Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 29:  July 9, 2012


Sometimes my fondness for the excellent public transportation system here is placed in jeopardy by assholes and whackos.  For example, today we had to wait 30 minutes for a bus that normally comes every 10 minutes.  It was 80 degrees (F), we were tired, and the grandkids were full of energy.  Waiting along with us was a school group of about 15 elementary school kids returning from a field trip, as well as the normal contingent of folks who would – by that time – have been served by 3 different busses.  When the bus finally arrived, it was packed.  We took pity on the teachers and yielded to them and their 15 students.  This apparently was taken as a sign of weakness on our part by the other passengers, who crowded in front of us, so we just decided to take the next bus.  HA!  The joke’s on the assholes!  The next bus came literally in the next 2 minutes, and was virtually empty, so we weren’t packed in a bus like sardines, with 15 hyper-stimulated 8-year-olds and all those assholes who pushed in front of us!

When we changed from the bus to the train, we encountered a whacko.  Parts of the train have the seats along the sides of the train, rather than in rows.  The whacko had taken off his shoes and put them in the middle of the center of the train, so everybody had to walk over them.  If I had not had the kids (and if I were considerably more agile), when I got out, I would have grabbed his shoes and thrown them under the train!!  But, not pushing my luck with a whacko (and not wanting to set a bad example for the kids), I abstained.

Then, coming home on the train, we encountered another asshole!  Some of the seats along the sides of the train fold up (like in the movies) to accommodate bicycles and strollers and such.  There was a guy sitting on one seat and using the folded-up seat next to him for an arm rest.  Harvey practically had to pick up the sucker’s arm to pull down the seat so he could sit in it!  There are also the occasional assholes who sit in the middle of 2 seats, and I’m not talking about morbidly obese people who may need 2 seats – just people who, even during (or especially during) rush hour can’t be bothered to share the available seats as intended.

So, some days I long for my car.  But, thinking back, I’m pretty sure I have strong impressions of assholes and whackos on the streets of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area.  But at least they weren’t in striking distance, so I didn’t have to exercise so much self-control to keep myself from jack-slapping the crap out of them!


I never cease to be amazed at the certain obliviousness that afflicts Berliners.  Don’t know whether it’s the case throughout Germany, but Berliners definitely suffer from it.  Or, rather, they themselves don’t suffer one little bit from it – it’s the rest of us that are driven nuts by it!  It’s as if each German operates as though he or she is the only human on the planet.  Here are some examples:

  • Woman in front of me gets to the top of the escalator, steps off, and immediately stops to open her map and examine it.  Never mind that the escalator is rapidly delivering the rest of us to the exact spot where she’s planted herself and, unless she has some special power to override the law of physics about two objects not being able to occupy the same space at the same time, then this is just a collision waiting to happen.
  • A single person will be walking down the sidewalk headed my way; I’m holding a 4-year-old with one hand and a 6-year-old with the other hand and bicycles are zooming past me on one side.  Do you think this person has any intention of yielding?  Ever?  I just haven’t been able to figure out why folks aren’t bumping into each other all the time.
  • Guy at the grocery store has 5 huge plastic bags full of bottles to return.  A friend comes up and they start talking.  I’m waiting behind the guy and have only 3 bottles.  Apparently the guy with the bottles is unable to talk and put bottles into the machine at the same time, so he puts a bottle in, chats, and the machine times out on him.  So, he has to push the button to get his receipt for the bottles he’s already put in the device and start again with the rest.  I guess I should be glad that he was returning the huge bottles because if those bags had been full of small bottles, I’m not sure I’d be home yet!  I’m not a young woman!  Every 30 minutes of my life spent waiting for folks like this is an increasingly larger percentage of the time I have left on this planet!!


At any given time, you have a 50% chance of getting a tip from me (unless you’re a rapper).  If you want to reduce your chances to 0%, try this.  First, wait until I’ve come out of the grocery store, unlocked my bike, filled my basket with my groceries, and am trying to back my bike out of the bike rack without spilling my groceries and knocking over the dozens of bikes parked on either side of me, which is definitely a 2-handed job that requires my full attention.  Then, stand immediately behind my bike playing your accordion.  See how inclined I am to reach into my purse, pull out my wallet, and fish out a few coins for you.  I’m more likely to ‘accidentally’ roll my bike over your toes, and if at all possible, allow some hard part of my bike to come in violent contact with some soft, sensitive part of your body.

