Tuesday, January 31, 2012

an die Arbeit

I accidentally took this picture while scanning a book chapter at the FU library, and thought it looked pretty cool. In the next few weeks I be posting less often as I focus more on my work.... Berlin got some Siberian air, and it's a sign that it's time to stay indoors with some tea, or hole up in the library. Also dann...los geht's.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

scary, fun, beautiful produce

It's another gray, and probably the most freezing cold day in Berlin yet. Good for baking a nice warm meal. At the market this morning I got some more of the beautiful violet-orange carrots, to make for lunch with baked chicken with a paprika garlic marinade.

I also had the Schwarzwurzel to try. The farmer I bought it from warned me that they can be difficult to work with, that they get all sticky. So I looked it up online and almost everyone said to make sure to wear gloves when peeling--for some reason the exposed root turns glue-like with skin contact. Strange! And so freaky weird looking!  And it has to be put in an acid right away, or it discolors (I used a milk/lemon mixture). It's often compared to Spargel, or white asparagus, and is used the same way in recipes (the Germans most often pair asparagus with hollandaise sauce or butter). I just made a lemony sauce to go with it. Nothing amazing. Not like the Topinambur (sunchoke), which I will make again for sure. Maybe I didn't cook it well, but we wanted to taste the root, and know what it was like. Maybe I should give it one more try...

Every time I get chicken I think of my dad...who finds it crazy how many people buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts. He's has told me multiple times that it's cheaper to buy a whole chicken and cut the breasts off. :) And finally, after years of being afraid of breaking down chickens, I finally do it. And make stock with the carcass. It makes me feel good to use all the parts, too, and once you've done it a time or two it's not so scary to attack a whole chicken.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Espresso Konzert II - Klavier

After going to last month's Espresso-Konzert at the Konzerthaus with Jessica (harp music), I really wanted to go back again. How can you beat this? 5 EUR for a 45-min concert (which, with encore, is about 1 hr), and a free coffee! This month it was a pianist performing, a young woman from Armenia. She started out with classical Mozart, and ended with a few more contemporary Armenian pieces. We sat on stage, right behind the pianist in this gorgeous room, and it was so much fun to watch and listen to her play.  Next month is viola!
Yes, the sun was actually peeking out on Gendarmenmarkt (Konzerthaus on left)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

gegen den Multi-Millionär..."you can call this class warfare..."

 For the most part, the Germans love Obama.  Last week we were at a Turkish restaurant and the waiter effusively expressed his support for our president. Wow, you never got that five years ago. :) It's not the worst time to be an American. But anyways, it might be interesting to share some of today's headlines after the State of the Union speech (trying not to get too political...). Notice how in the US the term "class warrior" is negatively connoted, and in Germany it's portrayed positively:

"Obama verspricht gerechteres Amerika" [Obama promises a more just America] (ARD)
"Mit Gerechtigkeit gegen den Multi-Millionär" [justice against the multi-millionaires] (Spiegel Online)
"Obama fordert Fairness" [Obama promotes equality] (Berliner Morgenpost)
"'Amerika ist wieder da!' In seiner wichtigsten Rede vor der Wahl greift Obama die Reichen an" ["America is back!" In his most important speech before the elections Obama attacks the rich] (BILD)
"Wahlkämpfer Obama - populistisch und offensiv" [Campaigner Obama - populist and on the offensive] (Süddeutsche Zeitung)

not even commenting on this fascinating image they chose...
In this article in the Süddeutsche (above), entitled "In the Land of the Unequal", they say that Obama is a different man than four years ago, a "class-warrior [Klassenkämpfer, here in the positive sense] who stands for justice. They write, "Das ist eigentlich unamerikanisch, aber trotzdem nötig" [That is actually un-American, but still necessary.] "Denn angesichts eines extrem ungerechten Steuersystems, das schamlos die Reichen bevorzugt, haben viele US-Bürger das Grundvertrauen verloren: dass jeder die Chance habe, sein Glück zu machen." [Because in the face of an extremely unjust tax system, that shamelessly favors the rich, many US citizens have lost their fundamental belief: that everyone has the chance to make his fortune." 

Needless to say, the American press was not quite so positive. This Washington Post article does a good job "fact checking" empty rhetoric and statistical claims.

