Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rules and Etiquette at a German Pharmacy

The German pharmacy or Apotheke is not like an American Drugstore. The Apotheke sells only medications. It's not like a CVS or Walgreen's where, in addition to medications, you can purchase shampoo, cosmetics, household items, and snack food. (The German Drugstore sells these types of products.)

At an Apotheke, you have to ask the pharmacist for what you want, even an over-the-counter drug such as Aspirin. You can't just pick it up. On the other hand, the German pharmacist has more latitude when it comes to prescribing medications, and it's often easier to go directly to the Apotheke, explain your symptoms to the pharmacist and get the proper medication rather than visit the doctor.

As with most shops and banks in Germany, the Apotheken are closed in the evenings, on public holidays, and from Saturday afternoon (1 or 2 pm) until Monday morning. Not to fear. If you need medication on a holiday, every Apotheke has a notice posted on its door with the name and address of the nearest on duty Apotheke.

It's important to remember that an "on duty" Apotheke is not "open" to the public, which means its doors are closed. A customer needs to ring the Apotheke doorbell to get service. A pharmacist will come to the door, and the customer will explain what he or she needs. The pharmacist gets the necessary medication, returns with the drug and bill, and the customer pays. At no point during the transaction does the customer enter the Apotheke. The customer remains at the Apotheke entrance at all times. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Exact Fare For Berlin Public Transit, Please!

Berlin has an open public transit system: meaning it relies on the honor system. A passenger buys a public transit ticket, and occasionally, an undercover transit controller will ask to see your ticket. If you don't have a valid ticket, you are fined on the spot. Yesterday, I read what seemed to be an almost unbelievable story. Then again, this is Germany.

An Italian tourist, after arriving at Berlin's Schönefeld Airport, purchased a transit ticket for 2,70€. The normal fare 2,30€. She unfortunately overpaid. While traveling into the city, she was stopped by a transit controller; and you guessed it, she was fined 40,00€ for traveling on an incorrectly issued ticket. She unsuccessfully appealed the fine, but rules are rules. Like I said, this is Germany.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Berlin Streetscape

Bold Colors on this Building in Kreuzberg
Keep an eye open, there is always some interesting streetscape in Berlin.

Photographers Admiring This Unusual
Work of Art
Ad Hoc Street Art in Front of U-Bahn Warschauer Str.
Rose Sculptures for the Second Phase
of Gleisdreieck Park

Monday, May 28, 2012

Karneval der Kulturen 2012! Einfach Spaß

It wouldn't be a fair without Corn
on the Cobb (German Style)
The Name Says it All

I'm usually underwhelmed by most parades and street fairs, but not with Berlin's annual Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Cultures). It's really unique. There's music, dance, performance art, food, and drink all representing Berlin's multicultural community. This four day event ends today.

I've included a few video snapshots of musicians I enjoyed, including a band that played folk music from Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Israel. They reminded me of the bands that played at the old Radio Valenica in San Francisco. Radio Valencia had the best homemade chili in town, and on Friday nights, there was Eastern European music! When people ask me what I miss about California. I first mention the weather, followed by Radio Valencia
I said it was Multicultural

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Berlin: Carnival of Subculture

There are so many events each weekend in Berlin that it's difficult to keep track, let alone attend any of them. This holiday weekend, Berlin hosts the 17th Annual Karneval der Kulturen. This is one of Berlin's biggest events of the year, and it focuses on the Latino and Asian communities of Berlin. This four day event has a street parade on Sunday and fair ground with plenty of music, dancing, food, and drink.

"Subculture" Participants Walking in the Parade

However, a smaller and less well-know event is also occurring this weekend: The Carnival of Subculture. It's the alternative to the more traditional Karneval der Kulturen, and its theme is the elimination of racism, sexism and homophobia. I discovered this "Carnival" completely by accident as I was riding my bike this morning. Although not as festive as the Karneval der Kulturen, the participants are just as energetic. 
Notice that the Banner is in English and Spanish, not German
This "Float" is comprised of Household Pots and Pans

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pfingstenwochenende (Pentecost Weekend)

This Sunday is Pfingsten (Pentecost). Pfingsten commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the remaining eleven Apostles (Judas committed suicide) and the other followers of Christ. It is celebrated 50 days (seven weeks) after Easter. Pfingstmontag (Pentecost Monday) is a national holiday in Germany; and, like Himmelfahrt, another religious/national holiday, most things will be closed, including stores and places of employment. 

In Southern Germany, Pfingsten is traditionally celebrated by decorating prized cattle and leading them through the streets. In Eastern Bavaria there are parades with horses and bands, and in lower Saxony wreaths are placed on birch trees.

