Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 46: October 12, 2013


When we moved to Berlin from the US, I had to replace all my small electrical appliances, to include my make-up mirror.  Instead of a switch, the one I bought has a touch mechanism and you can touch it anywhere to turn the light on or off or to adjust it.  At the time, I thought it was pretty cool.  As it turns out, there are a couple of problems with it.  The first problem has to do with the cats, who, of course, walk all over everywhere, so if you leave the light plugged in, they might turn it on in passing.  And electricity is Germany is virtually twice as expensive as it is in the US.  [The monthly electric bill for our 1000 square foot, single level, 4-room, unairconditioned flat in Berlin is as high as the one for our 3300 square foot, 4-story, 9-room, air-conditioned house in the US.)  That problem’s easy to solve – just unplug the mirror when I’m finished. The second problem has to do with how I use the mirror, and this problem has no solution at all.  I must bump into this thing at least 20 times while I’m making my face!  And, because it has 3 settings – low, medium, and high – accidentally bumping into it means that I can’t just touch it once to turn it back on.  I have to touch it 3 times to get it back to “high.”  And, of course, I have to remember how many times I’ve touched it because if I touch it 4 times, it turns it off again and I’m right back where I started.  I have every confidence that over the past 3 years, I’ve tapped on that mirror enough times that, if it were Morse code, I could have tapped out Tolstoy’s War and Peace.


Back in the US, when I had a car, I once did my week’s grocery shopping, pushed the cart into the pick-up place, went to my car, and blissfully drove home without loading my groceries.  Fortunately, once I got home I DID remember that I had been to the grocery store and was surprised when I opened my trunk and there were no groceries.  Also, it was nice that the grocery store was a mere 5 minutes away from home, so nothing spoiled.  The other day, I saw an apparently abandoned cloth sack full of groceries on the bus (to include a gorgeous pineapple.  And I felt great pangs of sympathy for whoever left it there, because the statistical probability of being reunited with your groceries under such circumstances approaches zero.  I haven’t done that yet (probably because I walk 2 block to the grocery store and don’t have to get on the bus), but what I have done is at least as bad as that, which is thinking that you’ve completely emptied your backpack of all the groceries, only to find out a day or two later that you’ve left something perishable (and smelly) in it.  But at least if food is spoiled, I can console myself that it’s not been a complete waste – we have a trash bin for organic waste, which is taken to a central place where, first, they capture methane gas from the waste (to generate electricity) as it decomposes and then provide what’s left to the farmers.  But I’m pretty sure the total yield from this doesn’t amount to the price I paid for, say, a pound of salmon….


Ever wonder what impact your life might make on the world?  Well, I did a timeline of my beloved grandmother, Veda Catherine Burns Terrell.  Along with my grandfather, James Norvell Terrell, (and a bit of help from other subsequent family members), my grandparents put a total of 87 folks on the planet – so far (and this changes on practically a monthly basis).

  • 10 children
  • 9 grandchildren
  • 21 great- grandchildren
  • 29 great-great-grandchildren
  • 19 great-great-great-grandchildren

 This doesn’t count the 19 other kids who were adopted or came into the family as step-children because, although they’re definitely family, my grandparents had no part in creating them.

Compare that side of my family to my father’s side of the family, where my grandparents, Adelia Dugan Holder and Thomas Samuel Holder, were only responsible for putting 7 folks on the planet.

  • 2 children
  • 1 grandchild
  • 1 great-grandchild
  • 3 great-great-grandchildren
  • 0 great-great-great-grandchildren (as the oldest great-great-grandchild is only 7 years old now)

Obviously, the motto of one side of my family was “Breed early and often” while the other side’s motto was “Leave it to others.”


Today I was playing with my 15-month-old grandson.  He had found his older sister’s play kitchen and was armed with a small bowl and spoon.  He decided that it was time to feed Grandma, which he thought was great fun.  I can only wonder if he’s going to have as much fun doing it when Grandma is no longer able to feed herself and he has to do this for real.


Despite being small (at least by American standards and in comparison to our previous home),   I can see how the floor plan may not portend well for the future.  True, it only has 4 rooms (compared to our home in the US, which had 9), but it has an ungodly number of doors – 11.  The small foyer (about 5 ft. by 10 ft) alone has 4 doors:  one to our bedroom, one to the living room, one to the outside, and one to the dining room.  Our bedroom has 2 doors – the aforementioned one to the foyer and another to the living room.  Our living room has 3 doors – the aforementioned ones to the foyer and our bedroom, plus one more to the dining room.  The dining room has 3 doors – the aforementioned ones to the foyer and the living room, plus one more to the back hall.  The back hall has 4 doors – the aforementioned one to the dining room, plus one each for the guest bathroom, the guest bedroom, the master bathroom, and the back stairwell.  Thankfully, the guest bathroom, guest bedroom, and master bathroom only have ONE door each!  Even now we sometimes lose track of one another because if we’re both in motion, it’s possible for us to always be one turn out of the sight of each other.  I thought maybe we’d have to wear bells around our necks to help us locate one another, but our diminishing hearing abilities might preclude the effectiveness of that solution.  So, I can see it now – Harvey picks up the phone and calls our son (catching him on his bike somewhere between deliveries and pick-ups) and says, “Son, I can’t seem to find your mother.  Might you know where she is?”


