on what you have typed in the past.  For example, when I get as far as the 3rd letter of my friend’s name, it supplies the rest of it.  And I’m also assuming that the hints are based on the most likely words folks might be expected to type.  Maybe if you type “sch’’ the most likely word would be “school.”  I don’t know how these latter decisions are made, though, but I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s got something to do with geography.  For example, Berlin has a substantial Turkish population; some assert that there’s only one city with a higher Turkish population, and that’s Istanbul.  Which brings me to my point – today I was typing “ist” (one of the most common words in German) and my phone very helpfully filled in the rest of the letters for “Istanbul.”  If the algorithm for offering to complete words you’re texting actually does include some algorithm for geographical location, then it would have to be amazingly sophisticated if, for Germany (and not just a country, but even more localized for the city), it somehow accounted for the composition of the population beyond just German.


Just thinking like George Carlin for a moment….  Isn’t ‘virgin’ a binary concept?  I mean, either something is virgin or it’s not.  Surely there aren’t degrees of virginity.  So how can you have ‘extra virgin’ olive oil?  Is there such a thing as ‘semi-virgin’ olive oil?  Inquiring minds want to know!


The first good news is that the weather is gorgeous.  The bad news is that bicycle thieves are active again, because the weather is nice enough for folks to start using their bikes again AND, of course, thieves really don’t like to work in nasty weather.

The second good news is that we’re getting a rebate on our rent.  There are two parts of our rent: (1) rent for the flat itself; and (2) something similar to a condo fee, which also has two parts:  (a) heat (which can be billed to each tenant discretely because they get a reading every year for each flat; and (b) other stuff—such as water, general upkeep, trash removal, etc.—which can’t be billed discretely so the cost is spread among all the tenants, based on the number of rooms in your flat.  If those costs go up, two things happen:  (1) You have to write a one-time check for the difference; and (2) Your rent is increased by 1/12th of that amount for the coming year.  Apparently we aren’t as wasteful as our landlord had anticipated, and we’re getting a refund.  [It’s even better news for the landlord, though, because he’s earned 12 months of interest on what we’ve overpaid for heat.]  The bad news is that our electric bill will go up by 30%, roughly the same amount as our refund for our heat.  But at least we’re breaking even!


Whenever we go to our son’s flat, we pass a car repair shop – kinda like a Jiffy Lube.  Among the things they fix you’ll find “Auspuff” — wanna guess what it means in German?  Yep!  You probably guessed ‘exhaust’, didn’t you?  Except you must be very careful, because, without ‘aus’ it can mean a number of things, to include whore house.  Then, of course, there’s ‘ausflippen’ – which, oddly enough, means ‘to flip out.’  It’s one of those schizophrenic verbs.  You likely know that Germans like to string a bunch of words together to make a single word.  Well, ‘ausflippen’ is, obviously, ‘flip out’ — except that when you conjugate it, sometimes the ‘aus’ pops off and can appear any number of different places in the sentence, and other times it’s glued to the ‘flippen.’  For example,  “She flipped out” could be “Sie flippt aus” OR it could be “Sie war ausgeflippt.”


And it’s those times when I’m really glad that English can inflict some major pain on folks learning it as a second language – a kind of revenge against German and its genders and cases (among other tortures like those “exploding verbs” such as “mitnehmen’, which means “to take with” and, although the infinitive is “mitnehmen”, but when you conjugate it, the “mit” runs away from the “nehmen” and sits itself down elsewhere, like at the end of the sentence.  If you want to say “I take it with me”, you have to say “Ich nehme es mit” – and that’s just nuts!!).  One great example of such revenge is found in these homophones–sew, so, sow.  And there’s the added deviousness of the word “sow” – which pronounced one way means “to plant” but pronounced another way means “female pig.”


One of the ways to help yourself learn a language is to listen to the radio or watch TV.  We haven’t yet mastered the TV, but I do occasionally listen to the radio.  Alas, more often than not, any popular music played will be American, which doesn’t do much to build German language skills.  Today I discovered why Germans might prefer American music – I heard something that I can only describe as ‘Ooompah Rock with a Salsa flair.’  Having spent a lot of time in Texas, I enjoy salsa music.  But somehow, the German combination of Oompah and Salsa doesn’t do much for me (kinda like the Germans’ idea of putting peanuts in what they call “Mexican” food).


This weekend gave us some gloriously sunny, warm days. Given the long, dark winters, whenever Germany is blessed with such days, you can bet that there will be nary a blade of grass to be seen in the parks, because there will be bodies covering every available inch.  It’s as though Germans consider themselves individual solar cells, and they’re absorbing as much sunlight as they can, both to make up for the sunlight deficit accrued during the previous winter and to try to store up some for the coming winter.  We felt inspired to go out and enjoy the day, too.  We don’t live very far from Tempelhof Airport, so we biked there.  It’s been closed for several years, but the area that was formerly taken up by runways has been turned into a park.  Folks were out biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, jogging, or just moseyin’ on along the vast expanse of the runways.  And, if this area was great for airplanes, you can imagine how perfect it is for kites!  The sky was full of them!  The terminal itself isn’t in use at all.  It’s HUGE!!  It’s 5 storeys tall and about twice the length of the main terminal at Dulles Airport.  They could put a small city in this thing!  If I ran the world, I’d reserve the underground level for parking, the ground level for shops, and the top level for apartments.  Then, in the other levels, I’d put schools and offices – maybe mixed in with some more apartments.  You’d even have room for a small hospital!  Of course, you’d need to put a huge indoor swimming pool there, too.  How fabulous would it be living there?!!


I think the preponderance of fanciful names here is another manifestation of the innate whimsey of the place.  A couple more—an ice cream shop called “Eiskimo” (where “Eis” is German for “ice cream”) and a place that buys and sells used cars is called OZ Cars (and I’ll bet you euros to donuts that the owner’s name is Oscar).


Because when your 6 and 4 year-old-grandkids want to go see a movie that’s not age-appropriate, you can say, “When you get a bit older, we can watch it on video.”  That’s a far more satisfying answer than “You’re too young to see that movie.”

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