An American in Berlin
16 October, 2022
Happy New Year, first of all. לשנה טובה. May we all be healthy, happy and prosperous. As many of you know, I’ve moved to a new apartment in a new neighborhood. Without getting into any of the details, it will be enough to say that the move was forced upon me. And that kinda ruined my summer. I went into a pretty deep funk for a while there. What am I gonna do? Where am I gonna go? Will this be the end of my Berlin experiment? But in the end, it all worked out. I found a great place, and bigger than the last one. What’s more, it’s in a neighborhood I absolutely love. Neukölln, in fact. Which, if you remember, is where this whole Berlin adventure originally started. And anybody’s who’s been reading this from the beginning will remember that one of the main reasons I love this ‘hood, is because it feels the most like home, the most like New York. Loud, busy, fast, ethnically diverse, a little dirty, a little gritty, full of life.
There’s a subway stop around the corner, and station for a second line less then ten minutes walk the other way. I’m walking distance to Tempelhofer Feld (love it!), where I intend to do quite a bit of skating one I’m a bit more settled. And across the main drag, ((There’s three ‘main drags,’ actually. Hermanstraße, the nearest and to which I here refer. The next is Karl Marx Straße; my apartment is a bit less than halfway between Hermanstraße and KMS. And then after KMS is Sonnenallee, which once upon a time marked the border between East and West Berlin. Also, I now live in “West Berlin” for the first time in six years. Although, to be honest, it has more of an Ossie (i.e. “East”) feel than the rest of “West Berlin.”)) is the sub-neighborhood of Schillerkiez, which is full of hipster bars and restaurants sufficiently popular that you either need to wait forever or make reservations.
Beyond that, the neighborhood has great shopping and eating in general. Huge Turkish population. In this, it kinda reminds me of Chinatown. Lots of places will just have Turkish names. And when you go inside, you’re more likely to hear people speaking Turkish than German. Lots of small, mom-and-pop cash-only businesses. Food – weather at the markets or restaurants – that you just won’t find in most neighborhoods. I absolutely loved living in Chinatown and this just feels like a natural extension of that.
The only difference, obviously, is that there’s no good Chinese food here. And yet, even then, I’ve already found a fantastic Asian market where I can get all the Chinese, Japanese and Korean (read: fresh Kimchi) ingredients I could ever want. Well, almost all. I haven’t seen any chicken feet. But, I mean, I’m pretty sure I can live without chicken feet.
There’s a great little Turkish market just around the corner and the butcher counter in the back is fantastic. Chicken legs and chicken wings. No more prepackaged chicken cuts for this guy. And lamb! You know, for whatever reason, it was impossible to find lamb in Pankow or Köpenick. Now there’s fresh lamb everywhere! What I’m saying is, there will be a proper shepherd’s pie happening this winter. Can’t wait, you guys.
Anyway, that should be enough to give some context. I’ve actually been doing quite a bit of writing over the past month or so, reflecting on the upcoming move and then my first experiences and impressions in the new apartment and neighborhood. So I think what I’ll do is, just some cut and paste from those writings, to take you all along on a bit of the journey I’ve been on. And so, without further ado…
17 September, 2022
Had dinner and drinks tonight with Jan and Zibs, as they’re in town for the weekend. Sebastian was along as well, and he’s just a lovely fella. Great times, as always. So happy to see them. Just saw them last month, when Justin and I visited them in Flensburg. So to see them again so soon is a real treat. Almost like they still lived here.
I mean I just love those guys. I also love making fun of German culture with Zibs. She married a German, she lives in German, she works in German. But man, can she laugh about this place, its customs, its people. She’s better at it than anyone else I know. Not to say Jan (or Sebastian) can’t laugh at these things as well. But with them, it’s in that sort of self-deprecating way; it’s their culture after all. But Zibs brings this wonderful outside perspective to things. It’s a perspective I share. That of the outsider who has somehow decided to put down some kind of roots in this verrucktes Land.
