Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Newest Vegan Addition to Berlin

Dr. Pogo is the latest vegan shop to open its doors in Berlin. This small store sells food, cosmetics, pet food, books, clothes, and sweets. There's also a cafe (the quiche and coffee are excellent). Located in Neukölln, between Richard and Karl-Marx-Platz, Dr. Pogo is just one of many new stores catering to Berlin's growing vegan population. The television news link above is very interesting. The manager of Dr. Pogo says that her clientele includes people from all walks of life, even seniors (people over 40).

Friday, May 23, 2014

Python Massage

Want a unique massage? How one from four South Burmese Pythons.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Netflix is Coming to Germany

The Berliner Zeitung reported today that Netflix is finally coming to Germany (also Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium). The video-on-demand service should be available by the end of 2014, and will compete with Germany's Maxdome. Netflix Germany will not include the DVD mail option. The monthly subscription premium has not been announced.

Happy Birthday "One Food in Berlin" Спасибі Україну! Спасибо Россия!

I started this Blog four years ago not knowing what to expect or what would happen. It continues to be a source of profound amazement and joy. Some days the postings just flow off the keyboard and other days, I struggle to write a sentence. On average, I spend about an hour a day on each posting. Although this can vary. Some postings can take as little as five minutes while others two or more hours.   

Over the years, I've discovered that people like to read topics about Berlin, sex, and humor. On the other hand, people avoid postings about politics or religion. I've learned that my biggest audience comes from the Ukraine and Russia (an interesting phenomena given the current political crisis), and that during the spring, I get the most page views.

But most importantly, this Blog has taught me a lot about myself and the uniqueness of the human condition. No one is perfect, and we all have failings. Expecting perfection in myself and in others is an unattainable objective. We're merely Human after all. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Reaching for the Stars and Overcoming Obstacles Part 3: Dancing with Multiple Sclerosis

Once a week a group of women in Berlin and Brandenburg get together to dance. All of them have Multiple Sclerosis, a disease that destroys the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord. The disease ultimately causes total disability and eventually death. There is no known cure or effective treatment. 

For the last five years, this unique dance group meets to chat and to dance. One of these women is Katherina Hippe (39), a single mother, who was diagnosed with MS ten years ago. After her diagnosis, she grew depressed and would often spend the entire day on the couch asking the question, "why me." Then she discovered this dance group, and her life changed. Dancing frees her mind and enables her to enjoy each day despite her condition. As she puts it, this is "a new chapter in my life, and it's full wonder. It's put life in perspective." Even if you don't understand German this video from ZIBB is inspiring.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Wie Viele Schlösser hat Berlin? (How Many Palaces are There in Berlin?)

Schloss Bellevue

How many palaces are there in Berlin? Not an easy question. Just calling something a palace doesn't necessarily make it so. For example, Schlossstraße (Palace Street) and Schlossparktheater (Palace Park Theater) aren't palaces.  According to art history expert, Guido Hinterkeuser, a palace is or was the residence of nobility. According to this criteria, there are 12 palaces in Berlin.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Football Mania Again!

It was a busy weekend in Berlin. There was a major bicycle race in the city, a museum festival (Lange Nacht der Museen), a demonstration against Homophobia, and the German Football final between Munich and Dortmund. There were an estimated 1 million visitors in the city!

The city was ablaze in team colors (red/white for Munich and yellow/black for Dortmund). The noisy Munich fans outnumbered Dortmund 20-1. I made the mistake of wearing my yellow windbreaker and black t-shirt while watching a Munich rally on Boxhanger Straße. Not a good idea. In the end, Munich won as usual. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014

Die Moderne Ampelfrauen (The Modern Traffic Light Woman)

Pedestrian traffic lights are the domain of men in Berlin. Since 2005, the former East German traffic light man (Ampelmann) dictates when to cross the street in Berlin. (Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West Berlin Ampelmann did not have a hat.)

Now, the Berlin Senate is considering a move to add traffic light women (Ampelfrauen) to the city's streets. A number of other Germany cities already have Ampelfrauen, but Berlin wants its Ampelfrau to reflect the modern German woman. Instead of a skirt and ponytail found on the current Ampelfrau, Berlin wants its female to wear slacks and high heel shoes. I like the idea of slacks, but high heel shoes? Perhaps, sneakers (runners) would be a better choice. First of all, they're healthier for your feet, and secondly, I see a lot more women wearing sneakers on the street than high heels. Moreover, the truly modern woman doesn't wear shoes that are obviously uncomfortable.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Footballer Kisses Boyfriend

I just saw the so-called "kiss" or should I say peck that has everybody talking in the USA. This "news item" didn't even register in the German press. Why for Christ sakes should it! I know the USA is puritanical when it comes to sex, but what's all the fuss about. Is it because it's a football player? I remember a time, not so long ago, when an interracial kiss would make the headlines and cause an uproar. At least, we've made some progress. 

