Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Die Kronzeugin - Mord in den Bergen: Keeps You Guessing to the Very End

It's difficult to be original when it comes to the crime thriller. It's all been done before. Of course, there are the Stieg Larrson novels (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.), Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, and Netflix's The Man From Reno, but these are the rare exceptions in a genre full of well-worn formulas. So when I tuned in to ZDF's telefilm, Die Kronzeugin - Mord in den Bergen (Key Witness - Murder in the Mountains), I wasn't expecting much. Boy, was I surprised!

Die Kronzeugin is one of those rare films that's like a Chinese puzzle that blurs the line between truth and lies, and fact and fiction. This taunt emotional film is full of suspense, surprise, and originality. It doesn't play down to its audience or rely on gimmicky special effects. Available online for a limited time on ZDF and Youtube. In German.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Movie Classic: The Group

The Group (1966) was the first mainstream Hollywood movie to tackle lesbianism. Staring Candice Bergen and Larry Hagman, the movie was designated as "adult only" in many theaters and almost destroyed the careers of Bergen and Hagman. Considered tame by today's standards, the movie was based on a novel by Mary McCarthy. Remarkably, it still holds up nearly 50 years later.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Creative Writing: Something Stupid

Something Stupid

My piano teacher, Mrs. Goldman, had suggested the Moldau or Autumn is Here for the recital, but I wanted to play something different, something exciting for my first time on stage. I thought about playing Yesterday, Hey Jude or The Yellow Submarine, but I couldn't afford the sheet music; I'd already spend my allowance. Anyway, Mrs. Goldman disliked anything modern, and I was certain she would refuse to allow a Beatles' song at one of her recitals.   

Hoping to find inspiration, I leafed through one of my sister's music books and found Something Stupid, a Frank and Nancy Sinatra song. It was big hit, and one of my mother's favorites. It didn't look difficult, and I felt confident I could master it before the recital.

As I sat backstage, on the day of the big event, I watched the other kids waiting to go on. I wondered what all the fuss was about. This was just a recital. Nothing to worry about. Yet, Billy Newgate had turned white and looked as if he was going to vomit. Betty Kolwalski, who sat next to me, kept taking deep breathes and murmuring, it's all right, it's all right. Even Alan Segal, Mr. Know-it-All, was sweating. I could see the Brylcreem running down the side of his face, staining his crisp white dress shirt. 

I was scheduled to follow Jeanine Wallace, a girl who had spent the entire month working on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It was a simple song, but Jeanine was was either tone deaf or just stupid. She couldn't get the rhythm. When Jeanine had finished her song and had returned backstage, tears running down her cheeks, I asked her, “How did you do?” And then added, “there doesn't seem to be a twinkle in your eye.” 

“Oscar, stop bothering Jeanine,” shouted Mrs. Goldman. “Do you have your music ready?”

“Yes, Mrs. Goldman, but I won't be playing the Moldau. I've decided to play Something Stupid.” 

“You're playing what?” Mrs Goldman said, her eyes wide open. 

“I'll be playing Something Stupid, you know, 'and then I go and spoil it all, by saying something stupid like I love you.'”

Before Mrs. Goldman could say another word, I was on stage. The William Cullen Bryant Elementary School Auditorium was full. Wow, I'd never seen so many people gathered in one place. I quickly spotted my mom and dad in the third row and gave them a slight wave and big smile. I took my seat and placed the music on the piano. 

Then it happened. I looked at the music, and I was unable to read a note. It was like looking at Chinese. Nothing made sense. I sat motionless. I heard a few people clear their throats, then a few snickers, and then dead silence. I was in a daze. I had no sensation in my fingers, arms, or legs. I felt as if I was suspended above the auditorium hall watching a tragedy unfold. 

It seemed like an eternity before Mrs. Goldman came on stage and whispered, “Oscar, are you all right?” I nodded, but I was unable to speak. “Are you able to play?” I looked at Mrs. Goldman and then at the audience. I shook my head no.  

Heading home and sitting in the back seat of our 1964 blue Pontiac, my mother said, “Stage fright happens. Don't let it bother you. By tomorrow, it will be forgotten.” Of course, tomorrow and for weeks, even months later, it wasn't forgotten. I was the kid who had bombed on stage.

