Archives for posts with tag: Bicycle Adventures


Unbelievable! (or as I prefer to say, UFB!) Today I went to the grocery store on my bike. Here’s what I have to do to get my groceries into the flat: (1) I have to put down the kickstand on my bike (and take care to ensure that my bike doesn’t topple over because of the weight of the groceries in the basket – usually by extending one leg towards the bike); (2) I have to then fumble for my key and unlock the door to the apartment building (or, as we say here in Berlin, “our house”); (3) I have to give the door ( a HUGE, heavy, wooden door) a good push and then grab my bike and pull it into the threshold BEFORE the door closes (and locks, in which case, I’ll have to go back to Step 1); (4) I then pull my bike into our entrance way and take the groceries out of the basket and set them on the floor; (5) Then I have to go through yet another HUGE, heavy, wooden door (fortunately it’s not locked) and pull my bike into the inner courtyard, where I lock it up; (6) I come back through that door and return to the entrance way, grab my groceries, and lug them up about 8 steps. (I may have to repeat this step, depending on how many groceries I have.) Today a courier showed up just as I finished Step 2 and was initiating Step 3. A COURTEOUS person would have held the door open for me. Nope! Instead THIS guy pushed around me to ring the doorbell to the flat where he was trying to deliver the package. I couldn’t move my bike without hurting him, so I had to remain in my tenuous juggling position with the door, the bike, and the groceries while he exchanged courtesies with the person delivering the package. And THEN HE pushed ahead of me – with his package – to go deliver his package. I tend to be especially nice to couriers, since I gave birth to one and I know the challenges of their job. (And you can bet that the courier I gave birth to would never do something like this!) But should this ever occur again, you can bet I’ll crash on into my house, even if the pedals of my bike scrape the shins of the courier! I’ve had lots of experience with Germans and their inability to form an orderly queue and know that you have to fight to keep your place in line. But you’d think that forming an orderly queue that involves only 2 people would be a fairly simple thing to do.


I was waiting for the S-Bahn the other morning – as were several other folks, including this one guy. He seemed quite normal, in a conventional sort of way: well-dressed and well groomed, no visible tattoos or piercings. (Of course, this is Kreuzberg and he was not conventionally dressed in the Kreuzberg sense, which would be pretty much the opposite of how this guy was dressed – and was the one thing that made him stand out from this particular crowd.) He was carrying a radio (the kind that couriers use – looks a bit like a walkie-talkie, with a short antenna, which he didn’t seem to be using) and pacing about. It’s certainly not unusual for folks to pace back and forth while waiting for a train, but this guy’s pacing path seemed totally erratic – until I noticed he was following a pigeon, and changed directions when the pigeon did. I was relieved to see that he did not follow the pigeon when he flew across the tracks, however. At that point, the guy started following a different pigeon. Maybe this guy was simply amusing himself and wanted to beguile the tedium of otherwise mundane pacing by following the pigeons. Or maybe he was studying the pigeons and the radio had something to do with it. Or, of course, maybe he was spying on the pigeons because they’re clearly engaged in a plot to take over Berlin and he was working for German security forces to help protect us all from this threat. Perhaps their pooping patterns are actually signals they send to communicate amongst themselves. Anything is possible!


I was trying to remember someone’s name the other day – and, after about a week, I STILL can’t remember her name. Normally I could think of someone else who would have known her and I could have dropped that someone else an e-mail, something along the lines of “Remember the pretty woman who worked at FCS on our unit – the one besides you and me who wasn’t a lunatic?” There, in fact, were two such someones I could have asked that question, but then I realized that both of them are now dead – Janet far too young (days before her 40th birthday) and Jeanette (whose death was at least age-appropriate behavior). Theoretically, there may be some others who might have been able to answer the question (but I would have to phrase it differently because, except for Janet, Jeanette, myself, and the someone whose name I can’t remember, they were really lunatics of one type or another). However, I’ve not kept in touch with any of the lunatics and, given that my last contact with them would have been in 1977 (when I was 32 and they were at least 10 years older), they may also be dead (or unable to remember pretty much anything). It’s entirely likely that, among that group, I’m the “last woman standing.” As far as my father’s side of the family goes, I’m not yet the oldest surviving member, but I am the second oldest one in the family. Since my cousin is only 5 years older than I am, I’m pretty sure I’ve got maybe another 15 – 20 years before I reach that status – provided, of course, that we die in order of age, which isn’t necessarily a ‘given.’ On my mother’s side of the family, I’m the 2rd oldest family member (although the other is, so I may achieve that status sooner). In any case, imagine being the oldest surviving member on BOTH sides of your family. And we’re losing our friends now at an alarming rate – we lost 3 so far this year, and one cousin. It’s getting to be like my Dad said – when you reach a certain age the rate at which you start losing friends and family is like popcorn popping: Pop……….Pop……..Pop……Pop….Pop..PopPopPopPop


Well, he starts moving the furniture around, of course! Normally, Electra is in charge of pestering us for dinner. William just leaves this up to her and lets her take the brunt of our disciplinary measures in response to Electra’s outrageous behavior during the hour preceding dinner time. She’ll stand near us and just fuss; she’ll jump up on Harvey’s lap and fidget around (apparently trying to get comfortable—which, of course, in her state of near-starvation, is virtually unachievable); and, when things get drastic, she jumps up on the printer and starts messing with one of the masks we have hanging on the wall (which lends itself particularly well to her purposes because it has some hair on it, which she can bite off and then throw up at our feet to emphasize her desperation). Now, however, William has become interested in the pre-dining demonstrations. There’s a bookcase next to my computer table and he gets between the bookcase and the wall and, using his gigantic head, starts pushing it away from the wall. You have to wonder what gave him this idea, or, at least I do – maybe you yourself have no interest in this at all.


