An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
29 July, 2015
Closing Time

Well this is fucking weird. Here I am, sitting in my parents’ backyard again. It brings back memories of last summer, when I would sit out here with a drink and listen to Welcome to Night Vale podcasts. But being here now is surreal. Especially when I realize that my goal this evening is to pick up the Berlin story where it left off. It left off last Thursday, which now feels like another life. Surely it’s not a mere five or six days that separates me from that evening in my beloved Tempelhofer Feld?

That was a lovely night. The German class Lisa teaches is part of a series she started called Deutch für Dich.1 And so it was that at the end of the session, her and her fellow teachers organized a picnic in THF for all the students. I got there a bit late, as I had come from meeting Alice for a coffee, which migrated into a beer. Grand old time, that. Anyway, I show up and the party is well underway. But Oz is there, so at least I have somebody to talk to. He’s a good lad.

But there were lots of good people as it turned out. I chatted for a while with an older gentleman from Finland.2 He was very soft spoken and had a rather strong accent, so that he could be hard to understand at times. But we got on well enough and he was a fascinating guy. A photographer, he travelled on a moped from the very North to the very South of Finland, taking pictures the whole way. And in the end, he made a book of his journey; though the text was German and he didn’t himself write it. Still though, pretty amazing.

Later, I had a chat with a Greek dude who I actually had shared one class with. Really interesting guy. We even talked about Ancient Greek and Homer for a bit. Later on, he and I, as well as Oz and an English fellow got into a very interesting discussion about European politics, all the more so as we weren’t all of the same mind. Nevertheless, it remained respectful throughout. These are the sorts of political discussions I love, and of which there aren’t nearly enough these days.

When the park closed for the evening, our group moved on to a local Ecke Kneipe – or corner pub3 – to continue the festivities. A couple of nice things worth mentioning about this portion of the evening. First, whiskey cost 2€ a glass. Fantastic. Second, I found myself engaged in conversation with a beautiful Dutch cellist. We talked for quite a while about how awesome Bach is. Which, I mean, isn’t he just?

We talked about not just how gorgeous the music is, but how you learn something new every time you play it, how Bach is a life-long journey. It’s a bit strange, actually, to have this conversation with a proper professional musician. Because when she says it, you know she really means it. Me? I was just bad enough at the piano, am just bad enough at the guitar, to understand how this can be true. I’m nowhere near good enough to experience it.

Where I can properly relate, however, is Homer. Because Homer is to…well actually, what do you even say? – poetry, literature, Greek, epic, life? – Homer is the Bach of his world, is the point. And there, I know the feeling of learning something new every time, of the life-long journey. And also of that being the thing you reach for when you just want the best feeling. Which is a dreadful paraphrase of what The Dutchess said about playing Bach for pleasure.

Well, anyway, nothing beyond a really lovely conversation happened. She was in town visiting her sister (who was also there), and said sister wasn’t going to let anything happen. Also, I’m sure she had a boyfriend anyway. Not because of anything she said, mind you. But because I don’t believe I live in a world where beautiful Dutch cellists don’t have boyfriends. Still, chalk that experience up to a win. It was probably one of the best conversations I had in all my time in Berlin. And I’m not just saying that because she was a beautiful Dutch cellist.4

I also had a nice little chat/goodbye with Lisa. It was bittersweet, I’ll admit. But that’s life. Hopefully we’ll stay in touch while I’m here. Certainly, if all goes according to plan and I get back to Berlin, we’ll pick up where we left off. Of all the awesome people I met there, she became my best and closest friend. She’s a good lass, that girl.

Friday night was the Shabbat dinner. I was late for that too. I was reading my book as I stepped onto the S-Bahn, and so didn’t realize that I had caught the wrong train. Slightly embarrassing, that. But I got there in time for sundown, and all was well. We had a nice little group. It was me and the Israeli girl, as well as four others.5

Israeli Girl asked me to start things off by explaining a little bit about the history and traditions. This I did as best I could6 while sprinkling in plenty of self-deprecating Jewish jokes for effect. Then IG did the whole candles-eye covering routine along with the appropriate blessing. Then I did the bruchas for the wine and bread.7 Then we ate and drank and had a grand old time. One of the other girls was a German teacher, and those who didn’t have an overriding interest in language had an interest in travel. So there was plenty to talk about in a room full of strangers.

This last point is not insignificant. Going to a party – even an ostensibly Shabbat party – where you don’t know anybody, well, it gives you the feeling that you’re finally starting to figure things out a little bit. I somehow didn’t feel awkward or out of place at all.8 I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’d definitively made new friends, but certainly these were people I could see hanging out with again. And of course, this was happening three days before I had to leave. But lemme not complain. It was a really cool night, and I’m glad I went.

Oh, and one funny story. At one point, we had got to talking about cockroaches.9 It seems you just don’t get New York sized roaches in Berlin. They do have these small roaches, apparently, that they simply call Berlin Cockroaches.10 Well, after hearing the phrase ‘Berlin Roaches’ a few times, I turned to Israeli Girl and said, “You know, it’s nice to know that when they say ‘Berlin Roaches,’ they’re not talking about us for a change!” Well, she nearly fell out of her chair laughing. As for the Germans in the room, I don’t think they knew whether to laugh or cringe.

At the end of the night, I took the train home with the Australian dude and his German girlfriend. They were both very nice and it was very pleasant ride. Turns out they live two blocks away from me, so that was convenient. As for IG, I’m not sure we’ll stay in touch while I’m home, but she’s definitely someone I’ll look when I’m back there.

Saturday night was dinner with Joschka and Lus. We went to a proper German restaurant for a change. The food was very good, although I think we were literally the only people there. I had a Blutwurst, which was really quite good. And it was good to get some time with them. I don’t think I’d seen Joschka since the festival, and I hadn’t seen Lus since she was here in May. Classic good times.

Sunday night was my last open-mic. Alice, Zibs and Jan came down, which was grand. And Annett came as well, this time with her boyfriend (also called Jan). Annett even performed some of her own poetry, which was very cool. It was funny meeting her boyfriend. I think he definitely showed up feeling like, ‘who is this asshole?’ But once we got to talking, we actually got on quite well. And the three of us spoke quite a bit in German, which was great for me. And also a bit unusual. You see, Annett’s English is so good that that’s how we normally communicate. To the point where I almost forget that she’s actually German. But it was great to be able to chat with them in their language and not feel hopefully lost. Actually, I think I did rather well, keeping in mind that I’m not very good.

My performance was alright. Definitely better than last time, so that’s not nothing. And it was nice to have some people there to support me. Afterwards, Alice even complimented me on my French accent,11 which pleased me greatly. And it was nice to get a last night in with her and Zibs. I will miss those two. In any case, to put a bow on the whole open-mic thing: It was a good experience. I’m glad I did it. But I’ve got a long way to go, and a long way to grow.

And then on to Monday night, where I cooked dinner for Anja, Mischa and Blondey. Anja is such a sweetheart. During the day, she texted me to ask what they should bring. I told her wine, and maybe a dessert. Well, when she came home, she had wine and said that Blondey would be bringing dessert. Perfect. But then, she said she had something else for me, a little going away present. She had got for me a can of AC/DC beer and a bag of gummy bears. What a doll.

Dinner was great. I mean, the night was great. Dinner was fine. I made a shepherds pie and an apple walnut salad. Which would have been even better had not Blondey been allergic to walnuts.12 Still though, everybody seemed to like it all, and Blodney was able to eat around the walnuts. For her part, she made some sort of coconut cake balls, which were delicious.

In any case, they’re all lovely people and we just had good time together. Mischa, as always, didn’t ever let my glass stay empty for long. This despite the fact that I told him I couldn’t drink too much as I still had to pack. It was for this reason that he added some water to my wine. It did not, however, stop him from breaking out a bottle of whiskey in my honor and seeing to it that I drank more thereof than I ought to have. Well, I paid for that Monday morning, but that’s as will be.

At the end of the night, it was a bit sad to say goodbye. I really enjoyed living with them for two months, and you could tell they liked having me around as well. And it’s a very nice dynamic with the four of us. It’s just very comfortable and easy and fun. I don’t know if I’ll do the whole AirBnB thing next time around, but I certainly hope there are more dinners like that in my future.

I wish I could say the trip to the airport was uneventful. But it wasn’t. I felt fine when I woke up. I felt fine when I got on the train. And then three stops before my destination, I felt an overpowering nausea and dizziness. So I staggered off the train with all of my bags and proceeded to throw up in a U-Bahn trash can. Ein bisschen peinlich.13 But it had to be done. Still, the same thing happened on the way back from France. So if there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s this: don’t celebrate so hard the night before you fly. Time will tell if I ever actually learn this lesson.

Then the airport. Well, I knew my main bag was overweight and that I’d have to pay extra for it. However, on the way to Berlin I was able to bring my guitar as a carry-on, and so I was hopeful I’d be able to do so again. Unfortunately, the lady at the counter told me that this was impossible, and that furthermore they never should have let me do that in the first place. It would be another 160€ to check the instrument. However, the lady felt sufficiently bad about this that, given the circumstances, she allowed me to check it free of charge.

But then, she wanted to weight my carry-on backpack. What? No? I didn’t know those were subject to weight restrictions. I thought it was just size. It was with that in mind that I had stuffed it full of heavy books, hoping to lighten the load in my checked suitcase. Well, my backpack was three kilos overweight. Oh god. So she asked me if I could get rid of anything. I politely told her I couldn’t possibly just throw books away. So I asked how much to check it, and again it was 160€. But you could tell she just felt bad. So she said she’d see what she could do. “Ich mach für dich einen schwere Tag, oder?” (I’m making your day hard, eh?) “Ja, wirklich.” (Yes, really). Then she said something in German about how I shouldn’t have to pay so much money for this. In the end, she allowed me to check my backpack free of charge as well. To which I responded, after saying ‘thank you’ about 64 times, “Du bist eine Lebensgeretterin (You’re a lifesaver). This may or may not be a real word, but she understood.14 So I say here again, Thank you, Air Berlin Check-In Lady.

The flight itself was fine. I was seated next to a very nice Jewish girl who was pretty and not at all fat; always a plus when flying. Anyway, she was an interesting cat and we had some nice conversations along the way and just generally got on well. Probably not someone I’d be friends with in real-life, but certainly above-par as a cross-Atlantic seatmate. Anytime you’re able to talk about languages and literature, you can’t really complain.

Anyway, here I am back in New York. Or, Long Island at any rate. Hot, sticky Long Island. Where you can’t walk down the street with a half-liter of beer. But, where air conditioning is (thankfully) a thing. I don’t know definitively what comes next. I can’t got back to Europe for three months. But my plan is to get right back to Berlin in November and make a real go of it. Will that actually happen? Time will tell…

  1. German for You []
  2. Who, it must be said, was in possession of fantastic and snow-white beard. []
  3. The sort of pub, it must be said, me and Kelvin were often in search of, but never managed to find. []
  4. But it didn’t hoit! []
  5. I was also hoping Joschka and Lus would show up, but they were coming back from out of town and didn’t arrive in time. []
  6. Probably sufficient for the goyem, but hardly befitting my behebrewschooled education. []
  7. IG did up a homemade challah from scratch, which was quite good, I hasten to add. []
  8. And I didn’t even drink that much!  No, seriously, I think there were two – maybe three – bottles of wine for the six of us. Oh, and here would be a nice time to mention that IG got hold of an aluminum camping cup to use as the Kiddish Cup. I thought that was quite clever and really a very nice touch. []
  9. Don’t ask. []
  10. We spoke mostly English, as one of the dudes was from Australia and speaks little-to-no German. []
  11. One of my songs is in French. []
  12. #davefail []
  13. Slightly embarrassing. []
  14. I just looked it up. There is a word, and it’s Lebensretter (or at least, that’s the masculine form). Still though, not bad for trying to make it up on the spot. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
23 July, 2015

Getting a bit of a late start on this one, so I’ll try to keep it short. By now I’ve basically resigned myself to the idea that I’ll be flying home next Tuesday. Lisa seems to think I can still make a mad dash and get it all sorted in time. Maybe she’s right. But at the moment, it feels more stressful than anything. And, honestly, part of me won’t mind going home – as long as it’s not for too long.

While I’ve been here, two of my friends have had babies. I’d like to meet them. It’ll be nice to see the family. And it will be nice to see some friends as well. And Berlin ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Berlin. I like this town very much. Do I love it? I don’t know. I certainly don’t feel like this is where I want to spend my life. But then again, I don’t really think I want to spend my life in any one place at this point. And maybe three months just isn’t long enough to get a feel for a city.

It’s a funny city, at least from a New York point of view. The population is about 3.5 million, I believe. Not even half the size of the Big Apple. And geographically, it’s quite spread out. So it has the advantage of never feeling very crowded, even at rush hour.

Taking the subway during rush hour is a piece of cake. You always have room to stand, and often you can even find a seat. But it’s a great metro system. It’s composed of two major parts – the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn. The U-Bahn is the subway; U for Untergrund. The S-Bahn goes aboveground; S for Straßen. Complementing these is a series of buses and trams. There are also a ton of bike lanes, many built into the sidewalk rather than the street. People really love their bikes here. Anja and Lisa are always telling me to just get a Fahrrad – a bicycle. But you know me, I walk everywhere.

Back to mass transit, there are a few key differences between here and New York. One is, there are no turnstiles. Instead, transit cops make periodic spot inspections of riders’ tickets. It seems to work. I’ve gotten inspected two or three times; my train, I mean. The last time, I was reading my book and I had my headphones on, so I didn’t notice what was happening. Then this guy waves his fingers between me and my book. And my first reaction was to be annoyed. And I thought, come on man, fuck off. And no, I don’t have any change. Because my experience in New York is, anybody who will so rudely interrupt you while reading with headphones on is probably panhandling. Needless to say, I was surprised to find Mr. Transit Cop when I looked up. I was, however, still annoyed.

Another difference here is, the doors don’t open automatically. You have to press a button on the door to open it. Obviously, the button only functions when the train has stopped moving. But this has bred an interesting difference in Subway habits, I think. Back home, I always wait for the train to stop moving and for the doors to open before I get up or relinquish my standing space. I have no interest in being knocked around as the train lurches to a halt. Many people take this approach, though obviously, in NYC somebody is always in a rush. But here, whoever is nearest the door always seems to be in a contest to see how fast they can get those doors open. Very often, somebody is jamming on the button when the train is still slowing down. And I don’t think these people are in any particular rush. They just seem always to want to hit that sweet spot of getting those doors open as soon as possible. For my part, I have not adopted this custom. I’ll get up and leave when I’m good and ready, thank you very much.

This week, I’ve been trying to do the things I love about this place. I’ve spent a couple of afternoons reading outside with a beer; once in my secret garden (which is apparently called Körner Park) and once by the canal. And I’ve gone on some long walks, trying to see parts of the city I haven’t seen before (also, obviously, with a beer). Today, I made sure my walk took me through Tempelhofer Feld, one of my favorite spots in the whole city. And tomorrow, I’ll be going to a picnic there.

I’m also trying to make sure I get to the food I love here; the falafels, the schwarmas, the döners. Today I stopped by the falafel stand where the Egyptian guy once accosted me about Obama. But this time there was some kid behind counter, and he didn’t make nearly as nice a sandwich. Still, it was pretty damn good.

Meanwhile, my friends are doing the old London Bus Routine. That is, they’re either not around at all, or else they all want to do stuff on the same day. Joschka and Lisa are both out of town and Zibs has been busy all week. And then, all of a sudden, the school gang wants to do something, but they want to do it when I’m supposed to go to the picnic at THF or when I’m supposed to have the Shabbat dinner with that beboyfriended Israeli girl. But I invited the school gang to the picnic and I invited Joschka and Lus to Shabbat. So we’ll see how that all shakes out.

