Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Hey, do you suppose the first item in a collection of these nibbles should be called the Nibble Bloggin' Lead? Or is that too German a joke? (Prof Dr Dr should be along any minute to shoot me for that one).


One goal I meant to write about yesterday completely slipped my mind, as they are wont to do when I finally sit down to write something here. But it, like much else, came out of the conversation with Dr. Joe last week -- or was it the week before? At any rate, he suggested that if I'm serious about moving to France, I should probably get my French back into working order by signing up for a French course at one of the local Volkshochschule. He also suggested that this would be a good way to meet some actual French people, who, he said, are just as homesick and tired of this place as I seem to be. This is an entirely wonderful idea, because I hauled back a load of BDs (bandes dessinées, the French not-quite-comic books) from Texas in March and find that I'm having a fairly easy time reading them this time around, but there are real basic things that elude me; things I actually know, but can't remember. Writing this down here, of course, helps me to remember it later, and now I have to find out when the Volkshochschule's next round of courses start, how much they cost (not much, as I remember) and if the level I want to take is going to be available in any of the schools around my neighborhood.


I just reached in my pocket and pulled out my change, and saw something encouraging. Of course, that there was change was encouraging in and of itself, but there was more than that: of the ten coins, three are from other countries. There's an Italian 50-cent piece, an Austrian 10-cent and a Greek 10-cent, the first Greek coin I've seen. (The rest, of course, are the same old German ones).

One of the hard things to deal with about Berlin is that, for all of its reputation as an important European city, no one ever comes here. The tourism here is about 80% German, I seem to remember, hugely disproportionate to other major European cities. Families come here to wait in line to climb into the dome of the Reichstag, maybe visit the Zoo or catch a classical concert, and then leave. When I first started working on English-language magazines here, it was hard to convince the folks in charge that aiming a magazine at English-speaking tourists here was stupid: there were none, for starters. There were the usual college-kid backpackers who'd stop for a couple nights' clubbing on their way to Prague, of course, and the occasional middle-aged American Jewish couple here to see if they could find that apartment that Grandma used to talk about (and, given the excellent documentation of Jewish life here, they usually can). But compared to Paris or Barcelona or even Munich, this wasn't much of a tourist destination for the English-speaking world.

But the Euro gives you an insight. Since, unlike the bills, all the coins have different reverses but the same face, you can see where they're from. I don't need to buy French Euros to go to France; I just spend my German ones and probably get French ones back in change. This is what the French family ahead of me in line at Mr. Pilan's market yesterday were doing, and it was here that I got one of those foreign coins. But in the past couple of days, I've also gotten Spanish and Dutch coins in change here.

This makes me wonder: are we at last getting foreign visitors? Or is it just that the coins are beginning to dilute away from the main stream of their home countries? The preponderance of German coins also reflects the fact that Germany mints far more Euro coins than most other countries (hello, Luxembourg!), but I'd like to think that, for these next couple of weeks, anyway, Berlin's inexplicably become attractive to foreigners.


Speaking of English-language magazines, I don't want anyone to get the idea that there isn't one here. There is. It's just barely a magazine, and the people who run it seem particularly clueless, as a glance at the cover of their current issue amply demonstrates. No, you don't aim a magazine at tourists, but you also don't take the two main tourist-attracting months off, either. But then, what can you expect from people who named their magazine The Berliner without noticing that there were already two other magazines (one a football fanzine published by a British guy, the other a mysterious art project with heavy funding which appears two or three times a year) with that name? That's why they call the magazine the Ex Berliner -- because it used to be The Berliner, geddit?

Last time I checked, they announced that they didn't have a target audience in mind, and it shows. Of course, they also started off as a free magazine (good idea: it got lots of exposure and there was almost always a pile to be found at the video rental store or in bars or in record stores) and now charges two Euros (bad idea: newsstands here don't give space to foreign-language periodicals except a few Russian and Turkish ones, so now they have to set up racks, which cost money, and convince places to sell it for them, which very, very few are willing to do, obviously).

Fortunately for them, there's enough young writing talent here that they can fill a thin monthly issue, so they no longer have to rely on the same old syndicated features (News of the Weird, Straight Dope) all the weeklies in America fill their pages with, and yes, I'll confess I wrote something for the June music issue because the music editor is a friend and promised to pay me out of his own pocket if they didn't (they did), but it remains a youth project. Given the number of professionals and diplomatic corps, not to mention all manner of over-30s here, you'd think they'd realize that by broadening their demographic and thereby getting a wider spectrum of advertisers, they'd make more money. But, like so much else here, it's a half-assed project.

Not to mention the name seems like an invitation to leave town. I accept!

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