Archives for posts with tag: pseudocognates


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© – 43:  JUNE 5, 2013


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

  • Hightown Crow
  • Three-Legged Cross
  • Bagshot

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

  • Bear left right
  • Turn left left

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


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

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

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



Two headlines in the online newsletter, Expatica, today:

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 40:  January 14, 2013


 There is a shop in Berlin that sells only one item – the ‘One Piece’ – a piece of clothing that covers your entire body.  It’s more or less like feety-pajamas, except without the feet but with a hood.  You can get these things in various weights, and the heavy-weight version is especially handy when it’s really, really cold.  The unfortunate thing is that, if you’re trying to stay warm, the utility of this garment is limited to males, because the only way females can access the toilet is to essentially remove the whole thing.  And if it’s cold enough to wear this thing in the first place, the LAST thing you want to do in the middle of the night is to completely disrobe.  Here’s what it looks like normally.

 2012-12-26-Harvey - 01

And, if you’re feeling a bit chilly, you can put on the hood.

2012-12-26-Harvey - 02


AND, if you’re really, REALLY cold, you can completely cover your head.

2012-12-26-Harvey - 03


AND, just in case you are unable to successfully deduce on your own that there are certain hazards with zipping the hood completely up, there’s a warning for you.



There’s no other way to describe January 5, 2013, for me.  Here’s the drill:

3:00 am – Wake up because husband is kicking the immortal crap out of me.  He’s had a bad dream and is merely trying to protect himself from the evil-doers who are out to get him.

6:00 am – Half-bald, bat-eared, rat-tailed cat projectile vomits all over the sofa.  This is not the merely disgusting “I-ate-too-much-so-I’m-barfing-up-the excess” kind that simply smells like cat food, but the “This-crap-has-been-in-my-belly-since-6pm-last-night-and-includes-nasty-gastric –juices-and-is-half-digested” kind that’s beyond disgusting.  And, of course, I wake up a bit later with a slightly queasy stomach,

9:30 am – The vet’s open between 10 and 12 on Saturdays, so I put Ms. Electra in her carrier, hop on my bike, and ride through the slightly rainy, 45 F weather to the vet.

10:45 am – Finally my turn to see the vet (as this is Saturday, after the holidays, there were several folks waiting to see her).  Ms. Electra is on her worst behavior.  The vet has to give her an anti-throw-up shot and then gives her sub-cutaneous saline solution so she’s not dehydrated.  And, of course, as this is a Saturday, the vet’s assistant isn’t there so I have to help the vet with a cat who is really not on board with having needles stuck in her.  The sub-cutaneous infusion means that you have to hold the cat still, while there’s a needle under her skin and saline solution flows just under her skin, to be absorbed by her body.  This isn’t short, like a shot, but rather takes about 5 minutes of keeping the cat calm and still (which is approximately 4 minutes and 59 seconds more than she’s willing to tolerate).

11:00 am – While doing the infusion, and holding a very scared, angry cat (who apparently has a very fully bladder) close to my body, said cat treats me to the ‘Golden Rain’ experience.  Although some folks may find this erotic, I’m pretty sure that the typical scenario does not include a cat, nor does involve a telephone in one’s pocket.  Oh, yes – a brand new (Christmas present), expensive, latest-and-greatest phone, now filled with cat piss.  Plus, of course, the roughly $100 bill for the vet (a very nice lady who actually took my phone apart and tried to dry out the cat piss – no extra charge for that).

11:45 am – After riding home with cat-piss-soaked pants, in 45 degree, slightly rainy weather, arrive home to husband who has been dealing with the cat vomit clean-up for a couple of hours and is less than enthusiastic about my request that he take the phone directly to the phone store, in case something is salvageable.

12:00 noon – Pissed-on wife takes a shower.

1:00 – pm – Take a break for breakfast, which neither of us has had yet.

1:45 pm – Said slightly pissed off husband heads out to phone store while previously pissed-on wife heads to the grocery store (because nothing is open on Sundays, so MUST get what we need on Saturday or do without until Monday).  [My father-in-law always said it was better to be pissed off than to be pissed on, so, at least according to him, the husband fared better in this than the wife.]

3:30 pm – Slightly more calm husband returns from phone store, with instructions on how to get a replacement phone.  This involves finding a security number for the warranty (and the wife-who’s-had-about-all-she-can-take is unable to remember where she put it).  Eventually the number is found and gentle husband calls the folks (and, of course, all this happens in German, with which we are both still struggling) to find out that:  (1)  They have to receive the phone before they will send a replacement; (2) In addition to the 99 Euros which I paid for the warranty, they have to receive a payment of 75 Euros for handling, before they will ship the replacement.  And, of course, by the time we figure out all the stuff we have to do to ship it back, the Post Office is closed and we can’t put it in the mail until Monday, further adding to the delay of getting a working phone.

