Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Will Survive

Apparently my little Olympus is a fan of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive because that's just what happened. I dried out the camera for a few days, recharged the battery and now she (yes, after being christened in the Spree river, I am giving my camera a gender...) seems to be working just fine. Of course, I am well prepared that she may explode in a few weeks or something. Time will tell....If she does, I will probably buy a canon camera body so that I can use all of my husband's fancy lenses. Unfortunately we didn't really think about this before I bought the Olympus. He is a more "serious" photographer than I am and has bought (and plans to buy more) fancy equipment.

Below is the picture I was trying to take when I took the plunge. The blurry photograph must have been snapped just as I was falling. The ironic thing is that the photograph isn't any good: Not really all that interesting and far too much back light. If it weren't for the accident, I would have killed it with the erase button. Thanks to my fall, the image lives on....

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cameras And Why I Shouldn't Have Them...

When I was fifteen I got a Toshiba point and shoot camera from my grandparents for my birthday. It was black with red lettering and had cost nearly 300 dollars which, at the time, seemed like a hell of a lot of money. I loved that camera. With it I took my first set of (admittedly somewhat disturbing) self-portraits. I still have some of the photographs. I had a very bad perm my mom and sister had talked me into and my walls were covered with tons of graffiti that had been put there by me and my friends (yes, my parents were absurdly understanding....)

That summer I took my camera on church choir tour. Half way through we stopped in Colorado Springs and went rock climbing at the Garden of the Gods. At the time I was still an outdoor loving flower child and I climbed up the rock formations with ease. I went out on a ledge to take a picture of the trees in the distance when, suddenly, my foot started to slip. I tumbled down a 40 foot cliff and landed just a few steps from a big thicket of thorn bushes. Amazingly, I wasn't even really hurt; just scrapped up fingers, a twisted ankle and a banged up shoulder. That's not quite what you could say of my camera. The old Toshiba never really did work right again. For a long time, I lived without a camera. After that, I had no more accidents (a couple of non-camera-related fender-benders don't really count, do they?)

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows I bought my first SLR camera a few months ago. I carried that camera all around the city with me, taking hundreds of pictures. Today, what happened is this: I walked to Mitte with the fam, Mitte being the downtown business district of the former East Berlin. Since today is Sunday, the streets were deserted, giving us the feeling we were in a ghost town. At some point we came to a bridge and Jasper said let's go look at the w
ater. Mia and I speeded ahead and walked down these steps that led right to the river Spree. She walked out onto this pier to chase some ducks and my mother-heart skipped a beat. You're being ridiculous, I told myself. The pier isn't all that narrow and Mia is always very careful. We walked together slowly down the pier and then back again.

When Mia had started going back up the steps I decided to stop a moment and take a picture of the bridge. I still don't know how it happened because I didn't trip and, like I said, the pier wasn't all that narrow, but seconds later I was underwater. In the Spree. Kicking off my shoes and FREAKING OUT! Jasper came and tried to lift me up but the pier was too high and I, being water-logged, was too heavy. After a few minutes some people passing by came to help and, finally, I was fished out.

The story could be worse because it could have been Mia who fell in the water, though it scares the hell out of me to even think of that. I knew before hand that we shouldn't be down by the water and I should have listened to that
little voice.

And my camera? My beautiful Olympus SLR? It was still around my neck when I took the plunge. I'll
let it dry out for a few days but the hope that it will ever recover is slim. RIP my lovely Olympus. I will miss you more than I can say.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Four Moments to the Left of Admiralbruecke

A couple of years ago I remember seeing a few people hang out on the Admiralbruecke on nice summer evenings to drink a beer, or maybe listen to a jazz band that had set up there. Now, every night, it is packed with people, probably until near dawn, unless the neighbors kick them off before the clock strikes midnight....

I waited there one evening for Jasp
er when we were first dating, when things were still shaky. Before Mia was conceived. Below are some self-portraits I took before he arrived. Crazy how different I looked then. So much younger somehow, though it was really only three years ago. A lot has happened since then. Births. A death. A marriage....

A few nights ago, after a great time with an old friend on an old street (Oranienstrasse), I wandered home across the bridge down the canal all by myself. Here are four of the things I liked the most.

1. People in Motion

°°°°Everyone going somewhere, no one in a hurry though some of them were fast°°

2. Evening Strolls in Slippers and Gowns

°°°Urban Krankenhaus, a frightening example of architectu
re gone wrong, is a large hospital right on the water. People hang out and peer over the canal with their i.v.s on wheels and in their robes and slippers. It took me a while before I realized the woman in this picture is one of them.

3. A Spanish Lover's Quarrel

°°°°°°A woman argued passionately in Spanish while people walked and rode on by. Spanish is a wonderfully sexy language even (or especially?) when spoken by someone angry.

