Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saarland reunion :)

 This weekend I got to see two of my former roommates from Saarbrücken! It was so nice to get together again and catch up after four years. Matthias was here for a conference this week anyways, so Johannes took the train up to join us for the weekend.

The photos are from biking around Tempelhof Airport, walking along the canal in Kreuzberg, the Oberbaumbrücke on the former border between East and West Berlin. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

"Europe is not the third world..."

"Europe is not the third world..." haha! I came across the above review on "Trip Advisor" while planning a trip on the Rhine for when my mom and grandmother come to visit. (P.S. Also came across this beautiful English on the same page: "We road a choo choo tram that stopped directly in front of our hotel uphill to the castle". Yes: we "ROAD" a train.) Interesting how according to this guy (he seems like a guy to me...) America is in the "future" and Europe is stuck in old ways (even "third world" ways). At least he admits that it's a difference he doesn't understand.

The photo to the left is a restaurant down the street from us. On the blackboard it says: "Dear guests, we do not accept any EC card or Visa cards, Danke." Most smaller restaurants only accept cash, and these are the kinds of places you want to eat at when you're traveling and experiencing Europe! (Also smaller hotels will only accept cash, or sometimes bank transfer. Again: these are probably nicer and have more character than the chains that accept credit cards!)

It's a big cultural difference: Americans like their plastic. We're used to using cards for everything. But sorry, when you come to Europe you need to carry cash. I know it's inconvenient with the currency transfer and everything, but it's a big difference between the US and Germany (I won't speak for the rest of Europe here, but maybe it's valid most places). They have a lot more smaller, local and family-owned businesses and shops, and credit card machines rack up fees. It's also symptomatic of a larger difference between American culture and European culture (I think): In the US everything is consumer-centered, please the customer, and in Europe it's also more centered on the employers and workers (I think having Sundays and holidays off is another example of this). And is it not possibly also a sign of our credit economy? That we are used to using plastic forms bad spending habits...and maybe the German tendency to pay in cash also helps people be more aware of their spending limits? This is speculation...What do you think?

On a side note: Most grocery stores and drugstores will accept cards, but often only the more technologically advanced European cards, that have a computer chip in them. They think American cards are very unsafe and old-fashioned (just with the magnetic strip). If you're traveling in Germany, it's good to know that bigger grocery stores like Kaisers or Rewe will take credit cards. Otherwise, in most stores (and also vending machine-type things) you have to have the chip! For example, buying train tickets from a machine.

Another side note: The review above says that "electronic payments" are the way of the future. In this way, Germany is waaay more advanced than the US! I think I've mentioned before how people use bank transfers here for anything and everything, and it's super super easy to pay bills. You can also pay private persons with online banking. No one writes checks for anything anymore! 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Berlin Half Marathon Registration at Tempelhof

This was really cool--for the registration for the Berlin Half Marathon (Sunday), they have the expo/registration at Tempelhof Airport. I had never been inside the building, so it was cool to see. Also amusing because this was the first German race expo I have been to, and some things struck me as particularly German (the big beer area, a little German honey stand). We went and picked up our race packets, t-shirts and got a Wurst. A strange feeling, to be walking around an empty, deserted airport!

One more hilarious thing I just had to add...In our race instructions we have a very explicit warning not to go to the bathroom in people's yards due to incidents from previous years! HA! It also asks you to police other runners...yikes...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chamissoplatz, Kreuzberg

I think I have said before that the area we live in--around Chamissoplatz--is one of the best-preserved areas from turn-of-the-century Berlin. Most of Berlin was very badly bombed in the war, so you often have ugly postwar constructions, peppered with a few old treasures here and there (Altbau = pre-war, Neubau = after the war). But our street, and the streets around it, are just gorgeous, and very well-renovated. The upper photo is from a street corner near us (most don't have trees actually), and the black and white pictures are from the entryway to our building.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

life on repeat

Wow, how is it the weekend again already? It's been a crazy week: library, half marathon training, theater, library, cooking, archive... I am planning several trips right now (I could make a living doing this, by the way, if grad school doesn't pan out...), and said to Michael, "I am so ready for a vacation." He laughed... and I didn't get it. "Our life is like a vacation," he said. Okay, kinda true. This year we have very few responsibilities, and we're cut off from the real world a bit.  But we are really busy! I feel quite exhausted just with my weekly schedule. And as much as I love Berlin, I am getting excited for our Rhine trip in two weeks, and summer trip to the Baltic and North sea coasts. Get out of the metropolis and breathe.

