Archives for posts with tag: Legos

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 48:  February 14, 2014


Language is so much more than just words, and learning another language is so much more than just substituting a word in one language for a word in the other (which, of course, is why when you use Google to translate something, you often get nonsense).  For example, the word “celery” in German is “Sellerie” – but, alas, if you ask for “Sellerie” in the grocery store, what you’re going to get is not something long and light green, but something round and whitish.  That’s because, when you say “celery” in the US, it invariably means “celery stalks” but when you say “Sellerie” in Germany, it invariably means “celery root.”  If you want “celery stalks” in Germany, you must specify that you want celery stalks “Selleriestängel” – just like in the US, if you want celery root, you must specify that you want “celery root.”


 From time to time, folks ask me if I have any regrets about leaving the US to move to Berlin.  Do I miss my lovely house that was about 4 times as big as our flat in Berlin?  Well, sometimes – mainly when I’m trying to unlock the front door to our apartment house with one hand while juggling a bike with its basket full of groceries during a freezing rain (as opposed to sitting in my warm, dry car, pushing a button for the garage door to go up, and driving into my dry – and relatively warmer – garage).  And often, when I have to settle for the odd phone call, more frequently, e-mails and Facebook posts to communicate with my friends, rather than sharing a great dinner and a fun movie with them.  However, there are precious moments here that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world!  For example, having my fussy, sick, younger grandson (20 months) fall asleep in my arms while I sing to him the song I made up for my son and sang to him every bedtime for many, many years, and have my son tell me how that warms his heart.


  • Kids’ groceries:  You know those little play groceries for kids’ play kitchens – tiny replicas of what’s in Mom’s kitchen?  Well, this is Germany, right?  And Germans eat sauerkraut, right?  So it’s only to be expected that you could find tiny replicas of canned sauerkraut, but still….
  • Restricted access to Legoland:  In Berlin, Legoland is an indoor thing.  It makes sense because this way it can be open 12 months a year (and, of course, the only way you can exit the Legoland is through the store, and the company wouldn’t want to forego the opportunity that presents itself when parents [and grandparents] have to drag their kids – who already are probably on a sugar-exacerbated Lego “high” – through the treasures of the Legoland store).  We have annual family tickets and definitely get our money’s worth – if you go twice a year, you save 10 Euros on the entrance fee and if you go more than that, the entrance is effectively free.  That doesn’t mean that you won’t drop a wad of money on expensive – yet marginally edible – food or make it through the store without buying something.  It just takes a little of the pain out of those other expenses if the entrance is free.  So, in an effort to squeeze just one more trip out of our tickets before they expired, we took the grandkids to Legoland last week.  Harvey was in a German class in the early afternoon, so the plan was for me to pick up the kids, take them to McDonald’s for lunch, and then on to Legoland.  When Harvey got out of class, he would meet me there.  Great plan, right?  Well, umm, apparently not.  It turns out that they won’t let an adult into the Berlin Legoland without a kid.  Surely you’re familiar with the concept of not allowing kids in certain places without an adult, but this business of not allowing an adult in without a kid was an unanticipated twist.  OK.  It makes sense – what better place for a pervert to snatch a kid than in the total bedlam that is Legoland – it’s hard enough to keep an eye on one kid, and most folks bring more than one.  If you who know the particular brand of Hell that is Chuck E. Cheese, you know exactly what I mean.  [Although I must admit – at least Legoland is a better class of Hell for adults.]  Fortunately, both of us have cell phones, and miraculously  I was actually able to hear my phone ring (since I’m half-deaf and the decibel level of an indoor Legoland approaches – if not exceeds – that of, say, your average a rocket launch).  We were also lucky that the Arctic temperatures had abated for the day, so the kids didn’t turn into popsicles when I dragged them outdoors without their coats (and through the store, of course) and back to the entrance so I could meet Harvey and give him the required kid so he could enter the store.  We did, however, mightily confuse the young lady taking the tickets, given that I had my receipt for having entered with the kids only an hour earlier.  I’m just glad that Legoland doesn’t have some other obscure policy about not being admitted twice on the same day – then we would have been totally screwed!  And, I’m glad that the gorgeous outdoor Legoland in San Diego doesn’t have the “no kids, no entry” policy, because Harvey and I were there years ago and we would have hated to have missed seeing it.


