Germans react poorly to the salutation ‘hey punk’.
Tag Archives: berlin
Over the last few days I’ve been snacking on this New Yorker article about the different ways the brain perceives time. Einstein said, ‘An hour sitting with a pretty girl on a park bench passes like a minute, but a minute sitting on a hot stove seems like an hour’, and it turns out there’s a whole field of academic research built around testing this out.
Moving around a lot has demonstrated to me that this principle works for periods of time as well as for individual experiences. The first three weeks you live in a new country feels like a year.
After landing yesterday and unpacking, basically the only thing I did was get groceries, which was a bloodbath. Everything’s in a new language (how do you say ‘chicken stock’ in German?!), all the locations are switched around and, compared to Denmark, a proper supermarket feels like an orgy of choice.
Not recognizing the brands and not being able to read the labels means having no information upon which to choose a product. I picked out a brand of coffee by recognizing the word ‘Ethiopia’ on the label. I picked out a yogurt by comparing the smiles of stock-photo families on the packaging.
I think novelty makes your brain perceive time differently. Places seem farther away the first time you visit them. Even a weekend-length vacation makes home feel remarkably foreign. The hour and a half I spent getting three meals’ worth of groceries felt like a daytrip.
I have to admit to sort of liking this period of slow motion. Moving to a new country turns routine experiences into minor triumphs. Yes, I got the right kind of detergent! I figured out how to do my taxes! I asked for directions in a foreign language!
I’m spending most of this week attempting further logistical victories. A friend of mine from Copenhagen is visiting next month, and I’m sure the first thing I’ll say to him when he arrives is ‘I haven’t seen you in ages.’
I'm in Singapore this week, and I picked up Antony Beevor's 'Berlin: The Downfall 1945' at Heathrow on the way over. Most of the book is a painstakingly detailed account of the Red Army advance through east Germany, complete with heteroese terms like 'batallion' and 'rightward flank'. You only find the good bad guy vs. bad guy stories in nonfiction.
The best parts of the book are the descriptions of life in Berlin during the Russian advance. Here's a city of 3.5 million people (plus probably 500,000 refugees) that has been the center of a rapidly expanding, and now dwindling, empire-let for the past four years. All the residents' husbands, and now sons, have been conscripted, often literally at gunpoint, and they know that they're going to lose the war. The only thing they're hoping for is that the Americans get to them before the Russians do.
The book contains passages like this:
Air raids were so frequent, with the British by night and the Americans by day, that Berliners felt that they spent more time in cellars and air-raid shelters than in their own beds.
The complex of shelters under the Gesundbrunnen U-bahn station had been designed to take 1,500 people, yet often more than three times that number packed in. Candles were used to measure the diminishing levels of oxygen. When a candle placed on the floor went out, children were picked up and held at shoulder height. When a candle on a chair went out, then the evacuation of the level began. And if a third candle, positioned at about chin level, began to sputter, then the whole bunker was evacuated, however heavy the attack above.
Beevor says there were more than 80 raids in just the first four months of 1945.
Here's Berlin right before the 'Ivans' arrive, on April 21:
That morning, the ordinary women of Berlin emerged to queue for food after the air raid. The sound of artillery fire in the distance confirmed their fears that this might be their last chance to stock up. The sunshine buoyed the spirits of many. 'Suddenly one remembers it's spring,' wrote one young woman that afternoon. 'Through the fire-blackened ruins the scent of lilac comes in waves from ownerless gardens.'
The sheer recentness of the history in Berlin makes it almost unique among European cities, and it's one of the reasons I like it so much. Beevor's book is a good reminder that in Germany, like every other country, history is the word we use when we talk about the derailing–and curtailing–of millions of lives. That 'ownerless gardens' thing gets me every time.
You know how parents are always worried about their kids searching for something innocuous on the internet and then ending up being exposed to a bunch of unseemly shit? Like they Google 'juice box' and end up on piss-on-this-face.com?
Every once in awhile that happens in real life.