Our nearest grocery store is a block and a half from our front door.  As I was returning home with my groceries today, I encountered 2 ladies wearing mis-matched shoes.  [It’s entirely possible that there were others that I simply didn’t notice.]  One had on a pair of mis-matched Crocs; the other had on one walking shoe and one sandal.  Clearly, it was “Mis-matched Shoe Day in Kreutzberg.”  You may think it’s ridiculous to reach the conclusion that there’s such a day, but then there’s the “No-Pants U-bahn Day” – which, if you’ll note from the rest of the clothes folks have on, does NOT take place in the summer:


It’s time for national elections.  Would you believe that election day is on Sunday?  I wonder how that affects the turnout – are folks more likely to vote on their day off?  Certainly, holding elections on Saturday would have a negative effect, given that most stores are closed on Sundays so Saturday is when most folks do their heavy shopping.  Another thing about German elections – one man/woman, TWO votes.  Unlike the US system where it’s an all-or-none thing (and if you vote for a 3rd party, you’re essentially throwing away your vote), the Germans have many parties and have found a way to make sure they’re all represented.  Your first vote is for a particular candidate to represent your region.  That’s a simple, winner-take-all proposition.  Your second vote isn’t for a particular candidate, but rather for a party (and it needn’t be for the same party as the one that your regional candidate represents).  After those at-large votes are counted, each party receiving at least 5% of the vote gets a proportionate share of candidates in the parliament.  [Each party decides which particular candidates will represent the party.]  For instance, in the US, if 33% of votes go to a Democratic candidate, and 33% go to a Libertarian candidate, and 34% go to a Republican candidate, then 66% of the voters are left blowing in the wind, while the Republican candidate (representing 34% of the electorate ) gets it all.  Hardly seems fair, does it?  In Germany, if 15% of the votes go the Green Party, 20% to the Orange Party, 15% to the Pirate Party (yeah – isn’t THAT cool?!!), and 50% to the SPD, then (in addition to the regional representatives), Parliament will consist of1 5% Green Party reps, 20% Orange Party reps,1 5% Pirate Party reps, and 50% SPD Party reps.  That’s more like it!


You would think that you could find bagels in Berlin.  But think about this a moment – about 80 years ago, Germans initiated a program to get rid of the folks who tend to make bagels, and the country apparently still hasn’t recovered from that.  But today I found some bagels.  You’ll never guess where!  In the “American” food section, along with the hot dog buns (which, actually accommodate frankfurters, a good typically associated with Germans) and the hamburger buns (once again, “Hamburg” having German origins).  Go figure!  The “American” food section has maybe 20 items and, although it includes wonderful things like barbecue sauce, the shelf space is often wasted on total crap such as Pop-tarts.  I can assure you that this is NOT something I miss!  I would much rather have something like grits or good ol’ Cream of Wheat!


Our youngest grandson has a toy that is known to millions of parents.  It’s a bunch of blocks in different shapes (cube, cylinders, triangles, and stars) and colors.  They come in a bucket that has a lid with holes in the shape of these different blocks.  The object is to help the kid learn how to find the right hole for each shape of block.  Well, after trying this for a few minutes with virtually no success, he just cuts right to the chase and takes that useless lid off!  It’s so much easier to get the bocks into the bucket without the lid!  What are these crazy people thinking by putting the lid on the bucket?

He also found a way to help the family with the toilet paper problem.  It seems it takes Mom, Dad, big brother Noe, big sister Milla, and sometimes Grandma and Grandpa, a number of days to put a roll of toilet paper into the toilet.  Well, Levi identified the problem right away – they only put a few pieces of paper in at a time.  So, he just cut to the chase and put a whole roll of toilet paper in the toilet.  Reminds me of one of the characters on “Burned” who, in the intro, says, “That’s how we do it, people!” after having blown something up.


I now have to worry about toilet ghosts!  Milla has informed me that there are such things and that you should hold on tight to the toilet seat because if you don’t, they’ll come up out of the toilet and bump you so hard that you’ll hit your head on the ceiling (and when you live in a place with 14 ft. ceilings, that can be quite a jolt)!  I told her that it must be horrible for them because they always get covered with pee and poop.  But she said, “No, they like that!”  At least everybody is at risk of being attacked by toilet ghosts (women, however, disproportionately to men), which is better than the threat from the pegasus rhinoceros vampire, which will drink only Grandma blood!

 Vampire Rhinocerous Pegasus


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