Archives for posts with tag: Whimsey

 

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?

2016-01-30-Burgerspital

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.

YUM!!

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

 

 

 

DeLighted in Leipzig  (September 21, 2013)

Even retired folks need a ‘get-away’ from time to time, and we really needed some time away from the cats – their incessant demands to be fed; their continuous fidgeting in the bed; waking up pinned to the bed by 25 pounds of cats.  So, we decided to take a couple of days and go to Leipzig, about a 1-hour train ride from Berlin.  It was truly lovely.

HEAVEN!

One of the real treats was the hotel – Steigenberger Hotels and Resorts!  Here’s a list of all the items they supplied:

  • Magnifying make-up mirror in the bathroom
  • Absolutely luscious shower!  Lots of water and lots of room in the shower!  I could have stayed in the shower the WHOLE time we were there!
  • Q-tips, cotton pads, a nail file (in addition to the standard soap, shampoo, and hand lotion)
  • Washcloths (which are rare in Europe)
  • Free slippers
  • Even an umbrella for you to use
  • Turndown service with a piece of chocolate on your pillow (EVERY night!  Not just on the first night, like the Moevenpick Hotel did in Zurich!)
  • And, the most amazing thing – a FREE 1-liter bottle of water in the room!

 Alas, they still had those piteous European pillows – huge, but really, there’s no “there” there in these things!  European pillows are to real pillows as cotton candy is to real candy.

HOW TO TELL WHEN YOU’VE BEEN MARRIED TOO LONG

We’ve been married almost 46 years.  For a few decades, both of us worked in telecom.  To us, the “T” in “T-shirt” stands for “telco.”  So we have had any number of T-shirts for any number of different telecoms.  We also have lots of other T-shirts, since, these days, ‘dressing up’ means putting on a nice T-shirt.  So, we each packed our clothes to go on a 2-night trip.  The odds of EITHER of us selecting our Nortel T-shirt would have been pretty small.  The odds that EACH of us, independently, would select our Nortel T-shirt would be even smaller.  So imagine the odds that we would both – independently, of course – select the Nortel T-shirt for the same day, realizing this only in the elevator as we left our room!  Yep!  We’re a pair of half-wits, apparently having only one brain between the two of us.

SPEAKING OF T-SHIRTS

You often see T-shirts here with words and/or images on them that are familiar for Americans, but you have to wonder what meaning they have for Germans.  For example, in Leipzig we saw a T-shirt commemorating the movie “Easy Rider” – which came out 44 years ago.  It’s hard to imagine a German teenager knowing about that.  And another T-shirt was even more esoteric – I’m not sure even an American teenager would understand this reference:  “As I Lay Dying” – a book by William Faulkner.  You also see lots of T-shirts for various American colleges (most of which are relatively obscure).

WHERE GOETHE LIVED

Not bad!

 2013-07-15 - Leipzig - 06 (Goethe Haus)

 LEIPZIG ZOO

This has to be the best zoo on the planet!  The animals are arranged according to continent, with the habitat as close to their natural habitat as can be managed in Germany.  And it’s more like walking in the woods, where you can stay out of the hot sun as you walk through the zoo, with plenty of benches where you can stop for a rest.  The less exotic animals are interesting as well, specifically the sparrows.  For one thing, once you sit down on a bench, they flock to you because they’re definitely expecting to be fed.  However, if you don’t accommodate them quickly, they won’t waste their time on you.  One little fellow apparently got closer to a cat than he wanted to because he seemed to have no tail feathers.

THINK I’LL PASS….

Beware of foreign attempts at American food – one of the snack shops in the zoo offered a “BBQ Sandwich Burger”—and since they couldn’t manage to use the right phrasing, I’m pretty sure the interpretation of the term “BBQ” wouldn’t be quite right, either.  And elsewhere we saw a café that offered “Chili con carne – Texan Recipe.”  Nope.  Not gonna risk that, either!

WELL, DUH!

I love apes (who don’t have tails) and monkeys (who do have tails) and one of the attractions at the zoo was the bonobo chimpanzees.  These beasts are known for their promiscuity and their universal solution to anything that causes them stress is not aggression, like most animals.  Nope, their universal solution is sex.  Got a headache?  Well, just have sex with whoever is handy.  Hungry?  Well, let’s just have sex.  Too hot?  Just have sex.  Too cold?  Just have sex.  So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the sign announcing that the zoo’s baby bonobo was born in April, and, although they named the mother, they stated that the baby’s father was unknown.  Gee!  Do you think?  This guy may – or may not – be the daddy….

2013-07-16 - Leipzig Zoo - 11 (Bonobos)

THE LATE, GREAT HEIDI

In addition to the Leipzig Zoo being famous for its design, there was something else that helped it gain world-wide fame, and that was being the home to the lovely Heidi, the cross-eyed opossum.  Alas, Heidi’s life was far too short, and we didn’t get to see her in life.  But, of course, the zoo’s gift shop was full of all sorts of stuffed toys in her image.  We even found a candy shop where you could buy marzipan versions of Heidi.

See full size image

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidi_(opossum)

 THOMASKIRCHE

Folks in this city are used to tourists.  Want to take a photo of their famous church, where Bach made music?  Well, they’ll tell you where to stand to get the best shot:

2013-07-17 - Leipzig - 07 (Where to stand to take a photo of Thomaskirche)

So here’s the photo of the church taken from that spot…

2013-07-17 - Leipzig - 06 (Thomaskirche)

And the organ Bach played

  

2013-07-17 - Leipzig - 04 (Organ in Thomaskirche - where Bach played)

 

 AND ELSEWHERE IN LEIPZIG, KEEPING THAT WHIMSEY THING GOING….

 A bench outside a skateboard store…

 

2013-07-16 - Leipzig - 04 (Skateboard Bench)

 

 And, in case you want to go through this garage door without opening the whole thing, here’s a door inside a door.

2013-07-16 - Leipzig - 03 - Door in a door

As you may remember me noting, folks in Berlin consider themselves virtually naked without a scarf.  You’ll see them wearing scarves in 90 degree weather, with short-shorts and a halter top.  Apparently, the folks in Leipzig take it ever further – they don’t want their sign poles to be seen without scarves, either.

2013-07-16 - Leipzig - 02 (Pole with knitted coverI)

 RE-THINKING ONE’S GENEROSITY

As just about everywhere in Germany, Leipzig has its fair share of street musicians.  As we were walking through the shopping district, we came upon a young girl who was singing a cappella, and we gave her a Euro.  Shortly afterwards, we stopped for some ice cream, and thought about that young girl.  She really was a very poor singer, and we wondered if we shouldn’t go back and retrieve our Euro – after all, it was cruel to encourage her singing, since she clearly had no talent at all.

 

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 26:  April 15, 2012

AH, THE IRONY!

 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!

PRIVACY – IT’S A BIG DEAL IN GERMANY

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!

STOLEN GROCERY  BAG

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!

TURKISH WEDDINGS

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.

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS

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!

HALLELUJAH!!!

 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!

WILL YOU TAKE ME WITH YOU?

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).]

IT’S MADDENING!!

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.

JUST RUDE!!

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.

MAXIMUM FEASIBLE MISUNDERSTANDING

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.

KNICKERS!

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

CAT PARTS

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…..]

 WHIMSEY OVERLOAD!

 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!!

THERE’S WHIMSEY, AND THEN THERE’S WTF??!!

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.’

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 15:  September 19, 2011

 THINGS THAT MAKE ME GO AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

  •  Turning onto an asphalt street after riding far too many blocks on Popo-punishing cobblestones (Popo = German for bum, which conveniently satisfies my craving for alliteration)
  • Seeing the steeple of the church near our flat after a long bike ride (telling me that I’m a mere 3 blocks from home)
  • Getting horizontal, either for my afternoon nap or going to bed at night

 A NANOSECOND BEFORE DISASTER

 Cats are indeed curious.  William is particularly fascinated by any place involving running water.   But the toilet holds a special fascination.  [Think!  How do animals great one another?]  Today both of us narrowly missed a total disaster.  If you’ve ever had cats, you’re aware of their ability to apparently transport themselves from one place to another, instantaneously and totally invisibly.  One moment he was within view, but in the time it took me to drop my britches, he had jumped up on the toilet rim, escaping my notice until I felt my bare butt touching the top of his head.  Fortunately, I was able to stop my descent before I ended up with a wet, panicked cat tearing up my behind.  YIKES!!  I shudder just to think about it!

 NOTE:  To FULLY appreciate Evie’s wonderful cartoons, please enlarge your screen so you can see the extra little tidbits she’s added!

Note:  Objects in drawing are larger in reality than they appear here.

 WHIMSEY

  •  Toiletten:   As any woman over 50 will readily attest (if not verbally, then by her actions), we are ever on the alert for a stick figure in a skirt.  A couple of times now (first at Legoland – those wacky Danes!), I’ve come across a slight variation in the universal symbol for what is arguably the single most sought-after attraction on any trip—those little stick-figure men and women offering sweet and blessed relief!  Specifically, this variation depicts the gentleman stick figure crossing his legs, and the lady stick figure with her knees together and her hands holding her crotch.
  • Hair:  Saw a guy today with a Mohawk—Day-glo orange!

 NEVER TOO OLD TO GO OUT HONKY-TONKING

 There are at least as many neighborhood bars in Berlin as there are neighborhood bakeries.  You certainly don’t have to go far from wherever you are to find one.  I passed one yesterday that had both a walker and a wheelchair chained up just outside the door.  Presumably even the halt and the lame can make it to the neighborhood bars.

 TATTOOS

 Having never imagined what might provoke folks to spend long hours letting some stranger poke needles into them (often in some very sensitive areas), I think I’ve finally found a practical (well, semi-practical) rationale for tattoos.  Folks just have a strong need to adorn themselves—jewelry, clothing, hairstyles.  Well, if you ride a bike and if you wear a helmet (or live where it gets cold enough to require hats), jewelry in particular causes problems.  I lost one of my favorite earrings when I pulled a hat off, and I damned near strangled myself on my necklace when I tried to put on my bike helmet and my back pack.  (Damn, those things have more straps and latches than you can shake a stick at!!)  Not a problem with tattoos, though.  Nonetheless, even though I’ve inflicted some piercing upon myself (3 holes in each ear-lobe for my earrings), I still don’t see myself dancing down the yellow brick road to Tattoo-land.

 NOTE TO SELF

 Don’t wear a scarf while riding a bike.  I learned this one the hard way today, with one of my favorite scarves.  (Of course, you always WEAR your favorite stuff, thereby having a higher chance of losing it or destroying it).  It’s getting cooler (apparently summer wore itself out in the US with all the 100+ days and had precious little energy left for Berlin) and, although I thought a sweater might be a bit much, I wrapped a scarf around my neck.  So, I’m blissfully riding in the gorgeous weather, en route to get the grandkids from day care, when all of a sudden my bike gets very difficult to pedal.   I got off the bike and discovered that my lovely scarf had slipped off my neck, which alone would have been bad enough, but apparently simply losing the scarf wasn’t enough – it had wound itself around the hub of my back wheel.  Fortunately, I wasn’t in the street (risking getting hit by a car) and I followed my standard practice – if anything is strange, get on your feet (and my threshold for ‘strange’ is very, very low) – rather than trying to push through it.  Coulda kilt myself!!  (Or worse.)

 EVERY DAMNED ONE OF THEM!

 Six months to the day after our son turned 16 and got his full driver’s license, he had a fender-bender.  No one was hurt and the damage was minor.  However, to avoid getting points on his license, he had the option to take a driving class, which had to include attendance by one of his parents.  So Steve and Harvey took the course.  In fact, this particular course should be a universal requirement before anyone gets a driver’s license.  They learned lots of useful stuff.  As part of their homework one week, they had to identify other drivers who were doing something that was dangerous.  It just so happened that over the week-end we were in Boston, where I have to believe driver’s licenses are issued only to the insane.  Absolute WORST drivers in the world!  We were leaving the airport, going through the toll gate, where approximately 8,923.5 lanes of traffic had to merge into lanes for one of three toll gates.  In the lane beside us, there was an 18‑wheeler.  There was a small sports car behind (and under the bumper of) this truck.  Apparently the driver had no intention of letting anyone get in front of him.  We hadn’t even entered the city proper yet, but Harvey asked Steve, “How many of these cars are a danger to us?”  Steve replied, “Every damned one of them!”  And he was right, of course.

