the craziest show on Earth

Rules for Living in Berlin:

1. If you don’t bring an umbrella, it will rain.

2. If you do bring an umbrella, it will be warm and sunny.

3. If you’re not sure whether to bring an umbrella, it will probably rain, then snow, then a hurricane will pass through, and then it will become as warm as a Caribbean island.

4. If you pay for a transport ticket, you probably won’t get to use it to its full value, and no one will ever check it.

5. The one time you don’t have a transport ticket, you will get nailed with a 40-euro fine.

6. You will trip at least 7 times a day, even when there is nothing especially treacherous in your path.

7. When you would like to sleep/sleep in/take a nap, there will be one of the following outside the window:
– children
– screaming children
– crying children
– garbage men
– garbage trucks
– church bells
– loud motorcycles
– any combination of the above

8. When you are running late, so is the tram. And the metro. And the buses.

9. It is impossible to cross a busy street in one stoplight. They are programmed so that one will only be able to cross half the street before they turn red, therefore delaying your already-late self by another 1.3 minutes.

10. Whatever you order in a restaurant or bar, it will not be what you think it is, no matter how well you think you understand the menu in German. Or English.

11. If you want to live in Berlin, it helps if you:
– are a hippie
– are a Buddhist
– are gay
– describe yourself as “alternative” (whatever that may imply)
– are a punk
– are wanted in a foreign country
– eat only wheat grass, soy, and sunlight, or whatever vegetarians subsist on
– have a strange hairdo, such as mohawk, mullet, or the Berlin-patented mohawk-mullet
– have a moustache
– are crazy
– any combination of the above

12. Do not be surprised to see a man in a 15th-century Renaissance-style coat and ribbon-adorned hat, or a coat that looks like it came out of the American Revolution, or a yellow shoes+pink tights+green skirt+blue shirt ensemble (yes, even the men), or leather anything. Also do not be surprised to see people who bear a strong resemblance to: Janis Joplin, any of the Beatles, or Salvador Dali.

In short…expect the unexpected.

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this is what happens when you have no TV and no internet

Me: “You know, Heidelberg used to be named Heidelbeereberg. That means Blueberry Mountain. Isn’t that so picturesque?”
Carlos: *rolls eyes*
Me: “I mean, can’t you just imagine little girls in braids with checkered dresses and little baskets skipping along the countryside picking blueberries, and the mothers all in the kitchen with white aprons on, baking blueberry pies?”
Carlos: *rolls eyes*
Me: “But…isn’t there a nuclear reactor there now?”
Carlos: “Yes…”

So much for picturesque. I guess it’s not a nuclear reactor, per se, but I still imagine the little girls now coming home with baskets glowing with a strange blue light, and the blueberry pies monstrously doubling their size in the oven, while children with six fingers on each hand jump with joy and anticipation.

Anyway. On the same ridiculous train of thought, I’ve decided it would be a good idea to start a comic. I can never remember the words for fork, knife, and spoon in German, or at least which one is which, until I randomly made up Ludwig der Löffel (Ludwig the Spoon), to help me remember (this strangely reminds me of Allowishus the Dust Bunny, a character I made up in elementary school and who graced the upper-right-hand corner of every paper I wrote in 5th grade, along with Matilda the witch. I had a lot of free time as a child). Of course, as soon as Ludwig came to mind, his friends paraded in as well: Gunter der Gabel (Gunter the Fork) and Manfred der Messer (Manfred the Knife). Of course, there’s got to be a fat friend tagging along, so that’s where Name-that-begins-with-T der Teller comes in (To-Be-Named the Plate). They could have many adventures, all in the name of education, of course, all Shel Silverstein style.

Of course, maybe they’ll turn out to be a tough street gang that go around attacking bananas, hard-boiled eggs, and other soft and defenseless foods. You know, because they’re forks and knives, after all… well, we’ll see about that bit.

I think I’ll go draw them now.

one step forward…..

Well, I got a job.

