Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Ghost of Christmas Just Past

The family Christmas tree

Christmas has come and gone. I do not have children but I seem to be getting ready for the occasion for weeks. I cannot exactly pinpoint what all the mental preparations are about but there are many and varied.

This Christmas had the potential for problems.

I am a major fan of Thanksgiving and Christmas. The biggest family arguments have happened on both occasions but I still look forward to my family Christmases. The spending time with people who have known you the longest, the beautiful tree, the board games, the movies, the food, and, best of all, the gift exchange. I love giving gifts. I love giving the perfect gift and seeing the reaction. And I love getting free things. I like getting things that cost me no money and no energy. Asmus' family is much less boisterous. Since moving to Germany, I learned that I like chaos. Silence, cleanliness and lateness are in my blood. I miss my family traditions.

Also, this would be the first Christmas without Asmus' father. I was not sure how that would play out, so I was anxious.

Add to all that, Asmus' and my promise to cook for Christmas. His mother's sister spends about three weeks with her sister. Unfortunately, she has been battling a form of cancer that will be an intermittent part of her life forever. Thanks to the medicines that have been keeping her alive, she cannot digest meat, fatty fish or complex carbs, like pasta, well. Plus, she was always lactose intolerant. Margot does not like beef. With all these dietary guidelines in mind, Asmus and I had to create a delicious meal. We settled on taco or baba ganoush. Neither Renate nor Margot had ever heard of either. After we found them images online, they chose baba ganoush.

Baba ganoush is a puree of eggplant, a sesame paste, cilantro, lemon and cumin. It is a staple of the Arab world. I serve it with falafel, pita, lettuce, tomato, onion and hot sauce. Not exactly the traditional Christmas dish but it was a hit! Whew!

After dinner, we exchanged gifts. Asmus claims to be a terrible gift giver but I have always found him competent. This Christmas I began to suspect that he was correct. He bought this wooden face that is used to hold eyeglasses for his older brother. Thankfully, Jakob thought it was cute. I think it is a bit creepy but cute. Like a wooden E.T.

In Germany, Weihnachten lasts for a few days. The festivities begin the evening of December 24. Families exchange gifts and go to church. On the 25th, they visit their extended family. The next day, they visit friends.

On Christmas Eve I coaxed everyone into playing Uno. I am a veteran and I lost to novices. Over and over again. Margot would put out a Wild card and choose a color that she did not have. But Skips and Reverses kept me out of the action. After a few demoralizing hands of Uno, we moved onto the film part of the evening. Harold & Maude was going to be the perfect end. Except it wasn't. The image just kept jumping. To save space, I put to movies in one case. Instead of calling it a night, I put in Shrek Forever After. I am not sure if the septuagenarians grasped the comic genius because they discussed the possible time period and whether it was too violent.

It was a silent night but a fun night. Because Asmus' father was not very vocal in the presence of his gregarious sister-in-law, Christmas was not as difficult as I feared.

Asmus and I maintained the American tradition of exchanging gifts on the 25th. I was so really sad when he excited plugged in his massage cushion and nothing happened. I bought a new one today and has been using it as much as the directions allow. Home run!

Winter Ire

I have many, many personality deficits. One of my relatively few pluses is an acceptance of the uncontrollable. This includes the weather.

Winter is cold. I got that. I don't complain about the cold; I gird myself against it. I spent a lot of money on the kind of long underwear that people wear when climbing mountains. I wear earmuffs . . . a lot. My ears are always cold. Problems start in November and I boldly withstand the questions and the complaints about the early use of the apparatus. When it gets really cold, I wear ski gloves. I am prepared for the cold.

When it snows, I stay in for the first day. After that I wear boots and move slow. I am prepared for the snow.

I am not prepared for the darkness of northern German winters. Come to think of it, I am not prepared for the northern German summers either. Because of its high latitude, it is dark much of the day in the winter and light much of the day in the summer. Now, I leave the house in the darkness and reach for an afternoon tea with the moon as my guide.


The view out of my bedroom window on December 22, 2010 at 7:02 a.m.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hot off the Presses!

I updated and wrote new information for the chapter on Hamburg for Fodor's Germany 2011 guide. It is on bookshelves now.

This book is for:

People who want to support me

People who are going to visit Germany soon

People who love good writing. Writing reminiscent of a mature Toni Morrison.

The Real Thanksgiving

I was working like Harriet Tubman and almost missed Thanksgiving. My German husband picked up with the slack.

During my first year in Germany, we were living most of the time in Hamburg. The big city has lots of foreigners, so there were several dining options to choose from. We selected the delicious yet economical Thanksgiving buffet at the Marriott hotel. The next year, we were in Kiel most of the time. The northern German city does not have many immigrants, so we could not find a turkey meal anywhere. We settled on exquisite Italian at the restaurant down the street from our apartment, Der Bauch von Kiel.

This year I worked until 9 at night and I had no desire to withstand a restaurant visit. I assumed that I would come home to spaghetti dinner. I was pleasantly surprise to experience my favorite meal: fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, and greens.

Yeah, yeah, yeah I missed being with my mother, sisters, nephew, uncle and friends but I had my favorite meal prepared by hand by my favorite person. Everything was delicious! As my people say, Asmus put his foot in it.