 This is how I feel when I’m riding my bike.  How many people do I see that are posing a danger to me?  Every damned one of them!  Here’s a sample:

  •  Guys walking out of a bar, carrying a bottle of beer.  The later in the afternoon this is, the more likely the guy is gonna unpredictably wander into the bike lane.
  • People at bus stops—although there is plenty of room between the bike lane and the curb for bus passengers to wait, they typically prefer to wait in the bike lane.  This is especially fun when a bus comes, with the cross-flow of people getting off and on the bus.
  • People texting while walking or biking.  Yeah, it’s almost worrisome as folks doing this while they’re driving.
  • People with wires coming out of their ears.  No doubt listening to their iPods and totally oblivious to anything else on the planet.
  • Anyone walking down the sidewalk carrying potential trash.  There’s at least one trash bin on every block.  Unless the bike lane is in the street, folks must walk across the bike lane to get to the bins.  Rarely do they check to see if a bike is coming.
  • Anyone walking down the sidewalk carrying mail.  Same as above, except—presumably—they’ll be headed towards the mail box.
  • Folks sitting on benches.  Many streets are lined with trees.  In some places, folks have put little fences around them and may have even planted flowers beneath the trees.  Sometimes the top rails of the fences are wide enough to serve as seats.  OK.  Each little fenced-in area has 4 sides, 3 of which do NOT face the bike lane.  Would you care to guess which side most folks prefer to sit on, and with their legs sticking into the bike lane?
  • Tourists.  American tourists are especially dangerous, as they are the most likely never to have experienced a bike lane in their lives.  So if you hear anyone speaking American English, be afraid!
  • Anyone capable of moving.  Folks are unpredictable and unfathomable.  Somebody will be going down the sidewalk with great purpose, and, if they continue on that particular course, they’ll never intrude upon the bike lane.  But, suddenly they seem to have an uncontrollable urge to get into the bike lane, for no apparent reason.
  • People watching the traffic.  You’d think that’s exactly what you’d want folks to do.  The only problem is that, although they’re watching the traffic with great intensity, it’s the traffic that’s going in the opposite direction, which should be of considerably less interest to them that what’s happening on their side of the street.
  • Commercial trucks.  Not only do these typically park in a way that blocks the bike lane, but you can bet that, sooner or later, some guy or gal is going to exit the vehicle pushing a dolly, while focusing exclusively on keeping the object on the dolly and not bumping into the door frame.  Bikers are the last thing these folks are taking into consideration.
  • Waiters, Waitresses, and Dining Patrons.  Berliners like to dine outside.  Often that includes simply putting chairs and tables on the sidewalk in front of the café.  That can be a problem if there’s no bike lane and you’re using the sidewalk to avoid the cobblestones in the street.  It can also be a problem when the bike lane runs between the sidewalk and that little strip of land where the trees are planted.  Sometimes the café extends to those small strips of pavement, too, so you can effectively be riding your bike through a café.  Folks aren’t particularly careful about what they do with their arms and legs, either, and their gestures may include thrusting an arm right into the bike lane when they’re emphasizing an important point in their conversation.  But if you think it’s dicey for the person on the bike, just imagine what it must be like to be waiting tables in a place where you have to dodge bicyclists!

 And, of course, we mustn’t forget the greatest menace of all – the oldamericanladyinberlin, who’s still trying to figure this bike thing out and who, when spooked by anything at all [drunk guy leaving a bar; dog heading for a tree because he got a whiff of a message his friend left him there] simply STOPS, in a panic, without any thought of what might be going on behind her.  [It’s all she can do to cope with what’s in FRONT of her, much less behind her.]


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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin #11:  AUGUST 7, 2011

 

DANG-IT-ALL!

 In my last post, I forgot to point out a few things about the William the Wonder Cat illustration.  Did you see the spotlight with a huge ‘W’?  Well, that’s the way other cats notify William if they need help getting into mischief.  [OK, I’ll admit that it’s a pretty pitiful cat that needs such help, but, after all, isn’t that a Wonder Cat’s job—helping the weak?]  And another delightful touch–did you notice the wall paper?  It has both a kitty face and Wonder Cat’s distinctive sign–W.

AN UNFORTUNATE NAME

 There’s a high-end specialty food for dogs.  It claims to be a ‘biologically species-specific raw dog food.’  (Presumably this means ‘raw food for dogs’ rather than ‘food made of raw dogs.’)  The German for this type of food is ‘biologisch-artgerechte Rohfleischfūtterung.’  Alas, the acronym for this term is ‘BARF.’  There are at least 4 varieties – Barfer’s Choice, Barfer’s Pure, Barfer’s Snack, and Barfer’s Daily.    Unfortunately, even if I were rich beyond all measure and had a dog whose life depended on this particular food, it would be really, really hard to make myself buy it.[2]  I mean, if you’re going to barf it, why buy it in the first place?

 FUNKY STREET ART

Here’s a sample of the funky street art here in Berlin.  Some I like better than others, though.

http://grey-marl.com/2011/06/19/photos-from-the-archive-berlin/#comment-19

 WHIMSEY

Sometimes you don’t even have to look for whimsey here – it just passes right by while you’re sitting at a café with your neighbor.  We saw a girl go by on a bike.  The bike had a basket on the back. There was a dog curled up in the basket.  But things like this are so common here, this doesn’t ring the Whimsey-o-meter.  What pushed it into the whimsical was the umbrella that was affixed to the basket, no doubt to protect the dog from the sun.  Of course, this raises a couple of questions:

  • Under what circumstances is it necessary to protect a dog from the sun (especially in 70 degree weather)?
  • Given the continual movement and frequent changes in direction that are characteristic of most bike rides, how is it possible to make sure that the umbrella is always in the right position to protect the dog from the sun (especially when the basket is behind the rider)?

 HERETOFORE UNKNOWN QUALITIES OF WATER

Most of us already know that drinking water can taste different, depending on where you are and, perhaps, where you’re getting the water from.  (Remember how much better it always tasted slurped out of the kitchen faucet than it did out of a glass?)  As a child, I spent many summer weeks with my grandparents in Louisiana, delighted both to be with them and to be away from the insanity that pervades Southeast Texas.  But the one thing I didn’t like at all was the drinking water in central Louisiana.  It pretty much tasted like dirty dishwater to me.  Many of us also subscribe to the idea that bottled water tastes substantially different from tap water.  (This certainly makes sense, given that much bottled water simply comes from the tap, but just from somewhere else.)

What none of us have heretofore realized is that the sensitive palate of the feline can differentiate various tastes specific to certain areas in a single water bowl.  Yes, William, the Wonder Cat©, has conducted extensive analytical studies and determined that the water on the far side of the water bowl is far superior to that on the near side of the bowl.  In fact, it is so delicious that, instead of merely standing in front of his water bowl to drink, he is willing to take extraordinary steps to gain access to the far side of the bowl.  Such measures generally involve taking the precarious posture of positioning his back paws on the floor in front of the bowl while placing his front paws on each side of his water bowl, thereby extending his reach so he can enjoy the delicious nectar awaiting him on the far side of the water bowl.  (Notice that I did not say ‘on the floor beside the water bowl’ – he puts his paws on the actual sides of the water bowl itself.) Needless to say, this stance is not without its perils.  More often that I would wish, his paws slide into the water bowl (or tip the bowl over), with the result that there is more water outside the bowl than was inside it in the first place (something that only small children and other animals seem to achieve).[3]  This phenomenon should be explored further as a way of dealing with the pending shortage of water that may face our planet – give a small child 8 ounces of water and somehow he’ll get 2 ounces in his body and spill another 10 ounces, giving you a net gain of 4 ounces, or 50%.

CRUELTY TO OLD TIMERS

 You know how it is when you reach a certain age (or are pregnant) or are just plain, flat tired.  During such times, when you need it the most, your memory simply abandons you.  Sometimes you can’t remember whether you did something you intended to do or not.  Sometimes you think you did it but you didn’t – you just concentrated so hard on trying to remember to do it that you only think you did it.  Well, yesterday I put something in the hall that I wanted remember to take to Steve’s that morning.  When I got ready to pack my backpack, it wasn’t there.  At first I thought that I hadn’t actually put it there, so I went to its original location, only to find that it wasn’t there, either.  Now I’m in the throes of total confusion.  Did I get distracted en route from where it was to where I wanted to put it, and put it down somewhere else?  Or was it really NOT originally where I thought it was in the first place?  Having a cat in general, or a kitten in particular, and most especially William himself, introduces yet another possibility – somebody with a furry face decided it was a toy.  Our flat has only 4 rooms and 1.5 bathrooms.  We keep both the bathroom doors closed at all times to keep William from turning the toilet paper into confetti.  We also keep the guest room closed because he has no need to be there and we have no interest in giving him the opportunity to get into mischief that we can’t even imagine.  This thing was roughly the size of a soup can, so that further limits the places he could have moved it (and should also increase its general visibility in the 3 rooms where he could have moved it).  But, nope!  I couldn’t find it before I left.  However, my observational abilities with respect to practical applications are severely limited.  Yep, I can pick out one weird sign, shop, etc., among a zillion normal things while riding in a car going 70 mph in a heartbeat, but finding something like my other shoe is beyond my capabilities.  Harvey is the family ‘Dora the Explorer’ so I just decided to wait until he came home and worked his magic.

Wanna guess where he found it?  We have some slide-out drawers under the bed (gotta take full advantage of every cubic millimeter of storage space!).  These drawers are actually just low wooden boxes with snap-on covers, which Master William considers to be four huge cat beds.  He has a particular fondness for the drawer under my side of the bed, and often naps there.  He sometimes brings his toys with him, apparently to enhance his dreams.  Yep – the bottle had caught his eye and he had appropriated it as a toy and had brought it to bed with him.

Cautionary Note to Young William:  It’s really not a good idea to hide stuff from (or otherwise cause trouble for) the person who controls the kibbles.

HMMM…….

 I noticed something in the grocery store today.  The kitty litter can be found right next to the toilet paper.  How prosaically fitting!  I can’t help but wonder whether or not this placement was intentional.  I know it’s something that would certainly have occurred to me.  And as my mind ponders these mysteries of the Universe, such as whether or not the litter/toilet paper juxtaposition was intentional, other minds are occupied with pursuits such as pondering the square route of  minus one.

THE SECRET TO STAYING MARRIED

Actually, there are a number of secrets to staying married; here are but a few:

  • Never try to do your income taxes together; hire a CPA (cheaper than a divorce).
  • Never try to hang paintings/pictures together; always have a third person involved.  (We have a dear friend whom we call our ‘Aesthetic Advisor.’  He has an artist’s eye for such things.  At least equally important, having a 3rd person there statistically reduces the probability that one of you will do something to the other that may result in jail time.)
  • Never wall-paper anything together, particularly if it’s a small bathroom, in an old building (where there are NO right angles), and you’re using a pattern that only repeats itself every 17 inches so you waste a lot of paper and then someone has to go back to the store for more while they have wallpaper paste all over them.  On the other hand, ENGAGED couples should be REQUIRED to do this.  If they still want to get married, then they can – but think how many divorces could be prevented if every engaged couple submitted the strength of their relationship to such a rigorous test before tying the knot.  Of course, the wedding planners and divorce attorneys would probably fight this proposal tooth and nail!

