Archives for posts with tag: vocabulary


I guess it was bound to happen, sooner or later…..

We’ve lived in Berlin for almost 6 years now. I guess it was only a matter of time before we became “German.” We eat the food; we buy the clothes; we live the life. Kinda like a married couple starting to look alike after they’ve been married awhile. We took a trip to Spain and Portugal. We went into a restaurant in Cascais, Portugal –a very “touristy” town – and the waiter automatically handed us a German menu. I wonder – was it that we were wearing socks with our sandals, or that we had on neck scarves? [Because, at least in Berlin, you’ll see folks wearing scarves around their necks all year long; it may be 85 degrees F, and they may have on short-shorts and no shirt, but they’ll have on a scarf.] Or maybe (at least for me) the genes on my Daddy’s side of the family were showing.

And, after we got back home to Berlin, I saw an article with a headline something like “Why Germany will never lead Europe” and I felt insulted. Alas, the one way I would most like to be German is to have a better command of the language. Sigh…..

Strange hankerin’s

Folks often ask us what we miss about our lives in the US, and, first and foremost, it’s the friends and family we left behind and, for the most part, have to interact with via e-mail or Facebook, given the time difference. We sometimes call, because our calling plan gives us unlimited calling to 29 other countries, but by the time folks on the other side of the Atlantic are waking up, we’re starting to wind down. Aside from the folks, there are some foods we miss. And today I got a strong hankerin’ for a pimento cheese sandwich. Sometimes you can put together familiar foods yourself because you can get the ingredients here – such as a hamburger. Ground meat, lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayo, cheese, bacon, and onions are certainly available here and it’s no problem to put a burger together. You can even find tortillas so you can cobble together a few Mexican dishes. But sometimes you can’t even find the ingredients, like cheddar cheese and pimentos for that pedestrian pimento cheese sandwich. Occasionally you can find cheddar cheese, but I’ve not been able to find pimentos. The sad thing is that some grocery stores have “American” sections, but tend to waste shelf space on things like Pop Tarts! PU-LEEZE!!!! And, boy, do I miss seafood!!! Having grown up on the Gulf Coast of southeast Texas, where crawfish grow in your front yard and you can catch your own crabs if you have the time and patience, we were sure spoiled. You can find some seafood here, but it’s incredibly pricey (e.g., just catfish costs about $12 a pound – CATFISH!! And shrimp – last time I dared to look – was about $25 a pound) and often inadequate. (What they call “shrimp” here, we would have called “bait.”) Sigh! But, still, getting to see our son and his family on a regular basis trumps all that.

Being half-deaf has its advantages

My inadequate hearing has given rise to any number of hysterically funny exchanges. So, in addition to not being troubled as much by other folks by things like street noise, I get a few belly laughs that I might not have otherwise had if my hearing were perfect. Like on our trip to Portugal with my cousins, we had a particularly amusing exchange. While living in Singapore, my cousin had adopted a dog from an animal shelter. When they returned to the US, they wanted to take the dog home with them. As it turns out, the airline wouldn’t let them take this particular type of dog on the airplane. Now this dog isn’t any bigger than a minute, and certainly wouldn’t be a threat to anyone on the plane. I heard my cousin say that it was because flying causes breeding problems for this particular type of dog – a Lhaso Apso. I, of course, wondered how flying on an airplane could affect a dog’s breeding capabilities, because I couldn’t imagine why anyone would try to breed their dogs while in flight. Surely dogs had no interest in joining the “Mile High Club.” Well, turns out that what he actually SAID was “breathing problems” (and, since this breed is very expensive, the airlines weren’t the least bit interested in being held liable for its health issues). That certainly cleared things up! By the way, an ingenious solution to the problem of getting the dog on the plane was to go back to the vet and get the dog’s records changed from Lhaso Apsoto “long-haired Chihuahua.” Imagine the intrigue of faking a dog’s passport!

The only logical answer…..

I was caring for our 3-year-old grandson recently. He’s a big fan of vehicles, of every sort and size. (He recently developed a strong attraction to the Lexus and now has his very own.) He had put one of his Lego people on a bus and was moving it along somewhere. I asked him where the Lego man was going and he gave me this incredulous look, as if he couldn’t believe that I didn’t already know where Lego man was going, and said, “Lego Land.” Well, of course! And I’m sure if he were acquainted with the concept of “Duh!” he would have said that, too!

