Archives for posts with tag: U-bahn


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© – 39:  December 26, 2012


They recently refurbished a U-bahn stop near us.  And, true to form the paint on the walls wasn’t even dry yet before the graffiti gremlins messed it up.  Admittedly, some of the graffiti is attractive and clever (or at least one of the two), but this particular graffiti was neither.  We discovered this about 3 pm as we were headed out to Maria and Josef’s for Christmas dinner (one of the very few – but certainly appropriately named – restaurants in Berlin open on Christmas day).  But, amazingly, when we came home from dinner a few hours later, someone had covered up the graffiti – with the new paint!  It HAD to be a miracle, because very few folks here work on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after Christmas, and somehow, I just can’t imagine the guys who paint the walls at the U-bahn stops being considered “essential personnel.”  Whatever!  We know it won’t last, but at least somebody is trying!!


I did something today that probably at least half of the folks in the US have never even heard of, much less done – I defrosted the freezer in my fridge.  Yep!  Scraping ice, putting bowls of boiling water in the freezer to loosen up more ice, and repeat until the ice is all gone (or, until you get bored, whichever comes first).  Frost-free refrigerators and freezers aren’t common here (except for really, really rich folks).  The initial expense isn’t so much the problem; rather it’s the amount of electricity to achieve that frost-free objective.  Of course, the good news is that, given the cost of electricity and the size of the living space most folks have, the fridge is small, with a commensurately small freezer.  The freezer in my fridge is about half  the size of a piece of carry-on luggage, so it’s not quite as big a job as it was back in the early 70s, when we were grad students and had a second-hand fridge that could have been as old as we were.


In the US, there is a form of bread that we call “English Muffins.”  In Germany, this substance is called “Toast Brötchen” (which translates literally as “toast rolls”).  Gee! I wonder what folks in the UK call these things?


I try to listen to German radio, in a futile effort to become more familiar with the language.  Twice an hour, there’s a weather report.  Invariably, I hear a reference to “Austin.”  Well, it turns out that the German word for “East” is “Osten” – and is pronounced pretty much like “Austin.”


If you’re old enough to remember the TV show Allie McBeal, then surely you remember the character who always flushed the toilet BEFORE he used it, because, in his words, he preferred a “fresh bowl.”  Well, William seems to have this preference as well, because all we need to do to get him to come use the litter box is to clean it.  Once he hears the sound of a pooper-scooper going through litter, he makes it his business to come running towards the litter box.  In fact, sometimes he’ll come even if he doesn’t do anything except re-arrange the litter.  This is another situation in which I know what he’s doing, but truly wonder what HE thinks he’s doing!


Ever lost a glove?  Aside from trying to find someone who wears the same size glove and has only one hand (and the right – or left, depending on the case—one at that), there’s not a lot of future for the single glove.  But now in Berlin, there’s hope!  With one of the highest divorce rates of any pairing, gloves are now the subject of a citywide matchmaking service, courtesy of the kind-hearted upcycling designers of Stadtfund. The collective fixes, cleans, and pairs up lonely, single gloves—ditched on the freezing streets of Berlin by their fed-up partners—with another discarded, slightly mismatched, yet somehow perfectly imperfect soul mate glove partner, then sells the new set online. Owners of lonely solo mittens can also use the Stadtfund‘s dating service, which will suggest potential partners from amongst their collection of singles. []


Today I saw one dog apparently in charge of another.  One of the dogs was on a leash; the other had the first dog’s leash in his mouth.  They appeared to be about the same age, size, and breed, so it’s hard to determine the criteria by which one was selected to be in charge of the other.  Or maybe they just take turns.


OK, so Germans love their dogs.  That’s fine.  Lots of people do.  Some dogs are even lovable.  And dogs live in apartments with people.  That’s also OK; we have our cats.  And animals need to piss and crap, and sometimes have accidents.  All this is understandable.  What is NOT understandable is how someone, in our apartment building, could let their dog crap on our front door mat and LEAVE IT THERE!  We’re used to looking out for dog crap on the sidewalk (even though it’s annoying that some folks don’t pick up after their dogs).  But we have been under the assumption that, once we’re in the lobby of the apartment building, we’re home free.  Well, apparently not!  And what’s the last thing you do before you walk into the apartment?  Yep – wipe your feet on the doormat outside your door.  And your next step, of course, is into your apartment.   JERKS just left it there!!