Science Fiction: "Real Humans - Echte Menschen"

The Arte TV channel (German/French) is currently showing Real Humans-Echte Menschen, a science fiction TV series from Sweden, which is utterly absorbing. I'm not a science fiction fan, but this series has me hooked! 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Die Beste Deutsche Werbung im Jahr 2014 (The Best German Ad in 2014)

This poster for Blush lingerie wins my vote as the best German advertisement in 2014, and I'm not the only one to think so. As I was taking this photo, a number of other people were clicking away too.  

Das Poster für Blush ist die beste deutsche Werbung im Jahr 2014, und ich bin nicht die einzige. Ich habe diese Werbung in der Nähe von Alexanderplatz, Berlin gefunden.

World Cup Mania is Coming to Berlin

World Cup 2014 starts in less than a month (June 12 - July 13), which means Football (Soccer) pandemonium in Berlin and the rest of the world (the USA excluded). Bars, cafes, and restaurants will have big screen TVs set-up for their customers to enjoy this amazing spectacle. In addition, the fan mile in Berlin's Tiergarten Park will have a huge public viewing screen for thousands to watch the matches outdoors. 

Should Germany win a match, Berliners will be celebrating in the streets. (If they lose, they'll be demonstrating.) As a preview of what's to come, I was awakened last Sunday morning (7 AM) by a large crowd of drunken football enthusiasts marching outside my apartment. Football season ended on Saturday and these guys were voicing their frustration at Berlin's disappointing season. If the last World Cup is any indication, this kind of behavior is mild compared to what will happen during the World Cup tournament itself.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Street Art: Karl-Marx-Allee

At the Corner of Karl-Marx-Allee
and Warschauer Str.,
Friedrichshain, Berlin
I had to look twice before discovering that this wasn't a real man. It's just street art that someone decided to install in a public space. It's purely ad hoc and purely original!

English Language Bookstore in Friedrichshain

The Former Friedrichshain Buchhandlung

The former Friedrichshain Buchhandlung (bookstore) is now Shakespeare and Sons, an English language bookstore and cafe. The Friedrichshain Buchhandlung was a used bookstore that catered to local residents while this new incarnation hopes to attract tourists and expats. The cafe portion, which features traditional bagels and pastries, is a nice addition to the store. The day I visited, I had a coffee (not bad) and a bagel (better than most). The prices were reasonable. There's plenty of seating, lots of natural light, and WiFi. Whether Shakespeare and Sons can succeed is a good question. I sure hope so! The traditional bookstore is an endangered species that's worth preserving.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Birch Leaves and Linden Tree Flowers for Good Health

Birch Tree
The birch tree is one of the symbols of spring. Did you know that its leaves are full nutrients and are often used in teas and salads? Birch leaves contain flavonoids and ascorbic acid, which are essential for good health. The birch leaf is often used as a home remedy for bladder infections, kidney stones, and depression. The birch leaf has diuretic, antibiotic, and analgesic effects.

For a great tea, simply add hot water to a handful of fresh or dried birch leaves and let stand for 5 minutes. Or for a unique salad, add fresh new leaves to the other salad ingredients. 

Linden Tree Flowers
The linden tree flower is also a popular home remedy for colds because it contains fever-reducing glycosides, which have expectorant, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory effects. Simply add fresh flowers to hot water and let stand for 5 minutes. It makes for a great tea.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

UPDATE: Austria's Drag Queen Diva Wins!

Conchita Wurst (Thomas Neuwirth) has won Eurovision 2014 with Rise Like a Phoenix. It's the first time a drag queen (bearded too) has taken the title. The televised event was not without controversy. The political crisis in the Ukraine took the spotlight especially when the Russian contestants took the stage and were soundly booed.

Wurst also faced protests from groups, representing so-called "family" values, saying Wurst was an example "western style decadence." (Sounds like something from the USSR during the Cold War.) At public viewing events in Russia and other Eastern European countries, Wurst was jeered as she performed, and Belarus state television even considered editing out her performance. 

The rift in European attitudes was also apparent when the nations announced their scores with Eastern European countries generally ignoring or giving low points to Wurst. In contrast, the western nations gave the aspiring singer top marks.