Inarticulate in two languages….

I accept the fact that there are things here in Germany that I don’t have the German word for. But it increasingly comes to my attention that there are things that I don’t have the English word for, either. For example, today I had a physical therapy appointment. In the US, this would have taken place in a huge room, much like a sports club/gym with several folks working with their respective physical therapists. Here, there’s still a largish room (not huge – about as big as 2 average living rooms) but different areas are separated from one another by curtains, and each patient works with a therapist in their own individual area. Of course, this might imply greater privacy, except that you can hear everything everyone else is saying and, from time to time, someone in the adjoining area might actually bump into you through the curtain. The folks who work here call each area a “Kabine” – but wanted to know what the word would be in English. Well, I haven’t the vaguest idea! We wouldn’t really call it a “stall” because that implies something with walls (even if the walls don’t go all the way to the floor or to the ceiling). We might not call it a cubical because that also implies walls (limited though they may be). So, here I am, clearly inarticulate in German (which isn’t surprising) but now also inarticulate in English, which is a horrid realization for someone who spent decades earning a living by writing. Sigh….

No smokers…

Many places have “No Smoking” signs, but Portugal takes it a bit further. Apparently you don’t have to be actually smoking at the time to be denied access to places, such as elevators. Nope! You don’t have to be smoking at the moment; just the fact that you are a smoker means you can’t get on the elevator. The signs say, “No Smokers.”

Surely you jest….

During her last illness, the recently departed Dowager Ms. Electra, our 15-year-old, 8-pound, partially bald Devon Rex kitty, had developed a cough and had trouble keeping her food down, all of which occasioned a trip to the vet. He gave me some pills for each problem. But it appears to be the habit here to give animals human meds, which is cheaper than getting the pet variety. That may seem to be a good idea, except when you have to cut the pills into pieces to get the proper dosage. Cutting a tablet into 2 pieces (especially when it’s designed for that) isn’t a problem. However, to get it into an Electra-sized dosage, the vet told me to cut it into 8ths!!! Imagine trying to cut something the size of a baby aspirin into 8 pieces! So, of course, some of the pieces simply turn to powder and are unusable. At some point, it is NOT cheaper to use human meds because you have to throw so much away. Sigh….

Living well…

The lady in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store was on the far side of 90 (or, at least, I hope so, because if she was indeed much younger, it would be sad). But she undoubtedly has a zest for life! The only things she was buying were chocolate and champagne. I hope she has someone to share them with, but even if she doesn’t, I’ve gotta give her props for enjoying life!

Tree lovers

I love trees as much – if not more than – the next person. But my love of trees can’t hold a candle to that of the Germans. Berlin is a city of about 3.5 million people, but it’s hard to imagine that it’s that populous because there are so many green spaces. For one thing, if you’re not in walking distance of a park, then it just means that you’re not ambulatory at all. An aerial view of Berlin will show an enormous proportion of green space. I supposed I could get actual statistics on this, but I’m lazy so I’ll just guess that at least half of it is green space of some sort. Most streets are lined with trees. A street may be solid apartment buildings, one connected to another, but it will still have trees on both sides of the street. And they take care of their trees. Certainly the trees lining the streets – in public areas – are even numbered, and periodically you’ll see some official “Tree Police” examining the trees and carefully making notes on their health (e.g., Wartenburgstrasse Tree #69 has dead limbs that need to be removed). When trees eventually die, they are replaced. All this is good stuff, but I am continually puzzled for their love of lining streets with fruit-bearing trees. In particular, our old street was lined with Gingko trees, which are, admittedly, lovely trees. The problem, however, is that their fruit smells like vomited-up dog crap. So the fruit falls on the sidewalk and you have no option except to walk on it, or pull your grocery cart through it, so you have to clean up before you enter your apartment building because you surely don’t want to bring that crap inside. Nonetheless, since most folks don’t have air conditioning, much of the time your windows will be open, allowing the stench of smushed Gingko fruits to invade your flat. Now in the case of these trees, there are both male trees (which don’t bear fruit) and female trees (which do). So, if they wanted to plant Gingko trees, why did they have to plant female trees? Thankfully, we have no Gingko trees in our new neighborhood! The horse chestnut is another tree that is a popular choice for planting along streets, so the sidewalks are often lined with chestnuts, but these aren’t the edible kind. Admittedly, the flowers are lovely in the spring and the chestnuts don’t stink. Further, they provide endless fun for kids, who like to collect them and throw them at each other.