On the bright side, I have every confidence that we have given the customer service reps at the T-mobile store on the KuDam a serious leg up on the competition for the Weirdest Customer Story.  No doubt the story about the cat pissing on the Samsung Galaxy III will be shared far and wide across the customer service community.  [And now you know why those of us who have worked in the customer service field call it “Customer Circus” among ourselves.]


As you no doubt know, Germans are rather fond of their sausage/wurst and there are all sorts of wurst.  As you may know, the German word for ‘German’ is ‘Deutsch’.  You may even know that the German word for ‘thick’ is ‘dick.’   Today I saw a glass jar of wursts.  Each wurst was about 6 inches long and a bit over an inch in diameter, so they were thick sausages, and they were German.  The label on the jar said “Deutsch Dicke” (and some words in German form the plural by adding ‘e’).  Really.


 Admittedly, I am easily amused, although I like to think of myself as simply more receptive to the truly funny things the world has to offer.  And I’m pretty sure most folks wouldn’t be able to look in the index of a cookbook and find anything to laugh about.  I have one cookbook that I bought when I graduated from college in 1967.  I figured I might be wanting to eat something besides scrambled eggs and sandwiches after I got out on my own.  It’s “Cooking for American Homemakers:  An Edition of Encyclopedic Cookbook” – how’s that for a mouthful?  One thing I came across in the index was “Opossum” – and you can roast it, or, for a special treat, you can fix stuffing for it.  This cookbook also has several recipes for preparing tripe (which, in case you didn’t know, is the stomach tissue of a ruminant, such as an ox or cow)—you can fix fried pickled tripe, boiled trip, tripe patties, baked tripe with bacon, or tripe fritters.  It actually has a black-and-white photo of battered and fried tripe, with this caption:  “Cut up the tripe, dip in batter, and brown in a skillet is you want something really good and unusual.”   Well, I’m pretty much there with the “unusual”, but maybe not so much with the “really good.”  Well, OK –  this cookbook was first published in 1950, so maybe it’s not that far removed from the frontier.  In fact, there are some interesting pointers for the American Homemaker, where you can go to:

  • Father Carves the Fowl to get directions on carving turkey, rib roast, or any other major cut of meat
  • Starting the Pressure Cooker to get instructions on using your pressure cooker and make some delicious dishes such as Liver Dumpling Soup
  • The Woman’s Club Bake Sale to get recipes for cakes that will impress all those other American Homemakers

Really, the fun never ends!  Even my 1972 edition of “The Joy of Cooking” (first published in 1931) offers directions of cleaning and cooking various game dishes, to include rabbit, squirrel, opossum, bear, raccoon, woodchuck, beaver, peccary, wild boar, venison, moose, and elk.  My favorite part about this section is the drawing showing you how to skin a squirrel.  Notice the shoes – wonder if those are special, squirrel-skinning shoes?  And by the way, you should try to get grey squirrels, rather than red ones; apparently, the red ones are a bit gamey!

skinning a squirrel

Next time your Internet connection is down for several days, your TV is in the shop, your kids and grandkids are out of town, you’re an ocean away from 99% of your friends, and every store in town is closed for the holidays, maybe you, too, can try amusing yourself by looking – really looking – at your cookbooks.

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 32:  August 6, 2012


Having been born in Louisiana, and having spent most of my formative years in Southeast Texas, no farther than 10 miles from the Louisiana state line, I can appreciate a good crawfish meal.  And Berlin being the cosmopolitan place that it is, from time to time you can find a crawfish dish on the menu.  This is unlikely to happen outside of major cities in Germany, but we’re rarely anywhere other than Berlin, so all is good.  When we go out for dinner we typically prefer the German menu – it forces us to use some German and, in some cases, the English menu doesn’t list all the offerings.  For example, they’re unlikely to go to the trouble to translate the daily specials into English, or, if they’ve recently updated the menu, they may not have made the corresponding updates to the English menu yet.  We were with our son and his family, and our daughter-in-law asked the waitress to bring us English menus.  Boy, am I glad she did that!  The English menu had this item on it—Fresh noodles with crayfish cocks.  Yep!  Not making this up!  [Up until now, I imagine you thought that humming bird tongues were the most exotic item you’d ever heard of.] You might wonder about how crawfish tails got translated this way.  The German word for crawfish (and anybody who knows anything about this delicacy knows that it’s crawfish, NOT crayfish) is Flusskrebs. Most places just use that word; there’s no need to specify ‘crawfish tails’ because, really, what other part of this thing are you gonna eat?  This menu, however, specified ‘crawfish tails’, which would be Flusskrebsschwäntzen, and if it had been translated literally, it would have indeed been ‘crawfish tails’.  However, there’s another definition for ‘Schwantz’, which is slang for ‘penis’.  I think it’s a fair assumption that the person who translated this was not completely familiar with crawfish anatomy.  Even taking this into account, under what circumstances could anyone possibly infer that this would be an item on a restaurant menu?


Well, precisely 5 minutes after I’ve gotten back home after having done all my errands — and not a second sooner!  Every day this week!  But at least I’m not in Virginia, where many folks have recently suffered through 104° Fahrenheit without air conditioning because the power was out for a week or so.


