Archive for June, 2009


Ich wohne im Kiez Pankow

This sign is on the street that leads to where I live, about one bus stop away.

Ku'damm/Pankow

Ku'damm/Pankow

Do you understand it?

Of course not, Kara, it’s in German.

But I bet, even after I translate it for you, you still won’t get what it means:
Glasses like on Ku’damm, Prices like in Pankow.

Pankow? Ku’damm? What?

This sign, which displays an apparently successful marketing slogan, since it’s painted directly onto the window’s glass, exploits Berlin neighborhood stereotypes to sell its products, which are eyeglasses.

Neighborhood (Nachbarschaft), City-quarter (Stadtviertel), Area (Bezirk) … however you entitle it, for city-dwellers, your neighborhood says a lot. It says a lot about who you are, your personality, how much money you make, what you value, etc. There are real differences.

I guess I didn’t really get it until I lived in Kansas City. I mean, in Nampa (ID) or Bourbonnais (IL) or Thornlands (QLD), we had streets and housing developments, but we didn’t usually know their specific names. Or if we did, it was really just a matter of how big the houses were there. But when I lived in Kansas City, you could tell a Lenexa person from a Westport person, not to mention the distinctions between Plaza, Brookside, Waldo, etc. Of course, there are big exceptions, as in the case of any sweeping stereotype. But these neighborhood personalities have always been interesting to me.

In New York, there’s Chelsea, the Village (and its various sub-parts), the Upper East Side, etc., etc. In Washington D.C., there’s Rosslyn, Georgetown, Adams Morgan, etc. etc. You name the city, you’ve got neighborhoods and their accompanying personalities.

Berlin is no exception. In fact, the neighborhood distinctions may be even more pronounced than in the U.S. because they’re entwined in the much longer historical expansion of the city (and its formerly growing city wall) and because, much later, the infamous Berlin wall served to effectively isolate certain portions of the city from one another for long enough that their “cross-pollination” was seriously hindered. I’m not sure whether the broad-reaching and often complete destruction that was experienced at the end of WWII eliminated some of the architectural signals of these distinct neighborhoods, or if the reconstruction that took place in the districts illustrates their differences.

In Berlin, a neighborhood is called a “Kiez” (pronounced keets).

Okay, this bear has nothing to do with neighborhoods, but EVERYTHING to do with Berlin. He's one of the city's mascots: a Berliner Bear. A gift from the city of Bern, Switzerland (which shares the Bear mascot).

Okay, this bear has nothing to do with neighborhoods, but EVERYTHING to do with Berlin. He's one of the city's mascots: a Berliner Bear. A gift from the city of Bern, Switzerland (which shares the Bear mascot).

When I visited the Rote Rathaus (Red Courthouse) on Alexanderplatz, there were these awesome windows that illustrate the symbols for Berlin’s various neighborhoods. I thought I’d post the pictures I took here and cite some of my (foreigner’s) impressions of what each Kiez is typified as/known for. Some of this is informed by Germans with whom I’ve spoken or by whom I’ve been taught.

Mitte - See the bears? (Told you!)

Mitte - See the bears? (Told you!)

Mitte (pronounced Mit-teh) means “middle” or “center.” It’s the center of city and the axis from which the roads branch outwards like spokes on a wheel. In the earliest days, what is now Berlin was actually Berlin and Cölln, two tiny towns separated by the Spree River, each with a Rathaus (courthouse), Cathedral, and a monastery. Very little remains of these early towns and they were both so small that their medieval boundaries would not even comprise today’s compact Mitte. My class/Goethe-Institut is in Mitte, as are tons of museums, historical buildings, and shops. People live here, too, it’s got a very metropolitan feel. Berlin’s Mitte was badly damaged in the bombardment in the end of WWII, so that it was a wasteland taken over by the Soviet government, with the division of Berlin post-war (4 sectors: Soviet, American, British, French; Soviet = East Berlin, which was the worst damaged in the war; the other three = West Berlin). Many repairs were made, but the damage was so extreme that many buildings were razed or are still being repaired today. The mixture of old and new in Mitte is interesting, one should always look for the tell-tale Communist architecture, the Plattenbau, which are pre-fabricated buildings, now known for their ugly boxy-grayness. Alexanderplatz is central in Mitte, and is a mish-mash of Soviet-styled workers buildings (Haus des Lehrers, for example), modern, western shopping centers (like Alexa), small cafes here and there, and a public transportation hub. From wherever you are in Berlin, if you locate the towering Fernsehturm (TV Tower), you’ll know where Mitte is.

