Saturday, December 31, 2005

Another New Year's Ritual

I'd like to thank Joe for sending me this link to a story from Slate about a New Year's custom here I'd forgotten about, mostly because nobody I know indulges in it. I failed to mention it in last year's roundup of German New Years customs, but this article does a great job of summing things up and an excellent job of analyzing its popularity. (Good to know that, their dismissive e-mails to me notwithstanding, Slate is now printing stories from Germany about somsething other than Nazis and Jews!)

You can watch the whole thing here if you don't live in Germany or somewhere else where Google's video service is disabled. Not realizing the whole film was only ten minutes and fifty seconds, I'd never seen it myself -- and, thanks to Google, still haven't. Maybe some day I'll find out why Google Video isn't available to me, but meanwhile, you can watch, wonder, and maybe enjoy yourself.

As for me, I'm staying in tonight, cooking enchiladas with the last of the leftover turkey from Sunday night and the last tortillas from my freezer (time for some more visitors from America!), then slapping on the headphones (or maybe not -- it's New Year's Eve, after all) and listening to music by (as yet unchosen) dead people.

In other words, same procedure as last year.

Gute Rutsch, y'all!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Here It Comes!

Dang Germans can't get anything right, can they? A number of us got together last night for a nice (if I do say it myself, having cooked it) Christmas turkey dinner and stimulating conversation, but did we get Irving Berlin's legendary white Christmas? No!

Then I wake up this morning, and this is the view out the back window.

To be fair, it may not be Christmas where you are, but it still is here where I am. Christmas in Germany is a two and a half day affair, beginning with the gift-giving on the 24th (Heiligabend -- Holy Evening), then the feasting on the 25th (erste Weihnacht), and, presumably, dyspepsia and hangover on the 26th (zweite Weihnacht). So that meant that when I woke up to this sight, I just shrugged. I wasn't planning to leave the house anyway; the closest I came was opening the back door to shoot this photo.

The first snow always gives me a nice warm feeling, but I expect it'll have dissipated in a couple of days when the stuff turns to sludge, refreezes, and becomes sort of the base of all the sidewalks and roads. In a couple of months the sight of snow falling when I wake up will provoke a groan. By late April, I'll be downright angry, except I think that this April I'll be moving instead. But you get the picture.

By now, of course, it's been dark for over an hour, and last I noticed the snow was still falling. And tomorrow's another day, but one in which the winter will have settled in for its four-month residency, now replete with all the furnishings.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Card '05

From last night's trip to the Christmas markets. There are a couple more at my Flickr account, if you're interested. What we have here is a crowd of Rauchermännchen, little smoking-men. You twist them at the waist and they come apart, revealing a place where you can put a cone of incense. Then, after you put them back together, they puff smoke through the round hole.

Anyway, I associate them with Christmas here, so they make a good motif for this year's Berlin Christmas card.

Daddio On The Raddio

Wow, I hope not too many of you tuned in to that streaming radio broadcast the other night! A complete and total disaster, but not the fault of anyone involved.

The venue was very odd indeed, a dusty old pub in Prenzlauer Berg, presided over by a guy with long silver hair who used to be a top DJ in the DDR. Various very primitive electric guitars had been nailed to the wall and ceiling, and in the corner of the bar next to the front window, two laptops were delivering Rockradio, while the moderator walked around with a wireless mike. I didn't really see where we were going to put the two CD players Natalie had brought, nor the suitcase full of CDs I'd schlepped up there, but they cleared off a stool and we stuck the players up there. I was then walled in with a table on which I put the CDs.

The big problem was the players. Unlike many you get these days, they had a display, but it was useless: it had this thing that looked like a wheel on it, but no place to display the track number! Who builds these things? (Answer: the Chinese). Who buys them? (Answer: people who don't want to spend a lot on a player for DVDs, MP3s, and all of that). So in order to cue up a track, I had to put my hand on the CD player, and press the forward button, feeling the head move each time until I'd counted up to the right track.

And even then it didn't necessarily work right. Half the show was my trying to cope with the wrong tracks, or the over-helpful engineer, Jörg, who, admittedly, was only trying to make things easier, but didn't, really, except when he held the mike for me to talk into.

The patrons were mostly guys in their late 40s and early 50s who sat around nursing beers, but most of the clientele seemed to be in the pool room in the back. One guy, clad in biker vest and denim, rushed out of that room after I played "Your Mind And I You Belong Together" by Love, attracted by the guitar solo, but that was the only clue I had that anyone there was paying attention.

Fortunately, I was able to stumble through it, and Natalie did a great job of seeing that I got passed the right CDs, and I also appreciate her bringing along some of the modern stuff, although we didn't get much of a chance to play it.

Best technical note of the evening was that as we left, the tram pulled up and took us right back to the 'hood, where I alit barely ten minutes later. But yikes, what a mess!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Weekend Crumbs

Yup, it's that time of year again. This was just shot down at the Sophienstr. Christmas market, which is the "Bio" one, where everything's supposed to be organic. True, they did have Neuland organic Bratwurst for sale, but most of it was tchotchkes from foreign lands, no doubt supported by charitable foundations who have the people over there churning this stuff out for these very markets. I came away disappointed, but that's because I went there looking for something specific from a vendor who wasn't there. Still, it's nice to stroll among the crowds of folks who are doing their level best to spend that Christmas bonus (in some cases, a full month's salary) before the day arrives.

I've got a date with the dancer to go to the more mainstream ones on Thursday, though, and should have some more pictures to go with that.


Monday night between 8 and 10pm, I'll be spinning discs and doing whatever you do to MP3s as part of a project I'm still not terribly clear on, but which is being put on by a group my friend Natalie belongs to. Last year they did a pretty good exhibition on "Ostrock," the rock created in East Germany for the teens there, and this year it's something about black rockers, so Natalie and I will be playing two hours of black rock at Speiche's Rock und Blues Kneipe, Raumerstr. 39, in Prenzlauer Berg. Just in case you're not in the area, you'll simultaneously be able to pick this up on Rockradio's website, but only streaming in real time, since this isn't going to be archived there. Working title for it is "50 Years of Black Rock," and yes, Esquerita will be honored.


One piece of public-transportation sauerkraut the Master neglected in yesterday's list: the ticket machines. It's bad enough that they take so long to print your ticket that I suspect there are tiny monks chained to scriptoria up inside the damn thing, but there always seems to be people standing in front of them trying to figure out how to work them. Folks, that touch-screen can deliver the goods in about six different languages, so just do it! The weird thing is, though, that most of the dumbfounded people who are keeping me from my ticket are German, staring at the screen trying to figure out what in the world is going on there. It's simple: for €2.10 it'll sell you a ticket. Now get out of the way and I'll demonstrate! Or did you just ride in on a horse-drawn wagon from Bavaria?


And, because this is the season, another gift from the mighty Nike, which went up a couple of weeks ago just outside that hipsters' hangout Caffe Burger on Torstr.

Stuff like this appearing almost makes enduring the crappy galleries here worthwhile.


More news as it happens!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Master Of Sauerkraut

Okay, I've met my match. A guy contacted me the other day and we started corresponding, and it turns out that not only has he been around here nearly as long as I have, he's also got pretty much the same complaints. In fact, he sent me a long e-mail so drenched in sauerkraut that I'm going to be posting it here, bits at a time.

What set this all off was his comment about how people here shop in pairs, so that one stands in line while the other dashes back and forth putting stuff in the shopping cart. As far as I can tell, this is the only good reason people form couples in this country; it makes this maneuver easier. Many's the time I've gotten in line behind some guy with four things in his cart, only to watch the number swell to forty by the time his girlfriend's added the rest of the shopping and he finally reaches the till.

Further shopping sauerkraut from The Master, with my comments underneath.

1. Massive carts block access to entire categories of food while the workers stock the shelves during shopping hours.

This is because nobody works a second past closing time. Nobody. That's why, back in the old days when a 7pm closing was mandatory (Federal law, and 2pm closing on Saturdays), stores would close at 6 instead, so that their employees would have time to shop and shut the place down. I was once blocked by a huge woman at the door to a supermarket because it was 5:55. I knew what I wanted -- a liter of milk, which I could see past her underarm hair -- but she refused to let me in. Anyway, they have to stock the store sometime, so it's during peak shopping hours.

2. One check-out line will be very very long while the next will be bizarrely short (the ones in the long line are herding)

Germans love to stand in lines. I don't know why this is, but it's definitely true. One Saturday I saw a guy look around until he found the longest line at the grocery store. After joining it, he reached in his pocket and produced a newspaper, which he began to read. Me, I'd rather get out of there and read the paper at home, but I don't fit in around here, as you may have noticed.

3. When it comes time to pay for the purchases, Germans behave as though they aren't quite certain they'd have to pay this time, taking forever to dig out their wallets/purses; taking forever to find the exact change; then taking forever to bag their things after paying (oblivious to the logjam they generate this way)...and THEN come back to dispute the cost of some item (a difference of 5 cents) 70% of the time.

Amen to this. They stand there while the clerk rings up dozens of items and then, presented with the total, they reach behind them, take off the backpack, untie the compartment, unzip the pocket, reach into it, and produce the wallet, out of which invariably comes a card of some sort. This is a novelty, using plastic at the store, and boy, do people like to do it. This means that the signature has to be scrutinized heavily by the cashier, too. After the receipt prints out, the tape gets handed to the consumer, who, as the Master notes, will stand there and tot up every item on it, after which comes the five-cent complaint (and it's almost invariably wrong).

