Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hamburger Gefunden

We interrupt this Sommerloch with an important announcement.

An edible hamburger has been found in Berlin. And not just edible: actually quite good.

If that news is all you need to hear, head off to Hazelwood, Choriner Str. 72, at the corner of Zionskirchstr. in that grey area between Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. If you need more info, just read on.

To call this joint "bare bones" is to glorify it. My guess is that someone decided they had a genius in the kitchen and just opened up a business. There are absolutely no decorative features in the entire place, which didn't bother me because I ate out on the sidewalk at one of the tables just like everyone else did. But when the bad weather sets in, someone might want to give this some thought.

The menu, too, is small. There were two sandwiches, the hamburger and a bizarre Reuben made with ham (!), a salad, and a soup. Oh, and I guess dessert, because a table near us got a huge sundae. There was an abundant cocktail menu, but that's not what we came for.

The biggest downside to Hazelwood is the price. The hamburger alone (it comes with a side of rather rough-cut coleslaw) set me back €6.50, which is a lot for 200g of beef. Upgrading it to "deluxe" -- ie, the addition of a smallish side of previously-frozen french fries -- was an additional €1.50. I was hoping for a small salad (the coleslaw not being mentioned on the menu) and was presented with the Hazelwood Salad, €4.50, which was a Thai-style chicken, ginger, fish sauce-and-lime, chopped peanuts salad which was more than I wanted but only disappointed because I'd made a nearly identical one two days earlier. Draft Pilsner Urquel -- excellent -- was €2,90.

But even at that price, the hamburger was worth it. Or, I should say, cheeseburger; a slab of that unique cheddar available in Berlin, the one with absolutely no taste, was added on top. But the meat is mixed with a wonderful onion and spice mixture -- not a lot, but enough to subtly flavor the meat -- and I was happy I hadn't drowned it in ketchup (which would only have happened accidentally, but you can't put ketchup back in the bottle). Now, the fact that it's not, like every other hamburger I've had in this city but one, a pre-frozen, cereal-laden hockey puck is remarkable in itself. (The other one is the hamburger at the Hard Rock Cafe, which I'm not sure is still in business, the Berlin one being the biggest money drain in the entire Hard Rock empire, but all expats in Europe know that the only reason to go to the Hard Rock wherever you are is to get a decent burger). But there's an additional technological breakthrough here: the burger is served on what seems to be a hunk of ciabatta instead of one of those instantly-soggy, fall-apart hamburger buns that are the shame of a country with great baking skills. Thus, the structural integrity of the bread is maintained throughout the consumption of the burger.

A lot of Germans have a fear of ground beef, for some reason, which is weird considering they eat Hackpeter, raw ground pork mixed with spices, for breakfast. This, I think, is the rationale for the frozen patties; untouched by human hands, they go on the griddle frozen and come off hard. And that's another thing about the Hazelwood burger: it's actually grilled instead of griddled! This gives the patty a nice crisp surface and extra flavor, not to mention extra authenticity points.

Service was fast and friendly, another anomaly. And, after getting slightly lost on the way over, it was encouraging to see how close to the house this actually is. The price will keep me away as a frequent visitor, but I'll definitely be back.

Thanks to Radio Free Mike and Bowleserised for the tip!

And now back to our regularly-scheduled Sommerloch.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sommerloch '06, Part 2

Wow, things really have gone quiet around here. Well, "quiet" isn't exactly the right word. I seem to have a knack for living near sound-enhancing bricks. In Austin, I lived behind a school, which had a big playground, and the walls of the school bounced any sound made on the playground right over to me. Now, you'd think that this would be a pain during the day, but kids make so much noise you can't tell how loud it really is. True, there was a lesbian who came to practice bagpipes, enamored of the brick acoustic effect, but she wasn't there all that often. (She managed to scare the lizards in my garden, though: they immediately changed color and scampered away). No, what was bad was the nighthawks.

Nighthawks have an amazingly annoying courtship ritual. The males soar high, then drop with outstretched wings, and recover before they hit the ground. This makes the wings vibrate and create a zooming sound. So when the neighborhood nighthawks discovered the amplification qualities of the schoolyard, every horny male nighthawk in Texas went over there to broadcast amplified zooms. And they were loud. Naturally, as you can tell by the name, they did it at night. Late at night. And there was me, trying to sleep with the windows open. Fat chance.

