Archives for posts with tag: biking


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© – 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© – 31:  July 13, 2012


Well, you can always buy wine by the bottle, or when you’re in a restaurant, you can also buy it by the glass.  And when you’re in the grocery store, you can buy it in a box.  But now there’s a new way – you can buy wine by the glass in a box.  Yep!  You know how sometimes the airlines serve you fruit juice in a plastic container with a little peel-off lid?  Well, this wine by the glass in a box comes in its very own plastic wine glass, with a little peel-off lid.  And you can buy them four to a box in the grocery store.  Nope!  Not making this up!!  It’s apparently of either UK or American origin, too, as the box is printed in English.  I am curious about one thing, though.  It’s hard enough to remove those peel-off lids from those little fruit juice glasses without spilling the juice; I’m pretty sure that peeling the lids off a thin plastic, stemmed glass will be an even greater challenge.  See? I’m not making this up!


Having had 3 monthly fare cards stolen, I’m now in the business of having to buy fare cards for individual trips.  So, yesterday, when I reached into the tray to retrieve my fare cards (if you buy 4 at a time, you get a little price break), what did I find?  An origami swan!  I rather like the idea of somebody just making these things and putting them in odd places, imagining the smiles finding them will elicit!  Of course, it could just be BVG’s way of saying, “Sorry about that policy of not replacing fare cards when they’re stolen—even when you have a police report of the theft—but here’s this little origami swan.  We hope that makes things better.”


Saw a guy on his bike and it sure looked like he had a shower cap coming out of his butt, with it flapping in the breeze (well, it was the shower cap that was flapping in the breeze, not his butt).  Upon further reflection, it was most likely a cover for a bike seat.  It’s not terribly pleasant, nor very cool, to hop onto a wet bike seat.  Extravagant folks pay about 20 Euros (something between $25 and $30 US) for what looks like a shower cap but is actually a cover for a bike seat.  This guy apparently has his affixed to the seat of his bike so that when he pulls it off to get on his bike, it somehow stays attached to the bike.  Most of the rest of us just use plastic bags, given that they’re readily available, cost only about 25 cents, and the real ones are likely to get stolen.


Over the past couple of days, whenever I’ve tried to speak German, folks have asked me if I’m Dutch.  Alas, being compared to a Dutchman by a German is actually an insult.  However, at least they don’t immediately peg me as an American, which is certainly a step in the right direction.  I wonder if the miraculous improvement in my linguistic abilities has anything to do with my having been severely congested over these few days as the result of the near-lethal levels of pollen?  [Oh, and by the way, the German word for a person from Holland is ‘Nederlander’ – I wonder if having gone to high school in Nederland, Texas, makes me a ‘Nederlander.’]


Just as English often has two (or more) words for the same thing, so does German.  For example, in English, ‘skunk’ and ‘polecat’ mean the same thing.  German also has two words for this animal.  It’s not surprising that one of those words is ‘Skunk’ but I like the other word better because it’s so descriptive—‘Stinktier’ – which translates literally as ‘stink animal’.  How cool is that?  Certainly makes more sense than ‘polecat’, doesn’t it?


 Today I saw another one of those things that makes you go ‘Hmmm….’  It had apparently once been a Christmas tree, judging by its shape and size.  Through some odd set of events, its dry, dead corpse currently finds itself affixed to the top of a light pole, hanging upside down.  One can only begin to imagine the offense it committed to warrant this punishment.  Having invented the Christmas tree, perhaps Germans hold their trees to higher standards that the rest of us and maybe this one just didn’t quite cut it, and was set out to serve as a warning to the others.


Have you ever watched your pet, or your kid, do something [or happen upon evidence of them having done something] that makes you scratch your head and wonder WHY they’d do something like that?  Well, maybe there’s an explanation for all of William’s shenanigans, and perhaps Anna Johnson, Evie Fullingim’s  granddaughter, has figured it out.  Maybe he wants to win some sort of a prize and, in William Logic Land, doing these things will help him accomplish his objective.  It’s as good an explanation as any other!



 I cooked for the first 20 years of our marriage, and then I got tired of it and Harvey more or less took over.  Now it’s my turn again.  I actually love to cook; I just didn’t have the time/energy/interest after working all day.  Now, of course, we’re retired and even though we stay pretty busy (making me wonder how we ever managed to fit in working for all those years), we have much more flexibility in how we manage our time (except for certain bursts of exceptional activity).  Consequently, I’ve gotten interested in cooking again.  More often than not, we have some delightful meals.  The sad part about some of the dishes I cook, however, is that we’ll never be able to have those exact same dishes again because I’ve started to cook pretty much like my Grandmother did – take some of this, stir it in with some of that, add a bit of milk until it looks right, add some more of this until it tastes right, cook it a bit, and serve it with whatever else you have around the house or are in the mood to eat.  So we came up with an idea for an exclusive dining experience.  I could have folks fill out a form where they’re required to tell me:

  • Any food allergies they have
  • Foods they absolutely hate
  • Foods they absolutely love
  • Spices they hate
  • Spices they love

 Then I fix them a surprise dinner within those parameters.  For example, the other night I had these things available:  fish, eggplant, rice, avocados, coriander, olives, lettuce, tomatoes (fresh) and pizza tomatoes (canned – which are fantastic to always have on hand, since they’re chopped, cooked, and have some herbs in them), tortillas, various oils (olive, pumpkin seed), and various spices (in this case, coriander, cumino, turmeric, and chilli pepper).  So I made fish and eggplant burritos!  Even if I make them again, they won’t be the same because I didn’t keep track of the proportions of the ingredients.

 So, welcome to Chez West, where tonight I’ll be serving Jaton’ Surprise #4,913!



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

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.’

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 23:  January 31, 2012



I’ve been thinking some more about the poor Hackle girl (see #22).  It’s pretty much an image that’s hard to get out of your mind.  I begun to wonder if the photographer tricked her.  Maybe he took a picture of her smelling a rose and puckering up to kiss a baby and then, given the miracles of modern technology, did a cut-and-paste for the Hackle ad.  In a way, I hope that’s what happened – I like to think that no one is so hard up for work that they would intentionally pose for these pictures, which are propagated so widely.


 I had a face when I woke up this morning.  In fact, I’ve had a face as long as I can remember, and, if the sonograms of my grandson are any indication, I most likely had a face several months before I was born.  But, alas, this evening I have no face.  Totally gone (ganz weg)!  I lost it when I road across a bump on the bike path on my way home this evening, when my frozen face fell off and broke into 5,923 ½ pieces on the bike path.  I’ve discovered that being exposed to 15 degree weather, with a 13 mph head wind, renders uncovered flesh brittle and fragile.  Tomorrow it will be 8 degrees F!  What’s up with that?  After the temp goes down to freezing, what’s the point of getting any colder?  I think it’s just Mother Nature showing off!!