Conversation ran the usual gamut. Everything from serious political discussion to puerile jokes. I think one of the reasons I love them so much – maybe even the main reason – is that I can be myself with them. Or perhaps better stated, every version of myself. So yeah, so fucking happy to see them.
Of course, they just happen to be here the same weekend that Stefan is visiting form Bavaria. And that Paulina is still in town. So I don’t even have the luxury of dedicating the whole weekend to them. Tomorrow night is for Stefan and Joschka. Sunday is for more recording. But I may yet see them tomorrow afternoon. Because we passed by an art shop that had this print, sort of art deco in style, of Tempelhofer Feld. And I really want it for the new apartment. So I’ll probably meet them again down that way tomorrow afternoon to pick it up. After which, I’ll probably had back up home for a nap. I suspect it’s going to be a long night with Joschka and Stefan.
There are apartment updates, but I don’t want to get to deep into it. Only two more weeks in this apartment, this neighborhood. And honestly? I’m ready to go…
22 September, 2022
Lots going on. Hardly the time to write or process. I wrote about seeing J&Z. Stefan was Saturday night. Always wonderful with that guy. Long night with him and Joschka. I must have gone home around six or seven. Even took a cab, which I wound up regretting. Shoulda just trammed it. But I just wanted to get home and into bed bc Pualina and Philippe were due over at 6pm. Got a lot of good work done. Not enough time to reflect on that either. But we got some good work done and drank a bottle of wine after. I’m really glad those fuckers are in my life now. Three days in a row of just fantastic people.
Stressed beyond belief with this moving משגעת. Once I’m in and settled I’ll be able to sit down and write about it. Just not, like, right away. Charlotte will be visiting from the 5th to the 12th. I’m looking forward to seeing her, of course, and to showing her the new place. But it’s sure to be a bit of a shambles still when she shows up.
Taking a break from language learning at the moment. The break is needed. But I do miss the rhythm of my daily Aramaic work. I’ve had a look here and there at my Rabbinic Hebrew textbook. Fascinating as all get out, but I obviously don’t have the time to really dig into it yet. And won’t, at least not til after C is gone. And I need to figure out how I’m going to tackle Polish.
One thing from class today that kinda made me laugh. Or rather, makes me laugh, as it’s not the first time I’ve heard it. So we’re chatting and this girl says whatever she says. And it’s fine, right? I mean, it’s clear, expressive, easily understandable. Just not quite idiomatic. So I explain that to her and offer her a more idiomatic way of expressing the idea. And she’s like, “Thank you for that, I really appreciate it.” And I’m just like, “You don’t have to thank me, I mean, it’s literally my job.” And she’s like, “Maybe. But not everybody does that.” And I’m thinking, “But don’t they?” Not that I’m doubting her. It’s more just, how does one do this job and not do that? What are the other teachers getting up to?
I just learned about this pop artist, Marina Diamandis (or, earlier apparently, Marina and the Diamonds). Fucking fantastic. Great voice, good hooks. But also, a bit new-wave-y, a bit kitschy. And just a touch of that B-52’s silliness. I’m hooked.
I’m hooked, but also, what a great study tool, what a great learning device. Listening to this broad, I’m getting all kinds of ideas of things I can do with Pauline. Little things, like doubling the vocal in places I wouldn’t previously have thought to double them. Or adding a headvoice/falsetto line over a chorus to be way down in the mix.
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me, that if I want to grow as a producer, I need to listen to more pop music, music Metal Dave would never have considered listening to. And in doing so, I’m discovering that there’s more music out there for me to love. That I might even love pop music. Not all of it, mind you. But I’m finding new stuff, great stuff. I’m finding new music to love for myself. But, Hauptsache, it’s helping me grow as a producer. And that’s a win.
To that end, I’ve begun studying a bit of Michael Jackson. Mostly Thriller and Bad at this point. And when I say ‘study,’ I just mean, listening closely and seeing what I find, what I notice. Self-study, in other words. But hey, self-study is kinda my thing, no?