What had happened? Had it been my cockiness? Had God punished me for willfully defying Mrs. Goldman's choice of the Moldau

I promptly gave up the piano and avoided listening to Something Stupid and any Sinatra song. I even hid the Something Stupid album for fear it would be played. Even today, I cringe when I hear the song, reliving the events of that day.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Wolves Sighted in Portland Maine

During the last century, wolves were almost hunted to extinction and efforts to reintroduce wolves into their natural habitat have been controversial. Ranchers fear wolves will harm livestock and many people continue to view the wolf as a Little Red Riding Hood villain. In Portland, Maine, and in other North American cities, wolf packs sometimes enter the urban environment seeking food. These packs are often killed.

In Portland, a small pack of wolves were recently found near an abandon section of waterfront. Luckily, I had my smart phone handy to take a few pictures of these majestic creatures. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Darf Ich Ein Glas Leitungswasser, Bitte? May I Have a Glass of Tap Water, Please?

Asking for a glass of tap water at a German restaurant is troublesome. At best, the wait staff will look at you strangely before begrudgingly bringing you a thumb-sized glass of water. At worst, they will state they don't serve tap water, but you can buy bottled water at around $5-7 a bottle. 

In Germany, tap water is considered unhealthy even though it's likely cleaner and safer than the expensive bottled stuff. So it was refreshing to see a sign at a local Portland restaurant that unabashedly said they proudly serve tap water.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Creative Writing-Short Story: Owen

I got the idea for the this story from a friend. The facts have been modified for fictional purposes.


After an eight hour flight the only thing Robert wanted was a quiet place to stretch his legs and rest his eyes. At the United lounge the two agents manning the front desk seemed preoccupied with a troublesome customer. It always irritated Robert when a person held up the line, oblivious to waiting people.

As the line grew longer, the two agents were joined by a third and then a forth. Finally, the man left the counter and headed toward the door, his eyes had a fiery glow.  As he passed, Robert suddenly recognized him. It was Owen. Robert and Owen had briefly bonded as part of a high school foreign exchange program 15 years ago. They met intermittently at reunions but hadn't kept in touch as their adult lives rolled along. 

“Owen, it's Robert.”

Owen shot a quick glance at Robert and stopped. “Robert, how long has it been, seven years?”

“About that. What was the problem at the desk?” Robert asked.

“I lost my membership card and my name wasn't in the system. They wouldn't let me in. I wasn't going to pay the $50 entrance fee,” he replied with a faint hint of indignation.

“You can join me. I can bring a guest,” Robert said, placing his hand on Owen's shoulder. 

Inside the lounge, the pair found a quiet place to rest. “Would you like a drink? It's on me. I have these free drink coupons, Robert said. 

“Thanks, I'll have a vodka tonic,” replied Owen. 

They talked about Owen's life as a chef in Paris, and how he lost his job as a result of the economic downturn. He'd briefly lived with his girlfriend, but things didn't work out. As Owen put it, “We didn't see eye to eye on things. I needed my freedom.”

“Yes, it was a good life in France,” he continued, finishing his vodka tonic. “Mind if I have another one of those coupons, Robert?”
“Sure, I have plenty.”

As Robert prepared to leave to catch his connecting flight, he tentatively handed Owen his business card. “If you're ever in Portland, give me a call. I would love to have you visit.”

“I might take you up on that. Oh, by the way, do you need the rest of those drink coupons?”

“No, not all,” Robert said handing Owen the remaining coupons. Robert had been thinking of having another drink at his destination, but Owen seemed to need it more. As Robert walked through the terminal, he thought about how good it was to reconnect with Owen, but he also couldn't deny a feeling of relief.

A month later, as Robert sat in his office, he got a telephone call. It was Owen.

“Hey, Robert. It's Owen. I'm here at the airport. I'm passing through and decided to take you up on the offer. Can you come and pick me up?”

“Did I hear right, you're at the airport now?” replied Robert.

“Yes,” Owen said.

Portland isn't a 'passing through' city thought Robert. But Owen was in town, and he should be hospitable. He was always telling himself to loosen up, go with the flow, be spontaneous. 

