Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Postkarte aus Berlin: Nummer eins

After an eight hour flight in which I was blissfully knocked out (thanks clonazapam!) I emerged in a misty, rainy Berlin, where I surprised myself by confidently asking the somewhat laconic bus kiosk operator for a ticket on the X9 bus. He handed me the ticket without a word, perhaps stunned by my horrific use of the German language (as was the passport control dude, now that I think of it....)

A short trip on the almost-quaintly tiny U-Bahn brought me to my super clean accomodations, which are shared with a pleasant woman who I suspect may be a follower of the Bagwhan Schree Rajneesh (everything in the apartment is orange!). She helped me unpack, and shuttled me out the door, as I was due at the Goethe Institut for my placement exams. (How mean is that?! First they send a girl on an overnight, transatlantic flight, and then they test my German after only a few hours sleep! Sheesh!)

Because I am a recalcitrant, rebellious lass, I took my sweet time getting there, and instead took a stroll on a nearly two-hour hike from Shoeneberg to Mitte. Here's a bit of what I saw:

The center of the city still feels very much in transition. As you can see, there are several sites that are under development (they are dismantling the Palast der Republik, for example), and others are seemingly just waiting for some developer to come and snap them up and turn them into luxury condos. I didn't take any photos of the Potsdamer Platz, as it is a horrorshow (I mean, really! Why take a historic center of a city--a place that the Berlin Wall ran smack through--and make an ugly, could-be-anywhere shopping mall there? Ugh!)

I did take plenty of "remnants of socialism" photos in the former DDR though--luckily the powers that be haven't decided to paint them over with ads for Siemens or Daimler Chrysler.

I like the way this fellow is jauntily leading the masses:

while the bearded fellow, below, is a bit more serious about his task.

I did visit Marx and Engels, of course, but there were so many tourists clustered around them that I had little chance to take an adequate photo...which is my excuse for why it looks like Karl's head is exploding:

There are still remnants of the wall scattered throughout the city, but it seems that most of them have been dismantled and placed in random locations. Such was the case here, where this bit appeared in the front courtyard of what appeared to be a relatively swanky apartment building:

This second spot was a bit more somber--although I didn't stop to read the sign, I think this is the area where the longest part of the wall has been preserved. There weren't many people around, as you can see, and it definitely had a sort of "lost-in-time" feeling about it:

Overall, things are going super-toll here, although I have been somewhat grouchy about how little time is alloted to eating, and how much to shuttling around on public transport. I miss my bike, and I've yet to find a tofu-wurst, which I do know exists.
I also haven't had time yet to examine the seedier side of Berlin--a quick jaunt through Kreutzberg last night did uncover two rats, however, so that seemed promising.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Berlin=Land of Popel?

So, on Sunday I'm leaving for Berlin. Hurrah! The last time I was there was pre-Wende--1985 to be exact, when I was but a mere lass. I remember only four things vividly: going through the East German border crossing at Marienborn (vaguely scary, with very stern border guards), the KaDeWe department store (overwhelming capitalist consumption mart), an old man yelling at a passing bicyclist and then grabbing her with the curved end of his cane, and, most memorably, a seemingly normal businessman wiping a gi-normous booger on the side of the passing U-Bahn. (That one impressed me not only because of the size of the mega-boog, but because it was still stuck to the side of the train when I got off a couple of stops later, which seemed to defy all laws of physics.)

Photos taken by my childish hand indicate that I went to other places too--Schloss Charlottenburg, Checkpoint Charlie, and various segments of the still-standing Berlin Wall. Still, I was a kid, and didn't have much control over my itinerary. Plus I was only there for a couple of days.