Pfingstrose (Peony)
In Berlin, a decidedly nonreligious region, most people relax, drink, or attend the annual Karneval der Kulturen. BTW: Peonies are known as Pfingstrosen in Germany and are now available at florist shops and markets. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

It's 110 for the Police

The Cast of Polizeiruf
In the United States when you have an emergency you dial 911. In Britain, it's 999. But in Germany, there are two emergency numbers. For a medical emergency, you dial 112, and for the Police, 110.

It's easy for me to remember the Police number since one of my favorite TV shows is Polizeiruf 110 (Police Call 110). Polizeiruf 110 was East Germany's answer to West Germany's extremely popular detective/crime show, Tatort. Both shows have been on the air continuously for over 40 years! That's longer than The SimpsonsPolizeiruf 110 takes place in a variety of German cities while Tatort has episodes in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. If you're interested, watch an episode on your computer. Many German TV shows are streamed. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Although not Ideal, Zoos have a Purpose

Zoos protect endangered and threatened species from extinction. Until humans can learn to live harmoniously with the other creatures of the world, there needs to be a place to safeguard the world's genetic diversity. Here are some new additions to the Berlin Zoo. Some are rare species, some not so rare. 

The Not So Rare Skunk: They really are Cute!
Rare Coatis From Brazil:  Diego is at the Far Left

 The Not So Rare Dingo From Australia
Endangered Baby Ocelot
Endangered Baby Asian Elephant: Bogor
Endangered Java Leopards: Sri Kandi and Arguna

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The "Panorama" at the Pergamon Museum is Disappointing

Pergamon Temple Alter
The Pergamon Museum is one of the world's major archaeological museums, and when visiting Berlin, it shouldn't be missed. It houses the Pergamon Alter, the two-story Roman Market Gate, the extraordinary blue and ocher tiled Gate of Ishtar, and the Babylonian Processional Street dating from the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar. 

Babylonian Processional Street
Now, through the end of September 2012, the Pergamon is hosting the Panorama Exhibition. The Panorama Exhibition is a 360 degree view of the city of Pergamon in the year 129 AD. Through the use of a sophisticated lighting installation, you see and hear the ancient city by day and by night. After climbing 25 meters (82 feet), you observe the city from above. (Warning: there's no elevator, so be prepared to use the stairs. This isn't the USA. No Americans with Disability Act here.)

I had heard great things about the Panorama, but in all truth, I was disappointed. I didn't find the visuals interesting and the sound effects added nothing to this rather boring attempt to represent antiquity. In short, visit the Pergamon, but save your money and skip the Panorama! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Changing Face of Berlin

Café Moskau on Karl-Marx-Allee:
Built in 1959, this building is a wonderful
example of what socialistic architecture could achieve

It seems like yesterday that the East German Wall came tumbling down, but it has been nearly 23 years since the fall of communism. Nowhere has German integration and capitalism been more apparent than in East Berlin. Each time I return, there is less and less of the old East. Little by little, the symbols, architecture, and infrastructure is replaced.

When I first saw Karl-Marx-Allee (the boulevard that showcased East Germany's military might during the annual May Day Parade) in the early 90s, it was like a ghost town: the store fronts empty, the streets lifeless, and the infrastructure decaying. Today, there are scores of new shops, restaurants, and cafés. On a warm day, there are hundreds of people bustling along the pavement. Here are a few images of what remains of the old. 

An colorful mural on a building near
Alexanderplatz. It depicts workers
united in a common cause: the
pursuit of human excellence. 

This is where the Lenin Monument used to be. 
It's now used by kids to play. 

The Warschauer Str. S-Bahn being
updated. At last there will be an elevator!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Where Does the German Chancellor Live?

Angie's House in Berlin.
Notice the Tired Tourists
Resting on the Steps?
In the United States, the Head of State lives at the White House, in the United Kingdom at Number 10 Downing Street, and in France at the Élysée Palace. But where does the German Chancellor reside?  Easy answer. He or she lives at his or her own house. 

In the case of the current German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, she lives at the same apartment she has occupied for many years (Kurpfergraben 6, 10117, Berlin Deutschland). The apartment sits directly across the street from the Pergamon Museum in Mitte. There are no blocked streets, no police vans, and no retinue of armed guards. There are just two policemen watching over the entire apartment building. That's it. It's really quite amazing that the German Chancellor has relatively little protection at her residence, especially given the thousands of people who pass her apartment everyday on the way to Museum Island.

Blocked Streets, Police Vans, and Intense Security
at the British Embassy in Berlin.

What a Contrast to Ms. Merkel's House.
When the Obama's moved into the White House they got servants, cooks, chauffeurs, and Secret Service protection. When a member of the First Family travels, the streets are cleared, security inspections conducted, and guards posted everywhere. What does Chancellor Merkel get? Two policemen.