The Master then passes on to the matter of cafes and bakeries, two places I don't spend much time in.

1. If a German lunch companion miraculously picks up the tab at a cafe he will NOT leave a tip; and if YOU then leave one in embarrassment he will pocket it with the comment that the service wasn't THAT good (I've had this happen twice)

And you're now 70 cents down. I should, however, say that overtipping is something I see Americans do a lot of here, and it's almost impossible to convince them that the server's making a decent living without the tips. Really: dinner cost €38? Leave 40. Nobody'll get angry, really.

2. You're sitting at your tiny table, minding your own business...and a stranger takes a seat at it (after asking if it's all right...50% of the time); the table does NOT come with the price of your purchase, no matter how small it is.

Meanwhile the other three tables in the place are empty.

3. Bees all over your future bakery purchases in the summer (no technology for closed cases); counter help hands all over your future bakery purchases all year round.

Technically, those are yellow jackets or wasps, but I was completely grossed out by this the first time I saw it: there were dozens of them in this pastry display at an outdoor market. Bad enough these beasts can't stay away from you when you're eating outdoors in summertime (although they seem not to like alcohol), but why people put up with them all over the cakes and so on I can't say. And yeah, sanitation isn't a big deal in bakeries, is it?

Journey with us now as the Master steps onto our fabled public transportation system!

1. Talent with a moderately in-tune instrument, or being able to sing at all, are mere formalities in the mind of the German busker.

Hate to break this to you, buddy, but those buskers aren't German. The Russian Mob has a monopoly on buskers -- the licensed ones, at least -- because they have a deal that they pick up the daily permits at 6:30am or whatever hideous hour they're handed out. The illegal ones in the summertime seem to all come from Romania, even the ones trying to play "Lady of Spain" as a tango.

2. German beggars are exasperated at your grotesque unwilligness to shell out; small contributions are considered a provocation; they are never cute or witty about it; they represent your CONSCIENCE.

Which makes me wonder: doesn't the German social net cover these people? That said, I once knew a woman who got so tired of beggars that she went out and tried it herself for a day, just to see how much they could make. She came home four hours later, with DM 25 in her pocket. Along Friedrichstr. of late there've been some Middle-Eastern-looking guys with identical laminated computer-printed cards with their supposed malady and sad situation printed on them. Organized beggars? Can you say Fagin?

3. The s-bahn is absolutely packed to the limit: jam that bicycle in ANYway (because you have a right to)...there's no reason that YOU should have to look for an emptier wagon or even wait four minutes for the next train (if you're German, that is: let some Ausländer try to cram in there and see the looks given...).

One more reason I'm glad I don't own a bike, although my main complaint is that I somehow always manage to land on the train about 2pm, right as school lets out. I think they should have separate cars on the trains for children and teenagers, and ones for human beings...errr, I mean adults.

4. If you're German, run to the front or back of the train before entering because the station exit at your destination is nearer the front or back of the train and this will save valuable time later; do this even if the train is seconds from leaving the station and you're far from the wagon you is imperative!

I'm guilty of this to some extent, because trains are long and who wants to buck crowds headed in the opposite direction once you get into the station, but I don't make it stress me out. But this phenomenon you've noticed may actually be an expression of the superstition that the controllers, the guys who check the tickets (you just buy them and stick 'em in your pocket here, folks, on the honor system, and sometimes guys with laminates whip them out and ask for them, but usually not), never ride in the first or last car. I've had this repeated to me as gospel many times, along with a similar superstition that they quit at 5pm. Nope.

5. Germans react to scary crypto-fascist packs of soccer hooligans rocking the train with loud songs and deafening chants with shared glances of boys-will-be-boys bemusement; if you are uncomfortable with this, it's because you are weak and must die.

My worst encounter along these lines was in Hamburg, when the train stopped on a bridge over the harbor, and the, uh, sports fans who'd been bellowing out their team song started jumping up and down in unison. It's always a lot of fun to be in one of these situations with an American friend who still believes that Hitler's ghost is lurking around somewhere, because the volume and the vehemence with which these songs get delivered can be pretty intense. Best advice: stay off of trains running to the Olympic Stadium. And leave town before the World Cup gets here in June!

6. Kebabs

"You are going on U-Bahn? I give you extra onions, no charge!" Passive aggression against his oppressor by the wily Turk? Or simply a sad reflection of the small number of fast-food choices here. It could be worse: it could be Asiapfanne.

And some miscellany:

Exits, entrances, escalators, aisles, sidewalks:

Germans like blocking them.

On the money.

At least once in your life, a German with a few years of English under his or her belt WILL attempt to gainsay your knowledge of...English.

Happened to a friend of mine who was reduced to writing for the old Tourismus & Marketing handout Berlin/Berlin, their allegedly bilingual quarterly what's-going-on mag. This woman had a long journalism career behind her in the States, and was working for a couple of prestigious publications as their Berlin stringer, but somehow her copy didn't please the German woman who was editing her. She was finally asked not to contribute any more because her knowledge of English was so bad. I wish I had a copy of Berlin/Berlin handy so I could quote some good English from it. They had some howlers in there, but I think the thing's been discontinued.

If you want a German girl to respect you, dump her first; THEN have sex with her

After all these years I find out what I've been doing wrong.

If you're German, and something is not illegal, but merely anti-social, you have a perfect right to do it...and complain about it bitterly when others follow suit.

See what I mean? This guy -- errr, I promised confidentiality, so by no means should you assume that this person is male, incidentally -- has obviously been here, as claimed, for ten years.

I feel better, cleansed by sauerkraut. Now there's the question of whether or not I should go out into the world and gather some more material for more, or just rest on the accomplishment that the Master has given us for today's meditation.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Obligatory Lennon Post

Yes, it's the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's shooting, and yes, I remember quite clearly where I was at the time because I was a newspaper reporter and that was my beat: pop music.

The weird thing was, I knew Yoko Ono before I knew John Lennon. I used to scour the Village Voice for weird art and performance and music happenings when I was a junior high school student, and through that I wound up at the New York Avant-Garde Festival, held at Judon Hall, every year. I think it was curated by Charlotte Moorman, the "topless cellist," and I got to see a lot of fabulous performances there. Yoko I remember as a quiet, short woman selling books in the part of the hall where artists could sell their stuff (I signed up for the Fluxus Newsletter there, and still have a few of them), including a book called Grapefruit and also snippets from a reel of recording tape labelled "Snow Falling In Kyoto." She was selling it by the inch.

The two announced their partnership while I was at Rolling Stone, causing the first of what were to be many problems between me and editor/publisher/boy genius Jann Wenner. We were having an editorial meeting and he announced "I have news from London that John Lennon's going out with someone named Yoko Ono." I burst out "Yoko Ono's going out with John Lennon?" and Wenner sneered at me "Oh, I suppose you know who she is." I, being the naive 21-year-old I was, immediately launched into a description of her art and her background and so on, which I babbled out and then encountered a truly frosty silence from the boss. Some months later, the happy couple, smashed on heroin, visited the offices, and Wenner showed them around, introducing us to them, as in "and this is..." They were so out of focus, I'm still not convinced John actually saw me, or Yoko, either. I said hi, but he just grunted.

Ten years later, I was in Austin, Texas, working at the Austin American-Statesman, the local daily. The big issue in my pop music world at that point was a very delicate issue. Armadillo World Headquarters, the local psychedelic dungeon (a former National Guard armory), one with a really amazing booking policy, was going to be demolished to make way for...well, maybe a hotel. Actually, nobody knew. There was amazing opposition in the community, but I was under strict orders not to editorialize about it, probably because there was some corrupt connection between the owners of the paper and the developers who were grabbing the land. Instead, I made sure I covered it as thoroughly as I could and tried to slant my coverage in a way that I quoted others saying what I felt about this destruction of an important local cultural institution.

The Armadillo, though, was doomed by December, 1980, and had booked its last month of concerts, and I was out covering an Asleep At The Wheel/Charlie Daniels Band show when someone found me in the crowd and told me that Lennon had been shot. I think I was waiting to interview Charlie Daniels, but I remember going backstage and making excuses to someone, and telling Asleep At The Wheel's Ray Benson what I'd heard. Then I jumped in my car, went to the newsroom, and watched the feed coming in off the wires. When it appeared they had the shooter in hand and had locked him up, I went home, grabbed a couple hours' sleep, and then commenced telephoning people I knew in England to get comments.

My first victim was my old pal Pete Frame, he of Rock Family Trees fame, and after he got over his shock, he gave me some phone numbers of people who should know. I called a number of people in Liverpool, and managed to find Echo and the Bunnymen's bassist, Les Pattinson, who gave me a really good, moving quote as to how Liverpool's younger generation felt about Lennon as both a figure they resented and rejected, but also someone who, after they got their feet a bit wet in the music business, they came to admire. I ran into work with my notebook bulging, made a few more calls, and wrote up what I thought was a first-rate story. What did the paper do? They hid it way in the back pages, and didn't even put it out on the wires. That may have been the day I decided that busting my butt for those people was, perhaps, a losing proposition, a conclusion I'd certainly reached a couple of years later.

As for me, I wasn't so much devastated by Lennon's death -- I'd long considered him a self-indulgent songwriter on his own, and one who certainly wouldn't have had as much attention paid to him if he hadn't been an ex-Beatle -- as I was by the way it went down. By then, I'd been around the pop business long enough to know plenty of obsessives, pepole who maybe weren't right in the head, but had their useful side when it came to finding out stuff about whichever personality they were obesessed by, even though you tried to get the info and get the hell away before their vibe leached off onto you. I'd never met one with a gun before, and that was the part that got to me.