“Well, it's 2:00, and I'm still at the office. I can't leave, but why don't you take a cab and come over. You can wait in the canteen.”

Thirty minutes later Owen arrived.

“Hey Robert. The cab is out front. I can't seem to find my credit card, and I don't have any cash on me. Could you lend me $40.”

“$40? Cab fair should be $15 tops.” Nevertheless, Robert handed Owen two twenties. 

Over dinner, Owen told Robert that he had spent a few weeks with his parents and then with his brother in New York. “My parents were great, and I love my brother, but we didn't see eye to eye on things. I needed my freedom.”

“I'm glad you decided to visit. I only wish you'd given me a head's up. I would have prepared the house and arranged my schedule,” Robert said, perplexed at Owen's sudden arrival and hoping for Owen to acknowledge that fact.

The first weekend went well. They went hiking at Wolf's Neck and explored Portland. But mid-week, Owen was still there and had settled into a routine. Robert, who was a bit meticulous, would arrive home to find discarded pizza boxes, beer cans, and fast food wrappers scattered throughout the house. Owen was usually watching re-runs of Emergency and the The Rifleman, a beer in his hand. 

“Hey, buddy, we need more beer. I kind of finished off the six-pack,” Owen said jokingly. “And that rotisserie chicken we had the other night was good. Can we have that again?”

Robert looked in the nearly empty refrigerator. Might as well add that to the shopping list, he sighed to himself.

A week later, Robert started dropping hints that Owen should leave. A week after that, Robert tried being more direct. “So when are you planning to leave?”  

“I was thinking of looking for a job in Portland,” Owen said, more interested in his TV show than talking to Robert.

Another week passed and Owen was still there. Robert didn't know what to do. His experience hadn't prepared him for this situation. As the forth week wore on, Robert realized that Owen didn't get hints.

“So, Owen,” he said one evening, in a friendly tone, “seems like it would be a good time for you to be moving on.”

Owen had a look of surprise and hurt. “I'm sorry I've been an imposition. I thought you liked having me here. You know, I'm waiting to hear from a four star restaurant in New York any day now. You wouldn't put a guy on the street would you?”

Robert was stopped again. “Well, if it's only for a few days, you can stay,” he replied quietly.

Another week passed. Owen was still there. Robert wasn't good at confrontation, but necessity is the mother of invention. On the following Thursday, Robert came home looking for Owen and found him, as expected, watching TV, a Subway sandwich in hand. 

“Owen! I have some great news for you. I've bought you a ticket to New York. Your flight is scheduled for tomorrow morning. I'll drive you to the airport. No need for a taxi. That's so impersonal. Where's your bag? I can help you pack.”

Owen was dumbfounded. It was the first time Robert had seen him speechless. 

Late Friday morning as Robert's drove from the airport to his office, he could feel the tautness of his face soften and his muscles relax. 

“So how's Owen,” asked Joan, the office secretary, with a knowing roll of the eye and a nod of sympathy. 

“Oh Owen, he left this morning. We didn't see eye to eye on things. He needed his freedom.” 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Happy International Coffee Day

Today is International Coffee Day, a day that celebrates my favorite beverage. Raymond Chandler said it best: 
"I went to the kitchen to make coffee-yards of coffee. Rich,
strong, bitter, boiling hot, ruthless, depraved. The life blood
of tired men."

from The Long Goodbye

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Botticelli Kommt Nach Berlin / Botticelli Comes to Berlin


Berlin's Gemäldegalerie has some clever ads publicizing its current exhibition (The Botticelli Renaissance) celebrating Sandro Botticelli and the artists he influenced.

The Birth of Venus
Botticelli, an early renaissance painter, is probably best known for The Birth of Venus and Primavera. The ad campaign, Botticelli Kommt Nach Berlin (Botticelli Comes to Berlin), has actors imitating models from famous Botticelli paintings at popular Berlin locations. Years ago, I was fortunate enough to see many of Botticelli's paintings at the Uffizi. Seeing this current exhibition is high on my to-do list. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Creative Writing: A Short Story

Faded Memories

I always referred to them as Mrs. Baker and Miss Alice. I'm not sure I ever knew their other names. Mrs. Baker was Miss Alice's daughter-in-law. They shared a modest house next to ours where they lived for 20 years following the death of Mrs. Baker's husband. Mr. Baker had been a successful banker who had died of cancer. His long battle with the disease had bonded the two ladies who had cared for him during his final months.