The discussion of taxes--which seems to be a huge part of this year's election as well--was brought up in most of the Ameircan articles I read, and the German press also focused on Obama's "attack on millionaires."  In Germany, individuals earning above EUR 250,731 pay 45% income tax. Additionally, there is a "Solidarity tax" (Solidaritätszuschlag) up to 5.5% in top brackets to help the costs from German reunification, and is paid in both (former) East and West. Also...if you belong to a religion, you pay 8-9% Kirchensteuer, church tax. So it's maybe not completely surprising that they find Obama's proposals fair and "socially just."

Monday, January 23, 2012

happy birthday Friedrich...and danke for the potato

Friedrich der Große, the Great, "der alte Fritz": 2012 marks the 300-year anniversary of his birth. He was an advocate of "enlightened absolutism," read the French philosophes, played the flute and tried to reform and modernize Prussia.

In December, during our visit to Sanssouci in Potsdam, we noticed potatoes on his gravestone near the place. I had to look up why, and found out he helped introduce the potato to Prussia.
the gravestone in Sanssouci
Here is one account of the legend:  "Frederick the Great of Prussia saw the potato's potential to help feed his nation and lower the price of bread, but faced the challenge of overcoming the people's prejudice against the plant. When he issued a 1774 order for his subjects to grow potatoes as protection against famine, the town of Kolberg replied: "The things have neither smell nor taste, not even the dogs will eat them, so what use are they to us?" Trying a less direct approach to encourage his subjects to begin planting potatoes, Frederick used a bit of reverse psychology: he planted a royal field of potato plants and stationed a heavy guard to protect this field from thieves. Nearby peasants naturally assumed that anything worth guarding was worth stealing, and so snuck into the field and snatched the plants for their home gardens. Of course, this was entirely in line with Frederick's wishes."  From http://www.history-magazine.com/potato.html

statue on Unter den Linden
 "Fritz" display at bookstore (Dussmann)

"In meinem Staate kann jeder nach seiner Facon selig werden."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

fun with roots

This week and last I got some really beautiful produce at the organic market on Chamissoplatz: Last week, a mixture of fresh herbs, purplish carrots, parsley root, zucchini and rutabaga (I love its violet/green color). The onions, too, were a mixture of deep red and golden. One of my permanent resolutions is to keep trying to cook with things I'm not very familiar with, and always try new recipes. Outcomes so far: kohlrabi has become a regular on our salads (grated raw) and I love roasting root vegetables.
This morning at the market I got Topinambur (sunchoke/jerusalem artichoke) and Schwarzwurzel (literally "black root"), along with some brussel sprouts, beets and eggs. I  have eaten both sunchoke and Schwarzwurzel, but never cooked them. We had Schwarzwurzel at Restaurant e.t.a. hoffmann  and it was delicious, and I got to try some sunchoke at Little Otik last week. They cooked it whole, and it kinda flaked open (don't remember whether it was peeled or not). Yum.

So for lunch today we sautéd up some sunchokes with herbs, bay leaves and garlic, and they were delicious. I wish I had got a lot more. I don't know how to describe the flavor, but definitely sweeter than the potato.

inspired by Jamie Oliver recipe for sautéd jerusalem artichoke.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Naming your child

In the US, you can name your kid whatever you want, and the government won't do anything to stop you. Gwyneth Paltrow famously named her child "Apple". I'm sure you know many other examples... ("Valley" and "Lake"?) In Germany, I have been made aware of the fact that there are certain guidelines when naming your children, and the government tries to protect children from crazy parents. I've had really interesting conversations with people about this...about whether you are "damaged" or disadvantaged if you get a strange name from your parents.  And I see some points here...but the German guidelines seem really strange to me. For example, I heard from someone who wanted to name her son "Jannick", but at the time it was perceived as "too foreign." Now it's very popular. And the gender issue also strikes me as out-of-place. Read on...

When looking at the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache [Society for German language] site about the "word of the year," I found something really interesting. They have a service (20 €) where they will look into a name, and decide whether or not they think it should be accepted, and then they will pass along this recommendation to the city hall (Standesamt). They say on the site that the city hall usually goes along with their decision.

Here are the guidelines they list on their site, when deciding whether a name should be recommended:

1.  The well-being of the child is the main priority of the giving of a first name.
2.  The gender of the child must - possibly through a middle name - be clear to determine
3. The name should be documented in serious, legitimate (seriös) sources (academic name literature, official documents, etc). Evidence from the internet is only conditionally accepted.
4.  The form of the name must be recognizable as a first name.

