Saturday, June 30, 2012

Buy the Washing Machine but Avoid the Dryer

My Compact Model
Doing the laundry is one of those chores that never seems to end. I applaud the inventor of the modern washing machine. European washing machines are generally non-agitating and extremely energy efficient. Moreover, these machines use very little water, remove tough stains, and keep clothes in better condition (less wear and tear). However, all these pluses come with a big drawback: the washing cycle is long. 

In Berlin, I have a washer-dryer model that permits me to wash and dry a load of laundry in the same machine. It's practical, but hardly time saving. The average wash cycle is about 2 hours, and if you decide to dry, tack on another 2.5 hours. (The machine uses condensation to dry.)

Like most Germans, I rarely use a dryer. Instead, I prefer to line dry using a portable drying rack. It's economical and eco-friendly.

Friday, June 29, 2012

100 Beste Plakate (100 Best Posters) Deutschland, Österreich, Schweiz

Until July 29, 2012, the Kulturforum in Berlin is exhibiting the 100 best posters of 2011. The posters are from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Admission is free. Here are some of my favorites. 

Although not part of this Exhibition,
this 1968 poster from the German Student Alliance
for Socialism
 features Marx, Engels, and Lenin. It states,
"Everybody talks about the Weather, Not Us."
This really captures the mood of the 60's.
(Neue Nationalgalerie-Berlin)

Das Traumpaar: Zahn und Bürste
(The Dream Couple: Tooth and Brush),

Beware of Ticks (Hüten Sie sich vor Zecken),

Heute Mache Ich Blau (Today I make Blue),

A Poster for a Concert

Mahamaya Fixpress,
This Poster conveys movement, speed,
and good food. Klasse!

Courtesy of Kulturforum,

Fette Kinder (Fat Children),

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Deutschland ist Raus! Germany is Out!

Germany is out of the 2012 European Football Championships. They lost to Italy in an exciting semi-final game 1:2. The Italians will now face the Spanish in the final.

Wow, what a surprising result! No one saw this coming. I was on the edge of my seat. Everybody assumed the Germans would have a cakewalk on the way to the championship. Just goes to show, never take anything for granted. Overconfidence can be your worst enemy. The passionate Italian team made few errors as opposed to the unusually shaky Germans.

At the end of the game, the neighborhood was creepily quiet: no car horns, no firecrackers going off, no singing in the streets, and no cheering. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone was stunned. I'm not a betting man, but I'll put my money on the Spanish. 
Mario Balotelli: Scored twice, giving Italy the Win.

Looking for Love in all the Right Places?

In the age of the Internet, love is just a click away. There are thousands of sites to find Mr. or Ms. Right. However, in Berlin, you can also seek love the old-fashioned way: post an advert. Here are a few examples. 

This notice found in Treptower Park states, in part:
Young Prince (30) without an aristocratic title
seeks Rapunzel to steal a horse and be happy. 

I would so much like to kiss you.
(It looks like there has
been some interest.)
We belong together, etc.
(A bit over-the-top for my taste.)


A Heart for someone to love.
(This is my favorite!)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Siebenschläfertag in Deutschland / Seven Sleepers Day in Germany

June 27th is Siebenschläfertag (Seven Sleepers Day) in Germany. It's similar to Groundhog Day in the United States. The weather on this day is supposed to determine the average weather for the next seven weeks. Luckily, as a weather predictor, Siebenschläfertag is rarely accurate. That's good news, since the weather for Wednesday will be cloudy, cool, and wet. (There will be a break on Friday when it will be hot and humid.) In fact, June has felt more like winter or spring than summer. It's almost July, and I'm wearing a sweater and jacket! 

Many people assume that Siebenschläfertag refers to the edible dormouse, a rodent known as Siebenschläfer, but the day actually commemorates a German legend. In ancient Rome, the edible dormouse was eaten as a snack, hence the word edible in its name. Today, the edible dormouse is considered a delicacy and eaten primarily in Slovenia.

How Many Lives Does a Cat Have?

Each morning, as I'm getting ready for work, I listen to a local radio show (Der Supermix 94,3). There's always a good variety of news, music, chat, and a daily quiz question. Today's question was easy. Nonetheless, I got it wrong. 

Question: How many lives does a cat have?

Answer: If you thought it was nine, you would be wrong. In Germany and in many Latin American countries, a cat only has seven lives. Life must be tough for cats overseas. Das ist schade! 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Miss Marple: The Incredible Margaret Rutherford

A few weeks ago, I saw a fascinating TV documentary, The True Miss Marple-The Curious Case of Margaret Rutherford. (Der wahre Miss Marple-Der kuriose Fall Margaret Rutherford.) Known primarily for her portrayal of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple during the 1960s, Ms. Rutherford's life was exciting enough to be its own movie.  