Rathaus Café – Nope!  But it makes sense (at least in Germany).  It’s another case of the damnable – but often amusing – pseudocognate.  Yes, “Haus” is “house” but, no, “Rat” is not “rat.”  It means “council” and “Rathaus” is the town hall.   So, of course, a café right across the street from the town hall would be called “Rathaus Café.”


This Sunday was gorgeous!  Sunny, a gentle breeze, low 70s, little puffy clouds in the sky!  So we decided to go adventuring.  We came upon a flea market, with the typical flea market merchandise (but, of course, with a German flavor—old beer steins, various things of East German and Soviet times).  What touched me the most, though, was a box of photographs, with each photo priced at 1 Euro.  Some of them had the names of the people in the photos, and a few had the dates.  Some of them had obviously once been pasted into albums, and some of the black paper from old-fashioned albums was still stuck to the back.  When you look at these photos, you realize that, someone, sometime, cared enough about the person to take a photo and keep it.  Maybe they carried in their wallet; maybe they put it in a frame; or maybe they put it in an album.  But today no one knows who these people are, and nobody cares.  I wince when I think about the more than 30 three-ring binders of family photos we have at home.  The oldest photos include pictures of Harvey’s grandfather at the age of 3, his grandfather’s parents on their wedding day, my grandmother at the age of 5, and my grandparents on their wedding picture.  And, of course, there are more recent photos of the two of us, Steve, our friends and family, and Steve’s family.  I hate to think that these photos might end up in a flea market somewhere someday.  To make it all the more poignant [a word you’ll never hear me say because I can’t pronounce it correctly] was that the whole time I was looking at these photos, a street musician was playing some bluesy melodies on his saxophone.


On a happier note, we were entertained by a clown a bit later.  We were in an area that was a solid block of outdoor restaurants, on both sides of the street (which was open only to pedestrians).  I saw a guy in a red felt derby and a green coat.  Now, while you might expect this to be something a clown would wear, in Berlin it’s not necessarily the case that when you see something like this, the guy wearing it is a clown.  It might, indeed, be considered high fashion in some circles.  What made it obvious that this guy was indeed a clown was when he took the red ball out of his pocket and put it on his nose.  That definitely moves the attire from the “high fashion” column into the “clown” column.  Once he put on his nose, he would walk about 2 feet behind a person, mimicking their walk and gestures.  One woman was walking along, ‘talking with her hands’, which he imitated.  Of course, the folks sitting at the tables watching this would laugh.  At some point, the person being followed would turn around and see him, at which point he would turn around, too.  At one point, a young woman turned around to face him, and he walked in a circle around her and then pulled a bra out and waved it in the air (making her think—if only for the briefest of seconds—that perhaps he had somehow purloined her bra).  We got to watch this about 30 minutes, until he bowed and started making his way through the crowd collecting money.  I’ll gladly pay a Euro or two for this!


In case you’ve not had the occasion to get up close and personal with this word, it just means words that are the same in two different languages, but do not have the same meaning.  Of course, there are lots of words in German that are the same as English, such as “ball” – just capitalize it and, magically, it becomes German.  There are some other words that are the same but don’t share a meaning.  For example, both English and German have the word “gift” but the meanings are drastically different in the two languages.  [Our German teacher calls these “false friends” – for obvious reasons.]

In English, a “gift” is a good thing; in German, the word means “poison.”  I imagine a German looking at a US Customs form, where you can check “Gift” if you’re mailing something to a destination outside the US, might become alarmed that, apparently, Americans mail poison to foreign addresses so often that there’s even a place on the customs form to specify that.

And you’ll see this on some taxis:  Fahrt mid Erdgas.  Well, ‘fahren’ is German for ‘travel’ and ‘Erdgas’ is ‘natural gas’ (or, more literally, ‘earth gas’).  This is basically telling you that this taxi is fueled by natural gas.  And, just so you know, although ‘Gas’ is German for ‘gas’ – that’s only when the word means ‘gas’ as something that isn’t a solid or a liquid.  The liquid stuff you put in your car to make it run is ‘Petrol’.  Actually, German makes more sense than American English, where ‘gas’ can either mean something that’s not a solid or a liquid OR it can mean a liquid that you put in your car to make it run.  And now that some cars are actually using natural gas as fuel, it could certainly cause some confusion.  You can no longer answer the question “What does your car run on?” with “Gas” because that’s now an ambiguous answer.  But getting back to “Fahrt mit Erdgas” – an English speaker might wonder why anybody thought it was necessary to instruct folks to fart with gas.  Is there any other way?

All this is just to lay the groundwork for a semi‑pseudocognate that struck me as amusing, in a pun sort of a way.  Sometimes, German uses a “k” where English uses a “c” – for example, Kamel is camel.  [Actually a good idea, because the “c” is almost useless in English – it either sounds like a “k” or an “s” so why do we even need it?]  I saw an ad today for Deutschkurse – an ad for a German course.  However, given how devilishly difficult this language is for me, I’m thinking that “curse” pretty much nails it!