23 September, 2022
You know, for quite a while now, I’ve had this feeling of, I don’t really wanna work. Three days a week will get me everything I need, and if I could work less than that I would. But I used to do this four days a week before the מגפה, and I loved it. I wasn’t looking to cut my hours. It was only when everything went online that so much of the joy went out of it. Now though, I find I’d actually enjoy a third day per week with this bunch. [Note: I have two days a week with the class and a third (and sometimes fourth) day with a one-to-one].
It may also because they’re good. They learn fast and I can do a lot with them. And what I can do with them is limited when we only have two days a week. It’s like, we have so much to cover and so little time.
The funny thing is, I make them all laugh. And I love making them laugh. I love making people laugh in general.
It’s that thing that standups always talk about. It’s like a drug. And it also comes with wanting to be liked. I talk about this with Paul [my friend and colleague] sometimes. Because Paul will give me shit occasionally; or he used to, when we were in the school together. He’d be like, “You know they love you, right? No, they really love you. They don’t love any of the rest of us the way they love you. What’s that about?”
What’s that about. I’d always say this, “Paul, I don’t have anybody. You get to go home to a family that loves you. This is all I got, so I kinda need that love. I want to be liked.” So I take an interest in their lives. I try to make them comfortable, try to build their confidence. And vor allem, I try to make them laugh. Because if they’re laughing, then they’re having fun. And if they’re having fun, then they probably like me. It’s not that complicated.
Or maybe that’s already too complicated. Because it’s in my nature to make people laugh, to play the clown. I don’t mind being laughed at, if it serves a purpose. Self-deprecating humor is what we do. It’s our shtick. And as I’ve said before, if we’re not laughing, then what the hell are we doing?
Interpolation: I love this idea of ‘do a mitzvah.’ It’s funny. The word ‘mitzvah’ literally means ‘commandment.’ But in the way that it was only ever used, at least in my family, the correct translation of ‘mitzvah’ is ‘good deed.’ Like, you help an old lady cross the street, you did a mitzvah. And you don’t think, “I fulfilled a commandment.” You think, “OK, I did a good deed.” But see, that’s something I love about Judaism, or at least, our version of it. I love that ‘commandment’ is synonymous with ‘good deed.’ End interpolation.
25 September, 2022
P&P were over again today. Got a lot of good work done, but mostly just the verses. We had a lot of harmonies to work out. It’s fun though. And the process is nice. Like, I don’t always intuitively know what harmony I want. I mean, when I’m singing, when it’s one of my songs (or for the band), I just go in and work it out on the mic. But with Pauline, I find that I’m more likely to work out a line on the keyboard before I give it to her.
What’s nice, though, is she’ll just sit there while I work it out. And then when I have something, she’ll just go in and do it. Maybe it works, maybe we need to try something else. But she seems to have complete faith in the process. Like, she’s totally patient while I’m doing my thing, you know? And happy to try whatever I suggest. And then there’s that magic moment; well, magic for me as a producer.
When the harmony works and she hears it for the first time. Justin and I sometimes talk about this idea, or skill, of “audiation.” Trying to hear something in your head before you actually record it. That’s a skill that I’ve been trying to develop as a producer. But I think it’s not a skill most people have innately; I sure don’t. Point being, Pauline doesn’t hear it necessarily before she sings it, or even as she’s singing it. She really only properly hears it for the first time on playback. But when it works, there’s that moment. The one where the eyes go wide, and the mouth broadens into a smile. Like, “Yeah! That’s really pretty!”
And again, she trusts me. She trusts me to work out it, and to sit there patiently waiting while I work it out. Which, again, doesn’t mean every attempt will work. But she trusts me that I’ll find something in the end. Which is so great.
The trick is, though, to make sure I also give her time to work out her own shit. Because she’s got a good ear, got good instincts. She’ll find great stuff on her own. Mostly what she’ll find is ad-libs and secondary lines, or variations of the main line. She will, to be sure, also find the odd harmony. But her wheelhouse is the freestyle stuff. And it’s the perfect compliment, bc my wheelhouse is the more structured harmony stuff. So between the two of us, we have a way of finding a wide range of cool shit for her to sing. I could go on. And I will; some other time. Just to say again, I love working with her.