After winning, Wurst said (with twinkle in her eye and bit reminiscent of what beauty contestants usually say) she "hoped for peace and love in Europe and around the world." When asked what she would tell Russian President Putin if he was watching the show, Wurst replied, "We're unstoppable." 

I have to admit, I was not particularly fond of Rise Like a Phoenix. It reminded me of a lackluster James Bond song. Nevertheless, Eurovision is more than just a song, it's the performance, the singer, and charisma. Wurst's win is also a win for tolerance and gay rights.

As an aside, France again refused to announce its scores in English, the official language of the show.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Danke Mama zum Muttertag! Happy Mother's Day! Ganz Tolle Werbung!

Here's a very sweet TV commercial from Nivea (Austria) in honor of Mother's Day. Wirklich so süß! Die ist eine tolle Werbung!

Reaching for the Stars and Overcoming Obstacles Part 2: Wolfgang Hermann Builds His Dream House

"For me, the sun shines every day," so says Wolfgang Hermann (65). What's significant about that? Well, Wolfgang Hermann is completely blind. Yet, his condition hasn't stopped him from building his own dream house with his own hands. Hermann's three-story structure includes a view of the surrounding countryside and a swimming pool. Hermann admits that he had some help with the foundations and plumbing, but other than that, the house is his own creation. Watching Hermann operate the circular saw or walk on the roof gives me chills. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Adventures in Photography: Photography Playground

Photography Playground is an interactive exhibition that invites visitors to explore photography with their own cameras (cameras can also be borrowed). Using optical illusions, brightly colored walls, weird lighting effects, and unique sculptures, Photography Playground plays with space and dimension. I had a blast clicking away and watching participants engage in the installations. The show runs until May 25, 2014, and it's free to the public. 


A Maze of Geometric Space

Using Mirrors to Create
an Illusion, Participants
Play with Space

This Installation combines
Music, Sculpture, and Light in the Dark

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Austria's Drag Queen Bombshell: Conchita Wurst

See Update

The Eurovision song contest will be televised this Saturday throughout Europe. This annual "event" rarely features anything interesting, but this year, there are a few songs worth mentioning, including Common Linnets (The Netherlands) with their song, Calm After the Storm, and Valentina Monetta (San Marino) with Maybe (cheesy, but it's San Marino after all). With the exception of Abba (Waterloo, 1974), the Eurovision winner quickly fades into obscurity.

This year my favorite contestant is Austria's Conchita Wurst with Rise Like a Phoenix. ("Conchita" can mean "pussy" in Spanish and "Wurst" means sausage in German. You put it together.) If beauty has anything to do with selecting the winner (and it does) then Sanna Nielsen from Sweden and Kasey Smith from Ireland are certainly the favorites.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Das DDR-Regierungskrakenhaus: East Germany's Hospital for the Elite

An Apartment
at the Regierungskrankenhaus
Equal access to health care is not a new topic or even something unique to the USA. It was one of the reasons behind the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka ObamaCare). Ever since Germany enacted national health insurance in 1883, access to health care has been a controversial topic. Today, most western countries have some form of national health insurance. Yet, even in these countries, there exists a two-tiered system of health care: one for the rich and one for the rest.

Even in the former communist countries, the ruling class had its own form of health care. I was reminded of this a few days ago when I saw a local news program about East Germany's Government Hospital (Regierungskrankenhaus). Located in East Berlin, the hospital resembled a luxury hotel, and catered exclusively to East Germany's elite. 

For its time, the hospital was an ultra-modern facility that had state of the art equipment, highly specialized doctors (paid in West German Marks), and medications available only in the west. If a drug was unavailable at the hospital, a Stasi officer was sent to West Berlin to procure it. The hospital had luxury apartments, televisions in every room, and even bowls of tropical fruit for patients and guests (unavailable to most East Germans). Erich Honecker, East Germany's Communist Head of State, stayed there for a brief time in palatial splendor. 

Today, this hospital stands empty, a stark reminder of the inequalities that existed in a so-called "Egalitarian State." As health care costs continue to rise and the ability of the average American to afford basic health care (even with insurance) becomes less attainable, I wonder if our two-tiered system of health care will continue to widen and become more like that of the former East Germany. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Travails of Buying and Selling an Apartment in Berlin

A few weeks ago, we decided to place our Berlin apartment on the market. It seemed like the right time. Property values are high, the exchange rate is favorable, and there are so many other places to discover.

Of course, it was a difficult decision. Berlin is a phenomenal city, and I will certainly miss it. It's a place of contrasts and extremes. On the one hand, it's a city with three major opera houses, a major ballet company, a philharmonic, hundreds of museums, plenty of parks, an extensive public transportation system, and a large multicultural population. On the other hand, it's a city plagued by homelessness, illicit drugs, poverty, illegal sex trafficking, and ethnic tensions. In a way, Berlin is like New York City, a place that never sleeps, and a place where anything is possible. In a word, EXCITING! 

