Wednesday, August 11, 2004


Which, as all who live in Germany know, is a word signifying a day off from work because of the heat. There are all kinds of arcane labor laws here, and the Hitzefrei is one of them; I remember one summer -- it might even have been last year, when it was good and hot for a long time -- when the local government just ground to a halt for an extended Hitzefrei.

As for me, I've been doing a lot of work, with a bit more on the way, and today was just a day between, with nothing much to do and all day long to do it in. So after doing a (very little bit of) tidying up, I decided to go for a walk. My specific goal was way up past the Gesundbrunnen Center, a huge shopping mall that landed a couple of years ago in a deserted urban wasteland, to a few of the Arab and Turkish vegetable shops in deepest Wedding, once a communist anti-Nazi stronghold in the '30s and now a teeming mass of Muslims. I'm looking for okra, eaten by some Turks (who call it bamyasi, if I'm not mistaken), which I want to cook on the 21st for a Cajun meal I'm holding here (in the back yard, if I'm lucky and the predicted rains don't come).

The walk started off well: a new piece of urban art has appeared near my house, three pieces of rough unfinished wood, each with an identical painting of a nude woman in a yoga position. One is signed "Nike," leading me to wonder if she knows Zeus, creator of my other local favorite piece of street art, the exact outline cast by a no parking sign next to a street light on Auguststr.

So I was invigorated enough to check the walls as I turned left at Rosenthaler Platz and made my way up the right-hand side of Brunnenstr., but there was scandalously little new work to be seen. Instead, as I approached the border of Wedding at Bernauer Str., I began to see loads of Kurdish women, identifiable by their head-scarves, which most Turkish women don't wear here. It must have been a Hitzefrei for them, too, since their husbands let them leave the house for something other than shopping. Said husbands can usually be seen in the dozens of social clubs, behind darkened windows or in basements, playing cards, drinking endless tea, and smoking. As I approached on my way down the street, the women turned their heads so I wouldn't look at them. Not that I was terribly tempted.

So it was depressing to notice that a fashion show for the clothing these women wear is coming to town, the Walk of Islam. I'm so glad they have a website, because otherwise people might not believe me. There are, in fact, a lot more Turkish acts coming to town this summer than rock acts, from what I can tell. Of course, in the fall, we get Ian Anderson playing "orchestral Tull" with the Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt. Can't wait for that.

These headscarved women seem even more defeated than their German sisters, who also tend to walk around looking like they're on their way to be executed, but except for the ones wearing polyester, I bet they're keeping pretty cool in this weather (which, to be honest, only went up to 81° Fahrenheit today). But Wedding really does get me down, with its endless parade of cheap goods on sale, "discount" stores selling odds and ends that fell off of containers, kebap stands, box-store supermarkets, and tanning salons. When the Gesundbrunnen Center hove into view, I went in.

I guess it was as much to see what German air conditioning would be like as anything, to be honest, but I'd recently seen some incredibly cheap DVD players advertised on, so I wanted to see what the prices were like in the electronics supermarket there. There was no way to tell if they were all-region (and anyway my TV blew up last year and I haven't replaced it -- but when I do I'm going to need all-region), and of course no sales help, but I jotted down some numbers and left.

Finally, I made it up to Stettiner Str. (Brunnenstr. having changed into Badstr. by then -- you can follow all of this on the map linked next to this screed now: thanks Jon!) and there was my Turkish market. There was a crowd outside, but that's because one of the guys was giving away the thinnest slices of watermelon I've ever seen. Nobody ever gives anything away here, so a guy slicing off a teaspoon of watermelon on a hot day attracts a mob. Me, I don't like watermelon, even the smell of it.

And there was no okra, either.

So two hours later I'm back here, having enjoyed my Hitzefrei and getting back to work on trying to get some more work.

Pretty dull day, all in all.

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