Thursday, May 31, 2007

Muppets take Deutschland

So, mein Freund comes from a small town on the Dutch border called Meppen (sounds like a Muppet character, no?) and this weekend we took advantage of Pfingswochenende or Pentecost -- the beginning of this word (the P-F part) is pronounced with a subtle ppppfffff sound, but I prefer to "Puh-Fuh" it, which I find highly amusing, though I can't say the German people are quite as tickled. Anyway, our train was delayed on the way there (I swear, the trains running on time thing, is just a rumor), but the cool thing was that when we missed our connection Deutsche Bahn (the German train people) paid for an hour-long taxi ride. If you've ever dealt with the humans (?) at Amtrak (let alone when you are wearing an arm cast bigger than your entire body and you are only wearing a tanktop in January in New York b/c you cannot get any substantial clothes over the ginormous cast and some moron got off in Philadelphia with your suitcase leaving you with a little more than a large bottle of cheap cologne), you know that this would never, ever come to pass. But this is supposed to be about the Fatherland, so.... Meppen is a very cute little town including a bar-club called New Jersey (because it's our coolest state and they know it), too many pizza places, pretty churches, etc. There are three rivers that flow about and lots of greenery and farmland. We went kayaking one day, which mostly involved mein Freund rowing and me getting uber excited and moo-ing/bah-ing loudly every 100 feet when we passed yet another cluster of calves/sheep (for whatever reason, only the sheep responded???). All in all, as I have been repeately told, Meppen is clearly the perfect place to be a small German boy. Anyway, it was a nice weekend with perhaps a bit too much of someone else's family and too many prepared mayonaisey or oily cream sauces, but I won't get into that or I'll get in trouble.

Unrelated: My computer is out to get me yet again -- I carried this machine across an ocean. It's a Mac for god's sake. It should know that it's an American computer. Why does it all the sudden think I speak German? Do I look/sound like I want to be immediately connected to Google Deutschland when I type in (Sam, I need you to look into this STAT....oops, no pun intended (she's a statistician!) or Just because I type in the ocassional German word or quasi-read the ocassional German newspaper article does not mean that I want to conduct all business auf Deutsch.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Amerikanish Berlin

You might think that I am homesick, so far away from my native land for so, so many months. I mean what's a girl to do when the local supermarket doesn't carry baking soda or cheddar cheese? But you needn't worry about me. It's all under control b/c it's Amerika-Woche (America Week) at Lidl, the local budget supermarket!

But first, I must tell you of the other extreme: European cities all seem to have these big department stores and for some reason they have food halls (ie, overpriced grocery stores). Most everyone agrees that Berlin isn't a food town, but the KDW is supposed to be this glowing exception. I had to go to the American consulate because I needed extra pages in my passport (this is, I think, my most impressive accomplishment to date, though to be honest it has mostly to do with having lived in stamp-happy Chile for a year). Side-note, the consulate is (at least temporarily, next to a circus and there a bunch of camels grazing about stinking up the American air). Also, everyone at the consulate tried to speak German to me. If American tax dollars pay your salary, and it says 'US Citizen Services" on the door to your office, please keep your Deutsch to yourself. Anyway, the consulate and the KDW are both on the west side of town, so I decided to swing by on my way home since I don't venture that way too often. Now, I tend to go in more for "ethnic" or fun specialty shops...and I knew that it would be the kind of place that has jars of jam for $15, but still... I had to go to see what I was missing. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the absurdity, the horor. Yes, uber-expensive jam and silly imported French pastries, etc. A nice, overpriced fish section (horrible monkfish flashback...) and a fun regional sausage section -- you have to love a regional sausage section, no?! But then, I came to the American section. Concord grape jam? Fancy Tex-Mex salsa? Key Lime juice? Sadly, no. The American section at the KDW, the supposed ulitmate gourmet experience in Berlin, has small tubs of crisco for 7 euros, ONE cand of old el paso refried beans for 6 euros, a single box of jello for 3 euros, a box of poptarts for 8 euros (And as I am all too aware, a euro is not the same a dollar). I could go on and on, but for god's sake, crisco is pretty much solidified liquid poison: 7 euros?! I was planning to bring mein Verliebte a special treat, but I was too appalled. I was basically frothing at the mouth and writhing around on the floor in a state of total appalledness, and all the other shoppers were oohing and ahing over the overpriced mediocre pasta, oil, herbed vinegar. It was all too much. I fled.