There are no nighthawks in Berlin, of course, but there sure are crows. Not those small, glossy ones you have in America. These guys are big, and are properly referred to as the hooded crow. And they make a variety of sounds, all vaguely cawing. I have no idea if some of these are mating strategies, but several of them have discovered the brick wall in the parking lot outside my window, so that when they call, they sound like they weigh about 25 pounds. There are those who say crows can be domesticated and kept as pets, and that they can be trained to talk like a parrot can. I can't verify the former, but there's one crow who's been visiting this year whose cry, I swear, is "VALLLLyum!" Perhaps this is a new species, and we can add to the hooded crow and the carrion crow the new mutation, the Valium crow.

Or maybe he's just as annoyed with the little electric toys the neighbor kids zoom around the parking lot in as I am.


Some time ago, I mentioned that our building had acquired a real live Countess, although you'd never have guessed it from talking to her, and I wrote a post about minor German royalty and how it's all over the place. The Countess got a little upset because I gave her name, and she was Googling herself instead of doing her schoolwork and found the post, so I removed her name at her request.

I walked into the courtyard the other day, though, and saw her directing a fleet of movers who were packing her things into their trunk. "I'm outta here!" she said in her fine Valley Girl accent. "I gotta have my space!" So now my landlord's here getting the apartment ready to rent again, and no doubt worrying about it, because this is the worst possible time to have a vacancy: the rental market in Berlin is wide open (especially for office space), the universities are out, and nobody has any money.

So now my building is full of no-counts, and we have no Countess. We still do have Herr Böse and Herr Schlecht, though. And, unfortunately, for a while longer, Herr Ward.


One industry that's going great guns here is graffiti. The owners of the building next door have decided that the best way to stop the tagging on the wall closest to the street is to hire a crew of professional graffiti painters, and I have to say, what they've come up with so far is horrible. They keep overpainting stuff, though, and maybe once they get things layered a bit more it'll look better, but I could have come up with a dozen locals who could have done better than what's up there right now.

On the other hand, creative graffiti still pops up now and again, and one of the best new tricks I've seen was when I was walking down Bergstr. on the way back from the supermarket and saw some strange English written in chalk on the sidewalk. It took a minute, but it dawned on me that I was reading the lyrics to ABBA's "Super Trooper" backwards. As I got to the Ackerkeller, the gay bar that took over the space that was formerly Bergwerk, a student bar, I found the start of the song, along with the inscription "Street Karaoke #2: Super Trooper by ABBA." And just on the other side of the bar, there was Street Karaoke #1, some German pop song whose lyrics seem to be so twistedly psychosexually right for relationships in this country (something like "I know you lie when you say you love me, but you are mine and I am yours, so I lie, too, when I say I love you") that I'm sure it was a hit.

Still, I like the idea of street karaoke, and pass it along to others who might like to experiment with the idea. Good penmanship, though, is a must.


I'm wondering if I'm so out of it that I've missed the idea that every European household has to have seven or eight shishas, or elaborate Arab hookahs. That's the only reason I can think of for the fact that there are, within two blocks of my house, two huge stores selling them, everything from five-foot-tall floor models to portables which come with their own intricate wooden case. One of these stores is in a really big space which used to be a bank. I have never seen anyone except the shopkeepers in either one of them, which makes me suspect that, like the dozens of Arab-run Internet cafes which erupted like mushrooms after a storm around here, they may not be in business strictly to make money.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sommerloch '06, Part 1

"Boy, this sure is a quiet city," said the visitor from Austin. Yeah, and it's also green and warm. Hardly typical at the moment, in other words. The key word is warm, though: 36 degrees C, 97 degrees F yesterday, although some cooling breezes came in at night and mellowed it down about ten degrees F. Me, I don't mind. This heat is wonderful, as long as I don't have to rush around in it. I'm just kicking myself for not planting basil this year; in the cold, rainy summers we've had these past couple of years, it develops mighty roots, and little plants about an inch and a half high. I could have had a rain-forest, a jungle of the stuff this year! And yet I know if I plant some today by the time it comes up it'll be cold and rainy outside.