I've mellowed slightly in my feelings about Lennon, but I remain firm in believing that groups are more than the sum of their parts, and leaving for a solo career, nine times out of ten, means that the quality of your art is about to go down precipitously. None of the ex-Beatles were close to what they'd been as Beatles. That includes John, his posthumous deification notwithstanding. And since I know that's going to piss people off, I invite the pissed-off to examine their relationship to nostalgia, the most destructive and limiting way to look at art you've experienced, since it usually means you've found a way to seal yourself off from the reality of both the art of the past and of the present.

Beware geeks with guns, and remember John by going to a show or buying a record by someone who's following in his footsteps right now. I think he'd appreciate it.

Getting Meta

Lord, that last post was bad.

I mean, I got a lot of what I wanted into it, but because I've set myself this write-and-edit-in-an-hour goal, and because wading through all those noisy Flash beer-company websites took so long, I didn't come down the stretch very gracefully. I've been doing a lot of that recently; I sent in a column to Paste on Ace Records' 30th anniversary, and tried to cram too much into the small space they allotted me. Not real happy about it, because that record company has provided me with a lot of valuable resources for Fresh Air and other places.

So this time, trying to play beat the clock, I shoehorned a bunch of stuff together -- Germany's maddening lack of sense of seasonal cooking, the corporate movements of the German beer industry, the increasing homogenization of culture (at least in Berlin), and the overwhelming depression around here -- into a lumpy, indigestable stew.

At some point, I may revisit this and rework it. I'm sorry for readers who got confused trying to read it.

Anyway, this entry took me five minutes to write, and took a couple of days to think out. There's a lesson for me in there somewhere.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Beer Crisis

I've often remarked that the Germans, at least in this part of the country, have no sense whatever of seasonal cuisine. Many's the summer when, broiling in my apartment, I've left to take a walk on a Sunday afternoon and smelled the halls redolent with roasting pork -- the same roast pork as you'd get on a Sunday like today. There are times of the year when things are traditionally eaten, of course: St. Martin's Day, Nov. 12, is when you eat roast goose and red cabbage, and New Year's sees people in this part of the country eating (shudder) carp, but it's not like you can't get those things year round. To the extent that a Berliner observes the seasons' changing on the table, it's to the extent that that Berliner eats Italian food, which is very much the thing with a certain age cohort here.

So when there's a fabulous seasonal product, I want it. Especially when it seems to go well with the dictates of the current season, being warming and compatible with the kind of food I tend to eat in cold weather. I'm referring to dark bock beer.

Now, when I first moved here, this was no problem. The supermarkets had dozens of brands of beer, and when dark bock season came, they'd have special displays to let the customers know they were here. This was in marked contrast to the way things were when the city was divided: back then, West Berlin had a reputation for awful beer, and it was well-deserved. You had your choice between Schultheiss, which was awful, and Berliner Kindl, which wasn't any better, although they made a premium brand called Jubiläums Pilsener that was barely acceptable. (There was also a brand called Engelhardt Charlottenburger Pilsner that was only available on draft and was totally undrinkable, by which I mean you'd probably never take a second sip).

One thing adventurous travellers knew when they crossed the Wall, however, was that the East Berlin Schultheiss and Kindl actually tasted good: the Communists had just taken over the brands and continued to make them the way they'd always been made, while the rocket scientists in the West were trying out marketing strategies and tinkering with the recipes. So when the city was reunited, the two biggies grabbed the cross-town rivals: Schultheiss took over Berliner Pilsner over on the colorfully-named Indira-Ghandi-Str. and Kindl zoomed in on Berlin's oldest brewery, Berliner Bürgerbräu. So most of the year, I enjoy the crisp, dry, hoppy flavor of BP, but in the winter, I look for this:

True, it's not the best bock I've had since I've been here, but the best one was from the Bärenpils brewery, which used to exist in a tiny town northeast of Berlin, and has now been gobbled up as a brand by Kindl. (The very best German bock of all, as most people will agree, comes from just outside Munich, where the medieval monastery of Andechs makes an astonishing dark bock, along with many other great beers). Schultheiss claims it still makes a bock, although I've never seen it for sale, and I do remember Kindl's being way too sweet and giving me a powerful headache after one bottle.

So (are you thirsty yet?) once I realized that Bürgerbräu was available at the market across the street, there'd be a day each year when I'd just switch, and that's what I'd be drinking, for the most part, between Thanksgiving and sometime in March, since it would always have vanished from the shops by the time I got back from my annual visit to SXSW. It's nice and malty, not very sweet at all, a bit thin on the finish compared to Andechs, perhaps, but hey, it's cheap, it's local, and it's from a really nice place.

That picture of the brewery on the lake is no joke: it snuggles up to the shore of the Müggelsee, and is attached to Friedrichshagen, which I think is the latest of all the Bezirke (boroughs) to be added to Berlin: the Communists just grabbed the little village one day so they could have more Bezirke than the West had. It's still a charming corner of Berlin, particularly when Bürgerbräu has its brewery-fest: you get off the S-Bahn and walk down the long main street, which is lined with the peculiar village architecture of this part of Germany, with subdued Italianate houses -- can't have too much ostentation! -- and tall-roofed farm buildings still evident among the usual clutter of Döner Kebap stands and so on. At the end of the street is the brewery, and I'm told that the restaurant built into its walls is one of the best traditional German restaurants in town. Unfortunately, when the weather's right for that kind of thing, I find it a rather long ride -- about 40 minutes from Friedrichstr. -- so I've never tried it. But during the festival, there are tables all over the place and light snacks available as you slug down some of the local product. The brewery even has a sign on the gate leading out of it, for departing workers and guests: "Be true to Friedrichshagen: buy Bürgerbräu beer!"

But I'm wondering if something's happened down there. Bürgerbräu is no longer listed among Kindl's holdings on its website, and looks to have gone independent again. Perhaps this is why it's also vanishing from the stores: the place across from me no longer carries any of their beers, and virtually none of the Turkish stores and kiosks and the like have it. My supermarket, on the other hand, carries the pils and the Rotkelchen, but it hasn't added the bock this year. I've only found one place in my whole neighborhood -- ironically, another branch of the much bigger supermarket I usually go to -- which carries it.

Now, one weird thing about Germany's economic system is that consumer demand doesn't always reflect itself in the retail sector. Someone figured out that people will buy stuff if you have it out for them, even if it's not exactly what they want, and in turn, people passively consume what they're offered and don't complain. So I don't know if Bürgerbräu is being frozen out of the market, or if people here have been drinking less and less dark bock in the winter. If so, it's another disturbing whiff of the alienation and depression I'm picking up from people in the streets here, a kind of trudging fatalism that isn't so much seasonal as, at this point, endemic.

I still vote with my pocketbook, though, so the "little brewery in the greenery" will be getting my vote this winter as long as I'm able to cast it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

News Of The Hood

Whew, I just walked down Friedrichstr. to Galleries Lafayette to pick up some supplies for dinner, so I hope you don't mind if I warm my fingers up by typing some before I have to go out and buy the rest of the ingredients.

Somehow, winter lowered the hammer while I was in Amsterdam. One day I was there, the headlines in the Dutch papers said the whole country had been paralyzed by a gigantic snowstorm, and sure enough, as I rode back on Monday, the ground around the Dutch-German border was thick with newfallen snow. There was even some on the ground here when I got back, but it's long vanished. I guess I can't complain. It is, after all, December. Which means that it'll soon be time to go out to make a scientific survey of all the local Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) which seem to cover every square meter of otherwise-uninhabited land. I saw some today: there's a bunch of little sheds by the Westin Grand Hotel on Friedrichstr., one of which was offering "Gluh Kirschbier," which must be warm, spiced, kriek, an idea that does not appeal. Another offered big hunks of fatty pork, which was slightly more appealing.

But the real news is in the wasteland between the Palast der Republik and Humboldt University, where Vodafone has opened a skating rink and there seems to be a Weinachtsmarkt with a huge ferris wheel. Anyway, the dancer has served notice that we will, very soon, undertake this systematic study, and I'm looking forward to it. One thing the Germans do right is Christmas. And yeah, I'll try to take photos.


Another discovery I made on this walk is that the Bode Museum is open again. I'm not sure what's in it anymore, since they've shifted all the collections around to "rationalize" them in the wake of the city's reunification, but it would appear to be the collection of Byzantine and pre-Renaissance art, which makes it a priority for me. Plus, of course, it's the closest city museum to my house, and it's nice to have the forbidding domed thing unswathed with scaffolding for the first time in five years. (In fact, every time I looked at the scaffolding I got a nice feeling of schadenfreude. Back when I was trying to start my magazine, there was this odd guy who used to hang around at meetings but never seemed to want to do anything. Turned out he was spying on us, trying to learn how to get a magazine going, and get one going before we did. His "magazine" turned out to be a single sheet of paper folded in quarters, and the first -- and last -- issue was all about what to do in Berlin that summer, tops of which was a visit to the Bode Museum, which had been advertising for six months that it was about to shut for five years for renovation and rationalization of the collection, and, in fact, was closed by the time his pitiful pamphlet hit the streets.)

This will, in fact, make a nice project for the months before I leave: visit these newly-opened museums here and see what's in 'em. Since I'm not a 9-to-5er, going on a Tuesday afternoon in the winter often means having these places pretty much to myself.