 ARGUMENTS

After being married for close to 44 years (even if there was a 1-year hiatus while Harvey was in Viet Nam), you start to run out of things to argue about.  In some cases, the topic you argued about becomes moot – such as whose turn it is to get up with a crying baby.  In other cases, the topic is resolved by the argument and it miraculously stays resolved.  Then there are the topics that at least one of you has just lost interest in.  Rarely do new topics to argue about arise.

But there seems to be some need within us all to argue about something every once in a while.  Don’t you just hate it when you’re really in the mood to argue but there’s nothing left to argue about?  We’ve found a way to handle that.  Whenever we feel argument-deprived, we just make up things to argue about.  For example, we can take a situation (e.g., the fact that we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway, or that ‘fat chance’ and ‘slim chance’ mean the same thing[4]) and argue about how that came to be.  Or, we can argue about things for which there is no answer, such as how many grains of sand there are on the planet.  Then there are always hypothetical things, such as “If we were on a cruise and we both wanted the lobster, but there was only one left, what would we do?”  You’d be surprised how many lazy afternoons can be whiled away having these kinds of arguments.

ALBERT

He just went by again!  Albert Einstein apparently lives or works somewhere near our flat, because I often see him bicycling by as I sit at my laptop.  Well, maybe not Albert, actually – but I’m willing to bet that this guy has a fair share of Albert’s DNA!!

TEXAS STEAK

I saw something at the grocery store that claimed to be ‘Texas steak.’  Being as how I spent better than a quarter of my life there (in Texas, not in the grocery store), I figured I just had to find out what the German interpretation of ‘Texas steak’ is.  First, it was marinated in spices – not too bad, and probably stretching the German palate’s tolerance for ‘scharf’ foods.  [One good thing about German is that they have separate words for ‘hot’ as with pepper and ‘hot’ as from heat—the former is ‘scharf’ and the latter is ‘heiss’—so they don’t have to constantly explain the difference.]  True Texas steak is generally just the steak itself.  Any seasonings (other than maybe pepper and salt) are added at the table.  Second, the steak was maybe ¼ inch thick.  No Texan would even consider that cut of meat to be a ‘steak’ – even chicken-fried steaks (known elsewhere in the US as ‘breaded veal cutlets’ and more commonly known in Germany as ‘Wienerschnitzel’) are thicker than that.  It was acceptable and edible (although something Texans might more typically eat in a sandwich), but there was nothing about it that truly said ‘Texas’ or ‘steak.’  (Well, I’m pretty sure it DID come from a cow of some sort.)

I guess turnabout is fair play, though.  There was once (but only briefly) a restaurant in Beaumont, Texas, called ‘The Rathskeller.’  When it first opened, you could buy genuine Sauerbraten (a German roast that has been marinated in vinegar and other seasonings – to include ginger – and usually served with potato pancakes and that wonderful sautéed red cabbage with apples).  After the first few weeks, the ‘Sauerbraten’ degenerated into nothing more than a pot roast, which was tasty enough but it was also something you could get at home every other Sunday.  [On the alternating Sundays, of course, it was fried chicken.]  Apparently the palates of most folks in Southeast Texas didn’t appreciate the savory Sauerbraten (even though they’ll eat gumbo made from any carbon-based life form and go through a quart of jalapenos like they’re eating popcorn).  You’d think that German food would fare well in Texas because lots of Texans have a German heritage.  (But, alas, if you thought that, you’d wear Army boots and chase rabbits.)  When Germans couldn’t get into the US through Ellis Island, lots of them came in through Galveston.  Many settled in Central Texas, near San Antonio, naming their towns[5] things like Waelder, New Braunfels, Gruene, and so on.  There’s actually a dialect of German (called ‘Texas German’ – as oxymoronic as that sounds) that evolved in that part of Texas.  Unlike the dialect of Pennsylvania German, which is alive and well among the Amish, precious few folks still speak Texas German any more, though.

But, back to the Rathskeller.  Eventually, it met the same fate as anything else ‘new’ or ‘different’ that’s ever been introduced to the folks in Southeast Texas – it just faded away into the sunset.  I can’t imagine any more change-averse folks on the planet!  And, by natural selection, those of us who were interested in something more than the same-ol’ same ol’ got the hell out of Dodge (ala Janis Joplin, Towns Van Zandt, Edgar and Johnny Winter, Mark Chestnut, and Bubba Smith, to name just a few), while the change-averse folks just stayed there and continued to breed.  Another guy who escaped from Beaumont was Bob McDill.  Maybe his name doesn’t ring a bell for you, but if you’ve listened to country music radio for more than an hour, there’s a good chance you’ve heard a song that Bob had a hand in writing.  Folks like Alan Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Don Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, Bobby Bare, Anne Murray, Juice Newton, and even Perry Como, have recorded his songs.  Some that come to mind off the top of my head include:  ‘Amanda’ (sung by Willy Nelson, among others); ‘Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On’ (sung by Mel McDaniel and also by Sammy Kershaw); ‘Gone Country’ (sung by Alan Jackson); and my own personal all-time favorite – ‘Red Necks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer’ (sung by Johnny Russell and also by Mel McDaniels (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4N3iVHxP8FQ).   Harvey went to high school with Bob and I had the pleasure of knowing him back when he was going to Lamar University in Beaumont.  Yep, the boy got himself a degree in English literature and took it to Nashville to write country songs!  Don’t ya just love it!??!

http://www.cmt.com/news/country-music/1590445/songwriter-bob-mcdill-talks-about-his-many-hits.jhtml

CAT LOGIC

Our dear Electra (also known as Momma’s Little Mutant) is supposed to have curly fur, all over her body.  Alas, she doesn’t.  Instead, she looks as though some misguided pet groomer has mistaken her for a poodle and given her the standard haircut.  She’s curly around her neck, shoulders, and legs.  The rest of her body is covered with an incredibly soft fuzz.  (In some way, this compensates for her sparse fur because, once you touch that peach fuzz, you are seduced into stroking her continually, almost as though you are in a daze, which also keeps her warm – well, not the daze but rather the stroking.)  Naturally, she suffers a bit more from the cold than she otherwise would.  It’s no surprise that she spends lots of time snuggled up with a chenille blanket.  Even without thumbs, she’s amazingly adept at arranging the blanket to suit her.  What puzzles me, however, is the part of her body she chooses to cover with the blanket – it’s her head.  She leaves her bare body parts outside the blanket.  Well, I must remember – her little brain is only the size of a walnut.


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

[2] Gotta just love Microslop Grammar checker – it wanted me to replace ‘hard to make myself buy it’ with ‘hard to make I buy it’—another ‘helpful hint’ from those labzoids in Redmond!!

[3] Gotta love Microslop Grammar Checker – it’s flagging this as a sentence fragment.  It’s got a subject (paws) and a verb (slide), so I wonder how this could be considered a fragment.

[4] Props to George Carlin, God rest his soul!

[5] And here, Microslop wants to make ‘towns’ possessive!

Bezirk [1] in Berlin #9:  July 21, 2011

 

THINGS NOT TO TRY

 Don’t try sewing a button onto your pants while you’re wearing them.  Just don’t.  Trust me on this one, OK?

KITTY TOOTH

 Bent over today to pick up what I thought might a toe nail clipping or maybe a sheath from a cat claw.  With 2 cats, the latter is not an unusual occurrence.  But it wasn’t.  It was a cat tooth!!!  We saved it.   (For what I don’t know – is there a veterinary dentist who will put it back?)  Just kinda would like to know what type of shenanigans these two felines got into that resulted in one of them losing a tooth!  Or, perhaps cats have baby teeth.  [Turns out that they do!!]  This raises an entirely different set of questions.  What expectations do cats have of the tooth fairy?  They don’t have pillows, so where should the tooth fairy leave the prize?  And exactly what should the prize be?  Should it be money?  On the one hand, cats typically don’t have any use for money.  But then, neither do kids who are of teeth-losing age.  Of course, they can buy something with the money.  (Oh, yeah, that’s what we ALL use money for, isn’t it?)  What’s the going rate for the kitty tooth fairy these days?  Is it a problem if the prize doesn’t show up immediately?  Maybe we could explain that the fairy didn’t have William’s most recent address, and went to the breeder instead, and it’s taken us a while to work that out.

 NOTE:  To FULLY appreciate Evie’s wonderful cartoons, please enlarge your screen so you can see the extra little tidbits she’s added!

NO, REALLY, PLEASE DON’T HELP ME!

Electra, our rat-tailed, bat-earred, bug-eyed, half-bald, piteous (yet inexplicably lovable) excuse for a Devon Rex, sometimes gives me more help that I really need.  She has no use for my laptop, other than as a warm place to lie down.  Somehow, she managed to traipse across the keyboard in such a manner that the display turned sideways.  Harvey is an Apple guy, and hates everything Windows (with good reason, of course).  Since he gets to choose his own hardware and software now, he hasn’t touched a Bill Gates piece-of-crap for almost a year and his memories of the nightmares (and the resolution thereof) have begun to fade.  I am insufficiently technically astute to do anything more than the minimal trouble-shooting on my PC.  Compound this with the fact that the display was rotated such that the top of the display was on one end of the screen, while all the plugs were at the opposite end of the screen.  So, simply turning the machine on edge to try to keep your brain properly oriented to the display means you have to disconnect from the Internet (making the option of seeking on-line help impossible).  And, of course, Mr. Gates’s perversity in constantly changing how his products work, and where to find what, doesn’t help at all, since I was formerly able to find ‘Display’ and now his demented labzoids have hidden it in a different place (requiring you to go through a minimum of 9,877,030,900.5 different menus, sub-menus, and sub-sub-menus, and more than a few menu-ettes, to find it).  Then, after we finally found it, we fixed it BUT there was a confusing direction on the screen that said something like, “If you don’t want to not keep this change, it will be voided after 3 seconds if you don’t not take any action” (and 3 seconds isn’t nearly enough time to decipher the cryptic message).  Our first reading was “Click OK if you want to keep this change.”  Well, that clearly was NOT what the inept, inarticulate, author of this command actually meant.  THEN, we had to re-find the command and, on our second try, we did nothing after we changed the setting, which finally, finally restored the orientation of my screen to its original presentation.

Amazingly, the marital (as opposed to martial) hostilities associated with this endeavor resulted in no bruises, blood, or broken bones, but were limited instead to a vigorous exchange of harsh words, the effects of which dissipated in a matter of mere hours.  However, there is one remaining issue that we must still resolve – specifically, whether or not I am in debt to my husband for his forbearance in remedying the situation.  I contend that, because it was his cat, it was only right that he bear this burden, and, indeed, he owes me an apology for the inconvenience I had to endure because of the recalcitrance of his cat.  We are deferring a final decision until we can engage the opinion of our son on this matter, forcing him to endure the emotional trauma of choosing which parent to side with.  Alas, in the past, we have found him disinclined to engage in such nonsense as, in spite of all odds, we’ve raised a fairly emotionally healthy kid.

CALL GUINESS BOOK OF WORD RECORDS!!

 

Stop the presses!  I got some GOOD news from an insurance company today!  No, really!!  I’m so used to getting bad news about insurance lately that I was totally taken aback by this.

First, we found out that, after paying into Medicare since its inception in 1966, it doesn’t cover medical care outside the US.  [Well, there is ONE exception – there’s a little part of Canada that folks sometimes go through when they’re going through one part of the US to another because that route is lots shorter.  IF something happens to you in THIS part of Canada WHILE you’re taking this shortcut, then you’re covered.  I’m not making this up; check it out.]  I guess the US Government only wants criminals in the US to profit from Medicare fraud.  (This, of course was BAD news about insurance.)

Then we found out that our Long Term Care policy (pricey as hell) doesn’t cover long term care outside the US.  We’re scared to cancel it, though, because we probably couldn’t ever qualify again, so we have to keep it for awhile in case something bad happens and we need it.  (More bad news about insurance.)