One thing about the WM that I'm already missing is the change in opening hours for stores, the convenience of having them open until 10 and open on Sunday. I got used to it all too quickly, I'm afraid. But help may be on the way: the Bundestag, the federal legislature, recently passed a law giving the individual states the power to regulate a lot of things the feds used to, and one of those things is opening hours. So it might be you'd find Berlin open all day Sunday, and Bavaria closed up like a prison. At any rate, my prediction is that as Christmas gets nearer, Berlin's going to experiment with keeping things open longer, and they'll notice a permanent upsurge in business. People found themselves enjoying the convenience despite their ingrained instincts and years of social programming. Once they get used to this, who knows what frontiers await? Itemized phone bills! Friendly sales-clerks! Errr, well, let's not get too carried away.


Berlin is a place deeply suspicious of entrepreneurship, and anyone who attempts to start a business here is faced with amazing obstacles every step of the way. And heaven forbid you try something which hasn't been tried before!

But still, every now and again, it happens. Thanks to Brent for passing along news of the Teddy Tour Berlin, a brand-new business right here in the Weltstadt. Here's the deal: you mail your teddy to these folks and they take it on a tour of Berlin, one of three they offer. Why the vacation? They figure it's stressful being a teddy, on the receiving end of your owner's tears and heartbreak, your job being to comfort a much larger organism who could easily destroy you. So: send the little feller on a vacation with people who'll show him around. You get back a certificate showing he's taken the tour, photos (on a CD if you choose the "Exclusive" or "Deluxe" tour), a postcard, a travel pass (Germans love documents, can you tell?), and "a little surprise" after your pal is mailed back to you, fully insured.

The larger question, though, is why Berlin? Few enough humans come here to relax and de-stress. The Teddy Tour folks mention that Berlin has a bear on its flag, and so it's a place where a bear can feel proud. Okay. I'm not a bear, let alone a teddy bear, so maybe I don't understand the psychology behind this. I would think that, being bears, the teddies would rather go hiking in Alpine valleys and so on, but like I said, maybe these folks know best.

What they do seem good at, though, is publicity: the first Teddy Tour sold out, and look at the prices for the three tours! (I like the fact that all the tours go to the Siegessäule, better known as the large column with the winged Nike on top that was a fixture of Wings of Desire, but only the deluxe tour takes the bears to the top of the thing for the view).

And it must be mentioned that if bears are going to be touring, they have to take care: last month one of the brown bears Italy introduced into its northern provinces as a means of trying to re-establish a wild species crossed the line into Bavaria, where, as bears do, it ate a couple of sheep and the odd rabbit. The Bavarians' reaction was predictable enough: SHOOT IT! Wildlife lovers got up in arms, but the Bavarian hunters grabbed their own arms and soon Bavaria was home to an ex-bear. So maybe if you think someone needs a vacation, Berlin is the safest solution after all.


Mind you, if I'd had a rifle yesterday, I might well have gone bear-shooting, thanks to stumbling on Bebelplatz (site of the Nazis' fabled book-burning) and finding the United Buddy Bears all standing around in a circle there. These goddam things are everywhere: businesses put them up outside, with their logos painted on them by "artists," and it all reeks of commercialism and desperation. The UBBs, of course, put a different face on it, promoting world peace and the friendship of all children, and blah blah blah. But they're just as annoying as the "Germany Land Of Ideas" crap that's all over town (not just the Big Pill behind the Reichstag, but huge musical notes ruining the Gendarmenmarkt, a big pile of books competing with the UBBs in Bebelplatz, which must be the city's epicenter of kitsch at the moment, and a gigantic sneaker by the Hauptbahnhof), in a syrupy irritating way.

Didn't all of this start in Chicago with the Cow Parade and people painting cows? And yet you see them all over the place now, cows and bears and eagles and any other damn symbol a city wants to use to promote itself, smeared with logos and ads, kitsch posing as art in the service of a Good Cause and civic improvement.

