Posts Tagged ‘berlin’

The falling snow makes slush and dirty puddles
While icy winds lash feet and legs and eyes
Its temperature my feeble mind befuddles
In windswept lanes with ever darkening skies.
One day it’s T-shirts, suddenly it’s coats
And gloves and jackets needed in the morning
Such energy the Man Up There devotes
To switching seasons quickly without warning!
Eight months of winter deep will freeze your mind
Until the sun brings birds, and spring, and thaw
Cast off black thoughts and put those months behind
This city now is golden evermore.
Yet summer’s heaven cannot stop my heart
From secretly awaiting Winter’s start.


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I have so much time these days. Weekdays start with a leisurely rise and stretch, surveying my kingdom before deciding what to do that day. Should I pop down to the markets? Do some writing? A little German revision, perhaps? Not since my heady student days have I had such time to contemplate the deep and ineffable nature of the universe, and my own navel.

On certain very adventurous days I make Grand Plans. These may include epic campaigns to open a bank account with Deutsche Bank, visiting a real-estate agent, or writing all my newly acquired German nouns in pictorial form on the back of tiny pieces of paper which I shuffle around my desk and organise excitedly into categories. (‘Masculines to the left! Feminines to the right! And Neuters, stay out of my way!’). Yesterday I may or may not have made little models of coloured clay people (coloured clay that is, the people themselves were of mixed race) so I could practise various verb conjugations and greetings.

The saving grace of these little episodes is that they are Improving Me As A Person. I can take comfort in the fact that these are not useless activities – shut up, you in the back! – they are rounding me out, improving my language ability, my General Urban Infrastructure, my soft skills. I’m still not sure what hard skills are but I don’t think I have any. And the crowning achievement of my developments is this: I am cooking.

Potted History of My Cooking Skills

1995: I learn to cook two-minute noodles.

1997: I learn to add things to the two-minute noodles, such as onions, beef strips, and seasoning.

1998: I perfect the art of bacon and eggs. This is to remain my staple dish throughout the next ten years.

2001: The Toast Era. I am living with a guy called Hugh in Penrith. Every day after classes, we share a secret glance. Then we buy a loaf of bread and go home. We spend the next half hour making toast with butter and vegemite, comparing notes on how to spread the vegemite, and challenging each other on the precise layering of butter. We invariably finish the loaf that day. This continues for four months.

2004: I decide that it is time to expand my horizons and ask my mother to teach me how to cook spaghetti bolognese. With the added bonus that I can make large amounts and store them in the freezer, bacon and eggs is temporarily displaced as my cuisine of choice.

2007-2009: The Vietnam Period. Owing to the ubiquitous, wonderful and cheap street food, in the whole time living in Hanoi, I cook three times. Bacon and eggs once and spaghetti bolognese twice.

Now, I am sitting in my living room with the smell of roasting aubergine and capsicum wafting in the air. I have just added halloumi to the mix. Two years ago I couldn’t even spell halloumi (truth be told I still can’t), now I am debating whether to add cherry tomatoes or sundried tomatoes. Ruccola will be artfully arranged on the side, with a little beetroot salad. Yesterday I bought couscous and home-made gnocci. Last week I had mushrooms and eggplant. I have decided I need more implements, like a lemon zester and rolling pin, maybe a spork as well. I am starting to understand the phrase ‘food porn’ and quietly downloading episodes of Jamie Oliver‘s shows and The Iron Chef.

This is all thanks to the miracle of unemployment, which sadly will end tomorrow. (Or at least slow down; nobody in Berlin has a full time job). In a couple of months it’ll be cheese on toast and TV dinners. But once in a while, I will look back on this golden age of culinary delights, and dream of what could have been.

Bugger, the halloumi’s burning.

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May Day!

A friend of mine is flying into Berlin tomorrow, on the first of May. Great timing. Coming from Australia, a country where political radicalism means wearing red underpants, the depth of political feeling here – and the domestic disruption and violence which is expected tomorrow – is an intriguing curiosity.

Less so for the locals. For Berliners, the planned Neo-Nazi rally and its corresponding ANTIFA (radical anti-fascist) counter demonstration mean a day of nerves, burning cars, and closed supermarkets. Prenzlauerberg will be the site of this particular flashpoint, although pockets of violence are expected throughout the city.