 I hope that when I wake up in the morning, my face shall have returned for another go.  If so, I’ll try to remember to use my balaclava next time!  And I have no excuse for not using it – it’s attached to my jacket, so it’s always with me – much like my face used to be.

My poor son!  I only rode for 4 kilometers, twice today, but he’s typically out in this weather 8 – 10 hours a day, on his bike, delivering documents and small devices to businesses that apparently are unable to operate without them and feel they can’t rely on the postal service.  Last year, he managed to miss 3 weeks of the worst weather by taking a bike trip up (or down) the California coast with his father.  This year, he’s managed to miss a couple of weeks by painting the flat that he and his family will move into by the end of February.  He’s been working like a dog, but at least it’s inside and warm.  Wonder what drastic measures he’ll take next year to get a brief respite from the cold.


So, does this menu get your digestive juices flowing?

  • Entrée:  Noodles with radishes, salami, potato, and bananas
  • Side dish:  Tomatoes and carrots
  • Beverage:  Tea made of red cabbage and pineapple
  • Dessert:  Pan-fried cake and lollipops

Can’t say our 4-year-old granddaughter isn’t adventurous in the kitchen!  Fortunately, the ingredients were all play food, available from her own private grocery store and assembled with loving hands!


Do you remember Bezirk #10, where I talked about the Bier Bike?  Well, I had a chance to see it today again.  I’m feeling particularly generous today so I’ll give you the URL again so you won’t have to search it out:

 To fully appreciate the importance of this bier bike sighting, you must know that this is January, in Berlin, with freezing temps and light, wet snow.  Nonetheless, a group of hardy young men (mostly) were peddling the bier bike down Bergmanstrasse.  Although it makes sense that these guys would do this on a Saturday, the idea of going down Bergmanstrasse with such a traffic-impeding vehicle on a day when the street is actually crowded with shoppers was undoubtedly not welcomed by folks in cars.  The rest of us, however, thought it was pretty amusing.


I never cease to be amazed at the things that stimulate the curiosity of my beloved.  [By the way, I initially tried to use another verb with respect to ‘curiosity’ but couldn’t figure out whether it’s spelled ‘peek’ or ‘peak’ or ‘pique’ or some other way, so I fell back to a more certain, but infinitely less satisfying, expression.]  For example, have you ever wondered why it was a wooden horse that the Trojans built, as opposed to, say a wooden armadillo or hippopotamus?  Nope, neither have I.  But apparently this question is keeping him up nights, so he’s spending a lot of time researching it.  I’ll let you know what he finds.


I am continually amazed how self-sufficient kids are in Germany.  A few days ago, I was at the grocery store.  There was a kid who could not have been older than 10, and he was doing some substantial shopping – kitty litter, cat food, vegetables, etc.  In fact, the cat food he needed was on a shelf that was too high for him to reach, so he asked me to hand it to him.  I later watched him go through the grocery line, pay for the grocers, and pack a sizeable shopping cart to pull back home.  You just don’t see that in the States.  I suppose part of it is that you don’t have grocery stores on every other block so walking to the store isn’t really an option, and kids that age don’t drive yet.  My husband can recall having been sent to the grocery store from time to time to pick up an onion or something like that, but he certainly never made a full-out shopping expedition.  The other thing we frequently see are small kids – maybe 8 years old – traveling on the U-bahn alone.  Today we saw one youngster about that age, traveling with what we imagine was his younger sister.  A few stops before he got off, he took out his phone and called his Dad to tell him where he was.  I expect that this is a routine they have, just so his folks can keep tabs on him.  And although I don’t keep up with the daily news here, I certainly haven’t heard of any kidnappings, disappearances, etc. – it seems like kids are generally safer here than in the US, where they are kept on a much shorter leash.  Kinda makes you wonder about how effective it is to be over-protective, or what it may say about the differences between our two countries that maybe children are safer in Germany than in the US.


My husband and I met when we were 16; we married at 22.  We’ve been friends for 51 years and spouses for 44 years.  I can’t speak for everybody who’s been in a relationship for that long, but I can speak for us (and I rather suspect it applies to lots of folks in our boat), but here are the reasons that come to mind:

  1. Because you’re both going deaf, before you say something, you ask yourself, “Is this really worth repeating 2, or 3, or 4 times?”
  2. There’s precious little that remains to be said that hasn’t already been said, many times.
  3. You share a brain, so there’s no need for words.

I can give you a perfectly good example of the last explanation, which happened this morning at breakfast.  Every now and then we might have eggs, or waffles, or French toast for breakfast.  However, at least 90% of the time we have either oatmeal or fresh fruit with yogurt.  I happen to like butter on my oatmeal; my husband doesn’t.  Because I like it to melt, I put the butter in the bowl and then put the oatmeal on top of it.  My husband likes milk on his oatmeal.  There have been times when whichever one of us puts the oatmeal on the table gets confused and puts the unbuttered oatmeal at my place and the buttered oatmeal at his place.  This morning we had fresh fruit with yogurt.  As he picked up the bowls to put them on the table, he asked me, “Which bowl has the butter?”  This occurred[i] approximately ½ of a nanosecond before I was going to say, “The bowl in your left hand has the butter in it.”  This is what passes for witty repartee in our household.


After 50 years, my husband and I have pretty much run out of things to argue about.  We’ve either resolved the differences, agreed to disagree, or the topics of dispute have reached their expiration date (e.g., what time to put our son to bed – he pretty much figures that out for himself now).  Nonetheless, there is this human urge to argue about something – after all, isn’t the whole purpose of marriage to make sure that you don’t have to argue with total strangers?  So we have to make up things to argue about, one of which has to do with whether the cats love him or me more.  Naturally, when we’re watching TV and I’m lying on the sofa and both cats climb onto my rather ample lap, leaving him totally cat-less on the floor, I can assert that it’s pretty clear that I’m the one they love the most.  Yesterday, he was taking a nap and both the cats climbed up on him to give him support and counsel in this endeavor (as they are, indeed, renowned as subject matter experts when it comes to napping).  However, after he got up, the cats stayed on the bed.  Then, later, when I assumed my ‘cat-attracting position’ on the sofa, their presence on my lap was conspicuous in its absence.  They were still in the bed!  We noticed that the one constant in all these cases – when they’re on my lap, when they’re on his lap, or when they’re on the bed alone – seems to be a particular blanket.  It’s a lovely Afghan throw that my cousin recently made for me and, despite having previously exhibited a definite preference for a maroon chenille throw, the cats have switched their alliances to the Afghan.  As it turns out, the cats prefer whoever is lying beneath the Afghan!  Whether it’s me or Harvey or Charlie Manson – or even nobody – is pretty much irrelevant to them.  So, this conflict having been resolved, we find ourselves on the search for a new topic to argue about.  Suggestions are welcome!


