Monthly Archives: November 2010

Grateful on Gruenbergerstrasse

And the truthahn is gefroren.
Have fun Googling that.

It’s Thanksgiving in Berlin. Well, it’s Thanksgiving in my room, and I am grateful for the little box that arrived from the US yesterday filled with birthday presents, cranberry sauce, a couple of sweet potatoes (?!), dates, Stovetop stuffing, pumpkin scone mix (just add wasser!) a canned ham (?!), a jar of peanut butter and a paper tablecloth and napkin set with turkeys on it. Thanks, Mom.

But perhaps today I’m even more grateful for what woke me up this morning. No, it wasn’t a sound check at the J√•gerklause (lucky for them), or a circular saw across the hall (that was yesterday), but rather SUNLIGHT. I’m not exactly sure what I did to call up such a phenomenon, but today, after snow and gloomy darkness just hours before, in all it’s cloudless sky glory the sun was out. Lucie Belle! Wake up! Get your chain on and let’s go!

Bundled against the -5C temp and wind, Lucie Belle (that’s my bike for those of you who think I’ve recently shacked up with a Southern girl) and I hit the pavement and headed to Prenzlaurburg Allee in search of a turkey, a bookstore, and a projector. Agreed, that list is about as random as any list of mine on any given day in Berlin. It’s part of the adventure, the challenge, the charm, but I digress…

berlin sun

And so it was, a sunny Thanksgiving day, doing what I love to do most here, which is ride my bike aimlessly (sort of) around Berlin, breathing in the construction dust, the car exhaust, freezing my ass off and trying not to get run over by an ambulance or a trash truck, or another biker (I’m still working on my Berlin Bike Etiquette. The rules are in German. Gimme a break).

Did I find the turkey? Yep. And it was, not unlike my very first Thanksgiving dinner on my own, still frozen. Did I find the bookstore? Well, I found A bookstore where the OTHER bookstore was supposed to be but no, I guess I didn’t. Did I find a projector to rent for my upcoming show this weekend? Lots of them. Very expensive ones. And not unlike most things European, the price online and the price for showing up with a US Passport spans miles. And no sir, I do not have a eurocard or a registration or whatever it is you want me to present to secure the rental or $100 euros deposit in cash please stop flailing your hands at me and muttering in German I’m standing right here.

So, did I arrive home empty-handed and downtrodden? Not in the slightest. A secret little Christmas Market, at the end of the narrow Allee of W√∏rtherstrasse had cr√©pes to order. Kinda got used to a couple of those a day in Paris last weekend (sigh). And so I had not one but TWO. Pretty satisfied with my aprikose fix (that’s apricot jam to you gringos), I headed down another side street, a shortcut, to the Allee that would return me to my warm apartment and a cup of tea (and my box of grateful goodies), and there it was.

A tree.
A magical, magnificent, wonderful tree.
A tree that would send my dear friend Susan into fits of giggles and snorts.
A tree with tiny little doors to tiny little compartments, filled with books.

booktree in berlin

A take one, leave one book tree, and it’s sole purpose was to share the love of reading with anyone walking or pedaling by.¬† Two in English found their way into Lucie Belle’s basket, and over the river and through the “woods” to our Berlin home we rode. Barely able to feel fingers or toes and happier for it. Choking on Ubahn-encrusted air. Sunshine on my face for the first time in almost a month. Stovetop stuffing in my room. Eternally grateful for all of it. All of it.

Happy Thanksgiving to the many I love both near and far.
Ian, don’t you DARE touch my plate.


Flohmarkt Finds. A Sonntag in Fotos.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Germenglish, what that translates to is, “Flea market finds … A Sunday in Pictures.” But you probably guessed that. Flea markets here are all the rage. There a big ones, little ones, Saturday ones and Sunday ones. There are ones on Tuesdays and Fridays, and ones just for food and household goods and ones just for bikes. Berliners apparently love a bargain, have a lot of junk with some cool stuff mixed in, and they are not afraid to put up a tent. Wanna learn German? Haggle. And so it was this past Sunday that I found myself with a couple of friends, roaming around, blinded by the most sun we’ve had since arriving, haggling away at one of the largest flea markets in the city, the Mauerpark Flohmarkt.