Some metaphors that are commonly used in the US can be problematic, even when – or maybe especially when – speaking with an English-speaking German.  For example, in a place that borders Poland, using the expression “the long pole in the tent” conjures up an entirely different image.


This afternoon, after returning from my shopping, I was locking my bike in the Hof when I heard a gentle voice.  I looked up to see one of my neighbors at her window.  The window was open and she was whispering sweet nothings to the crow perched on her windowsill.  This apparently wild bird was eating tiny morsels from a spoon she was holding up for him.


We don’t have air conditioning and, in fact, don’t need it here.  We have 14 ft. ceilings, 14” thick walls, and the kind of windows where we can open up just the top part and, in most cases, opening one window in the living room and the kitchen will keep the whole flat at a comfortable temperature.  Having the windows open lets you hear sounds that we ordinarily wouldn’t hear.  We live on a one-block long street, so it’s pretty quiet, and the sounds you get to hear are usually just folks chatting – or kids laughing – as they walk by.  But another sound I get to hear is our 10-year-old upstairs neighbor practicing his trumpet.  It really is sweet to recognize tunes, such as the theme from Star Wars, or, at Christmas, a Christmas song.  He’s just now starting to get pretty good at it and, alas, we only have about another month or so to enjoy this, as his family is moving.  Sigh!  I’ll just have to enjoy it while I can!  But there’s a similar little snippet of pleasantness that I can count on enjoying for a good little while.  Our neighbor has 2 cats that he allows to go outdoors.  To protect the birds, he’s put bells on the cats, so from time to time we hear the erratic tinkling of jingle bells.  It drove me crazy until I figured out what it was; now I rather enjoy it!


Here are some of the things Kreuzbergers come up with for amusing themselves….

There was a time, not so very long ago, when the most thrilling entertainment imaginable was a large cardboard box. The possibilities were endless. It could be a fort to safeguard against alien invaders. It could be the makings of a kick-ass robot costume. It could be a pirate ship with which to navigate treacherous seas. It could be the foundation for a lemonade stand to make a quick buck. It could be a great spot for a tea party, a springboard from which to do somersaults, or the best place to hide from the world. When was the last time you had that much fun with something that simple?

This Saturday, relish the opportunity to once again lose yourself in cardboard at Berlin’s first-ever Boxwar, turning the backyard at Kreuzberg’s Mindpirates into the battleground for some serious play-fighting. Cardboard, box cutters, and tape will be on hand for warriors to build themselves suits of armor and weaponry of their own creative devising. After a full afternoon of construction, 7 o’clock will be the hour of reckoning, with a DJ providing a suitable fightin’ soundtrack for the cardboard-suited crowds to battle it out. Last fighter standing, with his or her armor still intact, wins.


Today we had to go to the US Consulate to get something notarized, for which privilege we get to pay $100 (although in the US—almost anywhere, such as at work or at your bank—it’s absolutely free).  In all fairness, we had a 10 am appt and were done by 10:30, so there wasn’t a lot of waiting to be done.  However, you’d expect a waiting room to have magazines.  This waiting room had exactly 3 magazines (and there were about 10 folks in the waiting room).  You’d also expect that, since you were at the US Consulate, in the section known as ‘Citizen Services’ (where folks who are already US citizens go, as opposed to other sections where non-US citizens go to apply for visas), any magazines there would be in English.  Nope!  They were all in German….  As one of my cousins says, “That just ain’t right.”


Nope, not talking about Santa’s reindeer, but rather the actual thunder and lightning that was visited upon us the other night.  It was what I imagine the London Blitzkrieg was like (especially having just finished a book that was set in the UK during that time).  Harvey, of course, slept right through it.  In truth, I might have too if the demands of my bladder hadn’t insisted on my wakefulness at the time.  Turns out that our part of town was the hardest hit.  We took 565 lightning strikes, while the second highest count in another neighborhood was a mere 195.   Some of the S-bahn (underground train) stations flooded; some folks lost electricity; a couple of houses were hit by lightning and caught fire; large trees came down.  Mercifully, we were spared that.  This was on Saturday night; on Sunday night, there was a repeat performance (which we managed to sleep through), where they recorded more than 8100 lightning strikes in the area.   It’s odd that Northern Virginia (our former home) was also hit by a huge storm in about the same time frame.


In English, the word “poach” can mean two things:

(1)    Something you can do with an egg; or

(2)    A form of theft.

 In German, however, there are two distinct words for what you can do with an egg (pochieren) and for stealing game from the king’s forest (wildern).  It makes infinite sense, given that these are two totally different things.  And “wildern” is particularly logical—“wild” is a true cognate and means the same thing in German as it does in English.

So, when you go into a store looking for something with which you can poach eggs, you want to make sure that you don’t ask for something with which you can steal eggs.