I find all of this really fascinating. What do you think? Do you think this should be regulated? Does this also say something about the US and Germany?

You may find this interesting...the most popular first names, in Germany and the US (Emma, Maria, Sophia are on both). It's always amusing which names are "classic," and cross the Atlantic divide, and which names are culturally specific. For example, no one is named "Lena" in the States, or "Sebastian," and, the other way around, "Gretchen" is an old lady name in Germany. 

from: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/

More here:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

arroz con pollo

Going back to Michael's Miami roots...we have been wanting to make arroz con pollo for a while. It was delicious and worth the work.

1. marinate chicken in lime juice/garlic/salt brine  (2-4 hrs)
2. brown chicken
3. make sofrito: peppers, onion, garlic, saffron, oregano, bay leaf
4. add chicken back in, cook down
5. add rice and chicken stock
6. finish off with a beer (seriously, poured into the pot)

We found the recipe here: Arroz con Pollo, from arroz y frijoles

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wort des Jahres / Word of the Year

I saw an interesting article in the ARD Nachrichten about the 2011 "Word of the Year," which not only says a lot about the relationship between language/culture, but also about a language itself. A lot of the German "nominees", as well as last year's winner (Wutbürger), are neologisms, new words that were "invented" or used to describe a particular phenomenon. German is especially suited to making up new words, because of how easily you can form composite nouns. Interestingly, there are also lots of English-influenced words, or examples of "Gerglisch," on the list (#9 is "Killersprossen," or the "killer-sprouts" of this summer's E-Coli food scare). 

This year's winner was "Stresstest," referring to the stress put on various institutions and governments: the article names the banks, nuclear energy, and the Stuttgart train station debates. Personally, I think the choice is a bit lame, and rather vague, but I guess I wasn't here all year and maybe the word has been thrown around a lot. The Süddeutsche Zeitung has a list of all the "words of the year" since 1971 here

Also bemerkenswert is #7, "guttenbergen," a new slang word for copying/cheating (abschreiben). Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg was German defense minister, until it was revealed that parts of his dissertation were plagiarized.

In the States, NPR's Geoff Nunberg named "occupy" the word of the year for 2011. Not only because it refers to an event, but to a new kind of phenomenon, a new kind of language, and a new kind of protest (notice how "we are the 99 percent" made #10 above in the German list):

"The word itself can take credit for a lot of its success — this isn't an item like "debt ceiling," which just happened to be hitched to a big story. But give props to the magic of metonymy, too. That's the figure of speech that lets us use names like Wall Street, Hollywood or Seventh Avenue to refer to the things that go on there.

....So why not make "the 99 percent" itself the word of the year? Well, for one thing, occupy is that rare linguistic phenomenon, a word that bubbles up out of nowhere and actually helps to create the very thing it names. And anyway, "the 99 percent" wouldn't be part of our political discussions if occupy hadn't gotten there first.Entire article here

Monday, January 16, 2012

der erste Schnee...

It didn't stay on the ground very long, but it did snow!

Georg Heym

In honor of expressionist poet Georg Heym (30 October 1887 - 16. January 1912 in Berlin). His poems have some language to describe the metropolis of early 20th-century, and the Weltschmerz of modern life in the city.

Ludwig Meidner
Die Stadt
Sehr weit ist diese Nacht. Und Wolkenschein
Zerreißet vor des Mondes Untergang.
Und tausend Fenster stehn die Nacht entlang
Und blinzeln mit den Lidern, rot und klein.

Wie Aderwerk gehn Straßen durch die Stadt,
Unzählig Menschen schwemmen aus und ein.
Und ewig stumpfer Ton von stumpfem Sein
Eintönig kommt heraus in Stille matt.

Gebären, Tod, gewirktes Einerlei,
Lallen der Wehen, langer Sterbeschrei,
Im blinden Wechsel geht es dumpf vorbei.