It was dirty. It was crowded. It was a ridiculous mess. But it was a treasure trove. There was something for everyone. And I mean EVERYONE. And they bring it all home on the tram. We found appliances, and furniture, and enough dishes to outfit a town full of kitchens. Clothes upon clothes, shoes upon shoes, a stack of old family photo albums next to stacks of old Playboys. It was a photojournalist’s dream, and really, photographs might be the best way to show you my Sunday…

There were photos...

... fresh food

... hats (heads extra)

... shoes

... your P's

... your Q's

... cameras

... carry-ons

... crap

... flying things

... fun food

... frames

... forks

... SUN!

... a few more hats

... kites

... kids (this punk wanted a $1 from me. For taking a photo of Stewie Griffin)

… and Karaoke. (click to watch it!)

When Yer Here, Yer Family

Our second evening in our new home had been designated as our “meeting” night with the folks who run this place. We were to meet at 5, introduce ourselves, and basically ask any questions we might have. Since we had already been living together about 24 hours, we were past the introductions (and had more questions than could be answered in one night), and so I suggested that since we were all going to be together at the same time, it could be a family dinner night of sorts.

I guess Gal Foodie can’t help herself.

I trekked off to the Kaiser, the local grocery store, and for the next 2 hours (yes TWO) I proceeded to try and buy pasta and sauce and vegetables to make a dish that would feed about 12 people. It was exhausting, but so much fun to peruse the aisles of everything German. There was the Barillo pasta and the Bertolli sauce, but the rest of it was pretty much a mystery. I’ll write a bit more in a separate post about my food excursions. Let’s get back to dinner.

I arrived in the kitchen and started to cook. I finally felt at home. I was doing my thing. I was feeding people. It was as familiar as I could get. It started to smell great. More food arrived from the other kitchen down the hall. People arrived. Wine arrived. The table was set. We sat down.

We’re all here. And for the next 7 weeks, we’re all family.

(from L to R around the table) Ariel, Caroline, Susana, Ron, Gary, Julia, Rudolf, Antje, Johannes, Ryan, Chris

Sprechen Sie Englisch??

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I know what fear looks like.
And I know how to drag it out of every German in East Berlin.

Sprechen Sie Englisch??

On our second day in town, my pal Ron and I walked down Karl Marx Allee, right down the boulevard of Soviet Power, towards Alexanderplatz. We scouted around this famous boulevard, checking out the glamorous new shops and galleries that have moved into this otherwise very austere neighborhood since the fall of the wall. We found a little antique store that had a shoebox collection of old black and white photos from the early years, before the war, and some even during. I was ecstatic. I needed the whole box. For what, I had no idea. But it was just so ridiculously delicious I needed it.

Sprechen Sie Englisch??

And there it was. Eyes wide pools of fear, a grimace, a grunt, a slight look of contempt, a wave of the hands for no, the mutual acknowledgment between us that gestures and sounds are going to have to do. A shrug for us both. My worst fear. His worst fear. But we’re in this together. I want the photos. He wants my Euros. We soldier on…

How much for this whole box? I make the gestures with my hands for bills between fingers and I lift the box. He digs through. Grabs a piece of paper, and writes down 80 euros. Oh. That’s about $130 US dollars. Nope. I shake my head. He pulls a few out and somehow I understand that a few of the items in the box are very valuable. Very historic. Very expensive. Ok. I’ll come back. I’ll come back? Ron, help. Return? Ah! Zur√ºkkehren! Yes! I mean, Ja. I mean, we’ll be back. Oh boy. Nobody speaks English. Myth. Busted.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

“Is that the doorbell? Can someone get the door?”

“I’ll get the door? I just pick up the receiver right? Hello? ”


“There’s no one here by that name.”

“Caroline at Takt?”

