Sunday, June 27, 2004

Protect And Serve

So I may have giggled about the cops in Karstadt yesterday (which -- d'oh! -- was Christopher Street Day, so no wonder all the action), but on my way back from Karstadt I saw, on the tabloid newsbriefs on the little screen in the subway car, a truly worthwhile use of the money paid to the Berlin Police, more vital than the Police Big Band or their award-winning trick motorcycle-riding team: this weekend, the Grill Police are out in the Tiergarten!

The Tiergarten is one of the wonders of this city, a central park much safer than Central Park, but just about as big. It starts at the Zoo and spreads out until just before the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, encompassing all manner of gardens, and flat lawns perfect for picnics.

But you'd better not grill. Nope: grilling is, if not actually illegal, very strictly regulated here. Now, given that about 100% of Berlin's buildings are concrete, brick, or stone, this may seem a bit odd, but it's not just about fire. The screen (it's written by the Bild Zeitung, one of the more moronic tabs) said it was about garbage, and unfortunately they're partially right.

Still, it's not like grilling is a part of Berlin life. In fact, neither grilling nor broiling has much to do with the local cuisine, although I just got back from a "grill party," about which more in a minute. I've never owned a stove with a broiler, though. Broiling lets the fat drip off the meat, and the preference here is for as much fat as possible. Maybe it has to do with the harsh winters, or maybe Berliners metabolize the stuff better, because you'll see more morbid obesity in Buffalo than in Berlin.

Grilling is something you do with sausages and tough cuts of meat (neck-steaks, they're called, a part of the pig Americans know as sirloin chops, described in a recent Cooks Illustrated as "tough, dry, and tasteless"), more rarely with chicken, and never with beef. Sausages make the most sense because the charcoal here is dead in minutes. And where you do it is in the country, at your allotment-house, or at the beach, not at home. If you do, you have to notify the neighbors, any of whom, I believe, is allowed to veto your plans. You are allowed to do this exactly twice in a twelve-month period.

But, like I said, it's not like it's something that's a German tradition. But it is a Turkish tradition, and that's the subtext of the police fanning out in the Tiergarten this weekend, handing out €20 tickets for unauthorized grilling, or grilling in unauthorized places. I used to live right next to the Tiergarten and do my daily exercise walk through it, and on weekends, it reminded me of Texas, where you'd drive through a neighborhood on a weekend and it was like jumping into a huge pile of brisket. The Turks -- and the Kurds and the Arabs and the various Balkan folk -- grill their little heads off all weekend long in the Tiergarten and anywhere else they can get a few square feet of space: Görlitzer Park, over in Kreuzberg, which is heavily Turkish, smells like the biggest Turkish barbeque in the world.

And although Berlin's multicultural, that multi-cult applies to the Germans, too: there are several German cultures here, and while one of them is the one that attracted me here, being intellectual, curious, and (all too) willing to put on the trappings of other cultures, there's also one that's xenophobic, close-minded, and punitive. Guess which German culture contributes the police?

But lest you get all bleeding-heart on the grillers, I have to say that because I regularly passed among them, not only in the Tiergarten but in the Volkspark Wilmersdorf, near my next apartment, there's a sad tendency to eat and run on the part of a lot of them. Naturally, where grilling isn't allowed, the parks authority isn't going to erect garbage cans big enough to dump a picnic's worth of trash, either. But I've come upon whole lamb carcasses, picked clean and just dumped in a pit dug into the lawn, and huge pyramids of plastic bottles, soda cans, plastic cups, and food leavings just sitting there. An awful lot of these immigrants are from very rural areas, and have never lived in a city before, and since no one here seems to want to talk gently to them and explain things, they just do what they'd do back home.

That said, the vast majority of the Turks, Arabs, and so on who sit on sunny days in the parks and grill kebabs and such pick up nicely after themselves. I may not like their food much (it smells better than it tastes, in my experience), and I may bristle at the way the women do all the work while the men sip tea and crack open pistachios, and then get to eat what's left over once the men are full, and I admit I did get very upset one day when a girl, flirting with a boy, pretended to steal his bicycle and he grabbed her and beat her to the ground while a dozen men yelled "Yallah!" and applauded (I couldn't very well have done much, I keep telling myself), but the piles of waste were the exception, not the rule, not with that many people on that huge an expanse of green.

Still, rules are rules, and Turks are Turks, and must be controlled. One of the few ways you can become a German citizen if you don't have German blood is to demonstrate a German sense of Ordnung, which is, loosely, order (although it has a much wider meaning than that). So if you lack the Ordnung to control your urge to grill, you will be fined.

As far as grilling at home, that's about the food odor laws, which means that if I go into that, I'll have to tell the Garlic Story. Better to save that for another day. Suffice it to say that the grill-party I went to was deep, deep in the 'burbs, down in Alt-Mariendorf, so far south in Berlin that it's practically North Munich, and the grill was placed a long distance from the house, and not used very long. It was Karen and Michael's daughter Amalia's second birthday party (although her birthday was actually Friday) and Karen's double-dynamite pasta-and-tuna salad was on hand, as well as those grilled Bratwurst. I guess I was poorly placed for any food odors, but then, the Wurstchen only took a few mintues, and Michael's dad did a great job with them.

1 comment:

Daniel Rubin said...

Ed - Great to learn of your biting blog. This way I can get your savory rants and not have to wear out a pair of soles schlepping around Mitte. It's been a year since we moved back to Philly. Is Berlin radio any better? Do they still feel the need to talk over the songs, and what is so awful about guitars that they can't play three songs in a row that rock? Anyway, I miss the downstairs bakery, and people staring daggers when I don't wait for the walk sign. I miss the way they feel the need to say hello in the proctologist's waiting room, yet avoid eye contact on the sidewalk. And the 'reserved' signs on restaurant tables that won't be occupied for two more hours - I promise we'll be thru by then; we're Americans. I miss the hookers falling face first onto the sidewalk outside the Chimpansee bar at 7:30 a.m. as I'm walking the boys to their bus stop. I miss the seven to eight minutes at the Pinguin bar as my beer became suitable for drinking. I miss $5 bottles of French wine but not the $35 to get a key made. I'm sorry I never registered my dog. Is it too late?