The amazing weather is making me itch to travel I guess. Today we have all the windows open letting in the spring air, and there is not a cloud in the sky. It's 19 C, which is warm. :) But I know it's great in the US right now, too. I just hope it holds for the Rhine trip in two weeks! I actually hope it rains soon, so it's out of the system!

I know that almost every weekend I post about our market...but I can't help it! We have one of the best weekly markets right around the corner. I can't get over it, and I look forward to it every week. :) I ran out and got croissants for breakfast, and then we had a leisurely morning reading and catching up on emails, and I was playing travel agent, and when I went back around noon for produce some of the stands were sold out of stuff (the good Anyways, I got broccoli, leeks, some eggs and yogurt, a squash, chard, baby spinach. The sun was shining hot, there was live music, and happy little children. I am going to take off for a run at Tempelhof, and then invited to a jam-making party tonight. Michael's playing basketball outside, a repeat of last Saturday, which was also so sunny and warm. It's a good life!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hurra, hurra, der Lenz ist da!

This post comes a day late...but happy spring! There are definitely signs of spring: crocuses, birds singing, trees budding...but no asparagus yet! Last weekend the weather was so nice, all the cafes and restaurants started putting out their outdoor tables. Now it's cooler again, but some brave souls are still anxious to be outside again. The florists have really beautiful displays, too.

Below is a link to the song "Veronika, der Lenz ist da" [Veronika, spring is here] from the "Comedian Harmonists," a singing sextet from the 1930s. They were very popular before WWII but some of the group members were Jewish and the group was prohibited from performing. There is a movie about them (Comedian Harmonists) if you're interested. I put the song text includes one of Michael's favorite words: frohlocken, "to frolic".  :)

Veronika, der Lenz ist da, / die Mädchen singen Tralala, / die ganze Welt ist wie verhext, / Veronika, der Spargel wächst, / ach Du Veronika, die Welt ist grün, / drum laß uns in die Wälder ziehn. / Sogar der Großpapa, sagt zu der Großmama: / Veronika, der Lenz ist da.

Mädchen lacht, Jüngling spricht, / Fräulein wolln sie oder nicht, / draußen ist Frühling, / der Poet Otto Licht / hält es jetzt für seine Pflicht, / er schreibt dieses Gedicht:  

Veronika, der Lenz ist da, / die Mädchen singen Tralala, / die ganze Welt ist wie verhext, / Veronika, der Spargel wächst, / ach Du Veronika, die Welt ist grün, / drum laß uns in die Wälder ziehn. / Sogar der Großpapa, sagt zu der Großmama: / Veronika, der Lenz ist da. 

Sie sollen frohlocken, der Lenz ist da, Veronika  / die ganze Welt ist wie verhext,  / Veronika, der Spargel wächst, / o Veronika / Veronika, die Welt ist grün, / drum laß uns in die Wälder ziehn.
Sogar der liebe, gute, alte Großpapa, / sagt zu der lieben, guten, alten Großmama: / Veronika, der Lenz ist da.

Monday, March 19, 2012

good deeds

You probably didn't notice...but yesterday none of the mosque pictures were my own, because I lost my camera. :( I think it must have fallen out of my pocket on the bus on the way there. Anyways, I was super bummed, and had no real hopes of getting it back. But guess what?! Out of the 3.5 million people in Berlin, a NICE one found my camera, and turned it in to the bus driver, who gave it over to the bus company lost-and-found. So when I went to the BVG Fundbüro this morning, it was there!! What luck! I didn't even know the brand of my camera to claim it, but I got really excited when I saw my camera on the desk and said, "Look at the last picture! It's me, I swear!" :) So I paid 7 EUR and got it back. Pretty nifty system. :)
The picture below I took as we were leaving the library...beautiful sky, not so beautiful Potsdamer Platz. Just glad to have my camera back. :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Şehitlik-Moschee - Berlin, Neukölln
Foto: Steffen Pletl, via
Today Michael and I participated in a tour of Neukölln's Şehitlik mosque, the largest mosque in Berlin, which belongs to the Turkish-German community. We bike/jog by here all the time, but had never been in (and didn't even know whether it was possible to visit). So when Fulbright listed it as one of the possible free tours offered as part of their annual meeting, we definitely wanted to sign up.