“I’m sorry, but there is no one here named Caroline. Maybe she’s supposed to be here, But she’s not here. Ok?”

“No! No!”

“No? What then?”

“It’s MEEEEE, Caroline!”

And so it was, at the bottom of the stairs. Sweet Caroline. Our little gypsy girl from Manchester, England. With as many bags as we had all arrived with combined. The youngest of us all. Dressed in pink with matching Barbie shoe earrings, exhausted, giggling, rambling away and not making much sense, but with the most adorable smile. It was hard not raise one eyebrow while immediately falling in love. Welcome home, Caroline.

Caroline's Room

Gruenberger Strasse 1

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I arrived with my roll-y bags dragging behind me at the front door of Gruenberger Str. 1, in the neighborhood of Friedrichshain, in East Berlin, in former East Germany. That’d be the other side o’ the wall, kids. It was my first time in the city with daylight, having arrived the night before, and I’m not exactly sure what I expected, so I don’t really know if I was surprised to see the sky so dark and heavy and the architecture and streets so stern and cold. The front door to my new home already had luggage and canvases spilling around it, and I saw a very Swedish looking gentleman unloading a taxi. My roomie, Rudolf.

Gary, a former Takt resident, had decided a few years back to stay in Berlin. He goes back to London every so often to do a little work, but he always finds his way back to Berlin, and his sweet Julia. He let us in, with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his jaw, and welcomed us up the stairs with all our gear.


Upstairs, in our new home, Rudolf and I were introduced to Ron from Ohio, Chris from Atlanta, Roxanne, his girlfriend who was staying at another residency, Susana from Venezuela, Ryan from Toronto, and Ariel from France. Everyone looked about how I felt – a little tired, a little nervous, a little unsettled… but with Gary’s charming British accent, even more charming cigarette butt and hilarious anecdotes about Berlin, we were all around the kitchen table in no time, sharing our stories. We all agreed immediately that we were sure to be the best of friends. That we had lucked out. Apparently the last group did not get along, and I can’t imagine, in this small, shared environment full of creative personalities, how miserable that could have been. Johannes arrived not much later from the Netherlands, and that left one more who would arrive the following day – a wildcard we had yet to even know how much we would love. A few of us decided to follow Ryan to a pizza place and grab some lunch. Ryan had already been here about a month and we followed him down the street like a bunch of lost lemmings. The cliff is around here somewhere.

It went something like this…
“Ok, look at that! They call it pizza(!). Pizza. What are you having? I don’t know. Pizza I guess. Do you know THAT word. Oh! look, it’s part of that other pizza combination too, number 12, which looks like it might be pepperoni. Or ham. Spinaci? Do you suppose that means spinach? Maybe. Probably. OK, if I order a Classico, I wonder if that has cheese? I would guess it has cheese. But what kind of cheese do you think? Hey! I think that means salami! Oh! I’ll get salami! I don’t like salami on pizza. Gorgonzola. Yes – that’s what that one says. I think. What are you having? I think he wants us to order. I’ll have the spinachi, Oh, did I say that right? Spinakee…”

That went on, to the pizza maker’s delight, for about 15 minutes.
When we finally all settled on a pizza we could understand, our eyes fell to the beer case and BECK’S jumped out as the obvious choice, since it was a label we could wrap our heads around. So, pizza with spinaci and gorgonzola and a Beck’s = $4 euro. 4 people who haven’t slept in a couple of days who just met each other about an hour earlier who don’t speak German who are trying to order pizza and a beer? Priceless.

Ron and Rudolf and Pizza and Bier

We returned to our quarters and began the process of unpacking. We all agreed immediately that our rooms felt like giant jail cells. Big, cold, sparse, and made completely of cement. A few began immediately to make it home – Ariel won the prize. Her studio looked in a matter of hours, like she had lived here for years. Mine remained empty. I kinda liked it. It felt like the clean slate I had come here for. Except for the score of finding a leftover rug in one of the common areas, I didn’t do much but slide my work table closer to the windows and call it sehr gut. (Note – I have been here a week and you can be sure my room no longer looks like the photo below.)