Berlin is the flagbearer for left-wing activism in Germany. Although the initial assassination attempt against Rudi Dutschke took place in 1968, creating a martyr for a generation of activists, it was 1987 when the current tradition of rioting really took hold, after police tear-gassed a street party. There have been large-scale demonstrations ever since.

But how political is it really? Among many Berlin residents (and no doubt the genuinely committed small band of activists) there is disgruntlement over how the event has become an excuse for your average fun-loving punter to pick up a rock and hurl it at the police, or torch a car. Let’s face it, there are so few instances of this kind of socially accepted transgressive behaviour, small wonder that everybody wants to ride the rollercoaster.

One of the biggest issues is not the locals but the Riot Tourists. A quick google search will bring you the latest and greatest in locations, handy hints and tips, and of course a Best-Of Guide. Want to know where your best local riots are? Where you can find iron bars, members of the opposite political persuasion, and filthy capitalist establishments? Thanks to the information age, it’s all at your fingertips.

So what will I be doing tomorrow? Well, you wouldn’t catch me dead out on the streets by myself. No, I think I’ll take the ‘Revolutionary Berlin Anti Capitalist Tour‘. At five euros, it’s a steal that any self-respecting anti-capitalist shouldn’t miss.

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Ich lerne hier Deutsch

First class yesterday, and what a nervous rag-tag bunch we were, waiting for our teacher who showed up ten minutes late. Not very German, muttered a voice in the crowd. Japanese catering lady with a square business card, Israeli ginger, petite Spanish, Basque guy from Spain (I’m from Basque Country – in Spain), wizened young Italian musician, two beaming Vietnamese.

We had to spell our names aloud using the German alphabet. I suspect some would have had trouble in their native tongues let alone a new one. Neol turned out to be Lior. Ehuazel revealed herself as Iguacel. We all chuckled commiseratively over each other’s mistakes and made oversized faces to pronounce new sounds, gargling our Rs and hocking up our CHs. We were introduced to insipidly contructed dialogues between Peter and Laila and Carlos and Marina, which we recreated in a mingle just outside the classroom.

Thomas our teacher has a flowing brown crown surrounding a bald pate, infectious energy, and is self-conscious about his own (excellent) English. Actually English was used quite a bit both in the classroom and outside of it, as it’s the lingua franca of most of the students; I’m not sure if our German will get much better but everybody’s English certainly will. Three and a quarter hours is a hell of a long class, so we gladly collapsed outside with coffees and rolled cigarettes during our break and swapped potted histories. Nobody’s really got a proper job except Tomoko the smiley caterer. Everybody else is a student or intern or housewife or househusband or, like me, has decided that the word ‘unemployment’ is decidedly more palatable if you can claim to be learning the local lingo.

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Schonleinstrasse, Kreutzberg: It’s such a gorgeous day, every man and his dog is out in the sunshine. I went for a random wander and found a canal lined with wistful weeping willows. I followed the canal and stumbled into a huge Turkish market just off Kottbusser Damm. Assault and battery on the ears. Suddenly out of nowhere I was stuck in a pramjam. Hundreds (well, tens) of Turkish women wielding wheely trolleys covered in plaid did battle with highly determined single mums and their prams. I was caught in the middle. I tried to go around the outside but a grandmother with a moustache cut me off by running over my foot with her shopping.

I fully intended to buy nothing and just walk through the chaos. Flip-screen transition to me at home surrounded by shopping bags:

One gozleme with spinach and cheese. ‘Apetit auf gozleme?’ read the sign. One punnet of strawberries, mediocre quality, stupidly purchased from the first stall I saw, schoolboy error on my part. Half a kilo of green grapes. A tub of small sticky honey drenched Turkish sweets. Six yellow bananas – the salesman brazenly short-changed me a euro, and when I asked for it, handed it over without the slightest hint of shame. A block of Franzosische (French) fetta. Three firm avocados. A bag of ruccola – even though I’ve bought it, I’m not entirely sure what it is, and look on it with some suspicion. A bag of black kalamatta olives and a large green papaya. A small block of superbly aged English chedder sold to me by a grizzled man who is now trapped here by the cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland. Whole thing cost me fouteen euros.

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