On the website of the mosque (and also here) you can also find out more information about visits.

They list the following reasons for wanting people to visit:
  • Islamische Architekturkunst aufzeigen und erläutern [show and explain Islamic architecture]
  • Muslimisches Leben im Berliner Alltag vorstellen [introduce Muslim everyday life in Berlin]
  • sich gegenseitig kennenlernen [get to know one another]
  • Vorurteile abbauen und Gemeinsamkeiten entdecken [break down stereotypes and discover commonalities]
  • Steigerung gegenseitiger Wertschätzung [increase appreciation of one another]
  • Fragen (auch kritische) zum Islam authentisch beantworten [answer (also critical) questions about Islam in an authentic way]
  • Perspektivwechsel ermöglichen [make possible the exchange of perspectives]
  • Dialoge und Freundschaften fördern [promote dialogue and friendships]
Foto: picture-alliance/ dpa (
We learned that there are about 300,000 Muslims in Berlin, and about 80 mosques and/or prayer rooms. Most are the so-called "Hinterhofmoscheen", or "courtyard-mosques," hidden away in apartment buildings. There are no outer signs that there is a mosque there. Only a few are free-standing buildings, visible as mosques, and this is the largest. Our guide told us that the Muslim community in Berlin is very ethnically divided, so you have a Turkish mosque, a Bosnian, an Arab mosque. He also said that there is no official organization, with a "head" of the Muslim community in Germany. This is difficult because in Germany there is no real separation of church and state, and without this kind of organization, the Muslim community cannot get the equivalent of the Christian "church taxes," or religious education in the schools. (In German schools, kids have to have either "religion" class (Protestant or Catholic), or they take "ethics." There is no option for Islam.)

This mosque is very new: finished in 2005. It was built to resemble Ottoman mosques in Turkey from the 16th and 17th centuries, with the minarets. This mosque was built on a piece of ground that actually belongs to Turkey. Back in the days of Prussia and the Ottoman empire, the Prussians gave the Turks this piece of ground for a cemetery, and the mosque is built on this piece of land.

In this particular mosque, the prayer is read in Turkish (sometimes also Arabic), but the Friday sermon is read in German. We got to sit in and listen/watch a prayer service. It lasted about 10 minutes and the prayer was more sung than read. The men and women were separated, the women prayed in the balcony (where we also sat). The men prayed with the imam below. It's a very physical way of praying. They kneel down, sit on their heels and touch their forehead to the ground, and repeat this motion. Their bodies are very close, and at the end of the ceremony they all moved towards the front, and made sure everyone in each row was touching, so no one stood alone. Our guide explained that for this reason men and women are also separated, because when you bow down your head is very close to the rear of the person in front of you.

It's not only a place of prayer, but a community center. While we were there, there were constantly children running around. I noticed a few men holding cups of tea when we came in, and women sitting around in the courtyard talking. Michael also pointed out to me they have a Reisebüro, travel agency. The woman from the board of the mosque as well as the imam came to us and introduced themselves.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

strahlender Sonnenschein auf dem Tempelhofer Feld

It's 20 degrees Celsius today (68 F) and people are out enjoying it. Michael is playing basketball on an outdoor court, I went for a jog at Tempelhof and took a camera along. People were loving the weather. Thousands of Berliners escape their dreary cold apartments and get out to the parks. They were biking, roller blading, jogging, walking their dogs, playing frisbee, skateboarding, flying kites and doing those kite/skateboard with wheels thing. Playing catch, reading, walking, playing with remote-control cars. You name it. As I left the park, more people were coming with bags of beer and picnic stuff, lots of people were already starting to grill. Summer in March? I'm Minnesotan...can't be fooled. But it sure does feel good. :)

