An American in Berlin
10 August, 2016
Junk food. It’s the worst, amirite? It’s also the best, amialsorite? Full disclosure, I’ve been working on a liter of wine for a while now, and I just finished a Yankee blog post. This may or may not be the best time to do a personal blog post. Well, as my old mom likes to say, “fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.”
So, junk food. It comes in all manner of shapes and sizes and colors and flavors; almost none of them natural. I generally resist buying junk food. The reason I resist, is because I know I’ll eat it. Especially if it’s salty. Anybody who knows me, knows I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. Which is not to say I’m above buying a bag of Gummy Bears. I mean, Haribo, it’s a German company. Gummy Bears are as German as apple strudel. Or Bratwurst. The point is, who doesn’t like a little nosh?
So I’ve made a decision. I’m allowing myself precisely one item of junk food in the house per week. If I eat it all in one day, then no junk food ‘til next week. If I can stretch it out, so much the better. I bring this up because I have exactly one bag of chips, from which I’ve just deducted roughly one fistful moments ago. I’m rationalizing, clearly.
And rationalizing is something we do when we know we have a problem, but don’t want to admit it. So maybe, just maybe, I have a problem with junk food. But it’s under control. I have a system in place. It’s working.
Oh, hello, pink elephant in the room. Yes, I’m talking to you, liter of white wine which cost me 1.99 Euro. No, I won’t rationalize you. If I did, that would be indicative of a problem. And that, friends, I do not have. I say this, because what follows is going to sound like a rationalization. I assure you, it is not.
Over the last year, I’ve not felt very good when I drink too much. Too many mornings waking up feeling…well, fine actually. The bad news usually comes in the afternoon when I’d feel sluggish, nauseous, lethargic. Days would be wasted in bed. I’d throw up more often than I’d care to. It got me thinking that I’m 35 and my body was sending me a message. The message? Slow down, Jim! (What does a yellow light mean?) Slow down, Jim! (und so weiter).
Anyway, the point is, I seem to be past that. A night spent blogging or studying Hebrew with a bottle of wine has yet to result in feeling shit the next day. This is what I mean by, “it’s going to sound like the rationalization of an alcoholic, but I’m (reasonably) sure it’s not.” Maybe wine is easier on the body. Maybe it’s as simple as not mixing alcohols. In any case, I’m drinking far less beer, far less whiskey, much more wine and I feel much better for it.
I apologize to my parents who are surely alternating between cringing, worrying and eye-rolling at the above. But this blog doesn’t happen without the fruit of the vine, so henceforth I leave the rationalizing to you. Love ya!
Saturday, I had a mini-reunion with three of my CELTA classmates. One of the girls was in from Kölln (which is how you say Cologne in German), so that made it extra nice. We had a great time, catching up, telling stories, making each other laugh. Absolutely lovely to see them all. We formed some kind of bond going through that intensive month-long training, and that’s not easily broken. If not for that, we might have nothing to do with each other. And yet, when we’re together, it still feels like we’re a team. In fact, we named our Whatsapp group chat “The Dream Team.” Well, we are.
There was the aforementioned girl form Cologne as well as the girl form Iran whom I mentioned in my last posting. There was also the girl from England, whom I’m sure I spoke of last year. Absent was our other colleague form the States, who is still there. Also absent was our colleague from Australia, who now lives in Germany with his partner and foster son.
I love this bloke for many reasons, not least of which was that I could make every sort of dirty joke under the sun with him. In the crucible of a month-long 9-5 intensive course, this was a godsend. In fact, I met him for coffee maybe two weeks ago, and it was absolutely lovely. There was the requisite catching up and professional trade chat. There was also the requisite dirty-joking. Sadly, he couldn’t make our mini-reunion as he was travelling. When he announced this in the Whatsapp group, I responded with “wtf.” He asked what that meant, and so I explained.
His response was, “Dave, how dare you use fuck as an adjective to me. Now, as a verb would be another matter.” How can you not love this guy?! The best response I could muster was, “How about I meet you halfway on an adverb, as in: I fucking love you.” If you can’t have homoerotic banter with your mates, who can you?
Yesterday, I did the hard work of finalizing my German résumé1 and cobbling together what I can only hope is a passable cover letter. Whereupon did I apply to two German-based jobs. I also began my hunt for an apartment.