Mrs. Baker was utilitarian and paid little attention to her appearance. In summer, she would wear jeans, a flannel shirt, and a straw hat as she tended her garden. In the fall, she would rake the leaves in a moth-worn overcoat wearing large black boots, which looked suspiciously like those of her late husband.

Miss Alice had been a fashion model, and while her looks had long faded, she still paid attention to her appearance. She'd wear her signature ruby-red lipstick, rouge, and white gloves whenever she left the house. She'd visit the hair dresser every week for her shampoo and set, and even traveled to New York to shop twice a year.

Despite their differences, the pair complemented each other. Miss Alice was gregarious and full of life, Mrs. Baker taciturn and direct. They were content and close.

The time came when Miss Alice began misplacing things and forgetting names. A few years after that, she began having difficulty talking. She would start a sentence then forget her thought. Finally, she stopped talking.

Mrs. Baker also changed. Bags appeared under eyes, the creases on her face became deeply furrowed, and her stoop became more pronounced. Yet, she continued to guide Miss Alice on their daily walks. As the pair shuffled along the sidewalk, Mrs. Baker would talk, and Miss Alice would merely smile and laugh. They were utterly content in each other's company.  

Miss Alice's doctor had recommended that she be moved to a nursing home, but Mrs. Baker's would never consent. “My heart would be broken when I imagine my life without her,” she said. 

On Miss Alice's birthday, Mrs. Baker invited the neighbors for cake and ice cream. Miss Alice was radiant that day. Sitting on a chair with her sliver hair newly coiffed and wearing a pale white dress, she looked happy in the presence of the guests. Mrs. Baker was unusually talkative and in good spirits too.

We never knew Miss Alice's age. She was coy about about age, and no one asked the question even when it seemed appropriate on her birthday. 

Thumbing through a photo album, Mrs. Baker pointed to a picture of Miss Alice as a young woman. “The beauty and passion are gone, but her spirit still lives. We've shared the ups and downs of our lives, and she makes my life full.”

As Mrs. Baker spoke, it was difficult to imagine how caring for Miss Alice could be rewarding. She needed help eating, dressing, and walking. Even conversation was one-sided. 

“Not a day goes by when we don't laugh,” continued Mrs. Baker, lifting a fork with cake to Miss Alice's lips. “She's really no trouble. Alice has faded like the garden does in the fall, but I still get pleasure from it.”

A few days later, Miss Alice died in her sleep. “She looked peaceful when I found her,” Mrs. Baker said, tears streaming down her face. 

For awhile, Mrs. Baker continued tending her garden and going on her daily walks, but there were periods when she would disappear, and then reappear looking frailer than before. Gradually, the garden faded and the walks stopped. 

A year later, she was gone. Although the doctor said she died of a massive heart attack, we all believed she died of a broken heart. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Face of Greed: Martin Shkreli

Here's the face of GREED, if not evil. Former hedge fund manager, Martin Shkreli raised the price of a life-saving drug from $13.50 a tablet to $750 overnight. Shkreli's company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the rights to Daraprim and immediately hiked the price more than 5,000 percent. Daraprim is a critical part of the standard treatment for a potentially life-threatening parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis. It is also used to treat people with compromised immune systems, like AIDS patients. 

Daraprim has been on the market since 1953, but it turns out that buying the rights to drugs--even generic drugs--and raising their prices has been something of a business model for American pharmaceutical companies. That's capitalism!

Social media was outraged at Mr. Shkreli's price hike. Mr. Shkreli responded by quoting the lyrics to an Eminem song: "And it seems like the media immediately points a finger at me/so I point one back em, but not the index or pinkie."