On the other hand, nobody being around has afforded me some time to (finally!) sit down and read some Homer. I’ve been working through book XIV of the Iliad. What a joy. I once had a professor who insisted it was imperative that you read at least ten lines of Homer every day. Mind you, ten lines isn’t very much at all. But doing it everyday keeps it in your blood, as it were. And I think he was right about that.

Back when I was reading with Daitz, I’d set aside one night a week to do the reading. And then we’d have our meeting on Saturdays. So basically, I only read Homer twice a week. It’s not enough. But when you get to spend a couple of hours with The Master, it all sort of works out. But now I’m on my own. So I’ve got to stay on top of it. And man, it’s good to be back. During the whole month of school, I think I got to read Homer once, maybe twice. That was the hardest part, believe it or not.

But absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Not having the time to read, it reminded me how much I love Greek. It also reminded me that however much I enjoy teaching English, my mother tongue – and I definitely do – the dream job is to one day teach Greek. I remember one day in school – it must have been the day after I actually got to read a bit – Alice asked if she could borrow my laptop. The last webpage I had up was about Greek participles. “Greek participles, eh?” she asked. And I was like, “Omg, Alice, you have no idea! Greek participles are bad-ass! They can do so many things! They can be temporal, concessive, causative…” I trailed off when I noticed she was looking at me funny.

The thing about Greek is, it’s just the fucking best. And nobody knows it. All the people that I’ve met who are fascinated by languages – they would love Greek! But it never gets taught. It’s rarely even offered. And what a shame. Honestly. I mean, in English class – I mean English Lit – what do you read from antiquity? Sophocles (Oedipus), Homer (Odyssey), Euripides (Medea). It’s the foundation of Western Lit. Nobody teaches Virgil or Seneca or Cicero in English class. Why? Because it’s second rate.1 And yet, we insist on teaching Latin. Let’s get it together, people!

Apart from Homer, I’ve got two books going at the moment. The first, Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers (20k Leagues Under the Sea), I think I’ve mentioned. It’s important to me that I keep my French up. And also, Jules Verne is just awesome. It’s sci-fi, it’s adventure, it’s really smart2 and best of all, it’s just fucking fun. The other is a book called Der, Die, Was?, which Blondey upstairs has lent to me. It’s a real challenge, but it’s funny, and it’s very very good. It’s about an American and his struggle to learn German. So, I can relate. But the vocabulary is a bitch. I can slog through it, but it’s real work. And I need the practice. My German isn’t going to improve itself.

That’s also one of the nice things about being back in this apartment. With Lisa, because we were proper friends, it was way too easy to speak English. But here, that just doesn’t fly. Anja and Mischa – who is out of town this week – they really help my German, just by everyday household chatter. It’s not always easy, and I still miss plenty of what is said. But I get so much more now than when I first got here three months ago. Well, that’s as should be.

Right, well, I said I’d keep this short, and I will. That’s enough for tonight. Tomorrow is the picnic. Friday is Shabbat dinner. Saturday I have a mind to check out the Love Parade, on Anja’s advice. And after that, Joschka invited me to some dinner where I think there will be a roasted boar. Then Sunday is open-mic again.

Oh right, open-mic. I went again last Sunday. Alone, this time. I don’t think it went as well. All in all, it was a positive experience, to be sure. Even if you go up there and suck, it helps build you up. But it could have been better. And it was harder to do it alone. Hopefully next time will be better. But even if it’s not, I will still have done it. And that’s not nothing…

  1. Let the hate-mail commence. []
  2. The dude really did his homework. And some of his ideas were quite prophetic. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
14 July, 2015

So, sometimes life gets in the way. Thankfully, not in the I-knocked-that-girl-up-and-now-I’m-a-dad kind of way. But more in the my-house-is-on-fire-while-I-try-to-finish-this-course-afterwhich-I’m-immediately-off-to-France-afterwhich-I’m-immediately-off-to-a-5-day-metal-festival sort of way. Which is enough, let me tell you. Will you let me tell you? Ok, I’ll tell you.

If I had to choose, I’d almost certainly say that Flick of the Switch is the most underrated AC/DC album of the Brian Johnson era. I bring this up a) because, holy shit, go listen to that album and b) because the second track is called “This House is on Fire.” Which is relevant because, you know, my house was on fire.

No, seriously. Ok, so I’m sitting in the kitchen working on either some bullshit paper or a lesson plan; both of which were due the next day. It’s around ten at night. I’m smoking my pipe, drinking some wine.1 And I smell something burning. Umm, ok. I start looking around. Did some ash somehow fall from my pipe onto something (in)flammable?2 Had perhaps some electrical device overheated? In the end, I couldn’t find anything in the kitchen. In fact, I determined that the smell must be coming from outside. Naturally, I assumed people were barbecuing in the Hinterhof.3

Maybe an hour or so later, I hear people shouting outside. I hear this through my headphones, so I’m not particularly paying attention. In fact, I’m thinking, “Fools, shut the F up, I’m trying to work here.”4 But then, a funny thing happened.5 One word seems to be busting its way through my headphones. “Feuer!” Umm, was? So I look outside, and I see there are a bunch of people gathered in the Hinterhof. Yeah…I’m not feeling this.

So I go around to the living room window, which looks out on the courtyard from the other direction. And I see something I’ve never really seen before. One of the brick walls lining the courtyard is colored bright orange. And the reason it’s colored bright orange is because it’s reflecting the light from a giant-ass fire that’s sprung up on the other side of the Hinterhof.

Now, I don’t know how many of you have had the experience of hearing people yell “Fire!” and then looking out the window to find an actual-as-fuck fire. But let me tell you, it is very surreal.

So I go down to the Hinterhof, where I find a bunch of neighbors gathered. And they’re all sort of just standing and watching. Here’s what we see. Up on the opposite left corner of the courtyard, there is this huge fire dancing on the roof. It’s definitely not supposed to be there. But, it’s also far enough away that it doesn’t appear to be an immediate threat. And in fact, we can see water coming over the top. So we know the Feuerwehr – the fire department – are already on the job. So we sort of just stand and watch.

Little by little, the fire dies down. It was more surreal than scary, I have to say. I also have to say, it was weird not to be able to talk to the neighbors about it. I mean, my German is definitely functional at this point. But I don’t have the vocabulary to chat with strangers about our building being on fire. And Lisa’s not even home. So I’m just sorta standing there no better than deaf-and-dumb.

Finally, the fire dies down. I mean, maybe – probably even – it’s still going on inside. But the smoke has gone, the flames have gone and even the sparks have gone. And then – only then! – the fire department comes and tells us we have to go. Like, for hours. Technically, they evacuated us until like two-thirty in the morning.

I say ‘technically’ because I had a paper to write, and so I hid out in the apartment – in the dark, away from the windows – working on my bullshit paper. I mean, my reasoning was, the fire is clearly out, so why do I need to leave? I’d learn later that the reason was, they were afraid that the fire might have weakened some of the walls, making the building unsafe. Bah.

Anyway, to keep this short, everything was fine in the end.6 The fire was on the other end of the building. And the walls were sound in any case. But I didn’t get to bed until after four-thirty, and even then, I didn’t sleep well. That was Tuesday of the last week of my course. Things went downhill from there, school-wise, but more on that later.

I also found out later that the actual fire was not technically in our residential building, but in the adjacent Old People’s Home. And those poor old fuckers had to be evacuated in their wheelchairs to the sidewalk in the middle of the night. You’d think that would be a real trial for them. Except, this. They were all generally old enough to be able to say, “Ah, hey. We remember the war. This is nothing.”

When Lisa told me that, I made some snide comment along the lines of, “Nothing like old people talking about Nazi Times to make you feel a whole lot less bad for them.” Lisa didn’t appreciate that. And fair enough. I mean, you can’t go making blanket judgments about people simply based on their age; no matter how annoying old people are, what with their doddering gates, failing memories, and weird mouth noises, to say nothing of constantly reminding us of our own mortality. Still though, you can’t just assume every old person you see was a Nazi.7

Oh, and for anybody interested in casualties, one person died. Apparently it was the guy who started the fire. Apparently by falling asleep with a lit cigarette. He was 90. A little late to be Darwining yourself out of the game, but OK.

So that was The Fire.

As for school, remember that post where I was all “I’m so good at this, I hope I didn’t just jinx it by saying that”? Welp, I jinxed it. The short version is, I sucked the last week.

I had a higher grade in my hands and I threw it away. I just never got it together. Yeah, the fire didn’t help. But that’s no excuse. On some level, I think I tried to do too much. I could have played it safe and gotten my grade. But instead, I tried to do things I knew I needed to work on. Well, I still need to work on them.

Basically, I run a good classroom. My classes are fun. My students get to where they need to be by the end. But, ironically, I somehow don’t teach grammar very well yet. Ironic, because I’m a grammar nerd. Ugh, I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on this. The point is, I’m not pleased with myself. I had set a goal for myself of achieving a certain grade in this course, and I failed. Yeah, I passed the course; and easily. But I could have done better. And I was on the cusp of doing better. And I frittered it away. Nice one, Davey.

If I want to find a positive to take away, it’s this. I know my students liked my classes. I know I can get them engaged. I know I can hold their interest. I think, at the risk of giving myself too much credit, I think these are things you can’t teach. It’s the things that can be taught where I still need work.

And, I got to play the part of Linguistic Master in my last class. In the last few minutes I showed them how seven different languages are actually related. I showed them how the verb “to stand” has a common stem in English, German, Latin, Greek, Polish, Russian and Farsi.8

And man, you should have seen their eyes go wide! That was so fucking cool.9

But in the short term, #davefail. So, moving on.

Class ended Friday, July 3rd. So of course we went out for dinner and drinks after. But I also had to leave mad early the next morning for France. And I also had to pack up my room because the new girl was moving in the next day. So I got about two hours of drunken sleep before popping off to Biarritz to visit chez Morgenstern.

Biarritz was a blast. But as I covered that in my last post, I’ll keep it short here. Just like the trip itself, which was too short. All to say, before I knew it, it was time to leave. Which was rough. Yeah, it was rough to say goodbye and to get back to reality. But also, it was physically rough. You see, I drank rather a lot of pastis the night before. So I wasn’t exactly in the greatest shape to travel.10 And it seemed like every one of my flights was delayed. So I didn’t get back to Berlin ‘til around ten.

At that point, I had to swing by Lisa’s and pick up my computer. Everything else I’d grab the next day. Then it was back to Anja and Mischa. I got there around eleven. At which point they let me know they had a(n American) guest who also needed to practice her German. Turns out it was Anja’s niece from Colorado; roughly my age. Her German was much better than mine. But we all had fun.

There was lots of wine and pastis.11 So, exhausted as I was, that turned into a late night. But, I have to say, it was really nice to be back here. A&M welcomed me back very warmly. And even though I’d only lived here a month – and a month ago, at that – it somehow felt very much like home. Also, Anja’s niece was really cool. So it was a good night. And at the end of it, I passed right the fuck out.

But something about ‘no rest for the weary’ because the next day was ‘shopping day.’ I had to meet Joschka and Vinny to buy what we needed for the festival. That was a pain in the ass, partly because Vinny apparently sent me a bunch of messages via Whatsapp that I never received. So I’m sitting their thinking, “Odd that I haven’t heard from those guys.” Meanwhile, they’re thinking, “Why isn’t Dave answering? What an asshole!”

Eventually, we got it sorted and performed the ritual Pre-Festival-Shopping. In other words, we stocked up on booze, sausages, chips, juice, ramen and canned ravioli. Oh, and this year, also boxed wine.12

The festival I also covered in my last post, so I’ll say no more about it here.13

I also mentioned the concert/festival at Lisa’s place. What I didn’t mention is how odd it was to be back there now that I don’t live there. Like, it feels like home and I know where everything is, and yet, I need to respect the place as a visitor. Just odd. Still great though. And great to see Lisa and Oz.

It’s also fascinating to me how much of a relationship Lisa and I managed to build in just a month. I remember the first day I moved in, she found out that her neighbor had just died. And as we sat there in the kitchen, her telling me about it all, she started to cry. Mind you, this was our first day living together. And I don’t know how to handle this at all. So I’m like, “Do you…want a…hug?” And she’s like, “Nope.” And then we had a long conversation about death and started bonding from day one.

In contrast, when I said goodbye at the end of the night of the party, she just gave me a big old hug. It’s funny how things go, sometimes. In the end, it was really great living with her. We definitely don’t see eye-to-eye on more than a few things. And yet we just got on so easily. And as I’ve said countless times by now, we drank a lot. Not everything about my time here has worked out, but that month of living there, that definitely worked out fantastically.

Last night, my plan was to stay in and read some Homer. I haven’t had a chance to read Homer since the end of the second week of school, which is a crying shame. And yet, I was also feeling a bit down. I mean, Lisa was out of town with the Oz-man. Joschka was in Portugal with Lus for her birthday. Kelvin has moved back to Australia. So I was kinda feeling like I have no fucking friends here.

And then Ziba14 messages me. “Wanna get a drink tonight?” Well, hell yeah, Zibs! It’s gonna be me, her, Elf-Princess15 and Zibs’ husband. And yet, I’m thinking, OK, I can go for a few beers, and still be home before midnight; plenty of time to read some Homer before bed. Not an unreasonable plan, or so I thought. And yet, next thing I know, I’m throwing the wrapper from my Dönner in the trash and stumbling up the stairs to my apartment to find that it had somehow become 3am. Needless to say, it was a fun night.

First of all, I got on quite well with Jan, Zibs’ husband. We talked metal and politics. So that’s a win right there. As a group, we also discussed making a round trip to Köln (Cologne). Whether or not we can get it together before I might have to leave is another story. But it sure sounds like fun, if we can pull it off. We also batted around the idea of getting our shit together and starting our very own language school right here in Berlin. Well, it’s surprisingly plausible actually. But I’m not holding my breath. Still though, how cool would that be?

Today I went for a long walk. My goal was to go East-ish, and see some things I’d never seen before. Mission accomplished. I was out for about 4.5 hours, so it was a healthy little promenade.   One of the highlights was the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park. What a weird place. I mean, it’s absolutely lovely. Tree lined and peaceful and monumental af.

But it’s also kinda creepy. You see, it’s not just a memorial, but actually a cemetery. There are about 5,000 Red Army soldiers interred there. And all the language is about liberating Berlin. Which, I mean, is true. They did liberate Berlin. But by the end of the battle,16 there wasn’t a whole lot left standing. And the aftermath left the east side of the city – and East Germay – under Soviet control. I mean, that’s sort of out of the fire, but right back into the frying pan, right?

I don’t know. I need to talk to some actual Berliners about this. I’m really curious as to how they feel about it. I mean, on the victory arch which marks the entrance is the following inscription, carved in Russian and German, given here in English: “Everlasting glory for the heroes, who have fallen for Freedom and Independence of The Socialist Homeland.”17 Umm, yeah. And then there are all the inscriptions inside the actual memorial park. The inscriptions are all direct quotes from Stalin, again in Russian and German. So, my initial conclusion is this: It’s an absolutely beautiful and wonderfully peaceful place to visit. Just don’t look too closely. But again, I’m dying to get a Berliner’s take on all this.

Tomorrow is open-mic night. I have to go. I say this for personal accountability reasons. If it’s on record, then I can’t back out. It’ll be the first one I’ll have been able to attend since the last one I did, right before school started. Once school had begun, it was out of the question. And the next two Sundays, I was in France and then the festival. So I need to get back on it. Personal development and all that. Also, I need to play some rock’n’roll.

To this last point, I just taught myself “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Ain’t That a Shame.” Ok, ‘taught myself’ is a bit extreme. It’s all 12-bar blues. But I still needed to figure out how I would play them, solo on the guitar.   Work out what I would do for guitar leads and so on. Anyway, point is, fun as hell. And now, finally, I’ve got all the major players covered: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino.18 Slowly but surely, I’m building up my rock’n’roll repertoire; even if I still can’t play a single Beatles song.