William — the huge (16-pound) Siamese — and Electra —the petite (8-pound) sometimes-partially-bald Devon Rex— get fed the following meals: (1) breakfast (at 6 am); (2) second breakfast (at 9 am); (3) lunch (at noon): (4) mid-afternoon snack (at 3); (5) dinner (at 6 pm); and bedtime snack (sometime after 10 -pm). (Occasionally they get fed more often, if they convince one of us they’ve not been fed and the other one of us is not around.) So, just exactly HOW can they be perpetually hungry? I wonder if they formed a band, would they name themselves “The Grateful Fed”? Probably not, because they don’t seem particularly grateful at all! Ever!!


It occurred to me that some of you who have found my blog may also be Americans living in Berlin. If so, you may be missing some of your favorite foods, like real hamburgers and real Mexican food.

For real hamburgers, try Café Lentz – They are just like the burgers you had at home when you were a kid – lots of meat, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles (and bacon and cheese, if you want) and come with great fries and cole slaw. The service is good and the folks who work there are friendly.
AND if you tell them you live or work in the neighborhood, you’ll get a 10% discount (BUT you have to tell them this when you order – if you wait until the bill comes, it’s too late.)
AND if you “Like” them on Facebook, you can have a free espresso.

For real Mexican food, try Santa Maria – This is not Tex-Mex; not Taco Bell. It’s genuine Mexican Mexican. They can accommodate vegetarians and vegans, too. And, instead of responding with a blank stare when you ask for salsa, they ask you if you want red, green, or habenero. Given that most “Mexican” restaurants in Berlin don’t even have salsa, and don’t use cilantro or cumino (or even very much chilli powder), and put peanuts in their dishes, finding genuine, high-quality Mexican food in Berlin is a non-trivial pursuit. AND the prices are really low! The only negative is that it’s a very tiny place – a small bar (and the Margaritas are fantastic!) and about 10 tables (if that many), about 4 tables outside, when the weather permits. But there’s a way around that – just come before 6 pm and you most likely will be able to be seated immediately. Otherwise, it can be a challenge because in Berlin (as in much of Europe), when you take a table in a restaurant, you’re almost expected to be there for at least a couple of hours, if not for the entire evening. Most flats are small so most folks entertain at restaurants and the table is the equivalent of their living room. The good news is, however, that many of the diners are Americans, so they give up their tables more readily than most Europeans might. We’re really glad we found this place, because we were getting so desperate that we were planning to hang around the Mexican Embassy at closing home and follow people home and beg them to feed us. Alas, this option isn’t even available for finding Cajun food, since Louisiana hasn’t established an embassy in Berlin. Sigh!


I was listening to the radio this morning and there was a call-in program discussing computer security. This is one topic that is typically rife with Denglish (i.e., German [Deutsch] mixed with English). In a way, even if the only language you speak is English, you’re often speaking Denglish because the two languages share so many words. In many cases, they’re even spelled the same – bank, ball, hand – and even if they’re not spelled exactly the same, they sound the same – Maus, Haus. [But you must be careful, because words spelled the same may have radically different meanings. For example, “Gift” is German for “poison” – so if you tell a German you have a gift for them, you’re likely to get a response that puzzles you.] Here are a few of the words sprinkled among the German in the discussions about computer security: Internet, on-line, off-line (surprise!) firewall, aps, tablet, pipeline, and smart phone (even though the German word for the simple cell phone is “Handy” – because, of course, it is, isn’t it?) These words were pronounced in perfect English but there was one exception that stood out. You’d expect the brand-name for something to carry over from English to German. But, in amongst the purely German words in the conversation, and the perfectly-pronounced English words, I heard Mr. Gates’s product referred to as “Vindows.” (I have other words for it, however, none of which should be used in polite conversation.) And it’s not as if Germans can’t say the English “W” – they say it all the time when they hurt themselves and say “ow-wah.”

There are also some “close but no cigar” words. For instance, I bought some astringent for sensitive skin, but in German, the word for “sensitive” is “sensible.” So, apparently, my skin is sensible, and just does its job – which is to keep my insides in.