Studio #9

Our first night in our new home was a quiet one. We went downstairs to the Jågerklause, a heavy metal bar, that features live music from all over the world. We had a beer. We had a smoke. We had no idea how much we would come to loathe that place.

We called it a nacht.

ACHTUNG! The Adventure Begins…

Monday, November 1, 2010

As I sit here in the Amsterdam airport at 7:30am, having just
voluntarily/involuntarily missed my flight to Berlin, I’m trying to take
what little comfort I can from my grande Starbucks coffee. The one that makes me feel even more hopelessly American…

After spending several pleasant days wandering the streets of Amsterdam, making a few new friends, and landing a new job for a photography magazine, I decided to change my plans on Saturday and not go to Cologne on Sunday for the sake of saving energy and money. I’m freaking out about money actually, since the euro exchange is so terrible. It’s currently 1 euro for $1.60 US. I was not worried about skipping Cologne and all previous travel plans from there to Berlin, because I knew I could jump an EasyJet flight no problem, and on my last check (last week) it was only 29 euros, which I could easily afford. So, on Saturday night, with frustratingly intermittent internet access and a web browser that defaulted to only displaying websites in Dutch, I looked at flights, cars, and trains, deliriously into the early morning hours and could not believe that my EasyJet flight was now $100 euros! OK, fine. I don’t have a choice and the train was just as much, so instead of having to wrestle with my 2 very American roll-y bags, I decided to book the flight. In doing this, I discover at checkout that they charge you per bag. An extra 11 euros. OK, fine, since it also says that baggage cannot exceed 20 kilos, which I know if I split my stuff accordingly, I will be just as I was on this last flight to Amsterdam from Boston. Worst case, and I mean, WORST case, I’ll have to move a few things from one bag to the other to even it out. I buy the ticket.

I expressed to my Dutch hosts that I was not eager to take the tram back to the train back to the airport, and wasn’t there a shuttle? Yes, indeed there was, right over the canal, down a few blocks, just to the left, you’ll see it… And only $13e! So worth it! So I try to sleep without much success – since my brain and body still want to eat a full dinner at midnight, and not fall asleep until 6am, and I get up at 5am, shower, and sneak out of the house. I start walking. I cross the canal. I walk some more. I cross another canal. It is dark. It is cold. It is too early. My bags are ridiculously cumbersome and not quite as “roll-y” on cobblestones, and even though I have converted one into a backpack, I am still just barely making it. I’m sweaty and my brain is breaking open. I grab my iPhone. The thing I pay AT&T $130 a month for that I can’t actually use overseas without, of course, paying them MORE money. The only thing I have found it good for is finding free wi-fi hotpots as I’m walking past people’s apartments, or Google maps GPS for when i get lost looking for free wi-fi. I bust out the map and see my blinking blue dot, and I’m not anywhere near the Platzenderferdorfenhauserstraatermiester street. So I turn around and a few blocks back in the direction I came, back over a canal, I look down a side street and there is the hotel where the shuttle is. OK. Ok. I climb in, close my eyes, and wish that I could stay in that shuttle forever.

Amsterdam Canals

Arrival at the airport is swift, and I give the driver my $13e ticket money. Actually I hand him $15 and he looks at me, looks at my bags, throws them down, says something in a language that is not Dutch or English or anything I can comprehend word-wise, but I get the point. He wants a bigger tip. I offer him more, but now he is saying something loudly to me and all the people around me and waving his hands in a gesture that tells me to go screw. I think I have insulted him without knowing, my stuff is all over the sidewalk. Oye. Just get me on the plane so I can sleep.

The EasyJet check-in has no line, so I take a few moments to repack the bags to try and even out their weight. The cute little Dutch gal looks at my 2 bags and shakes her head. I pull out my passport and also the receipt from the shuttle driver which I had quickly crammed into my pocket when I was hustling to collect my dashed belongings. I look, and It says $15 euros for the ticket. I was told $13 at the hotel. I have pissed off the driver by not tipping him at all. Karma. Be kind.