Now here’s something Americans don’t see every day…

A young boy carrying a cricket bat. We picked up our grandkids at school today and one of the students had a cricket bat! And, no, I don’t think that cricket is a German thing. However, the kids’ school is a bi-lingual English-German school, where “English” means “British.” Interestingly enough, many of the folks here – German as well as non-German – look down their noses at American English. However, the “English” teachers at this school are not only British, but also Scottish, Irish, and Australian. Add our American English to the mix (and their own German accent) and it will be truly interesting to see how our grandkids speak English.

What’s in a name….

What would you say if I invited you to our place to share a nice bottle of Burgerspital? It’s pretty pricey, too. Not quite your cup of tea?


A conundrum…

My grandkids wanted me to bake them a Kitty Litter cake for their respective birthdays. It’s a cake made of chocolate cake, white cake, vanilla pudding, and crushed vanilla wafers, garnished with partly melted Tootsie Rolls to look like, well, there’s no delicate way to put this —- cat turds. Not having seen Tootsie Rolls here, I brought them back with me on a recent trip to the US. The rest of the ingredients are readily available here in Berlin. There’s one minor problem, though — the recipe calls for a cake mix for “German Chocolate Cake.” Just wonder what such a thing is called here in Germany, though, because, actually, pretty much ALL the chocolate cakes here are “German chocolate.” Not sure what I would even ask for to get what the recipe specifies, which is why I’ve settled for just any ol’ chocolate cake mix.


2015-12-05_Noe's kitty litter BD cake






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© – 48:  February 14, 2014


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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© – 35:  October 20, 2012


I see lots of interesting things as I sit in front of my living room window fiddling with my laptop.  Well, at least they’re interesting to me.  For instance, today I saw a white panel truck, with what appeared to be representations of snowflakes painted on it.  There was a single word painted on the side and the back – WINTER. (By the way, the word ‘winter’ is a true cognate – it really means the same thing in German as it does in English.)  So, now we know how winter is delivered.  All we need to do is to hijack that vehicle and lock it up somewhere so that winter won’t come!


I was coveting my neighbor’s bike – in particular, the paint job.  At first I thought it was a floral design – pinks, blues, greens – but then, upon closer inspection, it turns out to be a street map of Berlin!  How cool is THAT??!!


OK, so when, exactly, did my T-shirts stop being T-shirts and turn into bibs?  Well, actually, I CAN tell you exactly – October 13, 2012, about 6:30 pm Berlin time.  It was after I had weighed the options for dinner – (a) pull something together out of odds and ends in the fridge OR (b) go to our favorite neighborhood restaurant, which has recently begun featuring authentic American hamburgers (the kind your Daddy made on the grill when you were a kid), and decided on Option B.  I looked down at my T-shirt and noticed that I had a couple of spots on it.  My first thought was to change it.  Then I thought, “Well, I’m gonna eat and will probably spill something on it anyway, so why dirty two T-shirts?”  After all, one morning (after trying to cook breakfast for some guests while I was fully dressed, I ended up putting on 3 T-shirts before we got out the door.


I dreamed I was watching a news story on TV.  Las Vegas was being overrun by hordes of Chihuahuas – all colors, some long-haired, some short-haired, and some with long hair in dreds that reached the ground (admittedly, for a Chihuahua, it wouldn’t have to be all that long to do that).  I ‘watched’ footage of the police trying to round up these Chihuahuas  and I woke myself up laughing.  It was hard to get back to sleep.


