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.