Little Debbie Dutch Girl tells me to put my bags on the scale, which I do, and one bag is slightly over. She asks me to repack 1.8 kilos from one bag to the other. 1.8? Really? Oye. OK. So I slide everything off to the side, open it all up, move stuff around (for the second time) And I get back in the now very long line. She weighs them. I’m good. Except now She tells me it is $12e for every kilo over 20 kilos. OK, I say, I am under 20 kilos now for each bag. I paid to check 2 bags. Yes, she says, you did. But in TOTAL we only allow 20 kilos per passenger. She puts both suitcases on the scale and weighs them together. The total? $220 euros to get ONE more suitcase on the plane. That’s more than I paid to get to all of Europe. I look at her, drop a SERIOUS trail of sailor slang, and then tell her in more polite English that there is no way in hell I’m paying her MORE since I paid to check both. She¬† suggests sweetly that I go downstairs, buy ANOTHER suitcase, and repack 18 kilos into THAT, and then carry that on the plane because they have no weight limit for carry-ons. Can’t I then just carry on the one I HAVE? No, she says, you have to get a smaller one but you can make it as heavy as you want. But my stuff clearly will not fit in a SMALLER bag. And then won’t I have THREE suitcases to try and move around but still the same amount of weight on the plane? Helpfully she agrees and then more helpfully she points out that not only should I buy another suitcase, put 18 kilos from the bag I already have into IT, I also will not now be allowed to carry on my laptop bag because I am limited to ONE carry-on item, and that too, must now also fit into the 3rd suitcase. GONG.

Take a deep breath. Do NOT cry. I’m welling up. I need to pee. I need coffee. I need food. I need to get to Berlin. I need to learn to curse in Dutch.

I make the decision to miss my flight. I head to the ticket counter, explain my situation and of course “EasyJet is a nonrefundable airline.” Thank you.
Yes, I saw that in DUTCH on your website.

Train? Car? Anything has to be cheaper. So, off to the train booth and it’s $120e to take the train. Yes, about the same as the plane ticket that I just wasted. (Ma’am it says 20 kilos on the website. Yes, but your website is in DUTCH) Maybe, it would be fun to DRIVE to Berlin and surely that can’t be more than $120 euros for one day. I find the rental cars. There are all the usual suspects, and I don’t really have any fight in me to go from desk to desk working them over one by one. Christ, I haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet. I sit down right where I am on the floor of the airport, pull out the laptop, glare right back at the the ladies wrapped in burkas who clearly wish with their eyes they could just sit on the floor, pay the $3e for 15 minutes of internet access and I start searching. I find that the local company has a car for $90e!! YES! I’m driving to Berlin! This gets me excited, and I’m almost OK with the last 30 miserable minutes of my life. I head to the counter, tell them my plan, show them the online rate. They
shake their head. Sorry. We have a car, you surely can rent it, but there is an $800 euro drop off fee in Berlin. So your one day car rental will be, with taxes and fees, $1000euros. That’s about $1,800 US DOLLARS. Exsqueeeeze me? I check my ears and ask again. Are you F-ING kidding? Cue the gong.

I take another deep breath. I find a bathroom. I wash my sweaty face and now very blistered hands. In the mirror I try to make out the crack in my skull. I need coffee. I also need to get to Berlin.

Back at the train counter, the kindest most motherly of Dutch ladies
reserves me a seat with plenty of room for my bags. She explains how to find the right rail car, which track to go to, and tells me I have an hour and 45 minutes before it leaves. OK.OK. I can do this. Thank you for being my mom for 5 minutes. I won’t cry. Starbucks is the next booth over. No line no waiting. There is coffee in giant steaming cups with apple fritters and pound cake and meaty sandwiches with graphically designed labels in English that I recognize from Seattle. I buy one of all of the above, make it a point to take up an entire table, and look behind me one more time for the mariachi band I expect to find following me around.