I am a fan of the "essence" of food. I make my greens with the undertone of pork. Asmus found his own recipe and created greens with 50% taste of greens and 50% taste of meat. He told me that he cooked the vegetable with smoked pork and chicken stock. With the strong, smoky meat tastes, the greens won over the meat lover and me.

Fun fact: collard greens are as popular in northern Germany as they are in the southern United States. We are nearing the end of Grünkohlsaison (literally green cabbage season, but actually collard greens season) here.

I am very grateful for a man who cooks so hard that he literally collapsed on the sofa.

Yes, those are two types of hot sauce on the table. Proof that you, indeed, cannot take the ghetto out of the girl, despite having taken the girl out of the ghetto. I am starting to have some impact on the German. Asmus did not use the spicy sauce on the greens but he did use it in the sauce that he marinated the wings in.


Well, Friedrich's funeral was a few weeks ago.

It was an odd experience. The funeral was two weeks after his death. It was such a crushing blow to walk into the hospital on November 5 to find out that Friedrich had died 15 minutes before we got there. He had always said he felt bad. In September he looked very bad and we canceled vacation and then he didn't look so terrible. Unfortunately, he started to look bad again. I assumed this was another hill that needed to be ridden up and down. Unfortunately, we did not see the other side of the mountain. While nursing that blow, we had to prepare for the funeral. The death hung in the air in Asmus' mother's apartment while we worked to let people know about the death and the funeral. With each breath each day, death was slowly exhausted out of the air. A week later, the death was brought back to my mind and heart's surface because the funeral was approaching.

The chapel at Bergstedt cemetery where Friedrich's funeral was held.

As a member of the bereaved family, I had to shake hands and nod my head to condolences I did not really understand in German. I just wanted to support Asmus. The service was mostly in a dialect of German that Friedrich worked hard to support its continued existence, called platt deutsch, and featured lots of music. The music was majestic but upbeat. The minister even played guitar for one tune.

The plain pine coffin looked so small. It was covered in a bounty of flowers in bold autumn colors. It cut like a knife when men in medieval costumes removed the box that held Friedrich's body.

Life slowly returns to a semblance of its original shape. It is still a bit jarring to eat at Margot's house. Since Friedrich went into the hospital, we have been eating cake, instead of dinner, at Asmus' mother's house on the weekends. Without all the bowls and pans required to hold a meal, there was no need for the long table. The weekend after the funeral, Margot had removed the leaf that made four people comfortable at dinner time. Now the coffee, cake, tea and all their accessories sit in the place where Friedrich's plate once laid.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanksgiving-Part III

I am thankful for having known my husband's father, Friedrich.

I am a ball of contradictions when it comes to family. I come from a huge family. Because of prodigious grandparents, I probably have about 35 cousins. Out of all the hundreds of cousins [My parents were the next-to-youngest in their families, so I have cousins with grandchildren!], grandparents, aunts and uncles that I have, I probably regularly saw 20 of them. However, of those 20, probably 10 were constantly there. I remember the joy of monthly visits to my mother's mother in southern New Jersey. She had MTV! Philadelphia did not allow cable television until 1989, so in addition to the normal grandmotherly greatness, my grandma had the awesomeness of Remote Control. I spent more time visiting the housing projects and my grandfather and aunt than any middle-class girl had. When I got older and my scope grew, I will happy to accept more. I learned that I had a cousin Kiki living in New York and I will so excited. Kiki and I did not meet until I was 34 or 35 but she did my hair once a month in the Boogie Down Bronx and after that we would sit on her bed and watch bad television.

A window in the chapel where the funeral will be held.

Moving to Germany meant that all of the people with whom I shared DNA were far away. My husband's family were all that I had and they fit. Like my biological family, they were not perfect but they were interesting. Friedrich and Margot are from a different generation and culture than my parents. For me, different is always preceded by fear.

I think it is difficult to find a Black woman in America who would picture their in-laws as people 45 years older and from small-town Germany. Because of the times and the draft, Friedrich was a soldier fighting against the Allied Forces in World War II. After recuperating, the small-town boy joined Service Civil International to help repair Europe.

Before we met, Asmus spent Saturday nights eating dinner with his parents. When I moved to Germany, I became part of this tradition. Over dinners, fear eventually gave way to respect, which gave way to love. They discussed politics, history, art, and their personal history. Because Friedrich was fluent in English, explained many of these topics to me.

Despite our good relationship, Friedrich was still a man born in the 1920s. We never hugged or said, I love you. A few times he praised the refinement of the British soldiers who only stole small quantities of wine from his family's wine business and often railed against the noisy American soldiers. Americans were too loud and made bad music. Sinatra-Yuck! Elvis-Ugh! Jazz-That was complicated and welcome. In addition to a respect for jazz, Friedrich and I shared a love of making fun of Asmus (Friedrich was not blessed with Margot's belief that her sons were perfect. Friedrich and I often laughed at Asmus' love of debate (for no reason!) and laziness.). We waved good-bye after Saturday dinners. At some point during the four months, he was in various hospitals, we left each other with a strong hand embrace. It was not a handshake but a long, hand-holding. He put his hand out and I took it.