As I get older, I realize that every hour wasted is an increasingly larger percentage of the time I have left on this planet.  For a 14-year-old, an hour doesn’t represent very much in terms of how much time they have left, but for a 67-year-old, it’s starting to take a larger chunk out of the remaining time.  So, I try to save time when I can, and sometimes that’s only minutes or even seconds (because, of course, seconds add up to minutes, which add up to hours, which add up to days, etc.).  There have been a number of studies on multi-tasking in general, and when folks try to do multiple things simultaneously (such as read their e-mail while participating in a tele-conference), it’s not actually very effective because they function about as well on either of these tasks as someone who’s smoked a joint (without enjoying the fun aspects of that experience). This may well account for some of the peculiar and disastrous business decisions being made today.  Well, I thought my little 1-minute-saver was fairly harmless, as each of the two tasks I was simultaneously performing required very little brain power – swishing mouthwash around in my mouth and peeing.  However, it’s that unexpected sneezing fit that made me see the error of my ways.  It took me far longer to clean up the mess than it would have to simply do these tasks in a serial fashion.  Just a word to the wise….


I confess, I’m less than diligent about working on my German.  But this news hasn’t given me any cause for hope – there are apparently 6 main dialects of German, each so unique that they warrant their own dictionary!


They’re called ‘dumb animals.’  I ask you—what would you call a being who gets free room and board, free medical care, and gets doted on beyond all measure?  Would you call that being dumb?  Or would you call the being who works hard, pays taxes, and totally supports another being who makes no material contribution to the household dumb?  Somehow everything that we’ve paid for – and for which we’ve had some other use in mind – has been appropriated by the felines in the household.  [Note:  As always, be sure to enlarge the cartoon to get the full benefit of the artist’s work here.]



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


Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 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© – 17:  OCTOBER 25, 2011

CORRECTION:  I found out from a couple of my readers that my assumption that ‘B-52’ referred to the planes used in the Berlin Airlift wasn’t correct.  As it turns out, they had not even been designed at that time.  Rather the primary plane used was the C-54, supplemented by the C-47, the C-82, the Short Sunderland, and the Avro York.

 Now I have to figure out some other logic for why this place is named ‘B52 Tattoos’!  Maybe a rock group? Or a bra size?


  •  Rio Grande apples—Imagine this Texas girl looking down at the apple she bought at the Kaiser grocery store in Berlin and seeing a big ol’ sticker on it that said ‘Rio Grande’
  • Woman with exercise ball—You know those huge exercise balls, about 2 or 3 feet across?  Well, imagine taking it with you to the grocery store, where the aisles can truly only accommodate ONE shopping cart (IF you’re lucky and there’s no one trying to restock the shelves from a huge pallet of groceries blocking the aisle).  No, it wasn’t me!  I was the one trying to negotiate the narrow aisle, the huge pallet of groceries, and the lady with the huge exercise ball!  I guess that’s the down side of not using a car; if she had a car, she could have left it in the car.  I suppose I should be more gracious—after all, I just had to dodge her for a few minutes, while she had to select her groceries and carry them home while lugging a huge exercise ball the entire time.
  • Bart Simpson hoodie—Cool idea for a hoodie!  It has a Bart Simpson body and lets the wearer supply the face.  I’ll let your imagination come up with all the potential ‘Bart’ heads there might be in a city with like Berlin.


