Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The War Zone Better Known As New Year's Eve

Hate is not a strong enough verb for how I feel about New Year's Eve in Berlin. No, to fully describe how I feel about this holiday I need to borrow one of the verb's stronger synonyms: Detest. Abhor. Despise. Loathe.

I'm not really much of a New Year's person in general. Though an admitted lush, I don't like getting drunk and resent the pressure that, somehow, I should. On New Year's all the good places are full, everyone is plastered and the cover charges are three times what they should or would be on any other day. I've had a couple of good New Year's Eves (a spontaneous Madonna dance party in Brooklyn being one of the best) but overall, it's an evening where I groan. "What am I going to do on this stupid New Year's?"

Still, there is one answer I know for sure: Try and not be in Berlin. The reason? Fireworks. I'm not talking pretty, up-in-the-sky-like.multi-colored stars fireworks that you can watch peacefully while sipping a glass of champagne. I'm talking grenade sized, deafeningly loud fireworks, in the hands of drunk people in a city known for its rampant aggression, all of which are being tossed out of windows and off of rooftops at anything that moves.

A few years ago, when I was pregnant with Mia, Jasper and I went out to get a falafel at around eight o'clock on Silvester (New Year's Eve in German). This being Kreuzberg, the streets were already a war zone, with explosions coming from every direction. In the end, we literally ended up running home.

I've never been able to figure out why they haven't outlawed or at least seriously restricted fireworks in Berlin. Hundreds of people get hurt every year: fingers blown off, hearing damaged, eyes blinded, the works. And, of course, there is also the mess. And the smell. And we're going to be here this year. Sigh.

Still, I did have one small victory. On the 27th (our wedding anniversary) we were walking to the bus stop with the babies at 6 o'clock when some jerk started tossing cherry bombs from his balcony. As we walked under these insanely loud explosives that were coming closer and closer to our heads, I felt a well of anger stir up inside me (note: I was a sweet and mild creature until I moved to Berlin. This city has the uncanny ability of forcing you to voice your own inner rage....) "Fucking stop it right now!" I shouted at the top of my lungs in Denglish (Deutsch/
English) "It's not New Year's yet, you assholes!!!" Normally no one cares if they get a little lip for misbehaving (and a lot of people have been setting fireworks off early) but something in my voice must have made them understand I meant business because they immediately went back inside.

"I think you scared them," Jasper said. Yes! Berlin, all I have to say is, Guten Rutsch my ass! Next New Year's I'll be far, far away in a much more civilized land....

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Berlin Is A City Full Of Jerks

Yesterday I had two unfortunately typical Berlin experiences that reminded me how much Berliners sometimes remind me of the Grinch. I don't mean the hating Christmas part (I suppose Berliners like or dislike Christmas just about as much as anyone) I mean the part about his heart being two sizes too small.

The first unfortunately typical ex
perience happened in the LPG health food supermarket on Mehringdamm. The shop was pretty crowded as everyone is apparently doing their X-mas organic food buying. I was wandering through picking up a few small things for dinner with Mia pushing the child-sized chart. Anyway, right in front of the meat section, where at least five people were waiting in line, I fell. I don't mean I stumbled a bit, I mean I dramatically slipped and landed hard on my ass. But do you think anyone helped me up or asked me if I were ok? Hell no. This is Berlin. If no one had noticed that would have been one thing, but every person in the meat counter line a few feet away was staring at me like I was some sort of strange bug sprawled out on the linoleum. "Sehr freundlich," I said when I managed to pick myself up and limp over to Mia who was, of course, a little bit upset. When I told Jasper about it later he said how strange it was that most of those people were buying organic meat because they cared about how animals are treated but when they see a fellow human in need they couldn't care less. "I'm ashamed of my countrymen," he told me.

The next lovely Berlin experience happened at the post office. I was struggling to open the door with my long-ass double buggy filled with two babies in tow. A man walked toward me but did he help me? No. He walked through the door I had managed to open halfway and, staring me right in the face, didn't say a word. Luckily a woman, probably visiting from Cologne or Wuppertal or somewhere else where people are actually decent, came and helped me open the door.