I only hopes that Mr. Shkreli is never in a position where he needs a life-saving drug that he can't afford. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Good Food in Berlin

Frau Behrens
Most restaurants close within the first year of business. It's a competitive undertaking and only the best survive. A restaurant is never static, and more often than not, its quality goes down as it ages. Case in point, Mr. Minsch. Originally, Mr. Minsch was a wonderful little bakery/cafe offering some of the best pastries in Berlin. It was so successful that it expanded. Unfortunately, Mr. Minsch's expansion resulted in less delicious cakes, pastries and pies.

I've also seen restaurants become complacent. Successful restaurants often become indifferent and take their customer base for granted. Such is the case with David's, a successful restaurant in Portland, Maine. It expanded and began to rely on the tourist trade. The result was lackluster food and poor service. 

Luckily, I've found a few places in Berlin that consistently have great food. I've been visiting Frau Behrens Torten for about 10 years. It's a small bakery located in Wilmersdorf and it has great cakes! Started by Victoria Fernandez, a Spanish transplant to Berlin, Ms. Fernandez uses recipes handed down from her German mother-in-law. Fernandez uses fresh ingredients, no preservatives, and no chemical additives. In all the years I've been going to Frau Behrens, I've never been disappointed. The walnut cake is amazing!

Ristorante Boccalli near Winterfeldtstraße is another restaurant that continues to be one of my favorite places. Their lunch special includes a huge pizza or pasta dish, a glass of wine or soft drink, salad, and coffee for only €7.90. Their friendly service and professional attitude makes Boccalli one of Berlin's best Italian restaurants. You won't be disappointed. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

DDR Restaurant in San Francisco

Most German restaurants in the USA specialize in Bavarian food, but Walzwerk specializes in food from the former German Democratic Republic (DDR), a cuisine that's heavy on the meats and high on the calories. Located in San Francisco's Mission District, the restaurant is a hit among the locals. If I ever have a chance to visit San Francisco, I'll give it a try. In Berlin, it would be difficult to find a restaurant of this kind. The city has plenty of restaurants, but very few that offer traditional East German food. 

Berlin's Art Week: Watch Ice Melt

Allan Kaprow

It's Berlin Art Week (Sept. 15 - 20, 2015), and for six days the city is awash in art. There are more than 140 exhibits from around the world taking part in this year's extravaganza, including works by Cindy Sherman, Paul McCarthy, and Alicja Kwade. There are even impromptu exhibits. 

Michael Jackson
Memorial Tree
The other day, I was riding my bike through the Tiergarten and came across a memorial to Michael Jackson; and this morning, I saw an exhibition entitled "Fluids" by Allan Kaprow near the Neue Nationalgalerie. It's just blocks of ice melting. I'm not sure what the fuss is all about, but it seems to be hit among the Art Week attendees. I've always been fascinated by melting ice, and during the spring, I enjoy watching it melt on the front lawn. I wonder if I could make that into a work of an art? 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Euthanizing Healthy Animals

View of Animal Enclosure From Bikini-Haus Terrace

The Bikini-Haus is an upscale shopping center located next to the Berlin Zoo and is considered an architectural landmark. Built in 1955-1957, the building was originally a fashion house, which produced and sold women's clothing and furs. The name refers to the structure that was divided into two sections: one for sales and one for production. The building was completely gutted in 2010; and in 2014, it opened as one of Berlin's premier shopping venues. At the back of the complex is a terrace that spans the length of the shopping center, affording views of the Zoo.

Walking through this complex, I was struck by its ordinariness. The ubiquitous shops could be anywhere. However, what makes this place 'special' and a tourist attraction are its views of the zoo. On the inside and on the outside terrace, shoppers can see various zoo exhibits.
Bikini-Haus Terrace

Looking at the baby baboons at play, I felt sad. You see in Europe, zoos do not use contraception on their animal populations and routinely euthanize animals to maintain population control. European zoos argue that parental care is a big part of an animal's behavior, and that euthanizing surplus offspring (once they reach maturity) only mimics what would occur naturally in the wild. Because zoos have eliminated an animal's predatory and anti-predatory behaviors, parenting is one of the few natural things zoo animals can do. Moreover, contraception isn't a better alternative to euthanasia since in addition to preventing natural parenthood, it puts an animal at risk. Birth control has long-term side effects and associated health risks. 
Baboons at Play