While biking through Berlin, I was almost killed by a crocodile. (It could have been an alligator – it happened so quickly that I couldn’t make the distinction – but in any event, “alligator” didn’t lend itself to alliteration, so I’ve decided it was a crocodile.) It was a lovely winter Sunday, and every Berliner was taking advantage of the sun’s rare appearance. I was merrily tooling along on my bike, in the bike lane, which was adjacent to the sidewalk. The family walking toward me was also staying on the sidewalk, which doesn’t always happen, so everything looked safe. Alas, you still have to watch pedestrians like hawks because never know when some pedestrian will suddenly thrust an arm across the bike way, either pointing to something or merely emphasizing the story he’s telling. The family was pushing a small child in a stroller and the child had a wooden crocodile on a string, which she was merrily swinging back and forth. Just as we passed, the crocodile came within an inch of thrusting itself into the spokes of my bike. If that had happened, I might have fallen into the street into the path of one of the cars carrying other folks who were out and about on this lovely Sunday. Wouldn’t that have been a pisser?!


Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 47:  January 9, 2014


 Remember when your parents would haul you to visit some elderly relative and you would wonder just exactly what that retired person did with their time?  Well, now I know, being one myself.  I just tend to the routine things – making the bed, fixing breakfast, washing the dishes, getting dressed, and before you know it, the day is practically gone!  We may not do much (if anything), but it definitely takes all day to do it!


Germany (and, so far as I can tell, all of Europe) has some really fabulous breads.  One German bread that we particularly like is Dunkel-essener.  It’s extremely dense – pretty sure one loaf weighs at least 10 times what a loaf of Wonder bread weighs.  So, Harvey happened to be out and about and near a bio (organic) food store and decided to pick up a loaf of this wonderful (as opposed to “Wonder”) bread.  The lady looked at him in amazement when he asked her for it, and replied, “Heute ist Montag!”  (i.e., “Today is Monday!”)  Apparently you can only buy Dunkel-essener bread on certain days of the week, and one of them is definitely NOT Monday!  And presumably every German knows this and realizes how utterly preposterous it is to even consider buying it on Monday.


I was at the grocery store check-out line and couldn’t find my cash card.  Fortunately, I had enough cash with me to cover the groceries so it wasn’t a major problem, but I wasn’t looking forward to the inconvenience (admittedly, minor) of having to go to the bank on Monday and request a new card.  But then when I left the store, I saw that someone else was having a far worse day than I was – I saw someone’s false teeth on the sidewalk (or, at least, the uppers) and the plate was broken in two, so clearly not having my cash card paled in comparison.  My day got even better when I got home and emptied my wallet to discover that I had simply put the card in a different place from where I normally do.


There was a time when I would consider an article of clothing “worn out” if it were the least little bit faded or frayed, but that is no longer the case.  Since I retired, I don’t have to worry about being “presentable” at work, where showing up in shabby clothes isn’t a “career enhancing” strategy.  Of course, retirement is also typically accompanied by a reduced income, so one tends to be a tad more circumspect about spending money in general, whether on clothes or anything else.  Consequently, “faded” and “frayed” are no longer sufficient criteria for throwing out clothes. Then there’s the age factor (which inevitably comes into play, whether you’re fortunate enough to be retired or not).  It used to be economical in the long run to pay a bit more for something if it would last a long time.  Now, not so much.  Now it’s all a game of trying to come out even, where you only need something to last until you die (which, of course, is a total crap shoot).  I remember when my Dad was about 60 and it was time to replace the roof on his house.  You have options of buying a 20-year roof or a 30-year roof.  He figured he wasn’t going to make it to 90 (so he didn’t need a 30-year roof) and that a 20-year roof would suit him just fine.  As it turned out, he only needed a 12-year roof (but that wasn’t an option).  However, he didn’t count on his wife making it to almost 90.  Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about big-ticket items such as major house repairs or cars, since we own neither, and the consequences of our miscalculations are much less drastic.  The most expensive thing we have to worry about is a washer. And as for our clothes, we have lots of leeway.  For one thing, given the character of our neighborhood, “shabby chic” is actually in style.  But aside from that factor, as long as a shirt doesn’t fall off my body and continues to provide an acceptable level of warmth, I don’t consider it “worn out” yet.  And, of course, pajamas get a lot longer life because, after all, if I’m in a situation where somebody is going to see me in my PJs, it’s probably a pretty close friend, who’s not going to judge me.  And I’m long past worrying about what some Emergency Room tech is going to think about my underwear if I’m involved in an accident.


I have spent nearly 7 decades on the planet and only recently discovered the utility of “sheers” – you know, the nearly-invisible drapes?  I never could figure out why folks would have 2 sets of drapes on their windows – one that appeared normal and one that seemed to be invisible.  If drapes were intended to offer privacy, or to block out the sun, what possible reason could there be to have drapes that you could see through and that didn’t block out the sun?  Aha!  Now I know.  In the winter here, you can have a choice of having the drapes open during the day (and thereby getting the benefit of the scarce daylight you’re granted while losing heat through the windows) OR keeping the drapes shut (and thereby saving heat while missing out on the daylight).  So, here come the sheers!  At night, they provide an extra layer of fabric to keep the cold at bay and, during the day, you can still have a little bit of protection from the cold while also getting some precious sunlight.  Never too old to learn something, I suppose, regardless of how trivial it might be.