Friday, March 16, 2012

my quiet little Sinfonie der Großstadt

Today was such a gorgeous spring day, and although I was stuck in the archive for most of it, I took some movie shots for a change on my way home. I was inspired by Sinfonie der Großstadt to take some pictures of people moving tram, train, bike, foot and bus. It's not our neighborhood, or even very scenic areas of Berlin, but it's my first try at maybe I'll get better. :) Hope you enjoy! If you have any recommendations...things you'd like to see, let me know!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

halal meat or headscarves (or: non-American electoral campaigns)

Anna Maria Jakub/Getty Images,
It's easy to forget with all the hullabaloo about the Republicans right now...but the US is not the only country that finds itself in the middle of an election year, and a big one. France's Nicolas Sarcozy is up for re-election this year, and is currently trailing the Socialist Francois Hollande, but it's close. (Remember Dominique Strauss-Kahn? who was a favorite to run against Sarkozy until his little hotel fiasco?)  In third, on the far right, is Marie Le Pen, from the National Front (like a smarter, but crazier Sarah Palin: a fresh female face for the far-right party). In France they have two rounds of elections. The first is in May, where they pick the top two candidates to move on.

France has some interesting politics... I am always interested in following this conservative, xenophobic strain in European rhetoric of "heritage" "[French]ness", "culture," national identity and the issue of immigration. In the last few years, these topics materialized in the form of the headscarf debate. And in France it's especially complicated because of their alleged separation of church and state (laicité), one of their founding myths as a nation, and their complicated history of colonialism, and growing Muslim population. Since April 2011, France has banned the burqa, under the rationale that they are protecting women's rights. (It is estimated that only about a few hundred women even wear the burqa, so it says something more about French fears than about headscarf-wearing in France.) Back in 2004, they banned all religious symbols from schools, in an attempt to remove the headscarf from schools (cross necklaces, for example, are seen as subtle and unproblematic). So with all this in mind I heard a story on NPR yesterday about how the latest issue in France is the butcher shop, or rather, halal butchering of meat.

Halal meat is meat that was butchered according to Islamic law, where the throat of the animal is cut and the animal bleeds to death. (According to European law, the animal must be dead before it is slaughtered.) So it turns out, in most French butcher shops around Paris, they don't want to lose their Muslim customers. So they have been slaughtering all their meat this way, and not publicizing this fact, but selling both "halal" and "regular" meat. You can imagine the reaction on the Right when this news came out...
Marie Le Pen

"I have the right as a citizen to know if I'm buying meat where the animal is slaughtered in horrible cruelty, taking sometimes 15 minutes to die," said Le Pen. "This is a moral point. Don't French people who don't want to eat halal have the same rights as Muslims who do?" [from NPR]

And then Sarcozy called for stricter meat labeling, and the Prime Minister Francois Fillon took it a little farther...  "Speaking on Europe 1 Radio, Fillon suggested that Muslim and Jewish ancestral ritual slaughter traditions were outdated. 'Religions should think about continuing to keep traditions that don't have much in common with today's state of science or hygiene,' he said." Article at NPR
 In reaction, French Jews and Muslims came together to protest the comment, and Sarkozy may have ended up losing some supporters.

Oops, this post got a little long...I just thought the issue was fascinating...I'm not going to comment too much, other than to say that although immigration is a topic in the US, in Germany, in definitely manifests itself in different ways in our various countries, and I thought this was an interesting little window into French issues right now. Sarcozy has also spoken of tightening France's borders, which could be a whole different topic...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ode to Tempo Taschentücher

Berlin, 1929, an early ad
 So for the last two weeks I've had a bad cold on-and-off, so I thought I would do a strange little post about the German version of Kleenex, called "Tempo" (but superior to its American version). Like in English, people reference the thing by the brand name (Kleenex/Tempo) maybe just as often as the generic word "tissue" or "Taschentuch".

