Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 43:  JUNE 5, 2013

BONKERS IN BRITAIN

We recently took a short trip to England/Great Britain/United Kingdom.  [You may think these terms are synonymous, but, if you have the time and patience, you can check this out and see that these terms actually have discrete meanings.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=]   In any case, it seems like these blokes have a penchant for coming up with the oddest names for places:

  • Hightown Crow
  • Three-Legged Cross
  • Bagshot

Then, of course, there’s the ambiguity that seems rampant in the place.  For example, there is a road named “The Avenue.”  Really?  Is this named after some guy whose last name was “The”—or is there only ONE avenue in the town, so there’s no need to bother with figuring out a name for it?  [It reminds me of a road in Reston, Virginia, though—Temporary Road.  Was this road initially intended to just be temporary, but folks used it so much that they decided to pave it and, to avoid confusion, just kept on using the term “Temporary Road” because that’s what folks were used to calling it?]  And the directions on the GPS system were particularly unfathomable:

  • Bear left right
  • Turn left left

It’s bad enough that everybody is driving on the wrong side of the road and that you have to negotiate those damnable “roundabouts”—at speed—while listening to someone tell to “Bear left right.” This confusion is compounded when you see cars where it appears that the dog is driving, until you remember that the driver’s seat is not on the left here.

A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY

The German market (or Markt) is ever-popular.  There are the weekly markets, where you can buy all sorts of produce, art work, hand crafts, prepared food, specialty foods, and anything you can imagine.  And, of course, there are the Christmas markets.  But here’s a unique twist of things – there’ was an expat market, where English-speaking expats here shared their wares.  So, nothing like crossing the Atlantic to attend a good ol’ American craft fair!  [Although, of course, “English-speaking” does include Brits, Canadians, and Australians as well as Americans, so it still wouldn’t be anything like you’d see in the US.]

Raise your hand if you’ve ever rolled your eyes at an expat.  With more Wahlberliner arriving daily, this city’s relationship with its expat community can turn sour in less time than it takes someone to say “Ugh-I-really-need-to-learn-German.” But language barriers, rising rents, and odd senses of entitlement aren’t the full story. From James Joyce and Gertrude Stein in 1920s Paris to Berlin’s prototype expat geniuses Christopher Isherwood and David Bowie, many a city can thank expats for helping elevate its creative scene. Maybe, then, it’s time to make peace with that English-speaking bartender—and see what creative endeavours they’re pursuing on the side.

In response to recent cuts in state support (the kiss of death for many independent venues), Kreuzberg’s English Theatre Berlin has wasted no time revamping its programme to prove that Berlin’s English-speaking artist community still has it going on. Starting tomorrow, the two-week-long Expat Expo series will be showcasing daily, multidisciplinary performances by Berlin-based expats, including short films, singer-songwriter roundups, and five-minute theatre acts, as well as a variety of workshops and an Expat Markt next weekend featuring a wealth of goods and services by your hardworking expat neighbours. 

 Sugarhigh newsletter@info.sugarhigh.de

 MAYBE THEY’RE RELATED?

Two headlines in the online newsletter, Expatica, today:

  • Germany revises population down by 1.5 million
  • German retail sales disappoint in April

Well, maybe sales are gonna disappoint if you misplace 1.5 million folks….