The bus stop I use most frequently has a nice little shelter – a roof and 3 sides.  Anyone want to guess which of the four basic directions the wind was coming from this cold morning?  Yep!


What’s Christmas in Germany without going to a Christmas Market and having a bit of Gluhwein?  We decided to hit one of the markets on the Ku’damm – a major shopping area –  and had the luck to time it just right so that we could see what’s apparently another Christmas tradition – at least in Berlin.  Several of the motorcycle Santas were accompanied on their ‘hogs’ by their ‘old ladies’ (also in costume, but not as Mrs. Santa, but rather as angels).  Not a sight you see every day!


Nope!  Didn’t leave the kitchen window open.  Nope!  The roof doesn’t leak (or, at least, if it does, we’d be about the last to know about it because there are 4 more floors above us.  In fact, it wasn’t raining at all OUTside.  Nope!  The upstairs neighbor’s plumbing wasn’t leaking into our flat.  I was, however, cooking and now that the weather is cold, heat from the stove will cause condensation on the tile back-splash and on the bottoms of the cupboards above the burners on the stove, unless I turn on the ventilation fan.  Never had that happen in any of my kitchens in the US (16, to be exact, and that’s only the ones after I left home)!  Never even heard tell of anyone having that happen.  Got my very own little rain forest!


Can you still call it “malice” if it’s unintentional?  Maybe not.  Nonetheless, the effect is the same.  William, the Wonder Cat, took a little walk across my keyboard and the next time I tried to logon, I couldn’t – my password wasn’t recognized.  After several moments of frustration and many epithets, I discovered that my NumLk key was on.  He had apparently managed to step on the Fn key and the NumLk key simultaneously!  Electra once managed to hit a series of keys that turned my screen sideways; it took Harvey and me the better part of an hour to figure out how to undo THAT!


Our Dowager Queen Feline, Ms. Electra, exited the litter box, having tended to her business.  Apparently, William, the Wonder Cat, was not satisfied with Electra’s attempts to tidy up the litter box and tucked the front half of his rather large body into the box and re-arranged the litter more to his liking.  Unfortunately, when he does this, he often leaves a pile of litter at the front end of the box, which Ms. Electra finds so offensive that she expresses her displeasure by hanging her butt out of the box and peeing on the floor when she next uses the litter box.  No amount of counseling with either of them has been effective is changing this behavior.


Germans love their asparagus, especially the white asparagus.  Even if the weather gives you no hint of Spring, you can tell that Spring has arrived because all the restaurant menus suddenly feature lots and lots of asparagus dishes and little stands selling nothing but asparagus pop up everywhere.  And, as do most right-thinking folks, Germans love their wine.  Well, I saw something in the grocery store last week that apparently combines these two culinary delights – a bottle of wine that presumably has asparagus as a component.  Yep!  Not making this up!  See for yourself!

2013-08-25 - Asparagus wine

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 35:  October 20, 2012


I see lots of interesting things as I sit in front of my living room window fiddling with my laptop.  Well, at least they’re interesting to me.  For instance, today I saw a white panel truck, with what appeared to be representations of snowflakes painted on it.  There was a single word painted on the side and the back – WINTER. (By the way, the word ‘winter’ is a true cognate – it really means the same thing in German as it does in English.)  So, now we know how winter is delivered.  All we need to do is to hijack that vehicle and lock it up somewhere so that winter won’t come!


I was coveting my neighbor’s bike – in particular, the paint job.  At first I thought it was a floral design – pinks, blues, greens – but then, upon closer inspection, it turns out to be a street map of Berlin!  How cool is THAT??!!


OK, so when, exactly, did my T-shirts stop being T-shirts and turn into bibs?  Well, actually, I CAN tell you exactly – October 13, 2012, about 6:30 pm Berlin time.  It was after I had weighed the options for dinner – (a) pull something together out of odds and ends in the fridge OR (b) go to our favorite neighborhood restaurant, which has recently begun featuring authentic American hamburgers (the kind your Daddy made on the grill when you were a kid), and decided on Option B.  I looked down at my T-shirt and noticed that I had a couple of spots on it.  My first thought was to change it.  Then I thought, “Well, I’m gonna eat and will probably spill something on it anyway, so why dirty two T-shirts?”  After all, one morning (after trying to cook breakfast for some guests while I was fully dressed, I ended up putting on 3 T-shirts before we got out the door.


I dreamed I was watching a news story on TV.  Las Vegas was being overrun by hordes of Chihuahuas – all colors, some long-haired, some short-haired, and some with long hair in dreds that reached the ground (admittedly, for a Chihuahua, it wouldn’t have to be all that long to do that).  I ‘watched’ footage of the police trying to round up these Chihuahuas  and I woke myself up laughing.  It was hard to get back to sleep.