Prenzlauer Berg - so named because of its miniscule mountain (Berg)

Prenzlauer Berg - so named because of its miniscule mountain (Berg)

Prenzlauer Berg (pronounced Prince-low-eh Bay-ugh; “low” as in cow) is, nowadays, a hip neighborhood occupied by young people and young families. It has lots of great cafes and shops that are available in the day time. In the evenings, it’s a key locale for the Berlin Szene (scene, clubs, parties). Formerly a fairly working-class, East Berlin place, after the fall of the Wall, cheap rent attracted a young crowd. Businesses and a sense of “hip-ness” followed. There are a lot of old buildings in this Kiez, so not everything is DDR (Deutsche/German Democratic Republic = East Germany) Plattenbauten. I live right on the edge of Prenzlauer Berg. The Kiez was very involved with the resistance movement that developed in the DDR era. Two churches in particular, Zionskirche (where Bonhoeffer had been in the late 1930s) and Gethsemanekirche, led the peaceful revolt against the growing repression of the regime and were key in the events of Herbst ’89 (the Autumn of 1989).

Pankow - where I live

Pankow - where I live

Pankow (pronounced Pahn-koe) is where I live. It’s just north of Prenzlauer Berg and remains a fairly middle-class/working-class neighborhood. It’s not flashy, but has neighborhood shops, cafes, and small parks. It’s got some old architecture, but was also home to a lot of state officials during the DDR era. Things aren’t open too late and some people dress in an ’80s throw-back style. That’s how I can tell that some of the old East German markers aren’t dead yet. Yet, the Obst und Gemüse Laden (fresh produce shop) down the road is run by a Vietnamese family and the bakery around the corner is owned by a Turkish family, whereas immigrant really weren’t prevalent in the DDR. Times are changing. They’re just changing slower here, much slower than in Prenzlauer Berg or Friedrichshain, for example.

Friedrichshain - The bridge depicted is the Oberbaumbrücke

Friedrichshain - The bridge depicted is the Oberbaumbrücke

Friedrichshain (pronounced Freed-ricks-hine) is becoming hip-ified, but has a long history as a grimy working-class neighborhood. Workers movements and communist affiliations ran deep here. In fact, most of the dwellings were so unappealing, unrenovated, and decrepit, that many stood abandoned during the DDR era, in favor of the more modern Plattenbauten in other areas. So, after the wall fell, the dilapidated, long-empty buildings attracted squatters, usually of the young, anti-establishment sort. Anarchists, punks, and nonconformists abound in the imperially named Kiez. If you visit, I’d highly recommend scouting out some of the awesome street art/graffiti to be found adorning buildings. Be aware that the use of the colors red and black is an anarchistic symbol, which will give you an idea of the meaning behind some of the art. Don’t expect it to be too rough, though, the neighborhood is softening. As an example, I saw an extremely pierced and tattooed punk couple pushing a nice, new stroller and walking a well-groomed dog.

Tiergarten - There's the Tier!

Tiergarten - There's the Tier!

Tiergarten (pronounced Teah-gah-ten) is home to … tada … the Tiergarten, which is a park for which this area is named. Tiergarten means, literally, “animal garden,” and was formerly the royal hunting grounds. Now, it’s just a rambling, expansive city park, filled with ornate monuments. Especially on weekends, it’s packed with people grilling out, playing sports, chatting, or sunbathing. I hear that nudity is permitted in the park, but I’ve yet to see it. In regard to the Kiez itself, I don’t have a feel for its personality. It feels more professional and governmental than residential, but I may be merely citing what I have seen there. That is, many government buildings line its eastern edge (closest to Mitte), as does the iconic Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). Potsdamer Platz – the once glorious and central home to the first stoplight in Germany; then after the war and division by an ugly wall, a virtual wasteland; and now once again an architecturally modern marvel – is also on the edge of this neighborhood.

