Saturday, February 11, 2006

European-Muslim Relations

I have been eagerly following the fallout from the publication of Mohammed “cartoons” in Danish/European newspapers. So when it was announced that a protest was planned for outside the Danish embassy in Berlin Saturday, I was excited to check it out.

As I expected, this protest was NOTHING like the pictures that have been on the news recently. The protesters had registered with police, everything was orderly and the police presence was OVERWHELMING! Nonetheless, the crowd was very emotional and the fact that they were speaking Arabic made the situation seem uncertain to me.

I watched from the sidelines for a while with a bunch of Germans and a couple of dumb Danes who were wearing or waving Danish flags. What struck me the most was how out of the loop I felt (and the police looked.) While the protesters were chanting something about Allah in a tone that I would describe as heated, who knows! Acquaintances who speak Arabic tell me that the language is just more emotional and loud by its nature. I did keep hoping though that the police had a few Arabic speakers in their ranks to monitor what was actually being said.

To be totally honest, I was a bit freaked out when I walked through the protest and everyone started chanting something about Allah again. I know that sounds ignorant, but it really had more to do with not understanding the language than anything else. Anyway, I got through the crowd just fine. On the other side I met a guy who emigrated from Iran in 1985 and now works for the German Opera in Berlin. He was very nice and offered to show me the opera or to discuss European-Muslim relations with me (when he heard what I was doing in Berlin.)

(I liked this picture because it showed some interesting contrasts-- in case you can't tell, the guy on the left is wearing an University of Michigan jacket. The sign on the building behind them is a Mormon Church.)

Then as luck would have it, I met up with a Danish couple on the strassenbahn and helped them take the bus from Potsdamer Platz to Wittenbergplatz. They had a very positive “let’s just all get along” attitude when we started talking about the cartoons, but they were startled to see the protest from the bus window and even more freaked when 10-15 Muslim women with headscarves got onto the bus we were riding. (Maybe they regretting letting me suggest that we take the bus, but at least they will have a fun story to tell friends when they get home☺)

Another fun multi-kulti day in Berlin!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Bob, Apollo and Torsten

I’ve got a super exciting evening planned… with Bob, Apollo and Torsten.

Haha, not exactly!! My exciting evening involves pjs, popcorn (which I plan to pop in oil without burning up the apt) and the opening ceremony of the winter Olympic from Turin! Watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics is something I thoroughly look forward to every two years.

The actual opening ceremony will obviously be no different than what I would watch in the US. But as the games have drawn closer, I am increasingly aware that there are uniquely American and German spins on what will take place over the next couple weeks.

For starters, the opening ceremony won’t be quite the same without Bob Costas and his cheesy “captain obvious” comments. I always took Bob for granted but I’m going to miss him this year! [For the Germans: Bob Costas is a well-known commentator on NBC who has been covering the Olympics for as long as I can remember but he makes dumb comments which comedians often tease him about.]

I’ve also been intrigued to see which sports are hyped. Cross-country skiing seems to be much more popular here than in the States. On the flip side, I have not heard a thing about the members of the German snow boarding or speed skating teams. I wonder what kind of German competition Apollo Anton Ono has?

Finally, I have been intrigued to follow what can only be described as a uniquely German Olympic story. One of the German ice skating coaches was outted as being a former East German secret police informant, code name: IM Torsten. Officials said he should not be allowed to represent Germany. He argued that he has already represented united Germany in two Olympics and the information he passed to the Stasi wasn’t that bad (or good depending on your perspective!) The case has gone back and forth, but it was finally decided this week that Ingo Steuer will be allowed to coach his figure skating pair in Turin.

What is it about weirdoes and ice-skating… remember Tanya Harding!!

Oohh, the ceremony is starting, gotta go!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Death to the Project Proposal

Holy moly my last few postings have been long! In an attempt to be brief, be bright and be gone, I think I can sum up my week at work in 2 sentences (maybe 2 and a fragment.)

1.I am currently extremely frustrated with my project because my mentor says I do not yet have a project proposal.

2.So I am writing, writing, writing and get to the point where I should explain my motivation for the project and realize…

3.If only it were acceptable to write, “I thought Berlin would be a fun place to spend my quarter-life crisis” or “you just can't get good cheese spaetzel and apple strudel in the States” my project proposal would be complete and 100% honest!