The only people in this country I’ve ever really spoken my own English with are J&Z, Anne and Joschka. And even then, in those cases, I need to be drunk. Drunk and worked up about something or other. And then it’s “fuck this” and “dis fuckin’ guy” and “tawk” and “gimme a fuckin’ break.”
As it is, I feel sufficiently comfortable with this group to at least throw around a bit of Yiddish here and there. Like, “Yeah, this grammatical feature איז אַ ביסל משגעע,” or (regarding the Stammtisch), “Like I need to schlep (my ass) to Ostrkeuz?” Already, that’s pushing it. But nobody seems to mind.
If they even notice. Cos here’s the thing about students; like, in general. Even though I make a point of explicitly saying, “If I’m talking too fast, if I say something you don’t understand, please please please tell me.” Even though I say that, and even if they do, there’s always some shit that they’re gonna let slide. Right? I mean, you’re not gonna stop the teacher at every word you don’t understand, even if he says it’s OK to do so. Because it’s the nature of a student – and I include myself in this – to let shit slide sometimes. Whether it’s because you figure you either should just know it or because you think you’ll get it from context, or just because you don’t want to interrupt the flow of the class. So I’ll throw a bit of Yiddish around and nobody will say anything. But are they silent because they get the context or because they just don’t want to say anything? Or because it’s close enough to German that they actually understand and just think I’m speaking bad German? I don’t know. What I do know, is that I need (on some level) to be my authentic self, whatever that means.
I guess it’s funny, though, that I seem to define ‘being my authentic self’ as throwing around a bit of Yiddish and not, as it were, pronouncing ‘tawk’ instead of ‘tok’ for ‘talk.’ Although, I know that if I start pronouncing ‘tawk,’ it’s sure to be followed by some profanity. And while I will curse in class, I do try to keep it to a minimum.
Weird to think I may have already cooked my last meal in this [the old] apartment. Broccoli and chicken with pasta in a white wine sauce. And using the leftover oil from a jar of dried tomatoes instead of the usual neutral olive oil. It was really good, not for nothing. But I’ve only got a few days left, and I doubt I’ll cook again. Weird.
Torah remains a great comfort. In the midst of all that’s going on, to have that regular reading, it gives some air of stability. And when I finish my parsha reading on Monday or Tuesday – which I’ve been doing a lot of lately – I regret, later in the week, that I don’t have more Torah to calm me down.
There are two solutions to this, as I see it. One is simply to get through this Rabbinic Hebrew text so I can confidently add Rashi to my readings. The other, is to go and re-read portions that are not part of the parsha and just get to know them better. In any case, there are only three parshos left this year. So that’s a problem for next year. Which is fast approaching.
Rosh HaShanah falls in the middle of this week, just when I’m moving. I have too much on my plate to be able to celebrate. The group that Moritz invited me to has all sorts of celebrations planned. And I’m in no position to take part. Which is a shame. But I’m looking forward to getting settled in the new place and being able to be more active in this shit. I’m even thinking about going to shul for Shabbos once in a while. Because I’ll be near a shul in the new neighborhood. And I know Moritz goes nearly every week. So I won’t have to go it alone. I have a lot more to say about that, but not here, not now.
26 September, 2022
Lemme keep this short. Not counting tonight, I only have two more nights in this apartment, as I’m set to move on Wednesday the 28th. Already done a lot of packing, but still plenty to go. I’m hoping to be 99% done by the end of tomorrow, with only a few small things to take care of Tuesday. Also, Tuesday I’m set to take the keys for the new place. This is really happening.
