Monday, June 29, 2009

Strassenfeste and how I feel about them

So here's the thing: I kinda, sorta hate street festivals. I think I first realized they weren't my thing when I was around 7 years old. My sister and I went with friends to a street festival in Tucson in honor of Rodeo Day (a biggggg holiday there, or at least back in the early 80s). I was, of course, very excited. A street festival was the only place to buy a sopaipilla, which I loved, and I was sure it would offer up so many other delights. But when we got there and started walking around, I remember being slightly disappointed. Sure, my sopaipilla was delicious and swimming in honey; sure, I got a metallic unicorn balloon which held its helium for well over a week; but the festival was hot and loud and full. "This sucks," part of me thought, but that thought was immediately pushed down somewhere deep within my subconcious. Street festivals were supposed to be fun. How could I not like them?

Not counti
ng the Christmas markets (which are basically the same thing only with Glühwein and, sometimes, snow), Berlin has probably around a dozen street festivals a year. They are always crowded, always full of stands selling the same import/export junk and hemp hand-bags, always full of people tanked up on Pils beer and Caipirinia and bloated from sausages and greasy chop suey and pork steaks. But for some reason I always have to go to them. "Maybe this one will be different," I tell myself, though of course, they never are.As my good friend Ms Rosalik says, whose picture is at the beginning of this post, "Strassenfeste are the one time in the year when Germans feel like it's ok to let their hair down. They drink a Caipirinia under overcast skies and say, "Just like in Brazil, wa?"

The Bergmann Strassenfest is, however, an exception. This Strassenfest on Bergmann street (about a ten minute walk from my apartment)is not as bad for one main reason: the music. Formerly known as The Bergmannstrasse Jazz Festival, they changed the name a couple of years ago becuase they don't really play much "pure" jazz. The bands that do play- soul bands and blues bands and swing bands among others- haven't strayed too far from the original jazz roots.

On Saturday I saw a great Oakland-based band called The California Honey Drops. Their music is a bit of blues meets soul meets dixieland but what I liked best of all was the California vibe I was getting; so cool and friendly and laid back, something you never, ever, ever get here. In the middle of the show the drummer started getting frustrated. He kept on trying to get people to dance in the totally empty area in front of the stage or to clap and sing along, but was having no sucess. Though he may not have thought so, the people were enjoying it: a lot them were bobbing their heads which is the German equivalent of getting down. I wanted to shout "East Bay Girl in the house!" and start jumping around and dancing the funky chicken right in front of the stage, but I didn't. I did, however, bob my head. Guess I'm just one California girl who had simply lived in Berlin too long....

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fat Girl

The great thing about taking self-portraits is that you can find that one angle where you look best and then snap the shot. All these pictures, taken from your Schokoladenseite as they say in German, end up looking great. "Wow. I'm looking fabulous!" you can tell yourself as you browse through the pictures on your camera.

The problem? Sometimes OTHER people take pictures of you. This happened recently with a good friend of mine who I'm taking the photography class with. We had an Ausflug on Potsdamer Platz where we took lots of pictures to practice white balance among other things. When we showed the shots in class there was one of me, looking like a huge, double-chined heifer with a camera round her neck. This photograph confirmed the fact I prefer to overlook: I have gotten fat.

Yes, having two babies close together will do this to you. There are the women who loose all the extra weight plus some from breast feeding (aka lucky bitches n' hos....)but sadly, I am not one of them. If anything I might even have GAINED weight, but I can't really say for sure because, these days, I'm not going anywhere near a scale.

This is not the first time in my life that I've been overweight. In my early 20s, when my now-ex husband and I still ha
d a long distance relationship, we spent a lot of time eating our way through both countries. I got fat, he didn't. Once, when he came and I was already tipping the scales at 180, I told him I didn't want to eat a carton of Ben and Jerry's with him every night as we had been doing. "Ok. What about every other night?" he said.

Much has happened since those days. My dress size has gone up and down a number of times, and was even down to a size 8 one particular
ly manic summer. Size 8 to my current size 16. That's an 8 number difference. Meeting somewhere in the middle would be nice.

To console myself, I can at least say I'm not as fat as Molly Luft. This is Molly Luft, aka the fattest whore in Germany.