Our house in the US was about 3,300 square feet; our flat in Berlin is less than 1,000 square feet.  We got rid of a boatload of stuff before we moved.  Then, while we were unpacking, we got rid of at least 10 more boxes full of stuff.  And periodically I try to go through the flat and see if there’s something else we can get rid of because, for one thing, we can always use a bit more room and, eventually, we’re gonna die and whatever I get rid of now, our son won’t have to deal with them.  [Having dealt with the possessions of the Queen of all Hoarders, I really, really want to spare my son that experience!]   One rule of thumb is, if it’s not useful or beautiful, you should get rid of it.  But sometimes a thing is neither, but you still can’t bring yourself to part with it.  One such thing I can’t yet part with is a jacket that hasn’t fit me in well over a decade, so it’s clearly NOT useful.  And I don’t think it could be described as beautiful, either.  It’s a black silk bomber jacket, with an MCI logo on the back.  It could – eventually – become a collector’s item, as MCI has gone the way of most telcos.  So that’s one reason to keep it (maybe).  But the other reason is much closer to my heart than any potential monetary value it could ever have.  I won this jacket.  In a lip-sync contest!  Yep!  Our organization in MCI decided to have a summer picnic and the person in charge of the entertainment came up with the idea of having a lip-sync contest.  I definitely had no interest in this, and the rest of the folks in my small department had even less interest.  However, you gotta go along to get along in the world, and I came up with an idea that let my folks meet management’s expectations with minimal impact on their dignity.  We were lucky enough to be the absolute last on the schedule, which made the impact even greater.  We had had the pleasure of watching all the other folks struggle through long, complicated renditions of songs like “I Heard It On The Grapevine” while we just sat, smugly biding our time.  We only practiced the day of the picnic, and went through our song maybe 3 times before we had it down.  When our turn finally came, the looks on the faces in the audience were priceless after they heard the first few bars of our song and realized that we were going to lip sync “Tequila!” []  Yep!  We were perfect and we won the contest!  We decided that if we had to do this next year, we were going to do “Wipeout!” [] – because it only had half the words of “Tequila!”  So, nope – I think my closet is going to have to make room for this jacket for a little while longer.


I just do NOT get it!  I’ve never noticed this anywhere but Berlin, so I don’t know whether it’s the case throughout Germany or not.  But folks will come to a dead stop in the middle of an entrance – to light a cigarette, put on or take off gloves, or just stare into space.  They will also stop at the very top (or bottom) of an escalator, while folks behind them are bearing down on them.  Since it happens so often, surely this has happened to the folks who do this, too.  And wouldn’t you think that, if you’ve been the victim of this insanely inconsiderate practice, you would put 2 and 2 together and try not to do it yourself?  Well, the answer to both aspects of this rhetorical question is, apparently, a resounding NO!!  I swear, it makes me want to slap someone!  And I don’t care if they’re 5 or 85!  I just want to slap them ALL!!


Given their name, it’s not surprising that many dogs in Germany would be dachshunds.  So you should expect that the short-legged, long-bodied look would appear in mixed breeds.  And, indeed, lots of dogs here seem to have that look (e.g., a dachshund-pit bull combination).  But sometimes it’s lots more amusing than others – like when you come upon a short-legged, long-bodied white poodle, with the standard poodle cut.  As one of my cousins would say, “That just ain’t right!”


Harvey was out and about in the part of Berlin near the Frei Universität.  Many of the students there are Americans, as it is in the part of town that used to be in the American sector.  He encountered a young American kid – maybe 17 or 18 – who had apparently arrived in Berlin only recently and the kid asked him for directions to the Universität.  Harvey gave him the directions and then the kid said, “Wow!  You speak English really well!!”  Go figure!!  Clearly the kid hasn’t been here long enough to hear English spoken all around town.


My blog machine has an editing feature where it identifies misspelled words, grammatical errors, and trite phrases (all certainly helpful).  Curiously enough, it also identifies homophones.  For example, if I’ve typed “weighs” it asks you if you really meant “ways.”  I’m pondering accepting these changes some time, just to see what happens.