Our GOOD news has to do with our burial insurance.  We took the “Pay now, die later” plan, hoping to save our son some trouble and save some money by paying for our funeral at 1990 prices rather than whenever-we-die prices.  We were afraid it wouldn’t cover us outside the US (consoling ourselves that at least we had paid for it with our United VISA card and got some frequent flyer miles for it).  Well, glory hallelujah!  Although the burial insurance may not cover the funeral here, it does act as a regular insurance policy and Steve can collect on it.  He’ll just get a flat sum – whatever the policy is worth by then – but it’s still better than the alternative of possibly spending more money to fly our bodies back to the US to get the ‘pre-paid’ funeral than a funeral here would cost.  Yep!  There’s always a bright side to everything, if you look at it from the right angle!

 

BAD HAIR DAY?

 

Ever had one?  Want to make sure you never have another one?  All you have to do is move to Berlin.  Really!  No matter how hideous you think your hair looks, I promise you that within 15 minutes of walking down the street, you will run into someone whose hair is far, far more hideous than yours!  And apparently it’s intentional!  How about a ‘do where the hair on one side is cut short (kinda like the buzz cut all the little boys in the US used to get the right after school let out for the summer), with most of it dyed black, except, of course, for the spots that are dyed red.  And I don’t mean ‘red’ as in ‘auburn’ – I mean ‘red’ as in the primary color red.  Then, of course, the other side is just shoulder length.  Then there are other folks who apparently have their hair cut with a pair of dull nail clippers and get it styled by a bunch of deranged hummingbirds.  Dreds are also popular here (and are not limited to any particular ethnic group), as are shaved heads (all the better to see your head tattoos).  OUCH!!!  Then there are the artful combinations of shaving and dreds.  I saw one guy (at least, I think it was a guy – androgyny is really big here) with a shaved head, except for the 3‑foot‑long dred located slightly above his left ear.  He’d be in a devil of a fix if, just after the barber finished, he thought, “Damn!  I wanted it over my RIGHT ear!”  I wonder if in the winter he just ties it around his neck like a scarf.  Don’t know what he does about his actual skull – kinda hope he wears a cap (although that would cover up his tats).  Don’t you know his momma is proud!!  She can’t wait to introduce him to her bridge club!  But even that might be jumping to conclusions.  I saw a young mother with a full head of dreds down to her waist, and her toddler had already started a single dred, or I guess a dredlette.  I wonder if this child’s grandma dreds.  Maybe it’s genetic.

There’s a caveat, however.   If you want this trick for avoiding bad hair days to work, you might have to confine your daily activities to our neighborhood (Kreuzberg) or a few others, or at least stay out of Mitte, where all the career-minded folks work and where you see a lot of suits.  (We saw a guy in a suit in our neighborhood and seriously considered asking him if he were lost.)   Nonetheless, the most up-tight professionals here have bizarre hair (especially in terms of the coloring) when compared to what you might see on the streets of the US capital.

 

WHIMSEY

 

  • Katzenzungen:  Pretty much translates into English as it sounds – Cat Tongues – which would pretty much elicit a response of ‘No, thank you’ if someone offered them to you, right?  Except that it’s the name of a chocolate candy that is (notionally, at least) shaped like a cat’s tongue.  And the pieces aren’t as rough as sandpaper, either.  It’s pretty good, provided you can get past the name.

 

  • Girl on a skateboard:  OK.  Mainly it’s boys on skateboards, so a girl on a skateboard gets noticed.  Alone, this sight is not so whimsical, but you’ll have to admit the part about her having both feet on the board while holding the leash of a small dog about the size of a Jack Russell terrier who’s pulling her along the sidewalk makes this sight qualify for whimsical.

 

  • Currywurst Museum:  http://www.currywurstmuseum.de/  Currywurst is something invented by the Germans.  Two of the key ingredients were provided by the Indian Indians – curry powder and ketchup (or catsup, if you prefer).  [Columbus caused quite a bit of trouble by insisting on referring to the inhabitants of the New World as ‘Indians.’]  The German contributions include the wurst (of course) and the idea to serve it topped with ketchup and curry powder.  We are fortunate enough to live right around the corner from ‘Currywurst 36’ – the most famous currywurst stand in all of Berlin.   The last time we had guests, we took them to Checkpoint Charlie – the one thing you absolutely can NOT miss if you come to Berlin.  And right near Checkpoint Charlie, we discovered that there is a Currywurst Museum!

Reminds me of the National Museum of Mortuary History in Houston.  http://www.nmfh.org/exhibits/fantasy/index.html .  Although we’ve driven past the sign to that museum many times, we’ve not actually visited it yet.  I suppose this omission is something that we absolutely must remedy the next time we’re in the States.

 

  • Wedding Customs.  We had houseguests for a few days and one day I told them about the cute German custom of sending the bridegroom out to embarrass himself before the wedding.  (I don’t know who decides what particular horror the groom must endure, but I have seen a groom in a lovely formal dress out in public, along with his buds, who were similarly attired).  The custom might be called ‘Junggesellenabschied– ‘Junggeselle’ means ‘bachelor’ and ‘abschied’ presumably derives from ‘abschieden’, which is the verb ‘to separate.’  I say ‘might’ because the only description of this I can find sounds more like a stag party, where the groom and all his male friends go out drinking.   As fate would have it, within hours of having talked about this custom, we came upon a group of young men dressed in black-and-white striped ‘prison’ uniforms, one of whom was carrying a ball and chain.  The groom had to go up to total strangers (is there any other kind?  I mean, can you be only partly a stranger?) and ask for money.  In exchange, the stranger could take his choice of a shot of Ouzo or some candy.  Couldn’t ask for better timing than that!  As usual, Harvey gave the groom his standard advice for a happy marriage – Obey!  You’re gonna do it in the long run, so you may as well just forego all the unpleasantness between the wife’s request and your ultimate obedience.  Resistance is futile!

 

  • Jaguar Hair:  Not talking about looking down at your pants and saying, ‘Damn!  I’ve got jaguar hair all over my pants!’  Nope.  Talking about a girl with a hair coloring job that makes her head look like jaguar fur.  Really.  [If you get jaguars, cheetah, and panthersmixed up, here’s what jaguar fur looks like.  http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaguar]

CELEBRATION!

 

According to Germany.info, this year is the 30th anniversary of the Academy Award-nominated epic WWII masterpiece Das Boot by director Wolfgang Petersen.  There are going to be a number of events, to include showings at the following places:

  • July 5 – the Goethe Institut in Los Angeles
  • July 6 – the Miami Beach Cinematheque (oddly enough in Miami – presumably in Florida, not Ohio)
  • July 7 – VIZ Cinema – San Francisco
  • July 17 – 19 – Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum – Charleston, SC
  • August 28 – Avalon Theatre – Washington, DC

So why would I find this noteworthy?  Well, it turns out that my name comes from a French phrase that was in an Edith Piaf song famous during WW II– je attendre (which means “I wait”).  The first time I ever heard the song was when it was played in this movie.  If you want to know more about the film, go to this URL:

 

http://www.germany.info/Vertretung/usa/en/__events/GKs/SANF/2011/07/07__Das__Boot.html

 

VEXILLOLOGIST

 

Where was this word when I really needed it?  It means someone who is an expert in flags.  Think how utterly cool it would have been to use this as your reply to all those adults who ask you want you want to be when you grow up?  Really, aren’t ‘fireman’ and ‘astronaut’ a bit tiresome by now?

ANOTHER INTERESTING CAREER CHOICE

 

Passed a place with a little brass sign on the front of the building – maybe 8 X 6 inches (the sign; not the building) – that said:  Frau Wasebber – Psychologist and Astrologist.  Nope!  Not making this up!  This is such a great place that I don’t HAVE to make stuff up!

AWWWWWWWWWWWWW………

 

Our apartment is set back from the sidewalk about 10 feet or so, but many aren’t, so the windows are directly on the sidewalk.  This morning I was walking down the sidewalk and heard a sweet little voice, just inches away from my ear.  I turned to see a curly-headed little girl (well, actually curly-haired; her head was pretty normal)—about 3 years old – giving me a greeting, accompanied by a wave and a smile.  Certainly beats the hell out of having the neighbor’s Doberman greet me with an ear-drum-shattering bark, which happened to me with great regularlity when I walked past his house in San Antonio!

WHAT I THOUGHT I SAW

Being slightly visually impaired, combined with being inclined no to pay full attention to my environment, has led me to see numerous signs that I’ve managed to misinterpret.  For instance:

  • Park and Hide:  This conjured up visions of businessmen in 3-piece suits, carrying briefcases, playing hide-and-go-seek in a parking lot.  Alas, the sign really said ‘Park and Ride.’
  • Reality Control:  This sign raised my hopes immeasurably, as there have been many instances of reality over which I had absolutely no control and I would gladly pay for a quart (or a pound, or a tall, grande, or vente – however such a product/service is measured) of reality control.  Alas, upon further inspection I found that it only said ‘Realty Central’ – much to my great disappointment!

 

Today, while scanning the bookshelves as I leisurely drank my tea, I thought I saw a book entitled Reality, and hoped it might hold the answers to my many questions about reality (e.g., Who decides the difference between fantasy and reality?  Who has control over reality?  What can we do to manipulate reality?).  But, alas, the title was actually ‘Relativity’ – a book written by some guy named ‘Einstein’ – which, by the way, literally translates into ‘One Stone’.  Wonder how much the other kids picked on poor Albert One Stone and whether or not that had anything to do with his interest in science?  My husband once worked with a guy whose last name was ‘Einhorn’ – we would have been delighted to have known that this is German for ‘Unicorn’ – a kind of Edward Gorey name if I ever heard one!!  [James Joyce ain’t the only one who can write in the ‘stream of consciousness style!]

CONSPICUOUS IN THEIR ABSENCE

I would certainly hope that most folks would realize that Germany is the home of the Volkswagen, and, in particular, that the VW Beetle (both old and new) is generally associated with this country.  I never thought about it much, but the other day a friend asked me if I had seen a lot of Beetles since we’ve been here.  Oddly enough, in the 51 weeks we’ve been here, I’ve seen exactly two Beetles (both old).  I could attribute this to any number of things:

  • I’m just not that observant.  This is definitely true, except when it comes to weird stuff.  I might really suck at playing ‘Where’s Waldo’ but I can assure you that I can beat the socks off ANYone at the game of ‘Where’s the Weird’! [Although today I explicitly looked for Beetles and didn’t see a single one.]
  • My memory just isn’t that good.  Also true, not only short term but also long term.  My old friends remember stuff about me that I don’t remember at all.  If they’re making stuff up, I’d have to reliable way of knowing.
  • It’s true.  There really aren’t that many Beetles in Berlin.

 

POWER TO THE PEE-PLE!

 

It’s not unusual to have an attendant in the washroom that you are expected to tip. [Well, actually, it’s the attendant – not the washroom itself – that you’re supposed to tip.  See how much fun you can have with misplaced relative clauses?]  Normally, you tip on your way out and how much you leave depends on your generosity and the type of change you might have on you.  It is unusual for small businesses, such as a coffee house, to have an attendant.  Well, we went into an Einstein’s today that had an attendant.  Maybe it was because it was right at Checkpoint Charlie, the most popular tourist attraction in the city, so it would generate enough traffic to warrant a washroom attendant.  This attendant was brutal, though – she demanded payment BEFORE granting access to the bathroom AND demanded 50 cents (which is on the high side – usually 30 or 40 cents is a respectable amount).  Think about this for a minute – you’ve really gotta pee and she guards the place where you most desperately need to go.  If you’re looking for a position with real power, I think this just might be the right job for you.  How about if we just take all those power-hungry corporate and government ‘leaders’ (as well as some of those folks who have become the emperors of their homeowners’ associations) and give them jobs as washroom attendants?  The more I think about this idea, the better I like it!!  At least I could easily get around their little power plays by just throwing 50 cents in their direction!