Next thing I need to work on is French. I can do a fair rendition of one Edith Piaf song, but that’s not nearly enough. There’s at least four Jaques Brel songs I need to work up, and other stuff besides. But that’s ok. It’s good to have projects. And I’ve got two new songs in the works as well. One just needs lyrics; always my least favorite part. The other needs a lot more, but, “it’s got legs,” as Jared likes to say.

I also need to learn more German songs. I’ve got a good five or six now, but more are in order. Not least of which is “Lili Marlene.” But one thing that caught me off guard during my little session at Rock Harz was when Marcus asked me if I knew anything from Die Totenhosen or Die Ärzte. Now, these are two bedrock German punk bands that Anja had put me on to during my first month here. So I excitedly responded to his query with, “Oh! Do you know Hier Kommt Alex?!”19 Of course he did, and he started to sing the first line. To which I had to lamely respond that I didn’t actually know it. So that’s a project for next year.

So that’s more or less where things stand as I get ready for what may well be my last full week in Berlin. There are, actually, quite a few job leads. But the red tape is copious. And frankly, I don’t know if I will have enough time to get everything sorted before my three months are up.20 And if I have to leave, it won’t be the end of the world. I can always come back. Or go somewhere else entirely. My focus now is, simply to get the most out of Berlin in the time remaining. And as to that, you’ll be reading about it soon enough…

  1. And possibly munching on some chips, which I felt much less bad about buying when I discovered that it was really easy for Lisa and I to sit down and eat chips together. []
  2. “Inflammable means flammable? What a country!” – Dr. Nick, The Simpsons. []
  3. Hinterhof = Courtyard. []
  4. Or, in New Yorkese: “Hey! I’m woikin’ ‘ere!” []
  5. And by “funny,” I mean, “not at all funny.” []
  6. Well, fine for me and Lisa and our flat and our immediate neighbors anyway. []
  7. All that said, If I’m honest, I have to admit the following: I often have to fight the impulse to go all Second Coming of Atticus Finch vis-à-vis old Germans. The devil on my shoulder is all, “Come on, aren’t you curious as to just what they were doing during The War?” Whereas the Angel on my other shoulder, “Nothing gained by this kind of thinking, David. Let it go.” []
  8. The common stem is sta-

    English German Latin Greek Polish Russian Farsi
    To Stand Standen Starē ἱϲτάναι(histanai) Stać(Statch) Стоять(Stoyat’) Istadan

    []

  9. In fact, I was having drinks with a couple of classmates last night. One of them was quite close with two of our most advanced students. And they both told her that they loved my linguistics stuff; they found it really fascinating. And one of them isn’t even normally interested in that kind of stuff. Very gratifying to hear that, honestly. []
  10. By which I mean I threw up in two different airports. But not any planes! []
  11. Yay! []
  12. This was utilitarian, to be sure. It was not, however, “good.” []
  13. What an odd sentence structure (“The festival I also covered…”). More inflected languages like German or Greek have no problem sticking the object out front. But it just feels weird in English, doesn’t it? []
  14. Ziba, you will remember, is the Iranian girl from school. []
  15. Another girl from school. Her name is actually Maria. But she’s like thirty feet tall, slim, super long hair and for the first few days of school she’d wear these long flowy dresses. So I nicknamed her Elf-Princess. []
  16. And all the Allied bombing raids, to be sure. []
  17. The German, at least, reads: “EWIGER RUHM DEN HELDEN, DIE FÜR DIE FREIHEIT UND UNABHÄNGIGKEIT DER SOZIALISTISCHEN HEIMAT GEFALLEN SIND.” []
  18. OK, I still need to learn at least one Elvis song. But these guys are the most important, surely. []
  19. A song by Die Totenhosen that I’m quite fond of. []
  20. As a U.S. citizen, you can come for three months without a visa. After that, you need to leave for three months, before you can come back for another three. []

An American In Berlin

An American in Berlin
17 July, 2015

So much time. So little time. So much time since my last post. So little time to write about anything. There was The Fire. There was The Crash-&-Burn Last Week of School. There was France. There was The Festival. There was The Move. There is the Job Hunt, to say nothing of The Bureaucracy. So when, exactly, am I supposed to get any writing done?

I tried scratching out a post the other day; tried to pick up where I last left off. It wasn’t really working. So I’m thinking now of breaking things down into several not-necessarily-chronological posts to try and cover it all. Because if I try to cram it all into one, well, Mick Foley can tell you about overstuffing a garbage bag.1

I went to a party/concert tonight. I may or may not have mentioned that Lisa sings in an amateur choir that practices out our – well, her – place on Monday nights. Anyway, they had a free concert there tonight, followed by a little party. The music was pretty cool. Medieval French, American spiritual and African. And the party was very nice.

Her boyfriend, Oz2 was there, so that was one familiar face. And he’s a great dude, so I was happy to see him. And obviously Lisa, although she was somewhat occupied between the singing and the hostessing. But then, there was also Cute Girl Number 1, whom we shall hereafter refer to as the Israelite. Because she’s Israeli. Anyway, very cute. So we got to talking. And we’re like, “A Jew, in England?”3 So we had a nice chat about being Jewish in Berlin, Jewish mothers, the meaning of life and what’s God got to do with it anyway. Also Hamantaschen. No really. And then I had another Jewish/Yiddish/Hebrew/German revelation. Hamantaschen literally means Haman-pocket! Because it’s a pocket shaped like Haman’s hat and filled with jelly!4 And apparently in Hebrew – and I forget the word – they’re called Haman’s Ears, because they’re also kinda ear-shaped. Anyway, we decided that Friday after next we’re going to make a little Shabbas dinner for ourselves and a select few friends. Amongst whom, it should be noted, will be her boyfriend. Because Dave. Still though, it was a cool convo and it was nice to talk to somebody from the tribe. Even if neither of us are particularly religious. But yeah, I cut bait not long after the boyfriend revelation.

It was then that I met the Persian Princess, which is how I shall now refer to the cute girl from Iran who’s doing a PhD on earthquakes. What? Cute and a scientist? And Persian? What’s the catch? Surely there’s a catch. Oh, right. You too have a boyfriend. Seriously? When did my proverbial dog piss on god’s proverbial lawn? This is the best explanation I can come up with at this point. Well, that and the fact the female population of Berlin is quite possibly the most beboyfriended female population in the Western World already.5

But enough of this. Last week was The Festival: Rock Harz. This year Vinny was able to come out, which is as it should be. So me, him and Joschka drove out from Berlin with a car full of booze, junkfood and camping gear.6 Anyway, it was great to have Vinny along this time,7 for two reasons. 1) He’s my boy, and I was happy to have him there; 2) He could keep Joschka company in the car while I slept. I can’t overstate the value of this second point. I mean, anybody who knows me knows that if you put me in a moving vehicle, I fall asleep almost instantly. Last year, when it was just me and Joschka, I had to fight really hard to stay awake.8

The festival itself was brilliant. I mean, the weather was awful for the first three days. But so what? We have an awesome crew. The boys from Lemgo: The Meyers, the Christians, Timo & Marcus. The Bavarians: Anna and her dad Stefan, Toby and Marina, and Flo. And the Izas: Lisa and Theresa.9 In all we had over twenty people.10 And all these people are the best people you could ever hope to know, let alone party with. Oh, and lest I forget Ursel. Ursel is the sex doll that gets panzer-taped11 to our flagpole. She’s a bit of a mascot.

Anyway, the festival consists mostly of heavy drinking, laying out in the sun (if there’s any sun) and going to see your favorite bands. It does not consist of showering or eating anything like real food. It is, in all likelihood, simultaneously the most fun and the most exhausting week12 of the year. And when it’s over, all you want to do is shower. Then shower again. And then sleep for three days.

The relationships you form with these people are kind of amazing. I mean, I basically only see these people at the festivals. So in some cases, it’s literally only the second time I’ve hung out with some of them. And yet, the warmth and affection that flows off of them is remarkable. There’s so much love there. And based on what? Shared interest in music? Camping out and partying for a week? And yet the bear hugs, the emotional goodbyes, the intimate chats – it’s like we’ve known each other for ages. Vinny puts it best, and I’ll try (haltingly) to capture his style here: “To be perfectly honest bro, yeah, the music is fucking great. The drinking is epic, whatever. But honestly, it’s the camaraderie.” Yeah, Vin, it’s the fucking camaraderie.

I brought my guitar. Last year, I brought it as well.13 And it was a big hit. So this year, everybody was asking if I’d brought it again. Natürlich! So on the last night, I broke it out. And that was a lot of fun. The Meyer boys love the Irish stuff. Some of the others love the Rammstein. Anna’s dad Stefan asked me to play Der Adler.14 And when I played that, he just stood there headbanging and loving the shit out of it. And when I’d finished he came over and gave me probably the best handshake ever. So cool.

Another cool thing was, Big Christian brought his girlfriend along, Katie.15 And she was lovely. Super sweet. And also the kind of girl who, even though she didn’t know hardly anybody, was perfectly comfortable doing things on her own. So the two of us went to see Varg together. And this was cool for two reasons. First, it’s just great to be in that kind of setting where you can be all, “I’m gonna go see this band now.” And someone you hardly know jumps up and says, “Yeah, I’ll come along.”

And second, she spoke with me in German. In and of itself, this is no big deal. Lots of the gang spoke to me in German. But generally, they don’t modify their speech for me. So they speak fast and with lots of slang and I get very little of it; even if I learn some new dirty slang, which I definitely did. But Katie had no problem speaking slowly and clearly with me, with the result that I had almost no trouble understanding her. That was a real treat for me. She’s a real doll. And her and Christian are f’ing adorbs together. So I hope she sticks around.

One regret: I missed The Captain’s Breakfast. The Captain’s Breakfast is a bit of a tradition. Basically, it consists of two bottles of Captain Morgan’s rum and a few liters of Coke dumped into a big bucket. Everybody sticks in a super long straw and we all drink it down together. But we only did one this year, and I slept through it. Schade.

Another highlight was going to see Alestorm with Anna. Alestorm is a “pirate metal” band.16 That was a ton of fun. We danced our asses off. And by dance I mean ‘jigged’ and turned in arm-in-arm circles, which is how one dances to pirate metal. And we made friends with some giant dude who was very fond of picking us up, if for no other reason than he just could. Look up ‘fun’ in the dictionary and, well, you won’t find us dancing to Alestorm. But it would be a better dictionary if you did.

All in all, it was brilliant. Oh yeah, there was also the part where I put on Slayer’s Raining Blood, at which point me, Björn and Eggy headbanged like crazy people for a solid 2.5 minutes. Because what’s a metal festival without Slayer? And at the end of it all, Sven said, “And so ends the best week of the year.” He’s probably right. It beats the shit out of you, but man, is it ever fun!

Thing is, I’d already had the shit beaten out of me. There was The Fire and the Last Week of School, both of which I’ll deal with in a different post. But Rock Harz followed fast on the heels of my way-too-short visit to France.

I left my apartment at around 4:45 in the morning, after about two hours of sleep.17 I took the U7 (subway) to the X9 (express bus), which took me to Tegel (the airport). The trip itself was actually quite easy, as far as getting to airports goes. And I basically slept on the planes.18 I was met at the airport by Jared, Josh, Adam & Kira.

I’m not gonna lie, it was good to see those assholes. I mean, it’d only been two months. Not that long, really. And yet, Jared and Adam, my best and oldest friends. And here we were, in fucking France! It was like coming home again. Only now, home was beautiful and in the south of France.

We went into town, straight off. First thing, we found a bookshop, which was on my agenda. So I bought some Jules Verne,19 for which I had lately become desperate. Then they made me ask the girl at the register for directions to the market. Which I did. And she gave them to me. And I understood. And in that moment, I remembered how much I like the French language and how happy I was to be able to practice it a bit. And we found the market because I totally understood the French directions. And the market was a boss-ass market.

And the house that Jared’s parents had rented was a boss-ass house. Two floors, many rooms, swimming pool, killer kitchen. I swam, I cooked, I conquered. It was great. Ok, the swimming speaks for itself. But it was nice to have two whole minutes to float on my back and have nobody talk to me.

The cooking was also fantastic. The second night, me and Amanda (Jared’s sister) were in charge of cooking. We killed it. We killed it mostly because Amanda dropped upwards of 50€ on some seriously awesome lamb. But I did some roasted fennel thing that people seemed to dig, so that was nice. And it was great to finally get some one-on-one time with Amanda. We used to hang out often and go out to nice dinners. But after I moved back home, I didn’t really see much of her. It was lovely to be able to reconnect.

It was also really great to see Josh, Jared’s boyfriend. One night we sat out and just argued about history. The dude really knows his stuff. What’s great about him, though, is he’s not just well read, but he thinks about what he’s read. He’s got a lot of opinions, and they’re informed opinions. Any time you can argue about whether Washington or FDR was the better president is a good time. Also, you can see how happy Jared is with him. That’s obviously annoying. Mais, c’est la vie, hein?

Then Lerman and Kira. I’ve known Lermo since the fourth grade. He is my longest tenured friend. And Kira is nicer to me than he is. Which shows you what a doll she is. But me and Lermo, we bicker like an old married couple. But there’s a lot of love there. It’s like Archie and Edith. Or Ralph and Alice. Easy comparisons to make, since I don’t imagine they have sex either.

And of course Jared’s parents, Paul and Carol. Talk about family. I’ve been hanging out in their house – wherever they’ve lived – since high school. They’re like a second family at this point, and that’s just how they treat me. And Paul is my napping buddy. Now, I don’t mean to say that we nap together. What I mean is, all the boys will drink a bunch of great scotch. Whereupon, Paul will disappear to one corner and I to another. And we pass out. Because we’re nappers.

Carol, on the other hand, runs the show from her wheelchair.20 She’s the matriarch. But one thing I love about her, among many things, is how she accepts me as part of the family. Because of her condition, she requires a certain degree of assistance. If she wants a drink, you’ve got to give it to her with a straw. If she wants to eat, she needs a bib. These are the sorts of things that, were I in her place, I would find embarrassing. But she doesn’t care. And she has no problem asking me to fix her drink or to tie on her bib. To me, that shows an incredible level of trust. In that way, she treats me as if I was family. It’s humbling and it’s wonderful at the same time. She’s a boss-ass bitch, and a helluva lot tougher than I’ll ever be.

Lastly, the child. Jared’s cousin has a little girl, maybe two years old.21 Just the cutest thing. And since we were in France, I decided that I would only speak to her in French.22 But homegirl didn’t care. She still played with me and we got along just fine. Anyway, the point is, I would like to have a daughter. Who’s on board? Ladies? I’m asking for nine months plus your womb.23 After that, you’re free to be on your way.24

So much for the people. The town itself was great. I mean, southern France, how can you go wrong? The markets were great. The beach was great. I mean, yeah, I hate the beach, but it was still nice. The house was great. The pool was great. Pretending to speak French was great. I wish I could have stayed longer. I would have stayed longer. But I had to get back for the festival. So I got there Saturday around noon. And by the same time Monday, they were driving me to the airport again. Nevertheless, it was a great couple of days. And I’m thankful for the opportunity to be able to visit my friends in such a setting.

And here I am. I still need to cover the last week of school and how I threw away the grade I had been aiming for. I still need to cover that time my building caught fire. And so many other things: like, can I even stay here. But this is enough for tonight I think.