As I get older, I realize that every hour wasted is an increasingly larger percentage of the time I have left on this planet.  For a 14-year-old, an hour doesn’t represent very much in terms of how much time they have left, but for a 67-year-old, it’s starting to take a larger chunk out of the remaining time.  So, I try to save time when I can, and sometimes that’s only minutes or even seconds (because, of course, seconds add up to minutes, which add up to hours, which add up to days, etc.).  There have been a number of studies on multi-tasking in general, and when folks try to do multiple things simultaneously (such as read their e-mail while participating in a tele-conference), it’s not actually very effective because they function about as well on either of these tasks as someone who’s smoked a joint (without enjoying the fun aspects of that experience). This may well account for some of the peculiar and disastrous business decisions being made today.  Well, I thought my little 1-minute-saver was fairly harmless, as each of the two tasks I was simultaneously performing required very little brain power – swishing mouthwash around in my mouth and peeing.  However, it’s that unexpected sneezing fit that made me see the error of my ways.  It took me far longer to clean up the mess than it would have to simply do these tasks in a serial fashion.  Just a word to the wise….


I confess, I’m less than diligent about working on my German.  But this news hasn’t given me any cause for hope – there are apparently 6 main dialects of German, each so unique that they warrant their own dictionary!


They’re called ‘dumb animals.’  I ask you—what would you call a being who gets free room and board, free medical care, and gets doted on beyond all measure?  Would you call that being dumb?  Or would you call the being who works hard, pays taxes, and totally supports another being who makes no material contribution to the household dumb?  Somehow everything that we’ve paid for – and for which we’ve had some other use in mind – has been appropriated by the felines in the household.  [Note:  As always, be sure to enlarge the cartoon to get the full benefit of the artist’s work here.]



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


Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 34:  October 1, 2012 


 I came out of the grocery store this morning with my arms full of groceries that I had planned to put in my bicycle basket.  Unfortunately, some doofus on the street had a different idea on how to use my bicycle basket – as a trash can.  While I appreciate his (and it HAD to be a guy!!) reluctance to throw trash on the street, I can’t say that I’m particularly keen on his putting his trash in my bicycle basket.  First of all, there’s at least one trash bin in every block, attached to a light pole.  Second, in this case, there’s a little place right outside the grocery store for folks to enjoy snacks from the store.  It has little tables (for standing – no chairs) and, guess what?!!  A BIG trash can!  Not more than 15 feet from where my bike was parked!  And this guy was too lazy to use the trash can!  I definitely need to add him to my list of folks to slap – and I’m pretty sure he’s related to the slime-ball who stole my wallet (or, maybe it’s even the same guy)!


Here’s how it works:

  • Put on a pair of shorts
  • Get on your bike
  • Somehow allow one of the legs on your shorts to get hooked on the horn of the bicycle seat
  • Start peddling down a busy street

Apparently there’s a reason why experienced bicyclists wear those skin-tight shorts.


Remember awhile ago I had my wallet stolen?  Well, it came back to me in the mail today – from the Post Office.  Folks told me that this happens frequently when your wallet is stolen.  And, with the exception of the money, everything was in it.  The rat didn’t take my bank card or even my U-bahn farecards (although he deprived me of their use for about 2 months).  And, of course, I had to go to the trouble and expense to replace my bank card, my German visa, and my wallet.  There just ain’t no pleasing me — I guess I’m one of those folks who’d complain if you hung ‘em with a new rope.


In the US, the flavor you associate most with toothpaste and mouthwash is mint – Fresh Minty Taste.  But apparently that’s not the flavor that appeals to Germans.  Up until now, I’ve been using my tried and true Sensodyne and Listerine.  However, my dentist told me that Listerine has alcohol in it and that’s not the best thing for my ancient teeth, which are showing signs of erosion.  She recommended a particular brand of mouthwash/toothpaste just for that problem.  The taste was a surprise – kind of like biting down into what you thought was a mint patty and getting an entirely different flavor.  I recognized it but couldn’t quite place it, until I tore into a package of Gummi bears I usually have around….


Fortunately, we don’t often have days where we would suffer without A/C.  We have thick walls, good ventilation, and live almost on the ground floor so the 5 floors above us absorb most of the worst of the sun.  However, there are several months where we do need to have a window or two open, and when you open the windows – especially if you don’t have screens – you have to let in flying pests and dust in, along with the fresh air.  The flies aren’t too worrisome, and they keep William amused (albeit sometimes putting some of our possessions at risk if they come between him and the fly he’s chasing).  However, the one continuing annoyance is that I can never have a dust-free dwelling (except in the harshest weather).  We’re having company in two days; I like to have the place reasonably clean when they arrive.  I also don’t like to leave everything to the last minute – I like to pace myself so I won’t be exhausted when they get here.  Alas, I can’t offer a dust-free abode – the best I can do is to assure everyone that the dust is at least fresh—this week’s dust, rather than last week’s.  Sigh!


Temporary tattoos for your lips?  Well, my 50th high school reunion is coming up – maybe I’ll have to get me some of these!!  They’d go great with the white contact lens (perhaps with feline-like pupils) I might wear.


A couple of things just don’t make sense to me.