I’ve learned not to underestimate the techniques employed by these folks to optimize their income.  For example, some of them engage in psychological warfare.  In one place, I noticed 2 pennies on the dish where you’re supposed to leave your tips.  At first I thought, ‘Well, what cheap bastard would leave only 2 cents?’  This, of course, induced me to leave a larger tip than what I might otherwise have left.  However, after I thought about it later, the typical practice is to remove the tip right away.  I think there are 2 reasons for this:

  • Some dirt‑bag might steal it; or
  • Lack of change can force someone to leave more than they intended.  For example, if you only had a 50 cent piece but wanted to leave 40 cents, then you could make your own change.  However, you don’t have the guts to ask for 10 cents change and you certainly aren’t the kind of dirt-bag who would leave nothing at all.

 

So, in retrospect, I think this lady intentionally put the 2 cents in the dish.  This was in an area with lots of traffic from tourists, so there likely wouldn’t be many repeat visitors to figure out her strategy.

The other technique is to leave a single coin out, with the implication being that this is the expected tip.  One lady ever-so-cleverly glued a 50 cent coin to her dish, thereby preventing you from stealing it OR making change with it.  Wonder how many 1 Euro tips this technique gets her?

NOOOOO!!!!!!

Folks over here really like American T-shirts.  Apparently if some vendor has an excess of various T-shirts, he can just send it to Germany (or elsewhere in Europe) and they’ll just gobble them up.  Sometimes this can get you into trouble, such as when you see someone with a bright orange University of Texas T-shirt and, assuming that he’s a fellow Longhorn, give him the sign that means ‘Hook ‘em, horns.’  Well, um, holding your forefinger and little finger up and your middle and ring fingers down with your thumb just might mean something else to the guy wearing the T-shirt.  Of course, there are a lot of American students over here, or other young folks just wending their way around the planet, so it could be an American wearing the T-shirt.  You just never know.  But I saw something today that was just beyond wrong!  Germans have a strong sense of whimsy (as I often point out) and an interesting sense of humor; they think of things that even I might not think of, and generally it’s funny, even though I haven’t a clue why.  Well, I saw something today that even I couldn’t get my warped, cynical, sick head around.  A pink T-shirt with a little girl drawn on it – looked kinda like ‘Jane’ of ‘Dick and Jane.’  (Ask your grandma about this if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)  She had on a cute little dress, with a bow tied in the back, and her hair was in dog ears.  So far, so good.  She was holding her hands behind her back, but then I realized that she was seemed to be holding a butcher knife.  When I saw what she was looking at, I knew for sure it was indeed a butcher knife.  It was clearly Puff (Dick and Jane’s pet cat), who was lying in a pool of blood.  On how many levels is that just plain horrible!  Seriously thought about buying it so I could burn it!  But it was a little pricey!  (Even MORE disgusting!!)  I should hang around and wait until somebody else pays their good money for it, and then steal if from them and burn it!  So, if I don’t post on my blog for awhile, that’s where I am!


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

Bezirk [1]in Berlin #8:  July 28, 2011

 

 

CORNER OF WHAT?

 

When we lived in Burke, Virginia, and had to give someone the directions to our house, the directions included ‘Turn left from Braddock Road onto Guinea Road; go down to the next light, which is the corner of Guinea Road and Guinea Road, and turn left.”  Well, we can make ourselves at home here in Berlin, because we found another place that is at the corner of X Strasse and X Strasse.

 

WHIMSEY

 

Yes, there’s more.  And always expect it to be so.  Berlin is the most whimsy-rich place I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been to Disneyland, Disneyworld, Six Flags, Kings Dominion, the Old Country, Williamsburg, and two Lego Lands).

  • Bare Feet:  So far, I’ve seen no one barefoot (at least not on the street).  Although it could be warm enough in the summer to go barefoot, the hot cobblestones  and the prospect of stepping on bits of broken glass or dog poop all mitigate against it.  However, I have seen evidence of one brave sole – actual a pair of bare soles.  [Sorry!  This pun just begged to be made, and who am I to deny such a plea!]  Apparently someone did a paint job and had just the least bit of paint left.  Germans are extraordinarily frugal – they waste nothing.  So, obviously this someone felt compelled to come up with a way to use it, which turned out to be putting his (her?) bare feet in the paint and then walking down the sidewalk until the paint ran out.  So, out of nowhere, some bare footprints appeared, coming from nowhere and ending nowhere in particular.  I can almost hear them – and anyone witnessing this act – just chuckling away, can’t you? [Update:  Obviously, two days after I wrote this, I did indeed someone barefoot on the street.]
  • The Neon Bear:  There’s apparently a club in Berlin, which not only features alcoholic beverages and various games (e.g., bowling, video games, etc.) – maybe a little like Dave and Buster’s in the USA – but also has a nail salon.  In case your date isn’t that fond of bowling, she can get her nails done while she waits.  (Or, if she does bowl and chips her nail polish, it can be repaired immediately.)

 

WHO KNEW?

 

Apparently my 5-year-old grandson has a restaurant in a ritzy part of Houston (River Oaks) and another in Los Angeles.  http://www.noerestaurant.com/houston/default.html.  I used to have a restaurant in Chicago named after me, but apparently, I never managed to go there and, due to my obvious negligence, it is there no longer.

WILLIAM

Also known as the ‘Incredible Growing Machine’, William is exceptionally diligent when it comes to turning kibble into kitty.   One of three things must be happening – (1) The earth is  increasing its gravitational pull; (2) I am rapidly growing weaker; or (3) William is gaining weight at such a rate as to warrant a mention in Guinness’ Book of World Records.  Of these three options, I much prefer the last; otherwise, in a matter of days I shall no longer be able to pick up so much as a pen!  I weighed him less than a week ago and he was 2.6 kilos; today he was 3.1 kilos.  For those of you not on metric, one kilo = 2.2 pounds, so he’s grown a bit over a pound in a less than a week.  He’s now 6.8 pounds!!  I swear, if he would only stay still for 13.5 nanoseconds, you could almost just see him grow! He’s particularly alert to any of the signs that a meal may be in the offing.  For example, we typically watch a couple of episodes of American TV shows each evening, downloaded from iTunes.  We’re currently enjoying ‘Castle’ (which we highly recommend).  We watch one episode and then take a break for tea and a ‘treat’ of some sort or another, and then watch a second episode.  [Total leisure, if you do it correctly, can be hungry work!]  As the credits are scrolling through at the end of an episode, the music track involves whistling.  Both William and Electra can be so deep in the arms of Morpheus that you almost need to put a mirror under their little noses to make sure they’re still breathing.  Nonetheless, the very second the whistling starts, their ears perk up and they’re 100% ready to dash to the kitchen, while they still have the strength (as it may have been up to 3 hours since they’ve last been fed).  We must endure their reproachful glares and loud remonstrations while we scarf down our own snacks, making them wait until after the second episode for their bedtime snack.  Oh yeah, and if we’re in the kitchen and don’t realize it’s time to feed him, he’ll knock his feeding bowl off the shelf onto the floor, to help us remember.

William is also imposing his own aesthetic sense on our formerly tranquil abode, although I’m not certain that it’s intentional.  In recent years, our cats had aged and the impact of their acrobatic endeavors was limited by their lack of much free time (given that napping required a substantial amount of their time).  Tsali’s arthritis and Electra’s obesity further limited these types of pursuits.  William, on the other hand, suffers from none of these limitations and embraces physical activities with the exuberance appropriate to his age and station in life.  Alas, although his speed and strength are impressive, his agility leaves something to be desired, approaching that of an inebriated giraffe on roller blades.  This conspicuous absence of grace is characteristic of the Siamese and generally precludes the typically feline proclivity for stealth.  (Before you accuse me of racism, we are talking about a breed of cat here.  Oddly enough, the German word for ‘breed’ in this sense is ‘Rasse.’  I’ll let the linguists and social scientists ponder the significance of that interesting tidbit.)  As a consequence of his clumsiness, William is continually re-arranging many of my artful compositions of our many treasures.  Our flat looks nothing like it did pre-William.  Many of my Oaxacan wooden figures are now missing various parts of their bodies – for example, my armadillo has no ears and my jaguar has no tail.  [In fact, the place is starting to look like a group home for mutants, an image that is further enhanced by our semi-bald cat who has ears like a bat, a tail like a rat, an udder like a cow, and eyes that take up more than 50% of her face.]  The carefully arranged displays on top of the buffet and the china cabinet are no longer static, but rather change from day to day (or moment to moment) as a consequence of William’s efforts to challenge my sense of symmetry (which he apparently finds a bit trite) and his preference for a more kinetic approach to interior design.

One of his favorite pastimes is to crawl up into the paper re-cycle bin and play with all the ‘toys’ he finds there.  Such toys are not limited to the paper, but also include his tail.  Apparently he’s deduced that it’s more tactically advantageous to chase his tail in a confined space, as it markedly improves his catch rate.  You can only imagine the peculiar sounds that result from such endeavours.

FEAR

 

What two words strike fear and dread into the hearts of parents (and grandparents) and teachers?  HEAD LICE.  Yes, our precious little princess (the one who loves to dress up and is entranced by Hello Kitty, Princess Lillifey, and Pinkalicious) was found to have an infestation, whereupon her Dad had to pick her up from school and start the drill back home – washing bedding and clothing, vacuuming, shampooing hair, etc.  And, naturally, this has to include the entire household (and anyone else who happened to be in close contact within the past two days) – lucky us!  I was tremendously relieved when I checked the website for the Centers for Disease Control and learned that head lice are very particular in their hosts – they are only content to live in the scalps of humans and chimpanzees (yet more evidence of our close kinship, no doubt).  They are not interested in dogs and cats, for example.  I was trying to imagine how we would manage with the cats.  The instructions on the hair treatment are:  (1) comb (this oily, obnoxious substance) through dry hair; (2) wait between 30 and 45 minutes; (3) shampoo hair.  Presumably the Fleas and Ticks Union has a lock on cats and dogs, forcing the lice to live elsewhere.  And, as our cats never go outside, we’re pretty much safe from the FTU members.  However, when we had a house with a yard, our inside cats got fleas.  When I told the vet that they never went outside, he replied that fleas will hitch a ride on humans’ clothing and get into the house that way.  Then they hop onto the cats because humans (at least most of us) aren’t sufficiently hairy to provide a proper home for any self-respecting flea.  So, we gave our cats fleas.  (Please don’t share this information with the ASPCA!  We don’t have a yard anymore, and consequently don’t do any yard work, so our felines are probably safe from us now.)

EXPLOSION!

Nope!  Not another WW II bomb this time.  And, in the grand scheme of things, this was more or less a good thing, as it turns out.  After doing countless loads of laundry in the de-lousing process, I opened the door to my washing machine and discovered some undetermined substance falling out of the clothes.  It’s hard to describe – roughly the color of kitty litter – dull grey and flaky.  At first I feared that there was a problem with the washer.  Given the surprising capabilities William has to cause messes, I was even thinking that perhaps he had somehow thrown some kitty litter in the washer when I wasn’t looking.  Then, as I was going through the laundry, I figured it out – one of my bras had apparently exploded, and that undetermined substance was from the padding (which is there not as false advertising, but rather as a modest attempt to keep everyone within a few yards of me from knowing when I get a little chilled).

LITERAL-MINDEDNESS

My 3-year-old, lice-infested granddaughter asked me to put some barrettes in her hair, which I did.  Then I looked at her and said, ‘You are just the cutest little thing.’  She grinned up at me and said, ‘Grandma, I not a thing.  I a little girl.’  I stand corrected.

INVENTORY

Germans are nothing if not systematic in their approach to the world (except, of course, when they’re not).  I’ve noticed that the trees in our neighborhood (and many other places throughout the city) have little tags on them – each tree has its own number.  I’ve often wondered what purpose these tags serve.  Does some official come by periodically for roll call?  What do they do if a tree goes AWOL?  Do they compare the trees to each other, chastising those trees that aren’t as robust as the others, and commanding them to be ‘more like tree Number 432’?  I did notice some official carrying a clipboard going down the street examining the trees and making notes of some sort.  I wanted to ask what she was doing and why the trees were numbered, but we’re coming up for our residency renewal in a month or so and I didn’t want to risk giving offense to the Tree Polezei.  Maybe I’ll discretely ask my neighbor this question.