The next post will follow soon enough. In the meantime, know that, if you’re reading this, I probably miss you. Just not enough to want to come back to New York quite yet…

  1. #amirite, Robert? []
  2. AKA: Der Zauberer; AKA: Magic Man []
  3. Only, instead of England, it was Berlin. And we didn’t actively make any Mel Brooks references. []
  4. I was so excited when I figured that out! #nerdgasm []
  5. I assume things are worse in China, what with the one child policy, i.e. the one son policy. []
  6. The morning of our departure I bought a tent for 24€. It was tiny, which was fine. I mean, it was basically the tent version of my Chinatown room, size-wise. But it also leaked. That was less cool. []
  7. He couldn’t make it last year. []
  8. I mostly didn’t. But at least this year, I didn’t have to feel bad about it. []
  9. Izas, because the names are pronounced Leeza and Thereeza. []
  10. We roll deep, son! []
  11. Panzer Tape is Duct Tape. But Panzer Tape so much more badass! []
  12. Week: Wed-Sun. []
  13. Well, Joschka’s, in any case. []
  14. The Eagle, by Die Apokalyptischen Reiter. []
  15. Or possibly Kathie; in any case, pronounced Kah-tee. []
  16. The name/genre should be enough, but if you’re curious, check out keelhauled. That’ll give you the idea. []
  17. It was the day after the last day of school. Again, I’ll deal with all that in another post. []
  18. First flight: Berlin to Paris; Second flight: Paris to Biarritz. []
  19. Vingt Mille Lieus Sous Les Mers (20k Leagues Under the Sea). []
  20. She has MS. #FuckMS []
  21. Totes adorbs. []
  22. Because my French is probably at a two-year-old level. []
  23. And, umm, if we could do it the old-fashioned way, that’d be nice. #justsayin []
  24. How am I single? []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
27 June, 2015

More than ten days since my last post, apparently. The time between seems like a fog. School became pretty life consuming pretty fast. Not in a bad way, necessarily. I’ve been enjoying it quite a bit, actually. But it hasn’t left much room for anything else. So I guess this post is mostly going to be about that. And the AC/DC concert I went to on Thursday!

Last post I talked about the high of having a good class and the low of having a not so good one. At the time, I’d had two of each. Well, I’m happy to report that since then, I’ve been on fire. I’ve scored ‘above standard’ on my last two lessons, making it three-in-a-row and four of six overall. So I’m quite pleased obviously.

But more than the high marks, the classes have been a lot of fun. At the halfway mark, we switched to a high-level group of students. It’s been so much fun. I mean, first of all, they’re just a great bunch. But this level, it’s really in my wheelhouse. I can talk faster, I can use more idioms.1

And what’s more, they’re genuinely interested in the language. I can do Greek and Latin etymologies, I can do German-English historical linguistics, and they really get into it. Part of the reason I can get away with this, according to my teacher, is that it’s obvious that I’m passionate about it. So rather than being a dry lecture, it seems I can teach this stuff with a sort of contagious energy. And I fucking love it.

After three good lessons in a row, it’s becoming clear that I’m not only gaining the confidence of my students, but also of my teacher. For the first time, I’m really starting to feel like I may actually be doing what I’m “supposed” to be doing with my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still glad as hell I did my MA in Classics. And I still hold out hope that one day I’ll actually be able to teach Greek. But I’m starting to believe that I can be a really good fucking teacher.

And I definitely have my own style. I’ve talked about this a little in past posts. But it’s coming together more and more with each lesson.2 And it’s interesting to compare my work with that of my classmates, all of whom, I hasten to add, are quite good in their own ways. And they unquestionably have strengths that I don’t. But in my own humble opinion, I do think that my classes are the most fun. And that’s something I’m definitely proud of.

I want to be careful here not to take too much credit, however. My class – by which I mean my students – are really great. They have a real passion for learning English and they approach everything with a wonderful energy. They also, collectively, have a great sense of humor. And in addition to all this, they work extremely well together. You can pair anybody with anybody and, not only do they get along, but they produce good work. In my self-evaluation3 for my last lesson – for which I received an “above standard” score – I noted that I had little more to do than to “wind them up and let them go,” and that the students themselves “did most of the heavy lifting.” To which my teacher answered, “yes, but your real work was done in your highly detailed lesson plan.” So it’s a bit symbiotic. But the point is, they’re a fantastic group, and they make my job easy for me. Bless them.4

I had an interesting chat with French Charlotte the other day. To give credit where credit is due, she has encouraged me in this endeavor from the get. She believed in me when I didn’t necessarily believe in myself. That’s not to say that there weren’t others who believed in me. In point of fact, I have a wonderful network of friends and family that have stood firmly behind me, every step of the way. But she’s a French teacher. And she’s taught French in France, in Poland and in the States. So there’s a certain experience in, and first-hand knowledge of, the task itself that underlies her confidence in me, which has been unique and invaluable.

Anyway. We had a chat the other day. And you could just hear how proud she was when I told her how well I’ve been doing lately. But what really struck me was this. She said, “You’re a teacher now, Dave. And you’re going to be a teacher. You’re never going to have to apologize for your job again. From now on, you’re going to be proud of what you do.”5 And that really struck me.

For years, at my last job6 – and as a paralegal before that, and as a temp before that – I was never proud of what I did. If I was talking to a girl at a bar, I’d avoid talking about my job. And if I had to talk about it, it would always be in some self-deprecating way. “Yeah, well, it pays the rent,” or “Eh, I push papers and fuck with spreadsheets.” Something like that.7

The point is, it really hit me when French Charlotte said those days were over. That was news to me, in a way. I can’t think that far ahead yet. But she’s right. And wow, that’s really something. And when I think about, I’ve always been a bit envious of teachers, when I’d meet them at bars. They’re always so damn proud of what they do. As well they should be. Well, shit. I’m 34. I want to be proud of what I do already. And soon – real fucking soon – I can be.8 Anyway, thanks, French Charlotte.

Since this post is going to be mostly about the whole school/teaching sitch, Imma switch horses midstream for a sec.9 Dear Reader, how was your Thursday? Did you do anything interesting? Yeah? That’s nice. Well, I saw AC/DC. So…I win.

Gods, I love that band. An AC/DC concert is a funny thing. At least – at least! – half the set is made up of the songs you expect to hear. And I don’t mean that in the sense of, “well, of course they’re going to play their greatest hits.” No, they’re not necessarily ‘hits,’ per se. They’re the songs that – in concert – throw you up against a wall and kick you in the fucking balls and make you beg for more. I’m talking, Let There be Rock, Dirty Deeds, For Those About to Rock, Shoot to Thrill.

So on some level, you know what you’re gonna get. And yet, fucking give it to me! Look, anybody who knows me knows they’re my favorite band. They’re the apotheosis, the perfection, the platonic Form, of Rock and Roll. And godsdamn, do they ever deliver. Just fucking brilliant. Even without Phil. Even without Mal, who is in a home, suffering from dementia.10 They’re just the fucking best. No ifs ands or buts. Do not pass Go. Do not collect two hundred dollars.

And yet, bittersweet. Mal has dementia.  Phil is, apparently, a felon. And the rest? Angus? Brian? Cliff? They’re in their 60’s. This has to be the end, doesn’t it? I mean, they still kill it. It was a brilliant show. I went with Joschka, who’d never seen them before. And he was well impressed.11 So they can still do it. But Rock and Roll – I mean, real Rock and Roll – it needs to be young, doesn’t it?

One of my favorite summertime albums is Dirty Deeds. It’s so full of life. It’s so…youthful. It so doesn’t give a fuck. It just rocks. And it’s not even their best album. Their best album would have been Let There Be Rock. Except that they beat it with Powerage, the follow-up. Those two records. That’s where Rock and Roll found its most perfect expression. They can never be beat.

Like Beethoven, right? That fucker wrote 32 piano sonatas and 9 symphonies. And at the end of it, you walk away feeling like – or at least I do12 – feeling like, “Well, that’s it. The form has been perfected. Why bother anymore?” But I’m being serious. After Beethoven Nine, how do you write a symphony? After those sonatas, what’s the point? The mold has been broken. Learn your Bach and be on be on your way.

Interpolation: This is the beauty of Gershwin, by the way. Gershwin left well enough alone. Gershwin had the wisdom to look at the Old Masters and say, “Yeah, I can take from that. But, you guys? Jazz! And holy shit, The Blues!” And so you get Rhapsody in Blue. You get Porgy and Bess. And you get the Concerto in F, with it’s gorgeous, sweet, beautiful and oh-so-perfect Adagio. What you don’t get is Romantic bullshit. What you don’t get is Appetite for Destruction, and the conceit that there’s still anything left to say in Rock and Roll after the from has already found its complete and utter perfection. OK, I’ll shut up now.

So yeah, AC/DC were fucking brilliant, despite their advanced years. And I’m glad I got see them one last time.13 And it was cool to see them in Berlin. Add that to a very short list. Cheap Trick in London. Rammstein at Wacken. AC/DC in Berlin.

At the Olympiastadion. It’s a funny thing to be there with a German – Joschka, as it were – and to have that German look around the arena for the first time in his life and say, “Yeah, you can just tell the Nazis built this.” Well, you can. It’s creepy, I ain’t gonna lie. It’s in the same mold as Tempelhof and the Air Ministry building on Wilhelmstraße. “Intimidation Architecture,” as I mentioned in a previous post. But you look around, and you know the thing was built for the ’36 Olympics. You know it was built so Hitler could show the world the superiority of the Aryan race.14 It’s an impressive structure, no question. But it’s fucking weird. I’ll leave it at that.

Kelvin of Oz came down to my neck of the woods last weekend, and we popped into a bar around the corner, on Weserstraße. The door was open. But when we went in, the bartendrix said, “We’re not open yet. But…you can have a beer if you’d like.” We looked at each other. We decided to have a beer. The bartendrix was a doll.

The reason the door was open was, she was making flower-headbands with a couple of friends for Midsummer Night; the Summer Solstice. The point is, she didn’t have to serve us. But she did. And not only did she serve us, she offered us fresh strawberries and cream! It was gorgeous. So we had our beers. And some fresh strawberries. And then some Dahlwinnie. And then more beer. Lovely day, that was.

One of the bartendrix’ friends was from Hong Kong. “So,” says I, “you speak Cantonese?” She was suitably impressed by that. Well, I did live in Chinatown for four years. So we all got on well. And of course it was good to chill with my mate Kelvin, before he goes back Down Under.

So today, in class, first thing in the morning, our other teacher15 walks in and just starts talking to us in Polish. And for forty minutes, we do nothing but Polish. Formal and informal greetings; I like/do you like; what’s your name/my name is – that sort of thing. The idea is this: It’s quite conceivable that you will at some point teach a class to people who don’t know a single word of English. So this is what they experience. It’s a pretty cool concept, actually, and something that is intentionally built into the course.

Anyway, he starts talking to us in Polish. And through hand gestures, through facial expressions, through demonstrations with physical objects and pictures, he’s showing us just how much information you can convey – even when your students don’t know a single word of the target language.

And man, Polish! They make sounds in that language that we just don’t have. I mean, it sounds totally fucking alien. But that’s the point, right? As it happens, this teacher could also have done the lesson in Spanish. But he chose Polish because we were less likely to know anything about it, and because it sounds so completely foreign.

But here’s the thing. I was operating on another level. Yes, of course, I had a rough time of pronouncing the words. Yes, I was just as much in the dark as everybody else. Well, I was in the dark insofar as being able to actually use the language. But right from the get, I started taking notes. I started looking for things that were familiar, started looking for commonalties with the other Indo-European languages that I know. And all of a sudden, it wasn’t so alien after all. This was really cool!

So our teacher breaks us into groups of threes, and asks us to discuss how we felt about the experience. And the other two in my group say the sorts of things you’d expect them to say after such an experience. Then they turn to me. And I turn to my notes. (And I apologize in advance for the technical language I’m about to use). And I say:

“You guys, this is fascinating! There’s so much here that we already know! Check this out (and I begin to list things from notes): So already we see: They mark the accusative case with a nasal; second person singular has an ‘-s-’, but second person plural seems to have an ‘-st-‘; the “go” verb starts with a strong ‘i,’ like Latin ire or Greek ἴεναι; the verb for “stand” starts with ‘st-,’ like Latin stare, Greek ἵστεναι, German standen; third person singular “to be” has an ‘-est,’ like Latin est, Greek ἔστιν, German ist. I mean, there’s so much here that we already know!”

And they just sort of look at me. And the girl to my right, Alice, actually announces to the class, “Dave has a really interesting way of looking at this. No really, I’m not taking the piss.”16

That in and of itself was pretty cool. I sit next to Alice, you see, and she’s in my teaching group. So we get paired up a lot. And in the beginning, I think I rather annoyed her. But somewhere along the line, I think she decided that I’m not so much a pretentious ass17 as a genuinely enthusiastic nerd. And now we get along quite well, and she’s become one of my favo(u)rites.

And in the beginning, I didn’t know quite to make of her either. She can be a bit snarky and impatient. But she’s studied linguistics and she’s got a real enthusiasm for our mother tongue(s).18 But I find I’ve grown quite fond of her. She’s a real sweetheart, when you get down to it. And you really see this when she teaches. She’s got this kindness, as a teacher. There’s a real sweetness to her. And a sort of joie de vivre. For a while, I thought I’d tire of her – I thought we’d tire of each other – getting paired together so often. But now I find I quite look forward to working with her. There seems to be a sort of mutual respect that I don’t think either of us would have anticipated.

Also, she’s got really pretty eyes. But I’m not going down that rabbit-hole with her. I’m just glad she’s in my group. Just as I’m glad the other four are in my group. I mean, we’re a great fucking team. We look out for each other. We help each other. And we support each other when one of us has a bad day. Also we go for drinks together sometimes. However much Berlin has been a bust in terms of meeting girls, I keep lucking out in my other relationships. Roommates, colleagues, friends. I couldn’t ask for better. I really couldn’t.

I want to hang on to that point about colleagues for a moment longer. It seems that each of us has had the experience of talking to other people who have taken this course before us. And these predecessors seem invariably to mention a competitiveness that existed between classmates; a desire to “be the best” or to get the highest marks. And we just don’t have that in our group. We don’t talk about our marks. We just support each other. And it’s fucking beautiful. Wherefore do these lovely fuckers deserve to be mentioned by name: Katja from Berlin; Paul from Australia, Alice from England; Ziba from Iran; and Katie from North Carolina. You’re all fucking gorgeous, every one of you.

Interpolation: Berlin is much farther north than it seems. From the weather, you could believe you were in New York. But at 10pm, it’s still light out. And by 4am, Helios is already dragging the sun across the heavens. It’s a nice town in which to make a summer.

Well. There’s surely more to say. But it’s four-thirty in the morning and, frankly, I’d like to get some sleep. Bis später, Leute…

  1. I’d never noticed how much I speak in idioms until I had to teach to intermediate level students who couldn’t understand half of what I said. []
  2. Gods, I hope I didn’t just jinx it! []
  3. A required piece of homework after every lesson. []
  4. Also, they’re hilarious. We laugh so much. I fucking love it. []
  5. That’s a rough paraphrase, anyway. []
  6. I need to be fair to my last job. They gave me work when I was in grad school. And when I was in school, they allowed me to adapt my hours to my schedule. They always treated me fairly and compensated me well; at least within the structure of the company. I loved – and still love – my boss. I’ll always be thankful. But it was never going to be a career. The work itself was not gratifying; no matter how much I learned about Excel; and I can make a spreadsheet like a boss… []
  7. Girls, apparently, are not turned on by your ennui with your job. #GoFig []
  8. Ain’t that some shit? []
  9. Cos that’s always a good idea. []
  10. Can a blog be a Living Will? If I ever get dementia (or Alzheimer’s), please put me to sleep. Please don’t let me live like that. Please. []
  11. As he should have been. []
  12. My brother, Justin, the brilliant musician, no doubt disagrees. []
  13. Or what’s left of them, anyway. []
  14. #JesseOwens #USA []
  15. We have two teachers. There’s the one who has been ovbserving my classes and giving me feedback the last two weeks. Then there’s the other, who observed the first week, and will again next week. []
  16. She’s English. []
  17. Which I am, let’s be honest. []
  18. I leave it to you to decide if British English and American English are the same language. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
(Or, you know, that city where literally every girl has a boyfriend #fml)
18 June, 2015

Teaching is a funny thing. When your class doesn’t go well, you can walk outa there feeling like a complete and utter failure. Questions start going through your brain. “Why I am even doing this?” “Will I ever be any good at this?” “What the fuck am I even doing in Berlin?” Then, when you’re throwing yourself a pity party, you walk into the store to buy a beer and realize you can’t even speak German properly. So then you feel even worse. Then you cross the street against the light – even though there are no cars in sight – and people give you dirty looks. Then you come home, do the dishes and break a glass. Because life.