As long as I’m relating the less desirable qualities of dogs, I may as well share another cartoon drawn by Anna Johnson, talented granddaughter of the blog’s resident cartoonist, Evie Fullingim.

William the Wonder Cat - 23 - Food Chain

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 29:  July 9, 2012


Sometimes my fondness for the excellent public transportation system here is placed in jeopardy by assholes and whackos.  For example, today we had to wait 30 minutes for a bus that normally comes every 10 minutes.  It was 80 degrees (F), we were tired, and the grandkids were full of energy.  Waiting along with us was a school group of about 15 elementary school kids returning from a field trip, as well as the normal contingent of folks who would – by that time – have been served by 3 different busses.  When the bus finally arrived, it was packed.  We took pity on the teachers and yielded to them and their 15 students.  This apparently was taken as a sign of weakness on our part by the other passengers, who crowded in front of us, so we just decided to take the next bus.  HA!  The joke’s on the assholes!  The next bus came literally in the next 2 minutes, and was virtually empty, so we weren’t packed in a bus like sardines, with 15 hyper-stimulated 8-year-olds and all those assholes who pushed in front of us!

When we changed from the bus to the train, we encountered a whacko.  Parts of the train have the seats along the sides of the train, rather than in rows.  The whacko had taken off his shoes and put them in the middle of the center of the train, so everybody had to walk over them.  If I had not had the kids (and if I were considerably more agile), when I got out, I would have grabbed his shoes and thrown them under the train!!  But, not pushing my luck with a whacko (and not wanting to set a bad example for the kids), I abstained.

Then, coming home on the train, we encountered another asshole!  Some of the seats along the sides of the train fold up (like in the movies) to accommodate bicycles and strollers and such.  There was a guy sitting on one seat and using the folded-up seat next to him for an arm rest.  Harvey practically had to pick up the sucker’s arm to pull down the seat so he could sit in it!  There are also the occasional assholes who sit in the middle of 2 seats, and I’m not talking about morbidly obese people who may need 2 seats – just people who, even during (or especially during) rush hour can’t be bothered to share the available seats as intended.

So, some days I long for my car.  But, thinking back, I’m pretty sure I have strong impressions of assholes and whackos on the streets of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area.  But at least they weren’t in striking distance, so I didn’t have to exercise so much self-control to keep myself from jack-slapping the crap out of them!


I never cease to be amazed at the certain obliviousness that afflicts Berliners.  Don’t know whether it’s the case throughout Germany, but Berliners definitely suffer from it.  Or, rather, they themselves don’t suffer one little bit from it – it’s the rest of us that are driven nuts by it!  It’s as if each German operates as though he or she is the only human on the planet.  Here are some examples:

  • Woman in front of me gets to the top of the escalator, steps off, and immediately stops to open her map and examine it.  Never mind that the escalator is rapidly delivering the rest of us to the exact spot where she’s planted herself and, unless she has some special power to override the law of physics about two objects not being able to occupy the same space at the same time, then this is just a collision waiting to happen.
  • A single person will be walking down the sidewalk headed my way; I’m holding a 4-year-old with one hand and a 6-year-old with the other hand and bicycles are zooming past me on one side.  Do you think this person has any intention of yielding?  Ever?  I just haven’t been able to figure out why folks aren’t bumping into each other all the time.
  • Guy at the grocery store has 5 huge plastic bags full of bottles to return.  A friend comes up and they start talking.  I’m waiting behind the guy and have only 3 bottles.  Apparently the guy with the bottles is unable to talk and put bottles into the machine at the same time, so he puts a bottle in, chats, and the machine times out on him.  So, he has to push the button to get his receipt for the bottles he’s already put in the device and start again with the rest.  I guess I should be glad that he was returning the huge bottles because if those bags had been full of small bottles, I’m not sure I’d be home yet!  I’m not a young woman!  Every 30 minutes of my life spent waiting for folks like this is an increasingly larger percentage of the time I have left on this planet!!