TO

 

How many words does English have for ‘to’ – ummm,  ONE!  How many ways can you use ‘to’ –ummm, TWO!  It can be a preposition or it can be part of an infinitive (which, I’ll grant you, does seem to be an odd combination).  And when it’s a preposition, it can be used a jillion ways – I’m going to the [ANYwhere – moon, work, movies, Japan]; I gave the hand grenade to the monkey.  How many different words to you need to know to say ‘to’ in German?  FIVE!!

  • Zu
  • Nach
  • In
  • An
  • Auf

ZU (which you also use for infinitives, by the way):  Use this when you’re going to the doctor (or any other professional), places in your own city or town (destinations that you can probably get to without having to pee first – if you’re a young person and not pregnant), work, school, lakes, stations in the U-bahn, and formal events, such as weddings and funerals.

NACH (which also means ‘after’):  Use when you’re going to places you might need to take a toothbrush (other cities or countries), other parts of town (far enough so that you probably should pee first, regardless of your age or fertility status), and when you’re telling someone how to adjust a picture (move it to the top, bottom, right, or left).

IN (which also means ‘in’ or ‘into’):  Use when you’re talking about going to a building (e.g., the prison), countries (but only when they have an article in front of them – some countries do, some countries don’t), or a street.

AN (which also means ‘at’):  Use when you’re going to a sea or a coast (but, remember, if you’re going to a lake, you use ‘zu’ – so my initial thought about using ‘an’ when you’re going to a body of water won’t work; gotta revise that to when you’re going to a small body of water).

AUF (which also means ‘on’):  Use when you’re going to an informal gathering (e.g.,  young people’s parties – as opposed to a party at the embassy, where you’d use ‘zu’), or to indie concerts (as opposed to a concert at the Opera House, where you’d use ‘zu’), or to the toilet (although this makes sense, because ‘auf’ also means ‘on’ – as in sitting on the toilet – which conveys a whole different image in English than does ‘going to the Ladies Room’).

One more thing – before you can figure out when to use ‘nach’ and when to use ‘in’ when you’re going to a country, you have to know whether or not (in German), the country has an article.  We have a few such countries—the United States, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and the Virgin Islands.  But in German, they call Switzerland ‘die Schweitz’ (so use ‘in’) but France is Frankreich (so use ‘nach’).  Go figure!

As if that wasn’t sufficiently complex, some of the words for ‘to’ take the accusative case and others take the dative case, so you also have to remember that little tidbit so you can properly decline the noun following the ‘to’ (while simultaneously remembering the gender and number of that noun, yet another factor in declining the noun).  And don’t forget that you have to decline a noun’s modifiers, too.  So you have a lot of things to figure out before you can say “She went to the little red school.”

Got that?  It’s like it’s a whole ‘nother language, or something!

HEY!  WAIT A MINUTE!!!  Do you think my German teacher is just messing with me?  Maybe there really is only one way to say ‘to’ and she’s just making this all up!  At least there would be some logic to that!!  LATER:  I’ve asked my German neighbor about this and she confirms that it’s true (unless, of course, she’s in cahoots with my German teacher).

The particularly unfortunate thing is that, although I’ve not successfully acquired German as a language, it appears that I’m gradually losing my facility with English (at least as a spoken language).  I find myself using German structure (e.g., Do you want to come with?) in English sentences.  Nonetheless, I’m still not up to snuff on the proper use of German structure.  I have managed to pick up an idiom or two, though.  For instance, ‘Mir ist eine Laus über die Leber gelaufen.’  Literally translated, it means ‘There’s a louse walking across my liver.’  But, of course, there’s a bit more to translation that the literal aspect and it’s often not a one-to-one thing.  In this case, coming from Texas, I’d translate its meaning as ‘I’ve got a bee up my butt.’

 WITH ALL DUE RESPECT……

Strawberry Hut Squashes German Pensioner

A 77-year-old German woman was killed after being crushed by a roadside hut selling strawberries that blew over in strong winds, authorities said Thursday.  The pensioner on Wednesday took shelter behind the hut when the weather suddenly worsened. But a gust blew it on top of her, police in Konstanz in southern Germany said. She died from her injuries in hospital.

At least this lady didn’t have a boring obituary.  And maybe she shouldn’t have gone to the hospital if ‘her injuries in hospital’ was what actually killed her.  [Obviously, the reporter who wrote this didn’t fully appreciate his/her mission, which is not only to write so that you can be understood, but to also write so that you can NOT be MISunderstood.]

IN OTHER NEWS……

Police are investigating the discovery of cannabis plants growing at a Thuringia office of the environmentalist Greens party, prompting a political firestorm in the state. 

Police discovered the plants in flower boxes at a Green party district office in Gera, the Thüringische Landeszeitung newspaper reported Thursday.  Police are investigating possible drug law violations although preliminary reports were that the plants may only have been used for producing hemp. Prosecutors will decide whether charges should be laid, the newspaper reported.  But the discovery led to a firestorm of criticism from state politicians, including Wolfgang Fiedler, a state parliament member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union.  He told the newspaper that any Greens members who tolerated the cultivation of cannabis “must resign their high parliamentary office.”

One of the leading members of the Greens in Thuringia, Astrid Rothe-Beinlich, said she didn’t know about the plants beforehand and had asked for an explanation from staff.  Asked how the plants had got there, a state party spokeswoman Daniela Hoffmann-Weber said: “That would interest us.” [I HAVE NO DOUBT ABOUT THAT!]  “No one will seriously believe that we’re making hemp here,” she said.

BACK ON MY BIKE

I haven’t ridden my new bike in at least a month—I got so tense when I was trying to re-learn this that it sparked a bout of shingles and I only recently worked up the nerve to try it again.  God bless my nurturing neighbor!  She offered to take me out biking (as I’m scared to death to go alone – need somebody to call the ambulance and next of kin for the accident that’s just waiting to happen).  She has the patience of a saint (but then, she’s doing a marvelous job of raising a beautiful, high-energy, intelligent, curious, physically strong, and insatiably curious 2-year-old).  She had to navigate her bike (with a very active 2-year-old on a seat at her handlebars) while she looked out for me, simultaneously negotiating traffic, which included not only other bikers and automobiles, but also pedestrians—the greatest threat of all.  Some have dogs on leashes – a particularly treacherous combination, as the pedestrian-leash-dog combination can suddenly create a ‘fence’ across your path.  Others are walking along with their iPods, making it even more difficult for them to hear bikes behind them, especially if they’re lost in the music or podcast.  And, of course, there are the children – some riding bikes with greater skill than I – but all of whom are unpredictable and may dart across your path to get a better look at the swan in the canal, or abruptly squat down to watch an ant.  All the while, my neighbor is trying to coach me through this kaleidoscope of potential collisions.  Not surprisingly, it wasn’t my behind that got sore on the bike ride – it was my hands, from the death-grip I had on the handlebars.  But she’s game to do this again, while I get my bike skills back.  [Wonder if it had anything to do with the apricot pie I made as a reward for her bravery?]

I really have to curb the urge to shout out warnings to people I encounter, something like ‘Look out!  Runaway Granny on a bike coming your way!’  Unfortunately I’m generally not that articulate – what mainly comes out of my mouth is some sound resembling that of a demented baboon (which doesn’t have the desired effect, as it tends to make folks look up into the trees, rather than on the bike path).  In any case, I think I would feel a bit better if I had some sort of a warning sign like they have on the driver’s ed cars—something like ‘Student Biker’.

HOW TO EMBARRASS YOUR KIDS

 

When our son was 13, his father took him to the mall.  As they approached the doors to the mall, our son positioned himself between the door and his Dad and said, ‘Dad, whatever you do in there, please don’t embarrass me.’  Well, I saw something in Expatica (a news service for expats) today that has inspired me:

German Pensioners Take To Clowning Around:   Ulrike Lueke-Rosendhal used to be a schoolteacher, but now it’s the 63-year-old who acts the fool, not her pupils, touring Germany in a troupe of clowns made up of retirees.

AND I can enlist the help of his godmother, who left a good Government job to go to work for the circus.  Although she went to work as an administrative aide to the Legal Counsel for Ringling Brothers, she felt it would enhance her understanding of her new milieu if she went to clown school, so she did.  Who knows what we might come up with!!  [Of course, some of my friends would assert that ‘acting the fool’ is neither new nor ‘acting’ for me.]

NEW IMF LEADER

Saw this in the Washington Post today:

U.S. support essentially guarantees that French finance minister Christine LaGarde will become the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund. The fund’s board meets today and could reach a decision on a new leader.

There was also a photo of Ms. LaGarde, with the caption “LaGarde gets broad support.”  Well, of course broads are going to support her!  Million dollar question:  Was whoever wrote the caption intentionally clever (in which case I applaud him/her) or just oblivious (in which case I mock him/her).

HUMMERS

 

We’ve been in Berlin just 3 week shy of a year and I just saw my very first Hummer here.  Wonder how many nanoseconds folks in the States can go without seeing one.


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

Bezirk [1]in Berlin #7:  June 19, 2011

 

 

WORKING FOR A LIVING

Back when I had to work for a living (God knows how I managed to find the time!), the company I worked for had a major change – it changed the way it styled its name.

It used to look something like this:  Booz●Allen & Hamilton

After some deliberation (and no doubt at great expense), it was decided that the name should be styled differently so now it looks like this:  Booz│Allen│Hamilton

You can no doubt imagine the profound impact this had on the business community, and, of course, all the efforts that went into re-educating employees on how to answer the telephone and printing new stationary and business cards and getting new signs for all the buildings, etc.

Since this was obviously an issue of great importance, you can imagine my chagrin when I opened an umbrella here in Berlin one day and discovered that it had the old name!!  I was deeply concerned about the international consequences of blatantly wielding this contraband in a foreign land.  So, there was nothing to be done but to find out what I should do, so I sent the company this e-mail:

As a former employee, I have an umbrella with the old name style on it – Booz (dot) Allen (ampersand) Hamilton.  I was wondering if it’s still OK to use the umbrella.  If not, could you send me a new one with the current name, or a sticker I could put on my current umbrella so I won’t be displaying the wrong name, please?  Thanks!

I had intended to offer then another option, which would have been to send me a letter authorizing me to continue using this umbrella.  I’ll be interested to see whether the company responds, and if so, what that response might be.

Later:  I did indeed get a response, and fairly quickly.  However, it wasn’t from the Legal dept, nor from the Public Affairs dept, but rather from the Webmaster, who told me it was perfectly fine to continue using my umbrella and thanked me for asking.

I REALLY AM SPECIAL!

 Today we had planned to go to a local restaurant to celebrate Harvey’s birthday.  We got there about 15 minutes before 6 pm, and noticed a sign on the door that said that the restaurant was closing today at 6:00.  Just as people always have to touch the paint to confirm that the ‘Wet Paint’ sign is valid, we ventured into the restaurant to see if it really, really was closing at 6:00.  We’ve been there several times in the past year, and the same waiter has been there.  He said that the reason the restaurant was closing early was to prepare for the following day – it’s the Festival of Cultures and they expect to be busy – but, since we’re regular diners so he would serve us!  It’s so great to be special!!!

HALLELUJAH!!!

Wonder how many ways there are to spell that word?  Which one is right?  But I digress!  The cause for my great joy is that the Müllmeisters FINALLY came and emptied the clear glass bin!!  I can resume my re-cycling full tilt now!!!