But when you teach well? When you really rock your class? You’re on top of the world. You walk out all smiles and Berlin is your lovely little playpen. A playpen where you can drink beer on the street. So you walk into the same shop, buy your beer and even have some friendly banter with the guy behind the counter, in German. The sun is shining, your beer tastes great even though it’s only a stupid Pilsener – which, by the way, why are Pilseners even a thing?1 – and you cross the street wherever you damn well please. Teaching is a funny thing.

This week, I had both of those things. Monday was shit. Today I killed it. I guess part of what I need to learn is how to be more even-keeled about all this. And how to check it at the door, one way or the other.

You know what I hate? When I’m ordering a Currywurst, and the clown behind the counter thinks they should talk to me in English. Tu das nicht, fool. That’s gonna piss me right the fuck off. Friday, I forgot to bring lunch. So I popped over to the Currywurst Museum2 for a cheap midday meal. I had been speaking English all morning in school. And not the modified English I have to use with non-native speakers, but my own actual English. So when I got there, my German was pretty choppy. And butchered the word Brötchen. So the lady just started talking to me in English.

Hey, lady. I got news for you. No matter how shit my German is, I can damn well order a fucking Currywurst in German. So maybe don’t insult me, OK? I mean, I get that I’m in Tourist Central. But gimme a break! And then, the kicker. She turns the register display to face me, so that I can clearly see the price: Two-Euro, forty. And get this. She says, in English, “Two-forty, please.” Seriously? You know I can read numbers, right? You know they’re the same in both languages, yeah? Thanks for that. I’ll be coming back never.

Monday, I forgot to bring lunch again. This time I go to a different Currywurst stand. “Einmal Currywurst mit Pommes, bitte,” I say in perfectly acceptable German. One currywurst with fries, please. I wait. Then one of the guys asks me, “Willst du Ketschup und Mayo?” Do you want ketchup and mayo? “Nur Ketschup, bitte,” I casually respond. Just ketchup, please. A minute later, the other guy asks me, in English, if I want ketchup and mayo. Seriously? A) We just covered this. B) What the fuck? Then he proceeds to literally drown my little plate in ketchup. Guess I won’t be going back there either. Give me Neukölln any day. Neukölln, where the Turks and Arabs speak flawless German but can’t be bothered with English.

So Lisa is a little thesaurus3 of beboyfriended cute girls. See, she hosts her choir group in our (ridiculously) spacious apartment on Mondays. So there’s always new people around. Anyway, this girl comes into the kitchen while I’m cooking. She looks familiar. Oh yeah, we’d bumped into her on the street a few days ago. Anyway, she starts chatting me up and she’s all sorts of friendly.

And all sorts of cute. She’s like a million feet tall4; I don’t know what that is in meters. She’s blonde. She’s wearing quirky-yet-cute oversized glasses. She’s very pretty. And we’re just getting on well. At this point, I have forsaken hope. Either Tiny has a boyfriend, or else she’s gay. Because what this looks like clearly isn’t what this is.

After a bit, she disappears off back into the living room. I finish cooking. I eat. I come to the living room. Tiny’s still there. And now she’s being all playful and fun. Great. I guess I’ll be playful and fun too. Well, why not? Then she’s getting ready to leave, and she bends down to hug me in my chair.5 Then I stand up and say, no, let’s do this the right way. So we hug again. Then I say, no, let’s really do this the right way. So I stand on top of my chair and hug her again. She get’s a kick out of it. Then she leaves. I count to ten. I turn to Lisa.

“So, how long has Tiny been dating her boyfriend?” I’m somehow hoping she’ll say, “Oh, she doesn’t have a boyfriend.” I’m hoping this the same way one hopes maybe the tide won’t come in. Well, the tide came in. “About three months, I think.” Yep. There it is. “Why, do you have a crush on her?” Fuck me.

“No. I’m asking you so I don’t go and do anything stupid. Like having a crush. Like last time. Remember?” I go into my room. I wonder if there are any breaks to be caught. I decide that there aren’t and pour myself a glass of Jameson.

Later, I come out of my room. I feel better now.6 Lisa is chilling on the couch. “So, Tiny is pretty cool, eh?” Oh, is this what we’re doing? “She has a boyfriend,” I say. “She’s dead to me.” I walk back into my room to get my pipe. I hear Lisa say something behind me that sounds an awful lot like, “She is really cool, though.” I return with my pipe. “Sorry, did you say something?” She looks up. “I said, ‘She is really cool though.’” I sigh. “Actually, can you not? Thanks.” I go into the kitchen with my pipe and a bottle of wine.

I also go into the kitchen with my laptop and books because I have a shit-ton of work to do for school. And this wine ain’t gonna drink itself.

I shouldn’t break on Lisa, though. She’s still an A+ roommate. Even if all her cute friends have boyfriends and she doesn’t quite seem to grasp how frustrating that is for me. This week we’ve got a house-guest, and he’s sleeping in the room off the balcony. Which means, no balcony time. So we hang in the kitchen instead. And the good news is, I can smoke in the kitchen with the windows open and the door closed.

Some nights we drink and chat. Other nights, we both have work to do. So we sit at the table and work. In silence, or maybe with music on. It’s pretty peaceful, actually. In fact, it reminds me a bit of the old days on Maiden Lane when me and Phil would hang out in the living room. And by hang out, I mean we’d each be on a couch, reading and not talking. But somehow also hanging out. Those were good times. And that probably means nothing to nobody, except Jared.

Met Down Under Kelvin for a beer on Sunday. He’s definitely leaving. He’s just had enough, I guess. I’m happy for him, insofar as going home is going to make him happy. But he’s a proper mate, and I’ll be sorry to see him go.

Tomorrow is one year since Daitz died. Fuck. Just, fuck. Do you know, I didn’t even realize the date? Just by chance, I emailed Mimi, his wife, the other day. I was reading some Homer,7 and I realized I hadn’t spoken to her for some time. So I just dropper her a little email to see how she was doing and let her know I was thinking of her. And when she wrote back, she told me Friday would be one year.

I fucking hate that he’s gone. I mean, I’m in Berlin. And it’s the summer. So it’s not like we’d be reading now anyway. But still. I want him back. I want to say it’s not fair. But that’s both selfish and untrue. The dude was 88 when he checked out. And he had a full and amazing life. He got a fair shake. So what’s not fair about it? I don’t know. I’m still not processing this well. All I know is, there are two dead people in my life who I miss all the fucking time. My grandpa and Daitz.8 When does that stop hurting? Does it ever? Fuck me.

Right. Enough of this downer shit. The tone of this post has been overwhelmingly negative. It shouldn’t be. Life is good. I fucking rocked my class today. My apartment and roommate are fantastic. Berlin is lovely city. By this time next week, I’ll have seen AC/DC in concert.9 I’ve got friends here, old and new. And when I have happen to have some down time, I read Homer. And man, Homer is wonderful. It’s just so…so organic, so true to life, so perfect. Life is good.

And baseball starts at 1am. Which is bloody brilliant. Now, when I go to sleep, I put the ballgame on. What a great way to drift off. The game itself hardly matters. John and Suzyn aren’t even annoying. It’s just baseball on the radio, the way it was meant to be.10 And that’s what I’m gonna do, right after I hit the ‘publish’ button on this bitch. I’m gonna crawl into bed and I’m gonna sail away au pays de beaux rêves, sails filled with the music of baseball…

  1. I mean, at some point, just give me a Kölsch. A Pils is barely a step up from a Bud. []
  2. My first mistake. And yes, that’s a thing. []
  3. And by ‘literal,’ I mean the original Greek (θηϲαυρόϲ) meaning of the word: Treasure house. []
  4. I’m a sucker for tall dames. []
  5. I may have to re-evaluate my theory of Germans as unemotional robots. []
  6. Thanks, John Jameson. []
  7. More on that later. []
  8. And in a very different way, Ronnie James Dio. Once again, Jared knows what I’m talking about. []
  9. OmgOmgOmg []
  10. Well, it was meant to be Red Barber calling the Dodgers in Brooklyn. But ain’t nothin’ perfect. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
13 June, 2015

Has it really been ten days since my last post? In that time I played my first ever open-mic night. And in that time, I’ve had my first week of school.1 In the last ten days I had a BBQ at Tempelhofer Feld with Joschka and Verena. And in the last ten days I’ve worked diligently with Lisa to put away quite a bit of alcohol. Oh, and I met yet another lovely girl who naturally lives with her boyfriend. Because Dave.

Last Wednesday, Kelvin the Australian and I returned to the group conversation meetup where we first met however many weeks ago. But first we met for a couple of pre-game beers. It was nice to catch up. And it was nice for both of us to be able to speak in our own normal English, instead of the modified version one has to take on when dealing with non-native speakers.

Which is sort of an odd thing to say, when you think about it. What I mean is, Kelvin’s speech is full of weird Aussie idioms, just as mine gets super New York slangy.2 But we understand each other perfectly well all the same. And it’s quite a comfort not to have to “grade your language.”3

Anyway, we’re sitting outside, minding our own business. When, after a while, this dude at the next table over starts interjecting himself into our conversation. And when I say “dude,” I mean this round, bald, older fellow who seems not to be in possession of all of his teeth. And we both took this fellow for the local drunken barfly who has the annoying habit of glomming onto the nearest conversation, which naturally happens to be yours.

But a strange thing happened. As one person after another left the bar, each said a very friendly goodbye to this fellow; the men patting him on the shoulder, the women kissing him on the cheek. And it began to dawn on me that he wasn’t so much a local drunk loner/loser as he was the mayor of this little outpost.

We learned that although his German was quite good, he was actually Polish. And though we could have got on easily enough in German, he was quite proud of the English that he knew. And while his English was by no means great – in fact, he could be difficult to understand at times – it was pretty impressive, given that a) it was his third language and b) he grew up on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. And when, in the end, it was our time to leave, we found ourselves saying as friendly a farewell as those who had left before us.

Then it was off to the convo-meetup, which was fine, but not worth reporting on. However, when we left – having decided to get another beer4 – we bumped into a girl who had also been there. Something in her face gave me the impression that she was eager to tag along, whereupon I invited her to join us. Well, why not? She looked to be about our age, was tall, skinny and cute in a punky kind of way.

From there, the three of us returned to the bar where Kelvin and I had pre-gamed. After a quick stop for a döner.5 And we had a lovely time of it. Turns out Punk-girl is a bit of an artist and had lived in Manchester for a bit. So she was into music and also spoke nearly flawless English. It was actually pretty cool. Because as we were walking, the three of us would switch back and forth between English and German in a very fluid and effortless sort of way.

While we were chatting at the bar, the subject of my upcoming open-mic debut came up. Punk-girl seemed pretty excited about it and asked for the details. I was pretty pleased about this. Not so much because she was cool and cute (although this obviously didn’t hurt), but because I rather didn’t want to go do this thing entirely alone. But more on that later.

So the three of us sat and chatted and had an all-around lovely time. But then, wouldn’t you know it, the mayor appeared out of the back and sat down with us at our table. And wouldn’t you know it, he turned out to be an expert on all kinds of music. So that went on for a bit, until we finally decided to call it a night. But not before Punk-girl wrote down her email and phone number for me (of her own accord) on a coaster and bade me send her the details for the open-mic.

The next day, I got a text from Kelvin. “Dude, that girl is way into you.” No, no I don’t think so, mate. “Oh yeah, dude. She was hanging on your every word.” Well, it did look that way, I have to admit. But I’m almost certain she said she lives with her boyfriend. “Really? I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear anything about that.”

Here I needs must point out a quirk of the German language. You see, German does not have a word for ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend.’ Believe it or not, this is a source of confusion even to the Germans themselves. Here’s how it works. The German word for (a male) ‘friend’ is Freund. The German word for ‘boyfriend,’ however, is also Freund. Likewise the German word for (a female) ‘friend’ is Freundin. And the German word for ‘girlfriend,’ is – you guessed it – is also Freundin.

Thus, in order to avoid confusion, you find Germans using the cumbersome periphrasis “Ein(e) Freund(in) von mir,” when they want to say ‘my friend’ instead of simply saying “Mein(e) Freund(in). Because the latter invariably sounds like ‘my boy/girlfriend.’

The point is, when we were walking to the bar after our döner, I asked Punk-girl where she lived, and I could have sworn she said, “Ich wohn’ in der Nähe mit meinem Freund.” Naturally, I took this to mean, “I live around here, with my boyfriend.” Kelvin, it seems, didn’t hear this. In any case, that was the source of our miscommunication on the subject. But whatever the truth of the matter, I decided to put it aside until the open-mic.

Friday was the Tempelhofer BBQ. That was brilliant. I mean, really just fantastic. I’ve written in previous posts about how great THF is. But I’ll say it again. It really is quite a treasure. It’s an entire commercial airfield, but decommissioned and turned into a park. People go biking, skating and windsurfing on the runways. People sunbathe, read and BBQ on the grass. It’s wonderful.

Verena brought Salmon and made a salad. I picked up some bratwursts and shish kabobs as well as two bottles of wine. And Joschka brought a disposable grill6 as well as a delightfully refreshing cucumber salad. There was a brilliant sunset. Everything about it was great. It was just one of those evenings where everything is easy, if that makes any sense.

And for me and Joschka, it brought back the festival feeling. How can I explain this? There’s something about sitting out in a field, around a grill, with your metal music playing and the sun going down. If you closed your eyes, you could’ve imagined being surrounded by a village of tents. In some Prustian way, it brought us back to Wacken and Rock Harz. At one point, we sort of just looked at each other and were like, “dude, I can’t fucking wait for Rock Harz!” “We should do this every week!”

Well, we can’t do it every week. I’ve got school, for one thing. But this weekend Joschka is in Bavaria and next weekend he’s back in his hometown. Hopefully we can swing another one the week after. And hopefully Verena will come as well. It’s a very nice dynamic, the three of us.

Sunday. Open-mic night. Kind of a big deal for me. Apart from Jared and Charlotte, I’ve never played my music for other people before. And certainly not in public. Punk-girl came. Thank the gods. Sign-up was at 8pm and the show didn’t start till well after nine. If she hadn’t come, I’d have had to sit there in awkward nervousness by myself that whole time. That would have been awful.

She was great though. She really calmed me down and was super supportive. It was a huge help. As to the question of was she into me, impossible to read. If you wanted to see it, I suppose you could have. But there was nothing obvious. Anyway, I was slotted to play in the thirteenth spot, after the intermission. So we sat through the first half together. And it was fun, even if the music wasn’t particularly “rock’n’roll.”

At the break, I offered to buy her a drink. Her reaction was sufficiently awkward – “Oh…no, Dave…what are you doing?” – that it was obvious she wasn’t interested in that way. But for once in my life, I actually found my way out of an awkward situation, instead of making it worse. “Oh, no,” I said, calmly waving her off. “Please. Honestly, if you didn’t come, I’d have had to sit here by myself this whole time, and I’d probably have driven myself crazy. The least I can do is buy you a drink.” She immediately relaxed and accepted the offer. After that, it was smooth sailing for the S.S. Friendship.

And believe it or not, that whole exchange put an end to all my nerves. I suddenly didn’t have anybody to impress anymore. And what’s more, I was able to focus on being annoyed that I’d met yet another cute girl with a boyfriend rather than all the ways I could possibly fuck up my first ever performance. Fuck it, I thought. Fuck everything. It’s time to rock and roll.

And that’s what I did. Which isn’t to say I was great, or even good. I honestly have no idea how I did. But I went up there and I played some rock’n’roll – my rock’n’roll. The first song was a bit touch and go. I mean, I believe I played it well. I believe I sang it well. But I’d never sung into a microphone before. And I feel like I was spending the whole song figuring out how close or far I should be from the damned thing. But by the second song – and everybody only gets two – I believe I’d figured it out. And then it was over. Nice reaction from the crowd. Punk-girl was well impressed. I do believe that was genuine.