But, oddly enough, the German phrase for “poached eggs” – verlorene Eier – translates literally as “lost eggs” or “wasted eggs.”  Gotta wonder how that came to be, don’t you?


As I’ve said before, William’s spirited runs thought the house and vigorous explorations of our precious objets d’art is helping us to give up our attachments to inanimate objects.  But perhaps that isn’t his intent; maybe he’s just taking an avant garde approach to interior decorating.


[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.’

What? When I open Google, sometimes I am offered a few options, two of which are: Everything and More. Am I the only one who finds that confusing? How can there actually be something that’s MORE than EVERYTHING?

William. We’ve had a busy couple of weeks. On 4/8, my cousin came to stay for 10 days; on 4/9, we picked up our new kitty, William (named after my father, because of his incredible blue eyes). He’s growing a bit every day. The last time we had an actual kitten was 1984 — all our other cats since then have been at least 9 months old by the time we got them. I had forgotten what kittens are like! It’s really like having a baby. Sometimes he wants to play in the middle of the night; he gets into everything imaginable. He actually helped me find a shelf I didn’t know I had. The refrigerator is a built-in; the doors are the same as the cabinet doors. However, although the cabinet door for the refrigerator goes all the way to the floor, the refrigerator itself doesn’t go down that far, so there’s a shelf under the refrigerator, but it’s concealed by the refrigerator door, so if I want to get to the shelf, I have to open the fridge. Having never laid down flat on the floor in the kitchen while the refrigerator door was open, I never noticed the shelf. Of course, William DID notice it, and popped into it, which allowed him to get BEHIND the rest of the kitchen cabinets! So now I have to be ever so diligent when I open the refrigerator, lest he pop into the cabinet and I lock him in. It’s not as bad as actually being locked in the refrigerator itself, though. And now I know that if he’s missing, I should check there. Can you imagine if I hadn’t noticed him when he popped in and couldn’t find him? His voice is so tiny, I’m not sure I would have heard him complaining once he got bored with being in there.

He is pretty funny-looking! He’s a Siamese (hence, the blue eyes) and actually has a big nose – it’s almost a ‘schnoze’!! He’s not absolutely cross-eyed, but when you dangle something in his face close enough, he looks a little bit cross-eyed. And his feet are HUGE! They are at least as big as those of our adult cat. I can only imagine how big he’s going to be. Although the breeder warned us that he may cry or hide for a few days, that didn’t happen – he instantly made himself at home, and has been totally obnoxious about it!

He seems to need to come help me whenever I scoop the litter box. He has a very worried look on his face, as if he had entrusted his valuable deposits to the litter box and he fears that I may be putting them in a less secure place. And, invariably, he has to make another deposit just as soon as I’ve cleaned out the box – I suppose he likes a ‘fresh bowl’ (those of you familiar with the TV show ‘Ally McBeal’ may be familiar with this concept).

More recently, he accomplished something that (until then) we had assumed you needed thumbs to do – he disassembled my ball point pen. No, he didn’t just chew it to pieces. He actually somehow managed to unscrew the barrel, which yielded all sorts of wonderful playthings (as seen in his eyes) or all sorts of opportunities to pay huge sums to the vet to retrieve from his digestive tract (as seen in our eyes).

In addition to this trick, young Master William has figured out where we keep the kibbles (top drawer under the microwave). He was caught standing on another shelf in the kitchen (on top of the cannisters), precariously balancing on the rice and flour, while opening the drawer and trying to open the zip-lock bag in which the kibbles are kept. We had to find another place to keep the kibbles – in a drawer he can’t pull out with his mouth. Only time will tell whether or not he can out-smart us here and we have to find yet another way to solve the problem.

He’s recently had a cold, but is now feeling better and has resumed biting our toes and his other various forms of mischief (and inventing new ones). He’s now trying to jump up on our shoulders from the floor – something our last Siamese did – but hasn’t quite got it mastered. In one of these attempts, he managed to grab my pajama bottoms and pull them down while I was trying to fix breakfast. Just glad we didn’t have house guests at that moment! He is going to be HUGE! His feet are monstrous; his bones are twice the girth of Electra’s (arms/legs). He weighed 2.1 Kilos a week ago (4.5 pounds, compared to Tsali’s full adult weight of 8 pounds). And he’s only 3 days away from merely 4 months old!

He finally understands that I don’t want him on the counter-tops (not the least of which is because I don’t want him to burn his feet on the stove) so at least he scurries down when he sees me coming. (But the tell-tale paw-prints on the stove-top give him away.) This morning we caught him sitting on the stove, watching the eggs boil.

Our elder cat, Ms. Electra, who is 10 (57 in people years) is none too pleased with William. However, she’s starting to warm up to him. She allows him to share her blanket on the bed. The other night, she actually groomed him for a little while. What was particularly strange about this is that she was growling all the while! Talk about sending the poor boy a mixed message!

Cat logic. We have two cats – one has front claws; the other doesn’t. Wanna guess which one uses the scratching post?