I don’t remember whether it’s like this in the US (nor even whether it’s like this throughout Germany), but dishes on most menus here in Berlin are numbered.  There are so many Auslanders (furriners) here in Berlin that it undoubtedly saves millions of man-hours a year in giving and taking orders (and the inconvenience of serving the wrong dish).  But even this can’t preclude miscommunication between diner and server.  For example, last night I stopped at the Asian kiosk near our flat.  I’ve been intending to try it out (especially having seen our neighbors eating the food), and after a good, but long, day with the grandkids and with my better half being in the US for a long visit, last night seemed like a good time to do just that.  Well, I THOUGHT I had ordered #4 on the menu.  The lady at the kiosk thought I had ordered 4 dishes.  Since it was so cheap (under $5 per dish), and it was clearly my mistake, I just paid for all 4 dishes and took them home.  Fortunately the food is good, but I’m sure glad I didn’t try to order #7 on the menu!


As maddening as the German language is, there are some things that are endearing about it.  For example, the German word for “shoe” is “Schuh” and the word for “glove” is “Handschuh” – makes sense, right?  Well, some of the names for animals are equally appropriate:

  • A sloth is a “Faultier” (i.e., lazy animal)
  • A skunk is a “Stinktier” (and surely you can figure THIS out on your own!)

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



I thought about calling our short trip to Copenhagen something like ‘Crazy in Copenhagen’ but that just seemed a bit lame.  When it turned out that our first meal was at a Mexican restaurant, where I had (of course) a chimichanga, there was no other choice for the title of this bit.  We had walked up and down a longish street and, not being one who tolerates hunger very well, we decided that we’d try this place rather than continue to look for what we might expect to be a ‘typical’ Danish restaurant.  Plus, I’m always curious to see how other countries interpret the types of food that I consider more or less my own.  It turns out that the Danes (at least in this instance) came closer to getting the Mexican flavor than the Germans have (at least so far).  It was spicier than the German interpretation (and, did not contain peanuts – which for some reason Germans believe to be a key ingredient to Mexican food).  But, alas, it had no cilantro or cumin, which is the true differentiator for genuine Mexican food.  Although they did add a few bites of potato as a way of making amends for this omission.

 I was trying to figure out how Mexican food may have arrived on Danish shores when Harvey said he thought Diego Rivera had been here while he was in Europe, evading the Mexican draft (which was probably as much for the benefit of the Mexican army as it was for Diego himself).  Truly, I can’t imagine Rivera as a soldier; but then, I can’t imagine this chubby, frog-like person as a Lothario, which he apparently was.  I can confirm that Rivera (whose full name, just in case anyone asks, is Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez) was heavily influenced by a Danish painter Georg Jacobsen, whom he met in Paris.  Who knows?  Maybe Diego introduced him to the delights of Mexican food and he subsequently brought the cuisine to Denmark.  After all, the key differentiator for Italian food – pasta – was brought there from China by Marco Polo.


 Fifty years ago, Ruby and I were marching down the football field at C. O. Wilson Jr. High, wearing thick, scratchy, wool band uniforms, sweating in the October heat, and pretending to play ‘Under the Double Eagle’ on our clarinets during half-time.  Little did we dream that, 5 decades later, I would be making a trip from Berlin (where I had moved because my son married a German girl) to Copenhagen to see her daughter (who lived there because she had married a Danish boy).  We’re a long way from Nederland, Texas, (which, of course, was founded by a bunch of Dutch).  Which tangentially leads me to another thought – our son is now fluent in German, so much so that (after 11 years) he sometimes has difficulty recalling an English word for something.  Nonetheless, it’s still apparent to most native speakers that he’s not among them, even though he looks German rather than American (partly owing to his genes, but more likely because the way he dresses).  Native speakers can’t quite put their hands on how his German pronunciation is a little bit different, but, more often than not, they think he’s Dutch, which in German is Niederländer.  He can, in all honesty, respond to their query as to whether or not he’s a Niederländer by saying, ‘No, but my mother is.’