Even closer to home, Tucholskystr.'s worst gallery, the Squares Of Color gallery (not its actual name, but there was a period of about three years when all the shows there were simply that: squares of color in various arrangements; the silly end was obviously coming when one artist, an American woman, displayed a wall full of those potholders kids make from loops of fabric), finally went out of business, so another eyesore on the way to the S-Bahn has been eliminated. What's replacing it until the end of the year is, according to the sign they put up a "Konked-Out X-Shop," which tells me nothing except that Germans should have to pass an exam before using English on signs. (Another candidate is the guy who's just opened a coffee-shop on Chausseestr. and has carefully etched into the window glass the fact that he serves "muffin's" and "bagel's.") Anyway, I've walked past this place a dozen times and, except for some clothes on hangars, I can't tell you what the concept is or what they're selling.


A reader in Italy wrote me an e-mail to ask what the story was with White Trash Fast Food, because apparently a guy she wants to go see was playing there on New Year's Eve. Their website said nothing except that they were reopening, but yesterday a friend came by and mentioned that he'd been to their opening party last week. They've relocated into one of Berlin's worst locations, a mammoth place just up from Torstr. on Schönhauser Allee that opened first as an Irish pub, then turned into another Irish pub, and then was four or five other things before it sat dark for a year or so. The pub area is large enough, but there's a huge club area downstairs: the place can easily hold 1000 people, which sort of puts into question the club's infamous exclusivity. Anyway, the website puts the official opening as tonight. Sorry I won't be able to report on it. I have other plans, and anyway, I'm sure I'd never get past the doorman. I sure hope so, anyway.


Okay, fingers are warm, so it's time to freeze 'em off again. More news as it happens.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Few Thoughts On The Cannabis Cup (While I Still Have Some)

I just got back last night from a fantastic trip to Amsterdam, where I got to see the Patti Smith Band perform four times in three days, all of which I had to sit down and write about for Paste magazine, as mentioned in the previous post, this morning. The first of her gigs was at the Cannabis Cup, the competition High Times magazine in the States runs during pot-harvest week, which culminated on Thanksgiving evening, Nov. 24.

Because a friend of mine was visiting Amsterdam and would leave on Friday morning early, and in order to be able to see him, I came in a day early, and after setting up a time to meet him, I decided to wander over to the Sugar Factory, a club across from Amsterdam's famous Melkweg club, to see what the hoo-hah was all about. For €20 I got a flimsy laminate which allowed me unlimited entry to the trade show for the next two days. For €110 I could have gotten a judge's pass, which would have entitled me to sample the entries, but that would have been both self-indulgent and counter-productive, since I would have been too paralyzed to do the job I was being paid to do. But I was still curious about what was going on.

Turns out the Sugar Factory is a rather small venue, and despite exhibitors setting up in a balcony and on the stage, it was pretty much too crowded to walk around in comfortably. As for the exhibits, they were pretty lame. There was a machine which allegedly "bubbled" the THC out of your waste products and made a sort of hash thereby, and a group of chemists who were selling a kit which enabled you to extract all the THC from pot or hash and turn it into a substance which could be ingested via a capsule ("I almost ruined my lungs forever," said one of the crew at this table, "but I haven't smoked anything in two years."), but mostly it was seed companies (four or five seeds from a good strain can set you back a couple of hundred Euros) and people with gewgaws like pipes and stash boxes and the like. The unhappiest exhibitor I saw was a mammoth black guy in the balcony who was trying to sell t-shirts and sweatshirts with a pot theme from his radio station, Alaska Hip-Hop. I don't think he moved a one of 'em.

Sure, you could get samples to smoke from the seed companies, but, again, I was wary of having to be alert and knew all too well how strong this stuff was. I probably picked up a bit of a contact high because the air in the Sugar Factory was thick with smoke, and I admit, it smelled good. It was against the law to be selling any or giving any away to be taken away, however, all part of the bureaucratic maze the Dutch have set up for the cannabis industry.

What was creepy was the crowd. Just walking around the Leidseplein, the general area in which it was held, you could pick out the C.C. attendees even without their laminates. For one, lots and lots of them were American. This makes sense because High Times sells tour packages from the U.S. For another, they were acting very, very stoned. This makes sense because unless they were being as puritanical as I was, they were very, very stoned. Third, they were dressed appallingly. Nearly every single person under 50 at this thing looked like they'd picked up their clothes from a heap on the floor and shrugged them on. This was because they were overwhelmingly male, of course. There was one hugely obese father-son couple, dressed in overalls, who were staggering around looking like stoned farmers. Of course, there's every reason to suspect that they were, and would perhaps smuggle back a few dozen of those expensive seeds to fund next year's expenses.

Now, you'll notice that I singled out people under 50. There was an interesting gap here. There were all the young stoners, vaguely hip-hoppish, but I'd say their cohort peaked at about 35. Between 35 and 45 there was virtually no one there. And then it picked up to people who were obvious veterans of the '60s. For the most part, they were rather straight-looking; I got talking with one during the awards ceremony (the first show that Patti played) and he claimed to have been a road manager and techie for dozens of bands during the '70s, now out of the biz and doing something he didn't specify based in Houston and Las Vegas. There was one prominent Texas writer, there out of curiosity. I only spotted one beads-and-bells hippie type, and he was apparently a beloved Amsterdam counterculture icon named Cosmos or something. But yes, there was a bit of grey hair around.

In the end, I decided that my pre-visit characterization of the event as being like Oktoberfest was pretty accurate. Like Oktoberfest, it celebrates only the local product, although Moroccan hash, illegally smuggled in but tolerated once in the country, was one of the categories being judged. Like Oktoberfest, once you've attended you'll likely not want to attend again if you have any taste or self-esteem, because no matter how much you may like the product being celebrated, you don't want to be associated with the, uh, "overserved" masses. (Unlike Oktoberfest, there was no equivalent to the "you must be seated to be served" rule which promotes and maintains a certain level of order in Munich). And, again like Oktoberfest, I'm willing to bet that any number of the coffeeshops in Amsterdam would be just as happy if the Cannabis Cup didn't happen next year, since they're doing quite well being the equivalent of a friendly neighborhood bar.

What irks me slightly, though, is that I wasn't able to sell a story on this event. I tried, sent out a damn good pitch letter, but was turned down flat. I wasn't interested in promoting the damn thing: in the pitch letter I said I'd be interviewing police, emergency medical folks who deal with over-stoned tourists, and the proprietors of little coffeeshops, as well as such celebs as might be around. But, whether it's the pall of conservatism which is still sitting over America, or the lack of interest in stories about Europe which I've always had to deal with, or the fact that nobody read far enough down in the thing to see that I wasn't asking to be flown in from New York, but to take a simple €68 round-trip train journey, I can't say.

So instead I did the story someone was willing to pay for, at least in part, and did a little half-assed snooping around to write the sadly incomplete and one-sided blog entry above. I'm not complaining; the Patti Smith shows were great, and it was wonderful to see my old pal Lenny Kaye again and hang out with him a little, and I got to go to my favorite Indonesian restaurant and my second-favorite Indonesian restaurant, and even have a bacon cheeseburger on Thanksgiving at the Hard Rock Cafe (hey, they make decent hamburgers, and when you live over here you occasionally let your base desires overwhelm your sense of good taste). I also picked up two liters of Beerenburg (see previous post), so I'm set for the winter.

Nope, not complaining. I just wish the U.S. media was a little less blinkered, that's all.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Another Decent Interval

Boy, I haven't even been back in Berlin long enough to get pissed off at it again, and I'm off on Wednesday for another adventure. This time it'll be a trip to Amsterdam, where I'll be doing a story on Patti Smith for Paste, the enigmatically-named music magazine. She's doing four "guerrilla" shows there, one closing the Cannabis Cup ceremonies, one at the van Gogh Museum, one at a tiny blues bar called Maloe Melo, and, apparently, another at the Paradiso, but I'm not sure what that's all about.

I'm looking forward, too, to bringing back a winter's supply of my favorite miracle drug. No, not *that* miracle drug. I mean Beerenburg, a herb liquor made in Friesland, in the north of Holland, which actually can prevent colds. In fact, during a long period of puritanism in that part of the world, Beerenburg was the only alcohol not banned, because as everyone knew, it was medicine, not a drink. My favorite, after sampling about a half-dozen varieties over the years, is made in the city of Sneek (pronounced "snake") by Weduwe Joustra, the widow Joustra, who's long since gone to her reward, but whose products are still being made. Her variety has 25 different herbs, but does not include one whose name (both Friesian and English) I've forgotten, which contains so much caffeine that it defeats the purpose of Beerenburg. I was introduced to the stuff by a friend who lived near Sneek when I showed up at his farmhouse one evening, clearly coming down with a cold. "Oh," he said, "I can help there. I'll be right back." He got on his bike and pedaled down to the nearest bar, bought a bottle, and came back. "This isn't the best, but it'll do," he said. A couple of glasses and I got real tired and went to sleep. The next morning I awoke, blew my nose a dozen times, and discovered that the impending cold seemed to be gone. I've now socked in a couple of bottles nearly every winter here, and proclaim it a wonder of folk medicine. The taste varies, and the first sip can seem bitter, but the best description of it I've been able to come up with is what Coca-Cola would taste like if it were a vintage beverage like wine, and this would be a well-aged Coke.

Anyway, should you find yourself in the Netherlands, I've been able to find the widow hanging out at Holland's largest chain of liquor stores, Gall & Gall, although if you're in Leeuwarden or Sneek, it's everywhere.