Of course, in a perfect world, we wouldn't need zoos. Animals could live in nature. But environmental degradation, loss of habitat, and human encroachment, have left many animal species near extinction. Zoos may be the only safe haven left for animals. Whether scientifically managed euthanasia is the right course to follow depends on your view of life. In any case, it's an option that shouldn't be discounted.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Living in History

Corner of Karl-Marx-Allee and Proskauer Str.
The Place Where I Lived

View of Fernsehturm
from Karl-Marx-Allee
"You'll be living in history." That's what the owner said as he handed me the keys to the apartment I'd rented in Berlin. I'd found the apartment through, a website to list, find, and rent lodging. The listing and photos seemed perfect: a recently remodeled one bedroom apartment located in Friedrichshain, and near public transport, restaurants and shops. More importantly, the apartment was in an historic building on Karl-Marx-Allee, a street dubbed the "first socialist street" in Germany. I'd seen these buildings hundreds of times, and this was my opportunity to stay in one. 

View of Living Room and Dining Area
Constructed in 1952, the buildings on Karl-Marx-Allee were designed in a Stalinist style and adorned with decorative tiles. They were built for the socialist workers and became one of East Germany's architectural showcases. However, following German reunification, the street and buildings were abandoned and fell into disrepair. Over the last 10 years, the buildings have been rediscovered and become très chic among young Berliners. 

Living Room

The apartment was exactly as described. It was clean, modern, and fully-equipped (great Internet connection). It met all my needs. However, 'living in history' did have a few downsides. First, the walls were paper thin. You could hear the 'intimate' lives of your neighbors and smell their annoying cigarette smoke as it wafted through the walls. And even though the apartment was listed as quiet, it wasn't. Construction work on neighboring buildings would commence promptly at 6:00 AM Monday through Saturday. I'm an early riser, but hammers and drills are too much at 6:00 AM. Nevertheless, I must admit, I did enjoy living in a bit of history. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Berlin's Food Revolution

Believe it or not, it's vegan quiche!
Berlin is a food city, and over the last few years it has undergone a food revolution. The variety of restaurants, specialty food stores, and ethnic markets is astounding. You can find almost any cuisine in this city and at an affordable price. For example, when I want Scandinavian food, I go to the Nordic Embassies. They have full course meals for under €6! You can't get a cup of coffee for that in Scandinavia. And if I want a croissant and cup of coffee, I go to Chez Gustave. At €2,40, it's cheaper than a Berlin subway ride.

But nowhere has the food revolution been more profound than in the explosion of vegan restaurants, stores, and products. For a country renowned for it's meats, cheeses, and wild game, it's unbelievable how veganism has taken hold. Nearly every supermarket now has a vegan food section, most restaurants offer at least one vegan menu item, and there have been calls for the public schools to offer vegan meals.

Sitting at Chez Gustave the other day, I was surprised to find that the proprietress was willing to make a vegan crepe for a customer. She even mentioned that she tries to have a vegan quiche at least once a week. A vegan quiche at a French cafe? Now, that's either progress or the demise of classic French food. I wonder what Julia Child would say?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Lenin's Head Sees the Light

Following German reunification, all reminders of East Germany's socialist past were either destroyed or removed from public display. The Lenin Monument was one of East Germany's iconic symbols that stood in Berlin, Friedrichshain for 21 years. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the monument was dismantled and buried at an unknown location. For awhile it appeared the monument had been lost, but earlier this year, researchers were able to locate it. 

Now, Lenin is back! On Thursday, as members of the press watched, the Monument's buried skull was dug up in a forest on the outskirts of Berlin. It seems that Germany is ready to come to terms with it dark past, and the skull (the rest of the monument remains buried) will be part of an exhibition at the Spandau Citadel. The exhibition Enthüllt: Berlin und Seine Denmäler (Revealed: Berlin and Its Monuments) has generated a lot of buzz, and I expect thousands will flock to see the resurrected Russian revolutionary. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pass on the Sami Contemporary But Visit the Nordic Embassy Restaurant!