I had a surprise greeting on my birthday last month.  I got an SMS message wishing me Happy Birthday.  It was from the ‘entire team at Deutsche Telecom.’  WOW!  Just for ME??  And I wonder if I had to pay for that message?  Since my service is prepaid, I never see a bill so I have no way of knowing.  I also wonder how much[ii] those messages I get from hot chicks wanting to meet me (an oldamericanlady) are costing me.


William is particularly fond of water.  I don’t know how he’d feel about a bath, but every time there’s water running, he heads for it immediately.  Normally, it’s not a problem because it’s[iii] water coming from a faucet, and faucets are generally pretty sturdy.  However, we discovered a new danger, so now the Brita filter pitcher cannot be left unattended until the water drips completely through the filter.  Otherwise, William will try to play with it and knock it over.  It’s a good thing that there isn’t a gun in our flat; otherwise we would be down to a single cat tonight!

And, thanks to William’s fondness for flowers, the bouquet that my grandkids gave me for my birthday must be displayed in the bathroom – the only place in the flat where we can close a door and keep him out.  But, given the vicissitudes of old age, I get to the bathroom rather frequently…..


 William the Wonder Cat has some relationship with gravity that seems to elude the rest of us.  He can adjust the effect of earth’s gravitational pull on his body.  He exercises this power when he is some place where we don’t want him to be at the moment.  For instance, if he’s napping across my legs and I have to get up to attend to an urgent matter – most often to go to the bathroom – his normal weight of 14.4 pounds doubles, making the process of retrieving my legs from underneath his body a far greater challenge than would otherwise be the case.  I think this is similar to a capability shared by both dogs and cats – the ability for an animal weighing a mere 10-15 pounds and having a body length of about 12-18 inches to somehow occupy every square inch of a king-sized bed, leaving absolutely no room for the human who suffers from the delusion that the bed is for him, rather than his pet.


A few years ago, we bought a tempurpedic mattress.  To demonstrate how the mattress conformed to your body, the sales man put his keys on the mattress and told me to lie down on top of them.  Indeed, the mattress enveloped the keys as well as my body and I couldn’t even feel them.  William has the same quality, as he can drape himself across my bony feet (one of the few parts of my body that can be described as ‘bony’) and somehow make himself comfortable.


This morning as William was sitting on top of the china cabinet, I noticed him looking longingly at the chandelier hanging over the dining table.  From that position, the chandelier is about 3 feet (horizontally) and 3 feet (vertically) away.  So, according to Pythagoras, he’s only a little over 4.2 ft. away from it, a trivial distance indeed (barely 2 body lengths for him).   And, once he gets an idea in his head, it’s only a matter of time before he acts on it.  And there’s nothing I can do about it – no way to prevent access to the top of the china cabinet and no way to prevent him from jumping from there to the chandelier.  Resistance is futile.  For a moment, I considered attaching weights to his limbs and around his belly, thinking that might slow him down.  But then I remembered – athletes in training use that method to make them stronger, not weaker.  If there’s anything we DON’T need, it’s for him to become stronger!  The only good news is that at least he won’t be able to jump at the same speed as he can when he thunders through the flat, so maybe the combination of weight and speed won’t be sufficient to pull the chandelier  out of the ceiling.


When I first started riding my bike, I was terrified of riding it in the street.  As I’ve become a tad more comfortable with it, the street is looking increasingly attractive, especially when there’s no bike path (or, sometimes, even when there is).  When veteran bikers extol the virtues of riding in the street, they normally mention how you can avoid pedestrians, folks coming out of doorways, children, dogs, etc.  These reasons are undoubtedly valid.  However, I have a few more advantages to offer.  For one thing, bikes are quiet, so as I pedal along at my customarily glacial speed, I don’t know another biker is trying to pass me until he’s right upon me, which typically startles me.  For this reason, bikers who pass me without ringing their bells are placing themselves at great risk.  [Note:  Unfortunately, it’s considered rude and pushy to use your bell.]  Trust me — the ‘startle’ response does absolutely nothing to improve my biking capabilities.  Cars, on the other hand, make sufficient noise for me to recognize that they are approaching (rather than having them suddenly and inexplicably materialize right beside me, which is what it’s like with a bike).  Another advantage is the distinct absence of doggy doo – folks are typically disinclined to humor their dogs by letting them take a dump in the middle of a busy street.  That’s definitely not the case for sidewalks or bike paths along sidewalks.  And a third point is that, if I were to be hit by a car, no doubt my demise would be mercifully swift, while being hit by a bike is more likely to render me in pain for some time to come.



A couple more examples of Berlin Whimsey..



And notice that ‘Hot Dog Man’ does not mean ‘the man who sells hot dogs.’





Gotta love the expressions on the faces of these cats!


As a final note today, if you can read the footnotes, you can see how abysmally unreliable Word Grammar Check is.  I believe that the labzoids in Redmond should be required to take an oath similar to the one that doctors take – First do no harm!  Better to give NO advice at all than to give WRONG advice!

Further note:  The editor on my blog suggested changing ‘unbuttered’ to ‘unuttered’ — making it read ‘My husband likes unuttered oatmeal.’

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

[i] Word Grammar Check flagged “This occurred” with the note “Verb confusion.”  WHAT???

[ii] And here, Word wants me to say “how many those messages … cost me.”

[iii] And here, Word Grammar Check wants me to use ‘its’ (the possessive form of ‘it’) rather that ‘it’s’ (the contraction meaning “it is” – which is precisely what I meant here).  In my experience, Word ALWAYS gets the difference between its and it’s wrong.

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 16:  October 5, 2011


Pirate Party:   German political parties are so much more interesting than those in the States.  First, they have so many of them.  Second, some are especially interesting.  Take the Pirate Party, for example.  In recent elections, they won their first seats, with 9% of the vote – nothing to sneeze at.  Platform?  Free wireless Internet and public transportation and giving the vote to 15-year-olds, among other things.