I was offered a position as a waitress at an amazingly beautiful tapas restaurant in one of the coolest corners of Berlin, Hackescher Markt (see photos).

I went last night to the “training,” which meant they put me on the floor with no preparation whatsoever, on Saturday night (i.e. busiest time of the week) to see how I could do. After three hours, I knew the name of every possible tapas dish in German, and had the whole thing down pat. Of course, I don’t speak to the clients – I can barely remember “my name is…” sometimes. So I just make tapas…rather, spoon the tapas into little dishes and heat them up and put them on plates for the real waitresses to take out to the customers. Anyway, it’s a job, and I can speak Spanish and English, and I’ll be surrounded by food all day.

But of course, I can’t start said job until I have the f-ing residence permit. Completely ridiculous. I’m trying to work around it.

Tomorrow (I think, though the boss has yet to confirm the time) I will give my practice tour to the tour guide company owner, where I’ll either be hired or told I’m a piece of crap. I’m hoping it’s the former.

Have you ever heard of someone with two jobs who’s still homeless? Crazy.

guten apetit!

So, as you all know, much of my life revolves around food. Eating it, looking at it, cooking it, thinking about it, etc. Well, I knew before coming to Berlin that it wasn’t exactly hailed as a culinary paradise, even among internationally lukewarm feelings toward German food in general. Let me just tell you about some of the things I’ve eaten since I’ve been here.

Best overall food experience: This is probably brunch. Even at the hostels we’ve stayed at, their breakfasts have pretty decent, if not downright amazing (read: Corner Hostel’s varied buffet and coffees served with those little Italian amaretto cookies…yummmm). Usually it’s pretty reasonable, pretty varied, and coffees are big. What more can I ask?

Best street food: Street food is a religion in Berlin. I don’t know how people can always eat standing up and then walk places. As soon I as I eat something, I need to promptly visit the restroom (TMI, yeah, I know). This makes street food a little tricky. So far the best have been the pretzels. Big, yummy, soft, mall-style pretzels. I haven’t had the luxury of downing a beer with one yet, but I’m sure it’s heaven. Another street food winner is the curry- and/or bratwurst, usually served by men with those strap-on grills that hot dog vendors at baseball games use. For 1 euro or so, you can enjoy an embarrassingly large wurst with conspicuously small bun with amazing German mustard. Sometimes the guys play percussion with the plastic guards of their grills. The currywurst, a Berlin invention, is usually accompanied by fries and tiny fork. There’s no actual curry in the wurst – it’s a normal hotdog-like sausage covered in something resembling ketchup and then topped with curry powder. Sounds disgusting, tastes amazing.

On the sweet side, you can’t go wrong with ice cream. I’ve obviously been ice-cream deprived during my years in Spain, because I’m still amazed at the variety of the flavors and the freshness of the ice cream here. Also, waffle cones! How I’ve missed them! Though Spaniards eat a lot of ice cream, it’s always those prepackaged bars with sticks, which aren’t bad, but are expensive and not nearly as fresh. A scoop here costs anywhere from .50 to 1.20, though .70 seems to be the norm.

Fast food: There doesn’t seem to be a lot of slow food in Berlin. Everything seems to be designed to go. But there are amazing deals out there that will leave you satisfied and without that weighed-down feeling that you normally think of as accompanying food on the run. China Box: A simple, 3-euro concoction called simply “China Box,” this is a large-size Chinese takeout box filled to the brim with fried noodles, vegetables, and chicken. It’s amazing and a lot of food…especially good when accompanied by hot chili sauce and a cold beer. Yum. Doner kebap: The Turkish version of a gyro, it’s impossible to escape these stands all over the city. Some are better than others, but a decent kebap can be had for about 2.50, and will keep you full for the rest of the night. These too, are usually full of vegetables and can even be had in vegetarian-only versions. Pizza: There’s a lot of Italian influence here, and it shows. You can dig into huge, Italian-style pizzas (read: super thin crust) for anywhere from 2.70 to 4 euro. They’re quick, easy, tasty, and there’s endless variety. Always a good option!