So if I don't post anything before I go, or anything from the road, I'll be back Monday evening.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Montpellier Aftermath

Wait, you were there for four days and you didn't take one photograph??

Well, not exactly. I took what I thought were two of a sunset, but it looks like only one of them registered with the camera, and I'm not sure it's all that good.

But I wasn't there to take photos; I was there to meet some people and look at some parts of town I'd missed before, try to figure out the public transportation, and, as I said, see where the fly might be in the ointment. That, I managed to find right where I expected: the bureaucracy. I was told that the French make it very hard for Americans to get a carte du séjour, a "green card," unless they're buying property. But I plan to play the same card I played here: native-language journalism. That's one that almost no natives can argue against. Anyway, immigration is, as you may have noticed, a bit of an issue in France at the moment.

In fact, I was shocked, getting to Paris, to start reading some of the commentary that the International Herald Tribune was publishing about the problems non-French people have getting jobs in France. Every time I've come to Paris, I've wound up in the Metro station at the Gare du Nord, and I've been virtually the only European face in the crowd. To think that there's no affirmative action program, that there's still such blatant discrimination...well, no wonder they're burning cars.

Except they weren't in Montpellier, at least not that I was aware of. Saturday night, when I got in, was as peaceful as could be, and I was so tired from the train trip that it was all I could do to grab a little dinner and stagger back to the hotel. Sunday was spent walking around a couple of quarters I'd missed before, most notably Beaux Arts, which is just north of the historic center and has a number of rather nicely funky old buildings in it. So does Arceaux, over by my hotel (incidentally, if you're a map freak like me and want to see where this stuff is, go to the Montpellier Tourist Office site and download the map they have there as a .pdf file). Arceaux might be more expensive, though. But I saw enough affordable-looking housing within the pedestrianized center that I'm still hoping to score something there.

Sunday night was cold and rainy and I spent far too much time walking around looking for a restaurant that was open. I not only wandered around on the hill for ages, but I came back to the hotel hoping the West Indian/African restaurant around the corner might be open, and it wasn't. The hotel clerk went through the guidebook he had and found a couple of places he thought would be open, but the first one wasn't and the other was clear over in Beaux Arts. It wasn't all that good, but it was okay, and it was, as I said, open.

Monday was meetings. I started off with lunch at an interesting chain restaurant which only has one thing on the menu, entrecote steak, with a mysterious "special sauce" they've made famous (I tasted sage, tarragon, anchovies and caper juice) with Peter, who runs The Languedoc Page, a wonderful resource for people in the area. The man's a born networker, and he's seemingly in touch with all the expat Brits and Americans around. After lunch, he conducted me on a whirlwind tour of the local seaside communities, which do look deserted at this time of year, and then we swung over to Aigues-Mortes, a walled city which had been a port when St. Louis launched the Seventh Crusade, and which still has a fortified church from the days of the religious wars. This was also close to the famous Camargue salt pans, which have been in use since Roman days, and which play host to flocks of pink flamingoes, the only ones in Europe, who get their color from eating tiny brine shrimp in the salt pans.

No sooner had he dropped me off at the end of the tram-line in Montpellier than I had to turn around and meet a couple of other people who are working on a project I can't reveal at the moment, but one with which I'm going to be involved. One of them, however, is in the real estate business and volunteered to help me with the apartment search when it becomes time for that, which is very good news indeed. Talk went late into the night, and I left with a feeling of optimism.

The next day I was going to have lunch with an Irish journalist who's lived in the area for decades, but she was still whacked from her last trip to London, so she didn't make it into town to meet me. Instead, I checked out the amazing market in front of the hotel again, which was a trifle less obscene in its offerings because it wasn't high summer (but it was still mightily inspiring) and then wandered around the city some more and looked at more odd corners, checked out the local mall, the Polygone, a bit more carefully for things that might come in handy, managed to stay out of the fantastic supermarket they have there and felt virtuous about not spending money there, and got back to the hotel for a really wide-ranging conversation with the Irish woman, who was the one who put me onto the possibility of immigration problems. But again, the conversation ended with her saying "I think you're really going to like it here," and the feeling that I could, despite everything, conquer the bureaucracy and the bullshit.

As I tend to do, I decided to try the Restaurant That's Never Open that night, and guess what? It wasn't open! That's three for three. Maybe when I move there... But then I'll be cooking for myself.

There was an odd symmetry the next morning. I set the alarm on my cell phone for 7:15, and it went off at 6:15 because it hadn't readjusted to standard time yet. Since I almost missed my train out on Friday because my alarm clock didn't go off and I slept for an extra hour, this was pretty ironic. And it was annoying having to wait four hours at the Gare du Nord, which was unheated despite its being cold as hell, and looking at the signs announcing wi-fi access, which neglected to mention that said access was only for people with certain cell-phone plans who could charge the access fees to their bills. I could have blogged from there instead of watching the clochard with the cat, a very deeply schizophrenic guy who kept packing and unpacking a bag and his pockets while his cat, on a leash, yowled at the other people in the waiting area. The guy took 90 minutes to get his act together, and it was painful to watch.

At any rate, it was great to get back to Amsterdam, discover a decent Indian restaurant there, and get back on the train to Berlin yesterday morning. Not that I was looking forward to coming back here, but I was very definitely looking forward to doing some more work to pay for all of this and turning around again this coming Wednesday to go back to Amsterdam to do a story on Patti Smith, my first rock-mag story in ages and ages.

It was a great trip, and I agree with everyone who said I'm going to like it there. Now to make sure I can afford it.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Listening To The Train

I've never understood people who have to be plugged in to music all the time when they go about their daily life, but then, for some reason, the amount of music I listen to has been decreasing steadily for a number of years. I'm not sure why that is, except for the Lesbian Threat (my next-door neighbors, nice ladies, both of 'em, but insistent that their time is more precious than mine and that if they hear any music after 10pm -- and that means 10:01 -- they won't be able to sleep, so they'll call the police) and the fact that I hate headphones.

But also, there are sounds all around us that sometimes have their own fascination. I discovered this the other night as I got on a so-called Sprinter train from Amsterdam to Utrecht (it's actually the kind we call milk trains, since it takes 15 minutes longer to get there than the other kind) on my way to go see Jon Dee Graham.

As the train gathered speed, I noticed the sound of a cheap electronic organ. I listened a bit harder, and realized I wasn't overhearing anyone's walkman, not unless they were playing something really dementedly minimalist and primitive. What it sounded like was a child messing around with the keyboard, its hands too small to actually play more than a range of just a few notes. The tones changed chromatically, and, busting up the image of the kid, there were occasional octave unisons. And this kept on and on until we got to a station, at which point it stopped until we got going again.

Now, this was baffling me. I remember the sound of the Montreal Metro, which I believe has rubber tires, as it takes off: a tone, its fifth, and the octave, after which it just stays there. That's all easily explained by phyiscs. Seconds, and seconds descending by a half-tone, is a bit harder to understand. But the train was almost empty, there wasn't any kid, or, strange as it may seem, anyone wearing ear-buds (that particularly painful type of listening device preferred by just about everyone, it seems). True, as the train sped up leaving a station, the "organ" would creep up the scale, sometimes by half-tones, sometimes by whole tones, so it was probably related to that. But by the time I found the Muziekcentrum at the edge of the Utrecht train station (right were Alex said it'd be), I felt I'd already had a concert.

I got another one, though: Jon Dee Graham's got a good solo act, and he plays his acoustic guitar so well you don't even miss his band, which, of course, he couldn't afford to bring over. Sounds like some good new material's being written, even if he doesn't have a record company, having had the ignominy of being dropped by an indie for not selling enough records, although he topped a lot of critics' top tens last year. Afterwards, I talked with him and Mike Stewart, who was road-managing this tour of Holland by train with him, and caught up on a bunch of stuff. And yes, I didn't go in to hear Grey DeLisle, because I was able to walk right onto a fast (but non-musical) train back to Amsterdam and make it to Kantijl en Tijger, my favorite Indonesian restaurant, well before they closed, and then, having started the day by waking up an hour late in Berlin and almost missing my train, heading back to the hotel for a few hours' well-deserved sleep before getting up at 7:30 to head to Paris and then to Montpellier.

Which is where I'm writing this from, as a matter of fact, because the great hotel where I stayed this summer has wi-fi in its rooms. In fact, I could probably post to this blog from my new Palm, but I suspect it'd be a pain.

I walked around some today, looking at some neighborhoods I'd been tipped to as being affordable, and it all goes into the database. Tomorrow I meet some locals and start asking stupid questions. And I might shoot some photos, although those will have to wait until I get back before I can post them. But I gotta say, I do like it down here, even though it's been raining like crazy most of the time today. I'll admit it, though: I'm also looking for a few flies in the ointment. Starry-eyed people annoy me, after all.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Decent Interval

I'm off on the road again starting tomorrow morning. First to Amsterdam, where I'll take a short ride to Utrecht to see Jon Dee Graham, who's opening for somebody named Gray Delisle I don't much want to see, and then, the next morning, to Paris, and thence to Montpellier, where I ought to get in at about 7pm, if the TGV doesn't fail me.

I've got a number of appointments there with people who are doing some interesting projects -- can't say more than that at the moment, I'm afraid -- and I'm also going to be looking into some other neighborhoods a former Montpellierian pointed out on the map a few months ago as the site of potential apartments. Moving day isn't all that much closer at the moment, but I'm hoping to sell a couple of stories in the next few days, and, I hope, a couple of books in the very near future.