  • I recently had to renew my passport.  In order to do that, you have to submit an application AND your current passport.  It was processed fairly quickly and then I got an e-mail telling me to come pick it up.  You wanna guess what the e-mail said I should also bring with me to pick up my new passport?  Yep!  My OLD passport!  So, exactly how am I gonna do that?  Fortunately, I still had my OLD, OLD passport, with a photo of myself taken 20 years ago.  I also had a 2-year-old Texas driver’s license.  And the other thing – I had to submit TWO photos for my new passport.  It turns out I still had one recent photo, but I had to pay lots of Euros to get new photos so I would have two to meet the requirements.  Wanna guess what they gave me back?  Yep!  One of the two photos that I had submitted.  So now I have two spare, expensive, passport photos, for which I have little use because I’m pretty sure that I’m gonna look a lot different 10 years from now when I have to renew it again (if I live that long).
  • While I was at the US Consul to get my passport, I met an American family coming there to renew their passports.  They lived in Hamburg, but had to come all the way to Berlin to renew their passports.  There used to be a consul in Hamburg, but they closed it.  Wanna guess why?  Because the 9/11 terrorists had been based in Hamburg.  OK.  So explain to me why making life inconvenient for the Americans who live there is gonna protect US citizens from terrorists who live there, but launch attacks on American soil?  If terrorists in Hamburg are planning an attack on someplace in the US, are they going to say, “Wait a minute!! There’s no US Consulate here!  I guess we can’t launch our attack on New York City now!  We’ll just have to forget about all this terrorism stuff and go back home and tend to our live stock and crops.”  If stopping terrorism was as easy as closing a US Consulate, why haven’t they just closed them all?

But I guess it’s unreasonable to expect common sense from the US Government.


Felines have an uncanny knack for figuring out:

  • Who’s deathly allergic to cats;
  • Who truly hates cats; and
  • How to position themselves along a trajectory that has the greatest potential to make you lose your balance.

Wanna know that works?  Apparently they have a highly sophisticated positioning system that detects all the critical factors associated with homing in on these situations for the optimal effect.

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin #12:  AUGUST 19, 2011


I was in Kardstadt the other day (Berlin’s equivalent of a department store – I started to give a ‘for instance’ but realized that all the department store names that most immediately came to mind no longer exist).  For the briefest of moments I was terrified because it appeared to me that a guy was getting on the elevator with what was apparently his pet brown bear.  Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was merely the most enormous dog I’d ever seen.  And he had the docility you would expect from a dog as advanced in years as he was.  Huge sigh of relief!  It turns out that the Romans originally brought huge dogs to what is now Germany, apparently to strike fear into the hearts of the Huns.  Instead, these beasts instantly won the undying affection of the folks they were intended to intimidate, so today the country is full of these bear-sized (but incredibly well behaved) dogs.


As bemused as I often am by this incredible city, I have every confidence that the bemusement flows both ways – I’m not just a taker; I’m also a giver.  For example, simply the act of getting on my bicycle (much less the far greater challenge of riding it!) gives rise to more than a few smirks.  When I’m in my full regalia (which includes my back-pack), it can be at least a 10-minute show.  First, I have to unlock my bike lock.  This often involves fitting my not-so-slim self in the incredibly slim space between my bike and the other bikes with which I must share the bike rack.  If I have my helmet on, the potential for a 3-ring circus is always there, because I must bend over to reach my bike lock, offering unlimited opportunities to get my helmet caught in handle bars and even pedals, while my posterior threatens to push over any bikes behind me.  Efforts to extricate myself could have the dreaded result of a domino effect, most often depicted in movies that involve motorcycles rather than bicycles.  Then, of course, I have to go through 2 huge wooden doors to get to the sidewalk.  And, no, these doors are not activated by motion detectors.  Getting through a door without banging it on my bike (or, worse, my hands) is an objective that I do not always accomplish.

So now Mrs. West has actually left the building.   Although Berlin is certainly far more bike-friendly than any other place I’ve lived, it still offers obstacles, especially for those of us whose full attention is absorbed in simply trying not to fall.  Yes, Berlin has lots of bike lanes (and, if you’re a pedestrian, you can place yourself in harm’s way if you stray into them).  But there’s not great consistency in where the bike lanes are located:

  • A bike lane can simply be part of the sidewalk (indicated by painted lines or by a brick that’s a different color than those in the rest of the sidewalk), in which case you must be alert for pedestrians who stray into the bike lanes.  The greatest danger is posed by dogs on leashes, who impulsively head toward a spot with a particularly irresistible smell, and in so doing, pull the leash across the bike lane.  For reasons I’ve not deduced, dog leashes are not required to be day-glo lime or orange with blinking lights, and so they are not readily visible.  Small children can also be the most adorable little hazards, with or without leashes.
  • A bike lane can be in the street, along the curb, which is my own personal favorite (except that parked cars can block it).
  • A bike lane can be in the street, but not along the curb; cars are parked along the curb and the bike lane is then between the parking area and the car lane.  Bikes are quiet and can be fast.  Sometimes people open their car doors without looking, leaving the biker 3 options:  (1) go into the car lane (and hope the drivers see you); (2) crash into the door; or (3) stop, and hope that, if there’s someone behind you, they are alert to the situation and are sufficiently agile to avoid a 2-biker, 1-car smash-up.