 The flight between Berlin and Copenhagen is short – perhaps 45 minutes – so even before airline meals started to go the way of the dinosaur, you wouldn’t expect to have a meal.  You may, however, expect coffee, tea, or a soft drink.  Well, such expectations were not to be met on this trip.  The announcement came on noting that passengers in first class would be served their choice of coffee, tea, or other drinks, while passengers in economy would be served water.  Not that I didn’t enjoy my ½ cup of cool water – but really, water???  What’s next?  Maybe an announcement that ‘Passengers in economy will be served complimentary air.’


 The Copenhagen Airport shares a feature with London Heathrow Airport – it’s not so much as an airport as a high-end shopping mall with access to airplanes.  In London, you can’t even go to the gate until about 30 minutes before the flight departs; this allows you to spend your time resisting the charms of over-priced stuff you couldn’t imagine ever needing.  In Copenhagen, about maybe 30 yards after you leave the gangway, you are immediately (and unavoidably) dumped into the middle of the shopping mall.  Contrast this with Dulles Airport, where departing passengers must go through security to get to the shopping area.  Although expensive, the Dulles ‘mall’ is not nearly like Copenhagen or Heathrow, where the shopping mall is dominated by brands such as Hermes and others so exclusive that common folk have never even heard of them.  And, when you leave the plane at Dulles, you have to go out of your way to hit the shops.  Of the European airports I’ve seen, you could actually go shopping at the airport even if you weren’t flying anywhere.  I have my doubts as to whether or not that’s a good idea from a security standpoint, though.  But, I don’t get paid to worry about that kind of thing anymore, so I won’t!  Copenhagen offers one feature that a lot of US travelers may appreciate having – a place to shower and to take a nap, which takes some of the misery out of long lay-overs.  Imagine how much more sanguine flyers might be when they’ve had a shower and a nap during their 8-hour layovers or unexpected delays.


 You can get to the train, and from there into the middle of Copenhagen, without so much as leaving the airport (another convenience sorely lacking when it comes to the airports in the Washington, DC, area).  After a 20-minute ride, we arrived at the train station, where we found a number of other luxuries we’ve not experienced in our travels in the US.  For example, if you missed the chance to shower at the airport, you get a second chance at the train station; even better, in the lady’s room, you can buy yourself a fresh pair of panties!  Alas, the selection is limited to thongs, which I regard as a torture device (although, in all fairness, I’ve not tried them – and never intend to), but they have all sorts of exciting designs and messages on them.


 Within 10 minutes of leaving the train station in Copenhagen, I saw three 7-ll’s, a MacDonald’s, a Burger King, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken.  It’s a shame to go to the trouble and expense to visit a foreign country and see a bunch of stuff you could have stayed home to see.


 Kansas City has lots of statues of whimsically-painted steers; Berlin has its bears.  But Copenhagen has its elephants.  OK.  Cows are indigenous to Kansas City; bears are the mascot of Berlin.  But elephants in Denmark?  It turns out that some Danish monarch just took a fancy to elephants.  So, when you’re a king and you take a fancy to something, others take you seriously (unlike me and my fascination with frogs and armadillos, where folks just laugh at me).  In fact, the highest medal you can get from the Danish government is something like the Order of the Elephant.  And, I don’t know whether or not this is in any way related to the Danish monarch’s fondness for elephants, but the Danish beer, Carlsberg, is also associated with elephants – the entrance to the brewery is a gate with a tower resting on four elephants.  So, we just enjoyed all the great Danish elephants!  And, of course, the Danish beer!


 I suppose there’s a story behind the Danish coins with the hole in the center.  Don’t know what it is, though – Wikipedia didn’t enlighten me about that.


 Copenhagen is extremely expensive.  For example, our hotel was very basic.  It was clean; we had our own bathroom; it offered a great European breakfast (e.g., lox, breads, fruits, cereals, boiled eggs, cold cuts and cheeses).  The carpets were stained, worn, and wrinkled.  I’m pretty sure they were clean, though.  It wasn’t quite as nice as an Econo-Lodge in the US (where the motto is “Spend the night, not a fortune”) and it was $300/night.  Imagine what you could get in the US for that (or even here in Berlin).  It was, however, only about 2 blocks from the train station and smack-dab in the middle of town.


