Archives for posts with tag: William

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 47:  January 9, 2014


 Remember when your parents would haul you to visit some elderly relative and you would wonder just exactly what that retired person did with their time?  Well, now I know, being one myself.  I just tend to the routine things – making the bed, fixing breakfast, washing the dishes, getting dressed, and before you know it, the day is practically gone!  We may not do much (if anything), but it definitely takes all day to do it!


Germany (and, so far as I can tell, all of Europe) has some really fabulous breads.  One German bread that we particularly like is Dunkel-essener.  It’s extremely dense – pretty sure one loaf weighs at least 10 times what a loaf of Wonder bread weighs.  So, Harvey happened to be out and about and near a bio (organic) food store and decided to pick up a loaf of this wonderful (as opposed to “Wonder”) bread.  The lady looked at him in amazement when he asked her for it, and replied, “Heute ist Montag!”  (i.e., “Today is Monday!”)  Apparently you can only buy Dunkel-essener bread on certain days of the week, and one of them is definitely NOT Monday!  And presumably every German knows this and realizes how utterly preposterous it is to even consider buying it on Monday.


I was at the grocery store check-out line and couldn’t find my cash card.  Fortunately, I had enough cash with me to cover the groceries so it wasn’t a major problem, but I wasn’t looking forward to the inconvenience (admittedly, minor) of having to go to the bank on Monday and request a new card.  But then when I left the store, I saw that someone else was having a far worse day than I was – I saw someone’s false teeth on the sidewalk (or, at least, the uppers) and the plate was broken in two, so clearly not having my cash card paled in comparison.  My day got even better when I got home and emptied my wallet to discover that I had simply put the card in a different place from where I normally do.


There was a time when I would consider an article of clothing “worn out” if it were the least little bit faded or frayed, but that is no longer the case.  Since I retired, I don’t have to worry about being “presentable” at work, where showing up in shabby clothes isn’t a “career enhancing” strategy.  Of course, retirement is also typically accompanied by a reduced income, so one tends to be a tad more circumspect about spending money in general, whether on clothes or anything else.  Consequently, “faded” and “frayed” are no longer sufficient criteria for throwing out clothes. Then there’s the age factor (which inevitably comes into play, whether you’re fortunate enough to be retired or not).  It used to be economical in the long run to pay a bit more for something if it would last a long time.  Now, not so much.  Now it’s all a game of trying to come out even, where you only need something to last until you die (which, of course, is a total crap shoot).  I remember when my Dad was about 60 and it was time to replace the roof on his house.  You have options of buying a 20-year roof or a 30-year roof.  He figured he wasn’t going to make it to 90 (so he didn’t need a 30-year roof) and that a 20-year roof would suit him just fine.  As it turned out, he only needed a 12-year roof (but that wasn’t an option).  However, he didn’t count on his wife making it to almost 90.  Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about big-ticket items such as major house repairs or cars, since we own neither, and the consequences of our miscalculations are much less drastic.  The most expensive thing we have to worry about is a washer. And as for our clothes, we have lots of leeway.  For one thing, given the character of our neighborhood, “shabby chic” is actually in style.  But aside from that factor, as long as a shirt doesn’t fall off my body and continues to provide an acceptable level of warmth, I don’t consider it “worn out” yet.  And, of course, pajamas get a lot longer life because, after all, if I’m in a situation where somebody is going to see me in my PJs, it’s probably a pretty close friend, who’s not going to judge me.  And I’m long past worrying about what some Emergency Room tech is going to think about my underwear if I’m involved in an accident.


I have spent nearly 7 decades on the planet and only recently discovered the utility of “sheers” – you know, the nearly-invisible drapes?  I never could figure out why folks would have 2 sets of drapes on their windows – one that appeared normal and one that seemed to be invisible.  If drapes were intended to offer privacy, or to block out the sun, what possible reason could there be to have drapes that you could see through and that didn’t block out the sun?  Aha!  Now I know.  In the winter here, you can have a choice of having the drapes open during the day (and thereby getting the benefit of the scarce daylight you’re granted while losing heat through the windows) OR keeping the drapes shut (and thereby saving heat while missing out on the daylight).  So, here come the sheers!  At night, they provide an extra layer of fabric to keep the cold at bay and, during the day, you can still have a little bit of protection from the cold while also getting some precious sunlight.  Never too old to learn something, I suppose, regardless of how trivial it might be.


The bus stop I use most frequently has a nice little shelter – a roof and 3 sides.  Anyone want to guess which of the four basic directions the wind was coming from this cold morning?  Yep!


What’s Christmas in Germany without going to a Christmas Market and having a bit of Gluhwein?  We decided to hit one of the markets on the Ku’damm – a major shopping area –  and had the luck to time it just right so that we could see what’s apparently another Christmas tradition – at least in Berlin.  Several of the motorcycle Santas were accompanied on their ‘hogs’ by their ‘old ladies’ (also in costume, but not as Mrs. Santa, but rather as angels).  Not a sight you see every day!


Nope!  Didn’t leave the kitchen window open.  Nope!  The roof doesn’t leak (or, at least, if it does, we’d be about the last to know about it because there are 4 more floors above us.  In fact, it wasn’t raining at all OUTside.  Nope!  The upstairs neighbor’s plumbing wasn’t leaking into our flat.  I was, however, cooking and now that the weather is cold, heat from the stove will cause condensation on the tile back-splash and on the bottoms of the cupboards above the burners on the stove, unless I turn on the ventilation fan.  Never had that happen in any of my kitchens in the US (16, to be exact, and that’s only the ones after I left home)!  Never even heard tell of anyone having that happen.  Got my very own little rain forest!


