German soundtrack

When you go abroad for a year, you hear different songs on the radio, and these become a mental soundtrack of the experience. I still have vivid recollections of the songs I heard when I lived in France, more than two decades ago.

E. and I have been gathering a list of the songs that for better or worse have defined our experience. Here's a partial compilation.

Cassandra Steen, featuring Adel Tawil: Stadt
If there's an anthem for the year, this might be it.

Black Eyed Peas: I Gotta Feeling
Catchy. Happy. What more do you need?

Lady Gaga: Poker Face
I kind of wish Lady Gaga wasn't rattling around in my head, but what are you gonna do?

It's a good song until you pay attention to the lyrics.

Agnes: Release Me
Good dance track. So I imagine.

Culcha Candela: Schöne Neue Welt
This song was on the air all the time when I arrived last summer. It's kind of a stupid song, but it's definitely cemented in my head.

Lily Allen: Not Fair
Lyrics not entirely suitable for the workplace. But very clever.

Robbie Williams: Bodies
I've never understood Europeans' fascination with Robbie Williams, but this is definitely among his best.

Sportfreunde Stiller: Ein Kompliment
Rock. Auf Deutsch.

Frauenartzt & Manny Marc: Das geht ab
Party anthem. Auf Deutsch.

Lady Gaga: Paparazzi
Yeah, darn it, she's left an impression.

Emiliana Torrini: Jungle Drum
Ooo. I love this one. Happiest, catchiest song of the year. I kind of hear Nancy Sinatra when I hear this song.

Nelly Furtado: Manos Al Aire
Whoa. Nelly sings Spanish.

Peter Fox: Haus am See
Rap. Auf Deutsch. In all seriousness, Peter Fox is one of the coolest German pop singers.

Berliners need to learn how to shovel their sidewalks

There's been snow on the ground in Berlin for weeks. Since Christmas I think. In other words, there has been plenty of time to get out there and clean the sidewalks. Oh, if only. Berliners obviously don't believe in clearing the sidewalks. Maybe 5% have been cleared by now. The rest just look like this:

The Berlin snow doesn't even pack down. Somehow it stays frothy, like a granita, and walking in it feels like walking through sand on the beach.

What explains this aversion to doing the obvious thing and clearing the sidewalk? I wish I knew. I think there may be a city-wide case of not-my-problem: the renters don't feel it's their responsibility, the landlords are elsewhere, the businesses figure if they clear their sidewalk snow will just be tracked over from the next business's unshoveled sidewalk, etc. I think that since this is a society accustomed to letting the government provide for them, everyone assumes the city will clear the sidewalk. (Note to all Berliners: If you think that, clearly you haven't looked out the window for the last three weeks.) Maybe they like it this way. As I explained in a previous post, every Berliner has a small child, and every one of those children has a wooden sled, and if there is snow on all the sidewalks, the parents can tug their extremely well-dressed and excessively cute children everywhere. Sleds are also useful for getting your groceries home, I've noticed.

Or are my expectations too high? Americans think in terms of conquering the frontier. Snow is something to be tamed. Maybe Berliners think snow is a coequal, a piece of their environment that they simply live with.

I'll say this for Warsaw. They push the snow into mountains lining the sidewalks. Yes, you have to climb the mountains, but there are relatively clear paths in every direction. Berlin, you could learn a thing or two.


I ought to have more to say about Warsaw than I do. As a result of the Dresden epidemic of '10, I was less than zippy as we trudged through the frigid Polish capital. We took a tour of the old town (rebuilt after World War II) until we couldn't feel our extremities. When I had the chance, I opted to spend the rest of the day at the hotel.

On day two I visited the National Museum and ate pirogi. And that was Warsaw.

Dresden. Bummer.

For Bosch Seminar II, we, the Boschies and the spouses, set off for Dresden.