When I first moved to Berlin she had an after-hours show of public access television. Basically the show was her in a room w
ith a telephone. Other women would call the number on the screen and tell her she was fat and prostitution was gross and she would tell them we whores have rights too. At the end, she always took off her shirt and did a little dance, her huge, pendulous breasts swaying back and forth to the rhythm. I would watch this sometimes, still culture shocked and somewhat depressed, wondering what kind of country I had moved to.

I don't know what old Molly is doing these days. For a while she had an Eckkneipe (=pub for broken down old men)on the corner of m
y street. Her picture was on the wall outside and inside you could buy her used underwear among other things. Once, I even saw her sitting at the bar, her huge ass hanging over the sides of the stool.

The place eventually went out of business and now the very cool Van Doren has moved in and is already my favorite watering hole.

Will I loose the weight? I hope so. These days I'm feeling pretty determined. Besides, it's not over til this fat lady sings, or at least drops down three dress sizes.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Rock On, Rockabilly Mom!

Until the fall of 2010 I will be getting "parent" money monthly from the German government. Because we don't want to pay taxes on the money (you can still work part-time if you want, but then your income and the "parent" money are both taxed)I will not be working until 2011. Except for some occasional under the table editing work and my various hobbies, some more serious than others, I am basically a housewife. So far I seem to be a natural born mother (I am not a patient person, but with my darling daughters I truly have nerves of steel)but, as a housewife, I am a failure: Dust makes me angry. Even the thought of ironing makes me go bonkers. When I cook, if I cook, I never want it to take any longer than 15 minutes. Luckily I have a cleaning lady who does the "deep" cleaning every two weeks and a very understanding husband.

Recently I've thought, why not embrace your housewifeness? I've found out that comparison shopping is (almost) fun and am toying with the idea of getting into cooking. One things that will be sure to help is a rocking, retro-inspired handmade aprons. I'm leaning towards one from Boojiboo, but in making the following list, I also fell in love with several of the others. There are also lots of great retro doodads and artwork that appeals to my inner (albeit very hidden) housewife. Why not go all out and get several aprons that so bring out my rockabilly leanings? If I never get any good at cooking and cleaning, at least I can work on my skills in shopping!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Playing Tourist

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, before Fete de la Musique got rained out, we decided to play tourists in our own city: Mitte near the Deutsche Dom, joking all the time that our guidebooks had been stolen....
Enjoy the slide show about our adventures!

The Big Picture

Call it my Virgo rising but, when it comes to taking photographs, I've noticed I'm not really interested the big picture. No sweeping landscapes, not many street scenes or portraits. Usually, what I'm drawn to are funny little details and/or squalor. What does this say about me? Sometimes I think I should expand my horizons (a Virgo's love of self-improvement?) but other times I remind myself this is all about having fun. Am I having fun? Yes, mostly dear. Yes, mostly. ;)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brandenburg, baby, Brandenburg

Today we drove with the babies to Oberhavelland which is to the north of Berlin in the state of Brandenburg. So strange to only drive an hour from our home in Kreuzberg and all of the sudden be surrounded by open fields, farms and horses. The smells are more intense there, or at least more intensely good: sweet hay, wild flowers, clean air. Not like the raw sewage we got a whiff of the other day a few blocks from our apartment....When we came back to Kreuzberg, we went and got a killer schnitzel at Weltrestaurant Markthalle

Another strange thought is that we c
ouldn't have made such an easy trip out there 20 years ago. From 1961 to 1989, when the wall was up, Berlin was literally an island. I visited the city for the first time in 1995 and moved there in 1999, so I never knew it when it was divided. So hard to fathom really, though I can say I wish I had at least seen it....

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Is Bread a Meal? No, Bread is not a Meal!

This blog post is part of World Blog Surf Day, a day when expat bloggers around the world write about one topic and then link their blogs to each other. The topic this WBSD is food. Since I live in Germany there is basically only one thing I can write about: Bread.

Yes, it is almost a cliche how much Germans love their bread. The stuff is pretty good, with so much variety; from dark, moist and molasses-y nut covered loaves to crusty beer bread to white (but still heavy)"Land" bread. Most of the bread is not pre-cut of course (this would be close to sin)and I've never been very good at cutting it myself. My husband always laughs at my slices, which are invariably thick on the top and thin on the bottom or the other way around. Still, I am better than my sister. She recently came for a visit and usually only managed to cut off a wedge of crust which somehow made me feel better about my bread cutting deficiencies....