A fourth option for a bike lane is for there to be none at all.  In this case, you have to choose between the sidewalk and the street.  The one advantage of the street is that bikes have the right-of-way, so if you get hit, it’s the car driver’s fault, whereas if you hit a pedestrian, it’s your fault.  I figure that, if you can’t avoid a crash, at least you should try to avoid the blame.

So, here I am, going at a glacial speed and trying to first figure out where the bike lane is (or isn’t), and then making adaptations en route, all while cars are whizzing past me and pedestrians and bicyclists are coming at me from all directions.  I must also be alert to the occasional soccer ball kicked into my path, or the infrequent (but no less deadly) pedestrian who may not be in the bike path, but nonetheless intrudes upon it when he points to something across the street, using his arm that’s holding a shopping bag full of God-only-knows what.  All the while, everyone is wishing that this crazy old lady would just get out of their way!

Assume I actually make it to my destination without mishap.  Then I have to go through the locking process again.  Then I go into the store; I buy a few things; I put them in my backpack.  Now comes the challenge of getting the backpack on my back.  The first strap is easy, but finding and getting my other arm through the second strap is where all the fun begins.  I once had a boyfriend who liked to ‘help’ me with my coat – his idea of helping was to let me get one arm into a sleeve and then hold the other sleeve in a position well out of reach while I flailed about trying to find it.  [It’s a good thing that the weather in Beaumont, TX, rarely demanded wearing a coat—otherwise, the I doubt the relationship may not have lasted for 4 years.]  Well, putting on my backpack when it’s full of groceries is like that – but in this case I’m achieving that same objective while flying solo.  Generally, there’s very little space in the store to tend to stuff like this, so here I am, with one arm in one strap while the other one is flapping about in all directions, looking like I’m trying to get lift-off so I can take flight.  Following this part of the process, there’s all the snapping of the various straps, which is admittedly anti-climactic, but no less bemusing (or irritating) to the observers, who are hoping to get by me without an elbow cracking them in the nose.  [I’ve not yet managed to inadvertently punch someone in the face, but it’s only a matter of time.]


Given my misadventures in bicycle-dom, it might be more appropriate to call my blog “The Perils of Pauline” [].  That has a certain resonance for me, given that my father’s first wife almost always called me ‘Pauline’ rather than ‘Jaton’.  To fully appreciate the import of this persistent habit, you must know two facts:  (1) ‘Pauline’ was the name of her baby sister (for whom she harbored the most vile resentment); and (2) my father’s first wife also happened to be the one who gave me my name, so you’d kinda expect her to remember it with ease.  But if you thought that, you’d wear high-buttoned shoes and chase rabbits.

In any event, I continue to unintentionally wreak havoc upon my beloved Bezirk.  It’s good that I’m not a doctor because I’m not having a lot of success with that ‘first do no harm’ thing.  Last time I went out to terrorize the neighborhood, I got outside to discover that it was raining a bit.  Normally I would have gone back inside to get an umbrella, but I realized how utterly useless that would have been with me on my bike.  There are some folks who can ride a bike while holding an umbrella, but I’m certainly not one of them.  I take my life (and the lives of those within 500 yards of me) in my hands when I so much as try to scratch my nose while riding my bike, so I ruled out the umbrella.  My next thought was to get my rain jacket, but it was a fairly warm day (in the 70s—and, no, I’ve not gotten used to talking about temperature in Centigrade).  I could wear a rain jacket and stay dry from the rain, while getting soaked in sweat, or I could just get rained on.  Either way, I was gonna get wet.  I decided that rain-wet is better than sweat-wet, so ruled out the rain jacket, too.

Having overcome that hurdle, it was time for me to get on my bike.  This is always the most difficult part.  But the sidewalk in front of our flat is at least 10 feet wide—plenty of wobble room—and there was no one in sight.  So, I started the process of mounting my trusty steed, but then my feet slipped off the pedals and I went careening off course, just as folks in the house next door were coming out their door.  The only way I could avoid hitting them was to jump off my bike.  (Well, ‘jump’ may not be the most accurate description, since my ‘jump’ is more like a ‘controlled crash’.)  I stopped about 1 foot from them.  In a feeble attempt to explain, I said something like “Ich bin Anfanger,” which provoked the typical German reaction anytime I try to use the language (i.e., a correction).  In this case, the gentleman gave me the word I should have used—Anfangerin, the feminine form of the noun.  Oddly enough, noun gender was not my concern at the moment.  [Yikes!  I just now realized that I didn’t even remember my manners!  I should have also apologized!]  Imagine their perspective—they’re minding their own business, just coming out onto the sidewalk when this old American lady is suddenly in their faces, blathering incorrect German, without so much as an apology (for either the intrusion or the incorrect word).

After this near miss, I looked up to see a herd of pre-schoolers headed my way.  You see that a lot—the day care centers often take the little ones out for field trips.  I knew for sure that there wasn’t any point in trying to get on my bike at this juncture, so I just decided to walk my bike until I got past them.  It was then that I realized why my feet had slipped off the pedals—I still had my house shoes on!!  So, I turned around and went back home to put on my real shoes.