Now, to be clear, I love where I’m staying. And I’ve written at length about it, so I don’t think there’s any need here to further glorify how much I love where I am. But where I am is still an Aribnb. Ich bin immer noch Gast. I’m still just a guest. If I’m to stay in Berlin, I’m going to need a proper place of my own. So the game is afoot.
Today, I went for a four-hour (or so) walk in Tempelhofer Feld. I’ve written about this last year, of course. But THF used to be the central airport in Berlin. It was, at first, designed by the Nazis, and by gods, it’s written all over the architecture. But it was also the central hub of the Luftbrücke,2 the Berlin Airlift. And so, in some sense, and despite its origins, it is viewed as a symbol of freedom.
Well, nowadays, it’s been converted to a park. Fittingly, the park is named Tempelhofer Freiheit – Freedom Tempelhof. Anyway, it’s wonderful. Smack in the middle of Berlin, it’s got everything. People ride their bikes or windsurf on the old runways. They bbq on the grassy spots. There are art and gardening exhibits. It’s brilliant. Anyway, today I walked most of the circumference and both runways. As I said, it took more than a few hours.
One thing that strikes you about it is the sheer magnitude. It’s so open and flat and wide. You walk and walk and walk and you feel like you haven’t gone anywhere. Yet it’s also beautiful. Parts of the field are roped off from pedestrians and picnickers as that’s where certain birds do their nesting. It reminds me of the NASA complex Florida a bit, which is part rocket launching site, part nature preserve. Only this place is retired as an active airport.
The thing I love most about it, though, is that Berliners were given a choice on the matter. Here’s this huge property in a prime location. As a New Yorker, you know there are riches connes, dying to get their hands on it, dying to develop it, dying to make a dime on this barren real estate. But Berliners decided, by way of referendum, no, fuck you, this is ours, and we want to enjoy it. And so they do. And so do I. Never in New York. I don’t know if I want to marry you, Berlin, but I sure as shit love you.
Sunday, I finally went back to open mic night at Madame Claude in Kreuzberg. How I managed to go 5+ weeks without returning is beyond me. Except to say that for more than half of my available Sundays I was out of town or just coming back from being out of town. Still, that’s no excuse. And this Sunday I would have found an excuse again, were it not for a friend of mine.
This is a girl I met at a conversation meetup last year. We went once together last year as performers, and she also came with me the first time, when only I performed. Anyway, there’s nerves and all the other bullshit that goes with playing in front of people. So it’s really great to have somebody there supporting you.
But she’s much braver than I am. See, I have my guitar. I can hide behind something. She doesn’t do music. She does poetry. And for the record, she’s quite good with wordplay. Her poetry is largely bilingual, English and German. But she also mixes in a bit of French and Latin. Anyway, point is, she goes up there with no instrument, no music, no nothing. She just goes up to the microphone and does her poetry. And you have to realize, this isn’t just speaking poetry into a microphone in front of a room full of people with no backup, it’s her poetry, that she’s written. That, my friends, takes balls. You see that, and you realize it ain’t no thang to get up there and sing a couple of songs behind a guitar.
Still, I was nervous. It’d been a year. And I cocked up the lyrics to my first song. The second one went better, as I was starting to find my groove. And the groove, of course, is the thing. Look, most people get up there and play “singer/songwriter” stuff. We all know what that means, right? Slow, melodic, heartfelt, blah blah blah. It doesn’t make you tap your foot.
And this is where I come out of the AC/DC school. “Oh,” says the interviewer, “that’s a nice song you wrote. ‘You Shook Me All Night Long,’ it’s sold many millions of copies. Well done.” “Yeah,” says one of the AC/DC guitarists, taking a drag off a cigarette, “it’s a real toe-tapper.” As if being a “toe-tapper” is the only thing that matters; record sales by the millions be damned. Thing is, they mean that. That’s the most important thing in the world of AC/DC. Does it make you tap your foot? Then it’s rock’n’roll. Mission accomplished. And that’s my mission. If I see people swaying, or tapping their feet, then I’ve done what I set out to do. Were there any such people at this open mic? Yeah, there were a few. Well, aright.
OK, so, that’s basically where I’m at. I’ve got my flight booked to Barcelona for this weekend. Charlotte and I just finalized a car rental. We’ll visit her friends in the Pyrenees for a bit. We’ll do a bit of driving around. Should be grand. And then I’ll have about a day or so to myself in Barcelona at the end of it. I’ll be spending more money than I’m comfortable with, but hey, this time in your life only comes around once. Take advantage. And anyway, I’ve never even been to Spain!