I know what you might be thinking. Berlin is a big city and this is the way people are in big cities. But, no it isn't true. I've spent time in other big cities and it was never this bad. Something is simply wrong here. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but a lot of native Berliners are just heartless jerks who actually pride themselves on not being "friendly for no reason." My first husband was a native Berliner. I know how they talk and feel. But don't worry. Berlin is also a city filled with foreigners and Germans from other cities. Thank God. If not, the city would have gone down a long time ago.

Berliners, in the words of Your a Mean One Mr. Grinch, I sometimes think I'd rather choose the Seasick Crocodile....

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And May He Rest In Peace....That Is, For 30 Years...

So I'm not dead positive since I'm no cemetery scientist, but I'm pretty sure once you're buried in the U.S. then that's it. No one is ever going to dig you up no how, that is, unless they are some creepy grave robber if such a thing still exists....Not so in Germany. Here you lease a grave for thirty years. When the time is up, if no one from your family pays for the next thirty years, then your remains are dug up to make way for the next "tenant". I'm not really sure what they do with the people whose families have defaulted on the payments. It's not like there is a hot line you can call (actually, hot lines don't even exist in Germany, at least not toll-free ones, but that is an entirely different topic...) to find out what happened to the bones of Fräulein Müller. 1-800-Call-a-Corpse, where are you when I need you?

This thirty year rule, mixed together with good old fashioned German bureaucracy, has made the local Kreuzberg cemeteries even more interesting and macabre than they already would be: both the ones in my neighborhood have at least a dozen fancy crypts where the families lapsed on their payments. The bodies have been removed- you can tell this by the trees growing through the roofs:

By the gardening equipment stacked beyond rusted gates (in this one the crypt was even open, going down at least six feet. Um, can you say creepy?!?):

And by the boarded up doors:

Still, there is a problem: The bodies had to be removed because no payment had been made but you can't exactly lease the grave to anyone else since the crypt says Familie Hoffmann in large, Art Nouveau letters. Probably the buildings are also under Denkmalschutz which means they can't be torn down, making it all the more complicated.

Still, the old crypts have a beauty to them, albeit dilapidated and spooky. Just the thing for a stroll on a
dark and cold Sunday afternoon in December...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let's Eat Bread Off Of Fruit...

I've never really understood what it is Germans think will happen to you if you eat more than one warm meal a day. I don't think they believe that it will make you sick just that, somehow, it is very very bad. I'm not talking just older people; across the age spectrum I would say most Germans eat a "cold" breakfast (bread rolls with cheese, meat and jam), a "warm" lunch and a "cold" dinner (yep, more bread.) Even Jasper, who is by no means a "typical" German, usually can't handle eating a warm meal in the evening (though he does like a nice "American" breakfast of bacon and eggs on occasion.) As far as I know, Germans are one of the only nationalities who think about the temperature of their food in this way. If there is another (non-German speaking) country where they also do this, I would be curious to hear about it...

Anyway, if you are go
ing to eat a boring "cold" breakfast (as you can see, even after ten years I haven't really adjusted...) you may as well do it with these amazing 60s vintage retro breakfast tablets I've posted in my shop Schaufenster. Besides their great kitschy flair, these breakfast tablets are unusual because they are shaped like the fruit they resemble (breakfasts tablets are usually rectangular.) Na, guten Appetit! ;)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

SkyMall Forever....

Jasper got his first taste of SkyMall on a flight from San Francisco to New York a couple of years ago. SkyMall is not something we have in Germany (as it is somehow very, very American in the wackiest sense of the word) nor do they have them on international flights though, believe me, we could use the comic relief. Fifteen hours of flight time with two young children isn't exactly something you can describe as "pleasant and relaxing"...

Anyway, on this very full, very cramped Jet Blue flight to New York I found a copy of SkyMall and was instantly excited.

"SkyMall!" I said.
"What's that?" Jasper asked.

For a moment it seemed ludicrous that someone hadn't heard of the utterly useless and strange phenomena that is SkyMall but then I remembered: Oh yeah, he's German. I took him on a tour of some of the classics like the hot dog cooker:

Some of the strange pet products like the pet viewing pod:

The renewable feeder so you can leave fluffy at home when you take off for six months:

And the handy can of Poop Freeze (which shockingly only got a rating of two and half out of six stars on their website...):

SkyMall, of course, also has a lot of great products for the garden, like this decorative Sasquatch:

Or this grave-escaping zombie for that Halloween-feeling all year long:

Still, Jasper's absolute favorite was the steak brander, ordered with your own initials:

When we saw this we both started cracking up. "Is this for real?" Jasper asked. I assured him that it was. Or at least I was pretty sure. Everyone knows SkyMall but I've yet to meet someone who has actually ordered something from them. Perhaps it is actually just a hoax, a kind of "The Onion" of catalogs?

