Friday, May 05, 2006

On a friday afternoon in Berlin

What is there not to love about Berlin on a warm Friday afternoon? The cafes are packed, the sun is shining and the somewhat grumpy Berliners are smiling. I left work a bit early today and headed to a new driving range. Global Golf Berlin is fun, but I thought there must be more to the Berlin golf scene. What I found was strange, cool and somehow totally Berlin. Between a Lamborghini repair shop and a few German garden plots, stands an abandoned Deutsche Bahn depot that has been turned into the Golfer's Friend driving range and tiki bar. It's "so Berlin" because the randomness of it all somehow works. The story continues because you can aim your swing at an old VW whose final resting place is near the 200m mark. Even better, the golf ball pick-er-up-er (technical term) is attached to an old Opel that has been retrofitted with a cage over each window so it can drive around the range picking up balls while people are still hitting.

My fun afternoon continued when I got back to the Zoo. Outside the station, an electric guitar, drums and electric organ jazz trio performed as a part of the “Copenhagen Jazz Festival in Berlin.” The group was called Ibrahim Electric, totally rocked and looked like they were characters on "That 70's show." Adding to the performance, 2 old drunk guys were dancing to the music in a strange mix of what looked like tae kwon do and a cool jazz bop. No one seemed particularly bothered by the two characters. They actually added to the performance. (Check out Ibrahim Electric's website and listen to the album with the old guy on the cover.)

The warm weather also provides me with an opportunity to comment on some fashion trends that have popped out like the spring flowers.
1. I am happy to see that flip-flops seem to still be “in” in Berlin. Jesus sandals seem popular too, but surprisingly I haven’t seen anyone wearing Birkenstocks.

2. I was dismayed to see a high concentration of women wearing socks with dress sandals. News flash--- socks and sandals are an EITHER/OR kind of thing!

3. I saw another woman wearing boot-cut stonewashed denim jeans. Have stonewashed jeans come back in style? I’m not talking about “stone-washed” like how everyone’s jeans these days look a bit distressed and not solid blue. I am talking about the almost marbled jeans that were worn in the late 80’s. (Think AC Slater on "Saved by the Bell." Be honest, you know you watched it and have now downloaded the first season from Itunes.)

4. The pro-shop at the driving range was selling belts with iron club heads as the buckle. How do we feel about that? Comments?

And with those deep thoughts, I wish you a fun weekend!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Blast from the Past

I have also been keeping a paper journal this year (where I write the more juicy and more mundane details of my year that I don’t want the entire blogosphere to read;-)) I figure I will stash the journal under my bed when I get home and get a good laugh out of it when I read it in a few years. While doing a bit of spring-cleaning in the apt this evening, I came across the first volume of the journal and enjoyed reading the first couple of entries. On August 30, I wrote a small list of observations that offer some fun comparisons and contrasts to my thoughts now, 9 months later.

Then: “I’m relearning how to make a duvet burrito.”
Now: the duvet burrito still looks pretty, but I find a duvet accordion at the end of the bed easier to make and gives easier access at night.

Then: “Merkel’s campaign photos are better than Schroeder’s. Schroeder’s eyes look creepy and he needs botox on his forehead.”
Now: maybe that is why Merkel won;-)

Then: “There are too many smoke and BO smells.”
Now: not much has changed

Then: “I was actually asked by 2 Germans for directions today—must have been my European bowling shoes.”
Now: Those people might still be walking around lost in Bonn based on the directions I gave them. My German is better now, maybe I should go back and find them!

Then: “People look at me funny when I wear my sunglasses on my head.”
Now: It seems that Germans and Americans have a different belief on the appropriateness of staring at strangers. The stares I was observing in August might have just been normal German stares and not related to my sunglasses. A friend of mine actually relishes getting into “stare-downs” with Germans that stare at her first on the U-bahn. (Remember having stare-downs with friends in elementary school! Fun times!)