Anyway, the only problem that I sometimes have is that Germans are convinced that bread itself is a meal. I'm not talking a nice sandwich with some potato salad on the side, I'm talking several slices of bread with a thin wedge of cheese on top. My husband often wants this for dinner (one of the words for dinner in German is Abendbrot, literally evening bread...)but I always end up feeling unsatisfied in the end, not to mention slightly bloated. But then, if we ate something else for dinner we might be eating two warm meals a day which is itself a cardinal sin as well a story to be told at another time...

When trying to remind my toddler of something she shouldn't do, I often first ask her a question which we then answer together: Is baby a chair? No, baby is not a chair. Is the trash can a toy? No, the trash can is not a toy. Hey, Germans! Is bread a meal? No, bread is not a meal. The problem is, no one here would ever believe me....

Support WBSD! Here is a link to Romancing Italy where you can read an interesting feature from an expat on a restaurant in Italy. A special thanks also to Anastasia Ashman who is tweeting about it at Thandelike. Anastasia is an American cultural producer based in Istanbul and is the creator of Expat Harem, the anthology by foreign women about modern Turkey.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Passion on Potsdamer Platz

No, this blog entry is not a dimestore romance about a young lass ravished on the steps of the fountain at Sony Center. Rather, it is about my new-found passion for photography. With the camera, you can never truly be objective. Yes, you can document. Yes, you can try and capture "a moment". But the very essence of the medium is subjective. This is your Wahrnehmung, your perception. I love this.

The camera is not always truthful. With the camera, you can easily lie, flatter, deceive, manipulate....

But it is also just a machine. In the photography class I'm taking we are learning how to handle our cameras; to really see, first hand, the difference between, for example, high key or a wide angle. On Tuesday we went to Potsdamer Platz at Dämmerung (sunset)to get a feel for the difference in light and how to set the white balance, etc. We took at least a hundred pictures on different settings to illustrate the differences. Though these were really only practice shots, I ended up liking a few of them. Strangely enough, almost all the ones I liked featured feet or someone walking. Maybe you can figure this one out for me...Here are a few of them.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Beneath Your Feet

Sometimes, in life, what is most interesting is just beneath your feet. No where is this as clear as in Berlin. The streets are not only paved with concrete and asphalt, they are often also still made of cobblestone. The sidewalks are also never one singular unit, but have different stones to make the bike lanes, crosswalks and various patterns.

I have seen workmen laying these stones many times: the stones are laid out organically in a bed of sand which means plants and weeds and flowers can push their way easily to the surface. Tree roots sometimes cause a bulge in the stones, like some giant mole is trying to break through the ground.

These streets are where I ruin my heels and wear my boots to a nub. On these streets is where I'm raising my children.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tattoo Musings

Though he is by no means square, my husband has never really been into any counter culture movement. Not like me, in other words. I had goth leanings in high school, blasting Bauhaus and This Mortal Coil, much to my sister's chagrin. In early college I was all hippied out with long hair half way down my back that often filled with a mega rat's nest (at best, people might have assumed it was some half-assed rastfarian look but in reality, I was just too lazy to brush my extremely thick hair. What can I say? It was the 90s. The baggy bag lady look was in. ;) ) Now I would say I do my own thing: a touch of vintage, classic lines with a kick, black with a dash of color, handmade jewelry and accessories. I do admire the rockabilly scene, or anyone else who dresses all out 40s or 50s. Getting up every morning to set your hair, wear vintage heels and gurtels; now that is a true commitment to style.

I'm not really sure what I think about
tattoos. My husband, of course, doesn't like them. Except on a certain kind of woman. "On certain kind of women it can look hot," he's told me. When I asked him which kind he pointed out short women with broad shoulders. I have a small tattoo myself that I got as a birthday present when I turned 20. It's a small black Chinese character (I know, I know. At least it isn't a rose or a Celtic armband!)on my upper back which means "peace" in ancient Chinese, though I've heard from Chinese speaking friends that it looks quite a bit like the modern character for vegetable. At the time I was in my hippie, meat-is-murder phase, so I decided I would joke about it and tell people I had gotten it to promote vegetarianism.

I ran across these vintage tattoo photographs a few weeks ago on the internet and found them fascinating. At the time, unless maybe you were a sailor, having a tattoo was something truly subversive. The word "counter culture" had not yet been coined. These people were probably labeled freaks, fallen women, carnies, outsiders. Now that is a hardcore commitment; I admire it.


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