Not to mention the fact that between the huge pile of books and the Buddy Bears, the real attraction of Bebelplatz, the moving, understated monument to the book-burning, is all but lost in the hoopla.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Summerloch Starts Here

Image courtesy QMDS500

The yuppies next door have given their kids two instruments of torture: an electric automobile and an electric motorcycle, both of which sound like dentists' drills and each of which costs over a thousand Euros apiece. I propose adding the above conveyance to the mix. Of course, the little girl will have to be replaced by an automaton, but if the gator is hungry enough it'll have served its purpose.


Monday morning Berlin will at last see the start of this year's Sommerloch, the "summer hole" in which nothing whatever happens. Meanwhile, we still have the Love Parade to endure, although it's becoming more and more irrelevant to the city and more and more a ploy to get the local equivalent of New York's bridge-and-tunnel kids -- in this case clueless rural kids in search of a little sex, drugs, and techno -- into Berlin and squeeze as much money as possible out of them while bombarding them with branding opportunities for the latest crap merchandisers want them to buy. You'd think this isn't such a lucrative move on the city's part, but there are also plenty of clueless young jet-setters who come in for this and camp out in expensive hotels.

Fortunately, its impact on my own neighborhood is minimal, but I'd sure hate to be a tree in the Tiergarten (Berlin's huge central park), after a month of football fans relieving themselves followed by a million or so b'n'ts doing the same. Still, as an index of the city's financial desperation, this all is quite instructive. No doubt there are people huddled away in rooms right now trying to figure out what next summer's attractions will be. Another Love Parade, for sure. But what could top the WM?


It's also an index of how slim the local music scene has gotten. Very few big concerts on the agenda for this summer, and I suspect people just aren't going out much any more. One inescapable image, though, is that of Dieter Thomas Kuhn, the campy entertainer who gently mocks the Schlager world of German mainstream pop and who, for some reason, is playing Central Park in New York this year. Even with his posters everywhere, some people may not have noticed the logo for his booking company, DTK Musik und Marketing, which features a screaming darky. (Note, clicking that link will display the DTK MuM page only briefly, but long enough for you to get a glimpse at what I'm talking about). My question is, what on earth is he thinking? DTK, that is, not the darky.


Meanwhile, for a glimpse of German hi-tech, not to mention a propensity for taking credit for everything, there's this video. Not that I'm sure why a German would want to take credit for it.


More from the Sommerloch as it widens!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Patriotic Utterance

I don't get into American politics here. I don't live in America, and there are many, many other bloggers who do.

I do, however, belong to the Well, an online community which just celebrated its 20th anniversary (I've only been on for five of those years), and every now and again someone there makes a comment which deserves to be spread further. Thing is, you can't read the Well unless you join, and part of the rules when you join is you can't re-post other people's stuff without their permission.

Fortunately, there are a lot of bloggers there, and the other day one of them, off the top of his head during a 20-minute break from his job, wrote one of the most concise, clear, and honest appraisals of the state of the American media I've read. And posted it on his blog.

If he'd had it up yesterday, or I'd known abut it yesterday, I would have posted it here as the best 4th of July present I could give my fellow Americans, and the many people from other countries who read this blog.

Please take a minute to read it here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


I really like finding old urban relics, although they rarely last very long once they're unearthed. There are some exceptions: a small-scale model of the Statue of Liberty which once stood in Madison Square in New York while the real thing was under construction used to (and may still) stand atop a building which used to house the Liberty Warehouse right across from Lincoln Center, and could be seen from the top steps there. And in Austin, someone's kept the old winged-wheel Studebaker sign and the old hat-shop sign in good shape.

Berlin, of course, where construction is fatally married to destruction, is no place to look for such things, but occasionally one appears, for however briefly, and I try to grab it.

This one (not my photo, but used with kind permission) is a reminder that the Berliner Zeitung of today was once an East Zone paper.

Wiceguy photo

And, up in Prenzlauer Berg, one which has been there for ages, reminding us that there are still parts of this city heated by coal.

I also wonder about that odd half-timbered building you can see in that shot.