But then, a few weeks later, I was walking along and I went past Lidl, a grocery store that I don't usually shop in b/c it is a little gross and frighteningly cheap. I happened to notice the ads they had posted in the window, including one declaring that it is: Amerika-Woche! So, this is pretty much the funniest thing I've ever seen. First of all, everything sold is from the "McEnnedy" brand -- with a delightful red, white, and blue logo. Now, in their defence, some of the products being sold as part of "Amerika-Woche" are legit: marshmallows, peanutbutter, cornflake crumbs. Real Americans really these products. But others are just strange; is "Sandwich Sauce" something that has become a typical American food since I was last there and if so, what is it? I personally, wouldn't consider turkey curry pizza American or edible, but ??? I don't have anything against "gourmet quality" walnut oil, but I didn't know it was a typical American thing (though I guess we do grow a lot of walnuts). My favorite thing, though, is that you can buy a US mailbox! The silver kind that says US Post Marshall or something on the front and has a little red flag on the side. But the best part is that my entire shopping cart (multiple pkgs of marshmallows, peanutbutter, walnut oil, and pretty napkins for my upcoming 4th of July party cost about the same as a single can of refried beans at the KDW.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

wanderen oder besser, padelln

We have just celebrated May Day in Workers of the World Unite. As I understand it, about 20 years ago with political tension all about, some punks broke into a grocery store...more and more people showed up and started stealing Bier (what else?).... the police came and then a big ol' spontaneous riot broke out. OK, I just checked on Wikipedia and that's not what it says, but that's what I was told by an actual Berlin resident and who really trusts Wikipedia anyway? So, now they have planned planned spontaneous riots, which strike me as rather absurb.....anyway I missed them b/c, outdoorsy girl that I am, went canoeing....a lovely 4-day trip in the lake district just north of here. We did have one day in which everything possible went wrong (proving yet again (as I am oft telling mein deusch Freund, much to his annoyance) that contrary to popular worldwide belief, the Germans are not really efficient, though they are thorough (pingelig!)) -- the bus didn't come and then the tram didn't come and then we had to change trains 3x in an hour, and I forgot the food (which I suppose I can't *really* blame on the inefficient Germans)...etc. But then the next 3 days were completely lovely and we didn't starve....lots of lilypads, cute diving waterbirds, some very good plum Kuchen, and an excellent smoked lake fish (sable? is this a lakefish?). I did get bitten on the eye by a spider causing my eyelid to swell to twice the size of my head and after the swelling went down a bit, causing me to look like a stroke victim, but that's all behind me now. The trip back was totally uneventful and we arrived just in time for a friend's May Day bbq (most of the apt buildings here have these amazing inner courtyards....perfect for bbqs and all sorts of fests).

Anyway, now that the "festivities" are behind us and I have written a pitiful paper on doner kebab (not requiring too much actual research, thankfully -- sorry Salley), my main focus is back to Deutschlernen (learning German).....which is a good project I suppose, but basically sucks as it is an absurd language in which there are a million rules, but never any clues and....... this is an actual, common word: Strassenbahnhaltestelleschild (I think that's right?) (neutral in case you were wondering -- German is also having a constant sexual identity crisis). How can anyone possibly learn a language with words like this (each w/ it's own gender or lack thereof as the case may be)???!!! This language make me seriously nostalgic for Catalan.

In any case, I am now taking a class at the adult ed center, which is a strange mix of kids like me (an au pair from Atlanta, an Australian who loves the clubbing scene here, a Latvian girl who moved for her (oddly) Spanish boyfriend) and kids not so much like me (a Serbian war refuge, a Ukrainian lured here by the promise of work and *almost* forced into prostitution, now taking part is some dangerous trial, a really smelly guy from Ghambia). So far my main accomplishment is scoring a seat far far away from the smelly Ghambian, but I am really closing in on memorizing the prepositions that indicate a need for the dative case.

Anyway, all is not so schlect, my German really is getting better and......spring is always fun and it is asparagus (big fat white ones!) season and Germany is full of rhubarb. There is much to be said against the food scene here (do not get me started on the "ethnic" restaurants), but anywhere with so much rhubarb can't be all bad. This week has also delivered the first local strawberries....which are tiny and amazingly flavorful. And, they have Turkish nisperos (loquats) of my favorites from Spain...tiny new potatoes (in my opinion, Germany is only behind Portugal in terms of potato delectableness) and a plethora of excellent kuchen. Not to mention the Turkish griddle-cooked things that taste *exactly* like the Sonoran tortillas w/ Monterey Jack cheese that my grandmother in Tucson always made for me.

Hope you are enjoying die Frulingsfreunden in your Bezirk too.......