When it was all over, we stuck around for a couple more drinks. At this point, Punk-girl offered to buy mine. Why yes, thank you. What a doll. And that sort of sealed the ‘just-friends’ nature of things. But you know what? That’s fine. She was brilliant for support. And we had a really nice time, talking about music, Berlin and life in English and German and even French.

Next time, she might even perform some of her own poetry, poetry-slam style. But next time will not be this Sunday, but the Sunday after. Because this weekend she’ll be in Greece with her Freund. Whatever. I’m just glad to have a bit of camaraderie in this musical adventure.

So that was Sunday night, and I got home at whatever-the-fuck-time in the morning. Because five hours of sleep is always how you want to start your first day of school.7 Yeah, I was a bit nervous. Twelve people in our class. Eleven strangers. Some good looking broads though. And only three other Yanks. As for the rest, let’s see…two Aussies, two Brits, three Germans and dame from Iran.

We’re all together in the mornings. That’s when they teach us. In the afternoons, we’re split in half. To start, my group teaches a beginner level class. The other works with an advanced level. We’ll flip halfway through the course. And I’ve got to say, my group is brilliant. I’ll come back to them in a bit. But first, teaching. Wow.

So we each teach – or taught, by now – twice this week. My first lesson was Tuesday. Let’s just say it didn’t go well. Of the six of us, I would say mine was easily the worst. Which isn’t to say it was a wepic fail. Just that it wasn’t great. Or even good. And we all knew it. I mean, when your classmates are saying things like, “Hey, come on, it was your first time,” or “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” you kinda know it wasn’t just in your head.

In the end, however, it was acceptable. By which I mean, it was acceptable. There are only three possible grades for a lesson: Below Standard, At Standard and Above Standard. I received an At Standard for my work. I also received a shit-ton of notes from my teacher. I also received a shit-ton of notes from myself, as we have to write a self-evaluation. The silver lining is, my self-evaluation matched almost one-to-one with my teacher’s. So basically, I fucked up X, Y and Z. But I knew I’d fucked up X, Y and Z. So that’s a good start.

Be that as it may,8 I went home feeling quite shit. But Lisa really stepped up. Lisa, my roommate, who, I’m sure I mentioned, is a German teacher. She stayed up with me until late in the night talking strategies and offering encouragements while we drank wine, and then, when there wasn’t any more wine, whiskey.

One of my biggest problems as a teacher is, I talk too damned fast. I think it’s a New York thing.9 In any case, that don’t fly with people who are, say, from the South, let alone non-native speakers. Lisa said she used to have the same problem. To counter this, she made cards with Question Marks on them, and distributed them to her students with instructions to hold up said card whenever she spoke too fast. I decided to modify this slightly. I made little traffic signs; diamonds with word SLOW printed across them.

It was the first thing I did in my next class. “I need to ask you guys to help me?” I said. “Sometimes I talk too fast. So what I want you to do is, whenever you think I’m talking too fast, hold up your ‘SLOW’ card. Let’s practice. Ok, everybody, hands on your cards. Now, I’m going to start speaking slowly, at the speed I should be speaking so that you can understand me. But little by little, I’m-going-to-start-speeding-up, andImmaSstartSpeakin’RealFast, thewayispeakathomecosaintnobodygottime – “ and like a flash, the cards go up in the air. “Great! Perfect! Now don’t be shy about that, Ok?” I pause. “That’s what I want to see!” And they’re all smiling now, some of them are even laughing. So I decide to test them, just to be sure.

“But obviously, that’s not what I want to see, because-if-I’m-seeing-that, itmeansi’mtalkingwaytoo – “ and the cards go flying up again. And they’re all laughing now. Fantastic!

From there, I start the class. And man, I hit that one out of the park. Everything went brilliantly. Mind you, that’s not to say everything was perfect. Far from it. I still use too many idioms and too many big words, just to name a few failings. But, you guys, they really bought into it.

And I’ll tell you something else. I was funny. Everybody’s got their own teaching style, of course. And what works for one person may not work for the next. But I build a lot of schtick into mine. And for me, it works. And obviously it works for this particular group too, because I got a lot of laughs. But beyond the laughs, you could just see that they really enjoyed the class, which was very gratifying, as you can imagine.

When it was all over, the reaction from my classmates was night and day. They were coming up to me and saying things like, “Wow, you were hilarious!” “That was so funny!” and “That was really great, Dave.” I ain’t gonna lie, that made me feel good. It’s one thing when you see that you really connected with your students and that they enjoyed your class. But when, on top of that, you get that kind of reaction from your colleagues, it’s really quite gratifying.

Ironically, I rather beat myself up in my self-evaluation. I bought myself a Wegbier10 for the walk home,11 during which I had a solid 45 minutes to reflect. And it occurred to me that my job is not to entertain these people but to teach them. And while it was clear that I had done a good job entertaining them, I wasn’t at all sure how well I had taught them. And so I proceeded to pick every nit I could think of.

The next day, I met with my teacher. Yes, he said, the things which I identified as problems do indeed need further work. But I also improved tremendously from my first lesson, which was very important. And all my schtick helped build a great rapport with the students, which is hugely important. Endeffekt:12 Above Standard. Booyah!

So I’m starting to develop my teaching persona: part Clown, part The Doctor, part Nutty Professor. And part Dave…whatever that means. Yeah, there’s still a literal shit-ton of work to do. But I’m starting to feel like I can do this, and do it well. The next challenge comes Monday.13 My job now is to be up to it.

As usual, this post has run over-long. But I do want to add just a bit more. Today was the end of the first week, thank the gods. When it was all over, our group (minus one), went for drinks and dinner. It was a much-needed catharsis for all of us. But it was also really nice to socialize with that lot outside of school and get to know them more as people. And, you guys? They’re so great. Once again, I feel like I really lucked out.

Don’t get me wrong, in the larger group of twelve, everybody is really nice. No question. But when I think about who’s in my group and who’s in the other group, well, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s like, I got all my favorites. How does that even happen? So I’m just feeling well pleased about that. Well pleased.

One other thing I want to mention. I continue to feel really good about where I’m living. When I wrote my last post, I’d only been here three days. But now I’ve been here nigh-on a fortnight. And I love it. Me and Lisa14 just get on so well. We’re really developing a very nice and comfortable friendship here. She’s so easy to live with. And we drink. A lot. And often. But she’s also proving to be an invaluable15 resource vis-à-vis teaching. And did I mention the high ceilings?

  1. Or, you know, the reason I’m fucking here in the first place. []
  2. For example, instead of saying, “Let’s go check it out,” he’ll say “Let’s go have a squizz.” And instead of saying, “So what did she say?” I’ll say “Wait, wha’ she said?” []
  3. More on this later. []
  4. Natch. []
  5. Natch. []
  6. Did you know that was even a thing? I didn’t. []
  7. Said no one ever. []
  8. Election is Friday. (This footnote is entirely for my brother and my father). []
  9. As far back as 1774, none other than Founding Father John Adams noted in his diary that New Yorkers “talk very loud, very fast and altogether.” []
  10. Wegbier – a beer for the road.  Of course the Germans have a word for this. []
  11. My new – and dare I say, beloved – habit. []
  12. I love this word.  And it needs no translation. []
  13. I have to teach the future tenses. And yet, somehow not the Future Perfect, the greatest of all tenses! I mean, it’s the fucking Prophet Tense! It’s the only tense that can tell you what’s happened before its’ actually happened! Also, I should probably not nerd-out over verb tenses. And yet…it’s so fucking cool! []
  14. Lisa and I. Whatever. Fuck you. Which one of us is (going to be) the English teacher? []
  15. Gotta love the ‘in-‘ prefix as an intensifier. “Inflammable means flammable?? What a country!” – Dr. Nick, The Simpsons, s.12, ep.20. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
3 June, 2015

What the shit just happened, you guys? My last post was, what, three days ago? Four? At that point, I was staying in my kick-ass Airbnb flat, with my super chill hippy roommates and their two cats, for whom I was developing a certain degree of fondness. And now? Shit’s different, yo.1

Ok, so I’m in my new flat. Apartment. Whatever. But it feels so different. In the last place, everything was taken care of, arranged. The room was predecorated and prefurnished. And as much as I got along really great with Anja and Mischa – and I really did – I was always a “guest” in their house.”2 And that came with certain advantages. I didn’t have to buy laundry detergent or toilet paper. But on the flip-side, it was never ‘my’ place, ‘my’ room.

And now, here, it really is. Well, I mean to a point. I’m only here for a month. And I know I’m a stopgap until my roommate’s sister moves in. But still. It’s “my” fucking room here. I get to do with it what I want. And, you guys? This room is the tits. I feel like I now need “doge speak” to express the height of the ceilings. Sure, I could measure them. But it wouldn’t get the point across as well as, “such highest ceilings!”3

But wait, there’s more. My roommate is so cool. Right, OK. It’s only been one night.4 And things can go tits-up in a hurry, of course. But based on the first night – man, did I land in the right spot! So she’s a German teacher. Pretty sure I mentioned that in the last post. But she’s also thoughtful, smart-af, really f’ing nice, and just all around cool.

Last night was our first night together as roommates. And we stayed up ‘til three drinking wine (and then beer) and just talking. Talking about all sorts of stuff. But like, smart people stuff. At one point, we were discussing Nazi architecture, and then Soviet architecture, and then U.S. monumental architecture. I mean, it was so great.

Also, you guys, she has a friend. And this friend is…hold on, Imma come back to it.

But first, a little about my new living-sitch. So the room, right, from a New York perspective, is gloriously spacious. And did I mention the high ceilings? And the giant wall-sized windows that lets in a literal shit-ton of a natural light? But – because there’s always a “but” – it was entirely unfurnished.

Well, right off the bat, Lisa – that’s my new roommate’s name – shows herself to be a real fucking champ. Rather than saying, “Well, here’s your empty room, it’s up to you to find a bed,” she found a friend who was getting rid of a bunch of furniture and sorted out renting a van (with a driver) so we could get it from A to B. Were it not for that, I’d be sleeping on the floor and living out [of] my suitcase.

As for the rest of the apartment, well, it’s just bloody brilliant. The living room is massive. The kitchen has everything you could want, if you like to cook. And on top of that, there’s still another room – itself bigger than the “living rooms” of either my Maiden Lane or Orchard Street apartments. And that room is dedicated as a “work room,” with a desk and chairs and all that. And the bathroom is spacious and, more importantly, clean.

In New York, I’d say this apartment would go for, easy, 3.5k. And I’m paying not even five hundred. Also, did I mention that I’m writing this post on the fucking5 balcony??6 So yeah, I’m well pleased to be here.

And now, I gotta give a shoutout to Joschka. Joshcka, who7 I’m not even sure if he even reads this shit. But in any case, he came to my old place with his car, picked me up with all my stuff and drove me to the new place. What a fucking lifesaver. So, if you do read this, Kumpel, ich danke dir, von meinem Herz. Aber, du bist immer noch Scheiße.

Tonight, I went again to the class that Lisa teaches. And I had my ass handed to me, prepositionally. No, seriously. The class was on German prepositions. And I scored like a 20. The only thing that makes me feel better is, that the rules governing which prepositions are used when are almost entirely arbitrary. Still though, talk about your rude awakenings. Yeesh. And then on the way out, I saw her friend. But I said I’ll come back to that later, and I will.

But yeah, after that, I decided it was time for a nice scotch. So I stopped off to pick up a bottle of Glenfiddich, which I guess I alluded to footnoteally.8 But of course nothing can be easy, right? I decided to pay with my card, instead of cash.9 But of course, the receipt paper ran out in the middle of my transaction. So I couldn’t sign. What a shitshow. Like, seriously. I had to wait a half hour for them not to be able to print a new receipt at the register, and then decide that they needed to print one from a computer in the back for me to sign. Then, after I sign it, the guy wants to see my card again so he can actually literally astoundingly compare the signatures. And I’m like, you realize you are an actual real life stereotype now, right? Anyway, I felt like such a dick for holding up the line. But Germans – or at least these Germans – were so well behaved. Nobody even gave me a dirty look!

But in the end, I got it sorted, and I hear I am. Here I am with my glass of Glenfiddich, and my pipe, and oh, Lisa just got home and I guess we’re gonna chill on the balcony for a bit. So, pause…

OK, we’re both on the balcony, but I guess she’s facebooking, so, umm, hi.

Right, so, open-mic night. I’ve decided that this is something I need to do. I’ve been writing my own songs for a while, but I have done literally fuck-all with them to this point. If I wanted to make excuses, I would say something along the lines of, I couldn’t find people to play with, I couldn’t start a band. But also, I’m mad shy and nervous about playing my shit in front of other people. And in New York? Well, that’s my home. Those are my people. It seemed harder.

But a goal I’ve set for myself here is to perform at an open-mic night. I’m a stranger here, and I don’t know anybody. And ain’t nobody be knowin’ me.10 And this whole trip is about growing myself as a person, right?   Ok, so Sunday night, I went to check out this open-mic night. Not to play, but just to see what it was about. Well, it was interesting.

What it reminded me of, was the Java House from college. The Java House was this place where people would gather to drink coffee and listen to live music. In theory, it should have been very cool. And for a lot of people, I’m sure it was. But for me, I dunno, it wasn’t Rock’n’ Roll, if I can say that. It was a bunch of hippies, sitting around, saying things like “Isn’t ‘music’ great…maaaaannn?” Yeah, it’s terrific. Now put down your joint and tap your godsdamned foot!

Well, it was that kind of crowd. But I shouldn’t be throwin’ shade.11 Because for all it’s not “Rock’n’Roll,” they really are an open minded and supportive lot. And they get into any-and-everything. So, next week, when I go back to actually play – which I will, dammit – I think I shall be glad to have such a group of people in front of me.

Still though. The predominant language was English. The MC introduced everybody in English. At the bar, everybody was speaking English. I mean, c’mon, this isn’t why I came here! And also – here comes a rant – godsdamned hipsters! With your flannel and your boots and your ‘artisenal’ accents. You know what I mean. The perfectly rounded ‘O’s, the carefully enunciated consonants, pronouncing final ‘T’s. Like, when did glottal stops stop being cool?12 Can’t you just talk like a normal person? Not every word has to be a craft beer/cheese/whatever. Nah’mean? <<EndRant>>.

So now it’s Wednesday afternoon. And this is a bit unusual. I’m writing, but the sun is up and I’m totally sober. It’s so strange to think that people work like this all the time. In coffee shops, no less. In any case, I’m to meet up with Kelvin later for a beer and then we’re going to head back to that group conversation exchange thingy-whatsit. Should be fun. And also necessary.

Because I feel like I’m starting to hit a bit of a wall with my German. It’s like when you first start learning to play guitar. First, you start learning open chords, and your hands be all, “What? No, we don’t make that shape.” But after a bit, open chords become mad easy, and you’re feeling really good about yourself because now you can play a whole bunch of songs or order a beer at a restaurant. But then you realize you need to learn bar chords. And now your hands be all, “What? No, that hurts, stop it. Also, do you not hear how bad that sounds?” This is sitting with two well spoken German teachers and trying to follow their conversation. Then comes the guitar solo, or you know, speaking like an actual person. Well, right now, I’m just trying to keep up on rhythm guitar.

And the two German teachers I mentioned? One was Lisa. The other was the aforementioned friend. Her name is Divi. Never heard that one. So I ask if it’s short for anything. Yes, she says. It’s Indian, short for Diviam, which means “light.” And then a light goes off in my head. I made some connection, or pulled some half remembered fragment out of the part of my brain I was using when I did my Master’s. “Wait, hang on,” I say. “Surely that’s a Sanskrit word…which must be cognate with Latin ‘divinus,’ divine…because…gods, light, something something13.…(and then in my head: and also obviously, in Greek, Διόϲ (genitive of Ζεύϲ), which obviously would have been Διϝόϲ at some point, and aren’t digammas great?)…” And the whole time she’s nodding along like she knows all this, because obviously you know the origin of your own name, you German teaching, linguistics bestudied beautiful little creature, you. “Yeah, it’s the same stem,” she says. Right. Well. Thanks for letting me walk through all that then. Where’s my wine?