Buying our apartment in a Berlin was no easy task. There were building delays, an inordinate number of regulatory hurdles, a language barrier, and, of course, the uncertainties of the exchange rate with each installment payment. Buying property in Berlin was time-consuming, stressful, and costly. Will selling be any different? 

Already, I've noticed a difference in the way viewings are conducted. In Germany, the seller is present during the viewing. At first, it was a bit awkward seeing a potential buyer inspect our private domain with a fine-tooth comb, but now I find it rather interesting. You see, German buyers aren't bashful when it comes to expressing their opinions about the apartment: "it's too small," "too noisy," "kitchen is rather small," "too expensive," "the doors aren't solid wood!," "that's a balcony, it couldn't fit two people" "furniture looks cheap." Ah, the joys of selling property. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Mysterious Mr. Quin: "A Problem is not Necessarily Unsolvable Because it has Remained Unsolved."

Melancholy (1894)
Edvard Munich
Agatha Christie Book Challenge:
Book 11

I've just finished my eleventh Agatha Christie book, and I haven't even got to the first Miss Marple novel! It's 1930, and Christie is now world famous. In addition, news about her bizarre disappearance in 1926 and her well-publicized divorce from philandering Archie Christie have added to her mystique. Christie's sensational novel, The Murder of Rodger Ackroyd has sparked controversy, and she's on the verge of writing some of her most acclaimed novels: Murder on the Orient Express (1934), And Then There Were None (1939), Death on the Nile (1935), and Murder in the Vicarage (1930). 

The Mysterious Mr. Quin marks a turning point in Christie's career. It's a real departure from the usual Christie, and it reveals a maturity and complexity that one doesn't usually associate with her work. This collection of twelve short stories has a melancholy feel that is vaguely unsettling and uncharacteristically sinister. The stories are part mystery, part supernatural, and part fantasy. 

All the stories feature Mr. Satterthwaite, an elderly gentleman that observes life from afar, a man who knows about the complexities of life and love but has never participated in them. Mr. Satterthwaite is haunted not only by his unrealized sense of regret, but also by the mysterious Harley Quin, a shadowy figure that suddenly appears and disappears in each story. It's Mr. Quin that nudges Mr. Satterthwaite toward solving the "unsolvable."  

There is more than meets the eye in this book. Each story is intriguing and personal. Christie reveals a lot about herself, showing the depth of her mind and even some of the hurtful events in her life. Perhaps, in reference to her failed first marriage, she writes, "For ten years I have lived with a man I love. Now I am going to the man who for ten years have love me."

I highly recommend this collection of beguiling and unusual stories. 


Friday, May 2, 2014

Berlin Street Art: Yarn Bombing (Crocheting Public Space)

Sidewalk Pole
in Friedrichshain
in Kreuzberg
Yarn Bombing is a type of graffiti or street art that uses knitted or crocheted yarn to reclaim cold or sterile urban spaces. You find it in many large cities around the world, including Berlin.

Yarn Bombing is believed to have started in the US State of Texas, and unlike other forms of graffiti it can be easily removed. I first noticed yarn bombing in New York City a couple of years ago, and now I've seen it in Australia, Europe, and throughout the USA. It really makes a city come alive. And it's less damaging to property than traditional spray graffiti. I love it! 

Bicycle Posts
in Schöneberg

in Schöneberg

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Reaching for the Stars and Overcoming Obstacles Part I: The World's Friendliest Restaurant

Tim's Place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is perhaps the friendliest restaurant in the world. Owned and operated by Tim Harris, a young man with Down syndrome, Tim greets every customer with a big hug. He's also the only person in the world with Down syndrome that also owns a restaurant. 

Soon after Tim was born, a lot of people told Tim's parents how very sorry they were. But according to Tim, "they didn't know how totally awesome I would turn out to be." Tim eventually participated in the Special Olympics, became Homecoming King of his high school, and obtained a university degree!

As my mother always said, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Tim has done that and more. Tim is an inspiration.

International Workers' Day

Good Work. Secure Pension. Socialistic Europe.
May 1 Our Day
Happy Labor Day (Tag Der Arbeit)! Today, Europe and much of the world is celebrating workers and the working classes. Labor Day or International Workers' Day is an official public holiday with many businesses closed for the next three days as well. The day also coincides with May Day, an ancient festival celebrating Spring.