Can you still call it “malice” if it’s unintentional?  Maybe not.  Nonetheless, the effect is the same.  William, the Wonder Cat, took a little walk across my keyboard and the next time I tried to logon, I couldn’t – my password wasn’t recognized.  After several moments of frustration and many epithets, I discovered that my NumLk key was on.  He had apparently managed to step on the Fn key and the NumLk key simultaneously!  Electra once managed to hit a series of keys that turned my screen sideways; it took Harvey and me the better part of an hour to figure out how to undo THAT!


Our Dowager Queen Feline, Ms. Electra, exited the litter box, having tended to her business.  Apparently, William, the Wonder Cat, was not satisfied with Electra’s attempts to tidy up the litter box and tucked the front half of his rather large body into the box and re-arranged the litter more to his liking.  Unfortunately, when he does this, he often leaves a pile of litter at the front end of the box, which Ms. Electra finds so offensive that she expresses her displeasure by hanging her butt out of the box and peeing on the floor when she next uses the litter box.  No amount of counseling with either of them has been effective is changing this behavior.


Germans love their asparagus, especially the white asparagus.  Even if the weather gives you no hint of Spring, you can tell that Spring has arrived because all the restaurant menus suddenly feature lots and lots of asparagus dishes and little stands selling nothing but asparagus pop up everywhere.  And, as do most right-thinking folks, Germans love their wine.  Well, I saw something in the grocery store last week that apparently combines these two culinary delights – a bottle of wine that presumably has asparagus as a component.  Yep!  Not making this up!  See for yourself!

2013-08-25 - Asparagus wine

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


Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 42: February 11, 2013


Like fish and chips? Well, try this – instead of the normal white fish (such as cod), how about fresh salmon?  And instead of Idaho potatoes, how about sweet potatoes?  If you’d like to try these, go to the Luise-Dahlem biergarten then:

FEBRUARY 6, 2013

Today is William, the Wonder Cat’s 2nd birthday.  To celebrate, I plan to feed him every time he begs for food.  I fear that by the end of the day I shall have developed repetitive motion injury in the arm I use to feed him with.


I understand gravity, at least in a general sense.  I don’t understand the underlying physics, but I do understand that if I have something in my hand and I let go of it, there’s a pretty high statistical probability that it will end up on the floor (or at least it will fall down, rather than up or sideways).  But there appear to be some qualities of gravity that apply to me in an atypical manner, at least when I’m eating.  Under these circumstances, sometimes food substances – particularly those that have the potential to create stains – seem to be drawn towards my body (rather than towards the floor), particularly when I’m wearing something nice.  I go through stain removers (which, in some cases work less well than others) at roughly the same rate that I go through laundry detergent.  So, I encourage you to invest in a company that makes stain removers (and, upon my death, promptly divest yourself of these investments, as the stock price will most surely plummet).


You know those trash bins that you see around renovation sites?  Well, there’s one company that provides them around Berlin.  The name of the company is “Sisyphus.”   Pretty much nails it, don’t you think?  Whenever you empty a trash bin, that just encourages folks to fill it right up again, doesn’t it?


When you can tell what color polish you have on your toenails without taking off your socks, it’s probably time to buy new socks.


Yep – it’s not a typo.  I dropped a kernel of corn on the floor in the kitchen, and William the Wonder Cat was all over it like white on rice, which makes him, of course, a cornivore, doesn’t it?


William the Wonder Cat - 26 (Cornivore)


You may recall a while back when I mentioned the name of a popular snack – Maiswürmer (which translates literally as “Corn Worms”)?  Well, they’ve “enhanced” this product – now you can get chocolate-covered corn worms (as well as caramel-covered corn worms).  Bet you can’t wait to try these!!

Chocolate Covered Corn Worms


You heard it here first, unless, of course, you also subscribe to this newsletter:

sugarhigh <>

Meat is having a moment. As far as food trends go, offal is one of the most unlikely stars there ever was. And yet ever since the wild, unlikely success of British chef Fergus Henderson’s groundbreaking cookbook “The Whole Beast,” first published in 2004, the most deep-down, weird, and visceral inner bits of cow, pig, and sheep have shot up in culinary status and so-called “nose to tail” cuisine has taken the foodie world by storm. After all, as Henderson says, “If you’re going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing.”

Gain a new appreciation for the culinary potential of the whole hog with this Sunday’s “Schlachtfest” dinner at Mitte’s Pauly Saal restaurant. Chef, trained butcher, and pork aficionado Wolfgang Müller will be taking over the kitchen to prepare a lavish pig-themed dinner from his celebrated cookbook “Schwein,” planning a six-course menu that moves from a Blutwurstpizza amuse-bouche to horseradish-spiked tongue pralines, quiveringly tender pork belly, Bratwurst with a twist, and pig tail croquettes. Rest assured that the dessert course takes only inspiration—and not actual ingredients—from the pig.

Well, that last bit is a comforting thought, isn’t it?!! 


How does $3,500 sound?  For a single toy.  Plastic (mostly).  Well, apparently that’s what we pay for our cat toys.  William the Wonder Cat was caught with Harvey’s digital hearing aid yesterday.  Hard to guess who was in more trouble – William for playing with it or Harvey for leaving it somewhere that William could get to.