BTW: When you look at the name plate posted on her mailbox, it merely states, "Prof. Sauer." That's Ms. Merkel's husband, a Chemistry professor at the nearby Humboldt University.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dieser Kaffee Schmeckt Sehr Gut / This Coffee is Very Good

I was told that Bonanza Coffee Heroes served the best coffee in Berlin. Located in Prenzlauer Berg (not far from Mauerpark), I decided to ride over and taste for myself. I wasn't disappointed. Although a bit pricey at 2,60€ a cup, the coffee was very strong with a crisp aromatic flavor. Unlike the Double Eye, my favorite café in Schöneberg, Bonanza Coffee Heroes has indoor as well as plenty of outdoor seating, just enough to relax and take in the Prenzlauer Berg fashionistas. The croissants were just right, probably the best I've tasted in Berlin. 

Das Bonanza Café liegt mitten im Szene Prenzlauer Berg unweit vom Mauerpark. Die Deko ist rustikal, aber ich fände das gut. Dieser Kaffe schmeckt intensiv und der Milchschaum ist fantastisch, aber die Qualität hat auch seinen Preis. Was man bezahlt für den Kaffee (2,60€) ist nicht gunstig, aber der Kaffee ist wirklich  beeindruckend. Der Laden ist klein, aber es gibt Sitzplätze im Freien, um die Anwohner zu beobachten. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Au Revoir Carla ABER kehren Sie nicht zurück!

Adieu Mme Bruni-Sarkozy. Je vous souhaite le meilleur, mais veuillez ne retourner pas au palais. This week Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and her husband, the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy left the Elysee-Palace. According to the press, the couple never liked the place anyway. (Was it too drafty?)

Scene from "Midnight in Paris"

Sarkozy, the right-wing conservative, was voted out of office after just one term, and replaced by François Hollande, France's first Socialist president in 17 years. As President, Mr. Sarkozy alienated friends and enemies alike. He was unable to work with the opposition, and was relentless in his zeal to return France to "his" version of capitalism. According to some political experts, Mr. Sarkozy was France's most unpopular head of state in modern history. 

Mme Bruni-Sarkozy, a former supermodel, "pop artist," and sometime actress (Midnight in Paris) used to be an avowed Socialist, leading a flamboyant lifestyle that included former lovers Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton. She admitted that "monogamy bores me." But her views "evolved" when she became Mr. Sarkozy's third wife after a tempestuous 80-day whirlwind romance. She now claims to be a loyal conservative. Last week, the never bashful Mme Sarkozy blamed her husband's defeat on France's left-leaning TV.

No doubt about it, Carla will be missed. She was a hot First Lady. She sizzled and added spice to an otherwise bland government. Quel Dommage! Schade! What a Shame!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Summer Soon?

Enough of spring! For the last few weeks, the temperatures have been hovering around the 50s. I'm ready for summer and the end of gray skies, biting wind, and chilly mornings. I'm looking forward to the weekend when the temperatures are expected to reach the 70s. It's time for some outdoor activity!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The End of an Era: Gas Lamps Go the Way of the Dinosaur

There is no other city in the world that has more gas lamps in use than Berlin. However, starting in June, the city will begin replacing the gas lamps with more efficient and economic fluorescent lighting. Of Berlin's 43,500 gas lamps, only 5 percent will be preserved as a sort of monument to 19th century technology.

Despite protests from city preservation groups, the city decided to go ahead and replace the gas lamps. In only a few areas of the city will the gas lamps continue to glow (parts of Charlottenburg and Frohnau). 

Call me a romantic, but I will miss the gas lamps. At dusk, you can hear a slight hiss as the yellow light comes on. They have a sort of film noir quality that's reminiscent of old black and white movies. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Himmelfahrt in Germany

Tomorrow is Himmelfahrt (Christ's Ascension into heaven), a national holiday throughout Germany. Government offices, stores, and businesses will be closed. Public transportation and museums will operate on a holiday/Sunday schedule. 

Himmelfahrt reminds us that forty days after his resurrection, Jesus returned to his Father. Even though Himmelfahrt is both a national and religious holiday, its current observance has more to do with custom than religion.

Traditionally, Himmelfahrt was a day to ask God for a good harvest. Stuffed pigeon and bird-shaped breads were eaten to remind people of the Holy Spirit. Germany isn't particularly religious, and many Germans have turned Himmelfahrt into a sort of "Father's Day." It's a day when men get together and go hiking or fishing, and of course, drink lots of alcohol. 

"Himmelfahrt in Friedrichshain"
by Norbert Bisky
In the United States, Himmelfahrt or Ascension Day is generally unobserved. The USA prides itself on its separation of church and state. Yet, most Europeans view the United States as "Jesus Land," a country heavily influenced by religious extremists.

Unfortunately, I can't disagree with that assessment. Over the past 30 years, religious intolerance has spread its nasty tentacles into various aspects of American culture and policy. Religious zealots continue to undermine the efforts of gays and women to attain equality. They exert undo influence over our educational and political systems, and have managed to link religion with patriotism. (You can't be an American if you don't believe in God.)