SO, WHAT DO BERLINERS THINK OF US?,,15621262,00.html

ANOTHER REASON TO SLAP SMOKERS (as if there weren’t already enough)

There are lots of smokers in Berlin.  [This is in spite of the strong warning on cigarette packages.  In the US, it’s something innocuous, e.g., “Smoking MAY be dangerous to your health.”  In Germany the warning is in HUGE bold letters and says basically, “Smoking is gonna kill you.”  None of this equivocal  “may” business, and none of this “dangerous to your health” business, either.  This just goes to show you how ineffective such warnings are.]  When we first started coming here in 2002, you couldn’t get away from them because anyone could smoke anytime just about anywhere.  Now things are better – you can’t smoke in the train stations, on the trains, or in many restaurants.  So where do people smoke the most?  Out on the street, of course, especially since most folks use public transportation and walk, rather than have cars (presumably with ashtrays).  In almost every block, there is at least one trash bin.  In fact, where they expect lots of folks to congregate (such as outside the city hall, where you go to pay traffic fines, register your address, etc.) there are three such trash bins within about 25 feet of the building.  The trash bins have special ashtrays, where you can put out your cigarette with no danger of starting a fire in the trash.  OK.  So, assuming smokers are smoking just as much, and that they aren’t smoking in “No Smoking” areas, it only stands to reason that they’ll be smoking more on the street.  And there are ash trays everywhere.  So, what do folks do with their cigarette butts?  Put them in the ash trays?  Of course not!  They just throw them on the sidewalk.  It’s unsightly, of course, but that’s not the worst of it.  Sidewalks in Berlin are made of paving stones, so the cigarette butts tend to roll into the grooves between the paving stones.  The big sidewalk sweeper machines don’t get them out, nor do the shopkeepers/Hausmeisters who may sweep the sidewalks in front of the shops and apartments.  However, there are some folks who are particularly diligent about sweeping the sidewalks in front of their establishments.  Wanna know what works really well to get the cigarette butts out of the grooves in the sidewalk?  You know those metal rakes for raking leaves?  Yeah!  THOSE!  Wanna guess how really great it sounds when someone is dragging the rake across the paving stones?  Especially at the crack of dawn when you’re picking your grandkids up to take them to day care?  And you thought you had run out of reasons to want to slap the crap out of smokers, didn’t you?!!


I find all kinds of interesting stuff when I’m looking up words in my English/German dictionary.  Today I found the German word for what we know as the Information Superhighway—it’s “die Datenautobahn”, of course!  This is despite the fact that one of the words for ‘information’ is ‘Information.’  And while we’re on the topic of my magical, mystical excursion into the land of the German language, I have noticed I am now inclined to combine two words into a single word, such as the other day I typed ‘keychain’ instead of ‘key chain.’  I used to have a pretty good grasp on whether something was two words, one word, or hyphenated.  Admittedly, I had help from the Government Printing Office Style Guide, which provided essential information on how the Federal government thought things should be.  In addition to some 52 rules for determining whether to combine, hyphenate, or separate completely various words, the manual also provided a very long list (something like 22 pages) of specific examples, 2 of which I’ve committed to memory—cow-eyed and squirrel-headed.   I’ve often pondered the circumstances under which someone writing a document for the Federal government might have a need to know whether these words were hyphenated, combined, or separated.  Alas, the online version of the GPO Style Manual doesn’t provide this list and I wonder whether it’s also been omitted from the most recent hard-copy version.  If that’s the case, it’s a terrible, terrible loss.


It’s not like I wasn’t warned not to get a haircut out of town.  Anybody who’s heard The Haircut Song by Ray Stevens knows that, because he straight-out tells you:  When you get a haircut, you better go back home.  Get a barber you have known since you were a little bitty boy sitting in a booster chair.  [The Haircut Song].  Well, that song doesn’t describe the half of it getting a haircut out of town when the ‘out of town’ is in another country and you don’t speak the language that well!