Meanwhile, of course, I've got my collection of San Francisco posters up for sale. As I've said, it pains me to part with these, because of the circumstances in which I got them and the fact that they're living mementos of a piece of my history. But continuing to have a history trumps all of that, so if you're in an eBay frame of mind, you might want to check this rare Sierra Club poster, or this one, which comes from a venue nobody I know has even heard of, or classic designs like this, this, this, this, or any of the others found at this link.

And, as I wrote to a friend who expressed concern this morning about my going to France, I don't have any business at night in the immigrant neighborhoods of industrialized cities -- Montpellier is all university and hospitals -- and that's where all the trouble has been. Nor has Montpellier been hit by rioting or unrest, as far as I can tell, although a map in the New York Times online edition the other day listed it, but it seemed to be an unedited map of France showing the major cities, and a number of other quiet places were also included. (But no, I'm not going to be a good blogger and blame the MSM for the mistake).

I'll be back next Thursday, and will very likely be able to get my e-mail while I'm gone, since the entire Place de la Comédie seems to be wired with a free hot-spot. We'll see, though. It's France, after all.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dear M. de Villepin

What you'd better ask Père Noel for is a Franco-African Martin Luther King who speaks fluent hip-hop and gives good SMS. Be nice if he had a girlfriend/wife who was similarly equipped and had a sassy public image, but I realize you can't have everything. Not that I'd have a clue where to start with this, but my fellow Americans seem to think this is a jihad thing instead of a civil-rights thing.

Your (I hope) future neighbor,

Ed Ward

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Two Further Thoughts on Al and Beate

I've been meaning to add some stuff to the previous post, but this has been a week of scrambling for stories and waiting for answers -- none of which have yet arrived, of course. But I'm leaving for the Netherlands and France on Friday morning, and have a few deadlines before then, so I thought I'd grab some time this afternoon to post two further reflections on the Du Bist Deutschland matter.

The first is a story, which may seem a tangent, but hold on, it should pay off.

Some six or seven years ago, my friend The Count had a birthday party at his favorite restaurant, and his wife invited me to join them. From his odd grab-bag of acquaintences he had, as usual, made a great selection so that conversation at the table was always on the highest level, and intellectually and socially enriching. In particular, I was enchanted by a young woman who worked in the Berlin art world, and, when the party adjourned to the bar next door, we continued to talk. She seemed to be as smart as she was good-looking, and she was very, very smart.

The next morning I was delighted to find her business card in the pocket of my pants, and wasted no time getting in touch with her. We spent an evening having dinner and hitting a couple of the illegal clubs which flourished on the east side back in those days, both of us marvelling at how utterly mundane they were and how the local and international media made such a big deal out of nothing: one much-vaunted avant-garde musical space/club consisted of one bored DJ putting on one record after another, and a few bored people sitting on cushions drinking Becks. She took me to a club frequented by artists which was just as stimulating, albeit more crowded. We finally left, she hailed a taxi, we agreed to do it again sometime soon, and she blew me a kiss as the cab sailed off.

Thus started the weirdest courtship I've ever had. I use such an old-fashioned word because, unless we collided at some point during that first night out, I never laid a hand on her over the course of the year this thing lasted. We'd go out to some event, hang out, and say good-night. It didn't take me long to figure out that there was something in her past that made it a bad idea to make advances too quickly, so out of respect I held back. We were also both busy: I was not only doing a lot of work for the Wall Street Journal Europe, but I was also starting a company that was going to publish a magazine, a website, and maintain a clearing house for information on the city in English, and she was involved with dozens of art projects here and in other countries, so hooking up was always a problem, but it was always fun when we did.

About six months into this, she confessed that she suffered from clinical depression, and I told her I had been given a piece of advice about that which had worked like a charm: a regimen of physical excercise, which, in my case, meant an hour's walk every day, enough to elevate my heartbeat and give myself a good workout. Coincidentally, she lived a block away from where I had lived when I'd first moved to town, so I had a path I'd worked out that took exactly the 55 minutes you're supposed to do this for, and I offered to show her. That turned out to be a particularly wonderful afternoon, and I made her a cassette of some of the music we'd talked about afterwards, as much in thanks for her turning me onto some great art that I'd been able to turn into Journal articles as for anything.

In return I got an e-mail saying "I must lower my dosage of you. Please do not contact me for a while."

So I didn't. Still, the world we moved in was small enough that we ran into each other again, and the old attraction was still there. But again, she backed off. I had to go back to the States on an emergency, and at one point I remember being in a bit of turmoil, so I took the car and drove out into the Arizona desert, determined to hash this all out or drive to Las Vegas, whichever came first. Fortunately, I came to a decision well before the Nevada state line: when I got back, I'd lay it all on the line and ask her what it was that was bothering her, because I wanted this thing to move forward.

I'm a little hazy on how things finally got to where they did, because I was busy putting out a magazine by then, as well as holding down a three-day-a-week radio show and travelling and writing stories for the Journal, but I do remember sending her an avant-garde flower arrangement done by a professional florist friend from New York and getting snarled at for it, and finally, on the telephone, of all things, the confession and explanation of The Thing In Her Past. At last, what I'd needed to know, and yes, it was pretty much what I figured it was, and this was the point at which, in my experience, you could actually start a relationship.

But not her. At the climax of her long, sad, and sordid tale, she said "Now that I have told you this, I never want to see you again. Don't try to contact me. I won't read e-mails, and if you call I will hang up on you without a word. I will never speak to you again, so don't try to talk to me!" and she banged down the phone. I knew she wasn't kidding or bluffing, either: she'd once told me of the great joy she'd had frustrating a guy she'd broken up with by hanging up every time he called. "I always have the last word," she'd said at the time, "because I mean what I say."

So I was sitting here at my desk, half glad it had resolved itself, half wondering what the hell had happened when the phone rang. Naturally, I answered.

"Hi, Ed, it's Albert!" said a merry voice on the other end. Now, Albert is a guy I barely know, a sometime journalist who checks in with me about every two or three years. He is actually so crazy he spends his summers in Florida, where it's too hot to walk on the beach, and his winters in Berlin, where it's cold, dark, and miserable. "What's happening?" he fairly chirped.

So I told him. Hey, he asked.

There was a brief silence on the other end, and he said "Ed! Don'cha know? German girls all hate themselves!"

There followed one of those moments when thousands of pieces of experience all tumble into place and form a picture. A theory has made order out of chaos. And this Albert was no Einstein, believe me.

But over the next couple of days, I kept sticking my failed relationships with German women into the template, and found that I didn't have to force any of it. Compulsive sexual experimentation? Check. Inability to find a career suited to your intelligence? Check. A long string of abusive guys? Check. Preference for guys with half your IQ? Check. And more. Oh, so much more.

A couple of weeks later I was in Copenhagen doing a Journal story, and, as usual, I had dinner with my pal Scandigirl. "So are you still going out with the Art Babe?" she asked. (She'd seen her picture in German GQ and had been much impressed). No, I said, and told her the story, right down to Albert's phone call. "Oh," Scandigirl said, "I don't know if I agree. I think German men hate themselves, too." And, since she had some experience here, I had to defer to her.

Okay, see how that fits into Du Bist Deutschland?

But there's something else. When the dancer read my post on Du Bist Deutschland, she said "Oh, Beate Uhse is a hero!" and then said something about how there had been a law that was only taken off the books in the 1970s which had stipulated that women had to have written permission from their husbands to work outside the home, and many other things. Once I asked for details, she backpedalled a bit, but we're still looking into this so-called "alte Familienrecht," which also regulated under which circumstances one could get a divorce.

And so this fits into it, too: feminism, as we know it in the United States, at least, never really happened in Germany. Like many new ideas, it came into public discourse through academia, of all things, and so by the time it hit the average woman, it was tainted with connotations of elitism and extremism, which its proponents in the universities never bothered to challenge. Feminists were often rightly accused of being man-hating lesbians, and lesbians weren't part of the common experience of the average Hausfrau, sheltered as she was by the Familienrecht. Getting a job was illegal unless the Herr (the word also means "lord" and is the one used to address God in the Bible) allowed it. The sort of gradual feminism, the Ms magazine kind, the kind gently introduced into the womens' magazines, that we got in the States -- where there was still a lot of opposition, and still is -- never happened in Germany. True, feminism grew apart from its academic/theoretical beginnings, and true, there are plenty of women in places of power (including the Chancellery, of course) in some parts of German society today, but its landing in the mainstream was more a belly-flop than a graceful three-pointer. There just have to be ambiguous feelings. Residual ones, perhaps, but they just have to persist.

So I'm contemplating a society that doesn't like itself, a population of self-hating men and women, men who hate women, women who hate men, and everyone hating themselves. A portrait drawn with far broader strokes than is realistic, of course, and one verging on a cartoon. Yet, if there's a kernel of truth there -- and I believe there is -- then a part of the malaise has been diagnosed.

I got an e-mail from The French Guy, a regular reader, when I posted my travails with Bewag/Vattenfall a couple of weeks ago, asking me if I really thought that the French fonctionnaires were going to be any different than the German Beamte, and I had to confess that no, I didn't. But to move from a society that doesn't think highly enough of itself to one that thinks far too highly of itself ought to feel like a homecoming: I am, after all, American.

I'm just hoping that the rioting which has resulted from excessive self-regard causing disregard of others will have cooled off some by the time I head down to Montpellier on Saturday. But stay tuned.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Who, Me?