Bad food: Unfortunately, I’ve had my share of just-ok food here already. The worst was yesterday. We visited a fast food fish restaurant called Nordsee (yeah, it already sounds bad, I know). I wanted a shrimp salad but instead opted for a newspaper-wrapped fish and chips. In the photograph, it was accompanied by a small dollop of tartar sauce. I thought this would be a good idea. In the end, what I got was three tiny chicken-nugget-sized bits of some nameless fish, some greasy fries, and then the lady asked what kind of sauce I’d like. I opted for garlic. She turned to put the sauce on, and started a conversation with one of the other workers. As she was chatting with the other lady, I saw her ladle a HUGE spoonful of what looked like mayonnaise onto the top of my newspaper cone. I was already horrified, but couldn’t interrupt her….and then she went back for ladle #2. I was already sickened just looking at it, and hoped that it hadn’t all dripped down to the bottom of the cone and I could salvage some of my too-expensive, over-fried meal. No such luck. I managed to swallow the fish nuggets and two or three salvaged fries. The rest sat sadly congealing on my plate while Carlos ate his slightly less greasy meal, and then into the trash they went. I felt sick for quite a while afterwards, despite not having eating any of that. Yuck. Needless to say, I will not be visiting Nordsee again!

German food: The German food in general has been okay. Nothing has seemed truly “traditional,” though we’ve had the misfortune of being able to try the infamous sauerkraut, and the sausages, sauces, and thick noodles of the dishes we’ve tried have sent us straight to the bathroom (TMI again). Anyway, it’s hard to find good German food anyway, so I think we’ll probably have to look for those things in other cities, when we finally get a chance to visit a little bit more of Germany. Until then, it will be pretzels and bratwurst for me!

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little guide. If any of you ever come to Berlin/Germany, maybe it’ll help you out. If not, maybe it’ll get your mouths watering for a good ol’ fashioned brat on the grill…or…pretzel…on the grill…or….sauerkraut? Well, anyway….guten apetit!

culture confusion

You know, Europe is quite a mosaic of different cultures, languages, traditions, etc., and these variations often mix together as even the most remote corners of the globe become esasily accessible, connected to the internet, and assimilated into Western/popular/European/capitalist culture.

This can be seen, if nowhere else, in the grocery store. In Spain, packaged goods in supermarkets were always printed in the four languages of the country -Spanish, Catalan, Euskera, and Gallego- if not more. In one store, products were printed with Spanish and Portuguese titles, although sometimes Danish or something else weird would slip in there.

Here in Berlin, we recently bought a box of cereal called FAMILI Fruit Flakes. FAMILI was the brand, so I’ll let the weird spelling slide (even though it’s not the correct spelling in German, either). Okay, so the cereal was called “Fruit Flakes” and underneath, it had a description in English, something like “crunchy whole wheat flakes with fruit,” something along those lines. It also had a badge announcing that it was “the balanced breakfast.” This was all that appeared on the front. On the rest of the box, in the ingredient list, nutrition facts, etc. English was nowhere to be found. Instead, there were eight different languages, including German, Russian, Polish, Czech, Swedish, and some others (even Portuguese, which is exceedingly strange). None of this information appeared in English anywhere on the box. So basically, you could buy something called Fruit Flakes, although you have no idea what’s really in it, OR you can buy some funny-name cereal you don’t understand, but at least you’ll know exactly how many calories are in a serving. WEIRD.

THEN, to add to the strangeness, I was looking for jobs on a European website today. The website is designed for Europeans looking for jobs in other European countries, so needless to say, there were a lot of different languages represented. There were tons of ads for jobs in Germany…in French. Or Finnish, which is definitely one of the weirdest languages I’ve ever seen, and looks something like this: jjkkkkäääkkyyyykk. Yep.

Well, there was one ad that caught my eye for the sheer weirdness: this job’s duties included “clearance of First and Second World War ammunition and explosives, ashore and underwater.” They were looking for people to dive into the water and disarm/remove unexploded submarine missiles, etc.etc. Whoa. Actually, I recently read that one study estimates that in Berlin alone, there are something around 15,000 unexploded mines, bombs, etc. I’m not sure how reliable that number is, but I’m sure there are quite a few.

