Sunday, June 25, 2006

Coffee and Crumbs

It turns out that that vacant lot wasn't the only disappearance in the air on that last trip to Galleries Lafayette. Today, I took advantage of the WM opening hours to go replace my coffee on a Sunday, only to find out that the Malongo boutique in Gal Laf is closing, and has sold out all its coffee; only tea remains.

This is a shame. One thing about the food floor at Gal Laf is that you can bet you're paying about 30% more than you would anywhere else for most items, but some of what they have is unique in Berlin. Thus with whole-bean Malongo coffee. Malongo isn't hard to find in France in supermarkets -- but only in ground form, and never in single-bean varieties. If Malongo's pulling out of Gal Laf is a store-wide event, then it's tragic; this is the best whole bean coffee I've ever had, better than what I used to get at Whole Foods. Cheaper, too; cheaper than any other whole-bean coffee I've found in this city.

And there's the problem of what to do next. I satisfied myself with a bag of Gold Coast from Starbuck's, but that's not going to be a regular thing. I have nothing against Starbuck's, actually, at least not here, where they're far from ubiquitous and don't, to the best of my knowledge, engage in the sleazy real-estate moves they've used in the States to get rid of established businesses that might compete with them. But they're way more expensive than Malongo, and not as good.

I guess it's time to start exploring some of their competition. I used to occasionally buy from Einstein, but they seem to discourage their workers from enjoying their product, or else they're selling hash under the counter, because all the service I ever encountered there was lethargic and stoned-seeming. There's a Balzac shop not far from me on Friedrichstr., so when what I've got runs out, I'll see if I can put together a decent blend from what they sell.

Ms. Choi, the Korean woman who works at Malongo and really knows her beans, said there's a place over on Uhlandstr. somewhere "which also sells herbs" and that's the only place in the city she recommends. I've got a transit pass these days which I'm not using to its full extent; maybe I'll whip over to the west and see what she's talking about. But I'm going to miss this ritual of walking down Friedrichstr. every couple of weeks.


Walking back, I took another look at that vacant lot, and now there's a sign up announcing that the Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Center, a university library and media center, will rise there soon, and there's a nice architectural watercolor of the white glass-clad building.

It occurred to me that, for most people in the English-speaking world, the Brothers Grimm means fairy tales, while Germans invariably think of dictionaries, for it was these two brothers who compiled the first dictionary of the German language, the Deutsches W├Ârterbuch, which appeared in 32 volumes between 1852 and 1960. That's not a typo: the brothers only lived to see volumes A through Forsche, but they were the ones who set the scholarly apparatus in motion for the century-long project.

I also remembered the buildings which had stood in the lot, and feel a little better. No architectural monuments were destroyed in the preparation of the Grimm Center, although one, which seemed to be an old house which had been bombed and then repaired by encasing it in a concrete box, always piqued my curiosity.

And yes, I know most Germans refer, not to the Grimm, but to the much shorter Duden when it comes to dictionaries.


In fact, it was the long-lost Surfin' Steffen who contacted me with a fascinating footnote about having a pig -- ein Schwein haben -- which he found in...the Duden. Apparently, in contests in the old days, the guy who came in second was awarded a pig. Which, when you think about it, can be a lot more useful than a medal, so there's a sort of winning-by-losing connotation to it, I guess.


Had a couple of beers with a couple of Australians last night, one of whom had been on a river cruise (a great way to see this city in this weather) when Germany won the game yesterday. She reported that people started throwing off their clothes and diving into the Spree River, which, given the quality of the water in it, is tantamount to mass suicide. Wow, cholera! What a WM souvenir!

Since I didn't leave the house when it happened, I don't know if the spontaneous parade which erupted on Torstr. was clothed or not, but there was a huge roar of male voices singing something. Whether it was the alcohol or the lack of talent, or (more likely) a combination of the two, the melody and lyrics were impossible to make out, but there was stamping of feet, blowing of whistles, and the inevitable firecrackers.

Germany is still in the running, and I'm now feeling ambivalent about seeing them possibly win. Lord knows this country -- and this city, in particular -- is in a horrid mess, with a declining economy and massive unemployment, so maybe a WM win would actually be a good thing, in that it would be some positive news for a change, make some people feel better, and maybe the wave of good feeling might result in some things getting better.

Still, for the moment, I'm hoping Ghana goes all the way. Germany's in trouble, but man, talk about a country with very, very little going for it: Ghana really deserves something good.

Anyway, in two weeks it'll be over. And the Sommerloch will descend upon us yet again.

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