It is sooo exasperating, seeing something that desperately needs to be done, yet no one will step up to the plate and do it!  That must have been what was running through William’s mind the other day.  He finally realized that, not only was I not going to open a drawer in the kitchen and toss all my kitchen towels onto the floor, but it was likely that I didn’t have the slightest notion that this needed to be done.  So, selfless feline that he is, he took it upon himself to do it for me!  This, despite the fact that he has no thumbs and therefore the job was much more difficult for him than it would have been for me.  Nonetheless, he was sufficiently resourceful and determined to take care of this chore completely on his own.  I wonder if, having demonstrated what needs to be done, he will now expect me to get the message and take care of it the next time it needs doing (whenever that might be).   LATER:  Apparently this is something that requires being done at least once a day.  Or, alternatively, it went without doing for so long that, in order to make up for this, it has to be done on a daily basis for awhile to catch up.


Ms. Electra is almost 13 years old, or 69 in people years.  She has always been quite precise in her dining requirements; specifically, she demands her breakfast at 6 a.m. and her dinner at 6 pm.  Intermittent feedings are, of course, permitted.  Nonetheless, even if one of those impromptu feedings occurs at 5:59 (a.m. or p.m.), this does not alter her 6:00 expectations.  She has several techniques for reminding us what time it is.  If one of us is sitting at the computer, we can expect one (if not both) of these things to occur:  (1) She will climb up on a lap and fidget and fuss until we get her message; (2) she will climb onto the top of the printer, above which is hanging one of our masks – this one of South Pacific origin, trimmed in something that approaches hair – and proceed to make every effort to snatch it bald.  But one of her most favorite tactics is to make herself barf – even on an empty tummy, she can hack up an amazing amount of slime.  She prefers to barf on the carpets (because she just hates that splash-back when she barfs on hard surfaces).  Sometimes she deigns to barf on the hardwood floor, which, under other circumstances, we would prefer.  However, the hardwood floors in our 150+ year-old flat are composed of planks about a foot wide but with ¼-inch spaces separating them.  This, of course, means that we have the opportunity to try to coax cat barf from between the boards if she targets the floors.  Well, this is all to lay the groundwork for new behavior.  She has taken her barfing repertoire to a new level, as it were.  This morning I discovered barf on top of the china closet (the top of which is about 4 feet high), and subsequently discovered even more on the floor in front of the china closet.  So, between William knocking everything off the top and Electra selecting it as a barfing platform, it would be unwise for us to continue it as a surface on which to display our various treasures (or rather, those that William hasn’t already destroyed).  Sigh….


You would think that creatures who spend at least 80% of their lives napping (reserving the remaining 20% for eating, grooming, visiting the litter box, and, of course, finding the perfect position for napping) would not need a lot of variety in their lives.  But you’d be wrong about that.  Apparently they DO need variety.  Evidence to this was presented to us this morning.  Electra normally naps on the green blanket on the left end of the sofa, while William prefers the burgundy blanket on the right end of the sofa.  Imagine our surprise to find that they had traded places!  Since they’re unconscious during this time, I’m at a loss to understand how this could possibly matter to either of them.  But, apparently, it does.

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 41: January 20, 2013


In addition to engaging in a competition to see who can toss their Christmas tree the farthest, Germans have some other pretty amazing sports:

  • Nude bowling in Bavaria

Over to Bavaria and a nude bowling alley run by an Englishman, where we are treated to full frontal (and rear) nude bowlers of both sexes. The owner claims it is much better to be active than sun bathing in a fenced in nudist colony.  Across the Salzach river from Berghausen Castle in Bavaria, and just inside Austria, is the Landhotel Moorhof in Franking [], where as part of the ‘wellness’programme, Paul strips off when he visits the hot tub room. There are wooden beer barrels made into hot tubs. Either singles or couples relax in hot tubs of bubbling beer extract, yeast and hops.  The attendant gives you a cold stein of bier.  You chat with your neighbours and refresh your stein with a beer tap above your tub.  After getting out and drying each other with large white towels, the attendant leads everyone up to the bedroom and a giant bed of straw where you can relax, sleep, or romp in the bed with the other guests.

  • Chessboxing

Who is the “Smartest Toughest Guy” in Berlin?

The Chess Boxing Club Berlin asks showdown: who is the smartest and the toughest guy in Berlin?  The 4th Berlin Chessboxing Championships on 28th July 2012 in the newly opened “Platoon” – instead of Halle in Berlin Mitte.  It is the most unusual, surprising sporting event of the year. … a main battle where the smartest, toughest guys of the “Chess Boxing Club Berlin” prove their intelligence in the ring and their repartee on the chessboard.


 OK.  I log onto Amazon.  And you know how Amazon makes recommendations based on what you buy yourself and on what other people who buy what you buy have bought?  Well, here’s the recommendation Amazon made for me – Inflatable Unicorn Hat for Cats.  I’m fascinated that anyone (other than Dr. Seuss ) has the temerity to spend the time, energy, and money to develop and market a product based on a fusion of the concepts of “hat” and “cat.”

Even I couldn’t make THIS up!!


 Germans flat out LOVE their pigs!  The even have a museum to pigs:

 Stuttgart’s Schweine Museum it seems is the largest pig museum in the world, with more than 37,000 sculptures, prints, paintings and documents from all around the globe covering all manner of pig facts.