WILLIAM

I am perpetually astonished at how much havoc a creature without thumbs and with a brain the size of a walnut can create in a limited space.  I suppose we should be glad that we’re no longer in our 4-story, 3300 sq ft house in the US, where he could no doubt generate 3.3 times the havoc he does in our small, single-level flat!  I never know what I’m going to find when I come into the kitchen (or when some ominous sound might come from that general direction).  The kitchen, of course, is the source of all food, so it has a rather significant meaning for William, who, in his eagerness to get to his food, often knocks it out of my hands so kibble is scattered all over the kitchen.  I’ve learned to restrain him with one hand (or, alternatively, to distract him by dropping a piece on the floor while I hastily put his bowl down).

He’s also rather fond of the re-cycled paper.  We have piece of furniture that Idea sells that is primarily for kids’ toys.  It has a wooden frame and you can get plastic bins of various sizes.  We have 2 large bins and 2 small ones and use one of the large ones for re-cycled paper.  The paper bin was on the bottom, but William would drag paper out of it and turn it into confetti, with which he would decorate the flat. So, thinking I could outsmart him, I moved it up a notch.  It took him about a nano-second to get to it, only now he gets inside of it.  The good news is that he will spend long periods inside the bin, shredding to his heart’s content, but not managing to strew it about the flat.  The bad news is that he sometimes knocks the bin off onto the floor when he’s leaving, and it’s perilously close to the water bowl (which I have now re-located in yet another most likely futile attempt to preclude a disaster).

He plays in there like kids play in those ‘ball pools’ – the things filled with plastic balls the size of a baseball that you find at Idea, or McDonald’s, or any other place where parents might want to seek a few moments of peace while their kids happily amuse themselves.  [Unfortunately, these ‘ball pools’ could just as easily be called ‘germ pools’ and the parents may pay a hefty price for those few moments of peace.]

William’s new past-time also requires me to be a bit more circumspect with what paper I put in the recycle bin.  For instance, I can’t put paper towels in the bin if I’ve used them for cleaning and they are saturated with cleaning chemicals.  Naturally, this creates a huge moral dilemma for me, but when it comes to William’s well-being versus the planet’s well-being, the planet just has to come second.

CROWDS

One of the things we love about Berlin is that it’s a multicultural city much like Washington, DC.  That, of course, means lots of interesting restaurants.  In fact, when we lived in the DC area, whenever we hear that there was strife in some Third World country, we always looked forward to enjoying the food of that country, as inevitably many folks who left the country would come to DC and start restaurants.  Every summer, Berlin has its Carnival of Cultures – and more than 1.5 million visitors flock to the district of Kreuzberg (where we live) to celebrate it.  Bear in mind that Berlin has a population of 3.5 million, so that’s about half again as many people as are normally here.  So, tomorrow we hope to venture out to see how this unfolds.  And, lucky us!  We don’t have to worry about finding a parking place or a seat on the U-bahn – just have to walk 2 blocks to be in the thick of things.  It will be interesting to see how disruptive all this is to our generally quiet little Bezirk.  (As it turns out, it wasn’t disruptive at all on our short street.  There was quite a bit of foot traffic on the intersecting street, but even that wasn’t horrendous.

To find out more about this Carnival, go to this link:

http://gogermany.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&zTi=1&sdn=gogermany&cdn=travel&tm=1178&f=00&su=p531.51.336.ip_&tt=11&bt=1&bts=0&zu=http%3A//www.karneval-berlin.de/de/english.175.html

Really impressed with the ‘public facilities’ – waay better than ‘Porta-potties.’  They had trailers set up, with real toilets, real lavatories, and real attendants so there was always toilet paper, soap, and paper towels.  How class is THAT!!??!!

Good news/bad news.  Good news is that the food was delightful!  My favorite kiosk was African food – great beans and rice, terrific hot sauce!  [Hard to get spicy/hot food in Germany – even the restaurants where you’d expect to find it, such as Indian, Thai, or Mexican, tone it down for the German palate.]  But the bad news is that these folks don’t have a restaurant in Berlin – only in Hamburg!  What a tease!!!!!

WOW!  I got to walk on the wild side at the Carnival!  I got to try absinthe!  It’s illegal in the States (although it may recently have been legalized) because it’s supposed to make you crazy.  A little late for that, in my case, don’t you think?!!  I think Poe was supposed to be affected by it.  Well, if it helps you write like he did, more power to it!

Alas, we missed the parade.  For reasons I can’t fathom, the website had information on the path of the parade (starting at Hermanplatz and ending at Bluecherplatz, merely 4 blocks from our flat), but apparently whoever wrote the information up determined that the information on time and date (it Carnival lasted 3 days) was either superfluous, or that everyone already knew it.   Being an ailurophile, I would have especially enjoyed the children’s parade, because the theme was the lion.  Last year’s theme was the frog, another one of my favorite animals.  Each school sponsored an entry in the parade, with the children wearing costumes reflecting a wide range of their interpretations of frogs.  My favorite had to be one of the Latin American schools.  So here’s what was involved:

  • Latin American kids
  • In Berlin, Germany
  • Dressed as frogs
  • Marching to the tune of the Macarena
  • On Karl-Marx Strasse

Just love the bizarre juxtaposition of all those elements – the only connection that made sense was ‘Latin American kids’ and ‘Macarena’ (although putting ‘marching’ with ‘Macarena’ results in its own element of the bizarre).

SUN

Having spent our formative years in Southeast Texas, both Harvey and I have been somewhat accustomed to the difference in daylight hours in the summer and in the winter being practically negligible.  After more than 30 years in Virginia, we had almost begun to get used to the greater variation, with the short winter days.  In Berlin, we’re even farther north, so the difference is even more drastic.  For example, on June 21, we have 16 hours and 15 minutes of daylight (sunrise is 4:43 and sunset is 9:34); on December 21, we have only 7 hours 33 minutes of sunlight (sunrise is 8:16; sunset is 3:56).  Since we don’t have a rigid schedule like working folks do, it’s easy to stay up late in the summer without even realizing it.  Yeah, we can sleep as late as we want, but when the sun streams through the bedroom window at 4:30, it’s a bit disorienting. The winters are horrendous, with the sun refusing to stir itself until 8 am or so and then scurrying off well before 4 pm.  I can’t imagine having to work an 8-hour day in an office, leaving for work in the hours before sunrise and coming home hours after sunset.  As it is, I rely on a small device that supposedly simulates sunlight to make my body think I’m getting more daylight than I really am.  Don’t know if it’s just the placebo effect or not, but it does seem to help me tolerate the winter a bit more easily.

MORE FUN WITH PSEUDOCOGNATES

 Saw a truck the other day for a firm named ‘Bad Idee.’  Well, yeah, ‘Idee’ IS German for ‘idea’ but ‘Bad’ is German for ‘bath.’  So this isn’t a company that supplies bad ideas; rather it is one that supplies ideas for bathrooms.  And that’s a good thing, because it seems like we already have far too many companies promulgating bad ideas.

 DOWNSIZING

 When we left the US, we got rid of at least 75% of the stuff we’d acquired over the past 40+ years of marriage.  Then when what remained of our stuff reached Berlin, we puzzled over a couple of things:  (1) Why the heck did we decide to take ‘X’? and (2) Why didn’t ‘X’ make it here?  We took care of #1 by donating about 6 more boxes of stuff to Synanon; then, as we gradually determined we didn’t need some other stuff, we just set it out in the foyer of our building to participate in the lovely recycling process known as ‘mit nehmen’ – if you have something you no longer need/want, just put it out for anyone to take.  Most of the stuff found a home; some of the other stuff had to be forced upon Synanon.  And we resigned ourselves to accepting the loss of the stuff that we intended to take but somehow didn’t – the Universe was continuing to help us downsize, if a bit more painfully than we might have wished.  We continued to ‘downsize’ when the shelves in the china closet collapsed, substantially diminishing the complete china service for 12 that my father’s cousin had hand-painted about 70 years ago—another painful loss.  [This china had made it from Austria and Japan to Oklahoma; then to San Diego, CA; then to San Francisco, CA; then to Vienna, VA; and then on to Berlin.]  And, we lost a few mugs by storing our mugs in the kitchen cabinet in the winter and pouring hot liquids into them.  Having learned our lesson, we now store them somewhere that’s a bit unconventional in a drawer in the buffet but is a tad warmer in the winter.

Now we have further help with downsizing, in the form of a furry dynamo, who goes by the name of “Wild William West.”  In his eagerness to protect us from the dangerous flowers in a vase on the china closet, he knocked the vase onto the floor, where it was smashed to smithereens (and no doubt startled our downstairs neighbor, while the two of us hearing-impaired old folks managed to sleep through all the excitement).  We had bought the vase in Pigeon Forge, NC, and was one of the very first new decorations for our beloved house on Nancyann Way.  But, we enjoyed it for 27 years, so I guess we can’t complain too much.  Unless both Harvey and I manage to depart this veil of tears simultaneously, one of us will have to further downsize, as this flat seems a tad big for just one person, so William is just helping us out in that regard – we needn’t make difficult decisions and can downsize through attrition rather than harsh actions.

SEE THE EXCITEMENT YOU MISS BY NOT LIVING IN BERLIN?

A few weeks ago, they found an un-exploded bomb from WWII in the canal about a kilometer away from us.  Fortunately, it was disarmed without incident. Then, more recently, another such bomb in Bavaria detonated by itself, and, again, no one was injured – the only reason it made the news is that a man discovered the crater it left.  Amazingly, more than 65 years after the war, it’s estimated that more than 3,000 bombs are still buried beneath Berlin alone, many of which are regularly discovered in construction work.  Such stories don’t always have a happy ending – in June, one bomb (thought to be British) exploded while folks were trying to diffuse it, killing 3 and seriously injuring 2.

HAVEN’T DONE THIS IN DECADES

Haven’t missed it one little bit, either!  And I’m willing to bet that some of you never have done this, and never will.  What is ‘this’?  It’s defrosting a refrigerator.  Since ‘’frost-free’ translates into ‘high electric bills’ common folks here don’t have them.  We’ve been here almost 11 months and this is the first time I’ve defrosted the freezer.  I suppose the good news is that the freezer is only about 2 cubic feet, so it’s not a gigantic job (and would be even easier if I did it more frequently).

BE BARE OR BE SQUARE

Germany now has an official hiking trail for nudists.  It opened last year in central Germany following a series of altercations between nudists and clothes-wearing hikers on regular trails.  [I can only begin to imagine what such altercations may have involved.]

The nudist trail is in the Harz Mountains and is marked with warning notices ‘to ensure that clothes-wearing hikers won’t encounter any big surprises,’ German newspaper Bild reports. The signs are emblazoned with photos of a male and female hiker wearing only boots and backpacks, and say, ‘Anyone who doesn’t want to see naked bodies may not proceed further!’ [Wonder how many times they’ll have to replace those signs; I’m tempted to steal one myself.]

One hiker, who carries a scarf when walking nude to wrap it around himself in case he encounters clothed hikers, told the Swiss paper that a sanctioned clothes-optional trail would give people the chance to experience the ‘bodily freedom’ of nude hiking, an experience that ‘fills you with happiness.’

NOPE!  Not making this up!  If you don’t believe me, go to: www.thenudistmagazine.com.  But don’t be surprised if Google starts offering you some strange pop-ups!

MORE WHIMSEY

There seems to be no end to the whimsical things throughout Berlin.  I’ve seen:

  • An old VW van with a custom paint job.  Nope!  Not sunflowers, daisies or a psychedelic hodge-podge.  This one was pink and white PLAID!  And, I might add, rather precisely executed!  C’mon!  Tell me this didn’t make you smile a bit!
  • Some stenciled graffiti. Two figures—a Pegasus and an astronaut.  Interesting juxtaposition, don’t you think?
  • Toga.  Almost missed it.  I was sitting here at my laptop and just happened to look up, and there before me, across the street, I saw a guy walking down the sidewalk wearing a toga.  Really.  Why?  Who knows?  Somewhere I have a photo of Harvey wearing a toga – some high school Latin club presentation.  Those of you who know him won’t find this surprising.  In fact, for a brief moment I thought it might have been Harvey – I had to turn my head to see where he actually was when I saw toga-guy.