In October I canceled my first trip to America in 16 months because Friedrich was not looking very good. Asmus and I went back and forth trying to decide whether to stay or go. We gave ourselves a deadline to make a decision to help but I was still not sure. I miss the United States of America and everything in its borders but I would hate for something to happen to Asmus' father while I was watching the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (My visits home are little more than television watching and eating. In 2010, the world is small but you still can't get get macaroni and cheese in Germany (There is not elbow macaroni. I am traditionalist. There will only be elbows in my macaroni and cheese!).) I asked Friedrich during a visit to him in the rehabilitation hospital. Should we go to America or stay here?

He clearly said, Bleib in der Nähe. Stay close.

He died the same day that Asmus and I were supposed to depart the United States. I am so glad that we canceled the trip. Asmus saw his father four times in the period of time that we would have been on vacation. Unfortunately, he did not make it to his side until 15 minutes after he died. Fortunately, Margot was there. Friedrich did not seem to be aware but Margot spoke to him and held his hand.

A view of the cemetery where Friedrich's body will be placed.

I have celebrated two birthdays in Germany. All of them have been with Friedrich. We were both born on March 14. Earlier this year, I was looking forward to having the spotlight on me next year because the anniversary of my birth will not be on a weekend, so we would not be together. Now I think it will feel like something is missing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thanksgiving- Part II

Ever since I left college I have belonged to a gym. I go. I am the only one who actually goes. I sit at a desk all day and so I like moving around. Plus, I have a major ankle deficiency, so I cannot take a quick jog in the park. So, I pay money to walk indoors.

Well, my gym days are over. I would like to thank the uptight staff at the Kiel branch of Meridian Spa. I have been a member of this place since March 2009. New management came last April and things have not been the same since.

Germans live in fear of germs. I don't like germs much but I like to live my life. I remember that I took a tour of the Meridian Spa near the apartment in Hamburg and I was immediately turned off when I was told that I cannot wear a swimsuit in the hot tub. The reason: Hygiene. I asked a few more questions after that response and I got no closer to logic. The representative very politely said that swimsuits have bacteria on them that will contaminate the water, so no swimsuit. I don't know much but that don't make any sense. I think Hygiene is the word people here use when they don't have a real reason. Members are also not allowed to wear the same shoes in the gym as they do on the street. The reason: Hygiene. The germs from your shoes will contaminate the place where people sweat. Makes sense to me.

Before April 2010, the staff at Meridian Spa in Kiel and I had a friendly relationships. We laughed and waved hello and good-bye. I wore my all-purpose sneakers and my swimsuit and I nor any member had dropped dead from bubonic plague. In April the staff disappeared one by one and so did the waves and the laughs. OK, no one has to be nice to me but the gym became a place of exercise, not enjoyment. I am not a rebel without a cause. If a rule is annoying, I follow. If a rule is impeding my normal life, I fight against it.

I got really busy, so I didn't have much time to sit in the hot tub. I refuse to sit in a hot tub with strange men and be naked. That is not comfortable. Asmus has confirmed that German men are just as perverted as American men. Not all of them would be focusing on the body as a form of nature. I did go in the hot tub in my bathing suit once on a Sunday and nothing happened. But never had another chance to try this again.

I did change my sneakers because it felt the thing to do. The gym has a lobby area with couches and a television and tables. The day when the old regime was all gone, in September, a manager came over to me as I was putting on my right shoe in the empty lobby. She asked me to put my shoes on in the changing room. At that moment, I didn't have on any shoes, so I asked her if I can put on my shoes in the sit-up area ten feet away from me. Shockingly, she said no. The changing room was about 200 feet away. I refused to put my "street shoes" back on and then walk to the changing room to put on my sneakers. I told her that I would put on my shoes here this time and the next time I would put them on in the changing room. That was on a Friday.

On Monday, I changed in the changing room and ran to Dance class. Dance started in August. It runs from 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. I teach Mondays at 7:20. I dance (badly) for as long as I can before I am in danger of being late, usually that means I rush out at 7:45. I run to the bathroom near the gym entrance and change my clothes. I was almost done when the same manager came in. She followed me and lectured me about not using the changing room. I was near the sink and then moved into a stall, while she remained in the bathroom and lectured me. I came out and there were four women there lecturing me. I quit the gym. The next day, the real manager said they prefer that I use the changing room but if I am late, there is no problem if I use the bathroom once in a while. Two weeks later, I returned. I ran into the stall to change. The same woman came in and left. When I left the bathroom, she was standing there. She said that was my last chance and the manager had warned me about changing in the bathroom. I asked to talk to that manager. I got some understudy and he told me that I was lying. He had spoke to the manager and he did not say that. I asked if we can call the manager who had called me and shockingly (Why was I still shocked by things?) he said no. We went back and forth. He didn't understand why I refused to use the changing room. I use the changing room all the time, just not Monday after Dance class. I quit. I quit officially. There was nothing that could then be said to soothe me.

I asked various Germans of various ages about this treatment. No one understands the insistence on using the changing room (all fear street germs in gyms). Two weeks after I officially quit the gym, someone from corporate asked what happened. I told her about the Changing Room rules and she was shocked (It is not just me.). She asked someone if that is a rule. After a few minutes, she came back to the phone dumbfounded. The Changing Rule is a rule but it is a rule that no one enforces. Except at the Kiel outpost. She said if the managers want to enforce the rule, then they can. She apologized several times and invited me to return when I feel comfortable.