LINGUISTIC LIMBO

For those folks caught between English and German (aka, Deutsch), there is a “language” known as “Denglish”—a mix of the two languages, which, of course, ends up being neither.  [Pretty much like “Spanglish” in the Southwestern US, where you’ll hear a mixture of English and Spanish in a single sentence, or English words put in a Spanish form.  A typical example of Spanglish is “el trucko” – there’s a perfectly good Spanish word for “truck” and it certainly is NOT “trucko.”]  However, I continually find myself in situations where I know neither the English nor the German word for something.  In such cases, my conversation comes to an abrupt halt and I then try to describe the thing I’m trying to recall.  [Of course, that’s probably a function of old age, too, where you’re constantly searching for a word.  But now I have TWO cupboards for words and it’s a damned shame when BOTH of them are empty!]  Well, the other day, I had yet another type of linguistic fiasco!  I didn’t know the German word, of course.  And I wasn’t actually at a loss for the English word, but the word that came out of my mouth was neither English nor German.  I was trying to think of the word (as it now turns out) “toothpick.”  What came out of my mouth was “toothstick.”  Sometimes I’ll try to use German “logic” to derive a German word – which in this case might have been “thing-that-you-clean-between-your-teeth-with” (which might make me come up with something like “Dingwomitmanzwischenzahnersaubermachen” which, fortunately, is NOT a German word).  Or sometimes I’ll rely on the Latin root for a word (which might be “konservativ” for “conservative”).  But often that doesn’t work, for example, “irritieren” doesn’t mean “irritate” but rather means “confuse.”  Or thinking that, since an English work might sound German, it’s the same in both languages.  Sometimes that works, but that’s a total crap shoot because, while “skunk” is “Skunk”, the German word “Gift” means “poison” (so you never want to tell a German that you have a “Gift” for him).

But this “toothstick” thing was NONE of those attempts to come up with a German word.  I actually THOUGHT I was speaking ENGLISH!!  I tried to argue to myself that I was doing some convoluted translation, but found that the German word for “toothpick” is a totally literal translation – Der Zahnstocher (Zahn = tooth; stochen = pick).  But perhaps the “toothstick” thing IS a German phenomenon after all.  Sigh!

JUST WONDERING….

It’s pretty obvious that birds shit, having had a car that was often a target and having been a target myself.  But I got to wondering the other day, do birds pee, too? We know they drink water.  You know how you can be walking along and feel a little something wet drop on you?  Is that just a single raindrop that may somehow have gotten lost from its tribe, or is it bird pee?

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THAT OLD AMERICAN LADY IN BERLIN?

Well, folks, if my blog suddenly and inexplicably goes permanently dark, it may be because the oldamericanladyinberlin is now the oldamericanladyinagermanjail.  Here’s why.  One day I had picked my grandson up from school and was taking him home.  Having no car, this round-trip is a non-trivial pursuit.  It involves: walking several blocks; taking 3 buses and 4 S-bahn trains; and a time commitment of about 3 hours.  One leg of the trip involves carrying this enormous backpack that weighs half what the grandson weighs.  For some reason, his school doesn’t provide lockers for the younger kids (he’s in 1st grade) and they carry ALL their school stuff – books as well as all their school supplies – back and forth EVERY day!  By the time I pick him up at his school, I’ve been en route for about 1 hour.  Then I carry his humongous book bag several blocks and then board an S-bahn train.  After that, we walk about a block to a bus.  This stop happens to be the end of the line, where the bus waits until it’s time to start a new route.  It is the driver of this particular bus who may well provoke me into committing the act that will land me in a German jail. One day, we got to the bus, the bus was there, and the door was open.  Silly me!  I thought that meant I could get on the bus, which I was quite ready to do, having lugged the backpack much farther than is comfortable.  [Truth be told, just picking the sucker up is far more than my old body is ready to do!]  So, I get on the bus with the grandson and the backpack, not noticing that the driver is on a phone call.  [Come on – with at least 45% of people on the street with a phone up to their ear—and another 45% apparently just babbling to themselves but in fact using a headset—do you ever really NOTICE that someone is on the phone anymore?]  He became irate and demanded that I get off the bus—a tired old lady with a small child on one hand and a heavy backpack in the other.   Of course, we did as we were told.  But that wasn’t enough; the bus driver had to get even with me for disturbing his break.  When we got to our stop, the door opened, my grandson got off, with me close on his heels.  But the driver tried to close the door just in front of me, before I could get off!  Fortunately, my quick-thinking grandson (who’s been riding buses his entire life) put out his hand and held the door open for me so I could get off.  Do you have the most remote idea what I would have done to that bus driver if he had let my grandson off ALONE at a stop on a very busy street?  I won’t even begin to describe the thoughts that went through my head because I don’t want to give you nightmares.


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

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