They do everything imaginable with pork, the Divine Swine.  Cut it 8 million different ways, for example.  Often when I look in the meat case, I can’t even recognize what part of the pig I’m seeing.  They make all sorts of sausages and lunch meats.  They even eat pigs’ feet.  They cook it 8 different ways from Sunday.  They make marzipan into pigs.  (I once found 3 marzipan pigs arranged in positions that are illegal in at least 43 States.  Yes – pornographic pigs!)  And yet, in this Land of the Pork Lovers, nowhere can I find a ham!  I had pretty much assumed that I would not be able to find the ham we traditionally have had for New Year’s Day for decades – a Honey-Baked ham – but I thought surely I could find a plain ol’ ham.  Nope! Not gonna happen!


  • The letters on the keyboard are NOT in alphabetical order.
  • When you replace worn-out letters on your keyboard, it is VERY important to put the new letters on the right keys (even if you touch-type).


 I predict that, for the entire year of 2013, I’m going to be abysmally confused.  How do I know this?  Because of my calendar.  I bought exactly the same calendar I bought last year (except, of course, presumably, the dates on the calendar are for 2013).  My 2012 calendar had the week beginning on Sunday (which is something that all right-thinking folks do).  My 2013 calendar has the week beginning on MONDAY!  Who in their right mind would do THAT??!!  AARRGGHH!!


 From time to time, a message appears at the top of my g-mail that offers recycling info, such as “Did you know that it takes 30% less water to make paper from re-cycled paper?”  Today’s recycling hint is:

 You can make a lovely hat out of previously used aluminum foil.

I think I’ll disregard this hint – I have quite enough trouble with folks doubting my sanity as it is.  I’m surprised they didn’t add to this that such hats can also keep aliens from reading your thoughts!  And I’d really like to see what some folks might come up with in the way of aluminum foil hats!


 I recently bought something on [the German site], from one of those external sellers.  I was asked to rate the service from this vendor.  Here were my choices (in English):












 Often these automated translators come up with not-quite-right translations, so these options may be the result of a machine’s understanding of the language.  Also, on THIS side of the pond, British English is the standard, so that can sometimes make things even more bizarre from the American perspective.  However, it would be pretty cool if the poorest rating a vendor can get is ‘miserable.’


 Well, it seems that I have a fellow traveler, except it’s a man, and he’s English…


An English Man in Berlin (


 Jaton’:  I bought some candles today, but they’re too big for the brass candlesticks.

Harvey:  Well, we can put them in the dogs.

Jaton’:   Yeah, we can do that.

 Imagine what might come to mind if you heard this and you didn’t realize that we have a pair of terra cotta Mexican Chihuahua candle holders.  As if the concept of a pair of terra cotta Mexican Chihuahua candle holders isn’t sufficiently bizarre on its own….


 When I had to work for a living, I always enjoyed the time I spent at the spa.  I didn’t go nearly so often as I would have liked, but that was more a time problem than a money problem.  Now, of course, I have all the time in the world, but, given that I’m not sure when I’m gonna die, I’m a bit reluctant to spend money on such frivolities.  However, William has come to my rescue—as I lie on the sofa, watching TV, despite the many demands on his time, William will devote a significant amount of time to exfoliating my feet.  And, if Electra is feeling particularly generous, she will hop up on the sofa and devote her time to grooming my hair.  Sometimes I get both treatments simultaneously!  And all I have to do in return for this service is to provide them room, board, and medical care for their entire lives!


 …that stimulates a cat to come use the litter box?  Is it because he’s so fastidious that he’s been holding it all this time, just waiting for a ‘fresh bowl’?  Or does he somehow fear, or abhor, the absence of the most pungent evidence of his presence on this earth and is therefore compelled to replace it immediately?   Or is it more insidious, and part of his larger plan to thwart his loyal servants’ every effort ?


 Fastidious in felines is something that every cat person hopes for.  Alas, there are cases when it can backfire and who better to make that point than William, the Wonder Cat?  William (who will soon be 2 [or 25 in human years]) considers the toilet habits of Ms. Electra (who will soon be 13 [or 69 in human years]) totally unsatisfactory.  There is, alas, some basis for his assessment.  For example, sometimes Electra fails to cover her excrement, as most right-thinking cats would do.  Not someone who simply looks the other way when he finds something not to his liking, William often cleans up after Electra.  First, sometimes when she goes to the litter box, he scurries to the litter box and stares at her as she goes about her business.  No doubt, he wants to compensate for her lat of attention to detail as soon as possible, before the fragrance of her excrement wafts throughout the entire flat.  As you can imagine, having someone stare at you while you’re doing your business is not something that is remotely desirable.  Consequently, there is much hissing and snarling during this time, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that this is one reason Electra hurriedly exits the box without covering up her leavings to William’s satisfaction.  In any case, William often goes into the box and spends no small amount of energy digging and covering and God-only-know-what-all else in there.  He often over-compensates, piling huge mounds of litter at the front of the box.  As you know, every action has an equal and opposite reaction (or so they tell me).  In this case, it’s apparently true, because whenever Electra returns to the litter box and finds the litter piled far too high at the front of the box, she just hangs her butt a bit outside the box and empties what has got to be a disproportionately large bladder for such a small cat on the rug under the litter box.  We have tried clarifying for her that the concept is “Thinking outside the box” rather than “Pissing outside the box”—but inasmuch as Ms. Electra is not one much given to “thinking”, her understanding of this concept has to be manifested in something that has meaning for her, and apparently “pissing” fits the bill.