Entertainment for the day. I got on the U-bahn this morning at 9 a.m., which is apparently not too early to be drunk, as a guy got on at the next stop who could barely put one foot in front of the other. [But, hey! This is Germany, where beer is considered a breakfast drink.] To make it worse, the guy chose to sit in a sideways seat, which makes it a tad difficult even for sober folks to keep from sliding across the vinyl seats into their fellow passengers when the train starts and stops. This guy chose to up the ante – he decided to try to roll his own cigarette while in this precarious situation. When having to choose between using his hands to keep from sliding into the guy next to him or using them to save his tobacco, he, of course, chose to save his tobacco. Good thing the guy sitting next to him was a tolerant soul! Maybe he wasn’t awake yet.

Benefits of having a beautiful daughter-in-law. At Christmas, we went to a place called Europa Park. It has a mascot – Europa Maus. [Don’t tell the folks at Disney about this place; I fear they’d likely be more than a tad upset.] One of the attractions was a carriage ride through the amusement park. The driver, obviously a man who appreciates pulchritude, chose to let our daughter-in-law and grandkids ride up front with him. The ride was only supposed to be 10 minutes long, but somehow we managed to get a 20-minute ride. Somehow I doubt that would have happened if we had been alone. But here’s something I’m sure he didn’t plan on, but which delighted the kids more than the ride itself — just after we got off, one of the horses needed to relieve himself (and we were most grateful that he only had to pee). The hot pee, hitting the ice on the road, generated some impressive steam, all of which fascinated the 3-year-old and 5-year-old beyond all measure, while we hastily (and, fortunately, successfully) got them UPstream of the effluent.

Momma’s Got a Brand New Bag. With apologies to James Brown and Joss Stone…not quite. Actually, it’s ‘Grandma’s Got a Brand New Bike.’ It’s been 50 years since I last rode my trusty Columbia bike. It was a 26 inch bike I got it when I was 9—my Dad couldn’t see the sense in buying a bike I’d only outgrow, so I just had to bite the bullet and learn how to ride this monster. Turns out Daddy was right – a 26-incher still fits! But, good grief!! There are so many more options for bicycles these days! It makes my head spin! I couldn’t even begin to rationally weigh and evaluate all the zillions of options. So I went with a criterion I could understand – color. Santa chose the color of my first bike – navy blue – so this time I got to choose for myself. My first choice was pink – a substantial bike, rather than one of those you can lift with your little finger. Alas, the pink bike didn’t accommodate my body very well. But the store had a baby blue number that did the trick, and it matched William’s eyes. Then I also had to deal with a whole new aspect – a helmet. My son is a bike courier, who refuses to wear a helmet, even after his front wheel abruptly came off, at speed, and he broke his fall with his face. After all the grief I’ve given him, I‘m compelled to use a helmet (even though, at my age, if I died tomorrow I wouldn’t have been cheated out of much). I never knew helmets could be so complicated. Size, of course, does matter (no matter what anyone says), but apparently there are also different shapes because heads come in different shapes. Then there’s the matter of ventilation versus protection. However, if you choose protection over ventilation, it’s not particularly helpful if your head gets so hot you pass out, or just decide not to wear it at all (the helmet, that is — not the head; gotta watch those relative pronouns and their antecedents). And, of course, the most important aspect (at least to me) is color. I really, really wanted a neon-bright color, but the best they had in my size was white. I’ll have to see how much brightness I can add with stickers!! Since I got the bike and helmet, the salesman gave me a bright, neon green safety belt – reminds me of the belt I had as a safety patrol in 6th grade. I was sooo cool! I was a LIEUTENANT in the 66th Street Elementary School Safety Patrol, with a badge and everything! But I digress….. My new bike has incredible features, too. First, it has 7 speeds (about 6 more than I know how to use). Second, the power for the front and back lights is generated by my pedaling, so I never have to worry about changing the batteries. Third, it has both a hand brake (which I’ve never used in my life) and the old timey brakes, where you pedal backwards to put on the brakes (which is the only kind I’ve ever had). And fourth, it’s a cool baby blue (but I told you that already).

That androgynous look. The androgynous look is quite popular here in Berlin—it’s often easier for me to differentiate Germans from Americans than males from females. So I suppose it could be considered really cool to achieve that look. But, gee! Yesterday a restroom attendant thought I was going into the wrong restroom. Sure, I was wearing pants (as do the majority of the women) and sensible shoes (ditto, although the stiletto heels-to-sensible shoes ratio is far greater than that of skirts-to-pants). I also have short hair (which is definitely not a differentiating factor, since it’s chic and not unusual for women to have hair much shorter than mine). In addition to the obvious differentiating bodily feature, I also had on make-up, which many women here do not wear; these 2 factors should certainly have tipped the scales towards ‘female.’ I suppose that having achieved that androgynous look could be considered a compliment. But, frankly, I don’t know whether to be flattered or demoralized. Kinda like being asked ‘When are you due?’ – flattered that someone might think you’re young enough to still have a baby, but horrified that someone thinks your belly is THAT big!!