The Sami people or Laplanders are the indigenous people inhabiting the far northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The Scandinavian Embassy Building (Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland) is currently showcasing the works of 23 contemporary Sami artists. Unfortunately, the only reason to see this small and uninspiring exhibition is to visit the Embassy restaurant, which offers traditional and tasty Nordic cuisine. This stylish cafeteria-style restaurant is reasonably priced and has a menu that changes weekly. Their offerings usually include a vegetarian or vegan dish as well as some great desserts. It's one of my favorite places for lunch in Berlin. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Going Underground: Berlin's Wonderful Subway Film Festival

My favorite film festival is now showing on the Berlin subway system (U-Bahn). From September 7-22, 2015, subway passengers will be treated to an ultra short film each day on over 6,100 monitors located on subway trains. Going Underground is an international film festival celebrating short films from around the world. This year there are 13 films vying for the top prize, with subway passengers voting for their favorite film. (You can also go to site's web page and watch the movies yourself.)

Two of my favorites are Beyond Her Memory (South Korea), an affectionate movie about growing old, and the Perfect Houseguest (USA), a delightful film about the houseguest everybody wants. However, many critics (European) think that this year's prize will go to the topical Get In The Car (USA). Unfortunately, the movie relies on too many cliches and American stereotypes, which I found unoriginal and predictable.

Refugees Welcomed in Germany

For the past month, German news has been primarily devoted to the refugee crisis. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have streamed into Europe, and Germany's response to the crisis has been surprising. Unlike Hungary, Greece and Italy, Germany is welcoming the refugees by donating food, clothes, shelter, medical care and money. The public mood in Germany is emphatically pro-refugee.

The last time there was a spike in immigration into Germany, in the 90s, refugees were left to their own devices. Only the radical left and churches offered organized help. Back then, the neo-Nazis demonstrated in front of refugee shelters and protested in the streets.  Even right-wing politicians spouted anti-immigrant rhetoric and called for mass deportations. Today, it's a different story. Angela Merkel has made it clear that the refugees are welcome and the sentiment is the same across the political spectrum. (Contrast this with the USA's response to immigration.) How will German society deal with this new wave of refugees in the long-term is unclear, but they seem on the right road toward assimilating these new arrivals.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Potsdam's Film Museum: A Charming Way to See How Movies are Made

There's more to Potsdam than just Sanssouci. There's also the Filmmuseum Potsdam, a small but comprehensive film museum that focuses on German movies. It covers all aspects of film making from financing to casting. It's not overwhelming and can be seen in about an hour. The museum has recently been renovated and includes some great interactive exhibits for children. 

The Elevator from
The Grand Budapest Hotel,
filmed in Potsdam.
There's more to movies than what's on the screen. The behind the scenes aspects of movie making are sometimes more interesting than the movie itself. From Berlin take either the S-Bahn or Regional Train to the Potsdam Hauptbahnhof station. From there, it's an easy 10 minute walk to the Filmmuseum. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Wasp Season in Berlin: Wasps are Useful

August and September is wasp season in Berlin. This is the time they fling themselves into our food and wine glasses, and generally make a nuisance of themselves at many of Berlin's outdoor restaurants and cafes. I've been stung a few times; and you might think that I hate wasps, but I'm one of their staunchest defenders. You see, wasps eat caterpillars, aphids, spiders, and other things that wreck havoc in the home and garden. They also pollinate food crops and flowers. Moreover, recent research has found that a wasp's venom could cure leukemia, prostate, and bladder cancer. Their venom contains a chemical that selectively targets and destroys tumor cells without harming healthy cells! 

If wasps are a problem, one way to discourage them is to burn used coffee grounds. I've seen this done at a few places and it seems to work. The smell is slightly unpleasant but it keeps these troublesome guys far away. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Happy House

Strausberger Straße 8a
Friedrichshain, Berlin

Great Falafel and Schawarma in Berlin's Friedrichshain

There are scores if not hundreds of Arabic restaurants in Berlin. So I wasn't surprised to find Casablanca Imbiss right around the corner from where I'm staying. Located in Friedrichshain, Casablanca Imbiss is a modest and cozy restaurant serving some of the best Falafel and Schawarma in town. The service is amazingly fast, and everything on the menu is FRESH and TASTY. A complete meal will run €4,50 - €6,00. I recommend the Falafel plate (which can be made Vegan) and their wonderfully spiced Arabic tea. Why waste your time and money eating at a tourist restaurant on Simon-Dach-Straße when a few blocks away is Casablanca Imbiss.