I think Dresden was out to get us. For one thing, despite my good intentions, everything seemed to be closed. The major art gallery was closed for cleaning. A docent wouldn't let us in to the opera to take a tour (we think business was slow, and she wasn't in the mood). A Keller that looked promising for dinner was, surprise, closed. I went to a bookstore, saw a book, and left, mulling over whether I would like to go back and purchase it. When I went back the next day, the bookstore was closed. (On a Tuesday no less!? I understand that many businesses take a Ruhetag, or rest day, but I've never heard of Ruhetag on Tuesday.)

But Dresden's true assault on us was intestinal. After dinner with a jovial, albeit long-winded prince, over half of the group got miserably sick. In case you are eating, I will refrain from describing the symptoms. Some people were so sick they headed back to Berlin rather than head on to Warsaw. E. and I made the decision to head back, but felt sufficiently better in the morning to go on.

Our travails notwithstanding, I still think Dresden is a beautiful city. It was flattened in World War II. Some reconstruction took place in the post-war era, but there has been a huge boom in reconstruction since German reunification. We visited--and climbed to the top of--the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). Destroyed in the war, the locals stubbornly left it as a pile of rubble for decades until the time was right, and the money was available to put it back together. It's unquestionably the icon of the city, which is saying something in a city crammed with amazing baroque architecture.

Dresden, as seen from the top of the Frauenkirche.

The altar of the rebuilt Frauenkirche. Seeing a brand-spanking-new version of baroque architecture improves my opinion of the style. The radiance helps.

Here I am in front of the Semper Opera.

Silliness on the Zwinger.

The streets were dead at night.

New Year's Eve in Berlin

Berliners celebrate the new year by congregating in huge numbers and shooting off lots of fireworks in close quarters. E. and I wandered along Unter den Linden toward the Brandenburg Gate...

... but ended up spending most of the evening around Potsdamer Platz.

A year ago we were in Vienna for New Year's Eve, and Berlin, for all its danger and craziness, is tame by comparison. Anyhow, in Vienna we rode bumper cars in the Prater amusement park on New Year's Eve. This year we slid down an artificial sledding hill on inner tubes. I sense the making of a tradition. Next year... Ferris wheel?

Christmas for a day in Leipzig

Okay, okay. This post is out of chronological order. Sue me.

Back on December 20, before heading to the Netherlands, E. and I took a day trip to Leipzig to take in the Christmas atmosphere. I don't really know why, but Leipzig was a blank spot in my imagination. It turns out to be a very attractive city, and we had a grand day out, despite the miserably frigid temperatures.

A couple of highlights...

We happened to be in the right place at exactly the right time to hear Bach's Christmas Oratorio performed in the church where it was first performed. Wow, that was great.

The church itself--and maybe this will interest Bach afficionados--is like no other I've ever set foot in. Imagine a church frosted all over the inside like a wedding cake. And imagine the gothic columns have been hidden behind classical columns with asparagus sticking out the top. Because that's just what it looks like.

Leipzig's Christmas markets have a good reputation (Berlin's don't) and we had fun eating fried dough and wandering through the old town.

Christmas in Assen, Netherlands

Photography Class

I neglected to mention that I took a digital photography course at Volkshochschule Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, one of the local community colleges. Good clean fun. But now I need a new camera.

Scenes from the Culture War, Continued

The exodus that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall was followed by an influx of squatters taking advantage of abandoned property. Nearly all of the squatters have been evicted by now. E. called one afternoon from work to tip me off that police were clearing a squat next to her office. I walked down to check out the spectacle. There were countless dozens of police vehicles, but there was little drama. As best I could tell, the police were happy to wait patiently until the squatters left.

A crowd gathered in an adjacent park to watch. My impression was that the crowd was split peaceably between punky sympathizers and more bourgeois neighbors happy to see the squatters kicked out.

Here's the building the morning after. The police removed the windows to prevent squatters from re-inhabiting the building.

For more info, read coverage in ampelhead or Spiegel online.