Anyway, Divi. Lovely girl. Smart, as we’ve seen. But also just really sweet. And she has a sense of humor. This I discovered after I managed to get myself locked in the bathroom and only escaped with Lisa’s help. I’ll say this about getting locked in your own bathroom. It’s not nearly as scary as getting locked in a cemetery; but it is infinitely more embarrassing.

There are two other salient facts about this Divi person. One I shall mention here.14 She is all of the cutes. Literally, you guys. All of them. A point which I mentioned to Lisa after Divi’d left. Her response? Well, actually her response came after I had to break down the “all-of-the-x” idiom, using “all of the feels” as another example thereof. Anyway, her response? “Oh yes, isn’t she? I’ve always wondered what kind of guy – and I’m not saying you do – but what kind of guy would have a crush on her.”

What? No! What are you doing? Don’t do that! I don’t have a…I was just…she’s very cute! That’s all I said! Don’t say the “C” word! Now it’s gonna be in my head! Ugh, I was perfectly prepared to go to bed thinking, “Oh, she was cute. How nice.” But after that remark? I went to bed having a crush.15

So of course I ran into her after Lisa’s class last night, because obviously that had to happen. “Oh hi!” I say, terrified now that I’ve said ‘hi’ with either obvious overexcitement or forced nonchalance indicating a complete lack of interest or possibly somehow both, because there’s nothing I can’t ruin. Then she opens her arms for a hug.

For a hug? What? No, you can’t do that. Germans are supposed to be unemotional robots. That’s why I came here, to avoid emotional contact. Otherwise I’d have gone to France. Anyway, hug? No. Too confusing. Does it mean something? Is she simply not an unemotional Teutonic robot? Does everybody get a hug after one night of hanging out? Oh gods, why is this happening to me?

Also,” she says with a divinely16 cute smile, “Was ist passiert, seit gestern?” (So, what’s new since yesterday?) And then it happened. I forgot all the German that I know. I wanted to say something about how I’d just had my ass handed to me in class vis-à-vis prepositions. “Ich hab…Oh gods. Words, David. Use words. “Ich hab…Not those words, David. You’ve already said that part. Use other words. “Ich hab…Mental facepalm. “Ja?” she says, encouragingly, patiently. If you could maybe stop being so cute for a second? I’m trying to think here. Thanks. Ok, try again now. Ich hab…darin…mein Arsch…getritten?, getrittet17…gehabt?“ “What are you trying to say?” she asks in English now. “Um, I got my ass kicked in there?” “Yeah,” she says. “That’s not a thing in German.” No, of course it’s not. I’ll just show myself out. Whereupon I said goodbye and promptly walked into the street, looking for a bus to throw myself in front of. But there were no buses. So I couldn’t even do that right.18

Fast forward to later in the night, when Lisa came out and joined me on the balcony. I asked her if she wanted some scotch, happy to share, but mostly expecting the answer no, because most girls seem not to like whisk(e)y.19 “Yeah, sure,” she answered pleasantly. “Good girl,” quoth I. So we chat, and we’re having a lovely time of it in the warm Berlin night, with the Big Dipper looking wheeling peacefully overhead. Finally, I bring it up.

“It’s all your fault, you know. I was totally prepared not to have any feels for your friend Divi. But then you used the ‘crush’ word, and now that’s happened. So thanks.” To which she replies, “Oh. Well you probably shouldn’t do that. You see, she lives together with her boyfriend.” Of course she does. Because Dave can’t have nice things. So that was twenty-four hours of emotional hot messitude that I could have done without. Anyway, I must have looked sad/disappointed/distressed, because then Lisa decided to try and say something nice.

“No, but that’s a good thing, actually. Because it means that your heart is open and your open to having feelings for new people.” Is it? I am? Great. Thanks. Hey, I know. Let’s drink more scotch and also change the subject please. Which we did, and all was well.

And all is well, as long as we’re not talking about girls. I’m totally lucking out in the roommate department. I’m meeting cool people. My German is improving. I’m learning the city. And still to come: school, the Rock Harz festival, the trip to Biarritz. Maybe I really can have nice things…

  1. This is a usage of “yo” that I quite enjoy in spoken English, but which I don’t think I’ve tried in the written version. []
  2. Anytime I tried to help with anything, they’d always wave me off with the words, “Du bist Gast.” – You’re a guest. []
  3. I’m as bad at Doge as I am at German. []
  4. Well, two. My writing was interrupted last night by drinking on the balcony, on more which in a moment. #foreshadowfail []
  5. I feel like I’m cursing a lot in this post. Two reasons for that. One: I bought myself a bottle of Glenfiddich tonight, and it’s the first bottle of scotch I’ve bought since I’ve been here, which, let’s face it, is ridiculous, as I’ve been here just under a month. #germanstylerunonsentence Two A: I don’t know how to curse like this in German. Two B: When I speak English here, it’s almost always a modified super-clear and semi-formal English so that people will understand me. Rarely do I get to talk the way I normally talk. []
  6. The balcony is, ironically, the only downside, in this way: In my last place, I could smoke in the kitchen. Which meant I could read Greek and write my posts in the kitchen, irrespective (or irregardless, dammit!) of weather. Here, the balcony is the only place I can smoke. So if there’s bad weather, I’m f’d, in that regard. []
  7. Should be “whom,” right? I’m gonna say it’s an anacolouthon. And I feel like, if I can name it, I can use it. []
  8. I unequivocally support the adverbization of all things. Except when we’re busy verbing things. (See: adverbization, above). []
  9. In the States, you can pay with a card almost anywhere these days. But here, most places still only take cash. And so the reason I went where I went was, I’d be able to use a card. []
  10. Trying to keep my urban colloquialisms sharp. How’m I doin’? #EdKoch []
  11. Which is something we totally still say, right? Gods, I’m out of touch. []
  12. No, I didn’t live in “MaNhaTTan,” I lived in “Ma’ha’an.” Get it right, hipster. Hey, maybe that’s why they all live in Brooklyn (and Berlin, apparently). No glottal stop to avoid in Brooklyn (or Berlin). []
  13. My actual words. []
  14. The other, for effect, comes later. #BuildingSuspense []
  15. Thanks, Lisa. []
  16. #seewhatididthere []
  17. Getreten‘ is the participle I was looking for, and which I failed to find. []
  18. #davestheworst #iruineverything []
  19. So, good on you, Niki. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
31 May, 2015

This post is proving somewhat harder to construct than its forebears. I’ve now deleted the first paragraph at least three times. Wherefore do I throw up my hands and forego any sort of introspective introduction. Moving right along then, the last few days have not been uneventful.

This past weekend, there was the Karneval der Kulturen.1  From a New Yorker point of view, it’s sort of half street-fair/half music festival. In any case, on Saturday I met my Australian mate Kelvin2 for a couple of beers, and from there we proceeded to check out the festival.   We had a good time of it. We even found a little Australian tent, where he introduced me to one of his local beers, 4X Gold.3

After we had left the festival, we wandered the streets a bit, trying to find what we would have called “a proper pub.” However, we didn’t have any luck. “Proper pubs” don’t seem to be a thing in Berlin. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s because it’s so easy to just drink your beer in the street. In any case, I think we were just both a bit homesick for the little things. But it was a nice bonding moment, all the same. Strangers in a strange land and all that.

At the end of it, though, he told me he was having some classmates over the next day and that I was more than welcome to join. So of course I did. And I would have been on time, too. Except that I had a helluva time finding a bottle of wine to bring. You see, I’d forgotten that damn near everything in this town is closed on Sundays.4

But in the end, I found some wine and got there not unfashionably late. It was a nice little group. Aside from Kelvin, there was a dude from Venezuela, two Italians and two Americans. The Italians didn’t stay long, but they were great. We actually talked a bit about Caesar and how badass his Latin is, which was really cool. You see, normally when I go off on a Caesar tangent, people just sort of nod in a that’s-nice-Dave-but-you-know-nobody-cares sort of way. But these guys were really into it. “Yeah, Caesar talking about himself in the third person is so badass!” “Yeah, Caesar uses asyndeton5 like a boss!”6 That was a lot of fun for me.

Anyway, once the wine and arepas – which Luis, the Venezuelan had made – were gone, we made off for the festival. It was fun for a while. But eventually we found ourselves at the Latin music stage. And I have to be honest, Latin music just doesn’t speak to me. If I had to say why, the best I can come up with is this. It shuffles, it grooves, it pops…but it doesn’t swing. And for me, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. So eventually I left and went off on my own. And that’s how I got locked in a cemetery.

I left the main Karneval grounds and started to wend my way home. But as I went,7 I found that the Karneval stretched far into the surrounding streets. There was music, food stands, empty beer bottles, drunken louts and all the rest of it stretching far and wide. So naturally I got off the main road. And when I did, I found a nice inviting Friedhof8 – which, as I mentioned in an earlier post, function just like parks here – and decided to seek refuge therein.

It was lovely. Beautiful. Peaceful. Which is as should be, for the word Friede literally means ‘peace.’ So I wandered its tree lined paths and found solace within its quiet walls. If there was anything to hear at all, it was the song of birds. It was the perfect respite from the Sturm und Drang of the Karneval. But after a while, I noticed that the sun was beginning to set. And so I decided that it was probably time to make my exit. Only, the exits had all been shut and locked.9

Well now. Cemeteries are lovely and all, but I don’t think I’m up to spending a night in one. Not yet, anyway. Sure, I mean, Everlasting and Eternal Night, when the time comes. But not Sunday, thank you very much. That’s when I ran into Marco.

“Jolly good,” I thought.10 “Not alone.” I approached him, though I didn’t know who ‘he’ was. “Hallo!” I called. “Ich denke, dass die Türe ausgemacht sind,” which was meant to mean ‘I think the doors are locked,’ but which might actually have meant ‘the doors are shut off.’ “Ach so,” he probably responded – ‘I see…”

So we walked for a bit in silence, trying the various entrances, and finding each of them locked in their turn. Eventually, we gave up and made a go of hopping the sharp, pointed11 fence. Success! Ok, so it wasn’t exactly Steve McQueen breaking out of Stalag Luft III, but it was still a Pretty Good Escape.

Well, once we’d gotten free and the tension had been relieved, we spoke more freely. Marco was from Italy, I learned. But he’d been in Berlin at least since the beginning of the year, and so we spoke *rather* easily in German. This, I must say, I greatly appreciated. By which I mean, I was thrilled that he didn’t immediately switch over to English upon learning that I was from New York. In fact, we spoke no English at all, which was just delightful.

And as we walked down the Hasenheide, he asked me the question that many before have asked: Warum sprichst du so gut deutsch? – How is that you speak such good German? It was at this point that I began to realize that this must be a somewhat formulaic question. My German is, after all, pretty shit.

There is a Sprichwort in German, a saying: Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache – German language, hard language. In other words, Germans (and by extension, German speakers) are aware that their language is not an easy one.12 In any case, I get the impression that Germans (& German speakers) are generally impressed with even the least effort to function in their language. All to say, the question shouldn’t be taken quite literally. It would better be rendered as something like: “Whoa, you’re American and you’re not a complete idiot? Well done! Don’t let it go to your head.”

In any case, we turned off of Hasenheide and made our way through Hasenheide Park for a bit. We had a nice chat, and exchanged numbers at the end of it, ostensibly to grab a beer at some indeterminate point in the future. Whether or not that actually happens is beside the point. The point is: Look at me functioning as a social creature! Who knew?

Monday I went to Tempelhofer Feld a) to read some Tolkien and b) because Tempelhofer Feld is awesome. But on the way, I stopped for a falafel sandwich. “Ein Falafel, bitte. Aber, ohne Weißsoße – One falafel, please, but hold the white-sauce. Falafel Man answered something which I didn’t quite get. When I asked him to repeat, he pointed to a sign that read “100% vegan.” “Ach, ich bin nicht vegan…aber, ich kann’s nicht essen” – Ah, no, I’m not a vegan…I just can’t eat (read: digest) it. This brought the inevitable, “Wo kommst du her?” – Where are you from? In other words, ‘your German is sufficiently shit, I must ask you where you’re from, since obviously not here.’13 When I told him I was from New York, he told me that he was from Egypt. Whereupon he proceeded to tell me that he didn’t like Obama and that the U.S. had made a fine mess of the Middle East. “Irak ist kaputt.; Libyen ist kaputt; Syrien ist kaputt.”14 Well, yeah. Sorry. See, it’s always weird when you get stuck talking about your own country’s politics with foreigners. I might very well agree with you. But now I feel like I need to walk a fine line between agreeing with you and defending my country. It’s just awkward. And the last thing I wanted to do was get into my thoughts on Egypt, which in my opinion is doing a fine job making a mess of itself with or without our help.15

Fortunately, there was a guy hanging out at the falafel stand – who, I take it, was a friend of the guy behind the counter – and he did a lovely job of breaking the tension. Saying things like, “I had a cousin who visited New York, I hear it’s great.” Or, “Yeah, but Egyptians are all assholes too,” with a wink. Well, despite Falafel Man’s obvious displeasure with American politics, he seemed to like me just fine. In fact, he made me a cup of tea while I was waiting for my sandwich, which is something I’ve never seen before. So in the end, it all worked out. And I’m sure I’ll be back there for lunch before long.

Tuesday night I attended a free German class that my new roommate teaches. It was actually quite well done. The lesson was predominantly about grammar, so I latched right onto it. I have to say, my new roommate is pretty impressive. I look forward to going again next week. And of course, I immediately fell into class-clown mode, jumping on terrible puns whenever possible. It’s very endearing, don’t you know.

While I was waiting for the class to start, I grabbed a beer from the bar16 and struck up a chat with the only other person who was clearly there for the class. We chatted in German for a bit, running the usual where-are-you-from, what-are-you-doing here business. Giulia was Italian, but when we switched to English I discovered that she spoke with a bit of an Irish lilt. And sure enough, she grew up and learned English in Ireland. “Whereabouts?” I asked. “Limerick,” quoth she. “Ah, Stab City,” quoth I. And her face lit up. “How did you know that?!” she asked. What could I say? “I’m a man of the world.”

We sat together in the class and partnered on anything required a partner. She was a pleasure to work with. Hopefully I’ll get stuck with her again next time. And look, I know we should be speaking German with each other as much as possible, but did I mention she has an Irish accent? It’s all I want to hear. Irish accents are so beautiful. I could listen to her read the train schedule. And anyway, it’s bloody Berlin. Plenty of other people to speak German with, right?

Wednesday night was a little dinner party at Joschka’s. His girlfriend, Lusine, was in visiting. So of course it was lovely to see her, especially as she’s officially become part of the Duff’s Crew.17 The other member of our dinner party was a childhood friend of Joschka’s, now also living in Berlin, a girl by the name of Verena. Verena is a professional flute player, a real sweetheart, cute as hell and straight-up hawt by any metric. In any case, we had a lovely time of it, and I managed to get off a couple of jokes in German, proving once and for all that I am funny in at least two languages.18

Verena also has a motorbike, on which she graciously offered me a ride at some indeterminate point in the future. “Will I have to sit behind you and wrap my arms tight around you?” I asked because I don’t know how to interact with girls my own age. “Of course,” she replied unphasedly, because we’d already met two or three times. “Great! When do we leave?” Poor Joschka. He can’t take me anywhere.

A point I demonstrated yet again, when him, Lus and I went out on Friday night. We were at this “California-style”19 cocktail bar. At one point, a nice couple came and sat down at our table, albeit huddling themselves at the other end thereof. Later on, the fellow popped off to the loo, and so I decided to try my German on the lass, who was [probably] bored, waiting for her beau. Here is the conversation, which I will give in both languages:

Dave: Hallo, liebe Nachbarin!Girl: Umm, hallo.D: Ich bin Dave. Und wie heißt du?G: [Name]

D: Freut mich. Und kommst du aus Berlin?