 Some cats can be trained to use the toilet instead of the litter box.  Imagine how much money we could save in kitty litter if we could train both William and Electra to do this!  And, it might have a side benefit of preventing Ms. Electra from pissing outside the box (as the provocation of unacceptably-arranged kitty litter would be removed).  However, any cost-benefit analysis would have to take into account William’s propensity for turning perfectly useful toilet paper into confetti.

 William the Wonder Cat - 24 - Staking his claim



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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 39:  December 26, 2012


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

William the Wonder Cat - 23 - Food Chain

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 38:  December 13, 2012 


I’m not really nosy, but I am a tad curious.  I spend more than a few minutes at my laptop, which is in front of my living room window.  So I can’t help but see the comings and goings of my neighbors across the street. For example, I’ve started to see someone walking a new baby back and forth, so I’m pretty sure somebody has an addition to their family.  One flight up, from time to time, I see a red light.  This is fairly new, and I can’t help but wonder what it is.  Has a Lady of the Evening set up shop?  Or is it a spy, who turns on the light when he needs to deliver some information.  Or, maybe, it’s something far more mundane, such as a Christmas decoration of some sort.


It sometimes gets cold here, so wearing more than one layer of clothing helps make things a tad more bearable.  But you need to pay attention and plan ahead for certain things when you have on lots of layers of clothing, particularly when you need to pee.  First, while it’s never a good idea to wait until the last minute just to see how long you can last, when you have on multiple layers of clothing, you need to allow extra time to accommodate that.  And, second, you need to really pay attention and make sure you have pulled down ALL the layers before you seek blessed relief! (Another advantage men have over women – they can actually SEE what’s going on down there!  Women just have to guess!)


I subscribed to a coupon service – Groupon – via e-mail.  Even if I never use a single coupon, the entertainment value is tremendous.  For example, a while back, there was a coupon to get a pedicure, in which your feet would be exfoliated by tiny fish, who would nibble the dead skin off your feet.  Today, there was a coupon to take a Christmas tour of Berlin.  OK, so not so strange, right?  But is this tour by bus?  Nope!  Is it perhaps by horse?  Nope!  It’s riding in a carriage pulled by llamas.  It’s hard to pass THAT up!  Think of the conversational value.  For instance, when I go to my 50th high school reunion next year, I can casually ask folks what they did for Christmas.  When it comes by turn to say what we did, I can say that we toured Berlin by llama.  Or maybe I don’t even have to ask folks what they did for Christmas and I can just work it into the conversation, as in, “Well, your story about your cruise to the Bahamas reminds me of our Christmas tour around Berlin in a llama-drawn carriage.”  Or, preface a story with something like, “When we were touring Berlin in a llama-drawn carriage, we went past the Hotel Adlon, where Michael Jackson held his infant son out the window.”


Every evening while we’re watching TV, we have a little snack.  Whenever I can manage it, when snack time comes, William and Electra will be snuggled up with me on the sofa, giving me a reason to make Harvey fix the tea and snack.  One can’t possibly disturb kitties when they’re comfortable!  After all, they work so hard to get comfortable.  (Unless, of course, it’s time to watch TV and William is curled up on the irresistible maroon chenille blanket, in which case I have to pick him up and bring him onto to sofa with me.)  Well, last night Harvey used the left-over waffles and blue berries, with a little yogurt, for our snack.  Lovely!  So this morning when I was fixing breakfast, I discovered 7 blueberries in the fridge.  Seven!!  Who in their right mind would leave 7 blueberries?  And why?  I suppose one reason is that, since there was an uneven number, it confused him.  [Clearly, we’ve been watching far too much ‘Monk’ recently!]  OK.  There are at least two things he could have done with those 7 blueberries:  (1) give each of us 3 and just pop the odd one into his mouth; or (2) just eat all 7 himself.  In either case, if he had done that, I would never have known.  But leaving 7 lonely, pitiful little blueberries alone in the fridge overnight?  Really?


This morning at breakfast, Harvey made a suggestion—he proposed that we should fast one day a week.  To fully appreciate the timing of this suggestion, I must remind you that he had just finished his breakfast so his belly was full at the moment.  My response was this:  How about YOU fasting 2 days a week, and I’ll just keep on having regular meals.  Initially, that didn’t make any sense to him (as if the whole fasting business made any sense at all!).  However, after thinking about this a moment,  he re-assessed the wisdom of sharing a very small flat with a woman whose blood sugar levels are precipitously low and how that may substantially diminish the likelihood of his surviving a 24-hour fast.


No doubt many folks take gingko pills to help improve (or retain) their memory.  And I don’t know whether it works or not, but I’m not talking about taking gingko pills being dangerous.  The gingko works in a far more insidious way to kill.  Here’s how it works.  Our street is lined with gingko trees, and they are quite lovely, especially in the fall when they turn yellow.  Alas, there are two kinds of gingko trees – male ones and female ones.  Unfortunately, the idiot who decided which tree to plant happened to choose the female trees, which yield lots of beautiful yellow fruit (from which, no doubt, the memory-saving formula is made).  What makes this unfortunate is that this fruit has a stench that is absolutely unbearable.  The fruit falls onto the sidewalk; folks walk on it; and the squashed fruit emits an even stronger smell than the whole fruit.  Imagine vomited dog doo-doo.  Then imagine something 10 times as repulsive.  That’s the smell from gingko fruit!  Despite the fact that the sidewalk sweepers come on a regular basis to our street, the tree bears its fruit almost faster than they can sweep it up.  So, to avoid walking through it, and pulling my shopping cart through it, I decided to walk in the street.  Our street is only 1 block long, but cars do use it from time to time, and it so happened that one of them almost got me today.  So, gingko can kill you!!