Und Schein und Feuer, Fackeln rot und Brand,
Die drohn im Weiten mit gezückter Hand
Und scheinen hoch von dunkler Wolkenwand.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1911
(this one, with the constant sound of rain in the city streets, is particularly fitting for January Berlin)

Der graue Himmel hängt mit Wolken tief,
Darin ein kurzer, gelber Schein so tot
Hinirrt und stirbt, am trüben Ufer hin
Lehnen die alten Häuser, schwarz und schief
Mit spitzen Hüten. Und der Regen rauscht
In öden Straßen und in Gassen krumm.
Stimmen ferne im Dunkel. – Wieder stumm.
Und nur der dichte Regen rauscht und rauscht.
Am Wasser, in dem nassen Flackerschein
Der Lampen, manchmal geht ein Wandrer noch,
Im Sturm, den Hut tief in die Stirn hinein.
Und wenig kleine Lichter sind verstreut
Im Häuserdunkel. Doch der Strom zieht ewig
Unter der Brücke fort in Dunkel weit.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Effi 2.0

 Berlin's Maxim Gorki Theater put on this really cool project on Monday, "Effi Briest 2.0" on Facebook. I didn't catch it "live" but visited the site later and it's really fun how they play with the text. They invited members to "watch" the play, and interact through "likes" or "comments" at various points. The goal was to generate interest (and hopefully attract younger viewers) for an upcoming production of Fontane's famous novel at their (actual) theater.

I think something like this could also be really fun and productive to use in class, because it helps you think about the text in new ways. They use some real quotes from the text, and also play with the characters. Although I like on-stage theater to stay close to the text, I have to admit I was amused to see Crampas and Effi flirting through emoticons and reacting with "WTF".

"we can't begin until the theater is quiet.." (haha)
This is how they opened the "play": "Ab jetzt gelten die Hausregeln, bitte beachten Sie diese aufmerksam und widerstehen Sie dem Reflex, etwas zu kommentieren oder zu liken. In wenigen Augenblicken geht es los... wir müssen noch ein paar Zuschauer einladen...Aktualisieren Sie die Seite regelmäßig, um nichts zu verpassen."

Here are some more funny examples from the "play". (A bit out of order, sorry)
mother, telling Effi that Innstetten has asked for her hand
viewers voting on a wedding dress for Effi

Where are the letters?

Here is the link to the entire "production." 
A link to more about the production in English. 
And some press in German. Der Tagesspiegel, „Gefällt mir“: Fontane als Facebook-Theater

Seidenstücker: Berlin street photography

Yesterday I went to the Friedrich Seidenstücker exhibit at the Berlinische Galerie (exhibit up until Feb. 6). His photographs are mostly of street scenes from Weimar-era Berlin, and go into the 30s. He also has photographs from after the war and from the occupation of Berlin.

I thought many of the images from the 30s echo the same themes as Ruttmann's film Sinfonie der Großstadt. He has photographs of people on their way to work and during their free time. The motifs of city life are central: train stations, traffic, buildings...but also the places of recreation: the zoo, the lakes around Berlin. Actually, he had a strange fascination for the zoo, and some of the photos were even funny, comparing the zoo visitors to the animals.

More on the exhibit. 

I love this picture below of the women eating ice cream. Their bikes, their skirts, the sunlight...It's so beautiful.
"Nach der Schule ein Eis" (um 1931).
In terms of postwar photography, the exhibit described his work as focusing more on life in the ruins, than on the devastation itself. I would generally agree. In the below image, two US soldiers look over what was the Tiergarten. A few statues are all that lets you recognize what kind of forest was once there. In the background, you can see a line of hollow, destroyed houses. By placing the viewer behind the soldiers, you not only have their line of sight, but this is made more complex by their presence. What do they see when they see this destruction? The tracks of tanks are also in the foreground, making the signs of war subtle, but present.

And I love this image, below. I didn't see it in the exhibition, but I know it from his other work. It's the perfect symbol for the West German "Wirtschaftswunder," the "economic miracle" of postwar recovery. And so funny :)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The joy of books

So, I have already admitted that I am now a Kindle owner, and am enjoying it. You can look up words (English or German) by clicking directly on the unknown word; you can switch between books depending on what you feel like reading; and it's super light and easy to read. But this article on "Amazon's Jungle Logic" did make me feel more than a little guilty  ("scorched earth capitalism"!). I don't want to contribute to Amazon taking over the world! I don't want to take my money out of local economies! I've become confused and rather hypocritical about my book values. I still want the best of both worlds...print when I want it, and e-books in bed at night or on the train.