All of a sudden, the neighborhood's been blitzed with a new advertising campaign. The billboards I saw first were all the same: a picture of a familiar aged man, and the words "Du bist Albert Einstein. Du bist Deutschland."

Well, a whole lot of the Germans I run into every day sure aren't Albert Einstein, or even anything close, but then, who is? And, more to the point, what was going on here? I've mentioned before that pride is a sticky issue here, that the word pride, Stolz, is never, ever heard under any circumstance. But clearly this was some sort of pride campaign, which meant it was risky for whoever was doing it. And, given that the German colors were present as a sort of logo/squiggle, I figured it was the federal government.

Turns out I was right -- and that I'd already written about this campaign for that self-same government, albeit a different wing of it. This is all part of Partner für Innovation, which I'll get to in a moment. Du Bist Deutschland, however, is the public face, and from the website, it appears that it's got a whole lot of television commercials attached to it, as well as a bundle of billboards.

Strangely, the second one I saw, of the many they're going to put up, was the one that's bound to be the most controversial:

For those of you who don't live here, the name Beate Uhse will draw a blank, but she was, in the waning days of the war, a Luftwaffe pilot. After the war, unemployed, widowed, with kids to support, and looking around at the devastation of Germany, she took what little funds she had and printed up a booklet giving women straightforward information about birth control, a very controversial subject in those days, which she sold for a nominal fee via mail-order. Busted for obscenity, she stood trial and defended herself with common sense. She won, and began selling birth-control devices -- condoms and diaphragms -- through the mail. From there, she moved into other sex-related areas, and finally added bricks-and-mortar shops to her empire, selling sex toys, erotic clothing, and lots and lots of pornography. Today, it's a very small town indeed which doesn't have a Beate Uhse shop in it, and she'll probably best be remembered by East Germans as the name on the first piece of mail they got after their government fell: the Beate Uhse catalogue. Some of the very first capitalistic businesses in the East, too, were her shops, setting up in quonset huts and containers until she could get a more stable piece of real-estate. When she died a few years back, she must've been a billionaire: among her holdings is a virtual supermarket over by Zoo Station here in Berlin which also contains her Erotic Museum, which was once the collection of an erotica specialist in Munich. He offered to donate the whole collection to the city of Munich, and when they sniffed at him, Beate Uhse stepped right in and bingo! Instant museum. The real estate it's on isn't cheap, either: it's as centrally located as you get in West Berlin.

Which is to say that, next to some of the other choices -- Michael Schumacher, Otto Lilienthal, Albert Schweitzer, and our pal Herr Einstein -- she sort of sticks out.

But what's most intriguing here isn't using Beate Uhse as an exemplar of German initiative -- she's actually a very good one, as the copy on the sign makes clear -- but that this campaign is seeking to sell Germans the idea that they're actually worth something. This is something that's bothered me since I've lived here: the fear that, by being proud of your country and its culture, you run the risk of slipping down the greasy slope into full-blown fascism again. The idea that national pride equals nationalism seems pretty much universal here, although I would think that, having been there before, they'd be in an excellent position to stop the train well before it pulled into that station.

If you think I'm kidding about what's going on here, and if you read German, go check out the campaign's manifesto. It's all "Come on, big feller! You're okay! Things look bad, but you're really stronger than you think!" It skates around a lot of dicey issues -- dicey to Germans, anyway. You can't invoke the past, because, uh, well, it was dicey, some of it. You can invoke the "Denker und Dichter" (thinkers and poets) image, although you have to use people like Lilienthal and Frau Uhse because there's been a certain lack of universally-loved authors since the war, nobody reads poetry, and nobody pays any attention to philosophers -- particularly post-war German ones. So instead of talking about national pride, it invokes rooting for your football team (not nearly as loaded with fascist baggage as it is in, say, England or Italy, although a meeting of rivals here can still scare the crap out of visiting Americans due to the massed singing and chanting -- and the rioting which sometime erupts when a left-wing team like St. Pauli meets a right-wing one) and waving flags for Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher.

The other half of this campaign, which is the one I wrote about and which is where the money comes in, is the one which is trying to hook researchers up with industry, thereby beefing up Germany's wobbling industrial and technological infrastructure. This Partner für Innovation campaign publishes a little booklet Deutsche Stars (which you can download as a big old PDF file on the home page), which consists of descriptions of "fifty innovations which everyone ought to know about" which were made by Germans. Some of it reaches kind of far: I'm not at all willing to concede television, automobiles, beer (Saddam Hussein, call your lawyer! Babylon's being besmirched again!), or the computer to the Germans, but I was convinced that toothpaste and coffee-filters, to name just two things I use daily, were German, as, of course, was the Currywurst, an invention few outside the country know aoout, and one of the few culinary delights here I think might have a wider audience. (Curiously, the book does not mention the Döner Kebap, a fake-Turkish fast-food invented here in Berlin by a Turkish restaurateur and now a stock European fast food).

I'm still reeling from the implications of this campaign, and may well have more to say about it in further posts here, but meanwhile, I'll look around me and see if it seems to be working. I'm not going to hold my breath, however.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Power Story

Last Wednesday, I got a surprise visit: a guy from Bewag, the power company, holding a turn-off notice. This was odd, because I always get two warning notices before they send someone out and I hadn't had one yet. In a very loud voice, he told me, almost as if he were reciting it, that I HADN'T PAID MY BILL and that if I didn't HE WAS AUTHORIZED TO COME BACK IN A WEEK AND TURN OFF MY ELECTRICITY.

Wow, Mrs. B must've really enjoyed that performance.

Anyway, I realized that it had been a while since I'd heard from Bewag, but, since they've just been taken over by the Swedish firm Wattenfall, the bills might've gotten lost in the mail during the change-over.

But the next day, I got a printed bill in the mail that included the €42.55 charge for the guy's visit. That was absurd; it must have been mailed before he showed up. Trouble was, I didn't have the money to pay the bill. Best to have some ammunition before you go talk to these people, I reasoned.

This morning, though, I got an e-mail which indicated that I'd have plenty of money by week's end, so I figured, okay, I'll go all the way across town to the Bewag offices and see if they'll let me pay the whole thing by Friday, which seemed reasonable. I had to change trains twice, and the weather was cold and wet, but I made it down there to Bismarckstr. and took a number. You always have to take a number.

Mine was only three away from the number being dealt with, though, so it only took a half hour for me to get to the desk of the guy who'd hear my case. Which he would have if he'd bothered to listen. I asked him why I'd been billed for the guy's appearance on a bill that must have been mailed the day before, and he clicked around the computer and told me I'd gotten three warning notices, which, in fact, I hadn't. "You must have," he said with a smug expression. "The computer says they were sent." Impasse.

Okay, I told him, I would have the money by the end of the week, because I was getting more than enough to pay it. "Congratulations (Ich gratuliere Sie)" he sneered, "but you have to pay by the 26th." Can't you be a little flexible? I asked him. "You can pay half of this by the end of the day tomorrow in cash," he said, fixing me with a steely gaze, "or we turn you off on the 26th."

Well, if I pay half of it I won't have any money for food, but I can scrape it together. The guy spoke in rapid German, even though I asked him several times to speak slower. This only make him speak louder. You know, foreigners understand better when you yell at them. So I have to repeat this tomorrow and hope for the best.

The dancer was over for dinner yesterday, and at one point we started talking about how there were two Germanys, one made up of people who had no social mobility, who were in the working class with no chance of escaping it due to the class system and the educational system, and another Germany made up of educated, aware people. The first class also includes the bureaucrats, people like this guy, whose face slammed shut just as soon as he realized I was a foreigner. These people use their minimal education to secure jobs within a system from which they can't be fired, but can, if they play by the rules, be promoted. Some day, this guy may wind up in a cushy job like the fat gentleman with whom I had to register to get my number for the line. Until then, he gets to be completely inflexible, unfriendly, and severe. That's what pays off.

And hell, I've gone without food before, and I can do it again.

It was a weird trip there and back. On one train, a girl was crying uncontrollably, as people edged away from her. The billboards at the stations were loaded with "Bewag is now Wattenfall!" ads showing happy Germans doing this and that, happy, no doubt, because the city's deficit-ravaged company had been sold off to merry Swedes. I hope they make their invstment back. They're doing it on the backs of people like me, and at the expense of our good will.


I knew there was one item I forgot to post yesterday. I recently criticized the Berlinische Galerie for mounting yet another show about the group of painters known as Die Brücke, after the Neue Nationalgalerie had had a boffo show on just this group a few months earlier. As it turns out, on closer inspection of the BG's posters, they're housing the Brücke Museum, which is usually located in the borough of Dahlem, at the moment. No doubt the Dahlem location is being renovated or something. So the BG gets out of having to mount a new show for the fall and winter, sure, but it's not as confusing or stupid as it appeared. My apologies to all concerned, and if you missed the NNG show, you might want to go check this out.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Catchup Crumbs

Been leaving too many loose threads around here, so I thought I'd take up some of Sunday afternoon to tie some of them up. And to celebrate the 200th post here. I know that's not much for a lot of blogs, but considering how damn verbose I am, it's not half bad.


No sooner do I mention Chinky the Chinaman than his sister shows up on the cover of this week's tip magazine. tip is one of the two biweekly listings magazines, the more yuppie-friendly and lifestyle oriented, as opposed to Zitty, which is more politically inclined, but their deep dark secret is they're essentially the same company, as you discover when you ascend their twisted business structure. Anyway, Chinkette can be seen a little ways up from the bottom of this page, although she's a lot more, uh, striking full-sized or on the posters tip has up all over town. And now I hear I'm about to get an ad for a new "soul" radio station here which will be the Afro equivalent. Hmmm.


