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…

Previous Post: July 23, 2015

  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…

Next Post: July 29, 2015
Previous Post: July 19, 2015

  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
19 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 Toten Hosen 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…

Next Post: July 23, 2015
Previous Post: July 17, 2015

  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. []
  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 Toten Hosen 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…

Next Post: July 19, 2015
Previous Post: June 27, 2015

  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? []