In celebration of Himmelfahrt, I've included three works of art with Himmelfahrt as their theme, including a work by local Berlin artist Norbert Bisky. His painting, "Himmelfahrt in Friedrichshain" refers to my neighborhood. It really captures the essence of this part of Berlin.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Eurovision 2012 is Back

The annual Eurovision Song contest is back. It promises to be as cheesy as ever, showcasing unremarkable songs and forgettable talent. 

This year the contestants include the septuagenarian grandmothers from Russia, the aging Engelbert Humperdinck from the United Kingdom (yes, he is still alive), the embarrassing Joan Franka (Indian Headdress included) from the Netherlands, and Germany's own pretty boy, Roman Lob.

The semi-finals are on May 22, 24, and the final on May 26. It's always worth a good laugh as the nations vie for the Eurovision Championship. Watch at home or with friends at your local bar. Eurovision proves once again that the lack of talent knows no borders. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Birds Do It

For the past couple of weeks, I've been following the progress of a couple birds living in our courtyard as they build their nest. Apparently, they find the water gutter next to the Bicycle Room ideal. (BTW: They're very territorial. I've had to duck my head a few times getting my bike.)

This quote by the Berlin architect and founder of the Bauhaus School, Walter Gropius (1883-1969) seems appropriate. The goal of a designer should be to make "the greatest possible effect with the least possible means." With just some twigs, leaves, and whatnot, birds are able to fashion a practical living structure.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What are Those Blue Pipes in Berlin?

For years, I've been wondering about those blue overhead pipes that you see throughout Berlin. They suddenly appear on the street and then they're gone within a few months. A few days ago, I noticed them on Warschauer Straße.

What are they? I've asked a few people, including some native Berliners, and even searched the web, but no one seems to know the origins of these strange, and in some ways beautiful, "works of art." 

Most sources agree that the pipes contain water that is being pumped from underground. Since Berlin is built on a swamp, there's a lot of groundwater just below the surface. Occasionally, when construction is taking place, the pipes are installed to prevent water breaks at the construction site. Other sources claim that the pipes transport thermal energy, but this seems unlikely since the pipes are temporary in nature and isn't thermal energy transported underground? In any case, the pipes are here, and they do add color to the neighborhood. 

Mother's Day Poster

Happy Mother's Day 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Alle Lieben den Kleinen Elefanten / Everybody Loves the Little Elephant (But There's A Shocking Reality)

Berlin's Newest Citizen
On Thursday, the Berlin Animal Park introduced its latest addition, a two day old baby elephant. It's as cute as a button. Unlike American zoos, which believe in birth control or sexual abstinence for their animal populations, European zoos have haphazard policies regarding breeding and population control.

European zoos believe that animals should be free to do what comes naturally. The result is a surplus of offspring. And if zookeepers can't find a home for the babies, zoos typically kill them. (Zookeepers argue that most animals born in the wild would die anyway.) Moreover, European zoos have learned that baby animals are big draws (i.e. Knut). Thus, there's a financial incentive to have zoo populations breed like crazy. What happens to these unfortunate animals once they become mature is another story. That's the shocking reality. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Truth About German Efficiency

The sudden announcement that Berlin's new airport will not open as scheduled on June 3, 2012, has made many Germans reconsider their famed "German Efficiency" standard. The announcement that the airport will now open in the the fall because of safety infrastructure issues has caused confusion and logistical problems for airport personnel, businesses, passengers, and the airlines.

Originally, Berlin's two other airports (Tegel and Schönefeld) were to close immediately following the opening of the new Willy Brandt International Airport. Consequently, airline and travel companies booked hundreds of thousands of passengers from Willy Brandt. (For example, my return ticket has me scheduled to leave from Willy Brandt.) Now, those passengers will need to be issued new tickets, and perhaps, be booked on different flights. This will cost the airlines millions. 

The delay has also placed many retailers in an untenable predicament. Many businesses scheduled to open at the new airport have already hired employees and ordered products. Contracts have been signed and some goods already delivered. The new airport has been beset with problems from the start, including bankruptcy, fight path issues, environmental concerns, and of course, cost over-runs.

Germany has long been known for its efficiency, and efficiency means punctuality! For example, there's a dinner-party rule: never be 15 minutes late. (And it's followed to the letter.) Efficiency also means ingenuity. For example, last night there was a fierce rainstorm. In Germany, I didn't need to close the windows. That's because most windows are sunk several inches into a building's face, and can be tilted open at the top rather than sliding up from the base. Ah, now that's German efficiency. 

Germany takes pride in its efficiency, and it has good reason to do so. However, this airport delay has highlighted what I've known for years. Germany is no better or worse than other countries when it comes to efficiency.