  •  A juggler on a unicycle at a traffic light
  • A guy in a kilt (and all the associated regalia) – who was standing in the bike path and whom I almost ran over
  • A tattoo parlor named ‘B52 Tattoo’ {for those of you who are so old you’ve forgotten and for those of you who slept through your history classes, the planes used in the Berlin Airlift were B52s – and if you don’t know what the Air Drop was, Google it.}


James Brown may have indeed been the hardest working man in show business, but he can’t hold a candle to a guy I saw today in terms of working hard, period. This guy was selling grilled bratwursts at Alexander Platz, a high-traffic tourist area.  He was there when we arrived at noon and was still there when he left at 7 pm.  OK, so working 7 hours selling brats doesn’t sound so extraordinary.  Except for this—he was selling them from a ‘body grill.’  You’ve see the guys who are like a one-man band, right?  Sitting on a stool, with drums on their backs, playing the percussion with foot pedals while playing a harmonica, or some similar combination.  Well this guy is selling brats from what can only be described as a ‘body grill.’  I couldn’t really figure it out but, imagine this if you will –there’s a contraption that fits over this guy’s shoulders.  In the front is a grill, where he’s cooking brats and toasting buns for them and on his back is something that I imagine is the fuel tank for the grill.  This guy is NOT even sitting on a stool—he’s standing up—ALL DAY—WEARING a grill and a fuel tank!  And this was some skinny young guy!!!  No, I am NOT making this up!!  Found out later from my son that someone who does this is called a ‘grill walker’ – and was the only job he thought he’d be able to find here, until he lucked out and got a kitchen job a MacDonald’s.  Yes – Mickey D’s is definitely a step UP from grill walker!


In some ways, I miss being a homeowner.  We have now been unable to shower for almost a week.  The handle that lets you switch from shower head to faucet broke.  We can bathe, but that getting in and out of the extremely deep but tediously narrow, slippery bath tub is pretty much an acrobatic feat that I approach with great fear and trepidation.  It’s not made any better with the eccentric positioning of all the bath tubs I’ve used in Germany – the bottom of the tub is at least 10 inches higher than the floor outside the tub.  Don’t know why – maybe it’s because every place I’ve bathed is old (like in a couple of hundred years old) and the plumbing has been retrofitted.

As a homeowner, I could have just called a plumber and, more often than not, had the problem fixed the same day.  As a tenant, however, unless I want to pay for it myself (and, perhaps, break the terms of the lease – no doubt a landlord doesn’t actually want tenants to do the repairs themselves), I have to wait until the landlord arranges the repairs.  First, there’s getting in touch with the landlord, whose real estate investments apparently allow him to take numerous extended vacations.  But we’re fortunate enough to have a neighbor who has the name and phone number of the plumber the landlord uses, so we went that route.  But by the time we figured all this out, it was the week-end.  On Monday, we called the guy and he came out the same day we called; he confirmed that it was indeed broken.  He always has to get the landlord’s permission to do a repair or replacement.  He contacted the landlord to discover that the fixture is under a warranty, which means we have to endure another process.  Otherwise, he could have replaced it for us on Monday.  So, by the time the landlord contacts the guy who is authorized to fix/replace it, it’s Tuesday and the guy comes out on Wednesday.  He then has to remove the fixture, which requires turning off the water, so he can return it and get a new one.  This process will take at least 3 hours, so I’ll be without the water meanwhile.  I’m sure I’ll find that extremely annoying at some point – giving painful truth to that old adage ‘You don’t miss your water until the well runs dry.’

With any luck, the problem will be resolved by the end of the day.

The most annoying aspect of this is that, because of the warranty, the plumber is going to install another fixture JUST LIKE THIS ONE!  The one that broke after only one year!  Just to rub salt in the wound, he noted that the fixture is French!  No wonder it’s a piece of junk!  So, here we are in Germany, home to some of the most well-made plumbing fixtures on the planet, and we get stuck with a French faucet!  Pardon me while I go tear my hair out!


  • It’s the 5th most bike-friendly city in Europe—
  •  It’s got the cleanest air of any European city!  Partly because the use of bicycles has increased 13% (and I wonder how much my bike counts in that mix).

This ‘clean air business’ is a far cry from the place where I grew up – Southeast Texas.  In 1901, an oil well in Beaumont – Spindletop – hit big time.  It produced more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day (that’s 4.2 MILLION gallons), exceeding by far the productivity of any previously discovered well discovered.  Two huge oil companies, Gulf and Texaco, were formed to refine the oil, and were later joined by Mobile.  Soon Jefferson County’s air was full of SO2 (aka, sulfur dioxide), which smells of rotten eggs.  As the average relative humidity in that part of Texas approaches 100%, the SO2 has the opportunity to combine with H2O (more commonly referred to as ‘water’) to form H2SO4 (known as sulfuric acid), a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid.  It has its uses, such as in lead-acid batteries, but has less than charming results when you breathe it.  My college was across the street from the Mobil Oil refinery, which generously offered the college land upon which to build the football stadium.  In fact, there were times when the fog in the stadium made it a little bit difficult to watch the game (and that was long before there were giant screen TVs in the stadium).  The sulfuric acid was a bit hard on nylon stockings, too.  That was back in the days when girls were forbidden to wear slacks on campus, and we all wore hose.  If you happened to brush up against a shrub in the morning, while it was still wet with dew, that ‘dew’ was actually sulfuric acid and, before you knew it, your hose practically turned to ribbons the next time you bent your knee.  {And the folks in Redmond gave me another chuckle just now; Word grammar check wanted me to change ‘bent’ here to ‘bet.’  I’m trying to think of a situation in which betting one’s body parts would come up in conversation with sufficient frequency to warrant a rule in Word grammar check that resulted in the recommended construction.}

Folks were more than a little proud of their ‘black gold’ and whenever you complained of the smell of rotten eggs, your Daddy would invariably tell you, “Child, that’s just the smell of money.”  For some reason, the folks in charge of such things even apparently considered it worthy of including in materials normally used to promote tourism.  I found this post card in a hotel in Beaumont in the 1980s.


Beaumont Refinery


 Judging from the cars, this photo had been taken maybe 50 years earlier.  This simple piece of paper gave rise to several questions.  First, why was such an old post card still available?  Was it that nobody had ever bought it and the hotel never considered weeding out products that didn’t sell?  [And I don’t think that particular hotel was even there 50 years ago.]  OR was it because it was such a great seller that they just kept reprinting it?  More importantly, how could anyone think that this photo would entice folks to visit Beaumont and spend their tourist dollars there?  Or, alternatively, was it intended to keep tourists away?  After all, this is a place that declined the opportunity to have a world-class port (leaving it to Houston to build a 100-mile-long intra-coastal canal where it developed a port).  Jefferson County also passed on the chance to have a Six Flags Amusement Park (presumably because it would draw a lot of strangers looking to spend money) in favor of a contract prison (a place where strangers would be kept under lock-and-key).

 The other substance than ‘enhanced’ our air quality was DDT.  In a place plagued with mosquitoes, DDT was most welcome.  When the trucks came through our neighborhoods spraying DDT to beat the band, one of our pastimes was to follow it, running barefoot on the shell streets and immersing ourselves in the DDT fog.  Alternatively, if your street was paved, you might follow the truck while riding your bike.  In either case, unlike Mr. Clinton, we did indeed inhale.