At any given time, you have a 50% chance of getting a tip from me (unless you’re a rapper).  If you want to reduce your chances to 0%, try this.  First, wait until I’ve come out of the grocery store, unlocked my bike, filled my basket with my groceries, and am trying to back my bike out of the bike rack without spilling my groceries and knocking over the dozens of bikes parked on either side of me, which is definitely a 2-handed job that requires my full attention.  Then, stand immediately behind my bike playing your accordion.  See how inclined I am to reach into my purse, pull out my wallet, and fish out a few coins for you.  I’m more likely to ‘accidentally’ roll my bike over your toes, and if at all possible, allow some hard part of my bike to come in violent contact with some soft, sensitive part of your body.

SO, WHAT DO BERLINERS THINK OF US?,,15621262,00.html

ANOTHER REASON TO SLAP SMOKERS (as if there weren’t already enough)

There are lots of smokers in Berlin.  [This is in spite of the strong warning on cigarette packages.  In the US, it’s something innocuous, e.g., “Smoking MAY be dangerous to your health.”  In Germany the warning is in HUGE bold letters and says basically, “Smoking is gonna kill you.”  None of this equivocal  “may” business, and none of this “dangerous to your health” business, either.  This just goes to show you how ineffective such warnings are.]  When we first started coming here in 2002, you couldn’t get away from them because anyone could smoke anytime just about anywhere.  Now things are better – you can’t smoke in the train stations, on the trains, or in many restaurants.  So where do people smoke the most?  Out on the street, of course, especially since most folks use public transportation and walk, rather than have cars (presumably with ashtrays).  In almost every block, there is at least one trash bin.  In fact, where they expect lots of folks to congregate (such as outside the city hall, where you go to pay traffic fines, register your address, etc.) there are three such trash bins within about 25 feet of the building.  The trash bins have special ashtrays, where you can put out your cigarette with no danger of starting a fire in the trash.  OK.  So, assuming smokers are smoking just as much, and that they aren’t smoking in “No Smoking” areas, it only stands to reason that they’ll be smoking more on the street.  And there are ash trays everywhere.  So, what do folks do with their cigarette butts?  Put them in the ash trays?  Of course not!  They just throw them on the sidewalk.  It’s unsightly, of course, but that’s not the worst of it.  Sidewalks in Berlin are made of paving stones, so the cigarette butts tend to roll into the grooves between the paving stones.  The big sidewalk sweeper machines don’t get them out, nor do the shopkeepers/Hausmeisters who may sweep the sidewalks in front of the shops and apartments.  However, there are some folks who are particularly diligent about sweeping the sidewalks in front of their establishments.  Wanna know what works really well to get the cigarette butts out of the grooves in the sidewalk?  You know those metal rakes for raking leaves?  Yeah!  THOSE!  Wanna guess how really great it sounds when someone is dragging the rake across the paving stones?  Especially at the crack of dawn when you’re picking your grandkids up to take them to day care?  And you thought you had run out of reasons to want to slap the crap out of smokers, didn’t you?!!


I find all kinds of interesting stuff when I’m looking up words in my English/German dictionary.  Today I found the German word for what we know as the Information Superhighway—it’s “die Datenautobahn”, of course!  This is despite the fact that one of the words for ‘information’ is ‘Information.’  And while we’re on the topic of my magical, mystical excursion into the land of the German language, I have noticed I am now inclined to combine two words into a single word, such as the other day I typed ‘keychain’ instead of ‘key chain.’  I used to have a pretty good grasp on whether something was two words, one word, or hyphenated.  Admittedly, I had help from the Government Printing Office Style Guide, which provided essential information on how the Federal government thought things should be.  In addition to some 52 rules for determining whether to combine, hyphenate, or separate completely various words, the manual also provided a very long list (something like 22 pages) of specific examples, 2 of which I’ve committed to memory—cow-eyed and squirrel-headed.   I’ve often pondered the circumstances under which someone writing a document for the Federal government might have a need to know whether these words were hyphenated, combined, or separated.  Alas, the online version of the GPO Style Manual doesn’t provide this list and I wonder whether it’s also been omitted from the most recent hard-copy version.  If that’s the case, it’s a terrible, terrible loss.


It’s not like I wasn’t warned not to get a haircut out of town.  Anybody who’s heard The Haircut Song by Ray Stevens knows that, because he straight-out tells you:  When you get a haircut, you better go back home.  Get a barber you have known since you were a little bitty boy sitting in a booster chair.  [The Haircut Song].  Well, that song doesn’t describe the half of it getting a haircut out of town when the ‘out of town’ is in another country and you don’t speak the language that well!