Jessica just sent me this video and I had to re-post. Oh, I would be sooo sad if bookstores disappeared! My hometown, Duluth, just lost its local downtown bookstore this past year, and it was like some kind of sign of things to come. It's like all the local cafés with character being replaced by Starbucks, or all the bakeries and cheese-shops being replaced by supermarkets.What will the world look like 10 years from now?!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


I saw this sign at a stand at one of the Christmas markets, inviting customers to pay in D-Mark (which has been replaced by the Euro since 2002...).

I asked the guy behind the counter if anyone had actually paid in D-Mark, and he said, "schon einige," a few.

It's almost funny, in light of the fact that you hear the buzzword "Eurokrise" (Euro-crisis) a million times a day these days!

Here you can take a quiz about how much you know about the Euro (in German). How many countries have the Euro? How many different 2-Euro coins are there? Who designed the bank notes? What is the life span of paper bills? (I failed.)

Interesting: How many D-Marks are still in circulation?
Answer: More than 13.3 billion D-Mark. (They explain that it's often not because people are collecting them, but because they hid them or forgot them.)

Monday, January 9, 2012

language and thinking

A friend recently shared an article by Lera Boroditsky (Stanford), who has done research on the relationship between language and cognition across various languages. This article was really fascinating, and she argues that her research shows how language affects the way we are able to think about things. I would questions some of her conclusions, and she is not critical enough about her generalizations about "cultures" as monolithic, but it's still an interesting piece.

Some examples from Boroditsky's article:

language and time:  ...English speakers tend to talk about time using horizontal spatial metaphors (e.g., "The best is ahead of us," "The worst is behind us"), whereas Mandarin speakers have a vertical metaphor for time (e.g., the next month is the "down month" and the last month is the "up month"). Mandarin speakers talk about time vertically more often than English speakers do, so do Mandarin speakers think about time vertically more often than English speakers do? Imagine this simple experiment. I stand next to you, point to a spot in space directly in front of you, and tell you, "This spot, here, is today. Where would you put yesterday? And where would you put tomorrow?" When English speakers are asked to do this, they nearly always point horizontally. But Mandarin speakers often point vertically, about seven or eight times more often than do English speakers.

language and gender: when asked to describe a "key" — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal," "serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny." To describe a "bridge," which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said "beautiful," "elegant," "fragile," "peaceful," "pretty," and "slender," and the Spanish speakers said "big," "dangerous," "long," "strong," "sturdy," and "towering."

Link to entire article here:

And a similar article in the New York Times from 2010,
Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

no strollers, no dogs, no crocs

This was found on the escalator at the KaDeWe: No strollers, hold the hands of children, no dogs, and NO Crocs-Gummiklochs. Ha!
Certainly not because they should be banned from the fashion world ...what kind of safety hazard is this?

A quick google search reveals: there have been many incidents worldwide of people getting stuck on escalators, the soft material getting caught in the "teeth" of the escalator. More here: Health warning over 'dangerous' Crocs

I also found it interesting because Germany seems much less worried about lawsuits in general. But funny, look how they blacked-out "crocs" from the sign. They probably aren't officially allowed to call them "Crocs." Also, in terms of German, I think the spelling "kloch" is a misspelling of "clog".

This, seeing the woman with stroller and woman with child reminded me of a gender-PC traffic pedestrian light we saw in Dresden. Usually it's a man. Interesting, although I'm still not sure the dress/pigtails symbol is making gender progress. Picture below, with a picture I found from a "Gender Mainstreaming" project in Vienna (right): 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

rain, rain go away.

Seriously. Enough of this already. It's been weeks and weeks. I feel like I'm trapped in Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day." Every day it is rainy and gray. Sometimes we'll get maybe an hour of blue sky, then the clouds pull over again.
The only redeeming thing is that it helped get rid of the disgustingness that was post-Silvester Berlin (and street-cleaners did their part, too). Ew. Really. The mush of cardboard fireworks boxes, champagne bottles, broken champagne bottles, broken beer bottles, sparkler-ends, Christmas trees...(By the way, I heard Germans spent 15 million EUR privately on fireworks. They were setting them off everywhere.) While walking around, Michael quoted DeNiro from Taxi Driver, "Some day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets."  Well, he is getting it...

the aftermath of New Years