Monday, August 27, 2007


Since the official part of my stipend/fellowship ended on Wednesday, I have been refreshingly free of obligation, and have thus begun to explore my ancestral homeland a bit more independently. Thursday consisted of a very touristy jaunt about the city, where I hit all the remaining tourist attractions on my list in once massive swoop. First stop, Siegessäule:

made (even more) famous courtesy of Wim Wenders and his band of roving angels. After climbing to the top with a surprisingly small group of other stalwart and sweating tourists, I was rewarded with a mammoth view:

Nice, eh? Even though Tiergarten has turned into an amorphous black blob here, I like the way all of the cranes and construction are captured in the photo--Berlin is one massive construction project at the moment, and it's kind of interesting to ponder what it is going to look like in another 10 or 15 years.

Following such sweaty ponderings, I made a quick march past the Reichstag:

(perhaps that imagery is inappropriate. I apologize), and an even quicker pass through the Brandenburg Tor:

where I admit to getting a bit misty-eyed. I blame this on two factors: 1) The last time I was in Berlin, as a dewy young lass, I stood on the Western side with a bunch of East German soldiers blocking my view of what lay beyond. 2) The paralympics were being held that day, and even a crusty-hearted jerk like myself was pretty awestruck by the sight of wheelchair-bound fencers and one-legged pole vaulters.

Anyhow, following this unusually tender-hearted afternoon, I ate at a weird "women-only" restaurant (I know, I know...but I couldn't resist eating a vegetarian bratwurst in a place that had a "no men allowed" sign on the door) and went to a movie about punk rock in East Berlin before collapsing into bed in my last night in my orange hippie pad:

I wasn't too sad to leave there, especially because the next day brought a trip to my real ancestral homeland....

Bavaria! Although Berliners make fun of the allegedly religious and backwards Bavarians, I have (yet another) soft spot in my heart for their grumbly-mumbly Bayrische dialect, and their fabulous use of color.

I have to admit, though, I was totally flummoxed by that dialect. Only after a couple of days and vigorous coaching by my family (the reason for my visit--my dad and his family relocated here after being evacuated from their hometown due to invading WWII-era Russians) did I realize that when Bavarians mean two they say "zwo," and that their version of the German "kommen" sounds remarkably similar to "cumin."

But that is neither here nor there. Instead let's celebrate Bavaria, shall we?

First of all, it is pretty. Like postcard-perfect pretty:

Second, they have cranes there. So what, you say? Well, imagine living in a place where cranes nest on top of the most scenic building in town:

Of course, there are other things that make Bavaria so :

Just a little good-natured brotherly drinkin'. However, later in the evening the one in the green jacket set his own hand on fire. Top that, Berlin!

Monday, August 20, 2007

My brush with the dark side

After a few days of a little bit too much togetherness, I decided yesterday that I needed to spend the day alone, preferably out in the countryside and possibly in a lake. Because the previous two days had been a blur of too little sleep, crappy food, and too many group outings, I was tired. Like the kind of bone-tired, I-am tired-of-speaking-a-foreign-language-and feeling-like-an-idiot-all-the-time tired. So I headed out to Friedrichshagen, which my Lonely Planet guide promised would offer a flea market (yes), cute cafes (yes) and swimming (only sort of).

The flea market itself was good, and my cafe lunch was passable, if laden with too much cheese. I perked up a little bit when I hit the shore of the Müggelsee, which offered a view of a historic brewery:

And loads of cuddling Germans enjoying the sun and lakeshore.

After a brief passage through a tunnel under the lake, I emerged on this strange and huge island, which was teeming with bicyclists, old people strolling, and legions of Germans sunning themselves. Although I had brought my bathing suit, the rustic nature of my surroundings prohibited a discreet change of clothes--plus, I feared that a thief would make off with my bag while I instead I just walked around and took sneaky and overexposed photos of older gentlemen.

(Just as a side note, I do want to state for the record that I love this type of older German gentleman. You know, the type that walks around with a little man purse, earnestly debating his equally earnest and aged pal on some matter of great national importance.)

While this was somewhat fun, I quickly became bored, and after consulting my Lonely Planet guide yet again, decided to set off--on foot, which becomes crucial to this tale--for the next town, which promised a lagoon and canals--so much so that it was allegedly nicknamed "The Little Venice" by locals. While my guidebook didn't say how far it was, it was only one subway stop, so, I figured, how far could it be?

About an hour later, as I dragged my even-more-tired carcass to a bus stop, I realized that it was really freaking far. Like miles. And I had only walked about halfway. And the busstop I had miraculously found was inoperational. So, I had a choice. I could give up and go back, or forge ahead and hope I didn't die for lack of food and water.

It wasn't so bad, really. I was by the lake, there were tons of other people around, and the weather was beautiful. After another 40 minutes or so of walking I came to another--operational!--bus stop and chugged into town where I immediately ate an enormous ice cream sundae and about 20 glasses of water. Then I decided to find these canals.

Well. Let me say something to the writers and editors of the Lonely Planet guide. I am pretty sure that this:

is not the equivalent of Venice, Italy. Venice, California maybe. But c'mon! If the canals are all on private land, and one can only access them after walking for 27 hours, if this really an appropriate recommendation for tourists? I think not.

Even worse, as I trudged back to the S-bahn, pausing momentarily to take a photo of this church:

I was almost abducted by a German pervert. There I was, innocently walking along, when suddenly this 50-something dude pulled up in a car and asked if I wanted a ride. Of course I was like, "Er, no," thinking maybe I looked so worn out after all of this walking that the dude had just taken pity on me. Then he said, quite insistently, "But where are you going?" "To the train station," I replied, "and I can walk." Then he got nasty, insisting that I get in the car, and hitting the gas on his car in this crazy and loud manuever that caused passersby--luckily--to take notice and stare pointedly at him, which led him to drive away in a panic.