G: Fast.

D: Fast?

G: Seit 10 Jahre.

D: Ach so. Aber, Ursprünglich?

G: Frankfurt. Und du?

D: New York. Also, du bist eine Frankfurterin?

G: Ja.

D: Weißt du, in New York, wir essen Frankfurtern.

G: …

D: Naja, aber, du bist sicher. Ich esse dich nicht.

G: …

D: …

G: …

D: Also…schönen Abend!

G: Dir auch…

Dave: Hello, dear neighbor!Girl: Umm, hello.D: I’m Dave. And what’s your name?G: [Name]20

D: Nice to meet you.   And are you from Berlin?21

G: Basically.

D: Basically?

G: Well, for the last ten years.

D: Ah, ok. But originally?

G: Frankfurt. And you?

D: New York. Ok, so you’re a Frankfurter?

G: Yeah.

D: You know, in New York, we eat fraknfurters.

G: …

D: Yeah, but, you’re safe.   I won’t eat you.

G: …

D: …

G: …

D: Right…good evening!

G: You too…

Poor Joschka. He can’t take me anywhere. But on the bright side, there’s more proof that I’m a regular riot in at least two languages.22 And on still another bright side, when I asked Joschka how my German was during the course of that ridiculosity, he said that it was basically spot on and that, indeed, he was fairly impressed. On the less bright side, he then pointed out that talking to strangers like that – even if they are sharing your table – just isn’t a thing here. Well, alright. Bit of a social faux pas there. But at least I nailed the German.

There are, of course, lesser events to report. More time spent at lovely Tempelhofer Feld. Getting drunk with Mischa and Blondey. Letting Lus have a go at giving me a bit of haircut and beard trim.23 Buying some new vanilla flavored pipe tobacco, which is nice, but maybe just a touch too sweet. Meeting up with my Bavarian conversation partner, who is just an all around lovely guy.   Totally loving the fact the Rangers are finally out of the playoffs. And so on. But this post is become overlong, to say nothing of overdue.   Thus findeth it its end here.

  1. Culture Carnival, for lack of a better translation. []
  2. Whom I’d met at a group conversation exchange two weeks ago. []
  3. In my opinion, it almost had a bit of a honey taste to it. []
  4. One more thing to get used to. []
  5. “Asyndeton (from the Greek: ἀσύνδετον, “unconnected”, sometimes called asyndetism) is a figure of speech in which one or several conjunctions are omitted from a series of related clauses.” Wikipedia []
  6. For example: “Caesar sacked the village, killed the men, sold the women into slavery. Caesar doesn’t have time for the word ‘and.’” #toobusyconqueringGual” []
  7. “Went,” best known as the past tense form of the verb “to go” – go/went/gone – is originally derived from the Old English verb “wenden.” Not a lot of people know that. Incidentally, we still use “wend” today, just as I did in the last sentence. []
  8. Friedhof – cemetery []
  9. Ruh-roh. []
  10. Anglophile though I am, I’m sure the words “jolly good” never entered my mind. Something more profane, no doubt. []
  11. And dare I say – only slightly hyperbolically – death defying. []
  12. Or is it? I mean, compared to Finnish or Chinese, German is a walk in the park (or Friedhof as it were). And it’s Indo-European, so on some level, it’s no different than French, or Latin, or Greek. It’s just wearing unfamiliar – and more complex – clothing. []
  13. Although I’m almost certain that his actual words were: “Wo kommst du aus.” In which case, he himself would have got the preposition wrong. []
  14. This needs no translation. []
  15. This isn’t the place for this, but to be brief: Ok, so Morsi sucked. Fine. Then vote him out. Don’t have a military coup about it. You’re going to talk to me about Obama? What about Sisi then? I’ll stop here. []
  16. Did I mention the class takes place in the back room of a bar? How can you not love this country? []
  17. The official Duff’s Crew, I’d say, is made up of Joschka, Lus, Vinny, Niki & me. Also the Finns, when they’re in town. Also, for anybody reading this who somehow knows me and not Duff’s, it’s only the greatest metal bar in all of Brooklyn, NYC and the whole world already. []
  18. #amirite []
  19. Whatever the fuck that means. []
  20. I’ve totally forgotten it. []
  21. Berlin, I should mention has this in common with Brooklyn: Nobody seems to be actually from here. []
  22. #amirite []
  23. They’re both still long, but I look rather a bit less homeless now. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
23 May, 2015

The beginning of this week seems like a lot more than a week ago. And with that poorly crafted sentence begins the fourth installment of this series.1 In our last episode, I was looking for a place to live in June, planning on a bit of exploring and getting ready to cook dinner for the roommates and possibly Blondey. And what have I done? Well, I cleaned my pipe.

No, seriously, that thing was getting gross and I’d forgotten to bring pipe cleaners with me. So obviously, I had to buy some. But first, I had to find out what they were called. Apparently, the word is ‘Pfeifenreinigern,’ which I have to say was somewhat disappointing, as I was hoping for at least three more syllables. On the other hand, ‘rein’ means ‘pure.’ At least ‘Pipe-purifier’ sounds a bit erudite, doesn’t it? But that’s all a bit of nothing, innit.

Moving on. Most important(ly),2 the room-sitch for June seems to have sorted itself out.3 Actually, before my last posting – on Sunday – I went to go see a place. But I didn’t say anything about it, because I actually quite liked it and didn’t want to jinx it.4 So here’s how it went down. After sending what I’m pretty sure was literally a million emails and requests to wg-gesucht5 and Airbnb, and after getting maybe six responses – four of which telling me the rooms weren’t actually available – I got one which intrigued me. Paraphrasing into English, the Reader’s Digest version was something along the lines of: “Well, I’m really looking for somebody for two months, and I really don’t want to go through this process again…buuuuttt…you sound nice. Can you come by at 5:30?” It was 3:00. Yes, of course, see you then!

So I roll up, and there’s this girl standing in the doorway. And she looks…well, she looks totally fucking normal. She shows me around the apartment. And it’s big. With one room set up as a workspace room and then a proper living room on top of that. The kitchen was big and fully stocked. The bathroom was spotless. Then she asks me if I’d like a glass of water. Actually, yes I would.

So we sit down in the living room and start to chat. The tour (and the email correspondence) was all in German. But now we switch to English. We talked about all manner of things. Our approach to living in a shared space,6 music, studies, Paris, French, Bourgeois hipsters whose parents pay for their apartments, German (she’s a German teacher!). We’re really getting on well. The chat lasted for over half an hour. Finally, I say, “Well, look, I know you want somebody for two months, so I know this isn’t necessarily ideal. But for me, this place is perfect. And I think we get along pretty well. So for my part, I’d be happy to stay here in June.” Her: “Ok, well, it’s basically down to three people. I still have to meet one more person tomorrow. So I’ll let you know.” Well, I never expected her to offer it to me on the spot. Now she thinks for a second. “You’re not like a vegan or a vegetarian, are you?” Uh-oh. A test? “Noooo? Are you? I mean, if you are – I don’t have to use your pans – .” “No, I’m not at all.” Thank god. Ok, so I look forward to hearing from you, and thanks for your time.

And I basically just assumed it was too good to be true. I mean, the place was great and we got on so well, there was no way this could work. That night, I write my previous post and say nothing of this because, as I said, I don’t want to jinx it. But the very next morning, I find an email in my inbox. I see it’s from her. And the previewed first line reads, “It was very nice meeting you yesterday…” Oh God. Denial. Rejection. If she was going to accept me, she would have texted. Back to square one. Why gods? I’d burn my fatted calf for you, if only I had one. And the two calves I do have always been pretty lean anyway…

Wait, read the email, Davey. “…nice meeting you yesterday. I think we got along very well. So if you’re still interested, I’d like to offer you the room…” Yes, yes! A thousand times yes! “Also, would you like to sing in our choir?” What? Yes? No? I mean, no. I can’t sing choral music. I’m a rock’n’roll guy. But if I say ‘no,’ do I submarine the whole…oh gods, why? Anyway, I politely declined, and I think all is still well.

In truth, part of me is still waiting for the email that says, “Yeah, so actually, I thought it over, and sorry to do this to you, but really, I do actually need somebody for the two months and good luck to you.” But failing such an epic disaster, I do seem to be set for June, and that’s a load off my mind. And actually, I’m quite looking forward to it. It really does seem like it would be a very nice living-sitch.

What’s more, it’s the perfect distance to my school. So, in accordance with my plan of doing more exploring, I decided I’d make the walk from her place to my school on Monday, in order to time it out. And it’s almost exactly the distance from my LES apartment to my old job. Perfect!

I actually popped into the school, just to see the place and introduce myself. The people there were lovely and they gave me a bit of a tour. It was good to get my bearings, and to remind myself what I’m doing here in the first place.

But back to exploring. It turns out the school is quite literally around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie. So I had a look at that. And from there, I passed through the Brandenburg Gate and onto the Tiergarten, which is more or less Berlin’s answer to Central Park. It was lovely and empty and peaceful and quiet, but for all the birds singing. Now, I know nothing about birdcalls, and frankly, I don’t care to learn either. But it was quite relaxing to walk along and listen to all the different songs.

Leaving the Tiergarten, I embarked upon a long and indeterminate route home, which took me through several neighborhoods I’d not yet seen. Wilmersdorf is quite nice, albeit rather a bit posh. So posh, in fact, that I had trouble finding a späti.7 I mention this because I’d been walking for probably three hours at that point, and I was damned thirsty. And this being Germany, I was determined to get my hands on a beer for the next bit of my trek. Because Freiheit.8

Soon enough, however, I passed from Wilmersdorf into Schöneberg, which was much more my speed. It wasn’t long before I found my holy grail, a bottle of Augustiener, which I’m pretty sure was glowing with a divine halo in the fridge of that little späti. But just then, I remembered that Timo – a friend of Joschka’s whom I’d met at the festivals and who had since become my friend – was supposed to be visiting that day. So I texted Joschka, worried that I’d missed the bloke. But in fact, he was only due to arrive in fifteen minutes. So I walked until my beer was gone and hopped on the S-Bahn up to Joschi’s.

Upon arriving, it was made clear to me that we would only be speaking German, unless absolutely necessary. Fear! But, no. This is what I was here for. And my goal was to be able to actually understand people at this summer’s festival. Time to get to work! And actually, we managed!

First things first. After greeting each other warmly and agreeing that we were all hungry and in need of beer, I noticed Timo’s AC/DC shirt. “Schönes T-Shirt!” I say enthusiastically, possibly getting the gender of T-Shirt wrong. This leads to a discussion of where and when they are playing in Germany, which leads to Joschka buying three tickets to see them in Berlin in June! That’s right, bitches! I’m seeing AC/DC in Berlin!

The rest of the night was about what you’d expect. Dinner. Drinks. Hanging out. Me trying to keep up with the German. Succeeding at some points, failing miserably at others, and zoning out entirely at still others. But what was really cool was, I think this was the first time that Joschka ever took me seriously as a German speaker. That is to say, rather than switching to English to talk to me or translating everything that Timo said, he really tried to keep me going in German. He spoke to me in German and encouraged my speaking to him/them in German. It felt like a huge accomplishment, as limited as it clearly was.

A brief digression, if I may, to illustrate what this means to me. Via text message, Joschka has always been extremely patient and helpful as a German teacher. I’ve learned a great deal from him. But we never really speak in German when we’re together. This is, I think, because we’re very good friends and my German is so limited. For him, it would be like talking to a child. I’m just not good enough with the language yet. So to have a night when the three of us could hang out and speak their language instead of mine – which we did, btw, when Timo visited New York this year – was really gratifying. Even if I was in the dark for more of it than I cared to be.

The next night was the dinner experiment. I was cooking for the roommates. And Blondey. I decided upon a sort of German-Italic-American fusion. I did sausage, peppers & onions over pasta with a white wine sauce. But instead of Italian sausage, I used bratwurst. And I made a garlic bread.9 Well, it seemed to be hit. Everybody went for seconds, and the garlic bread didn’t survive the night. I’m prepared to call that a success.

The night itself was also a success. Many bottles of wine were drunk.10 Conversations were made. Fun was had. All in all, it was a lovely night. And the next day, Blondey dropped off a couple of books for me.11 One was about an Englishman living in Berlin and was in English. I read it yesterday afternoon in the park, with my obligatory beer.

The other is called “Der Die Was?”12 and is obviously in German. It’s about an American and his adventures learning the German language. I started it today and it’s quite challenging. Even Anja, my roommate, said she found it a difficult read. But it’s quite fun (and funny). And it very much speaks to my experiences. So for all the effort required, I’m definitely enjoying it. I hope I can finish it before I leave!

[Author’s note: I am now out of wine. Schade! That’s the problem with cooking with wine, as I did tonight. There’s less of it to drink!]

A delightfully awkward experience at the Turkish grocery today. I grabbed some stuff to make lunch sandwiches, amongst which were numbered three small cucumbers. When I got to the register, the girl asked me something about them that I didn’t quite understand. She asked again, and this time, I perceived that her question had something to do with the weight of the produce. Knowing only American supermarkets, I assumed she was asking the price-per-pound.13Zwei und fünfzig par kilo,” I stammered. She replied something else in German. Apparently that was not the answer she was looking for. And seeing that I was clearly stupid, she asked her co-worker if she could speak English.14

But while she was asking, my slow-working brain put together her original question, which was, “how much do they weigh?” You see, apparently, it was on me to weigh them myself before I ever got to the register and to report that weight to her. So I waved off her associate. “Ich verstehe,” I said. ‘I understand.” Though I said it not with the pride of actually understanding, but with the shame of being the guy holding up the line because I don’t know how your supermarket works. In my broken German, I asked if I could just forget the cucumbers and leave them at the register. Fortunately, she was not nearly as annoyed as she could have been. In any case, lesson learned. Next time, I shall weigh my own damned produce. But there would be no cucumbers on today’s sandwich.15

I suppose those are the week’s events that bear reporting. Of course I keep up with my Herdotos reading most nights. That’s endlessly rewarding. And there’s something about German and Greek that just, I don’t know. It makes sense that so many of the best Greek scholars were/are German. The languages work in much the same way. It’s a neat symbiosis. Greek actually helps my German and German helps my Greek. You just don’t get that from French. Though in fairness, what you do get from French are fun novels that you can actually read on the subway. But then, Germans read books in German on the subway. So I keep working…

  1. Feel free to bail at any time now. []
  2. Pedants have a problem with the adverb here. But from one pedant to another, go screw. Descriptivism trumps prescriptivism every time. []
  3. #knockwood []
  4. Because I’m a goalie and we’re superstitious. []
  5. The German equivalent of craigslist but specifically for rooms. []
  6. Obvi. []
  7. Späti, or Spätkauf (literally: late-buy) is the German version of the Bodega. It’s where you go to buy a single beer (or other “essentials”). []
  8. Freedom. []
  9. I was initially worried that garlic bread with pasta would be to “carby.” But my dear friend Niki, who is superlatively Italian, assured me that garlic bread was a must, pasta or otherwise. []
  10. Drank? Drunken? We drank many bottles of wine, is the point. #imgoingtoteachenglish []
  11. Apparently, she lives in the building. This may well have been explained to me much earlier, but I’ve only understood this fact since Wednesday. []
  12. Der, Die, Das are the German pronouns ‘he, she, it.’ Was means ‘what.’ So the title means, “He, She, What?” (Or, as I like to say it, “He, She, Whaaaaaaaa???”) It’s quite clever. But since it’s impossible to explain a joke without also killing it, I shall stop here. []
  13. Well, price-per-kilo, actually. []
  14. #facepalm #davefail []
  15. Which, come to think of it, is itself pretty German. I mean, we don’t put cucumbers on cold-cut sandwiches, do we? []