 Tivoli is close – it’s across the street from the train station.  It’s charming and especially fun if:  (a) you like rides that scare you to death; or (b) have kids.  Some of the kids’ rides are just like the scary adult rides, but toned down a lot.  For example, there’s one ride where they put you in a seat and pull the seat up about 3 stories, and then let it drop (controlled, of course, so you don’t crash).  Well, they have a kids’ ride where the range of the drop is maybe 3 or 4 feel, so 10-year-olds just love it!  The park itself is rather small – maybe 5 city blocks – but has enough stuff to keep you busy for several hours, especially if you have kids.  We met the daughter and son-in-law of my aforementioned high school friend, Ruby, at Tivoli for dinner, and got to see their two daughters—one about 3 and the other about 10 months.


 And no matter how hard you try to escape Texas, it always finds you.  There was a cafe at the Blixen Museum, and, of course, they had tables outdoors.  In addition, they had a BBQ grill, which had a cover on it that said “South Fork Texas BBQ.”  Nope!  Not making this up!  I, of course, had to take a photo.  When a Danish guy noticed me taking it, I felt obliged to explain why I was standing there in the middle of a bird sanctuary taking a photo of a hunk of metal.  He recognized ‘South Fork’ and knew about ‘Dallas’ and its successor, ‘Dynasty’.  In fact, you can see quite a bit of American TV in Denmark.  Our room had a TV so we watched a few familiar shows, including ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘The Streets of San Francisco.’  Almost everyone here speaks English.  Since Denmark is so small and their language is a bit odd, they use English to deal with the rest of the world.

 And in the middle of the huge ‘Avenue of the Tourists’ I was reminded yet again of Texas.  (I doubt that this is the official name of this street, but I’ll bet if you speak with anyone who has ever been to Copenhagen and used this name for the street, they’d know precisely where it is!)  There were a bunch of folks from Dallas, doing some kind of folk-dance and singing, in an effort to bring attention to their religion.  Oddly enough, they didn’t have a sign.  Everyone was wearing T-shirts with the name of the religion on it, but, with all the dancing, I never got a clear view of the word.  Hmmm….wonder how effective this publicity effort was for them?  I managed to capture a few syllables, though, and through the magic of the Internet, deduced that they were publicizing the Neocatechumenal Way.


 We didn’t go see the Little Mermaid.  Harvey saw it when he was here years ago.  It’s actually quite far from the main part of town and not really near anything else of special interest.  After the trip to the museum, Harvey asked me, “Do you want to take a nap when we get back to the room?”  My response was, “Oh, hell, no! When we get back to the room, I’m just gonna run in place for a few hours until it’s time to go to dinner!”   Somehow, after taking a 1 hour train ride (and back) and walking a few kilometers to and around the Karen Blixen Museum, the idea of a nap had far more appeal than walking another couple of kilometers to see the Little Mermaid.

 Alas, there is something that, had I known about it at the time, I would have traded the nap for – a visit to the Museum of Modern Glass.  Have a look for yourself at what we missed.


 On the way to the Blixen Museum we saw some device that was apparently in the ‘cycle’ family.  It had a small wheel (not a lot bigger than a dinner plate) in the back, with 2 even smaller wheels (about the size of large donuts) in the front.  It also had a seat.  It had no handlebars, however, which may well explain why it apparently had been abandoned.

 By the way, if you don’t recognize the name ‘Karen Blixen’, she often wrote under the pen name of Isak Dinesen.  If you still don’t recognize that name, undoubtedly you have heard of the book/film ‘Out of Africa’ – she wrote that and ‘Babette’s Feast’ as well as lots of other books.


 Across the street from the Blixen Museum, there’s a marina, with the standard marina shops and at least 8 restaurants.  Given that Danes are fisheaters, and given that this was a marina, we nurtured some expectation that we would be able to find a seafood restaurant here.  We were soon disabused of that notion.  Sure, you might find a tuna steak or grilled salmon on the menu, but by far these were all steak houses (except for the Thai restaurant).

 Elsewhere you will, however, notice a rather high incidence of sushi restaurants (at least in Copenhagen).  I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise, as the Danes know of at least 47.5 different ways to prepare raw herring.