 Wonder if the DDT and the sulfuric acid have anything to do with the fact that, with the exception of one kid killed in Viet Nam and another killed in a car wreck, most of my dead classmates died of cancer.  Wonder how this might compare with kids who grew up in Berlin (except for the unfortunate fact that folks in Europe smoke far more than folks in the US – but that’s starting to change).

 By the way, if you have the vaguest interest in how life was in Jefferson County in the 1950s, read The Liar’s Club by Mary Kerr.  She pretty much nailed it (and, in so doing, apparently earned her mother’s undying ire).


  • Sudanese restaurant, with a sign stating that the place has menus in English and Spanish.  English I understand; it’s fundamentally the default language.  I speak Urdu; you speak Inuit; if we’re gonna chat at all, it’s gonna be in English.  But Spanish?  Are there really that many Spanish-speaking Sudanese food aficionados in Berlin?
  • Two guys standing outside the market hall, a building that houses what would otherwise be an outdoor market, on a 6-day-a-week basis, as opposed to the once-a-week basis of most other markets.  (For those of you familiar with the DC area, think ‘Eastern Market.’)  Each guy was just standing there holding one of two identical car doors, painted bright turquoise.  They were there when I went in and were still there when I came out.  So, are they hoping that someone is going to walk/drive by who needs 2 turquoise doors for the particular make/model of car?  Or, given that Berlin is such an artsy place, was it just another case of performance art?


  •  Curb Service.  From a structural perspective, Berlin is not particularly accommodating to the disabled.  For example, accessing many apartment buildings and stores (and other places of business) requires going up at least one step.  This is hardly wheel-chair friendly.  Today when I was at the corner drug store, I saw a lady in a motorized wheel chair stop on the sidewalk in front of the store and motion to the clerk at the cash register.  The clerk came to the door, the lady told her what she wanted, and the clerk went and got it for her, and the lady paid for it.  This seemed to be standard procedure, with the lady being a regular customer.  Although the architecture may not be particularly accommodating, even total strangers are.  I can’t count the times I’ve seen total strangers help the proverbial little old lady down the stairs to the U-Bahn, or help a mom carry a kid-filled stroller or baby carriage down the stairs.
  • Donations to the homeless.  Germans are big on recycling.  The larger grocery store chains have a machine to make it easy to return your bottles and get a receipt.  One of these stores offers something extra – there’s a contribution box next to the machine where you can donate your receipt.  Presumably, the store will take the cash it would otherwise have returned to you and provide food for a homeless shelter.  [I’m choosing to believe that the store doesn’t actually just destroy those receipts and keep the money it would have otherwise given customers for the recycled bottles.]


Our son sees a lot of the city—he’s a bike courier.  Otherwise, it’s entirely possible that this particular piece of graffiti may have come and gone without his noticing it.  On the side of a building there’s a photo-quality piece of graffiti—nothing particularly weird about this, as there are many other places that have such things.  The weird part is that it happens to be a black and white photo of our son!  The building is about 5-6 storeys tall and his photo is at least 2 storeys tall—and it’s just a head shot.  So often you see something that someone else thinks looks like you, and although you can see the resemblance, you don’t think it looks exactly like you.  In this case, Steve DOES think it looks exactly like him (as do his parents).  So, you wonder:  Where did this guy get a photo of Steve?  Why did he decide to use it in this graffiti?  And, of course, the continuing question I have about these things is – HOW did they do it?  The graffiti is ‘tagged’ but, of course, folks tend to remain anonymous, since it’s illegal to post such things without the building owner’s consent.

 God, I love GOOGLE!  It turns out that this wasn’t a photo of our son at all!  Just a guy who looks remarkably like him (AND dresses like him, down to the hat and scruffy beard)!  It’s part of a Levi’s ad.  Don’t know how our son is going to take being mistaken for a guy who’s famous for doing street karaoke, though.

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 15:  September 19, 2011


  •  Turning onto an asphalt street after riding far too many blocks on Popo-punishing cobblestones (Popo = German for bum, which conveniently satisfies my craving for alliteration)
  • Seeing the steeple of the church near our flat after a long bike ride (telling me that I’m a mere 3 blocks from home)
  • Getting horizontal, either for my afternoon nap or going to bed at night


 Cats are indeed curious.  William is particularly fascinated by any place involving running water.   But the toilet holds a special fascination.  [Think!  How do animals great one another?]  Today both of us narrowly missed a total disaster.  If you’ve ever had cats, you’re aware of their ability to apparently transport themselves from one place to another, instantaneously and totally invisibly.  One moment he was within view, but in the time it took me to drop my britches, he had jumped up on the toilet rim, escaping my notice until I felt my bare butt touching the top of his head.  Fortunately, I was able to stop my descent before I ended up with a wet, panicked cat tearing up my behind.  YIKES!!  I shudder just to think about it!

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

Note:  Objects in drawing are larger in reality than they appear here.


  •  Toiletten:   As any woman over 50 will readily attest (if not verbally, then by her actions), we are ever on the alert for a stick figure in a skirt.  A couple of times now (first at Legoland – those wacky Danes!), I’ve come across a slight variation in the universal symbol for what is arguably the single most sought-after attraction on any trip—those little stick-figure men and women offering sweet and blessed relief!  Specifically, this variation depicts the gentleman stick figure crossing his legs, and the lady stick figure with her knees together and her hands holding her crotch.
  • Hair:  Saw a guy today with a Mohawk—Day-glo orange!


 There are at least as many neighborhood bars in Berlin as there are neighborhood bakeries.  You certainly don’t have to go far from wherever you are to find one.  I passed one yesterday that had both a walker and a wheelchair chained up just outside the door.  Presumably even the halt and the lame can make it to the neighborhood bars.


 Having never imagined what might provoke folks to spend long hours letting some stranger poke needles into them (often in some very sensitive areas), I think I’ve finally found a practical (well, semi-practical) rationale for tattoos.  Folks just have a strong need to adorn themselves—jewelry, clothing, hairstyles.  Well, if you ride a bike and if you wear a helmet (or live where it gets cold enough to require hats), jewelry in particular causes problems.  I lost one of my favorite earrings when I pulled a hat off, and I damned near strangled myself on my necklace when I tried to put on my bike helmet and my back pack.  (Damn, those things have more straps and latches than you can shake a stick at!!)  Not a problem with tattoos, though.  Nonetheless, even though I’ve inflicted some piercing upon myself (3 holes in each ear-lobe for my earrings), I still don’t see myself dancing down the yellow brick road to Tattoo-land.