Yesterday, on our way to the immigration office, we were waiting for a train when a little boy about 6 started speaking to us and pointing at us.  Fortunately, we listened to him—it turns out that Harvey had dropped his bank card and the kid was pointing that out to him. This is just another in a series of events that demonstrate that my husband is a favored child of the Universe.  Take the time he dropped his wallet in downtown Washington, DC.  Remember how trench coats used to have slits in them so you could reach your pants pockets?  Well, you really should confirm that you were successful in sliding your wallet into your pocket rather than into thin air.  Literally a few minutes after we got home, the phone rang.  It was the woman who had found the wallet.  I’ll never forget her name—Mary Christian.  Then there’s the time he put his wallet on the bar at some coffee shop in Houston, and walked out without it.  Somebody found it and went to the trouble of mailing it to him.  Don’t want to forget the time he went sledding with our son.  They went to a huge field near George Mason University.  The snow was at least 3 feet deep.  Most folks would have put the wallet in the glove compartment and locked it up.  Nope!  He had it in his back pocket – while he’s sledding.  He never even experienced a single second of angst over this because, before he and our son even got home, the phone rang.  Somebody had already found it!  What are the odds it would be found under those conditions?  Another time he was at work.  He had his brief case opened on top of his desk and his wallet was in it, along with a plane ticket.  He walked out of his office and while he was gone, someone came into his office and stole his briefcase and the plane ticket, but took the wallet out and left it on top of his desk.  Another time we went to a concert and as we were headed out after the concert, this man came running after us – he had Harvey’s wallet, which had fallen out of his pocket during the concert.  And, a few days ago, when we got off the train someone came to the train door, hollering ‘Schlussel’ and holding up some keys.  I should have taken the chance and assumed that they were Harvey’s, but I just didn’t think that fast.  It turns out they were indeed his – and the Universe did its very best to help but I wasn’t sharp enough to listen.  Harvey had taken his wallet out to give a Euro to a musician on the train.  Although his wallet made it back into his pocket, his keys apparently didn’t.  And because my brain and feet didn’t operate quickly enough, we’ve spent the last 3 weeks trying to replace his keys.  The key to the front door of the building is still a problem.   The blank is apparently ‘controlled’.  Most locksmiths won’t duplicate those keys and you have to get a new one from the landlord.  [They’ll make the keys to your flat; just not the keys to the building.]  We may have found a locksmith who’s willing to do this for us (the landlord will charge us about $40 for a new key); but he’s ordered the blank and it’s been over 3 weeks and it’s still not in.


 I am definitely NOT looking forward to winter!  Of the things I like the least are the wretchedly short days – the sun doesn’t come up until 8:30 and is down by 4:30.  I realize that civilized folks only have to work 8 hours a day, but somehow I expect a lot more of Mr. Sun.  And, of course, it’s gonna get cold.  In a desperate attempt to find the silver lining, I’m looking forward to not having the windows open because there will be less dust on the furniture.


I had a sibling-deprived childhood, and didn’t really get an older sister until I was in my sixties (but that’s another story).  I also had an only child, so even as a Mom, I’ve still not encountered the exquisite kinds of torment that siblings reserve for one another.  Consequently, everything I’ve learned about the complex relationships between siblings has come from stories my friends have told me.  One friend told me something that has got to illustrate the pure essence of sibling interactions.  When her family went on car trips, she and her brother, of course, rode in the back seat, with the parents in the front.  Approximately 18.5 feet after rolling out of the driveway, boredom would overtake them and hostilities would ensue, and shrill whines of “Mooooooom!  He’s bothering me!” would issue forth.  The natural parental response would be, “Don’t touch her!”  (with the Mom – despite all previous evidence to the contrary – deluding herself into believing that this would end all the ruckus).  Her brother’s next move would be to trace an outline of her body while holding his finger about an inch away from her.  This, naturally, would evoke more whines, to which her brother would respond, “I’m not touching her.”  Every time I think of this, it makes me laugh (and, of course, think of my friend who gave me this wonderful story).  William, our now 11.25 pound, 8-month-old ‘kitten’, has his own interpretation of this tactic, sitting in front of our substantially more mature and cranky 11-year-old Electra, and extending his paw within an inch of her face, which provokes substantial growling and sometimes escalates to hissing and spitting, and, upon occasion, snarling and slapping.  All the while, of course, William has this look of his face that says, “Whaaat?  I never even touched her!”


Of course, as anyone who has shared a life with a cat, they do not wear clothes – even on Halloween – so outgrowing them is never a problem.  William has outgrown something more important than clothes – his litter box!  Yes, at 8 months, 2 weeks, when he sits in the litter box (which has a cover on it to keep litter from being sprayed throughout the entire flat), his entire body no longer fits.  His entire head is OUTSIDE the cover.  Well, as long as the other end is contained within the litter box, I suppose it’s OK.