Several weeks ago, we went off Daylight Savings Time.  It’s a tad easier in the fall, because you get to sleep an hour later.  Nonetheless, there are certain creatures who don’t seem to respect the time change, specifically our Devon Rex, Ms. Electra, who not only tries to get us up early to feed her at what had been her regular breakfast hour, but also tries to herd us to bed an hour early.  She’s not content to go to bed alone – she wants us to go with her, so she can slip under the covers and steal heat from us.


What I want to know is what he THINKS he’s doing.  William is staring at his water bowl.  He’s not drinking the water, nor is he playing with it—he’s just watching it with an intensity that might be warranted if it were the case that it might at any second reveal, say, the winning number for next week’s lotto and if he so much as blinks, he might miss it.

William the Wonder cat - 22 - Water Bowl


 Cats and Christmas trees are rarely a good combination.  Nonetheless, we have grandchildren, and I want them to appreciate all the special ornaments we have.  For example, when our son was born, my Dad and Step-Mom bought him a mobile.  I have since taken the little animals off the mobile and turned them into Christmas ornaments.  Most of our ornaments have stories behind them and there’s no way to pass on those stories if the ornaments stay in a box in the basement.  William is ‘helping’ us by alerting us to those ornaments that are vulnerable to being pulled off the Christmas tree.  Given that he has no language to simply point out these ornaments, he has to demonstrate these vulnerabilities by exploiting them.  Sigh!  Well, after all, he is still a kitten (despite weighing 16 pounds).  He’ll be 2 years old in February, which is the equivalent to 25 in human years –the time in a young man’s live when he carouses and drinks and generally raises hell.  After cats reach 2 years, each subsequent year equals about 4 human years, so maybe in about 2 more Christmases, the tree will have a fighting chance.  Electra, on the other hand, who is 12 years old (65 in human years), poses no threat whatsoever.  First of all, during the cooler months, she’s quite content to stay under the covers — sometimes she’s even willing to forego a treat if it means she has to leave her warm little nest.  Even so, she’s never been a particularly curious cat—I  think that she was hiding behind the door when they passed out ‘curiosity’ – so even as a kitten,  she never posed a threat to our Christmas trees.


William, Electra, Harvey and I wish you the very best of pleasant holidays and a marvelous New Year!

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 37:  December 10, 2012


I have a beloved uncle who’s originally from Boston but has lived in Miami now for decades (actually, at 95, he’s now been in Miami most of his life).  Anyway, he has a taste for clam chowder and he used to be able to get it at his local grocery store.  When he noticed that they were always out of it, he asked the store manager about it.  Know what the guy told him?  “We kept running out of it, so we stopped carrying it.”  Really?  A product is flying off the shelves and you have a choice between:  (a) ordering more (and making more money); or (b) discontinuing it so you don’t have to re-stock the shelves so often.  Wonder why American businesses are failing?  Apparently, the manager’s objectivewas to simply keep the shelves full rather than sell products.  What would happen if I applied that strategy to my pantry (well, I don’t actually HAVE a pantry – I just have lots of various nooks and crannies where I put stuff )?  Whenever I see some product I haven’t tried before, I buy it because I’m curious.  Often I like it; sometimes I don’t.  I recently bought some jam that looked good, but it looks a lot better than it tastes.   BUT, it IS lasting longer than the jams that we like, so I should keep buying it because it lasts longer?


Every now and then, I get some random text message on my phone, similar to this one:  Today I will see you and make wild sex with you.  Call me back right away at my private line.  Probably not gonna happen!


I saw something today that is a wonderful idea.  I don’t know whether this is a unique instance or whether it is standard equipment on cars in Germany.  One of my neighbors had opened the trunk to his car to get something out and on the inside of the lid to the trunk was one of those triangular, light-reflective warning signs.  So, if his car breaks down, all he has to do is open the trunk lid and other drivers – even in the dark – can see the warning sign.  Seems to me that it would be a good idea to put this on every car at the factory.  How much could it possibly cost?  Sure, folks can buy these signs and put them in their cars themselves (and I heartily suggest that you do) but most won’t and it would benefit everyone.  It’s a trivial cost that car manufacturers could simply pass on to the buyers.  Umm, excuse me while I go write all the car manufacturers and my Congressman.  (And then, I’m going to start buying stock in the company that makes those little signs.)


There’s already a project here in Germany to investigate using sewage as an energy source; I can’t remember what the official name of it is, but I call it “Poo Power.”  This has led me to come up with another idea.  It’s pretty obvious that, at least on road trips, gasoline turns into urine.  How do I know this?  Well, whenever you start out, your bladder is empty and your gas tank is full.  Then, as you go along, your bladder starts to get full and your gas tank starts to get empty.  Every time you make a pit stop to rectify these two problems, this process recurs.  So, if gasoline converts to urine, why couldn’t you reverse the process?  And, of course, I would call it “Piss Power.”


From time to time we see some puzzling things.  Of course, part of that is just getting older and more easily puzzled, and part of that is living in a foreign country.  Yesterday I saw a guy wearing a cap with a curious motto – No Goats, No Glory.  I’m pretty sure there’s an interesting story behind that and would love to know what it was.  I also wish I knew where he got it, because I have a friend who raises goats and would really love to get one for him, so he could be as puzzled as I am.