 Don’t wear a scarf while riding a bike.  I learned this one the hard way today, with one of my favorite scarves.  (Of course, you always WEAR your favorite stuff, thereby having a higher chance of losing it or destroying it).  It’s getting cooler (apparently summer wore itself out in the US with all the 100+ days and had precious little energy left for Berlin) and, although I thought a sweater might be a bit much, I wrapped a scarf around my neck.  So, I’m blissfully riding in the gorgeous weather, en route to get the grandkids from day care, when all of a sudden my bike gets very difficult to pedal.   I got off the bike and discovered that my lovely scarf had slipped off my neck, which alone would have been bad enough, but apparently simply losing the scarf wasn’t enough – it had wound itself around the hub of my back wheel.  Fortunately, I wasn’t in the street (risking getting hit by a car) and I followed my standard practice – if anything is strange, get on your feet (and my threshold for ‘strange’ is very, very low) – rather than trying to push through it.  Coulda kilt myself!!  (Or worse.)


 Six months to the day after our son turned 16 and got his full driver’s license, he had a fender-bender.  No one was hurt and the damage was minor.  However, to avoid getting points on his license, he had the option to take a driving class, which had to include attendance by one of his parents.  So Steve and Harvey took the course.  In fact, this particular course should be a universal requirement before anyone gets a driver’s license.  They learned lots of useful stuff.  As part of their homework one week, they had to identify other drivers who were doing something that was dangerous.  It just so happened that over the week-end we were in Boston, where I have to believe driver’s licenses are issued only to the insane.  Absolute WORST drivers in the world!  We were leaving the airport, going through the toll gate, where approximately 8,923.5 lanes of traffic had to merge into lanes for one of three toll gates.  In the lane beside us, there was an 18‑wheeler.  There was a small sports car behind (and under the bumper of) this truck.  Apparently the driver had no intention of letting anyone get in front of him.  We hadn’t even entered the city proper yet, but Harvey asked Steve, “How many of these cars are a danger to us?”  Steve replied, “Every damned one of them!”  And he was right, of course.

 This is how I feel when I’m riding my bike.  How many people do I see that are posing a danger to me?  Every damned one of them!  Here’s a sample:

  •  Guys walking out of a bar, carrying a bottle of beer.  The later in the afternoon this is, the more likely the guy is gonna unpredictably wander into the bike lane.
  • People at bus stops—although there is plenty of room between the bike lane and the curb for bus passengers to wait, they typically prefer to wait in the bike lane.  This is especially fun when a bus comes, with the cross-flow of people getting off and on the bus.
  • People texting while walking or biking.  Yeah, it’s almost worrisome as folks doing this while they’re driving.
  • People with wires coming out of their ears.  No doubt listening to their iPods and totally oblivious to anything else on the planet.
  • Anyone walking down the sidewalk carrying potential trash.  There’s at least one trash bin on every block.  Unless the bike lane is in the street, folks must walk across the bike lane to get to the bins.  Rarely do they check to see if a bike is coming.
  • Anyone walking down the sidewalk carrying mail.  Same as above, except—presumably—they’ll be headed towards the mail box.
  • Folks sitting on benches.  Many streets are lined with trees.  In some places, folks have put little fences around them and may have even planted flowers beneath the trees.  Sometimes the top rails of the fences are wide enough to serve as seats.  OK.  Each little fenced-in area has 4 sides, 3 of which do NOT face the bike lane.  Would you care to guess which side most folks prefer to sit on, and with their legs sticking into the bike lane?
  • Tourists.  American tourists are especially dangerous, as they are the most likely never to have experienced a bike lane in their lives.  So if you hear anyone speaking American English, be afraid!
  • Anyone capable of moving.  Folks are unpredictable and unfathomable.  Somebody will be going down the sidewalk with great purpose, and, if they continue on that particular course, they’ll never intrude upon the bike lane.  But, suddenly they seem to have an uncontrollable urge to get into the bike lane, for no apparent reason.
  • People watching the traffic.  You’d think that’s exactly what you’d want folks to do.  The only problem is that, although they’re watching the traffic with great intensity, it’s the traffic that’s going in the opposite direction, which should be of considerably less interest to them that what’s happening on their side of the street.
  • Commercial trucks.  Not only do these typically park in a way that blocks the bike lane, but you can bet that, sooner or later, some guy or gal is going to exit the vehicle pushing a dolly, while focusing exclusively on keeping the object on the dolly and not bumping into the door frame.  Bikers are the last thing these folks are taking into consideration.
  • Waiters, Waitresses, and Dining Patrons.  Berliners like to dine outside.  Often that includes simply putting chairs and tables on the sidewalk in front of the café.  That can be a problem if there’s no bike lane and you’re using the sidewalk to avoid the cobblestones in the street.  It can also be a problem when the bike lane runs between the sidewalk and that little strip of land where the trees are planted.  Sometimes the café extends to those small strips of pavement, too, so you can effectively be riding your bike through a café.  Folks aren’t particularly careful about what they do with their arms and legs, either, and their gestures may include thrusting an arm right into the bike lane when they’re emphasizing an important point in their conversation.  But if you think it’s dicey for the person on the bike, just imagine what it must be like to be waiting tables in a place where you have to dodge bicyclists!

 And, of course, we mustn’t forget the greatest menace of all – the oldamericanladyinberlin, who’s still trying to figure this bike thing out and who, when spooked by anything at all [drunk guy leaving a bar; dog heading for a tree because he got a whiff of a message his friend left him there] simply STOPS, in a panic, without any thought of what might be going on behind her.  [It’s all she can do to cope with what’s in FRONT of her, much less behind her.]

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 14:  September 12, 2011


 Sometimes the simplest things turn out not to be universally standard across the planet.  You wouldn’t think that there are different conventions for ordering something from a menu or using your fingers to indicate how many things you want.  But, of course, that’s a provincial point of view.  Here’s what I’ve discovered so far:

  •  Ordering from a menu:  On more than one occasion, the dish I’ve been served in a Berlin restaurant has not been the dish I ordered.  After awhile, it came to me that it probably wasn’t because all of the waiters in Berlin were incompetent nor were they intent on denying me what I wanted.  That meant that I had to be doing something wrong.  I eventually noticed a pattern—I always received the item on the menu immediately beneath the one I thought I’d ordered.  My approach to pointing to an item on a menu has always been to carefully place my finger beneath the object of my desire, with the logic that the waiter needs to see the words, such as “Scampi und Spaghetti.”  Although that logic has served me well for the past 6 decades, that is not the case here.  It seems that, when pointing at an item on the menu, you must place your finger on (not below) that item.  No doubt the waiters are typically quite familiar with the menu and don’t really need to read the words.
  • Counting on your fingers:  This doesn’t work the same way here as it does in the US.

To indicate







Add middle finger

Add forefinger


Add ring finger

Add middle finger


Add pinkie

Drop thumb; hold up fingers


Thumb + 4 fingers


Today, there are no consequences for doing it American-style; they’ve seen it before and they can count, so they know what you mean.  However, during World War II or the Cold War, if you were a spy posing as a German, using the wrong fingers to order a beer could blow your cover and get you killed.