Orphaned at an early age after her mother committed suicide and her father died in a mental institution, Ms. Rutherford was raised by her maiden aunt, and later taught music and elocution before attending drama school. In her later life, Rutherford suffered from serious bouts of depression requiring electroshock therapy.

Although the Marple films made Rutherford financially independent, she dismissed the films as eccentric and over-the-top, not worthy of Christie's Miss Marple.

After her death in 1972 from Alzheimer's disease, it was disclosed that Rutherford had been a victim of a crime worthy of its own Christie novel. The case involved Rutherford's live-in companion, the disappearance of her Oscar, and the sale of her personal valuables.

Known for her generosity and compassion, Rutherford employed a down on her luck opera singer, Violet Davis. Rutherford was already suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's and could no longer work professionally or manage her personal affairs. Ms. Davis sold off the actor's possessions, including Rutherford's Oscar, Golden Globe, jewels, and silver. Although arrested, Ms. Davis skipped trial and was never seen again. The Rutherford case is still open, and the Oscar still missing.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Right to Die

Here's an interesting article from today's Guardian. I've always believed that a person has the right to die. If I was Mr. Nicklinson, I would do the same thing: seek a lawful means to end my life. Why be condemned to a life of increasing misery. Whose life is it anyway?

I'm not religious, and I've never bought into the sanctity of life crap. My motto continues to be: Live with dignity and die with dignity. If the need ever arises, I'm headed to Dignitas

Saturday, June 23, 2012

USA Steals the Show with Embassy Float

Superboy and Supergirl?
For the first time ever, three embassies (the Netherlands, the UK, and the USA) participated in this year's Christopher Street Day (Gay Pride) parade.

I didn't expect much from the embassy sponsored floats. This is the government after all, and governments pride themselves in selecting the banal and lackluster. They avoid anything controversial or interesting 
Dull but Generous Brit Float

The British float lived up to expectations. Its float consisted of a picture of computer scientist Alan Turing and embassy employees waiving the Union Jack. Humdrum yes, but the British do win the award for most generous. As their float weaved its way along the parade route, embassy employees provided spectators with fruit smoothies. On the other hand, I was unable to find the float from the Netherlands. Perhaps, it was still in Amsterdam. It wins the MIA award.
US Embassy Float

Embassy Employees?
The USA float was small, but what it lacked in size, it made up for in color, eroticism, and enthusiasm. The crowd cheered, whistled, and applauded. (Germans applauding an American float? That's something!) Surprisingly, this float managed to get approved by the US Ambassador and US Secretary of State Clinton. Rather than comment, I will let you draw your own conclusions. I've also included some other pictures.

Cruella Deville (front)

Cruella Deville (back)

Russian Bublishiki
Gay Rugby
Two Very Cute Woman

Enjoy Food and Drink, Don't Fret Over It

In the United States if there's a problem, we fix it. For the most part, we're an optimistic nation with a "can do" and "fix it" attitude. When faced with a terminal illness, we seek the latest "cure," no matter the cost, discomfort, or effectiveness. If something can extend our life for just a few months, it's worth a try. This uniquely American characteristic extends to disease prevention as well.

The story goes that if you exercise regularly, eat "right," refrain from smoking, and drink moderately, you'll live a long and vigorous life. We've become a nation preoccupied with health. (Unfortunately, our quest for health belies the fact that many of us our overweight and unfit.)

The next time you go shopping, look at the number of products aimed at "health." There are diet potions, organic foods, anti-aging lotions, dietary supplements, and all sorts of elixirs claiming health benefits. The list goes on and on. We almost believe that we can avoid death by consuming the right things. 

The European attitude toward health and longevity is very different. Life is to be lived, not worried about. Try and find a sugar free, fat free, caffeine free, or reduced sodium product in a German store. Good luck. If you're lucky, you might find Coke Zero or some decaffeinated coffee. In Europe, food and drink are to be enjoyed, not fretted over. 

I'm reminded of this European joie de vivre lifestyle now that the summer holidays have begun. The high school term has just ended, and for the next six weeks, young people will be flooding my neighborhood to enjoy the plethora of bars, restaurants, clubs, and cafes. 