Charlottenburg - home to a palace and other lovely things

Charlottenburg - home to a palace and other lovely things

Charlottenburg is Berlin’s equivalent of New York’s Upper East Side. It’s wealthy, it’s western, it’s capitalistic, it’s pretty, it’s sophisticated. In Charlottenburg is Ku’damm, that is, Kurfürstendamm (which means, literally, Elector’s/Viscount’s wall), which is kind of like saying “Fifth Avenue.” It is fashionable and elite. When I stepped out of the U-Bahn onto Ku’damm, I literally could not believe I was still in Berlin. I’m not saying that Berlin is grimy – it’s not – but this was like … picture perfect Paris, kind of. The first stores I saw were Tommy Hilfiger and Starbucks, if that indicates anything.

Maybe now you can understand the meaning of the above ad. It’s like seeing an eyewear shop on Long Island that says, “Glasses like on Fifth Avenue, Prices like in Queens.”

I am, unfortunately, a little sick. I’ve caught a cold.

Sooooooooo, I might just reverse my horrible record and write a few make-up posts before Charlie arrives on Saturday. It’s a shame to use my last solo days in Berlin sleeping and hovering around online, but it’s better thank coughing in my dear husband’s newly-arrived face, I reckon. I’ll keep you posted.

Where am I?

Where am I?

Doesn’t this look like a beautiful place? Wouldn’t you like to know where I am?

But you can’t. Because I never blog about what I do.

Wait, who are these Germans?

Wait, who are these Germans?

And wouldn’t it be nice to know to whom these heads belong? “Where might I see such fine heads as these, young lady?” you may ask. Ha. But I don’t answer in blog form.

Pale white before the dome ...

Pale white before the dome ...

What, pray tell, is that monolith of a structure behind Kara, you may ask. But I won’t answer. Nope, I’m the laziest blogger ever.

Wait, is that ... ?

Wait, is that ... ?

And where does this gigantic temple come from? The name of the museum would give it away, but don’t get your hopes up, because I won’t be talking about it.

That’s right, because I’m lazy.

Ich beschäftige mich mit meinem Sprachkurs, aber ich werde alles vergessen, was ich in Berlin gesehen habe. Leider ist es vielleicht so.

This blogging thing has me so scattered it’s not even funny. I have so much more Berlin to talk about, yet I was inspired to share these amusing photos displaying my celebrity. I apparently am the namesake of a store in Prague. I have since looked it up and have discovered that my name means “cart” in Czech. I think that’s a little less glorious than Kara meaning “black” in Turkish. Nevertheless.

(Obviously, more on Berlin, food, and Prague later.)

KARA

KARA

There I was in Prague on Monday, June 1, absolutely lost, running out of time to find an entrance to an underground Metro station, which I needed because my booked train back to Berlin was leaving in less than 30 minutes. I was starting to get really freaked out when I saw this:

A male model and Kara

A male model and Kara

What?!

Kara? Hello … ?

I couldn’t help but stop in my tracks and smile. All my nervous-travel-anxiety melted away. It, and the first photo, were like a beacon of hope for me. I’d had a great weekend in Prague, but I was very conscious of being alone. And pretty clueless in the Czech language, to boot. (About all I could manage was a word that sounds like “Ahoy” and means both “hello” and “goodbye.”)

I pulled out my iPhone, snapped these two pictures, then looked up and saw my metro entrance, Mustek. I breathed a sigh of relief and made my next two connections in record time (with some unfortunate sprinting up one of the longest escalators ever) in order to–at the last second–slide through closing doors of an almost-departing train. But I did it.