OK, so you might not be a phone geek, but the NANP is the marvelous scheme the US telcos use for phone numbers.  It gives you your area codes and your phone number.  It’s why all numbers in the US are 10 digits (with the area code) or 7 digits without the area code.  If somebody gives you their phone number and you write it down and discover that you have a number of digits other than 10 of 7, you KNOW you don’t have the number down correctly.  Sure do wish the Germans would latch onto that concept!  I don’t know what the range of correct number of digits is, but our home phone is 8 digits and we frequently get calls for some doctor.  After more than 2 years, we’ve cracked the code – his number is 9 digits and has two 4s where we only have one.  It’s not a big problem for us, since it happens only a few times a week (and, since it’s a business, the calls only come during business hours).  What CAN be amusing, however, is when someone argues with us about whether they’ve misdialed or not, because, presumably, if they had dialed correctly, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, would we?  Still, I’ll take that over all the telemarketing calls from businesses, charities, and, especially this year, political campaigns we’d have to endure in the US right now!!


I don’t merely sneeze – I have explosive sneezing episodes of impressive duration.  In fact, the other day I was in mid-sneeze-a-thon just before I entered the grocery store and a biker passing by said, “Gesundheit” to me.  My sneezing bouts are so extraordinary that the National Weather Service was considering naming each episode, much like they do hurricanes.  They had second thoughts, however, when they realized that – given the frequency of these episodes, they wouldn’t even make it through January before they’d have to re-start the list of names – the sneezing episode known as ‘Zeke’ would probably come as early as the third week in January.


You know how there’s all the extra junk on your screen when you’re on the Internet?  Stuff you never asked for but is pushed at you whenever you logon to certain sites?  Well, I logged onto the site I usually check for weather today.  I wasn’t especially surprised that an ad for the Red Cross popped up, asking me to donate money to cover the costs of Hurricane Sandy.  I wouldn’t have been surprised, either, for this ad to be accompanied by photos or videos of some of the hurricane damage.  What DID surprise me was that there was a link labeled “See friends at risk in severe weather.”  Well, no, I’m not particularly interested in seeing my friends while they’re in mortal danger, thank you!


You can always rely upon kids to lighten things up.  Once again, the blog’s resident artist, Evie Fullingim, offers the work of her granddaughter, Anna Johnson, to accomplish that objective.  Anna’s interpretation of William’s destructive tendencies is that he’s just trying to express his “inner clown”.  (We, of course, know that he doesn’t need any motivation to do these things – all that has to happen is for something to occur to him.  His mind is very simple, really.  After all, his brain is only about the size of a walnut.)

 William the Wonder Cat - 21 - Clown

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 36:  December 9, 2012


It snowed today.  As I was walking down the sidewalk, a 20-something young girl was walking towards me.  I saw what I thought was a pile of snow on her head – not the kind that may have accumulated as she was walking down the street, but an actual pile, more or less like a half a snowball on top of her head.  I thought to myself, “Surely this is a bow or a pom-pom on a hat.”  But, no.  It wasn’t – it was a pile of snow.  And I doubt that she was unaware that it was there. (If so, she may have tilted her head a bit and some of it would have spilled.)  So, yeah – I saw what I thought I saw.  But, after all, this IS Kreuzberg!!


Apparently our German bank is offering something to be excited about!  Unisex rates for financial planning!  Wonder what it IS?  [Sometimes the automated translation leaves something to be desired.  For example, the word for ATM is ‘Geldautomat’ and sometimes the automated translator yields something like ‘Money car mat’ – Geld = Money; Auto = Car; and, well, Mat just has to manage for itself, without the ‘help’ of the translator!]  [Later:  Determined that these ‘unisex’ rates are for life insurance, which actually seems to benefit MEN!  Because women live longer than men (and therefore would be paying premiums longer than men), it would seem that women should have LOWER rates, wouldn’t it?  So, in this case, making ‘women equal to men’ is actually a disadvantage for women.  Why am I not surprised?]


 If the word ‘incredulity’ in Webster’s were accompanied by a photograph, it would have to be of the look on Ms. Electra’s face recently.  We typically give the cats snacks throughout the day, but William, the Wonder Cat, has been showing signs of getting a bit chunky, so we thought we’d try reducing the size of their portions.  The first time I tried it, I swear, Electra stared at her bowl for 5 solid seconds (time it – it’s actually a loooong time!), then looked up at me, then back at the bowl, then back at me for 5 seconds, and only then did she deign to eat the meager portion I had set before her.  She was, indeed, totally incredulous!

 And here we have Electra, in all her incredulity (and her perpetually dirty ears, because, not only does she just have waxy ears, but her brother refuses to groom her, despite her fervent efforts to groom him)!

Electra incredulous


 We went to a Christmas Market at Potsdamer Platz, which also has a huge shopping arcade.  Wisely, the shops are open late, as are the public restrooms in the arcade – lots of folks drinking lots of beer and Glühwein.  And there was even a special restroom attendant to direct traffic.  She, of course, was facing the incoming traffic and pointing to the appropriate restroom.  That would have been sufficient.  But she also decided to enhance her services by saying ‘Rechts’ (right) or ‘Links’ (left).  And, naturally enough, she was saying ‘Rechts’ or ‘Links’ based on HER right and left, rather than the right and left of the incoming traffic.  So, when I SEE her pointing to MY left but SAYING ‘right’, I stand there for a moment, a bit perplexed.  I’m sure she’s wondering why all these folks seem to have a problem with her simple, explicit directions!