Ain't gonna happen.


'Cause now I have my own gym. In my house.

(Good things are never happening at a neat desk.)

Notice what the machines face. I ride my bike for 25 minutes at a time while I watch television shows on my computer. This morning, I sweated while I watched the first episode of 30 Rock this season. My ride lasts about as long as a sitcom. That is God's work, not a coincidence!

I have not used the treadmill because I sprained my ankle about a week before it arrived. Asmus has walked through an evening of the second season of Dr. Who.

I am very grateful for giving the finger to Meridian Spa. If they give me trouble in a recession, I must hurt their bottom line. For that I give thanks!

Thanksgiving-Part I

When you look at your life, you can easily find some things that suck.

It is my mission to note things that rock!

Here are a few things that I am grateful for:

Yup! I love Hawaiian Punch. I am not ashamed to say it. Maybe I should be but I ain't.

On a recent trip to Film Peter, my local video store (Yes, I still visit a video store. I like looking at the boxes and the instant gratification that you can get from mail-order DVD rentals.) I climbed the front steps and standing in front of me was some weird little American kiosk. There were six shelves decked out in red, white and blue of American obesity in can- and bar-form. There were variety of Hershey products and cans of soda and stuff. I was giddy was excitement. Asmus and I had canceled our visit to America and we on our way to the Park Hyatt in Hamburg for four days, so I could not load down the car with sugary goodness. I had to choose. What to do? What to do? I settled on three cans of Hawaiian Punch and one can of Welch's grape soda. I know. I know. How can grape soda not have taken over the world? I don't know. Oddly enough, Fanta is popular here, so there is bad orange soda but no form of grape soda.

I hand to introduce Asmus to these treasures. After the first slurp, it was clear that he was a fan of Hawaiian Punch. One more for Our Side.

He took a big gulp and said that it IS pretty sweet. I don't think that I will have to fight him for grape soda.

I assumed this that I why I bought three cans of the red miracle and one of the purple.

For some reason, drinks in Germany are expensive. A small cup of coffee is 1.90 and 12-oz. bottle of apple juice is 1.75. The Hawaiian Punch and Welch's were 1.84, so they are luxuries that I can afford. Yes!

Of course, I have only found them in one place in all of Germany but I am grateful for that one place.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hope for Tomorrow

When people find out that I moved from America to Germany, they incredulously ask, "Why?"
Of course, it makes me like I am a fool. But there are reasons. One of those reasons is in the hospital now. Probably two of the reasons are at the hospital right now.

Asmus's father, Friedrich, has been struggling against a variety of ailments for about three months in a variety of institutions and his wife, Margot, is at his bedside hoping he will eat some of her energizing vegetable soup and get better.

I have had few long-term relationships, so I have little experience supporting people who do not share my DNA. Add to that, dealing with a foreign health care system and I am lost.

Hospitals, like everything in Germany, are much quieter than their American cousins. Also, there is much less privacy. As ridiculous as curtains are, they do supply patients with a semblance of alone time. Friedrich's rooms have not been equipped with this faux wall. He does not have the best hearing, so I try to talk loudly but not too loud. I want to say something interesting but not too personal.

The worse thing is that you can never find a doctor. But Asmus's family is much more patient than me and is in control, so I do nothing. I guess that's good because my poor German would immediately turn into aggressive and mean English.

Things are pretty stressful. Good news comes and bad news immediately takes its place. I am more comfortable with constants. This roller coaster ride of sickness is especially draining. However, out of all this pain the brothers are talking to each other more and old friends have strengthened bonds.

I just show up with bananas and try to be perky.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Semper Vigilans

Yesterday afternoon, there was a terror alert for Americans in Europe. The more my life changes, the more it stays the same. I remember New York after the 2001 attacks and weeks terror alerts that morphed into a malaise. This time I have skipped the four stages and went straight to acceptance. Actually, I think I live at acceptance.

There is a level of trust in Germany that I have not had since I moved to New York. In New York, I was constantly on the lookout for robbery, murder and rape.

Never let anyone walk behind me at night.

No direct eye contact on the subway.

Never carry more money than necessary.

Always walk where there are groups of people.

Never leave any thing alone in public places.

Notice everyone around you; try to remember some detail.

In a bar, take your drink with you to the bathroom.

After September 11, I added Be wary of unattended backpacks to the list.

Even though, Germany has much less crime than New York, I have been living my life here on Orange Level Alertness. For example, I have not known the pleasure of taking of a steeply-discounted train trip from Kiel to Hamburg with strangers.

In Germany, Deutsche Bahn, the national rail system, sells a land ticket. This pass allows travel unlimited travel for one day throughout a state, or land. The land ticket is good for five people. A while back, someone clever and cheap discovered that they can get a really cheap ride if they asked strangers to chip in for the ticket. Now it is commonplace for strangers to accost you when you are buying a train ticket.