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

Glasses. OK, so the rimless glasses can make you pretend you’re not actually wearing glasses. However, that invisible quality has its downsides, particularly when you start having lots of birthdays. You need to think these things through:

• It’s harder to see when you don’t have your glasses on.
• Oddly enough, you don’t (usually) have your glasses on when you’re looking for your glasses.
• Rimless glasses are harder to see.
• You probably selected a color you like for the legs on the glasses.
• Lots of the other stuff in your house is probably a similar color.

You see where I’m going, don’t you? It’s going to be really, really hard to find your rimless glasses. The bad news is that, sooner or later, you’re going to plop your butt down on your $700 rimless glasses, camouflaged by your bedspread or the surface of some other piece of furniture you should have had the good sense NOT to lay your glasses on. The good news is that this offers a certain self-limiting factor – you’ll have a perfectly legitimate excuse to replace those invisible things with something more practical and easy to find. So, next time, buy something in a nice Day-Glo orange or lime green. Come on, you’ve been wearing sensible shoes for 10 years now; you may as well make the full commitment to Geezerhood. You might look a bit silly, but you’re old – you can get away with ‘silly’ now. In fact, it’s expected of you! You’re OLD!

Husband Logic

Husband: Dear, please look to see whether or not I’ve found all your rings. I knocked over your ring-holder while I was closing the drapes.
Wife: Why didn’t you move it before you closed the drapes?
Husband: Because it was dark and I didn’t see it.
Wife: Why didn’t you turn on the light first?
Husband: Because I didn’t need it.

Blessed are those who are easily amused for they shall walk through life with a grin. I count myself among those who are easily amused (which, from time to time, has made for some awkward moments when a situation didn’t strike others as quite so funny as it did me). For example, I can get a chuckle out of merely reading the grocery ads in the newspaper. Try this and see if it doesn’t just make you smile: Würstchenparade. Most English speaking folks know that ‘wurst’ means sausage (e.g., bratwurst, etc.) and many also know that ‘chen’ is a suffix Germans use for the diminutive. ‘Parade’ doesn’t need translation at all – it’s German for ‘parade’ (just as ‘Ball’ is German for ‘ball’). Apparently the product in question is an assortment of small sausages, but my mind’s eye translated it rather literally, as a parade of little sausages. As you’re likely to hear in the South regarding such images, ‘Isn’t that just the darlin’ est little ol’ thing you ever did see?’

Cats—Bald in Berlin. As the owner of semi-bald cat, this ad caught my eye. [Well, she’s not supposed to be bald, like the Sphinx – she’s a Devon Rex, who is supposed to have short, curly hair all over her body. Alas, she has it only on her head and legs, giving the impression that we’ve had her groomed as a poodle.) Naturally, my first inclination was to think that this might be a story about what it’s like for a cat to be bald in Berlin. NOT! It was an ad for the play. And, although ‘in’ means the same thing (more often than not) in both German and English, ‘bald’ is one of those pseudo-cognates. It looks like an English word we all know and love (some more than others), but in German it means ‘soon.’ Rather than a documentary about life as a bald cat in Berlin, it’s merely an announcement that the play is coming to Berlin soon. While I’m sure it’s a great play, I am a tad disappointed that it wasn’t what I thought it was.

Native Americans. Apparently there’s a tribe of which I’ve been blissfully unaware (which is not unexpected, as there remain at least 500 tribes today). I’ve discovered this by watching a German cartoon series about the adventures of a young man named Yakari. This tribe lives in tipis, uses birch bark canoes, makes pottery that looks remarkably like that of the Navajo, and, oddly enough, speaks German. Pretty eclectic tribe!

Roses – they ain’t just for romance. Extracts for cooking have a different name here – they’re called ‘aromas’ – which is technically more accurate, particularly when most of them aren’t really extracted from the flavors they claim to be. One of the more interesting aromas is rose, which is actually used for cooking here. It’s mild, and nice. Plus, you get a two-fer! You can put a few drops in your cookies as well as behind your ears!

Every molecule matters. If you like to indulge your Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and are really into saving the planet, Germany is the place for you! I approach recycling with an enthusiasm that approaches evangelical fervor, so you can only imagine the ecstasy with which I have greeted the recycling system in Germany. They even recycle the grit they put on the streets when they’re icy! As far as recycling daily trash goes (which I actually get to participate in), imagine this:

• You get to take your batteries to the grocery store or the drugstore to be recycled.
• You get to return glass beer bottles and even plastic soda bottles to get your deposit back.
• You get to separate your other glass, into white, green, AND brown!!
• Of course, you have the standard bin for paper.
• We have a bin for Leicht Verpacknung, which includes all plastic, wax paper, and all metals.
• My very favorite is the bin for Biogut (which is for composting stuff). I finally get to redeem myself! After we moved from a single family house to a townhouse, I had to give up composting. For 6 years, I experienced almost physical pain whenever I put coffee grinds or any other thing into the trash. In Germany, you can even recycle this if you live in an apartment, as we do. Oh, Happy Day!!
• And we’re getting yet another bin – apparently for Stark Verpacknung, for such things as small appliances and old wood.
• Then we have a bin for the stuff that doesn’t fit in any other category (and I always feel a little sad about having somehow failed to find another use for this trash).

Imagine getting to sort your refuse into EIGHT different categories!! And the Biogut doesn’t just go directly into the earth (which would be good enough) – it gets used TWICE! They first capture the methane gas that comes from decomposition and use that to generate electricity. Then they use what’s left to enrich the soil. And, of course, there’s the extra advantage that the water in the compost gets back into the environment more quickly (and more cleanly) that it would in a land fill. How totally cool is THAT??

There is a side of this that I really wish hadn’t occurred to me, which is that I get to pay for stuff twice (or maybe even three times), if you really think about it. First, I get to buy the food and other products, which includes the price of the packaging. Second, as part of my rent, I get to pay to have all my refuse carted away. Third, whenever I buy new products, if the packaging is made from recycled materials, I get to pay for it yet again. If some of the packaging is made of petroleum products, some of the petroleum is recovered and used to generate energy, which I have to pay for. And with the Biogut, I get to pay for not only the electricity that’s generated from its decomposition but also the new foods that may have been fertilized with the compost. But I suppose that’s still better than having to live with the consequences of a continually growing landfill, or having to cart it all off myself – after all, I’m a very busily retired person.

And, yes, I WILL put a single grape seed or grain of rice in the Biogut – thanks for asking!

Gernunnghhh? This is my attempt to capture the sound our friend Dave makes when he’s trying to emulate a profoundly puzzled Afghan hound who found himself in the unenviable position of having a 3-year-old’s finger jammed up his nose. Anyway, I always think of this sound when I see something that puzzles me, which happens almost on a daily basis. Don’t know whether I’m just a tad simple or if the world really is a puzzling place for most of us. There are those who seem to think that I just happen to have a knack for noticing this kind of thing. For example:

• Big Willy: Want a big willy? Gee, who doesn’t? Well, just go to http://www.ille.eu and you can get as many Big Willies as you want. You may be disappointed, though. That’s one of the brand names of those humongous toilet paper rolls you sometimes see in restrooms.
• Genuine Doc Martens Sold Here: This is a sign in a display window of a store on Bergmanstrasse. (For those of you from the Washington, DC, area, think ‘Georgetown.’) No puzzle there, you’d think. It’s just that the display window is filled with things such as black leather bodices trimmed in red lace and ladies’ boots (black, trimmed in red) with 6-inch stiletto heels. I didn’t see any masks or whips, but I’ll bet you can buy them there. Not what most of us think of when we’re looking for Doc Martens.
• German Pub: OK. It’s Berlin. Lord knows they have pubs by the hundreds here. What’s puzzling is that the pub by this name happens to be closed down (and appears to have been closed for a long time). Gee! You’d think if there’s any place called the ‘German Pub’ could make it, Berlin would be that place. Apparently not.

Toiletten. Unlike the US, German automated voice response systems don’t offer options such as ‘Press 1 for German; press 2 for English.’ However, the Germans do offer readily understood options for flushing the toilet – Press 1 for Number 1; Press 2 for Number 2 – each option offering a sufficient volume of water to accomplish its respective objectives. Unlike in the States, where 20+ years ago the Yankee Government decided to help conserve water by mandating low-volume toilets, the German system actually DOES conserve water (whereas in the U.S., it actually wastes water – how many times have you had to flush more than once to achieve the desired results?) without having to resort to ‘If it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.’ EWWWWW!

Customer service. Germans really aren’t into it that much. A friend of mine worked for an international telecom company and said that one of the Germans made the statement, “You Americans worry too much about customer service.” However, owing to the lack of general helpfulness on the part of customer service personnel, the customers themselves take up the slack and are really helpful. Oddly enough, this lack of interest in customer service on the part of employees seems to make other customers more inclined to be helpful. For instance, in my best German (which admittedly ain’t that great), I asked a clerk in the grocery store where to find Tahini. She didn’t understand me. A Turkish lady overheard me and repeated my question (in understandable German) to the clerk, who then told me they didn’t have it. The Turkish lady also tried to tell me about a nearby store that carried it. She spoke only German, which I still have trouble understanding. Then a guy overheard us and he translated what the Turkish lady had said into English for me. That kind of thing happens literally all the time! Alas, it makes me lazy in terms of improving my German!

I am antibiotic-worthy! I’m getting over a bout of bronchitis. German doctors must think that breathing is pretty important – the doctor actually gave me an antibiotic, which is reserved for those who would otherwise face certain death or, apparently, who need to breathe.

Sights in Kreuzberg. OK, DC has its Segways (as does Berlin), but I think Berlin can go DC one better – I just saw a girl on a unicycle, although I told Harvey just now that it was a ‘unicorn’ – which made him doubt my vision or my sanity. Yet another example of the difference between the right word and the almost-right word, described by Mark Twain as like the difference between lightening and a lightening bug.

What are the odds? When we came to Berlin 7 months ago to look for a place to live, we looked at only 5 flats, 2 of which were in the same building. Flash forward to today. Harvey has a friend (currently living in Virginia) who is French and used to live in Berlin. She was headed to France to spend Christmas with her family and had stopped in Berlin for a few days on her way to Paris. We met for drinks and were joined by a few of her Berlin friends. One of these friends had recently moved back to Berlin after having lived in New York for several years. When you meet someone for the first time, there are a series of standard questions most of us use to get the conversation started, among them “Where do you live?” It turns out that this woman lives in the flat that we almost rented! From a practical standpoint, it would have been a better choice than our flat – it was a corner flat, with two balconies, and was a tad less expensive. But it was Neubau (i.e., a new, modern building) and our flat is Altbau (i.e., an old building, and was built sometime in the 1700s) and we fell in love with its totally impractical architectural details—

• The high ceilings (which makes the place hard to heat)
• The double doors between each of the three main rooms (which makes it difficult to decorate – do you hang stuff on the walls with the doors closed or with the doors open – and limits your options for arranging the furniture)
• The exquisite molding around the ceilings in all the rooms, and the lovely mural of the Kreuzberg above the entrance to the building, neither of which offers any practical advantage at all.

But, our flat is a half a flight up from the ground level – high enough off the ground to deter the casual thief and not too many stairs for a pair of old codgers to climb. And when flats have 13-foot ceilings, climbing up just one full flight of stairs is nothing to sneeze at. We also have a back door, a fairly uncommon feature for most flats. Clearly we took some practical factors into consideration. But, more importantly, we didn’t want to lose face with our daughter-in-law, who not only found this lovely flat, but also fervidly eschews Neubau – I think she’d almost rather live on the hot air vent at the corner of Constitution Ave and 21st St., NW (in DC) rather than in a Neubau flat. And we do love the flat – and the neighborhood – more every day!

And, by the way, when we had dinner later at this lady’s place, we noticed that her husband has a unicycle.