 My soon-to-be-5-year-old granddaughter has managed to memorize the dialogue between the Queen and her mirror in Snow White.  Having demonstrated this achievement, she wanted to act it out, where, she (of course!) would be Snow White and I would play all the other parts.  When it came time for the Prince to kiss her, I gave her a big pretend kiss (as she shuns real kisses from anyone other than her mother).  Then she demanded a SECOND kiss!  I’m afraid to even begin to imagine what this portends for her future relationships.

 Speaking of granddaughters, the blog’s resident artist, Evie Fullingim, has yet another cartoon offering from her granddaughter, Maddie Johnson.  In all fairness to William, however, this is one thing that he doesn’t do that much.  [I’m almost afraid to say that, as he might start doing it before I even finish typing this!]  He actually USES the scratching mat we got for him – his one concession to otherwise fervently executing his mission to destroy our flat and everything in it.

William the Wonder Cat - 20 - Shredding Chair

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

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 35:  October 20, 2012


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 33:  August 9, 2012


The US has Fathers’ Day, a day in which men gratefully receive yet another tie, or a delightful handmade gift from the kids, and spend the day with their families.  And, in the US some families celebrate Ascension Day, although this is a religious day that doesn’t come with all the trappings as other holidays, such as Christmas and Easter.

Germany, on the other hand, has something known as Men’s Day, which differs quite a bit from Fathers’ Day in that this is a day that men – fathers or not – spend with other men, getting drunk and generally making fools of themselves.  For example, early in the afternoon of Men’s Day, we encountered a group of men on the S-bahn who have apparently celebrated Men’s Day as a group for several years.  They first made their presence known to us as our train pulled into the station, where they were waiting to get aboard.  One of them hit the side of the train with his first just as we were pulling in.  Personally, I don’t find a loud thud while you’re aboard a moving vehicle to be a particularly comforting sound.  We shortly realized that we weren’t fixing to die, but rather were in the presence of some highly inebriated Germans.  What clued us into the fact that they were together was that they were all wearing matching purple T-shirts.  On the front, the shirts showed that these guys had been getting together for about 10 years – 2000 – 2012.  There were also some sayings on the backs of the shirts, but these weren’t all the same.  I don’t know whether these were randomly selected or whether each man got to choose his own saying.  You see a lot of T-shirts here with things in English printed on them, and you hope to God that if they really knew what these things said, and how offensive they are, they wouldn’t have selected them.  The one that really caught my eye was, “Show Me Your Genitals!”  I had to wonder what they would have done if this if I had dropped my drawers and shown them my 67-year-old genitals.   Even if they knew what the phrase said, I’m pretty sure that this was NOT what they may have had in mind.  And to really set off the purple shirts, these guys were also wearing purple sequined cowboy hats.  Kinda made me think of the Village People (not that there’s anything wrong with the Village People).

One of the more gregarious guys sat down near us and began a conversation.  I decided to try to reply in German.  Well, it’s abundantly clear to even the most inebriated German that I am not a native speaker.  And, as if often the case, this guy asked me if I came from the Netherlands (which, in German, is pronounced pretty much as ‘Nederland’).  This always amused me because I went to high school in a small town in Texas founded by a bunch of Cutch folks, so I actually DO come from Nederland.  In the course of the conversation, an American friend who was visiting with us asked the guy if they always celebrated the Ascension of Christ by going out and drunk, to which the guy replied, “Hey, it’s GERMANY, dude!”  Well, I guess that pretty much explains it!


I bought some new eye shadow today – a nice pink.  I wasn’t really paying attention to the brand – I knew it wasn’t something I knew, like L’Oreal or Maybelline, but nothing beyond that really registered.  Until I got it home.  Think of the absolutely most absurd concept to associate with a 67-year-old, tremendously over-weight grandma.  Whatever you’re thinking doesn’t ever come close.  How about this – Miami Roller Girl!  I’m probably not the target audience for this company’s products.


To quote my former boss whenever something occurred that was absolutely expected – SHOCKER!  I got a letter from the police today informing me that, oddly enough, they have not apprehended the slime-ball who stole my wallet and that they are discontinuing the investigation.  Go figure!


You know, even I understand that different countries don’t necessarily celebrate the same holidays.  For example, it’s no mystery why they don’t celebrate George Washington’s Birthday here – they don’t have a George Washington.  (Or, maybe they do, but it’s not the same one whose birthday we celebrate in the States.)  But, really, they DO have a July 4th here, right?  I can see it right there on the calendar.  It doesn’t go July 1, July 2, July 3, July 5, does it?  No!  They have July the 4th here – so why don’t they celebrate it?  Furthermore, the traditional menu includes two items named after German cities – frankfurters and hamburgers – accompanied by another German staple – potato salad.  The celebration also involves drinking beer and shooting fireworks – which are all very German things to do!!  Besides, there was a ‘July 4th’ in Germany long before there was one in the States.  I’m pretty sure that the folks living in America before Columbus didn’t use a calendar that had “July 4th” on it.   (Undoubtedly, those same folks are at best ambivalent about celebrating July 4th today, much as they aren’t too keen on celebrating Columbus Day, either, for similar reasons.)






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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

(2)    A form of theft.

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

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

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


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


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