The "Do Not Ask" sign on White Trash across the street went down shortly after I mentioned it, and we got yet another in the seemingly endless stream of temporary art shows, this one entitled "seven +: Eleven Positions of Contemporary German Photography." I've always been put off by this "positions" word, since what it seems to mean is "this stuff's not real interesting to look at, but we've got these really interminable and unreadable essays by the artists and various art history PhDs in this big thick catalog which explains what's going on and what makes it art." Now, I'd call the show "Eleven Contemporary German Photographers" and let it go at that, but then, I don't even have a Bachelors degree. Nor can I figure out why a show of 11 photographers gets called "seven +." If you're showing there, are you one of the seven, or one of the others?


I've been told that one reason for all the horrendous lack of anything at all at the last race at the Hoppegarten is that the track has once again filed for bankruptcy. I have no details on this at the moment, but it could well be that all concerned weren't actually anticipating that the race would go on until the very last minute, although, come to think of it, that's pretty unlikely considering the fact that the big BMW race was happening that day. Will it be there next year? Wait and see, I guess.


The rain has started falling, hard enough to wake me up last night, as a matter of fact. Right now, Berlin is beautiful because all the deciduous trees are changing color. We've got about a week of this before things really turn ugly, but it's worth going out and suffering a little bit of precipitation to see it before it all turns grey and bare.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Another Night On The Town

I tell ya, I spend all week waiting for various people in various countries to get back to me about various projects, and nothing doing. I could have been working! But no, nothing doing. Then, all of a sudden, I have three things to do in one day.

Mid-afternoon yesterday I headed for Berlin's hinterlands, where I jumped into a car with a couple of my friends and their young daughter and headed out to the middle of nowhere to the Havelpark, a gigantic shopping mall. The reason? My favorite German winemaker, the ebulliently eccentric Heribert Kastell was, for some reason, selling wine there.

I first met Heribert when a couple of friends of mine here made an ill-fated investment in a restaurant. It was a superb restaurant, in a superb location, but they got screwed by some legal technicalities relating to the sale, and lost everything they had -- another Berlin success story: no matter how good you are, someone will come along to make sure you don't succeed. But before it all crashed, they invited me to a dinner and tasting with Kastell, and said he was their favorite winemaker, so, knowing their exquisite taste, I agreed to show up. Heribert was in fine form, opening various wines, and matching them perfectly with the food. I was dead broke, so I couldn't do anything but nod approvingly and remember his name.

Then, a year later, I was both writing for the Wall Street Journal Europe and heading to Cologne. His headquarters is in Bingen, an hour or so south of town, and so I headed down there with a friend who was living in Cologne and did a story on him. He drove us to the land he'd inherited from his family and told about how, after skipping a generation while his father was a butcher, he'd decided to reclaim the family business. Not only the family business: the Rheinhessen, where he's located, has a very poor reputation for wine in Germany, and he was out to rehabilitate that, too. No more weak, sweet wines like Grandma liked. Nope: he was going to use his experience apprenticing at Schlossgut Diel, one of Germany's top estates, to good use. The idea of bigger, drier wines was an idea whose time had come, and now he was advising younger winemakers on how to turn their production around. By the time I visited him, in 1997, he was selling out nearly everything he was producing, to clients like Deutsche Bank's main executive dining room. That didn't stop him from loading me up with enough stuff to take home and try that it took me a couple of years to get through most of it, and I saved a 1994 Riesling Sekt, his answer to champagne, for the 1999/2000 New Year's evening, when I enjoyed a tremendous wine, redolent of hazelnuts and flowers, as the Millenium changed.

The next year, I was back in Cologne for PopKomm, and one of the guys from SXSW, with whom I was working, declared he'd never had a German wine he'd liked. We had an extra day, so I called my friend and he agreed to drive us down there. We got to Bingen, I called Heribert's house, and was fortunate to get his brother, an archaeologist specializing in Native American archaeology, and based at the University of Wisconsin, on the line. Heribert had just packed off for a wine fair near Frankfurt, and his brother was loading the car with more wine and said he'd meet us there.

We walked into the fair, and there was the Kastell stand at the end of a row of stands. Heribert saw us coming and waved. "Heribert," I said as we got there, "my friend from America here says he's never had a German wine he liked." His eyes lit up and he grabbed a couple of glasses. "I hope you have a little bit of time," he said. As much as he was willing to spare, we said. A couple of hours later, we weaved away from the stand, my friend wondering how he'd ever get so many bottles through customs.

But I lost track of Heribert for a while after that, and it wasn't until my suburban friends announced earlier this year that he was coming to visit them over lunchtime that I saw him again. This time, it was obvious that he'd made great strides. He had a Kastell Klassik Riesling, which was, simply, the Platonic ideal of a German Riesling. He had begun experimenting with other grapes, including the Blauer Portugeser, which produces some of Europe's worst wine, out of which he made a rosé with amazing vanilla and floral tones. This being a classic German granny tipple, it was typical of his attitude towards winemaking: it's universally derided? Time to give it a spin! There were also a couple of others, very limited editions, which were just as astonishing.

Yesterday he didn't have as much in the way of avant-garde goods, but he did have some good solid stuff, including a couple of reds, one, a Frühburgunder (Pinot Noir), which I swear has a nose of gunpowder -- or, rather, gunpowder after it's gone off. I bought three. Yes, German reds.

As we stood and sampled, I watched the heavily-laden Friday-night shopping carts being pushed along by the Brandenburgers who come to Havelpark to shop at Kaufland, surely one of the largest supermarkets I've seen in Europe, filled with about 85% stuff I'd never consider eating. It seemed that the more heavily-laden a cart was, the worse the nutrition represented by what was visible in it. The bad nutrition was also evident on the faces and bodies of the customers, and it reinforced my observation that this part of the country is one which takes no pleasure whatever at the table. Even so, it should try to feed its families better.

We were there for about two hours, sampling things Heribert poured -- I don't use that much white wine, so although it was interesting to taste, I wasn't blown away enough to actually buy any -- and watching the parade. Finally, we made our purchases and left. I'd bought some Riesling Klassik, and some of that good Pinot, and Heribert had given me another couple of bottles to try. My friends, who are headed to Frankfurt soon, made tentative plans to visit him in Bingen, which is only 60 km away, and we headed out to the car with the booty.

My next stop was a Halloween party, although 3-year-old Amalia didn't approve, it not being Halloween yet. This invitation had come out of the blue, with a phone call earlier this week. I'd been expecting a call from a British guy working on a very interesting project (the remastered Harry Smith Anthology), and when the voice on the other end had a British accent, I assumed it was him. It wasn't: it was Alex, the owner of Another Country, a used book store I'd been hanging out in at the end of last year and early this year, as Alex tried to cobble together some sort of expat community non-profit organization. The trouble was, each conversation took hours, and I had to be there in person, and, after a long hiatus, my time was actually getting used up doing actual work for a while, so I stopped going. I really don't think I'd talked with the guy since about January, and here he was, inviting me to his Halloween party.

It was tons of fun, as I sort of half-expected, with the store's regulars, mostly sci-fi fans like the owner, all in costume, mostly Goth-y stuff, as one would expect. What one wouldn't expect was a huge amount of great food, all prepared by our host, who was on the verge of collapse, as you might expect. I met Heidi, a strapping young woman who'd lived in Austin and was now living in Schöneberg, and Bernie, an affable Jamaican slightly older than myself, who'd gone from St. Catherine's to Harvard just as the '60s began to ripen in that area of the world, and who had known Richard Fariña.

Trouble was, I didn't get to stay as long as I wanted to there, because duty called. I had helped put together the Bubblegum Film Festival, which was essentially a screening of a strange bootleg film called Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, based on the book of the same name. Because the film is, let's not mince words, illegal, showing it is, too, except if it's part of a larger event. So it was decided that D Strauss, music editor of the otherwise-crappy local English-language rag The Ex-Berliner, would read an excerpt from the book and then DJ a few hours of bubblegum music.

The event got picked by lots of our local media, but as it turned out, there were only something like four paying customers. Strauss was jet-lagged all to hell, and apparently had forgotten he was supposed to read, so he slurred his way in a monotone through a text which wound up being pretty much word-for-word repeated by the first few minutes of the film, which, at around two hours, was waaaaay too long. Each artist, and I use the term loosely, as about half of them were cartoon characters, was represented by two songs, which, in some cases, was two too many. As the lights went up, most of the audience bolted for the doors so fast you'd think the Berlin Marathon had just started. As I was out on the sidewalk afterwards, waiting for some friends to conclude some business inside the cinema, along came Heidi from Another Country. "Hey! This is my neighborhood! Is this where the bubblegum thing was? I'm sorry I couldn't come. But I gotta love this town." She pointed at the Klingon ears which poked out of her black-dyed hair. "I just rode all the way back here on the U-Bahn and nobody even noticed this." Heidi, stick around. You'll see much scarier aliens on the U-Bahn. Try Zoo Station at about 11pm.

So I think in the next couple of weeks I'll take some books I don't want down to Alex and shoot the breeze with him and see if he's gotten anywhere with this thing. I'm already in exit mode, I can feel it every time I walk into another part of town I haven't been in recently and wonder if this is the last time I'll see it for a while. But with the reduced daylight, the coming of horrible weather, and all, this is the time when community does make a difference in Berlin. It won't get better for six months, if that. It helps to have others around.