Alas, I guess I better get back to work:-(

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Random Thoughts and News Clips

Lacking any big news in the last few days, I give you the following:

1. I look the bus to buy a box of tea and ended up at H&M and bought a spring skirt. (My Berlin ADD at its finest!) I loved the skirt but now think it looks like the clothes Maria made for the VanTrapp children out of her curtains so it might have to go back. I’ll keep you posted☺

2. I got a language partner! Bascially we’ll meet one a week and speak German for part of the time and English for the other part. The first meeting is Sunday. More afterwards!

3. In the States there is a show about how junk food is made—everything from cheese curls to Peeps. The German "how'd they do that" equivalent seems to be Galileo. On Monday I learned how hangers are made and that “bio-gas” (you figure that one out) really is flammable. I also learned a new word: “Wasser Wurst.” What is that you ask? A water weenie! Ha! Apparently a good toilet can flush 6 or 7 of them at a time.

4. Dieter Bohlen, the German Simon Cowell, had to appear in court this week because he “dutzed” a police officer. I’m not kidding! As I have mentioned before, in German there is a formal and informal way to say “you.” I had heard that you should never “dutz” a police officer, but didn’t think that there was a law against it! There really does need to be a German version of the video game I mentioned in my last posting. If you “dutz” a police officer, GAME OVER!

5. You can buy hash browns stuffed with cream cheese and herbs at my local grocery store. One word: YUM!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

"Very Prenzlauer Berg"

One of my New Years resolutions is to get out and see more of Berlin. Last night Matthias and I definitely accomplished part of this goal. I wanted to see an exhibition of political photos and cartoons from 2005. Matthias, who is now quite the Berlin social guru, had heard about a media/art/club/lounge/dancing/reading “thing” in Prenzlauer Berg that he thought we should check out. (This was the description I got beforehand.)

We began the evening at the photo exhibit: Rueckblende 2005. For anyone even remotely interested in current events, this is a must-see exhibit that is touring around Germany. The photos chronicled an exciting and turbulent year for the country. National elections, Ratzinger’s elevation to Pope and the opening of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin were among the themes. I was most impressed with how well the photos captured the range of emotion surrounding the election!

Next it was off to Dr. Pong. As Matthias, his friend Nils and I entered a non-descript storefront on Eberswalderstrasse I felt a bit like Forest Gump walking into the Black Panther meeting—not only did the stark smoky building look similar, I felt totally out of my element! How do I even describe the rest of the evening? My 6th grade social studies teacher used to say that culturally different things are “ohhh” or “hmmm” but not “eewww.” Sorry Mrs. Bowerman, I cannot resist: the evening was cool and enlightening, but very STRANGE! Matthias kept saying that this was “very Prenzlauer Berg.”

First, nature videos and footage that looked like old home movies were playing on a blank wall in the main room. As I understood it, the footage came from a museum in Hamburg, which is collecting video that would otherwise be destroyed/forgotten. The second part of the evening was a collection of readings, which discussed animals, hunting, Angie M. and immigrants/migration. Next, a couple of women from Argentina presented symbols, (that looked a bit like the international boy and girl bathroom symbols) which depicted how immigrants in foreign countries feel. Finally, a group of Spanish guys presented a video game that they have developed to help illegal immigrants in Madrid deal with everyday situations that they might encounter. The kids can also learn about how the game was created in the hope that they might develop computer skills that would allow them to be employable.

Strange…yes. But it I really enjoyed myself (minus the odd smell that I am choosing to believe was incense!) Somehow it all worked together! As a foreigner in a foreign city I even related on some level to what the symbols represented as well as understood how the video game could really help immigrants in Spain. (I can think of a number of social situations that would have been better played out in a video game before messing them up in real life☺)

We didn’t stick around to hear DJ Abdullah, the illegal Moroccan immigrant from Spain who was helped by the computer program, nor the other two DJs, but I am sure that would have added to the evening as well. Instead I was treated to the drunken musings of a group of teenage girls on the U2 who sang Brittany Spears’ “Lucky” all the way to Alexander Platz. There’s some culture that does not need to be exported!