This time, though, I am going for a month. And, due to a somewhat uncharacteristic spurt of industriousness on my part, I am going for free, after having applied for a "language and culture" fellowship from the very magnanimous German government. The deal is, I go to class for four hours a day, then get escorted around to soak up German culture. That'll leave me lots of time to engage in other pursuits, like:

1) Avoiding Tom Cruise, who is apparently puffily marching about throughout the city, pretending to be Claus von Steuffenberg:

2) Avoiding all references to dirndls and lederhosen:

3) And instead gravitating toward German past-times like drinking beer in outdoor beer gardens:

and visiting Marx and Engels:

I guess most Germans don't really visit them--but it seems irresistible to sit on Marx's lap, don't you think?

Anyway, other than these somewhat rudimentary plans, I have no other agenda, which is making me vaguely nervous. What if I get homesick? What if I forget every word of German that I know? What if I suddenly have the urge to wipe a booger on the train?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Alles wird wie neu sein...

I totally think this will be the anthem to my upcoming stay in Berlin:


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Scheisse! Hier kommen die Bettwanzen!

For several summers in a row I have engaged in the somewhat precious pasttime of attempting to come up with a catchy slogan--a theme, a brand, if you will--that encapsulates what I think the summer is, or may entail.

This began in Summer 2004, aka "The Summer of Shit," when I witnessed an alarming number of random strangers shitting in public. (Notable locations included a mega-shit taken by a dude in Jersey City's Journal Square, a semi-hidden shit taken by a man attempting to hide in the bushes in Bay Ridge, another mega-shit taken by an unknown assailant on the F train platform...) The summer following was the Summer of Broken Hearts. I forget what last summer was.

This summer? Well, it's still early. At first I was thinking it might be "Heisser Sommer," since I'm leaving for Deutschland for a big chunk of the summer and early fall. Or perhaps it would be some type of anise hyssop flavored summer theme, since I have recently become obsessed with this seasonal herb and have been making buckets of ice cream flavored with it.

(Nerdy photo of anise hyssop I planted in my sister's upstate garden. You can tell I am a city girl, so excited over a dopey plant!)

But then, something happened. More specifically, this fucker appeared:

For those of you innocents who don't live in a major city infested with these things, let me explain. That is a bedbug. I found this bedbug in my living room. In broad daylight. Crawling alarmingly close to the very laptop on which I relate this story to you now. Of course I flipped out. Well, not immediately. At first I was like, "Ew, ugly bug!" Squish, self-satisfied smirk at my own propensity toward, and enjoyment of, violence. Then I took a look it. I got a bad feeling. I googled. I freaked out.

Since then I've been engaged in a daily attempt to maintain a normal life while trying to engage the authorities (exterminators, building management) in this little problem. I wisely took the above photo and saved the deceased in a food storage container filled with alcohol. (This, by the way, is the only way I've been able to prove that the deceased is a bedbug. Otherwise, all kinds of well-meaning people were coming up with all kinds of other explanations. Baby roach. Tick. Weird beetle. Some other bug that didn't require costly and time-consuming extermination procedures...) Just today I received official notification of what I already knew: this is a bedbug. Depending on whether there are more in my apartment, my life might devolve into various stages of sucknitude for a while.

So, what have I done? Well, the first couple of nights after finding this dude--and I should note that I have not been bitten, and have no evidence that they have been anywhere near me or my bed--I cowered in my bed, literally shaking and telling myself I was a grown-up and could handle this. I reminded myself that I don't have cancer or some life-threatening illness, nor do any of my loved ones. That my dad lived through WWII Germany and would be mad at me for being such a whine-ass about a little bug. (Especially because they had massive bedbugs over there, but were more worried about things like starving to death and their disappearing Jewish neighbors.) That if I had a nervous breakdown and got institutionalized my mom would feel really bad, and my sister and friends would have to take care of me. This helped a little, but mostly I just panicked, turned on the lights every ten seconds, then went and sat in the bathtub and cried.