Are we there yet? As I expect is the case with most of you, I’ve had various goals throughout my life – finish high school, finish college, finish graduate school, get a job, buy the house, etc. Along with that goes the marking of progress towards such goals – one more year, one more week, etc. My most recent goal was retiring and moving to Berlin to be near my son and his family. Naturally, there was the countdown schedule, e.g., 1 more month until I retire, 3 more months until my husband retires, 5 days until the movers come, 2 days until our flight leaves for Berlin, and so on. That countdown process that has been so deeply ingrained in me that it still kicks in, except I’ve no more goals to fill in the blank – One more day until ??????? I’ve already done everything I want to do (almost) – finished school, got married, had a kid, had a career, had grandkids, and retired. What else is left? (Oh, yeah, dying. But somehow, I’d rather not think to myself when I wake up each morning, “3 more years until I die.”) So how does one measure out the time at this stage in one’s life? I clearly continue to have things to look forward to—e.g., seeing the grandkids, re-learning how to ride a bike—but no über-goal. Well, perhaps I don’t need one; perhaps I should just try to be in the moment (and probably that’s where all of us should try to live, all the time). Easier said than done!!

Little boys. As we usually do after we pick the grandkids up from day care, today we went to the neighborhood playground. It is indeed lovely – great things to play on, lots of sand, and large trees around the perimeter. Today my 5-year-old grandson grabbed my hand and said, “Grandma, I want to show you something” and headed towards the trees. He led me to one particular tree and said, “Grandma, I peed on this tree.” Then he took me on a tour of all the trees upon which he has thus far peed in the several years he’s been out of diapers and has been frequenting this park. He was so proud!

The 3 Ps. Everyone has them – Pee, Poop, and Puke stories. [Even President Bush #1 had one, remember?] I know I do and I’m certain that you do, too. My most recent one involves a curious kitten and a toilet. Because young Master William must absolutely be in the very center of any human activity under way, and because sometimes ‘human activity’ involves going to the bathroom, it was only a matter of time until he put himself right in the middle of this particular human activity. He is pretty quick, as you can imagine. He followed me into the bathroom, and as my naked behind approached the toilet seat, I felt something furry. Fortunately, I was able to put the brakes on before I sat down, thus avoiding a cat-ass-trophe of Biblical proportions. [Props to Tim, from whom I stole this pun.] Nonetheless, I had the occasion to cringe when imagining how a scared, strong kitten with razor-sharp claws might have reacted to being trapped in the toilet bowl by my ample behind. Thank God ‘almost’ only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades!! I’ve actually considered assembling a book of Pee, Poop, and Puke stories, so if you have one you want to include, let me know. [Entries may be attributed or anonymous, per your preference.]

How NOT to insult someone in German. There are lots of German-English cognates, where words are the same in German as in English (e.g., ‘ball’ is ‘Ball’), or are very close (e.g., ‘house’ is ‘Haus’). As I continue learning German at a glacial pace, I’ve also come upon pseudo-cognates, where the German word may sound like (or may even be spelled the same as) an English word, and yet mean something entirely different – the ever-treacherous pseudo-cognate. One such word is ‘ass’ – so if you call someone an ass in German, you’re actually paying them a compliment because, auf Deutsch, ‘Ass’ means ‘ace.’ (Although I’ll bet that, especially in Berlin, a German would know exactly what you really meant, but would certainly enjoy the irony of an intended insult being a compliment.)

Maximum feasible misunderstanding. Such pseudo-cognates (also known as ‘false friends’) continue to reveal themselves to me. For example, when you send a package from the US to a destination outside of the US, you have to fill out a Customs form, which gives you an option of checking a box, labeled Gift. This is important because it can affect whether or not the recipient has to pay customs fees, which can sometimes make such a gift unwelcome. If the package happens to be going to Germany, and if the recipient doesn’t have a very extensive English vocabulary, checking the Gift box can cause some consternation on the part of the recipient. That’s because, auf Deutsch, the word Gift means Poison. What must the German recipient think about a country where mailing poison to folks outside the country is such a common practice that it warrants specification on the customs form? Also, imagine a German buying a gift in a US department store and the clerk asks, “Would you like for me to gift-wrap this for you?”

Wanna save thousands of Euros on your next trip to Germany? It’s really simple. All you have to do is not shoot anyone the bird. Know what can happen if you do? Germans can sue you AND there’s a fine of 1,000 Euros. They’ll sue you for impugning their character. So, if you are in the habit of doing this with any great regularity, just think how much money you can save by NOT doing it!! You may save enough to pay for your trip!!