People who met around a ticket machine are suddenly travel partners. While these new partners only have to sit in the same car, that is too close for me. I am not giving money to people I don't know, I am not talking to people I don't know and I am certainly not sitting near people I don't know. I always wonder whether I should assume a backpack at McDonald's is a threat or the property of someone who forgot napkins.

For those who worry about my safety, know that I have been obsessively worried about my safety since April 2000 without breaks.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Me!

I had been saying that I have been living in Germany for 18 months for so long that I almost did not realized that 6 months had passed since I had started saying that. I got on a plane at Newark Liberty International Airport around 4:45 p.m. on September 10, 2008

and landed around 7:30 a.m. on September 11, 2008 at Hamburg Airport.

There was so much craziness before I left that it was a relief to get a break from my life. I arrived sick. I was really sick. I wondered if my illness was a some kind of sign that I should not leave but then I remembered that I don't believe in signs and returned to being excited about being with new husband.

I had a crazy roommate who, in the summer of 2008, said she earned a spot in a directing program in Los Angeles but the subletter she found got calls from her letting her know that she would be stopping by the apartment to pick up something once every three weeks or so. While we were away, an eviction notice showed up in our mailbox. I went to the courthouse certain that this was a mistake and annoyed that I had to wake up early to hit the bowels of Hoursing Court in Brooklyn to fix this before work. I felt like someone had hit me over the head with a shovel when the clerk brought over a stack of documents about 6 inches thick that was "our" file. We were, in fact, getting evicted. When I sent her email about the eviction notice, she denied any knowledge of a problem.

From: info@tanisha
To: Monica
Sent: Thursday, August 14, 2008 3:24:28 AM
Subject: RETURNING TO NY!!!!!!!
I am not aware of any hearing!!!!!!!!!MY STOMACH IS IN KNOTS I will be in NY By this afternoon.

That is odd because the last document was a payment plan that she agreed to comply with or be evicted. Despite taking $900 from the subletter for each month of the three months that she planned to stay in Tanisha's bedroom, Tanisha had not given any money to the landlord since May. After a warning letter in the spring, I pleaded with Tanisha to let me know if there were any problems with her rent payments. She promised to do that. When she left for the "airport" (As you see, she is coming from Los Angeles to New York in an afternoon. Perhaps she was dating a pilot?) in June, I asked if the rent was all paid up and she assured me that it was. She was aware of all the lack of payments, so her stomach should have been fine.

In the process of leaving, my desktop computer,an unopened set of pots,and a Japanese teapot (my first gift from Asmus)were stolen from our locked apartment. In Tanisha's crazy head, it was my fault we were evicted because upon learning of the eviction I made a promise to pay more than $1,000 to catch us up but then when the panic wore off, I decided that I should not pay for her mistake and rescinded my offer. Tanisha packed her things while cursing my name, the subletter told me. Some time after that, my things disappeared. These things had very little "street value." Everything was taken just to be mean. It worked. After I good cry, I packed the rest of my belongings and moved onto my friend Jennifer's couch for two weeks. That woman saved my life. It was nice to live with a friend and not a lunatic. Plus, when people at work heard of all the shenanigans, I got nothing but support from the editor in chief down.

Since I moved onto German shores, I have had a life of adventure. Adventure can be good and it can be bad. I do not feel very German. In fact, I feel extra American. People here do not treat me like a fellow countrymen and that has worked, I do not feel like I am at home. Despite that, I wonder if I could smoothly move back into life on the East Coast. Hamburg and Kiel are so clean. Can I accept the Philadelphia subway's preponderance of spat-out sunflower seeds smushed into the corners or the gross streets of New York? Germany has many many rules for everything in life. Amazingly, people overwhelmingly follow these rules, so there is very little crime here. I walk around in darkness alone and I feel no fear. That has not happened to me in the United States since I was old enough to understand the news on television.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Life in America is convenient, so I have never needed to be creative. Since moving to Germany, I have learned how to make baba ganoush in a blender and to whip up a pie crust. I working on becoming fluent in a second language. I pay attention to all types of signs because I cannot count on my understanding of words. Plus, I have such a deeper understanding of immigrants. I had difficulty adjusting and I am a college-educated, savvy person who visited Germany many times before moving here. I do not know how an Italian immigrant made it in lower Manhattan in1902 or a Chinese immigrants makes it in the same place in 2010.

A lot can happen in two years.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dinner and Jesus

Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany. Despite its size, it does not have a large culinary reach. As a former New Yorker, I miss the diverse restaurant choices. When we go to another new town, non-German- and Italian foods were the top of my list.

I had some great Indonesian food in Amsterdam.

In St. Petersburg we had delicious Korean food.

I wanted to have some really good Thai, Ethiopian or Korean food in Berlin.

I could not get a recommendation for a good Thai or Ethiopian, so they were off the list. Beate, the sister of my Hamburg friend, Anne, is my hero. She pointed me to Ixthys.

A Korean restaurant with a Greek name?!?

Ixthys is the Greek word for fish. I learned during my tour of the Catacombs in Rome that the fish and the vertical use of the word Ixthys came to symbolize Christ. This small Korean restaurant in Nollendorfplatz is run by two evangelical Christian women who create amazing Korean food.

