Archive for the ‘Culture in Berlin’ Category

What is it about being in a new environment that makes daily life vivid? Zombie-like, we typically move through our daily lives on auto-pilot until we are suddenly immersed in a fresh new place. Even taking a shower and brushing one’s teeth can be exciting if you don’t recognize the toothpaste brand or can’t figure out how to control the shower.

Berliner Bathroom

Arriving in Berlin one year ago, I felt like a kid. Going to the grocery store was an adventure and opening a bank account was a triumph to be celebrated. We arrived with one suitcase and one backpack each, easily fitting into our funky furnished apartment in Prenzlauer Berg.

My Prenzlauer Berg desk

After purchasing a tv, dvd player, printer, and bicycles, we felt completely satisfied with our material goods, ready to experience Berlin and our new life without the burden of maintaining a car or a house. How liberating to own almost nothing.

Joyful day!

Although surrounded by spoken and written German, we managed to maintain an English bubble for much of our day. High-speed internet access gave us the New York Times, the Daily Show, Facebook, email and other sundry delights and temptations, keeping us up to date with news about the USA and our friends. The miracle of Skype meant that regular contact with family and friends was easy and free.


Through my involvement in the Booker Tea book group and the Berlin International Women’s Club, we’ve gotten to know many interesting people living in Berlin and made some good friends. Both of these organizations use English as the primary language, again reinforcing the English bubble. Even our friendly neighbors speak embarrassingly good English. German was reserved for reading the newspaper, watching the news on tv and ordering food at a restaurant. Overheard conversations on the U-bahn were a puzzle where every third word or so was comprehensible.

Korean tourists

Each day of living in Berlin was filled with astonishing new sights and sounds, secret courtyards, wonderful museums, and huge parks to explore new open-air markets to uncover. The people on the street, in the U-bahn, on the tram, in the restaurant, looked exotic and interesting. The Berlin Tagesspiegel newspaper ran a story every day about the anniversary of some historical event or important person’s birth or death. The 80th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s visit to Berlin was celebrated with a Chaplin film festival at a nearby independent movie theater. How cool is Berlin? Let me count the ways.

Which way is up?

And then somewhere along the way the thrill was gone and living in Berlin felt normal and routine. A trip to the grocery store became a trip to the grocery store and not a treasure hunt in some strange land filled with exotic products. Giving strangers directions on the street no longer raised the blood pressure. Wednesday became Schnitzeltag, with the waitress smiling and greeting us as regulars. Using the extensive public transit system was easy. Gone was the frisson while walking out the door.


And gradually the German conversations on the train became comprehensible, newspaper articles readable without the dictionary, public announcements understandable, exchanging niceties easy, news on the television useful, and babysitting German-speaking neighbor kids doable. One foot may be planted in the English bubble, but the other foot was stepping out onto the German-speaking world.

Astroturf in Berlin?

The original plan was to stay in Berlin for at least one year, and perhaps through end of June 2012, when our house in Boulder would become available. At the end of 2011 we realized that we just weren’t ready to leave Berlin–that we needed another circle ‘round the sun.

Let me lend you a hand, comrade!

During this coming year, I want to recapture some of that childlike wonder from a year ago, starting each day pretending that I am a seven year old. Moving to Kreuzberg will offer new places to explore. Dedicated study will deepen my German language skills. Involvement in the Berlin International Women’s Club will give me responsibility and community. Travel will expand my mind map of the world.

Another year in Berlin? Wunderbar!



Read Full Post »

Summer weather has returned to Berlin, just as the kids head back to school and vacation time is over for most people. We hopped on our bikes for a trip to Tiergarten, the Central Park of Berlin.

Richard biking in Tiergarten

Passing the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, known to Berliners as the Schwangere Auster (pregnant oyster), we noticed workers ‘planting’ salad greens and spinach in the fountain area. Must be part of the Lebenskunst celebration this coming weekend.

Guy planting greens

Rows of spinach

A bit further down the road is the Schloß Bellevue, built in 1785 for the youngest brother of Frederick the Great, this lovely neoclassical palace is the home of the President, currently Christian Wulff. He has a much nicer place to live than Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Schloß Bellevue

Our goal was to see the newly reopened Siegessäule, or Victory Column, built to celebrate the Prussian victories over Denmark, Austria and France.