We lived in Northern Virginia for 36 years.  During that time we may have had a hurricane or two (but however many there were, that number pales in comparison to the number of hurricanes we experienced during our years on the Gulf Coast of Texas).   We experienced only one, very minor earthquake, with virtually no damage.  In the year since we left, the area has begun to experience heat waves more like weather in Amarillo, TX, and in the past couple of weeks had a 5.9 earthquake and a hurricane (which ended not affecting Northern Virginia as much as had been anticipated, but nonetheless was an annoyance).  Following the hurricane, there’s been high water, strangling traffic and causing minor nuisances (for example, the back wall just fell off of our friends’ office!)  I’m not sure I’d be surprised if a volcano emerged from the earth and erupted, given these other unusual happenings.  It made me start thinking that the next thing might be a plague of locusts.  But then I remembered that there’s a creature that’s similar to a locust that does indeed visit Northern Virginia once every 17 years – the cicada.

This lovely creature has an interesting life cycle.  It comes out with a vengeance and fills the word with the most irritating, continuous, noise for several weeks, during which time it shed its disgusting shell, dines on carefully cultivated foliage, breeds, and then its progeny burrow into the earth to take a 17-year nap and then do it all over again.  I’m trying to figure out what place this beast has in our ecology.  Exactly what devastating consequences would result if they were rendered extinct?  (I have these questions about skunks and jelly fish, too, by the way.)  As I pondered the return of the cicadas, it reminded me of an old song – When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano –and made me wonder if someone might come up with a similar homage for the cicadas.  What do you think?  Would you enjoy hearing “When the Cicadas Come Back to Old Virginny”?   And, by the way, I checked on when they’re due to arrive again in Virginia – Brood I isn’t due until 2012, and then only in the Blue Ridge Mountains; Brood II is supposed to emerge in full force in 2013.  (But what if the crazy weather and the earthquake made them want to jump the gun?)


 What IS it with Europeans and pillows?  You come into your hotel room and you see what looks like a mini-mattress on your bed.  It turns out that this big square thing is your pillow.  And quite often it’s fluffy, and looks like it might actually be useful (if a bit larger than you think you need).  But then you place your head on the pillow and its substance virtually vanishes!  It’s like cotton candy – take a humongous mouthful and it totally disappears!  OK, so it’s big and maybe you can fold it over to get the support you’re used to.  Nope.  Doesn’t work.  After all, what happens when you multiply zero by 2?  Not much, right?  And propping yourself up to read in bed?  Forget that, too.  Why even bother to have these things?  Why not save all the goose down and just put a pillow case on the bed?  Thank God we knew about this before we moved, so we brought our hefty pillows.  And, props to IKEA – you can buy real pillows there.


As most of you know, in the US – the only place I have ever driven a car – has the following protocol for traffic lights:

  • RED = STOP
  • GREEN = GO
  • YELLOW = [Unless you’re already in the intersection] STOP

 Granted, most folks act as though they think that YELLOW means SPEED UP.  In fact, if you’re among the few who actually obey the law with respect to the yellow light, before you decide to stop, it would behoove you to check your rear view mirror to confirm that the person behind you is also among those limited few who obey this law.  Otherwise, you may well have a body shop, a hospital, or even a morgue in your future.

In Germany, the RED and GREEN lights mean the same as they do in the US.  I suppose 2 out of 3 isn’t bad, but here’s what the 3rd means:


If it was RED, it’s changing to GREEN.

If it was GREEN, it’s changing to RED.

So, if you see a yellow light without having seen the previous light, you haven’t a clue what you should do.  In addition to confusing me (which, I admit, is no major feat), it would seem that not having a single meaning for the yellow light would increase the statistical probability that any given driver might interpret it incorrectly.  Whether they respond by jumping the green light or running the red light, there’s no good outcome for either scenario.  Kinda gives a whole ‘nother interpretation of the ‘Yellow Peril.’


I was riding in the bike lane (on MY side of the street) when I look up to an on-coming cyclist.  This is not particularly unusual.  If you have bike lanes on both sides of the street, you should be riding in the same direction as the cars on the your side of the street, but folks don’t always do this.  Normally, the one going the wrong way yields and so you can just stay in your bike lane.  This cyclist followed protocol and the incident would have been unremarkable, except for one thing—the guy coming at me head-on had four full-grown parrots riding on his handle bars (well, actually 3 parrots and one Macaw).  For the briefest of moments, I thought I must have been totally wasted away in Margaritaville.  [How totally lame is Word spellcheck?  It wants me to use ‘Margaretville’ here!]  Fortunately, Harvey was with me and he witnessed this, too.  We later told our grandson, who has also seen this guy, which gave us even more confidence that our eyes (or, of more concern, our brains) weren’t deceiving us.


Ah, how lovely it is to stroll down the sidewalk, shaded by trees, with a gentle wind blowing the branches about, so that little bits of sunlight dance about merrily on the sidewalk.  How this experience changes when you’re on a bike!  With the increased speed, the changes in light take on the quality of a mirror-ball in a discothèque.  And, as with everything else as you age, your pupils’ ability to continually adapt to changes in light levels is diminished so that, invariably, your eyes are one step behind where you want to be – pupils are wide-open when you’re in the bright light and tiny pin-holes when you’re in the shade, effectively making you blind under both conditions.  Naturally, pedestrians are blissfully unaware that a blind biker is within centimeters of rendering them a pile of bruises and broken bones.


I’m sure on some level this makes sense, or maybe it did one day, but I’ll be hog-tied and horse-whipped if I can figure it out.  When you go to a German grocery store, you have to put a 1 Euro coin in a slot to get a grocery cart.  You get the coin back when you return the cart.  Presumably this is to keep folks from walking off with carts.  Well, let me see:

  • The grocery store doesn’t get the Euro if you steal the cart – the Euro is still in the cart itself.  Theoretically, the person stealing the cart can’t get the Euro, either, so the coin is in limbo until the cart comes home.
  • If I really needed a cart, I’m pretty sure that trading 1 Euro for a cart would seem like a pretty good deal.
  • If you’re a customer who needs a cart and you don’t have the right coin when you get to the store, it’s annoying.  There’s a solution to that problem, though.  For ½ a Euro, you can buy a token that serves the same purpose; it has a little hole in it so you can keep it on your key chain and always have it when you need it.  So, if I really wanted to steal a cart, I could get an even better deal if I just bought the re-usable token.
  • If you’re a cashier, it’s annoying to get interrupted to give someone change so they’ll have a Euro to get a cart.
  • If you’re a customer trying to check out, it’s annoying to have to be delayed while the cashier makes change for someone who needs a Euro for a cart.