As I look down from my balcony, I see hundreds of kids laughing, flirting, and enjoying the warm summer evening. The air is filled with cigarette smoke, the streets littered with broken beer bottles, and the night air filled with music. In the morning, people stagger home after a night of wanton excess. During the day, the cafes and restaurants are crowed with patrons eating, drinking, and smoking. Healthy? It doesn't matter. After living in Berlin for awhile, I realize that this is just another part of the Berlin lifestyle.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag (Happy Birthday) Pittiplatsch!

Der Liebling der DDR Kinderfernshen war 50 Jahre alt am letzten Sonntag und bekommt mehr Sendezeit.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

McDonald's and Bubble Tea

Last month, I reported on the Bubble Tea explosion in Berlin. Now, McDonald's has joined the chorus of restaurants offering this ubiquitous beverage. This sugary concoction from the far east is a big hit in Berlin and apparently the world. Take it as gospel that once McDonald's adds something to the menu:
1. Its nutritional value becomes questionable, and
2. It's no longer hip.
Is Bubble Tea destine to become a common dietary staple or will it pass the way of Pop Rocks, Shasta Soda, and Chia Pets?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Preview/Vorschau der Christopher Street Day: Stadtfest Motzstraßenviertel

June is LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) month. In Berlin, Gay Pride celebrations are taken seriously. Earlier this month, Berlin's Mayor Klaus Wowereit officially unfurled the Pride flag near the Memorial to Homosexual Victims of Nazi Persecution.
Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit (L)
and his partner Jörn Kubicki (R)

This past weekend, festivities got underway with the Lesbisch-Schwulen Stadtfest (Lesbian and Gay Street Festival) near Motzstraße. Luckily, the weather was cooperative for Berliners to take part in it. 

Next weekend is Christopher Street Day (CSD), the biggest gay pride event in Europe. Last year, over 500,000 people took to streets of Berlin. CSD is held each year to commemorate the first gay uprising. On June 27, 1969, Gay's openly defied the New York City Police during a raid at a neighborhood gay bar.

This year, for the first time, the USA Embassy is participating at CSD. (Listen to Hilary Clinton's Pride message.) 

BTW: Here's a video clip of die Rosacavaliere, a gay men's chorus that participated at this year's Street Festival. They're singing Badehose (the bathing trunks), a 1952 children song from East Germany. It's a catchy tune.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Question of Justice

Magnus Gäfgen
The reasons for punishing law breakers are varied. The principal reasons are:
  • Retribution,
  • Deterrence,
  • Incarceration, and
  • Rehabilitation. 
In Germany the maximum criminal penalty is life imprisonment, which really means 15 years in prison. There's no death penalty, and "life" imprisonment is limited to 15 years. Despite these lenient penalties, Germany has a relatively low homicide rate. Germany's homicide rate of .81 per 100,000 people compares favorably against the U.S.A's rate of 4.8. (BTW: Monaco has the lowest reported homicide rate of 0.00 while Honduras has the highest at 87.)

It seems harsh penalties have little impact on the homicide rate. Yet, I'm not convinced we should do away with the death penalty or reduce "life" sentences to 15 years. I'm old-fashioned when it comes to facing the consequences of one's acts. On this topic, I'm not a bleeding heart.

Take the case of Magnus Gäfgen, a particularly heinous case that took place 10-years ago. Mr. Gäfgen was a law student studying criminal law. In 2002, he kidnapped and murdered 10-year old Jakob von Metzler. After picking up a 1 million  ransom, Gäfgen was arrested and taken into custody.

Jakob von Metzler
Gäfgen played it cool. He was skilled in police methods, and knew his rights. Gäfgen refused to answer police questions, knowing it would be difficult to pin the crime on him if no body was found. After three days of intense interrogation, the police were ready to give up. Then the Police told Gäfgen he would be placed in a cell with dangerous criminals unless he cooperated. Afraid for his safety, Gäfgen confessed, and told the police where they could find Jakob. (The coroner was uncertain as to the cause of death. Jakob either died of suffocation or dehydration.) Gäfgen later sued the police in the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds of inhuman and degrading treatment. He won, and was awarded 3,000 €.

Gäfgen is now serving a "life sentence." While in prison he was awarded his law degree, published his autobiography Allein mit Gott-Der Weg zurück (Alone with God-The Way Back), and was able to pocket the book's royalties. (Unlike the U.S.A, Mr. Gäfgen can keep the book's proceeds. It seems crime does pay.) In 2018, Gäfgen will be released from prison. He will be 43 years old and plans to practice law. Unlike his victim, Mr. Gäfgen can resume his life, and perhaps start a family. In this case, has justice been served?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Was Bedeutet Schicki-Micki? What does "Schicki-Micki" Mean?

