Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bowl of Cherries

Last week, I was at the Boxhanger Platz open air food market checking out the local produce.  While waiting to buy some blueberries, I noticed that a lot of people were buying cherries.  I don't like cherries and find them sour.  In any case, on the spur of the moment, I decided to buy the cherries. To my surprise, they were great, especially on a hot day and when mixed with fresh yogurt.  I learned some valuable lessons.  First, cherries taste good; and second, always be open to change.  In other words, be willing to reevaluate past perceptions: don't get stuck in a mindset that prevents new experiences.

This episode also reminded me of when I saw the "The Best Years of Lives," for the second time last year.  When I first saw the film as a teenager, I didn't like it.  I couldn't understand why it was considered a film classic.  Last year, I happened to be channel surfing and noticed it on TV.  I had nothing better to do, so I decide to watched a few minutes.  This time, I sat through the entire film and was amazed at its timeless quality.  I really liked the film.  Seeing it as an adult, I had an entirely different perspective.  I could see the complexities of the characters.  Something, I wouldn't have understood as a young adult

BTW:  I could taste no difference between Maine and German blueberries!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Miss Marple Cafe and Asides


Berlin has been hot.  With few air conditioned buildings, it has been work to stay cool.  It's amazing how the body reacts to heat.  In my case, I have had difficulty concentrating and sleeping.  I've gone to a few museums, shopping centers and public swimming pools to find relief.  Night can be especially difficult with temperatures around 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).

Everyone says this is unusual for Berlin.  I've heard that before. The last time I was in Berlin there was a deadly heat wave.  I remember attending a concert at the Französische Kirche and seeing a woman faint in the audience.  True to form, the musicians continued to play even as the ambulance arrived and the woman was whisked way.

Tip of the Day

Cake is the order of the day at Frau Behrens Torten.  Frau Behrens is a small cafe located in Charlottenburg.  It's the kind of place you would expect to find in Vienna, Budapest or Prague.  Not in grungy Berlin.  It has a classic and somewhat old fashioned interior with dark hardwood floors, a crystal chandelier, and soft neutral tones reminiscent of a Miss Marple mystery.  It has a 1920s feel with a modern sensibility.  Outside there are small tables on a tree lined street full of shops and restaurants.  It's a good place to people watch.

I had the strawberry cream cake with touches of hazelnut filling.  It wasn't light, but it wasn't too sweet either. As Goldilocks would say, "It was just right."   Frau Behrens Torten offers 12 cakes made on the premises.  A slice of cake is enough for 2-3 people.  The slice I had was too much for me.  A coffee and a slice of cake will run you around 5,50 Euro ($7.00 USD).  You may find better cafes elsewhere in Europe, but not in Berlin. Frau Behrens is the place for cake in Berlin.  It's worth the effort to visit Frau Behrens, if just to see the interior.

Frau Behrens Torten is located at Wilmersdorf Str. 96-97,10629 Berlin. Take either the Charlottenburg S-Bahn Station or Wilmersdorfer U-Bahn Station exit.


Altmodisch ist das Ambiente mit den kleinen Bistrotischen auf dunklem Holzboden.  Unter der Stuckdecke hängt ein schöner Kristalllüster, in der Ecke steht ein Flügel-vor allem aber zieht die Kuchenvitrine Blicke auf sich.  Zwölf hausgemacht Kuchen und Torten lochen hinter dem Glas, die Entscheidung fällt schwer.  Die Qualität hat herumgesprochen im Kiez. Die Erdbeerschnitten schmeckt wie bei Großmutter.  Sie ist nicht ganz leicht, aber auch nicht zu suß. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Protecting our Borders

Here is an interesting follow-up story to my post about immigration control border crossings:  yet another Snafu.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

It's Not Good, But Excellent

During the past few weeks, parts of the Tiergarten (Berlin's version of NYC's Central Park) have been closed to autos and bicycles for security reasons.  During the World Cup, the City of Berlin installs a large World Cup viewing venue that includes big screen TVs, food and drinking kiosks, and lots of opportunities for people watching.  Known as the Fanmeile ("Fan Mile"), this venue is located right in the middle of the Tiergarten.  To enter the Fanmeile, people undergo a security inspection similar to airport security.  This means people are not permitted to bring liquids into the secured area.  This has caused problems, including a few cases of heat exhaustion. Think about it.  The weather is in the 90s, there is a limited water supply, and crowds of people numbering in the thousands.  All in a compact area.

Unfortunately, this is just another example of what has been called Security Theater.  No one would argue that reasonable security measures are necessary; however, there is such a thing as overreacting.  Many experts agree that it would be next to impossible to construct a bomb in this fashion.  Then why continue with the "no liquids" rule?  Because it provides a sense of security, even though it does nothing to enhance safety.  It makes you think the terrorist have really won the war.

In addition, the Fanmeile blocks a major roadway connecting west and east Berlin. The closure has resulted in increased traffic congestion and a few disgruntled drivers.  In my case, I've added an extra 15 minutes to my commute. Today, I got tired of all the mess and decided to try an alternative route.  Unfortunately, the new route was less picturesque (no Fernsehturm, no Museum Island, no Brandenburger Tor, and no Tiergarten); however, it was quicker.  

Since the new route goes through the Schöneberg section of Berlin, I decided to stop at a restaurant that someone recommended.  He said the restaurant was cheap and good.  I'm always cautious when it comes to restaurant recommendations, especially when the words "cheap and good" are used in the same sentence.