This morning I heard a piece on NPR about SkyMall w
hich basically summed up that yes, it does really exist and yes, everyone knows about it (and finds it hilarious) but no, hardly anyone has ever actually ordered anything, or at least not anyone who listens to NPR.

My advice? Make this Christmas one to remember. Go to SkyMall right now and do some holiday shopping, perhaps picking up this lovely conversation piece for your mother-in-law or your second cousin:

Trust me, they'll thank you for it. ;)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Oh, You Better Watch Out, You Better Clean Your Shoes....What The?!?

So I wrote in an earlier post on this blog that Germans don't have stockings on Christmas Eve but what I failed to mention was they DO get presents in something they normally wear on their feet namely, their shoes. On the night of December 5th Niklaus comes and, if the children have properly cleaned their shoes, he delivers them small presents and chocolate to a shoe that has been placed in front of their bedroom door.

Since this is th
e first Christmas where Mia is old enough to know what's going on, she's been learning a lot about all the different holiday figures: She knows Santa, she knows Frosty, she's at least heard of Rudolph. But this Niklaus guy, how could I explain him to her without overwhelming her two and a half year old senses?

"Niklaus is Santa's brother," I told her, trying to connect them together.
"No, they're not!" Jasper said, somewhat entsetzt.

I thought about it later and realized how do we know they aren't brothers? I mean, what do we even really know about this Santa Claus guy? That he's old and doesn't shave much and likes to eat? That he lives in a cold and dark place but apparently does not suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder because he laughs like a bowl full of jelly and, once a year, travels around the world in one night delivering presents to all the good little boys and girls? How do we know his brother Niklaus doesn't live in a cottage on an ice floe down the road? One is into shoes, one into stockings; hey, it's a family thing....

All I can say is, th
ank god for Wikipedia. I read this article on Santa Claus and learned a lot of interesting things. Some of them were predictable; namely, that Santa Claus, Niklaus and Sinterklaas (as my Dutch ex-boyfriend called him) are all the same guy, St. Nicholas, whose feast day is, yep you guessed it, on December 6th. Some of the information was more unusal, like there have been parellels drawn between St. Nick and Odin as well as a mention of the untrue legend that Coca Cola invented Santa Claus (something that I've heard many times from smug, arrogant German college students I've taught, who claimed it was just another example of how American pop culture has ruined the high culture of Europe. Granted, you can be critical of certain more obnoxious parts of American culture, but please at least get your facts straight. In my experience, snobbery is often largely based on ignorance....)

The good news is, even if you're more into Niklaus, there is still a slutty Santa outfit to be had for the ladies. Here's the example I found when I
googled Niklaus images (under the heading, Niklaus Kostüme, Gr. S):

Happy (belated) Niklaus everyone and keep those shoes nice and polished!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mine Alone

One of the great things about expanding the vintage section of my shop Schaufenster has been all the great finds I've been making for myself. Case in point: The Arzberg Form 2000 pieces featured in the photographs above.

I collected Melitta for years which is robust, fun and wonderfully retro, but Arzberg is in a whole other category when it comes to quality and design. Based on Bauhaus principles, the pieces are lovely and finely made, yet are still suitably for every day use. I bought a vintage coffee pot with creamer and sugar bowl to sell in my shop, but soon after I got it home I just couldn't stop looking at it. A few days later I got a 21 piece set for a ridiculously low price on ebay (each one has a flaw, but that is the charm of owning vintage pieces and the "flaws" were so minor I had to hunt to find them on most of the pieces!) Someday I may offer some Arzberg in my shop, but for now I am just using it for props in my pictures because it is mine, all mine, and mine alone. Oh yeah, and Jasper's. Luckily he is a man who can appreciate the beauty that can be found in a coffee pot! ;)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Sippy Cup Series

I can't believe how big Baby Li is getting. Pretty soon I won't even have any babies anymore. Sigh...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Vintage Home

For a long time I only really thought of Etsy as being a place for handmade goods, even though I sell some vintage items myself. Recently I've been discovering a lot of really great vintage shops with fair prices, so I thought I'd share a few of them here. Most of the shops specialize in housewares and home decor (there are of course also a lot of shops that sell vintage clothing and shoes, but personally I find the fit and feel of the fabric is too important to order something over the internet, especially when it can't be returned....) Ok, here goes:

Located in Detroit, Bright Wall Vintage has a lot of great mid-century pieces at nice prices.