Friday, September 4, 2015

It's Not Over Till She Sings: Fat Ladies in Berlin

New Favorite

HU Hongfei is one of China's leading contemporary artists. The inspiration for his Fat Lady series stems from the lives of ordinary women and is reminiscent of the work of Peter Paul Rubens. His sculptures depict self-confident and happy women displayed in everyday situations. Hongfei's work can be seen at Potsdamer Platz and the Lustgarten (Museum Island) until September 13, 2015. It's worth a visit!

Cimone and Efigenia
Peter Paul Rubens


Take Me To Fly


Sun Earth

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Berlin Street Art

Whimsical or political statement? There's always some interesting street art to see on the streets of Berlin. 

Political Statement?
Rear Entrance to the Deutsches Museum

Near Museum Island and the Maxim Gorki Theater

Larger than Life Underwear Hanging near the Martin-Gropius-Bau.
One of the inscriptions states: Even if the pants look cool, it's uncool
when the environment and humans are exploited. We promote
sustainability. You wear/carry responsibility.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

District Mot: Over-Hyped Vietnamese Restaurant

A Hipster hanging out at
District Mot
One of the hottest restaurant's on the Berlin food scene these days is District Mot. Offering self-styled Vietnamese "street food," it's difficult to understand District Mot's popularity. The decor is cute and the service is quick, but the food is mediocre and overpriced. I ordered the lunch special (€ 6.50) and was served a handful of noodles, a slice of tofu, a piece of lettuce, and some bland curry sauce. All in all, District Mot was a big disappointment. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What are those Pink Street Signs in Berlin's Friedrichshain?

Grünberger Straße
named after the former
German City of Grünberg
(Zielona Gora, Poland)

For the past month, pink street signs have decorated major traffic corridors in Berlin's Friedrichshain neighborhood. It's part of an art project intended to draw attention to the common history shared by Germany and Poland. It also marks the beginning of World War II with Germany's invasion of Poland seventy-six years ago today. 

After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles deprived Germany of its territories in West Prussia, East and Upper Silesia and Danzig, and transferred them to Poland. Consequently, German cities located in Poland were renamed and give a Polish name. Yet, many streets in Berlin (named after Polish cities) continued to retained their German name. For example, Grünberger Straße is named after the former Silesian city of Grünberg, which is today Zielona Gora. 

As part of the installation, street signs (named after a Polish city and with a German name) have been decorated pink with the Polish city and its geographic coordinates engraved on the pink base. The installation continues until September 20, 2015.

Proskauer Straße
named after Proszkow (Formally Proskau)

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Sony Photo Awards in Berlin. Capturing the Moment!

Photographer Elliott Erwitt: "Dogs make the best subjects.
They're sympathetic, don't complain and don't ask for prints."

With a focus on international political and socially engaged photography, the Willy-Brandt-Haus is showcasing the winners of the Sony World Photography Awards 2015. The Sony awards are the world's biggest photography competition, and its aim is to recognize and reward the best in contemporary photography. Many of the winning photos are disturbing and some even funny, but all illuminate the human condition. 
In Iraq life expectancy is 67. Minutes from Glasgow's city center, it's 54.
In London's Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, it's 84 for men.
Dougie Wallace compares the disparate lives of people living in Glasgow with 

those in London. The differences aren't just in the mortality rates, but in the
way people dress, apply make-up, and express themselves.

Hair. For half an hour, people put their lives -
or rather their heads - in another person's hands.
A haircut can make a statement or be an
expression of the inner self. Jens Juul visited
hair salons to capture the moment people
let go during a haircut. 

This year, American Elliott Erwitt has been awarded the prize for Outstanding Achievement in Photography. Erwitt's natural, often humorous black and white photographs of everyday life are often satiric and biting. 

The Sony Photography Award winners are on exhibit until September 20, 2015. Admittance is free with passport.