The shop I go to is more or less like the ‘Hair Cuttery’ or some similar shop, where you can get a haircut for 10 Euros (which is in the neighborhood of $15 US).  You can also get your hair colored for another 10 Euros.  The interesting thing is that they don’t style it – after they’ve cut your hair, you blow-dry and style it yourself.  This may be a tad odd, but it’s more like the real world because how many times have you had your hair cut and styled, but whenever you wash it the next time and try to style it, you can NEVER get it to look Anything like what the stylist did?  So at least this approach manages your expectations. Well, the kicker to the cheap price is that you don’t get to choose your stylist – you just take a number and get whoever is available when they call your number.  For the most part, I’ve been lucky because, communicating via hand signals, grunts, and “Ja” and “Nein” has worked pretty well with the stylist I usually get (and he also speaks some English).  However, I don’t always get to choose.  Well, your luck has to run out some time, right?  My last haircut ended up being a bit shorter than I intended.  But, the good news is, it lasted a real long time!  And here, where you see folks with one side of their head shaved, while maybe the other side is composed of multi-colored dreadlocks halfway to their knees, nobody’s going to point at you and say, ‘Wow!  Look at HER!’

And if you don’t know Ray Stevens, you ought to check him out on YouTube; here’s another favorite of mine:  The Mississippi Squirrel Revival  and there’s a whole bunch more.


I saw some graffiti today that posed an interesting question:  How long is now?  It was at the end of a building and was professionally done.  It included a photo and the type font was something like Times New Roman.  So, how long IS ‘now’?  But wait!  Even if you could answer that question, what would you be able to DO with that information?  So maybe it WAS pointless after all….


My ‘ride’ in the US was a Volvo S80.  It was nice— not a Rolls Royce, but as nice as somebody like me is likely to ever have.  Well, here in Berlin, I actually have two rides at my disposal—a Mercedes and another Volvo.  And EACH one comes with a driver, something I certainly never had before!  Both rides share certain advantages:  I never have to remember where I parked, nor do I have to put gas in it or do maintenance on it, buy insurance,  or pay car notes or taxes.  Pretty cool, right?  But there are some differences between the two.  I can have my Mercedes anytime, anywhere I want – just pick up the phone and it will be here in less than 5 minutes.      However, with the Volvo, I have to be at a designated place at a designated time to get a ride.  And, while my Mercedes will take me directly from where I am to where I want to be, the trip in the Volvo can be a little less than direct.  Another difference between the two is that I can have the Mercedes all to myself – or, if anyone rides with me, it’s always someone I know and, in most cases, someone I’m related to.  With the Volvo, on the other hand, I have to share the ride with dozens of total strangers….


Nope!  Not gonna see any naked necks here (or, at least if you do, you can be pretty sure it’s a foreign neck.  For some reason, Berliners (and maybe all Germans, for all I know) seem to have a phobia about leaving their necks uncovered.  OK, I can see that in the winter.  It’s cold and very few Germans can leave their homes and set foot in their offices without ever having been outside.  Just go out your kitchen door, into your garage, into your car and then drive to work, where you park in the building garage and take an elevator to your office.  But this is ALL the time – winter, summer, spring, or fall.  I have every confidence that if you went to a nude beach, you could pick out the Berliners by the ones running around naked as a jaybird, except, of course, for the scarf around their necks.  Some, if you’ve got some weird sexual craving for naked German necks, you’re gonna be pretty disappointed if you spent the time and trouble to come here to find some.

And, by way, the late, great Justin Wilson offered a way to differentiate ‘nude’ from ‘naked’ – ‘nude’ just means you don’t have any clothes on, whereas ‘naked’ means that you don’t have any clothes on AND you’re up to something!  [Works better, of course, if you say ‘nekkid’, though.}


There’s a secret to retirement for couples—it’s all about enjoying one another without annoying one another (or, more realistically, making sure that the ‘enjoying’ part is much more than the ‘annoying’ part).


Anybody remember this song by the Everly Brothers?

 Sometimes this song comes to mind when I’m watching William sleep and it’s pretty obvious that he’s dreaming.  So, what do kitty cats dream about?  Well, Anna Johnson, the other talented granddaughter of Evie Fullingim (creator of William the Wonder Cat) has an idea.

NOTE:  If you want to have nightmares, listen to the way Keith Richards abuses this song.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!  CLICK ON THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK!!


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