I’ll still have to come back here to do some final cleaning and pick up the last of the Kleinigkeiten. As it stands, I’m to see the landlord on Sunday (the 2nd) to hand over the keys. Here’s hoping that goes well and without incident. And here’s hoping he doesn’t try to screw me on the condition of the apartment. I mean to give it back just as I found it. Hopefully that will be fine.
The parsha is super short this week; possibly the shortest in the whole Torah. Which is perfect timing. It means I’ll be able to finish it tomorrow. It means I’ll be able to pack up my desk without the feeling of unfinished business. And I won’t have to worry about it when I get to the new place. Starting next week, only two more Parshos. And then it’s time to start all over again, in my new home.
The only thing that sucks is that I’m gonna have to work straight through Rosh HaShanah. Normally I wouldn’t mind. But the group that Moritz introduced me to is having all kinds of celebrations and I simply won’t be able to take part this year. I find that to be a shame. I really would have liked to.
But once Charlotte is gone, on the 12th, I’m hoping to start taking a more active role. Being more engaged with the group, and perhaps getting my ass to shul once in a while. So much more to say about that. Just not tonight.
Also, I should be able to finish the last episode of the X-Files tomorrow. A lot to say about that journey too. Again, for a later date. But that will be a nice way to close out this joint.
I broke down the studio today. Surreal. With the exception of my monitor speakers and the larger of the two computer screens, all my gear fit into one box. But seeing as how I built the studio up piecemeal, it was strange to see all my stuff boxed up in and in one place. And by boxed up, I mean just that. I kept all the original packaging. So to see it packed, everything looks just like new. Looking forward to putting it all back together. And to building it out more. A bigger desk, a full-sized keyboard – both piano keyboard and computer keyboard. I’d like to add a decent quality steel-string acoustic. And to do some work treating the walls. All that will depend on money and won’t happen over night. But I’m quite looking forward to it.
Another subject I’d like to dive into here when I have time: pop music. Further discussion to include: studying Michael Jackson; this artist Marina (and the Diamonds/Diamandis) that I’ve lately discovered and whom I think is just fantastic.
Finished the recording work with P&P today. Pauline leaves Wednesday for France. So her work is done. Mine is only just begun. Philippe came today with a guitar part he wanted to add to the last song. It’s a good part. Just a jazzy little lick, but it adds a lot of color. I got a few takes from him. The idea is great. The execution is not. I’ll have to discuss with him if he’s OK with me re-recording it. If not, he’ll have to come over and spend some real time on it. One way or another, we’ll get it sorted. And when we do, the song will be better for it. I just don’t know quite yet how we’re gonna do it.
But look, we got three songs down, which was the goal from the beginning, so we should all feel good about ourselves. I believe we all do. Realistically, I don’t see finishing all three of them before December. I say this because Pauline will be back in December. So we may yet add a fourth (or sixth, if one counts the songs we’ve already done) to this project before we call it a day on this EP we’re doing.
Right, that’s enough. One more X-Files episode for tonight, and then hopefully I can get some sleep. Long day of packing ahead of me tomorrow…
27 September, 2022
Last post in this apartment. Nearly said ‘the old apartment’; which it shortly will be. The big packing is basically done, but the odds and ends seem…endless. OK, I coulda worded that better. I’m wound up tighter than…something that’s known for being wound extremely tightly? Words fail. Or I do.
I’ve said I’m looking forward to getting going with skating at THF. True as that’s been, it’s more true now than ever. I think it’ll do me good in terms of clearing my head and just getting the blood flowing, help me unwind just a bit. I can’t believe I haven’t been on skates once in all my six+ years here. That’s just not who I am. Or at least, not who I was. And certainly not who I want to be. I should be on skates all the damn time. Time was, it was as natural to me as walking. I want that back rather desperately.
And I guess that’ll do it. Time to go to bed. Tomorrow I break down my desk, which means writing won’t be an option for at least the next few days. Until then…
16 October, 2022 (again)
Well, that brings us to the end of my official residence in Pankow. As this post is now sufficiently long, I shall stop here. I’ll come back with a follow up, where I talk about life in the new place and new ‘hood. Until then…