Siegessäule at night during the Festival of Lights

Before climbing the many steps to the overlook, we enjoyed what might be the funkiest museum in Berlin.  The warren of small rooms starts off with drawings and models of the Siegessäule and other monuments in Berlin, branches out to monuments in Germany, then Europe (leaning tower of Pisa, anyone?), and finally a display of souvenirs, some of which were related to the earlier displays about world monuments, others not so much:

Love the nude sunbathers in the beach chairs

Awesome girl power

Pretty good model of Red Square

The mosaic has been beautifully restored, but the pillars still bear scars from World War II.

Restored Mosaic

Scars from World War II

I liked the brightly colored headgear of a couple of fellow tourists.

Colorful Headgear

Biking around Tiergarten is a pleasure, with many winding paths, small ponds and meadows for sunbathing and relaxing. The park is dotted with the occasional statue, many of which were moved there from somewhere else in the city.


The Soviets built a monument to the Red Army and soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin. Over 2000 Soviet soldiers are buried at the monument in Tiergarten.

Soviet Memorial

Richard by Soviet Tank

Biking in Berlin is the best. I’m hoping for a beautiful fall.

Richard on Bike

Read Full Post »

This spring we were treated to glorious long sunny days that brought us to Prater, a nearby Beer Garden. In April, only a few people were enjoying the outdoor tables.

Early beer garden patrons

As the days continued to grow longer and the weather cooperated, the crowds grew thicker.

More people at Prater

Warm evenings brought out the crowds

We enjoyed drinking beer in outdoor cafes as well.

Sunny cafe

The summer solstice brought a shift in weather patterns, with fewer sunny days and more socked-in cool rainy weather. Berlin is having the coolest early July in 130 years. Pulling out the guidebooks, we looked for indoor entertainment ideas. The New Sucessionist and Expressionism in Berlin exhibit at a museum near the Brandenburger Tor was worth a visit.

Tanzende by Otto Müller 1903

We wondered about the huge crowd of people nearby—waiting for the Kennedy Museum to open or for a latté at Starbucks?

Starbucks or the Kennedy Museum?

Across the street on Pariser Platz, next door to the US Embassy, the DZ Bank building has an amazing inner courtyard designed by Gehry.

Designed by Gehry

As the rainy days continued, we continued our quest for indoor entertainment. What better thing to do on a rainy Berlin Sunday than visit to the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island? Plenty of people had the same idea.


Pergamon 170 BC

The 6th century BC Ishtar Gate from Babylon was impressive

Ishtar Gate from Babylon

Ishtar Gate

A special exhibit from Tell Halaf, 3000 year old artifacts uncovered by Max Oppenheim in the early 1900’s in what is now Syria, was particularly amazing. In 1943, the Tell Halaf museum in Berlin was hit by a fire bomb and totally destroyed. The artifacts were smashed to smithereens, but somehow archeaologists were able to piece some of the artifacts back together.

Tell Halaf Woman

Tell Halaf couple

The Islamic Art exhibit included many beautiful carpets, hand-written and illuminated Korans, and this beautiful 13th century mihrab made in a city in Iran known for ceramics. The mihrab points in the direction of Mecca in a mosque.

Which way is Mecca?

During WWII, propaganda posters in support of the Allies were drawn in the style of Persian fables. Hitler’s face is placed on the body of the evil bad guy with the snakes coming out of his shoulders and Tojo tied to Hitler’s horse’s tail. Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt are sitting upright on horses, mimicking the heroes from the old fable.

Multi-culti Propaganda

I thought of Iowa potter Clary Illian when I saw this late Roman face pot from Egypt.

Late Roman Face Pot

Viewing so many antiquities put us in the mood for Greek food.

Apollon Restaurant

Richard ready to dig in

Walking home, I admired the Berliners enjoying the cool evening outdoors.

Hardy Berliners

Berlin, rain or shine, continues to intrigue me.

Read Full Post »