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.