Monday, October 29, 2012

Berlin's Bizarre Birthday

Uh, not sure how to begin this one. I suppose some context: back in September I had run into an open-air exhibit called Stadt der Vielfalt (City of Diversity). The exhibit was one of several to commemorate Berlin's 775th birthday this year that culminated with last night's celebrations.

Twilight installation in Nikolaiviertel
A little more background: Berlin turned 775 yesterday, but this is only his? her? her. her 4th birthday celebration ever. The first one to celebrate 700 years was in 1937, put on by the you-know-whos, and then two 750th birthdays were celebrated respectively in West and East Berlin in 1987. In a way, this was Berlin's first "unsoiled" birthday and the city took it as an opportunity to acknowledge the past but make a statement about the way it sees itself today and where it wants to go in the future.

Yes, this moose in stripper shoes was part of the celebration
I walked into the entire celebration a bit blind, expecting something like a typical Christmas market minus the Christmas. You know, Bratwurst and Gluehwein and live music and cookie hearts and the occasional Dirndl or Lederhosen. Your usual German festival fare. Instead I was greeted by excessive amounts of open flame and interpretive theater. I suppose it was nice that the planners mixed it up and threw in some social commentary about global warming and whatnot, but it kinda freaked me out a little. I just wasn't prepared! And the fact that I was still nursing a Sunday hangover, it being Halloween time, and there being a full moon just didn't help things.

Moose in stripper shoes approaches baby alien in ball
Berlin's only "medieval" quarter, the Nikolaiviertel, was covered in fire. A bunch of metal circle cages with inflamed flower pots and little men with clocks as heads, lightbulbs on fire as hands, rolling back and forth on unicycles on tightropes... I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. My very insightful friend Kelly put 2 and 2 together: fire to represent light during medieval times and metal men with clocks as heads moving back and forth represented us moving from past to present (and then maybe back to the past? making the same mistakes? that was my only contribution). My "ooh cultural differences!" brain kicked in and I couldn't stop thinking how the US would never put so much open flame in a public space for fear of being sued after some drunk idiot got too close and burned himself or tossed his beer into the fire leading to a few people losing their eyebrows.

Nastya, Kelly, and I staying warm by the medieval lighting
A wounded tree and some magical creatures
Guarding or about to decapitate a lone sunflower.
I thought guarding- I'm a "glass half-full" type of girl.
At any rate it was a sight to be seen and I am glad to have seen the sight. I was even more glad to escape to a warm cafe with Kelly and Giovanni afterward to decompress with an adult hot chocolate. Quick tip for the next celebration, Berlin: if you want us to watch people dressed as fish flopping around on volleyball courts, a little Gluehwein wouldn't hurt.

Nikolaiviertel: U/S Alexanderplatz or S/Hackescher Markt (across from the Rotes Rathaus/Red Townhall)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Seasonal Showcase

Before I left for Israel a week and a half ago, I was lamenting the fact that fall in Berlin was not nearly as beautiful as fall back home. Sure, the leaves were falling here and there, but the vibrant orange, red, and yellow tree-lined streets of my Maryland neighborhood were nowhere to be found. Berlin decided to put in some good work the 7 days I was gone, though, and the 30 degree (Fahrenheit) dip in temperature was much easier to digest when I saw all the colors the city had finally decided to put on display. Below, my favorite tree on the Lietzensee, the gorgeous pond by our office that provides the perfect location for a lunchtime stroll, showcasing the seasonal shift.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Quarter for your thoughts

Jerusalem's Old City
Did you know that I have Christian, Jewish, and Muslim roots in me? You probably did, because I talk about it a lot. Today it came to mind as I wandered Jerusalem's Old City, wondering in which quarter I felt most "at home". For my Ukranian colleague, the pick was clear: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian quarter. For me it was somewhat fuzzier. My strongest reaction came in the Muslim quarter, where I felt most excited but also somewhat nervous, probably an irrational by-product of not being allowed to go there on my Birthright tour. The Armenian quarter I found most peaceful- perhaps it's the underdog amongst the "Big Three" and gets less traffic? Of course they were all lovely, and as I later picked at my delicious fried feta salad at lunch (don't worry, vegetables were involved), I decided that I didn't have to choose. I will always do my best to navigate the world just as I did the narrow, winding streets of the Holy City: with an open mind and a smile. And sturdier shoes, because those stones were slippery. 

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter
Armenian Quarter
Jewish Quarter... duh
Muslim Quarter

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday Memo

Good morning! This is what I consider my last week of Berlin "freedom" for awhile. I've been here since my last trip to Istanbul in early September- a whole glorious month without travel for work or anything else- so I've actually felt like I live here for once. I've been going out on weekends, meeting up with lots of friends, regularly attending yoga class, keeping my apartment tidy, throwing and attending parties, buying groceries(!), etc. It's a nice feeling. This coming Saturday I fly to Israel for a week for work and that's when my crazy fall really begins. Or heisser Herbst (hot fall) as our senior project manager put it. I'll be in and out of Berlin after that quite a bit until I fly home in December for an eagerly anticipated break with family and friends. The blogging may get a bit sparser from now til the end of the year but I promise to keep y'all as updated as possible! Just be prepared for shorter posts laden with Instagrammed photos, like this one. ;)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cash, Semi-Tourists, and Creepy Dolls

I often feel I am stuck somewhere in between resident and tourist in Berlin. Although I've been here almost a year, and know the city reasonably well, I can't seem to take a walk without snapping a dozen pics of random things like cute cappuccinos, interesting street art, or weirdly placed shoes at metro stops. Not to mention normal tourist things like monuments and parks. It could just be that Berlin is super interesting, or that I am slightly obsessed with taking pictures, but I think it's partly because I don't totally feel integrated and Berlin still fascinates and surprises me sometimes. It's a nice feeling, really, to walk to work or a friend's house and be surprised by something you see. Sometimes all I have to do is take a slightly different route to get where I'm going, and it's like an entirely new section of the city is opened up to me. Sometimes it's just going somewhere that I've thought about going to for months and just haven't gotten my act together to visit- like the district of Wedding, where a good friend just moved. And sometimes, it's being open to going to a place that's totally standard for a friend and totally new for me. Somewhere like a Balkan flea market in the depths of Neukoelln where a semi-famous artist has filmed a music video:

So last Sunday, I happily accompanied my friend Sophie to this gritty, packed, and not at all touristy (or German) market. A nice departure from the usual Mauer Park trip on Sundays which is full of tourists and hipsters. As I rifled through the one euro sweater bins, underwear with weird English phrases on them, bottles of Head and Shoulders, and boxes of mismatched plates and silverware, I tried to blend in and bargain like a local. But the tourist in me couldn't stop whipping out the camera as each creepy doll, cute parent/child scene, and delightfully intercultural moment graced my eyes.

I even got my beloved Goezleme! Not the crispy, greasy version from the Turkish Market, but a softer, creamier version that was, dare I say it, just as good.


Market without a name: U7/Grenzallee by Obi Markt at Grenzallee/Naumburger Strasse 33