I truly, truly need some amulet to offer me protection when I’m on my bike.  I suppose a St. Christopher’s medal might work.  But I also need one to protect all the innocent bystanders from me!  If any of you know of the saint that protects one from inadvertently doing harm to others, please let me know.  So far, the best thing I’ve come up with is a button I saw on a clerk at the grocery store.  It says “Ich lerne noch.” [“I’m still learning.]  At least it gives them fair warning (provided, of course, they’re not looking down, fearing doggy doo more than aging kamikaze bikers).


Berlin is a very green city.  Part of it is because of all its parks; if you don’t live in walking distance of at least 2 or 3 parks, then it’s only because you’re simply not ambulatory.  Some are large; others are small; many are hidden away, waiting to surprise you as you turn a corner.  The prevalence of canals also helps; Berlin has more miles of canals than Venice.  The green is not just confined to the parks or canal banks; most of the streets are lined with trees.  Germans take very good care of their trees.  For example, the trees are numbered so those charged with maintaining them can more easily tend to them.  [This is Frau West; I’d like to report that Tree #19,432 needs trimming.]

Another thing that helps the trees along the streets is the German approach to paving the sidewalks and streets.  Some streets are asphalt, but lots of them are still paved with cobble stones.  The sidewalks are also made of stones or concrete pavers.  However, there is no sealant between the stones or pavers.  This helps in two ways:  (1) whenever they need to make a repair under the street or sidewalk, they simply lift up the stones or pavers, do what they need to do, and set them back; (2) it allows the rain go into the earth rather than run off.  This also lets the trees breathe and drink, and gives their roots room to grow.  All good stuff, right?  However, now that I’m riding a bike, I more fully appreciate that these lovely green things also have a dark side.  [Don’t forget those 2 trees that killed Michael Kennedy and Sonny Bono when they were out skiing!]  For example, they just grow and grow and grow.  The city does a stellar job of trimming the lower limbs, so rarely do bikers have to worry about getting thrown from their bikes by a low-hanging branch.  However, the trunks get wider and start to take up a bigger part of the limited real estate allotted for walkers and bikers.  But the worst part of it is that the roots push up the bricks (or asphalt) on the bike paths, which can make for a bumpy ride at best and can throw certain inexperienced bikers off their bikes at worst.  My son is sufficiently young and agile to just jump off his bike rather than fall with it.  However, I have such a death grip on my handlebars that I’m definitely going down with the bike.  [The medics will need something equal to the ‘jaws of life’ to detach pry the handlebars from my hands.]   Another factor comes into play, too—the omnipresent piles of puppy poop everywhere, many of which are quite impressive.  (Refer to ‘Elevator Bear’ above for a possible reason for this.)  So, as I wend my way through the bike paths of Berlin, trying to keep track of where they are, I must not only watch out for animate objects—such as people, dogs, other bikes, and cars—but must also continually dodge tree roots and doggy doo.  Oh, yeah – I also have to remember where I’m going, which ends up being the least of my worries, as it turns out.  This last challenge is particularly difficult for those of us who are severely directionally-impaired.  When I’m with Harvey, I can simply follow the guy in the day-glo orange helmet.  That doesn’t work so well when he’s not with me.


 OK, so here’s the scene.  Me, approaching a place where there’s construction that narrows the bike path significantly AND bounds both sides with a waist-high barrier.  Undoubtedly there’s enough room for a bike to pass through, with at least ½ inch on each side.  Having dared to try that earlier in the day with disastrous results (crashed into the barrier and tore my watch off my wrist), I was disinclined to try that again, so I got off my bike to walk through that piece.  Coming towards me on this significantly diminished bike path was a guy, who appeared to be alone.  Why he was in the bike path (especially when clearly there was barely room for a bike, much less a pedestrian, and I was already there), I’ve not a clue.  In any case, just as we were about to get close enough to start the little dance you do when 2 folks come face-to-face in a passageway that can accommodate only one of them, he started saying something.  Silly me!  I thought he was talking to me.  I didn’t understand what he said and so gave him my standard, “Ich habe nur ein bisschen Deutsch”  (i.e., I no speaky the language so good).  He gave me a puzzled look, so I repeated myself.  He then apparently asked me something like “Why are you telling me this” – although I have no idea what he really said.  So then I said, “Haben Sie mir etwas gesprecht?” (Did you say something to me?) He then said something that I assume was along the lines of “I wasn’t speaking to you; I was speaking to my wife” as he pointed to a woman who happened to be about 15 feet down the road.   But imagine his surprise when, for no apparent reason, the old American lady comes up to him and confesses to speaking only a little German.

 GLORY HALLELUJAH! (or however that word is spelled!)

Today my bike started paying for itself!  I took it to Steve’s instead of taking the U‑bahn.   It will take another 193 trips, however, before it becomes a cost savings over the U‑bahn.  Since I’ve averaged maybe 1.5 U‑bahn trips a week, it will take about 30 months to break even, provided, of course, I don’t kill myself in the process (in which case this mathematical calculation is more or less irrelevant).

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