 Another great place we saw was the Danish Design Museum.  (Lots of places here seem to have Danish modern furniture – go figure!)  Seeing some of the designs here reminded me of our trip to Chicago to see saw Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and a few other buildings he designed.  When I walked into his living room and saw things like built-in book cases, I thought, “Well, this isn’t so rare – I see this everywhere.’  Then it hit me – umm, his design has made such an impact that today it’s considered normal;  it wasn’t so ‘normal’ when he was creating it.  Felt the same way about the Design Museum.  In fact, they had the same high chair that we bought for Noe and Milla.  They’re very simple.  First they’re a high chair for babies.  As the kid gets older, you take off the ring that keeps them in the chair.  Then as they continue to get bigger, you put the board that is the seat in different slots, progressively lower, so that ultimately it’s just a regular chair that they can use at the table or a desk, even as an adult.


 Hmmm…..Everywhere you look, there are little Lego stores.  How many hours of parental peace and quiet do we owe to those wonderful Danes who came up with Legos?  How many instances of child abuse were avoided?


 Maybe the Danes’ careful use of both visual and physical space is inherent in living in a small country.  One clever thing we saw was a building that extended over a street.  There clearly was enough space for fire trucks and other essential vehicles to pass through, but the building extended above the street for at least 6 floors, making great use of otherwise wasted space. Undoubtedly you can go too far with this idea and turn your city into nothing but tunnels, but doing this every now and again is a great idea.


 Sometimes chic just doesn’t work all that well, at least for me.  Many eating places have black napkins.  Sure, they don’t show stains and also just look cool.  However, they’re not really a great idea, especially after you discover that your napkin has slipped off your lap and you’ve been wiping your greasy paws on your black slacks.  Grease stains on black pants – not so chic.


 If you saw this name on a building, mightn’t you think that it was either a dermatologist’s office or a spa of some sort?  Well, you’d be wrong in this case.  It’s a place that sells garments made of leather and fur, which is actually dead skin.  But I don’t suppose ‘Dead Skin Center’ (although clearly less ambiguous) would have much of an appeal for the average shopper, would it?


 Danes seem to have a particular affinity for licorice.  It’s as prevalent in shops there as salt-water taffy is in Ocean City, Md.  We came upon an unlikely pairing of licorice – with Habanero pepper!  This is all the more unusual because, at least in our limited experience, the European palate doesn’t much care for the burn of strong peppers.  (Perhaps this is yet another bit of evidence of Diego Rivera’s influence here.)


 Anyone can go to Copenhagen and see the Little Mermaid (or, rather, anyone except myself).  I, however, with my weird-dar, can find really remarkable things.  Such as seeing a car with this sign on the door—‘Dong Energy’.  Presumably this was the name of a company.

 I also saw some of the world’s most unusual mannequins in a store window.  Aren’t they typically supposed to be attractive (in a Ken and Barbie kind of way)—or otherwise represent beauty?  Well, not always, at least not with the quirky Danes.  I saw 3 male mannequins, one of whom had male-patterned baldness and a beer gut, which was almost bursting through his shirt and made it impossible for him to button his britches.  The other two were equally unattractive, particularly with respect to their coiffures and dental work.


 I have no idea what this is, but I absolutely must have one!  There are several sculptures of this beast surrounding the City Hall in Copenhagen.  It is generally reptilian in nature.  The head looks like a turtle, as do the four claws, and the skin looks like that of a turtle, but there is no shell.  It has a medium-sized tail, with a dorsal fin running the length of its body all the way to the end of its tail.  And, oh, yeah.  It has 6 breasts.


 Now that I’ve become the Grandma Moses of bikers, I’ve begun to notice things like bike lanes.  Denmark is wonderful in that regard!  Of course, I can only speak for the parts of Copenhagen that we saw, so I can’t assume that it’s like this everywhere.  The street, the bike lane, and the sidewalk are each on a different level.  First you have the sidewalk for pedestrians.  Then there’s a small curb and, at a slightly different level, you have the bike lane.  Then there’s another small curb and, at a slightly different level, you have the street.  How cool is THAT to be protected from cars by a curb?  And these bike lanes are nice and wide!

 But every trip must come to an end.  So we boarded our plane—eagerly anticipating our complementary water—and returned home to our awaiting felines.