Undoubtedly, these devices add to the cost of the carts, which much be borne by the grocery store (but, of course, passed on to the consumer).  Please tell me how there’s a net gain for anyone on this arrangement.  Oh yeah—the company that makes the devices (and the alternative tokens).


  • N-DAY:  The flat is particularly quiet this morning—no 10-pound cat thundering down the hall; no elderly cat hissing, spitting, and growling in response to being pounced upon by the aforementioned thunder-cat; no ominous thuds of various objects falling off the bookshelves; no mystery sounds (as in, “I don’t know what just happened, but I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna make me happy”).  Alas, poor young Master William is spending the morning in the company of the vet, and when he returns home, it will be without his manhood.  Normally, he could have avoided this for several more months; however, not surprisingly (given his rapid growth), he’s a particularly precocious cat, so at 7 months, he’s sufficiently sexually mature to warrant being neutered.  Please, a moment of silence for poor William…..
  • N-DAY + 1:  William the Wonder Cat is, not surprisingly, fully recovered.  The thundering, hissing, spitting, and growling have resumed.  We were also treated to another thud; this time, it was a book falling off the bookcase (far more welcomed than something more fragile hitting the floor).  In this case, William exhibited his feline erudition – of the 600+ books on the living room bookcases (a mere fraction of our pre-Berlin collection), the book he selected was The Encyclopedia of the Metropolitan Opera, shunning the books we would have expected he would prefer (e.g., Cat, by B. Kliban, or I Am a Cat, by Soseki Natsume).  For you humans, this last book is a particularly fine read.  As described on the book jacket—

 Richly allegorical and delightfully readable, I Am a Cat is the chronicle of an unloved, unwanted, wandering kitten who spends all his time observing human nature—from the dramas of businessmen and schoolteachers to the foibles of priests and potentates.  From this unique perspective, the author offers a biting commentary—shaped by his training in Chinese philosophy—on the social upheaval of the Meija era.

Well, maybe you don’t care that much about the Meija era in Japanese history, but human nature is pretty constant, whether said humans are being ridiculous in Japan in the 1920s or in the US in the 2010s.


When you get to be my age, you spend lots of time hunting for stuff that you put in a really logical place.  Unfortunately, by the time you need what you ever-so-carefully put up, you can’t remember the exact location, nor can you reconstruct the logic that led you to select that location.   This logic has become increasingly convoluted since our flat is so small.  I used to be able to figure out where to put something based primarily on convenience.  If I was going to use the object in a particular room, then clearly I’d want to find a place in that room to put it.  Given our smaller living quarters, I now have to consider another factor – where will it fit?  And, after William’s appearance on the scene, I have to also consider yet another factor – where will it be safe from William?   [For example, I keep the paper napkins in the wardrobe in the spare room; even though I have room in the kitchen for them, they would be readily accessible to William, too, and he would turn them into confetti.]  That this 10-pound hooligan is also intent on hiding stuff from us makes this situation a lot worse.  This state of affairs, in combination with our Sometimer’s Disease [sometimes we remember; sometimes we don’t], causes us to spend the better part of our waking hours just looking for stuff.  [Maybe that’s why retired people stay busy all the time—they’re not really doing lots of stuff; they’re only looking for lots of stuff.]

We now have a way to substantially diminish the man-hours we spend looking for stuff in the flat—simply start the search by looking under our bed, on my side.  This is where William likes to store his treasures, and where he often sleeps with them firmly in his grasp.  For example, the other day I noticed that the little thingy where I keep the plastic grocery bags was missing.  [OK – what do YOU call that fabric tube with holes in both ends, where you can put a grocery bag in the top and take one out of the bottom?  ‘Thingy’ is the best I can come up with!  I decided that ‘whada-ya-call-it’ was a tad long; plus, I’m not sure how to spell it.]  I was truly puzzled because that’s not something I would have any occasion to move; it stayed on a hook in the kitchen.  I never have been very successful in finding things (and this has only gotten worse with age), so whenever possible, I ask for Harvey’s help.  After all, he definitely has that ‘hunter-gatherer’ gene.  It was his brilliant idea to look under our bed in William’s treasure trove.  And, behold!  It was there!  This freed up enough of my time so that I could fix us lunch!


Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and the number, scope, focus, and expressions of remembrance were countless.  This made me start thinking about how we remember people in our lives in general.  People we have lost had full lives, and had done many things, yet the ways in which we remember them don’t really reflect the complexity of their lives.  For instance, Harvey had an aunt who, among other things, was very controlling.  And when she wanted you to do something, she not only felt compelled to tell you what to do, but she also instructed you on how you would feel about doing it.  Instead of saying, ‘Would you please take out the garbage?” she would say “You’ll be wanting to take out the garbage, Sweetie.”  Well, no, I can’t ever remember actually wanting to take out the garbage, nor can I ever anticipate EVER wanting to do this.  I’ll certainly do it, though.  So now, when I ask my husband[2] to do something, if I simply say, “Please hang up the laundry” he’ll respond by telling me to ask him properly.  So I’ll say, “You’ll be wanting to hang up the laundry, Sweetie.”

He had an aunt and uncle who were wise enough to get a hotel room when they drove 100 miles to attend a big party (rather than try to wend their way back home over the twisted back-roads of Southeast Texas after they were four sheets to the wind).   Naturally, the floor plan of the hotel room (in terms of the path from the bed to the toilet) wasn’t the same as it was at home.  So when they got up the next morning, Aunt Verta Lee started cussing a blue streak when she opened the closet to find her fancy dancing shoes full of Uncle Pete’s pee.  So that’s what we remember most about these two.  And there’s something else—Verta Lee (bless her little heart) never could say ‘breakfast’ – she always said ‘bref-kust’—which is pretty much how we say that word now.  In fact, we have to really think about it if we want to say the word correctly.

My grandmother was amazing!  She gave me lots of memories.  For example, once when my cousin and I were pretending to be horses under the dining table, she fixed us corn on the cob, which we ate off a plate—without using our hands.  But the way I memorialize her most often in my day-to-day life is making her peach cobbler.

I think the one defining memory that our grandkids will have of me is…Gummi Bears!!  Because Grandma always brings Gummi Bears.  In fact, I’ve been considering having my name legally changed to ‘Gummi Bears’—but doubt that Haribo would let me.  We’ve now begun a new ritual.  I give them 5 each, and we count them into their hands.  But then, after their hands are full, I pretend to gobble up the Gummi Bears myself.  They pout and say “Mean Grandma!  There’s nothing here but air!”  Either that or they’ll remember me by how piteous my German pronunciation is….  Or maybe they’ll choose something totally different.

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

[2] And HERE, Word grammar check gives me two options: ‘when I asks my husband’ or ‘when I ask my husbands’!  The first option isn’t even grammatically viable, and the second, well – one’s quite enough.

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.’