The menu covers about eight pages and about three of them have food information on them. The rest are covered in information about Christianity and Bible verses. The restaurant has almost three entire walls covered in pieces of paper that are about six feet long and covered in Bible verses that will lead diners to Christ. I don't mind silent attempts at conversion.

The menu was notable because there are so few options on it. There was some noodle dishes and, of course, bibimbap and kimchi. A skinny menu is always a good sign that the food is going to be great. The chefs are going to give you their best food, not everything that they know how to make.

Another sign of the coming greatness was the dining room. It was similar to my mother's basement. There was two high tables, a picnic table and one traditional table for four. The rest of the room is taken up with a refrigerator for drinks and the empty bottles. That's it. The restaurant has one wall that is taken over with a window and the entrance, two white walls covered entirely in Bible verses, and a wall that has a few Bible verses and opens to the kitchen area where you walk to and give your orders directly to the chefs. The decor is an afterthought; the food is the focus.

Like I usually do at Korean restaurants, I ordered a serving of kimchi and bibimbap. The cabbage was spicy but the heat did not overpower flavor. The bibimbap was bursting with a variety of tastes. My adventurous German had a noodle soup with chicken. He deemed it excellent and better than the food in St. Petersburg -- the first time he had Korean food. Altogether, the two entrees, kimchi, and two sodas cost 17 euros.

It was a great find (sorry no website).

The Bears

I have no idea why but the bear is the symbol for Berlin. One popular theory is that it was put on the city-state's (Like Hamburg and Bremen, Berlin is both a city and a state.) coat of arms because in the German pronunciation, the first syllable sounds like the German word for bear. "Berlin" in Germany sounds like Bair-leen. The German word for bear is "Bär" and sounds like Bair.

The bear is on everything. The popular beer made in Berlin and logos for the city's film festival. Like many cities around the world, Berlin had a variety of animal statues on parade throughout the city. Of course, it was the Bear. Here a few examples.

This is the bear in the American embassy's glass-encased entrance on Behrenstrasse. Yes, that's a Sol LeWitt star painting behind it.

Most Bears in Berlins are outside. Like all American embassies and consulates around the world, security is a tight in Berlin embassy, so this lady liberty Bear is indoors.

Here's a Bear used as advertising. A red Bear welcomes guests from around the world.

In a gay section of Berlitz called Nollendorf Platz, sits a rainbow-covered Bear. I am not sure what happens in Bruno's but all the windows are covered, so I am sure there is only wholesome fun to be had there. Despite a fear of what is happening in Bruno's, we had some great meals in this section of town.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburg Tor) is a piece of a city gate that was completed in 1791. When many people think of the wall coming down, they see this structure. On one side of the gate sat East Berlin and the other was West Berlin. When the Berlin Wall, Berlin Mauer, was put up, East Berlin got the gate.

Already things different. When I came there was construction on Unter den Linden, a street that runs into the gate. Also, cars and trucks rumbled up and down the street. Now the street is only open to pedestrian traffic. The area is much more serene. Because World War II ravaged the city, everything is new and interesting. While there are no trees on much of the streets, there are a few large parks in central Berlin.

A museum, a glorious grand dame hotel, government offices and small restaurants line the treeless street. I was happy to see a Dunkin' Donuts and a Starbucks. I have seen Dunkin' Donuts in Cologne and now Berlin. It gives me hope that a few will soon make their ways to Hamburg or Kiel.

Here is an up-close look at the statue of victory being pulled by a chariot. She faces the east.

Here is the back view of the statue. This is what you see when you cross the gate.

In 2008, the American embassy caused a stir when it opened its doors flush against Brandenburg Gate. As you see the building has the charm of a prison. Plus, security measures mean that people can't get close to it, so part of the Pariser Platz, an area that sits right in front of the gate, is off limits to people strolling around the historical area.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Summer Lust

I never travel in the summertime. Prices are too high and the crowds are too big. Until I moved to Germany, I had not seen the nation in the spring or the summer. Plus, if you live in a city, it is great to be in the summer. All the weaker citizens have decamped for less busy climates or somewhere "fun," like the Grand Canyon. The summer in Hamburg was fabulous. There was no one on the bus, so finally the bus arrivals resembled the bus schedule. Plus, it seemed that all the teenagers had all been shipped off. The gaggles of adolescents that crowd corners and subway stations with their crates of beer and bottles of cheap sparkling wine were gone. I want to experience my home in all its empty splendor.

But, Asmus and I have been immobile since the return from Russia. We spent a glorious weekend with his brother's family outside Frankfurt in June but there were no exotic restaurants or bus tours. God, I love a double-decker bus tour. I love looking down on tourist attractions.

Wanderlust took a hold of us in August. We wanted an overnight stay in a close but interesting city. We rejected Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Cologne because of distance concerns. Asmus knocked down Dresden because he has a prejudice against cities in east Germany. Shocking for such a liberal guy. We thought about the island paradise of Sylt. But we are not beach people, so struggled to think of what to do for fun, so we scrapped the North Sea treasure.

The winner . . .


I visited there in 2000 and was not impressed. The city was dirty and old. Whatever wasn't rickety and out of date was under construction. The capital was in the process of moving from Bonn to Berlin, so two cities [East Berlin and West Berlin] were being turned into one [Berlin] and old government buildings were being renovated and new ones were being built. The city was one big construction site. But I have not seen it in 10 years, maybe it has changed. Asmus, the German, has not been to the capital since it became the capital. He thinks he was last there in 1989.