A cultural difference (but correct me if I'm wrong): My impression is that in the US, people tend to buy boxed tissues more than the small kind. If you go to a drugstore or grocery store, there is a whole shelf with lots of options for boxed tissues: colored tissues, with lotion, with aloe, etc. But Germans have mastered the pocket tissues. But the pocket sized ones are usually flimsy and cheap in the US, and the German ones are super strong. And, in Germany almost everyone always has a pack of tissues on them, that look like the blue pack below.

It's funny if you think about the cultural meaning of this revolution: from fabric handkerchiefs to paper tissues (diapers, too...). In Germany this brand was introduced in 1929; in the US Kleenex was also being developed and marketed in the mid 1920s. At first it was being used to remove makeup, and then after the 30s it is marketed as a hygiene product, with the slogan: “Don’t Carry a Cold in Your Pocket”.  Below is a similar ad/slogan from Tempo: "Higher Risk of Flu - Tempo, the hygienic tissue. " (here More ads from Spiegel)  So that's the weird little post for you as I sit in bed, recovering with my Tempos. :) Germany isn't the worst place to have a they also have the best juice (Multivitaminsaft) and Ricola! (Jessica knows what I'm talking about here...)

Friday, March 9, 2012

an die Arbeit!

I'm stepping up my work schedule a little bit...sorry for the irregular posting. When March hit, it was a bit of a wake-up call that summer is just around the corner, and we have lots of visitors coming in the next few months. So I'm trying to schedule archive visits, and library time to make the most of my sojourn in Berlin. And training for the Berlin half marathon (3 weeks!), plus life on top of it all. :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Berliner Landschaften - WWII Bunker

One of the things I love about Berlin is how many little pieces of history you discover walking/biking/running through the city. It's fascinating, and the city never lets you forget that it has this multi-layered history that never goes away. Today biking home I went by this apartment complex which was built over/above/around a WWII bunker that was impossible to get rid of after the war (the amount of explosives it would have taken would have destroyed too many of the surrounding buildings).  Most were destroyed by the Allies. This older post from a few summers ago also has a bunker that survived the war, in Mitte near the Deutsches Theater. There is an organization (Berliner Unterwelten) that does tours of bunkers and other "underworlds", but I have never done one. Maybe when Anna and Paul come to visit this summer we'll do it. Their website also has some good information about the various sites they go to. For example, in the Volkspark Humboldthain, the bunker was also too close to railroad lines to be destroyed, so they piled it with rubble and it created a so-called "Trümmerberg", rubble mountain. In this case, it was over 1,4 Millionen cubic meters of rubble! There are many of these "Trümmerberge" in Berlin, formed after the war when they were trying to rebuild and reorganize the city from the pile of bricks it was. The most famous is the Teufelsberg, which I have also not yet visited, in the Grünewald. Some of the U-Bahn stations also had bunkers, like Gesundbrunnen, and under Moritzplatz.  


Monday, March 5, 2012

some U-Bahn history

One thing I always love about being in Europe are how the street names (and U-Bahn station names) are always tied to history, culture, and geography. It's not 5th Ave and 10th Street, random numbers and coordinates like on a US city grid, but "Rosa-Luxembourg-Platz" and "Kleistpark," "Straße des 17. Juni" and "Bismarckstr.". (This has always impressed me in visiting, Paris, too.) And sometimes, with the ups and downs of history, the street names change. The Third Reich is only the most obvious example: Rosa-Luxembourg-Platz was "Horst-Wessel-Platz"; Theodor-Heuss-Platz was Adolf-Hitler-Platz 1933-1945.

Michael noticed that one of our regular stations, Platz der Luftbrücke, has a plaque that the station used to be called "Kreuzberg" (see picture above). Well, it's obvious that the name "Platz der Luftbrücke" [the Berlin Air Lift] is a relatively recent name. So I looked into it...and found this amazing website,  with great old maps of the city. The history of the U-Bahn is relatively recent but they have maps of the city going back to 1738.  Here is another super amazing (I know, so nerdy...) site with info about all the stations:, and even some historic pictures.

So you can see above the station is called "Kreuzberg", you can also see the Viktoria Park. And in the map below from 1926, the stop is marked with an open circle (incomplete?). In the last one below, it's already renamed "Flughafen" (Airport).
Hallesches Tor - today and before the war