4. Finding Beauty in a Baustelle

°°°In such a light everything looks beautiful, even a construction site that has stood there far too long....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Award-Winning American Smile

Feel free to prove me wrong, but I swear if you ever see someone in a picture with a smile like this you can pretty much guarantee they are American.

I'm not saying that every American smiles this way (the smile also seems to be much more common in women than men), but it does seem to be very typical. I was inspired to write this post by what I've seen on Facebook. I browsed through the photographs of old friends and acquaintances and over and over, I saw this smile.

The question is, why do we smile that way? Are we trying to prove to the world we have never, ever been sad, not even once? Are we putting on an upbeat mask so no one can see who we really are inside? Then again, maybe I'm just getting too philosophical. Maybe Vanna White was popular just a bit too long. Maybe we've been overly conditioned by "Say Cheese". Maybe Barbie is to blame. Who knows? What I can say for certain is that no German person could ever smile like that, probably not even if they tried. The following two photographs I got after googling "German Smile". They are what you would most often see here (one was even labelled "Shy German Smile", undoubtedly by an American...)

When I first moved abroad I guess you could say I was a disgruntled American. I was pretty angry about the politics and the hypocrisy and the social injustice. I also didn't consider myself a "stereotypical" American. And yet, when I look at pictures the first few years that I lived here, I still had that smile. "Look at you," my husband always says. "You look like such an American girl." (The following picture is from a Russian denistry website called "American Smile".)

Though the smile may have faded over the years, so has my anger. The fire in my belly has long been reduced to ash and coal and, in its place, I now wear a very thick pair of rose-colored glasses. When I think of the U.S. now, the word that often comes to mind is "Awww..." People are so friendly there. You get ice in your drinks. Everything is not a big freaking deal all the time like it is here. Though my German is completely fluent, I've purposely never tried to reduce my accent. Why should I? I'm proud of my heritage.

Of course, it's not possible for everyone but if you can, live at least a few years in another country. You will see your own culture in a different light. Certain ideas you take for granted or see as being "truths" and "normal behavior" will be tested. You will learn to both appreciate and be critical of aspects you had never really even thought about before. And yes, if you are American, you just might loose "tha
t smile", but in its place you will gain a new found wisdom. ;)

Friday, July 17, 2009

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Gözleme....

I recently wrote a Berlin guide for Design Sponge, but for some reason I forgot to include one of Berlin's greatest gems: The BiOriental Turkish market on Maybachufer in Neukölln (Tuesdays and Fridays from 11 to 6/U-8 Schönleinstrasse)

In the 50s and 60s there was a worker shortage in West Germany, so the government invited the so-called Gastarbeiter (guest worker) from countries in Southern Europe, mainly Turks and Italians. The idea was the workers would come for a couple of years, make good money to send back home and then eventually return to their families. Of course, it didn't always end up working out this way. A lot of the workers stayed, bringing not only their immediate family over, but also sometimes their uncles, brothers and second cousins. The Turkish population in Germany grew and grew.

Although there
are Turkish neighborhoods in many German cities, the Berlin neighborhoods of Kreuzberg and Neukölln (both of which I've lived in) have the largest populations; I've even heard rumored that Kreuzberg is the biggest Turkish "city" after Ankara and Istanbul. Most of the Turks come from little villages near the Iraqi border. Often they still carry the village with them: Many Turks who have grown up in Germany marry a "local" girl from their native village, bringing her to Germany where she raises the children in their language and customs because she knows no other. Forced marriages of teenager girls to a cousin from the homeland are also not unheard of. To me, sometimes it seems like Germans and Turks are living side by side, completely immersed in their own culture, with neither quite knowing what to make of the other.

Social history aside, the market is a truly amazing experience. You can get great produce, cheese and olives, but it does not have the relaxed, somewhat yuppie feeling of a West Coast farmer's market. The place is bursting with energy, with the market criers calling out their specials in both German and Turkish. I went there today and loved the vibe. My favorite line was from a seller selling watermelons who cried out "Sweet, sweet, sweet, my watermelons. Sweet like me. Sweet, sweet." Besides food, you can also buy cheap textiles, clothing and sewing supplies.

Although the market is nearly all Turkish, there are a few other cultures represented. I bought a great "Mutter Teller" (mother plate) from an African stand complete with fried bananas, black eyed peas, spicy rice and chicken wings for less than 5 bucks. Yum, and quite the bargain. Also fun to sit and eat it by the canal while a bossa nova band played for the hipsters that had congregated.

There was also a
quark stand, quark being this strange German dairy product with a science-fiction like name that is like a mix between yogurt and sour cream. I've grown to like its savory version, with bread and fresh herbs or on potatos, but can't really handle it as a dessert like they had on offer.

If you want to stick with Turkish (or even if you don't), then you absolutely have to try a Gözleme. Gözleme are a specialty from Anatolia
, a sort of pancake stuffed with either potatoes, ground beef or spinach and feta. When fresh, they are truly to die for.