Yesterday, I came across a story on TV about the new Guggenheim Lab. This Guggenheim installation in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg will conduct workshops, hold lectures, and facilitate conferences on issues ranging from art, technology, science, architecture, and the environment. Originally, the Guggenheim Lab was to be located in Berlin-Kreuzberg, but protests over the Lab's sponsor, BMW, required that it be moved to another location.

At yesterday's opening, protesters were again present. One protester stated, "Wir wollen keine Schicki-Micki hier!"(We don't want any Schicki-Micki here!) I had never heard the term "Schicki-Micki." I liked the sound of it, but what did it mean? (Das Wort klingt gut, aber was bedeutet das?) After a little research, I discovered that Schicki-Micki means something superficial, very chic, pretentious.

The origin of the word is unclear; however, I surmise that Schicki is derived from the word chic and Micki from Mickey Mouse meaning simple, stupid, or substandard. It's interesting how this Disney character's name has developed a negative and derogatory connotation.

On the Internet, there is some speculation that the term "Mickey Mouse" relates to the poor quality of Mickey Mouse watches. As a college student, I remember hearing "Mickey Mouse" or "Mick" course used to describe an easy class. Today, it's not uncommon to hear people say, "That's a Mickey Mouse job," meaning substandard. 

Ich kann nur sagen, dass Sie keine Schicki-Micki in diesem Blog hier finden werden!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Travel Business (or First): It's Worth It

In addition to the wider seats, the extra leg room, the better food and service, one of the biggest advantages in traveling business or first class is not having to worry about work, the house, or the family. You're 30,000 feet in the air, away from everything! For a few hours, you're free from the mundane. If you want coffee, a snack, or just an extra pillow, just ask, and it's yours. For me the comfort and ease of traveling business (or first) class is worth the extra dollars. 

Perhaps, my attitude about traveling business class is best reflected in the wonderfully humorous novel and film, Travels With My AuntIn the book, Aunt Augusta proclaims to her earnest and proper nephew, "[t]he difference between first and tourist class is wiped out by the champagne and caviar." (Perhaps, a bit of an overstatement these days. And do the airlines still serve caviar in first class?) As Aunt Augusta reflects on her rather extraordinary and unorthodox life, she wisely notes that "sometimes the journey is more enjoyable than the destination." I have to agree. Some of my most memorable experiences have occurred while on the journey. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Germany's Window Box Culture

My Very Own Gartenzwerg,
Including Plants
One of the first things I noticed in Berlin were the balconies filled with window boxes, containers, and hanging baskets. Most people in Berlin do not live in houses but in apartments; so it's easy to understand this love of the window box and balcony garden. People want nature, even if it's on a balcony in the middle of a large city.

You find these small gardens hundreds of feet in the air on large apartment blocks, on upscale apartments, and even on places of business. The abundance of flower shops with inexpensive potted plants makes it easy to add color and fragrance to your home. During the summer months, you see people eating, drinking, or just sitting in their small landscaped oases above the rumble and drone of the city.  

Simple but Stylish
This crowed balcony is above Hexe, a Raucous Bar

A Bit of the Mediterranean

There's Not Much More Room Here

Very German:  Planned and Coordinated

My Own Garden Oasis
Even in Kreuzberg!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Berlin und der Lindenbaum

The unmistakable fragrance of the linden tree (genus Tilia) is everywhere in Berlin. It's summer, and lindens are teeming with flowers (and sap). At night, I open all the windows and breath the rich aroma of the linden blossoms. For a few months a year, the Berlin air is scented with the sweet perfume of the linden. It's a welcome change from the auto exhaust and cigarette fumes.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

An Artist I Love: Australia's Ron Mueck!

Mask II (2001-2002)
The Melbourne-born sculptor, Ron Mueck is known for his hyper-realist works. His sculptures faithfully reproduce every detail of the human body. Mask II is a representation of Mr. Mueck, lying on his side as if asleep. It wavers between realism and abstraction. Like most of Mueck's work, I find this sculpture both fascinating and disorienting.

Big Man (2005)
Mueck began his career working on the Australian children's television program Shirl's Neighborhood. He made, voiced, and operated the shows puppets. You can see his puppetry skills at work in his sculptures. He currently lives in London.

A few years ago, I saw Mueck's Untitled (Big Man) at a special exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. If you're interested, I recommend listening to a recording from the Christchurch Art Gallery of New Zealand discussing Mr. Mueck's Two Women.

Two Women (2005)