If you have ever had kids (or been one), or had a job where you’re around little kids a lot,  you know the horror of head lice and all the things you have to do to get rid of them, to include washing everything you possess.  Well, friends and neighbors, there’s something that’s actually even MORE trouble!  That would be microbial fungus, which was first noticed, of course, on William, the Wonder Cat.  Here’s the drill:

  •  Give both cats an oral med for 8 weeks.  (BUT, just to make things more complex, you give it to them for 1 week; then a 1-week break; then give it to them for another week; and so on.  Plus, since the cats are different sizes, they have different doses.  Do you have a clue how that messes with your memory? )
  • Give both cats a topical med for 12 weeks, treating their ears, paws, and tails.  (BUT, again, not every day – just twice a week) AND it’s concentrated so you have to dilute it to a 2% solution yourself.
  • During the first 4 weeks of treatment, take both cats to the vet once a week for a shot.  Here’s what ‘taking the cats’ to the vet involves:
  1. Take the shopping  bag off the shopping cart
  2. Put each cat in a cat carrier (no minor accomplishment of itself)
  3. Put William’s carrier on the shopping  cart frame
  4. Put Electra’s carrier on top of William’s carrier
  5. Use the bungee cords to affix said carriers to the shopping cart frame (which is a rather elaborate process to make sure that both carriers are individually secured to the frame)
  6. Haul the entire mess 6 blocks to the vet (William alone weighs more than 11 pounds; Electra weighs about 7 pounds; plus, of course, the weight of the cat carriers)
  7. Undo the bungee cords from said carriers
  8. Take cats out of carriers
  9. After the vet is finished giving them their shots, repeat steps 2 through 8 (except, of course, step 6 involves hauling them in the opposite direction)
  • At the 4th week, get a hair/skin sample to re-test (again, no minor feat, especially with William, which will likely require giving him a general anesthetic).
  • Pray that the sample is negative.
  • After another 4 weeks, take another sample (which involves bringing both cats to the vet once again).
  • After 2 successive samples come back negative, you can stop the treatment (so if Sample 1 is negative but Sample 2 is positive, you’re back at Square One).  NOTE:  It takes the lab between 2 and 4 weeks to process the sample, so while you’re waiting for the results, you still have to medicate the cats.  Heaven forbid if either of the samples comes back positive.
  • Here’s my favorite:  Apply Clorox to everything the cats have come into contact with.  There is NOTHING that the cats have NOT come into contact with, OK?  Upholstered furniture; carpets; our bed; our clothes; every surface in the entire flat.  And, of course, many of these things would be ruined by Clorox.

One final thing – we may have to go to our doctor because it could affect us and, presumably, the treatment for us may be as complex as the treatment for them (although it will be far easier for us to take ourselves to the doctor than to haul the cats to the vet).I’m on the verge of tears just thinking about it!  I hope that we’re done with this before our new grandbaby gets here in 6 months!!


I own part of a gas well and they started drilling last July.  As it turns out, the entertainment value of how I came to have this gas well far exceeds the actual proceeds of the gas well itself.  The folks who are operating the well tell me that this is one of their most productive wells.  Want to guess how much my share of the proceeds is, after 14 months?  $28.42  Don’t rightly know what I’m going to do with my vast fortune, but I figure I’ll use the experience as an object lesson.

Here’s how I came to have this thing – I inherited it from my momma’s third husband’s first wife’s uncle.  OK, so one day some guy decides to buy the mineral rights to a piece of land in Tyler, Texas.  [Don’t know if it’s this uncle or not – he may well have inherited his piece from someone else on up the line.]  Buying mineral rights is highly speculative and it can be several decades (if ever) before drilling ever starts.  In the years between the original purchase and the drilling, it’s possible that folks die and pass on the mineral rights to their heirs.  This means that – assuming the owner has more than one heir – each successive generation has a smaller and smaller piece of the pie.  Well, going back to this uncle—he had at least a piece of this well and one of his heirs was his niece.  She got married and had 5 kids.  In her will she divided her share equally among her husband and the 5 kids.  As it turned out, this husband started cheating on her.  One of her first steps should have been to change her will, and just split her share among their 5 kids, don’t you think?  Well, instead of shooting him (which is likely legal in Texas), she decided she couldn’t live without him and took her own life.  Since she didn’t update her will, this 1/6th piece then went to her lying, cheating, no-good husband.  The woman he was cheating on was my momma, a woman who never met a husband she didn’t want to steal.  So they get married, and about 13 nanoseconds after the ink dried on the marriage certificate, my momma made sure that he updated his will, leaving his share of the gas well to her.  Well, it wasn’t long before the wedded bliss that he had anticipated turned to something else and this marriage ended.  But, did he update his will (maybe leaving his share to be divided among his 5 kids)?  Nope!  So he dies, and my momma inherits his share of the well.  Did my momma have a will, even though she was a paralegal and did wills for other people (and made sure that all her husbands had wills)?  Nope!  Then she dies, just about the time they decide it’s time to drill this well and, somehow, the management company tracked me down – literally 2 weeks before we moved to Berlin.