Whimsey. Whimsey abounds in Berlin. In fact, if I were limited to a single-word description of this place, I think that’s the word I would use. It is, after all, historically a place that draws artists and musicians. One example is in the names of shops:

• Bonnie and Klied’s, a clothing store (to fully appreciate this, you need to know that Klied is German for clothes)
• Holy’s Hit Records
• A flower shop near our flat – Mauerblumen (which translates into Wallflower (reflecting the city’s love-hate relationship with its wall)

We also recently missed the opportunity to see something advertized as the invisible playground – wonder what they charged to not see it? And how could you tell when you’d seen it all? How would you describe it to someone else? For a little bit extra, would they not let you see the Emperor’s new clothes?

Yesterday I saw a car with eyelashes painted above its headlights.

I wonder if this predilection for the whimsical is related to the preponderance of graffiti? Some of it is truly delightful, the best example of which is some of the artwork on the Wall. One of the most famous examples is the section of the Wall depicting a VW driving through the Wall. This makes me wonder – which came first, the graffiti or the Wall? Within our neighborhood, there is a series of graffiti that consists of various well-done renderings of animals and small children (although sometimes I think those two terms are synonyms and hence redundant). They are done in black-and-white. Rather than painting them directly on the surfaces, the artist has printed them on white paper and then pasted them on the walls (which is particularly respectful of the property). Further, they’re placed not on the side of the wall facing the street, but rather within the thresholds of the buildings. Most of the buildings are ‘Altbau’ – old buildings, with exterior walls often up to two feet thick, so this offers a nice surface on which to put small pieces of artwork. You can’t see these if you’re driving on the street, but they offer delightful treats as you’re walking down the sidewalk. This is the best of all possible worlds – little pieces of art that are readily accessible, without being obtrusive or defacing property. Alas, most of the graffiti is at the other end of the spectrum – ugly, in-your-face obtrusive, and defaces the walls of some truly otherwise lovely buildings. Some is just scribbles; others are just initials or rude/crude words (which, admittedly, tumble out of my mouth more readily than I like to admit, but nonetheless I don’t write them on buildings). Some is marginally amusing (and minimally intrusive), such as the notation along the canal wall that says ‘Pull plug here.’ Others are just imponderable, such as the single word – Sonic – painted on the front of the building across the street from out flat. In some cases, rather than continually paint over graffiti, the building owner has chosen to paint lovely murals – my favorite is a mural of huge poppies on the face of a building in my son’s neighborhood. Alas, this hasn’t deterred some miscreant from just spray painting scribbles on it. My son admonishes me for being judgmental about all of this, assuming the role of arbiter of ‘good’ graffiti and ‘bad’ graffiti, when the real ‘statement’ is about freedom of expression, uninhibited by someone’s notion of the appropriate canvass, content, or form, or property rights. As someone who has spent rather substantial sums (at least to me) on real estate, I suppose I must admit to having some preconceived notions of the rights of others to ‘decorate’ it at they see fit.

Unsolvable problem. Germans are absolutely the masters of ‘work to the rule.’ If you get to the trash bin, and it’s full, don’t even think about putting your trash beside the bin. It will stay there. Usually we can work around that, but recently we’ve reached a conundrum. Apparently, one day when they came to get the bins that hold the glass, a car was blocking the way to the street from the house, so the Müllmeisters just left the bins. Then, by the next week, the brown/green glass bin was full, with the over-flow stacked beside it. Not only did they not take the extra (fair enough), but they also left the entire brown/green glass bin. AND they left the white glass bin, which had not yet begun to over-flow. We’ve reached a stale-mate: (1) Müllmeisters won’t touch either bin; (2) When we brought this to the attention of the Hausmeister, he apparently feels it’s not HIS job to remove the extra glass (to a public bin 2 blocks away) so that the Müllmeisters will pick up the bins; (3) When I tried to explain this to the landlord, he suddenly became unable to understand English (and, by the way, the German word for ‘glass’ is ‘Glas’). Someone has taken it upon themselves to spirit away the overflow (but not the bottle that happened to break – so I picked up those pieces). Now it remains to be seen whether the Müllmeisters will pick up the glass next week. (Even though the bin is not overflowing, they may not pick it up if it is full to the brim.) If indeed they don’t, Harvey and I will resign ourselves to gathering the extra glass up and toting it to the public bins and see if we can get the bins empty enough to get the Mullmeisters to take them. (The husband of one of our neighbors directed her not to even contact the landlord, as it’s apparently beneath the dignity of a tenant to become involved in such mundane matters.) Oh, yeah, we already thought of being lazy (re-cycling be damned!!) and putting the extra glass in the trash bin. But we understand that then they won’t take the trash (which is infinitely nastier than the glass). Update: Just as we were about to take matters into our own hands (and haul the glass to the public bins), someone removed the colored glass outside the bin; however, they did NOT pick up the one broken bottle. Fearing that this alone would be sufficient grounds for declining to empty the bin, I took it upon myself to pick that up. And, lo and behold, the next day that bin was emptied. Yet, they bin with the clear glass remains full. We’re going to wait a week – don’t know what day clear glass is supposed to be picked up – before we resort to making a more substantial contribution to solving this problem. The rich irony would be if we tote the bottles to the public bin and it becomes too full for the Müllmeisters to empty.