Of course, that was just at night. And only for two nights. Otherwise, I consulted the enormously helpful people at Bedbugger (thanks, er, "buggers"!) and began to prepare. Apparently one isn't supposed to clean too much before the extermination team arrives--this may repel the creatures for a bit and thus make eradicating them ultimately harder--but I do admit to doing a little vigorous vaccuming and curtain washing. I also did this:

That's right. My bed is now essentially surrounded by a moat. Luckily for me (I guess), I have dust allergies, and had already encased my box spring and mattress in fancy vinyl covers several months ago. No bugs in there, hopefully. But just to make sure, I took the bed apart, cleaned it with Murphy's Bedbug, I mean, Oil, Soap, duct-taped the zippers on the fancy vinyl covers shut, did the same on the covers on my pillows, changed my sheets (all white for ease of spotting any new jerks that think they need to join me), put those aluminum tubs under bed risers, filled the tubs with a mixture of water and vegetable oil, and greased down the risers and bottom of the bed legs with Duane Reade-brand petroleum jelly. Double-sided carpet tape now rings the bed, and the perimeter of the area where I saw the first (and hopefully only) bug. I also hurriedly threw another vinyl cover on my futon mattress, which is the closest bed-like furniture in the area where I found the bedbug. During all of this, I saw neither hide nor hair of bedbuggery. No bugs. No casings. No distinctive poop that means they've been feeding on me. Since then I've felt remarkably self-satisfied with my moat-building and quite a bit calmer. It's still taking me a few minutes to fall asleep, and I'm still sleeping with the light on, but so far things are okay.

(And yes, bedbug-obsessed readers, I know there is a chance they can divebomb me from above. I will just buy a tarp. And then BeDazzle it. That was a joke.)

And help is arriving--the extermination team was finally called in by my building management, who were convinced thanks to my helpful photo and bug carcass. They are coming on Friday. I am optimistic. People tell me that since I saw this bug in the daytime, and near the wall, and in my living room, it probably was a new arrival and came from somewhere outside my apartment. Hopefully it was alone and dying. Hopefully there are no more, and no eggs. If not...


Well, I'm going to try at least. Starting Friday.

In the meantime, I don't plan to become a bedbug blogger. I will continue my normal life, reminding myself all the while that this is just a bug. A gross, nocturnal blood sucker, but just a bug, nonetheless. I will kill them, do the best I can to protect myself against them, and make sure that I don't inadvertently spread them anywhere else. That's it.

So, that still leaves the business of an Unnamed Summer to deal with. Summer of Scourge? Stigma Summer? Solstice of Shame? The Dog Days of Disease?

UPDATE: Since many concerned readers have asked me for a progress report, let me fill you all in here.

The exterminator--a very cheerful but disarmingly young man--came by this afternoon to start the eradication campaign. After a fairly careful investigation he reported finding no evidence of further bedbugs, nests, or eggs. He did, however, report a moderate silverfish infestation (due to the wood floors, he said), and a roach nest in the kitchen! Good God! How many pests can I be plagued with at once? (I assure you, I am not slovenly. In fact, I err on the cleaner side of normal, I'd say.)

After donning his hazmat suit (which has a special name that I've forgotten, but is basically an all-white plastic-y type suit they wear to ensure that they don't carry bedbugs out of the apartment) he climbed around on the floor, assisted me in disassembling my bed, then threw me out for four hours while he applied what I hope was DDT. (That is a joke. I know DDT is bad and illegal and causes two-headed babies. But it's funny how such convictions become shaky when one is confronted with a bloodsucking, hidden assailant.)

So, for now, I appear to be semi-safe. I have to continue to wash every item of clothing/bedding/fabric I own, have to reinstall the moat when I get home, and will probably buy some new pillows and take all of my other items to the dry cleaner. All the apartments around me have to be inspected. Then my new friend will come back in two weeks, do another inspection, treat again, and hopefully move on, never to see me again.

Let's all keep our fingers crossed. In the meantime, my father today informed me that he has given me a new nickname: Wanze Koenigin. Mean, ain't he?