I’ll pay for another 15 minutes of internet. Because I realize in all of
this that I have not heard back from the hostel I inquired about on
Saturday. I have no place to stay at the present moment when I get to Berlin later today until tomorrow and I have to figure this part out quick. I have no idea what could possibly happen between here and the train platform. Between the train platform and Berlin. Isn’t that the fun part? Isn’t it?
Isn’t it.

There is a lesson here. I’m not really sure what it is, but I have a few
hours on a train to Berlin to think about it. Maybe 2. Maybe 5. I can’t read the ticket. It’s in German.

There will be no posting this until probably much later. The internet at the airport stopped working. Of course it did.

After enjoying a fritter, chatting up a young Australian gal who is on her way home after 12 months as an au pair, and doing a little ujjayi breathing between sips of Sumatra, I think the lesson is the same one I have learned recently. It costs more to move the things you have, then to just live with the bare essentials and purge and replace as necessary. Didn’t I just go through all of this? Yes. That IS the lesson. I have just now paid for a brand new wardrobe, a nice dinner in Paris, a ticket ticket to Prague, and all I have to show for it is a useless boarding pass. I’m breathing regularly now. The train has civilized tables and plenty of legroom with an outlet. A porter has even stowed my bags for me. The laptop is recharging, the phone is recharging. I am recharging. The fog of Holland is behind me soon. I am surrounded on both sides by flocks of white swans, brown sheep, little thatched-roof barns with Banksy-like characters spray-painted on their sides in wide open green pastures. I can do THIS. I am an expert at starting over.

Until Friedrichshain…

amsterdam to berlin

But wait. There’s more.
I have just arrived in Berlin after a SIX hour train ride in the fog. It was actually quite beautiful to see the fields, the animals and wind farms through a thick haze of grey. But after the 5th hour, I was hungry, I was anxious about arriving in a new city alone at night, GoogleMaps stopped working, and I still had no place to stay. I figured I would just call my back-up person here in the city if I couldn’t get into the hostel. Well wouldn’t you know. Absolutely NO cell service. I had it right up until the train platform and then nothing. I can’t call anywhere from anywhere in this city. Of course not.¬† Oh, and did I mention I got off at the wrong station? Yes. Yes I did. Because Berlin’s main train station sounds just like the East Berlin train station name… In German. The conductor stopped repeating everything in English about 2 minutes after we crossed the border… But I am determined to end this day if not well, and a wonderful taxi driver named Nelson from Ghana takes me past some of the most incredible museums and architectural wonders I have ever seen, all lit up like Vegas, to the hostel and gets me to the front desk. In one piece. The BEST 20 euros I’ve spent in days.

My room is so small that I can’t open the door unless I put my bags on the bed. What $50e a night gets you. Who cares. Food, booze and then I think I’ll just sleep for a week. The residency is a few doors down, so what could possibly happen between there and here?? What?

Until Takt…

Ring the Bells

Friday, October 29th. 2010

I stepped out of Centraal Station today and I remembered all of it. The smell, the light, the buildings, the hot dog stand, all of it. 18 years ago I stepped onto the same sidewalk with the exact same look on my face, I’m sure. Let the bells of the Westerkerk ring. I have arrived. Hello, Amsterdam. I’ve missed you.

Westerkerk Church, Amsterdam

I am sitting in a cafe the name of which I won’t pretend I can pronounce, with my half pint of Amstel and a steaming dish of hutspot meht klapstuk. You can google that for your fun foodie fact. I am delirious from exhaustion. Spent a little time in Iceland this morning. So strange for it to be 8:30am and pitch dark. Met a nice guy on the plane from Boston and we made the last 20 hours together our own adventure. I’m ready to jettison everything but my purse, steal a bike, and ride hooting and hollering with glee down the little path along the canals.¬† My friends left before I arrived, so the neighbor let me into their apartment which is just a few doors down from Anne Frank’s attic, to find that they had left maps and museum passes and internet access. Home sweet home for the next 3 days. I’ll wander some. Find some art. Maybe find a job. Maybe find my wits. Maybe make a plan. Maybe not.

Until Berlin.