The shop I go to is more or less like the ‘Hair Cuttery’ or some similar shop, where you can get a haircut for 10 Euros (which is in the neighborhood of $15 US).  You can also get your hair colored for another 10 Euros.  The interesting thing is that they don’t style it – after they’ve cut your hair, you blow-dry and style it yourself.  This may be a tad odd, but it’s more like the real world because how many times have you had your hair cut and styled, but whenever you wash it the next time and try to style it, you can NEVER get it to look Anything like what the stylist did?  So at least this approach manages your expectations. Well, the kicker to the cheap price is that you don’t get to choose your stylist – you just take a number and get whoever is available when they call your number.  For the most part, I’ve been lucky because, communicating via hand signals, grunts, and “Ja” and “Nein” has worked pretty well with the stylist I usually get (and he also speaks some English).  However, I don’t always get to choose.  Well, your luck has to run out some time, right?  My last haircut ended up being a bit shorter than I intended.  But, the good news is, it lasted a real long time!  And here, where you see folks with one side of their head shaved, while maybe the other side is composed of multi-colored dreadlocks halfway to their knees, nobody’s going to point at you and say, ‘Wow!  Look at HER!’

And if you don’t know Ray Stevens, you ought to check him out on YouTube; here’s another favorite of mine:  The Mississippi Squirrel Revival  and there’s a whole bunch more.


I saw some graffiti today that posed an interesting question:  How long is now?  It was at the end of a building and was professionally done.  It included a photo and the type font was something like Times New Roman.  So, how long IS ‘now’?  But wait!  Even if you could answer that question, what would you be able to DO with that information?  So maybe it WAS pointless after all….


My ‘ride’ in the US was a Volvo S80.  It was nice— not a Rolls Royce, but as nice as somebody like me is likely to ever have.  Well, here in Berlin, I actually have two rides at my disposal—a Mercedes and another Volvo.  And EACH one comes with a driver, something I certainly never had before!  Both rides share certain advantages:  I never have to remember where I parked, nor do I have to put gas in it or do maintenance on it, buy insurance,  or pay car notes or taxes.  Pretty cool, right?  But there are some differences between the two.  I can have my Mercedes anytime, anywhere I want – just pick up the phone and it will be here in less than 5 minutes.      However, with the Volvo, I have to be at a designated place at a designated time to get a ride.  And, while my Mercedes will take me directly from where I am to where I want to be, the trip in the Volvo can be a little less than direct.  Another difference between the two is that I can have the Mercedes all to myself – or, if anyone rides with me, it’s always someone I know and, in most cases, someone I’m related to.  With the Volvo, on the other hand, I have to share the ride with dozens of total strangers….


Nope!  Not gonna see any naked necks here (or, at least if you do, you can be pretty sure it’s a foreign neck.  For some reason, Berliners (and maybe all Germans, for all I know) seem to have a phobia about leaving their necks uncovered.  OK, I can see that in the winter.  It’s cold and very few Germans can leave their homes and set foot in their offices without ever having been outside.  Just go out your kitchen door, into your garage, into your car and then drive to work, where you park in the building garage and take an elevator to your office.  But this is ALL the time – winter, summer, spring, or fall.  I have every confidence that if you went to a nude beach, you could pick out the Berliners by the ones running around naked as a jaybird, except, of course, for the scarf around their necks.  Some, if you’ve got some weird sexual craving for naked German necks, you’re gonna be pretty disappointed if you spent the time and trouble to come here to find some.

And, by way, the late, great Justin Wilson offered a way to differentiate ‘nude’ from ‘naked’ – ‘nude’ just means you don’t have any clothes on, whereas ‘naked’ means that you don’t have any clothes on AND you’re up to something!  [Works better, of course, if you say ‘nekkid’, though.}


There’s a secret to retirement for couples—it’s all about enjoying one another without annoying one another (or, more realistically, making sure that the ‘enjoying’ part is much more than the ‘annoying’ part).


Anybody remember this song by the Everly Brothers?

 Sometimes this song comes to mind when I’m watching William sleep and it’s pretty obvious that he’s dreaming.  So, what do kitty cats dream about?  Well, Anna Johnson, the other talented granddaughter of Evie Fullingim (creator of William the Wonder Cat) has an idea.

NOTE:  If you want to have nightmares, listen to the way Keith Richards abuses this song.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!  CLICK ON THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK!!


[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.’