I felt like a traveling Wunderkind. I defied the odds: 1) was lost alone in a city where I speak one word of the local language; 2) am already a nervous traveler regarding departure times [just ask poor Charlie! But, I say, it’s with good reason: I’ve missed a few flights, etc., in my day]; 3) time was dwindling; and, 4) a miraculous store with my name directed me with its signs to the right entrance to the public transportation!

And then I arrived at my outbound train station, Praha Solevice, about 4 minutes before the scheduled departure of my train to Berlin …

and discovered that my departure was delayed 25 minutes anyway. Impromptu stair sprints and miracle store signs may not have been necessary after all.

But still. I am kind of a big deal in Prague.

I wrote the following brief biography of my dear husband Charlie for class on the 11th of May. My writing in German has likely improved greatly since then … but I still thought I’d put it up here. 🙂 And, no, I won’t translate it for you. I have many friends who claim they want to practice their German. Here’s the easiest way to do so: Baby-Deutsch.

The last photo we took together before my departure for Berlin.

The last photo we took together before my departure for Berlin.

Mein Mann heißt Charlie. Er ist Amerikaner und kommt aus dem Staat New Mexico, der im Südwesten der U.S.A. liegt. Er wuchs auf einer Ranch auf und war deshalb natürlich ein “Cowboy.” Aber als er 18 Jahre alt war, wünschte er ganz weit von der Wüste wegzugehen. Er studierte Religion an einer Universität im südlichen Kalifornien, in der Stadt San Diego. Er hatte den Ozean viel lieber als das Leben mit Vieh und Pferden.

Charlie machte mir einen Heiratsantrag auf dem “Observation-Deck” des Empire State Buildings. Natürlich sagte ich: Ja! Obwohl es in Filmen viele Heiratsanträge am selben Ort gibt, überraschte er mich!

Jetzt arbeitet Charlie bei der Kirche als Pastor für Jugendliche von 14 bis 18 Jahren alt. In seinem Beruf muss man freundlich und geduldig sein. Er ist beides. Obwohl seine Frau oft zu genau and nervös ist, ist Charlie fast immer ruhig und lässig. Er ist auch kreativ und macht graphische Kunst. Am liebsten schaut und dreht er Filme.

Am 27. Juni wird er erstmals nach Deutschland reisen!

“Wir backen – Sie genießen” = We bake, you enjoy. (I have been trying to translate that into a rhyming slogan. I’ve come up with a couple: We bake, you intake! or We flavor, you savor! But I guess it doesn’t really rhyme in German, so why should it in English?)

I believe love for BRIE more than cancels out hatred for cold sandwiches.

I believe love for BRIE more than cancels out hatred for cold sandwiches.

I should first admit that deutsche Bäckereien (German bakeries) may just be my downfall. They are all havens of tasty German baking, filled with sweets, beautifully designed and displayed sandwiches, and usually have some variety of cappuccino or coffee to be had. In the last category, my neighborhood bakery lacks a little. John’s Bäckerei (around the corner of Berliner Straße and Elsa-Brändström-Straße, near the Vinetastraße U-Bahn Station) only has brewed coffee these days and weak brewed coffee at best. (I believe their cappuccino machine is broken; Or at least I believe that’s what I understood the nice employee to have told me in German on my first visit.) BUT I consider that merely a thoughtful cost-saving measure on their part. I need to cut back on coffee purchases.

Their baked goods, however, are amazing.

See them peeking out from under their wrapping?

See them peeking out from under their wrapping?

My first visit, I bought two half-sandwiches, which were both very filling.

The sweets case looked so good I couldn’t resist. But it was also difficult to decide! I asked the girl working in the bakery if she could recommend something. Or, more likely, I muttered an incomprehensible phrase that ended with an intonation upswing and included the word “Spezialität.” That would account for why she seemed flustered at my question (read: I made no sense) and why she eventually got what I was asking for and recommended something (read: I said the word I “Spezialität,” that is, specialty.)