We made the right decision. Berlin was diverse, full of history, and pulsing. Going to the movies is not a major leisure activity here. Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany, almost 2 million people. The city has about 8 or 9 movie theaters. Two show films in English. Berlin has more movie options and these options sometimes unspool a month before and a month longer than they do in Hamburg. So our To Do list was full of movies.

Our home away from home, CineStar Berlin - Original im Sony Center. It is a theater in this weird indoor/outdoor space called
Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz.

Popcorn is a very American treat. I am not a big fan of movie theater food (I usually cannot afford it) but every once in a while I want some buttery goodnews. This Berlin house is the only moviehouse that I visited that had buttery popcorn. It wasn't wet and gross with oil that is cleverly disguised as butter. It had a butter flavor that slid down your throat. Other theaters have popcorn that is either sweet like Cracker Jacks or merely salty. The familiar taste supported the movie enjoyment of Grown Ups. I needed a little bit of help. The seats are tighter than airline seats.

We got off the train at 1:45 p.m. and went straight to Potsdamer Platz and the movie theater. When we came back to the theater to see the haunting Moon at 10:30 p.m., we got tickets for two different bench seats.

Another view of the Sony Center. This is a combination of offices and shopping and entertainment center. There is a partial roof over the "outdoor" part and lights of different colors shine throughout the area.

A view of the roof over the "outdoor" area of the Sony Center. It changes from blue to lilac to white and the walking area gets a cool glow.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A new addition to the family

Asmus and I have expanded our family. Simone officially joined us at 12:20 p.m. on Saturday, August 21, 2010.

Simone is not a newborn. She was born in 1998 and is a wine-colored Mercedes-Benz E-Class. We have never owned anything more expensive than a computer. It is a big responsibility but we think we are ready.

It is pretty exciting. Although I am not driving it, I am excited. I teach English Tuesday nights and the bus schedule is not in my favor. The lesson is over at 9 p.m. but I don't get home until 10 p.m. It takes a half hour for the bus to come and then it takes a scheduled break at the train station for 7 minutes. Now I don't care about no schedules.

I am not driving it because my license expired March 2009, the day of my wedding in Hamburg. I am a passenger and it is killing me.

Of course, I have complaints. I have two big complaints and both are about size.

I have always complained about signage in Germany. I never know where i am in this country. There are limited signs and when there are signs, there is not enough information on them. The street signs are microscopic. I estimate that they are about four inches tall. When you are zooming by at 25 miles an hour, that is about the size of an amoeba. Also, there is only one sign at each intersection. Driving in an unfamiliar area is very stressful.

I thought it was odd that so many Germans have navigation systems in their cars. EVERYONE here has one. Now that I have worked as a map reader here, I understand this need for digital help. Fortunately, Simone was born with a Navi, as the locals say. We just haven't figured it out yet.

Also, parking spaces here are two narrow. I am pretty bad at parking between lines. I always park far from a mall, where there were fewer cars. With that space, I can drive over three rows until I get the car straight. Tuesday afternoon I was radiating sympathy like I was the sun when Asmus parked Simone in the lot near our apartment. He got her in but it would be impossible for anything bigger than a SmartCar in the spot next to Simone.

We did not have the luxury of space on my return from teaching Tuesday night. Residents in downtown Kiel get four spaces that they can use in a parking lot across the street from our apartment. There was one spot between two cars. There was a lot of back and forth and back and forth before Asmus got her in. Then we had to struggle to get out of the car. There was not enough room to open the doors wide. I am going to need a valet parking to suddenly appear here when I start driving in Germany in November.

Despite all the size problems, it is so nice to have an efficient means of transportation. Earlier this year, we moved from one apartment to another in two cab rides. If there are sick parents to move from home to doctors offices, there is a backseat for them and a trunk for a walker or wheelchair. The backseat and trunk were requirements for any addition to our family.

I am excited about all the possibilities. We wanted to do paintball and go carts. Both places were about 90 minutes away from our apartment by public transportation. With Simone, we are even closer to the fun. I love closer.

Time flies when you're having fun

The view from the anniversary celebration spot.

On July 25, Asmus and I celebrated two years of wedded bliss. Time flies when you're having fun.

Of course, there were massages and a great dinner. We had an OK time at our favorite hotel in Hamburg. I sent note listing my complaints -- liquidy scrambled eggs that were not hot; half-filled minibar (the items in it are free, so it must be full!); and other small things. In reply, we were invited to stay in the duplex suite that overlook the Alster lakes at the price of a regular room. That was a great gift!

We had a great dinner at Cox restaurant. The food was fabulous and the service was warm. Germans prefer quality food over quality service. It was nice to get both. I got tap water with no complaints. (At a charming restaurant near Frankfurt, a server told me that it is illegal to give out tap water. If she gave me water, she would be fired. All of it lies. Somewhere along the way, Germans joined the Church of Bottled Water. While the United States is slowing waking up to the environmental impact of collecting, packaging and transporting water, always-eco-friendly Germany pushes bottled water on everyone. Requests of tap water are often met with sighs, complaints or refusals.) The server took our photograph happily and congratulated us. The food came fast and she kept checking on us. Cox was last on the list and now it is on the top of my favorite places to eat.