So, that was my day. I was momentarily really, really pissed, bemoaning the fact that I seemingly can't go anywhere in the world without some creepy dude trying to dismember me. I wanted to go home. I was sick of Germans. But then I got on the train, put on my non-iPod (down with the Apple monopoly!) mp3 player, and watched the end-of-the day sun hit all the pensive Germans in the face, and I felt okay again. But just a warning to the good people of Ransdorf, Germany, and particularly the residents of Shöneblick Strasse: there is a pervert in your midst. He's about 50-55, small and lean, with brown hair and beard. He has a small tattoo on one of his arms, and was driving a tan station wagon. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Leipzig: Stadt der Helden

Last Sunday I decided to make a little adventure, so packed up an Italian and headed off to Leipzig on the train. I had read so much about the city--partially in Anna Funder's Stasiland, and partially because it is home to the Leipzig School of artists--that I couldn't resist a trip to the "City of Heroes," which played such a prominent role in the ousting of the Stasi and East German politicos. Unfortunately, I hadn't slept well the night before (my landlord bought a new bed that is somewhat similiar to sleeping on a board), so the entire trip is a bit of a blur, but here is some of what I saw:

I'm not really sure where these buildings are, or what they are--all I can tell you is that I took these photos out of a moving train's window, which accounts for the hazy, dirty quality. Plus I was myself bleary-eyed, as I've already mentioned.

Anyhow, I woke up a little bit upon our arrival in Leipzig's main train station, which was simply beautiful. See?

Our day mostly consisted of walking around, visiting art museums, and eating, drinking and eating and drinking some more. After visiting the Galerie für zeitgenössische Kunst, our first eating stop was Auerbach's Keller, which is a major tourist attraction, but totally irresistable to tourists and locals alike, due to its delish food and major historical appeal--it's been open since the 1500s and was a favorite haunt of Goethe himself, who supposedly drank there for "inspiration."

After a visit to yet another art museum (art! art! art!) we needed a little inspiration ourselves, so headed to a cafe that served up the local brew, a very complex concoction called "Gose." Personally, I loved Gose--basically, beer fermented a special way and flavored with salt and coriander--but the Italian hated it. That's his nose there on the right hand-side, looking as disgruntled as a nose can:

Following all of this eating, drinking and art-consuming, our time was short, so we made a quick hike through the town, where I was surprised to find that several prominent-looking buildings were still in post-WWII disrepair. Although it gave the city a sort of melancholy lost-in-time-feel, I couldn't help but wonder how the people who live here feel about spots like these:

I suspect that some of these spots are squatted (hurrah!), so at least folks are making use of the space--but sadly, this place seemed to be totally abandoned:

Although since it is a tunnel, perhaps all of the Leipzigers were hiding in the tunnel, drinking beer.

Anyway, after a mad dash to the train station, I fell into a Gose-cheese-himbeertorte induced slumber, and probably snored all the way back to Berlin. Luckily the Italian was too polite to notice.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Postkarte aus Berlin: Nummer drei

A few other random things that have caught my eye:

An old East German watchtower, preserved in what is rapidly becoming a residential district.

View of Fernsehturm, from Museum Insel

German couple, out for a stroll on Karl-Marx Allee

Potsdamer Platz train station

Some little kid riding a super-cute, wooden bicycle through the train station. He refused to get off the bike when going down the stairs, forcing his mother to pick it--and him--up and carry them down to the lower level. Once released, he sped off with little regard for passersby or his own safety.

Biergarten Prater, one of the oldest in Berlin. Prater Schwartzbier, yum.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Postkarte aus Berlin: Nummer zwei

Today marks the official one-week anniversary of my reconnection with the Internet (well, sort of. I've been thrown back into the 20th century since the apartment where I'm living has no internet service. Additionally, the speed of the connection in my host institution leaves something to be desired, so I've been reduced to walking around random neighborhoods, Pocket PC held aloft, in the hopes of finding a free-floating wi-fi connection), so what better time to give a little taste of the delights that have distracted me here in Deutschland?

The weather took a turn for the better a couple of days after my arrival, so on Saturday I set off zum Fuß to explore the city. My first stop was this park, where the Germans were busily sunning themselves, and scampering about, playing sports:

Since I am not very sporty, I didn't partake, but instead headed here:

where I enjoyed the first of many "Flohmärkte." (Oh yeah, and that building is famous because John F. Kennedy gave his famous--but grammatically incorrect--"Ich bin ein Berliner" speech here.) I wasn't thinking of JFK and his miraculous transformation into a pastry though; instead I was purusing heaps and heaps of German books, old cameras, clothes, kitchenware and other random items culled from multiple German closets. No purchases were made, but several invasive photographs were taken:

These brief moments alone were immensely enjoyable; afterwards I met up with a group of like-minded German-study-iers who dragged me all over the city and forced me to engage in unsavory activities such as looking at art, eating ice cream, befuddling local Germans with my bad grammar, and...of course, drinking beer:

Beer-drinking is serious business here, as one would imagine. I have been shocked at the legions of people drinking beer on the train, as well as nicely-dressed ladies drinking beer at 10 in the morning. I haven't acclimated to that degree yet; instead I wander about, taking random photos of stylish driving schools:

tiny little cars:

and random bits of the now-defunct Berlin Wall:

I've been doing lots of other stuff too--but you will have to wait, because this slow internet connection is driving me crazy, and I have yet more beer to drink.