There are a few more of these around here I should grab before they're gone. I fondly remember the one near Friedrichstr. station advertising the DDR lottery (kind of hard to imagine, but apparently there was one) which vanished one day, not to mention the lovely old neon sign by the Friedrichstadt Palast with the ad for the Berlin-Moscow Railway ("Comfortable, Quick, Convenient," it lied) that gradually fell apart before it was stripped from its wall. Someday the powers that be will have had their way and Berlin will look like Paramus. Until then, I'm going to grab what I can.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Weekend Crumbs

Short Story On A Lamppost:

I was waiting to cross Torstr. on Saturday when I saw two notices newly taped on the lamppost where I was standing. The upper one said "Apartment Sought!" and showed two female stick figures. (You know, with the triangular dress thing. I guess male stick figures are naked.) One was larger than the other, and had an arrow pointing to it with the number 31. The smaller one had an arrow pointing to it with the number 3 1/2.

Underneath it was another notice which said "Part-Time Father Urgently Seeks Apartment!" This apartment-hunter was 35.

Both notices showed an appalling ignorance of current housing prices in this neighborhood, too. Guess it's been a while since they've been looking.


The church down the street from me owns an awful lot of real-estate immediately around it, not only the Konvikt (seminary) which adjoins the house next door, but also a parish-house on Tieckstr. which is tied to the rest of the buildings. This gets rented out to various people (there are AA meetings -- yes, they have AA in Germany -- there, for instance) from time to time, and until yesterday I'd forgotten about one of its more interesting regulars. I was coming back from the store at about 3:30 and saw two very large African women in their finest Dutch Wax finery walking down the street. As I got to the parish house, I heard singing, and remembered that there's some kind of African congregation which meets there on Sunday afternoons and has all-singing services. The first time I encountered them, I stopped under the window to listen for a while, but it became evident that there was more spirit than technique at work there. I guess things were pretty played out yesterday, though, because there were only two voices, and they were pretty hoarse.

Still, that was preferable to what happened last night, as the Konvikt had another of their appalling hootenannies, with gut-string guitars strumming and voices attempting Beatles songs and "Blowing in the Wind." Man, if I play a record that's audible to anyone after 10pm I get the cops called on me. But in yesterday's warm breezy evening, I got to endure this until midnight. Yet another argument for the separation of church and state, if you ask me!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Meanwhile, Crumbs

I'm about to go off to yet another farewell party for yet another person who's decided to leave Berlin -- there are times when if I didn't have a farewell party to go to I wouldn't have any social life at all, although of course each one diminishes the odds of having one -- but I figured it'd be worth adding a crumb or two in here.


As those of you who don't follow sports probably don't know, and as those of you who live in Berlin are all too aware, Germany beat Argentina last night and goes into the semi-finals. The game was at the Olympiastadion here in Berlin, and the noise went on for a good two and a half hours, as cars filled with cheering, chanting fans drove away from the stadium and into the local streets. People streamed out of shops to wave at the revellers, and, off in the distance, firecrackers and police sirens alternated. And this is for the quarter-finals!

There were cops everywhere, I noted as I paid a flying visit to Postdamer Platz, which for some reason was choked with fans. Some of them were deployed in odd places, though. A big van-load of them were on the bridge near Friedrichstr. station, for instance, possibly to spell their brethren within the station. A nice touch: on the public transportation, after the usual announcements, they tell you at Friedrichstr., for instance, that you can change there for Hauptbahnhof and the Olympiastadion -- and then repeat it in heavily accented English! This is the first time I've ever noticed our public transportation acknowledging that there are non-German speakers around. True, the ticket machines function in a couple of different languages, but that's it.

Ah, well, anything to wring the tourist dollar out of the tourist's hand.

Anyway, I'm not looking forward to Germany vs. Italy. Although I think that's not going to be played here. Still, there are plenty of Italian-owned businesses near my house (yes, another Italian deli just opened up!), so the potential for ugliness is there.


More like it:

There's a couple of gay guys with an apartment I pass on my way from the store each day, and they've got a penchant for decorating the outside of their third-story apartment. One spring, they had Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, complete with rubber snake (and Ken and Barbie in the starring roles) in their window-box. Today, I noticed, they've got a t-shirt taped to the window which says "FICKEN STATT KICKEN." Amen.


And I had a horrible revelation today. Next Sunday, when the WM finals happen, isn't the end of the horror here. No, because the Friday after that comes...the Love Parade!

Someone get me outta here!