Then we hit Cafe Gnosa for dessert. German dessert are not the same as American desserts. Kuchen is a collection of thin layers of cakes and thick layers of cream. Cafe Gnosa comes very close to getting it right. There are tables outside, a cafeteria in the front of the restaurant, and, in the back, a Mod dining room where cutting-edge visual art hangs on the walls, shag carpets lies on the floor, and cool lamps hang over table. I dragged Asmus through the cafeteria straight to the groovy dining room, which was empty. While we debated the niceness of sitting in an empty room and having the server only wait on us, our server, Robert, arrived. He heard the debate and told us that we must sit back here and he would see that we were happy [There was no mention of the anniversary.]. Robert fulfilled his promise. Plus, we discovered the gloriousness that is coffee with banana liqueur.

It was almost as good as the perfumed lotion that Asmus got me. First, I have a ridiculous love of lotion. I love it. I love smooth skin. When I was in Chicago earning an over-priced masters degree, I bought Princesse Marina de Bourbon perfume. It was this sweet berry sensation. When I moved back East, I could not find it anywhere. I eventually gave up the dream of smelling like jam. The dream was realized a few Sundays ago, when Asmus gave me Thierry Mugler's Angel perfumed lotion. It smells exactly like Princesse Marina de Bourbon. He had no idea about my perfume heart ache.

I got him a blender. He is a fan of appliances with motors.

I recommend marriage. If for nothing else besides the gifts.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More Purging

Kiel Week- The Activities!

There were concerts. Kiel has new acts like Cassandra Steen. It also has oldies but goodies. This year, Nena performed (Here in Deutschland, she had more hits than 99 Luft Balloons. She had a well-received record last year. If you can find Wir sind Wahr (We are True), your life will be better than it was before.). Level 42 was also on stage. I missed all of them. There is a lot of standing at concerts in Europe. I am not one for standing. I did a lot of eating, drinking and shopping. I bought a cool ring from Mexico. I had a massage. I bought a vase.

This is where I fell in love with Thai Massage. I went twice.

At this "Netherlands" pavilion, this patient man made glass vases, objets d'art and candelabras while you watched.
I bought a delicate yet intricate vase from him for 15 euros.

Here are two views of the beloved ring that I bought at the Mexican jewelry pavilion.


I have been working like Harriet Tubman (without the good feeling that comes from leading hundreds of people out of slavery) and unfortunately I have been neglecting communication to the world.

Here are a bunch of photos of my summer.

Kiel Week- The Food!

Nepalese cuisine. Delicious. For the uninitiated, it is similar to Indian.

Excellent chimichurri and wine!

The Taste of Peru is much like the taste of Mexico.
The moles were a bit different.

The crowd at the International Food Market.

Interestingly, Rwandan food has yucca, like Caribbean food.
It has some kick. This stand offered dishes with
alligator and springbok but I stuck to beef.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Super American

USA goalkeeper Tim Howard reaches for a goal against England in the
first full day of the World Cup on June 12. We tied! No one scored.

The longer that I am away from America, the more "American" I have become. I don't moan when someone offers me mayonnaise for my French fries, instead of ketchup. I don't groan when someone mispronounces my name.

I hate it when people think I am from Africa. Two weeks ago, I was having a cocktail at Mango's, a restaurant in which I have had plenty of cocktails. The television was broadcasting the highlights of the day's World Cup match. In German, my server congratulated me on the playing of the "Elfbeinküste" team. I was so proud that I had been able to do basic greetings and order in German but sadly I was stumped by the team name. I tore up my brain to find the word. I recently heard it. It was familiar. Thirty seconds later, I got it.
Elfbeinküste was the Ivory Coast. The African nation had played Portugal earlier in the day. The small country shocked the world when it tied the European powerhouse. The German server thought I was from the Ivory Coast. I politely corrected him. I could have said nothing but I am AMERICAN dammit!

Quite often Germans think I am from Africa. For a while, people would ask me if I was from Uganda. Then it was Ghana. I still get Ghana a lot. Sometimes people just ask me where in Africa I come from. Germany does not have a long history of immigration, so many here think Black people only come from the African continent.

So I am living in Europe, so adjust a bit. I live with a German man, so I watch World Cup soccer. I even call it football. I watch Germany play but my heart beats red, white and blue, so I only really care when America plays. And then I watch under duress. I like to win so much that it is too stressful to watch. I did not watch the last match in the early rounds, when America had to win or go home. I was ecstatic when someone told me about Donovan Landon's less-than-a-minute-to-go goal.

I loved that people were scared of the U.S. in soccer. I was thrilled that the USA fielded such a ethnically-diverse team. Plus, our team was coached by an American, not some coach who bowed to the highest bidder.

Donovan Landon after scoring the winning goal
against Algeria June 23. That was the shocking
win that got the US in to the Round of 16.

I was still so proud of the team when it lost to Ghana. It took a long time to get to that deciding goal.

Now I will have to support Deutschlands Mannschaft [Germany's Team] 100%.