11 Observations for 11 Days

I arrived in Berlin on March 12. I’ve noticed some things in the time since, many (OK, probably most) of which have been noticed by the zillions of others who’ve plopped down in this remarkable city. But no matter that: Here’s my list of notable observations, with one item for each full day I’ve been here.

  1. When Berliners roll their own cigarettes on the subway, is it merely a productive way of passing otherwise idle time? Or rather a performative act to prove how these enlightened individuals would never deign to puff on one of those mass-produced smokes?
  2. The bar at the Deutsches Theater has both a disco ball and a taxidermied fox, a pairing I find incongruous but delightful, particularly when reggae music plays.
  3. Somehow the cover photo of Willamette Week’s 2010 Restaurant Guide ended up as the cover photo of a Berlin restaurant guide. I’m still sleuthing.
  4. “Shitstorm,” to no big surprise, has been eingedeutscht—folded into the German language. I first saw the word while reading a news item about emojis and the debate over “fat” as an emotion.
  5. The past tense of “retweet” is “retweetete,” which follows German grammar rules but still looks silly as hell. And makes me glad I’ve switched my phone from English to German.
  6. I saw the solar eclipse. It was sweet.
  7. Customer service, as you’ve maybe heard about Berlin, can be wanting. My first weekend here, I went into a shop to ask if they sold any used bikes. “Nein,” the man replied. “Do you have any recommendations for where to go?” I asked. “Nein,” he replied. I babbled a bit in response, but as I stumbled out of the store, I found myself appreciating his directness.
  8. Occasionally, though, you find a gem. Last week, I entered Hashims Gebrauchte Fahrräder in Neukölln—no question there about the wares—and am now the giddy owner of a cornflower-blue Peugeot mixte circa the early ‘80s (I think). The cramped shop doesn’t have any bike stands—the father-son duo just flip over the bikes, mostly decades-old European racers, and set them on the floor. When I asked about the age of the brake pads on my Peugeot, the older man said I could come back anytime for a free replacement. I marveled out loud about the customer service. “Wir sind kein Geschäft” (“We aren’t a shop”), he said. “Wir sind Geschäft und Mensch.”
  9. Aside from more official matters—figuring out a cell phone plan, opening a bank account, dealing with various levels of bureaucracy—I've spoken woefully little German. In fairness, I've spoken woefully little of any language, because I’m still scraping away at a social life. But no matter how often Germans reply to me in English—which I fear will happen even more once I move to Neukölln—I will continue to answer in German, while cursing the way any word containing the letter R immediately exposes me as an American.
  10. I will also continue to speak German to myself as I pedal around on my bike, something I couldn’t do while taking public transit. On the flipside, on two wheels it’s much harder to eavesdrop, which I see less as nosiness and more as a vocabulary-building exercise.
  11. And finally: Sunday was beautiful, chilly but clear and bright. As I walked across Gendarmenmarkt at dusk, I saw two older women on a bench, both bundled in heavy winter jackets. One pulled something out of her purse—a small bottle of Rotkäppchen. They popped it open and clinked plastic cups as the sun sank in the sky. It’s the best evidence I’ve seen yet for the worldwide abolition of open-container laws.
 A little sparkling wine at dusk.

A little sparkling wine at dusk.