Good Vintage has nice kitsch and home decor pieces and currently has a lot on sale.

Little Byrd Vintage is located in Portland, Oregon where my sister lived for six years. She's the one who told me about the friendly, good-hearted Spirit of the Pacific Northwest and this seller must have it because she is currently donating 20% of all profits to the Oregon Food Bank.

Located just a few hours north of Portland in Seattle, Lil Thrifty Girl has a lot of items on holiday special. She has cute stuff but for some reason only nine sales, so let's get her some business!

Another shop located in the Pacific Northwest is Modish Vintage. I love, love, love, love pretty much everything they have. Did I mention love?

Though I don't (yet) own any, there is something about the eerie milky greenness of Jadite that I love. Luckily for me, there is the shop in Allentown, Pennsylvania Jadite Kate. The shop prices are a little bit high and if you want something very basic like a teacup or a serving bowl you might find it cheaper in another shop. But the pieces she does have are truly unique and well worth the price. Plus, the shop is just so darn pretty. I can't get enough of it!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Between Two Cultures

So, I've never really been much of a "Christmas person", but I have to say it's a lot more fun when you have kids. Mia is so excited. She talks about Santa Claus constantly, has watched the Frosty the Snowman song at least a dozen times on YouTube and today got her first piece of chocolate from the Advents Calendar (this is going to be a hit for a sweet tooth like her!) We also made a (wonderfully crooked) advent's wreath together last night and then wrote Christmas cards while listening to Bing Crosby sing White Christmas. Seriously, the only thing that was missing was hot chocolate with marshmallows and a candy cane or two....

Still, there are of course differences between how Germans and Americans celebrate Christmas. Some of the differences I've known for a l
ong time: Germans open their presents on Christmas Eve and don't have stockings. They have Christmas Eve (Heiligabend), Christmas Day and Christmas Day 2 (apparently to recover from the Christmas Goose and all the mulled wine they drank on Christmas Day number one...) But now that I'm actually celebrating Christmas here I've realized there are other even more subtle differences. I discovered these when I went out shopping with Mia for Christmas ornaments since I didn't have any (told you I'm not a Christmas person.) Here is more or less what I came back with:

When I showed them to Jasper he said: "Oh no, not those! Those are SO spiessig!" Spiessig is a hard word to translate, but I would say the closest definition would be by combining dorky, uptight and bourgeoise into one word.

"Wie bitte? Christmas balls are spiessig?" Garish maybe, especially since Mia picked them out and so they were purple and gold paired together with red tin foil. But spiessig? I tried to get him to explain to me why, because in my mind they are pretty much standard, but the best he could come up with was "They just are." I had also bought some of these straw ornaments which are typical in Germany.

"What about these?" I asked him. "Are they also spiessig?"
"No, those are ok," he told me.

We talked about it again today and how fun
ny it is that when you're from a different culture you sometimes don't make the same assumptions. Jasper is even less of a Christmas person than I am, yet he has certain opinions about things that I found surpring, for example, that ornaments should always be wooden.

"The worst and most spiessig of all is when people have electric candles on their tree."

Wie bitte? "Do you seriously mean that people should have real lit candles on their tree? Isn't that a pretty hardcore fire hazard?"

"Oh sure," my non-Christmas loving husband answered. "There are lots of fires every year."

So I've learned a few things so far this jolly holiday season:

Number one: there is little chance of talking my husband into getting these electric candles with a convenient remote control.

Number two: we are still not putting real lit candles on our tree because I think I'd rather not burn the house down, thank you very much.

Number three: we are most definitely hanging stockings with care in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon will be there.

What can I say? Christmas traditions are truly diehard, even for two Scrooges like us!


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