So we went to Berlin last weekend. The end of summer! Cultural capital! This'll be fun, right?
We didn't know that the first weekend of September is the Folsom Street Fair in Berlin. Apparently every homosexual in Europe is aware of this except for us.
Folsom is a gathering of the 'fetish community' from around Europe. Which pretty much means that it's about 10,000 middle-aged homosexuals in leather, drinking beer and lamenting the weekend's carb intake. Think of it like the European equivalent of a State Fair, except the petting zoo pets back.
Once we figured out that it was in Berlin at the same time we were, we thought we would go check it out. There was a nice Central European dude handing out fliers at the entrance, yelling 'Come and meet your fellow perverts!'
So we went, we chatted, we learned and we took pictures. I was going to preface these with some kind of disclaimer, like 'This is not representative of gay life in general. We'll stop doing this shit if you let us get married!' or something. But I'm not going to apologize for these people. They're just hanging out and having fun in a way that makes them feel comfortable, and they're not remotely bothering anyone else.
Besides, we actually had a really good time. Everyone we chatted to was way friendly, nobody minded us giggling at their bove-wear, and they were all happy to answer our I-grew-up-in-Repressostan questions. Plus, they all let me take their picture.
So if you really need to distance yourself from this, just remember: These people aren't weird because they're gay. They're weird because they're German.
I'm heading down there with some friends from the 9th to the 13th. Write me at deadhick2 [at] hotmail [dot] com if you want to share any suggestions, invitations, experiences, remembrances, anecdotes, translations, warnings, rants or vague, dire predictions. This is my fifth time there, so I'm looking for 'speriences beyond the tip-based suggest-lets the internet usually dishes up.
- 21 cups of coffee, including a moral-weakness latte at Copenhagen's only Starbucks, at the airport.
- 27 beers of dubious, umlautey brand origin.
- An empire's worth of Britpop at a club called London Calling. Pulp! Blur! Oasis! Goldfrapp! Stayed til 7 am, dancing like Rudyard Kipling.
- About 25 East German memorial statues commemorating individuals, social movements and assorted earthtones.
- The smells, sounds and particulates of about 2,000 animals. The highlight of our afternoon at the zoo was Knut the baby polar bear, who is now idle and surly and spends his days rubbing himself against a tree, just like every other teenager I've ever known. The monkeys were shit-fightingly entertaining, the big cats were emo and the predatory birds looked like they were waiting for you to die. All in all a successful day, even if I am still trying to wash the nocturnal house out of my beanie.
- One plate of currywurst, while trying not to think what's in it, three kebabs, while trying not to think how long that lamb-spit has been rotating there, and two rabbit steaks, while trying not to think of 'Watership Down'.
- 8 to 12 megatons of diesel exhaust. This capillary genocide was thanks to the Berlin transport union, which called a ten-day strike the day before we arrived. Instead of dealing with taxicabs and sore feet all weekend, we just rented some lady-bikes and circulated the city in the empty bus lanes. This was mostly charming, but biking right in the center of the road has you sucking some serious tailpipe. I've been suffering from Grandpa Laugh ('ha ha ha ha cough cough hack') ever since I got back to bike-lanes-a-la-mode Copenhagen.
Here's a video I took at Potsdamer Platz, Berlin's equivalent of London's Canary Wharf, or America's… mall.
For a brand new, sterile, shopping-centered neighborhood, I have to admit, it's pretty cool. The architecture's funky, there's a glittery building for no reason at all, and right next to 'wurst stands is a fucking inner-tubing slope. Don't miss the Independence Day motif in the background. . .
As much as I hate to be that guy, take a look at the last two pictures on the bottom there. One is of Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall border crossing where hundreds of people died and became a symbol of the brutal repression of the Soviet Union over East Berliners.
The next photo is of the T-shirts they were selling literally 10 feet away. You've got to be fucking kidding me. I know our generation obligates us to be marinated in detached irony all day, but a CCCP T-shirt right next to Checkpoint Fucking Charlie? Are they selling Hitler costumes at Auschwitz?