Then: “I haven’t seen anyone jet skiing on the Rhine river.”
Now: I haven’t seen anyone jet skiing on the Spree river either. Is jet skiing popular in Germany? Hmmm…

Then: “Sport stores do sell golf clubs in Germany.”
Now: I got a great deal on a driver at the end of last season! But I refuse to pay to get a German golfing license!!

May 1

Having been in Berlin on May 1, 2001 and having lived through 3 years of IMF/World Bank protests in downtown DC, I was excited to see how May 1, 2006 would compare. If I have confused you already, May 1 is Labor Day in Germany and is traditionally filled with a mix of sanctioned and unsanctioned protests and occasionally violence.

While in Berlin in 2001, my friends and I saw a protest, which I remember as being pretty darn scary due to the anti-American slogans that were being chanted down the street. As soon as we realized what was being said, we put our white American sport shoes to good use and got the “heck out of Dodge” and back onto the subway. This year, I did not see anything similar, but rather walked around “Myfest,” a street festival in Kreuzberg that offered fun and entertainment as well as a peaceful way for different interest groups to express themselves.

Overall, I was very impressed! There were lots of smashed beer bottles littering the street and the crowd was a bit more alternative than I am used to, but overall I thought the concept of providing an alternative to the demonstrations was a great idea. What I found most interesting was how the festival differed from other German “fests” I have been to. Tandori chicken replaced wursts on the grill. Couscous replaced potato salad and pakora stands replaced crepe stands. There was not a music group in sight that was playing German umpoppop music or singing American classics. Instead, teenagers danced to Turkish music or hopped around to the sounds of German heavy metal. The Commies, Che Guevara Cuba supporters and pro-Palestine folks were all present, but the afternoon was peaceful.

Later, Carl and I met up with Lexy and Emil for a drink at a cool bar/restaurant on the canal in Kreuzberg called Freischimmer. Definitely a place to visit again as the weather continues to get warmer! As I passed through Kotbusser Tor on my way back to Wilmersdorf, I could tell that the scene was getting a bit tenser, but there had not yet been any violence from what I could see. Heavily armored police vans had moved closer to the crowd though, and police dressed in full riot gear stood watch. Interestingly enough, it looked like the local VW dealership allowed the police to use the sales office as a command center. Create goodwill with the police and keep your cars safe… wise cookies, those VW folks!

So that was May Day in Berlin as I saw it. The news reported that there was some violence and arrests later in the evening, but less than in years past. Another friend who lives in Friedrichshein, Kelly, said that there was also some craziness the night before near her place. The day got me thinking a lot about immigration and Germany, but that is a topic for another posting.

P.S. I think this is the bird that ate the babies! Ugly-ass German bird!!!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Uncle Lynn and WWII

Germany, especially this time of year, just oozes history. While visiting the memorial to the Soviet soldiers who fought in the Battle of Berlin on Friday, I was surprised to find a number of flower arrangements in part of the park as well as 3 or 4 dozen single red roses laying on top of the bushes. The memorial will be a blog posting for another day because it is both amazing and creepy. My point, however, is that the Battle of Berlin took place between April 16 and May 8, 1945. The flowers were obviously there to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the battle. It is astonishing to think about the ease with which I visited the memorial, compared with what navigation around the city must have been like 61 years ago today.

While reading some old letters tonight, I was even more surprised to discover that in terms of WWII history, yesterday and today have significance for my family. Yesterday was the 61st anniversary of the liberation of the last POW camp that my Great Uncle Lynn was taken to after being shot down in France in 1944. The camp was in Moosburg, a small town northeast of Munich and was liberated by General Patton’s army on April 29th and 30th, 1945. Not much is left of the camp today, though the town has built a small memorial fountain in the center of the downtown area. Technically every day I have been in Germany represents the 61st anniversary of my great uncle being a POW, but somehow sitting in Germany on the anniversary of his liberation is different. To know that I can live in Germany today because of my uncle's sacrifices is very moving to me and means a great deal. Sadly, he passed away last year so I cannot thank him for his efforts. But as I enjoy my freedom in the coming days and weeks, I will remember my Uncle Lynn and wonder how he must have felt after being freed 61 years ago.