So, the moral to this story is this:  If you don’t want your stuff to be inherited by somebody you neither know nor are related to (such as your husband’s second wife’s daughter), make a will and keep it up-to-date!   I suppose I could take the high road and give my piece back to the other 5 heirs, but since they’d only get an extra $5 a year, the legal cost and trouble doesn’t seem worth it.  And somehow I’m disinclined to go to so much trouble for them when their own parents couldn’t be bothered to do so.


Language is not a particularly rational thing (and George Carlin — God rest his soul — was a master at demonstrating just how irrational it is).  For instance, ‘mince’ means to chop something up rather finely.  So, if you do this to meat, then you would expect to be able to describe it as ‘minced meat.’  And, apparently, at least to the Brits, this makes sense.  However, to an American, the only time ‘mince’ and ‘meat’ come together is in the term ‘mincemeat’ – that wonderful pie we have at Thanksgiving and New Year’s!  So, you can imagine our surprise when our waitress (trying, as is often the case, to speak English to those of us who speak German so badly) said that one of the kinds of wraps available that day was ‘mince meat.’

This brings up another habit of speech that I am struggling with.  Folks from the USA refer to themselves as ‘Americans’ and refer to the country from whence they come as ‘America.’  The Germans find this arrogant because there are a lot more other folks who could call themselves ‘Americans’ – folks from countries such as Canada and Mexico, which are also part of North America, and folks from all the countries that form Central and South America.  But, in all fairness, I must make the argument that the USA should really claim the words ‘America’ and ‘American’ by default.  This is because all those other folks can easily use the names of their countries, as in ‘I am from Mexico; I am a Mexican.’  What can folks from the USA call themselves?  USAians?  Besides, folks from other countries on the continent don’t really call themselves ‘Americans’ nor do they ever say that they’re from ‘America’.  The word isn’t used by anyone else except the USAians, so can’t folks be generous enough to let us just have it?  [And here, Word Grammar Check wants me to say ‘let us just has it’.]


It is now time to re-apply for our visa so we can stay in Germany.  Of course, one question that is always asked on any official form is ‘What is your sex?’  Typically you’re offered two options:  male or female.  But the visa application offered a third choice.  Germany is a pretty open-minded place with respect to sexual orientation, so having more than two options didn’t surprise me.  I was thinking perhaps that the third option would be ‘other’ (to include something normal such as homosexual, transvestite, or transsexual).  Silly me!!  Wanna guess what that third option is?  UNKNOWN!!  Really!  Now, I realize that some children are born with an indeterminate sex, but wouldn’t you think that if you’re old enough to apply for a visa in a foreign country, you would have decided what sex suited you best?  I was sooo tempted to check that box!  But, although Germans are incredibly whimsical beings when it comes to art and humor, that whimsey absolutely does NOT extend to ‘official business’ and I wasn’t willing to risk it.


Harvey and I went to the Auslanderbehorde about a week ago to re-apply for our visa.  In some ways, Germans can be quite accommodating of foreigners.  This is the only place in Germany I opened the door to a bathroom stall to see just a hole in the floor, with foot pads on either side of it.  Glad I took the trouble to check out the other stalls to find what I recognize as a toilet!


I saw a car with Wyoming license plates!!  May not see odd to you, but think about it a second.  The total population of the state in 2010 was only 563,626 (placing it 50th of 50 states in the US).  So, from a statistical perspective, a license plate from Wyoming (based on population) is the least likely of all US license plates (assuming that the vehicle-to-human ratio in Wyoming is roughly the same as in all other states).  Therefore, seeing one in the US (outside of Wyoming or the neighboring states) is a pretty rare event any way.  Imagine the odds of such a plate appearing in Berlin!


  • German Consul to Alabama?  Apparently there is….


 I must admit, I still miss my clothes dryer (soft towels and unwrinkled perma-press clothes) and my frost-free refrigerator with ice (both cubed and crushed) and ice water through the door.  Sigh!

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