She mentioned that since John’s Bäckerei is an East-Berliner bakery (that is, it was in the Eastern portion of Berlin when the city was divided by the wall; What Americans typically call “East Germany,” is more properly referred to as the former DDR, the German Democratic Republic, as opposed to the BRD/Bundesrepublik Deutschland/West Germany), it has some specialties that you won’t find in West-Berliner bakeries. One is what I think was called a hazelnut torte. (I will check and report back.) Of course, I bought just that. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of it. I believe that was because I saved it to eat until late at night when I was tired and not thinking clearly.

They package their goods so nicely.

They package their goods so nicely.

You can’t see it through the bag, but imagine that it’s a layered petit-four with hazelnut flavored frosting dividing each layer. It is covered by a sugary hard icing, but is soft and cakey inside. I guess I’ll just have to buy another to photograph it.

The open-faced sandwiches are delightful to behold. I’ve had them for lunch twice. I belieeeeeeeeve that today I ate liverwurst, but I’m trying to ignore that fact.

I’ve also had two other sweets there that I’ve failed to photograph. Oh, and one cup of the horrid coffee. But that was better undocumented. I wonder, though, why I’m not taking pictures of all the baked goods I’m consuming? Could it be guilt and shame at eating so many empty calories? I bet so. I’ll try, however, to write down their names the next time I’m there. Which will conveniently allow me not only to take more pictures, but to try something else sweet or savory (süß oder salzig), or both.

Admittedly, I don't know what this is. I believe I saw "Leberwurst" on the sign ...

Admittedly, I don’t know what this is. I believe I saw “Leberwurst” on the sign …

I also bought a loaf of bread to take to a party tonight. It’s all WAY more affordable than American bread of this quality (way, way, way). That’s partially because German food is more consistently bread-based and, secondarily, because they refuse to eat junk-fluff-Wonder-bread. Who can blame them? So, there are tons of loaf options in German bakeries. I settled on the Steinofen Brot (stone-oven bread), which looked hearty and crusty. It cost less than 2 Euros. And when I picked it up to bring it home, I was astonished. It was heavy! Like, several pounds! (I really don’t eat bread that much at home! Should I have known that it would have the feel of carrying a baby!?)

Steinofen Brot

Steinofen Brot

I’ve been in many a German bakery, but I like John’s because of its sense of place (they don’t have every kind of sandwich or sweet pastry, but the kinds they make are local and beautiful), because its employees are kind and patient (geduldig) with my slow German, and—most importantly—because their baked goods taste so stinking good.

Ich bin ein Löwe!    (Rawr)

Ich bin ein Löwe! (Rawr)

Okay, okay! I get it. I may not be cut out for this blogging thing. I’ve got to start thinking of it as a series of smaller projects. Such an approach has NOT, however, revolutionized my success as at keeping my house clean, so I don’t expect fabulous results here either.

My blog has been silent. But rest assured that I have not. I speak German here nearly as much as I speak English when at home. My chatterbox status translates, I guess, to any linguistic platform. The frequent speaking helps, I think, but I make tons of mistakes, focusing rather on getting my idea across. The biggest difference in my talkativeness here, I guess, is that I sound like a poorly-educated foreign child, whereas at home I’m at least occasionally articulate.

I’ve actually been doing SO much every day that it now seems insurmountable to go back in blogging and catch up on everything I’ve done, so I’m just going to do posts as they strike me, hopefully more frequently, and allow things to flow a little more naturally. Apparently adding perceived blog-homework to my already full Berlin-days sparked a little rebellious streak in me.

(Lass mich in Ruhe! is literally “Leave me in peace!” but is better translated translated, “Leave me alone!” I added a “please” to be polite: that’s the “bitte” part. I’m not telling YOU, my few, actual readers, to leave me alone or to stop attempting to read my blog. But such a comment is aimed at my imagined reader who–in my mind–thinks my posts are too trivial or too infrequent or must be beautifully crafted in order to deserve posting. I don’t mean to direct my lion’s roar at any real person, honest.)