Either way, when you go, you are sure to have one fine day at the market.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Well, you can't have everything...

Though you wouldn't have guessed it by my first marriage (my first husband and I literally got in a fight everyday, well, at least one), I am not a person who likes conflict. Granted, I will fight if necessary. Like when my ex-boyfriend, with whom I went bird crazy, decided one day that having 5 birds just wasn't "working out" anymore so we were going to get rid of them. "Uh, I don't think so," I said. The ironic thing is if he had said, "Honey, those birds with their screaming and food scattering and incessant need for attention are really getting to me. Do you think we can talk about getting rid of them?" I probably would have caved in. I mean, those birds were driving me nuts too not to mention Coco had it in for me and I have the scars to prove it. But since he came at it with such a dominant, my-way-or-the-highway statement, of course I had to counter it. The birds may have played a part in our break-up, but the main problem, I think, is that he just never really understood (or appreciated) how I work.

My husband Jasper, however, is always kind and considerate and loving. I broke from my usual pattern of choosing super dominant men who I would have to open a can of whup ass on (though, in the end, it was almost always me who compromised...Why couldn't I see that then?), and for breaking the mold I have been rewarded: I love my family. Like I've said before, Jasper and I also have more or less the same taste which makes living together that much more harmonious. Still, you can't have everything. After a while, I began to see my husband's edges: He is resistant to change.

Although our apartment only has three bedrooms, its has six doors (not counting the one to the kitchen, bathroom or the front door.) Although we first found these extra doors charming, we soon learned that they caused a problem in that they take away a significant amount of wall space. Our kitchen and bathroom are also tiny meaning that we had to find a different room for a "family" table. Before Mia was born, the kid's room was my office, but once we needed it as a kid's room, the problems started. We had to find a place for three couches, two desks, book shelves a kitchen table, a high board and two side-boards and, no, we couldn't get rid any of it.

I tried to make suggestions but he would always shoot them down: No, the color combination is all wrong. No, it would look too cramped. No, then the table would be too far from the kitchen (like five seconds away, Lordy Lord!). It might not have been all that bad, except that he could never come up with any ideas of his own. But I wanted us to come to a decision together. After a few months of going on like this we got in a fight because he said that it annoyed him that I was so "passive" when it came to making changes. "Passive! You shoot everything down. How can I make any progress?"

Then it occurred to me: With Jasper, it's better to do the work first and then talk about it later. That is just what my mother and I did when she came for a visit a few weeks after Lilly was born. We moved furniture and tried things out, had a grand old time and made some real improvements. Once he could see the good the changes made, Jasper also jumped on the band wagon, albeit a bit reluctantly at first.

Yesterday, while cleaning the windows (Note: This is not a sentence I would normally ever say. There are messy people and there are us Deans. But I seem to have recently been hit by a Spring Cleaning bug in the summer) I realized that I still was so unhappy with certain things in the apartment: The couches in the front room always felt so cramped and formal and we never sat there. The dining table behind the kitchen door looked good when we didn't dump it full of junk and we also never really sat there, preferring to cram ourselves into the kitchen. Mia's room, devoid of any place to sit, had become a bit of a trash pile where laundry goes to die. In a burst of housewiferly inspiration I started cleaning and moving furniture around. Here are the results:

This is Mia's room now. The hanging lute I bought years ago in Istanbul. I still have the business card from the owner of the music store with its hilarious English translation. Here is direct quote (imagine as you read it a photograph with garish colors of a Turkish Mr. Rogers leaning stiffly against a display of tambourines): "ATAKAN PLAK MUSIC CENTER Every kind of music instruments sells, whole sale Profesyonel There are Kanun....Bongoes, Amplifika
tör and instruments with breath wire and their another piece." Awesome. I never did learn to play the lute, but it looks pretty good on the wall I think. P.S. The bird cage houses two parakeets which are the most harmless of the birds I had with my ex and who I am watching while he visits his family in Holland.

This is the front room now or, rather, dining room/office. All that's missing now is a cool, colorful lamp above the table.

This is the tiny, currently not so clean kitchen, with my good friend Erica posing as the Happy Housewife. The bronzed cowboy boot belonged to my father when he was a child. I like the colorful flowers in it (thanks Ikea). Having it there reminds me of him which is nice.

Here is the new position of couch number three. Let's see if now we sit on it!

I heard Jasper locking up his bike when he came home after I had made the changes. "Are you ready for a surprise?" I asked him. The good news is, he loved it. He thanked me and was really sweet and said he loves it when I get these bursts of energy. There is only one ironic end to the story: Back when I was giving out different ideas for changes, those very ideas he shot down in two seconds, these are exactly the ones I had had. But no reason to rub it in. We're happy and I get the satisfaction of secretly knowing I was right all along....


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