But the next ad was even weirder. It was sponsored by a UK company, was an opening for a job somewhere in Germany, and included maintenance and repair of US military vehicles. ?! Yes, apparently, we have British workers, in Germany, repairing our military vehicles, which probably shouldn’t be anywhere near Germany anyway. And, it said “pension available.” Where? Guantanamo Bay?

Wow. It’s a small, very strange, multi-lingual (in Finnish:mkkkyyyää-liiiäkkyyj) world.

in a few words

Good Things about Berlin:

1. Blackberries! Cranberry juice! Bagels! All those foods that were once mere mirages across the ocean are now actual tasty realities!

2. Brunch…yes, there’s definitely a food theme here. Oh, how I’ve missed American breakfasts, pancake houses, all-you-can-eat buffets, potatoes in the morning! Many locations offer Sunday brunches with a wide variety of hot and cold dishes, and some even have ethnic themes, so if you want a Russian, Korean, or Serbian breakfast, you can find it here. If you just want fruit and toast, you can get that too.

3. Diversity: Here you can get any kind of ethnic food (again with the food) you can imagine. You can hear Spanish, Italian, and English…you can learn Wolof, yoga, and belly dance. International artists perform here, people from all over the world meet here. It’s definitely cosmopolitan.

4. Berlin is full of hidden beauty. Because it’s not a traditionally beautiful place, that makes it more of a challenge to find the most beautiful corners of this vast metropolis. And it does have beautiful corners; behind torn-down Walls, construction sites, and ruins, there are quiet oases of light and trees and flowers and architecture and color, so much color. It just makes it that much more worthwhile when you stumble across Berlin’s jewels.

Not-so-Good Things about Berlin:

1. Mullets, mohawks, and moustaches, oh my! Apparently the infamous Wall blocked more than just politics. People here are finding out too late that mullets and Dali-esque moustaches are no longer in style…some of them still haven’t gotten the memo.

2. Prices: So confusing. Prices for fruit are sometimes per kilo (as is normal), soemtimes per 500gr. You never know which it’ll be. Also, they have this thing called the Pfand, which is the return you get for plastic bottles and such. Sometimes it’s included, sometimes it isn’t, so you pick up a 20-cent bottle of water and when you get to the register, it’s 50 cents. Ridiculous.

3. Diversity: Sure, you can get things from all over the world…what you can’t get is anything German. There are few restaurants serving “traditional” German food; as soon as native Germans hear you struggling in broken German, they immediately switch to English, not even giving you a chance to whip out your handy German phrasebook. Sure, there’s beer (LOTS of beer), but it doesn’t go much farther than that. Of course, Berlin has historically been a safe haven for the un-German among the population (i.e. immigrants, Jews, punks, gays, etc.), so I guess it’s fitting to continue the tradition.

4. Graffiti: Oh my god, Berliners will tattoo anything and everything. And I mean, everything. I would say that they add graffiti to everything that’s not tied down, but actually, they paint moving vehicles too. I’ve seen buses, walls, roofs, vans, TVs, windows, sidewalks, and the inside of subway stations (where you think you’d get electrocuted trying to get across) plastered with all manner of tags. I really like graffiti and think it’s generally undervalued as a valid art form, but there’s a difference between a spray-painted mural with a message, and someone who’s written their name over every feasible surface in the city. I’m planning on creating a graffiti photo album with shots of some of the most interesting works of street artists.

There are so many more things to be added to this list – it’s just a starting point to give you an idea of the day-to-day here…oh, Berlin!

Photos are here!

Photos of Berlin as well as Apostolo, the last festival we celebrated right before our departure from Santiago, are here!

These are just a taste, since there are still many places I haven’t been yet, and my camera’s been a little goofy lately. There’s still quite a lot of Berlin to explore, as well as a lot of Germany.

Soon…Oktoberfest???