In this case, the recommendation was right on. Thai Huong was reasonably priced (around 5 Euro for a complete meal, or $7 USD), and the food was not merely good but excellent. This is the place for Vietnamese food in Berlin.  The next time I go there, I'm going to find out why it's called Thai Huong even though it serves Vietnamese food (perhaps, it's a play on the words "Viet Cong.")

Thai Huong is tucked away on a leafy side street offering inside and outside dining.  It has a simple, spare, and tasteful interior.  Although the menu is limited, it does offer a few vegetarian and vegan dishes.  I had a chicken dish with lots of fresh vegetables (a rarity in a Berlin restaurant).  The light sauce had touches of jasmine, ginger, sesame and herbs that highlighted the natural flavors of the chicken and vegetables without being overpowering. 

Thai Huong is not a restaurant that is likely to be found in tour books.  It has the disadvantage, or should I say advantage, of not being on the usual tourist route or on a street with lots of foot traffic.  Instead, the restaurant offers a savory meal that is served in an unpretentious and quiet setting.  This is a neighborhood restaurant that gets business through word of mouth. 

Thai Huong is located on Eisenacher Str. 54 (U-7, Eisenacher Str.).  It is open 12-23 daily.  It also offers some lunch specials as well. Sehr Lecker!!  Du muss es proberiert.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Another Night of Vuvuzelas

Well, it's another night of World Cup madness in Berlin:  Germany vs. Spain. Germany is the slight favorite to go all the way. Should they beat Spain, they will face the Netherlands this Sunday for the championship.  The Netherlands will be a formidable opponent.  They haven't lost a game the entire tournament.  Every bar and restaurant will be full as crowds view the game on big screen TVs.  I don't expect the noise and activity to stop until well past midnight, including the noise from those annoying vuvuzeIas.  It seems that the Friedrichshain neighborhood is ground zero for football fans, my street in particular.

A side note:  Last night, I was on the subway (my bicycle was in the repair shop), and there were a group of young people engaged in a lively conversation.  I usually don't eavesdrop, but I had forgot my reading material and had nothing better to do.

Now, I wouldn't call myself fluent, but I can understand a normal German conversation.  In the case of these young people, I couldn't understand one word they were using.  I began to think:  Did I need to take another German language course or was it worse?  Was this the beginning of Alzheimer's?  It was only after a great deal of effort and concentration that I determined the topic of the conversation:  the World Cup.  What else!

I discussed this event with a German friend, and she assured me that I wasn't suffering from a loss of mental capacity.  She said that even she had trouble understanding certain German accents. For foreigners, like myself, the thick Berlin accent, rapid speaking, and use of slang, all contributed to my incomprehension. What a relief!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Immigration Control

Traveling internationally has its benefits, but there are some drawbacks, including jet lag, different wall sockets for electrical appliances, and credit card transaction fees.  It's all part of international traveling.

I am always amused when passing through immigration.  Every country has its own unique style of immigration control.  It's not even uniform in the European Union countries.  For example, when I enter the EU through France, the Immigration Officer usually gives my passport a cursory look and away I go.  If I enter through Germany, there's a more detailed inspection.  The Immigration Officer usually looks at the passport to see how many days I have been in the EU, to make sure I haven't exceeded the time limit (three months at a stretch and six months within a year).  Generally, it's an easy process.

Entering Great Britain and Canada is an entirely different story.  They carefully scrutinize the passport and ask the standard, albeit, stupid questions.  For example, when I entered the UK from Germany, a few weeks ago, the Immigration Officer asked me the following questions:

  • How long would I be in the country? (5 days).
  • What was the purpose of my visit to the UK?  (Pleasure).
  • What kind of pleasure?  (Well, site seeing).
  • What kind of site seeing? (Well, the usual, museums, theater, monuments, etc.)  (I was tempted to say:  "Well, I hear there are a lot of good brothels in the UK."  But I didn't.)
A few years back, I was entering Canada for a five week vacation.  The Immigration Officer was surprised by my long visit.  She asked me why I was planning to stay for such a long time in Canada.  I was completely surprised by the question and answered: "Didn't she think her country was worth a five week visit?"  She let me pass without a further question.

I wonder what it's like for foreigners entering the US.  I've heard some unpleasant stories.  What is it about English speaking countries and their immigration control policies?

Things have changed a lot.  In the early 1980s, I backpacked across Canada from coast to coast. It took four months.  There was no need for a passport.  I just provided a drivers license and entered freely.

I know the Immigration Officer is trying to ensure the safety of their country.  But seriously, I don't fit the profile of a potentially dangerous person.  I am a middle aged professional (lawyer) from the USA without a criminal record or any Islamic connections.  I suggest: streamline the process, and target those people most likely to pose a real risk. Let's save the taxpayer some money.


I heard on the BBC World Service, the story of a young American girl being placed on the "Do Not Fly" list by mistake. Six year old Alissa Thomas was put on the list, and her parents have been trying in vain to get her off.  Apparently, once placed on the list, there is no way to get off. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can provide a security code to people erroneously placed on the list.  Those impacted people can provide the code to airport security and it should allow them to board a plane.  However, DHS cannot guarantee this will solve the problem the next time Alissa tries to travel.  It seems so Kafkaesque. There is a reason people fear big government.