Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Less Pretty Entry About What Else?

Well, another week in Berlin, and I htink we know what that means.
-Did you forget to bring the camera to a series of interesting happenings?
Well, yes, but that's not the main thing.


This time I was a bit more engaged than just stumbling onto it. A dude in my French class, Stefan, invited all of us to the most unobjectionable protest ever:

Like, yes, I am pro-education, like almost everyone else on the planet, certainly in the western world, and it's Amnesty, so no semi-legal funny stuff, so why not? I ask Stef for more info, and he seemed thrilled that anyone was coming.

"Well, it's at 10:30, and we'll have a few theater pieces, snow predicted, so dress warm and there will be drummers, and we're all wearing yellow and I can't be there until the actual march is done, so at the rally. We have bread and ponchos too!"

Ok, well, what else do I have lined up? Nothing, so at 10:30 I was at the Hackescher Markt to meet a squadron of German university and high school students in yellow ponchos.

A word about Amnesty International members, having been to a few meetings at NU in my time, they seem to be the same everywhere, even the ones who are just taking part for the sake of having it on their CVs. There are the hippy souls who legitimately care about all the beautiful creatures of...yawn...what? Oh right, and then there are the more liberal minded types who simply want to make a diference and find the less well established groups on campus (DieLinke.) not organized enough, and then there are the ones who are working "within the system to change it," the ones who wear button-up shirts and study pre-law, and they were all out en force.

They started in the snow with a little skit, in which the tired-looking faculty adviser, a man of about 50, "violently blocked the doors of education" and thus prevented a dread-locked girl from taking part. The problem was he clearly wasn't an at all, so he kind of woodenly stuck out his arms, took one step to the left and right and said " come in." I found it rather funny.

Then we were off for the march, which was of some distance considering it was snowing, and we stopped for a while in front of Humboldt. Because I wasn't really informed on the topic, and I'm not in their Amnesty chapter, I was more of a walking spectator. I didn't take a poncho or plackard, but I set off to learn as much about what was going on as I could while wandering through the crowd. It was through this moseying that I made the acquaintance of a girl who had organized the benefit concert accompanying the march, and the maybe president of the chapter. Both girls were really sweet, but wearing tragically thin shoes (chuck tailors), so after talking to them about German feminism for some time, I ran off to a nearby bakery on a coffee run. This was of course to warm/caffinate us for the rally, but it was also a chance for ME to get the feeling back in my toes as well. The concert organizer was studying "Amerikanistik" which is what it sounds like, and she was planning on spending some time working in Wisconsin.

QUICK WISCONSIN PAUSE: when she said this she was really excited, like "I'm going to WISCONSIN!" and not to offend any of my loyal readers in the Cheese State, but I found this rather amusing. A scene from Love Actually came into my mind, appropriate at this time of year, in which dopey English "Colin Frissle" tells his friend that in order to improve his chances of finding his love, he's "going to a wonderful place...called...WISCONSIN!" You should all see the movie, great Christmas music, and wonderful utilization of Alan Rickman's acting and Jodi Mitchell's songs.

So we ended up at the Brandenburg Gate, where I finally waved at Stef, who was insanely busy and a little irked that the state representative for Amnesty hadn't shown up yet, so I stayed in the crowd, petting the Beagle this woman had brought. He was a leftist Beagle to be sure.

Then they did another sketch which involved my favorite thing ever: Germans speaking English. The idea was a classroom of students conjugating "to see" as "We DON'T see, We DON'T Look, It is not our business!" as one by one the girls in the classroom are covered in black cloth and hauled away behind a chicken wire barrier. This was actually a really good idea, but the Beagle was so alarmed at this injustice that he proceeded to flip his little Beagle lid and barked furiously. The speaker then showed up and gave a speech that I found rather lackluster considering that it was snowing outside and our numbers were thinning. I think that for such a situation you need a really good high school football coach, pepping up his team for the big game. This American Life had a great example of this pep talk in a piece about a voter registration drive on UPenn's campus.

But we all survived, and it ended rather anticlimactically with the student speaker somehow trying to get us to do "air raid," the game in which someone yells "AIR RAID" and you fall on the ground, and then you get up, and then AIR RAID again, so you get down, etc etc. This time, however, he didn't' yell but instead just like motioned for us to get down. I don't think anyone had any clue what the kid was doing (maybe he's in training to become a high school football coach?), but we played along, the 100 or so yellow ponchos flapping to the wet ground. When it was all over, Organizer Girl invited me to the concert, but I couldn't actually go on account of a meeting I had with one of my French crew...let's call them the Baguette Brigade!

I managed to go 2 hours in French without saying more than 2 English words next to each other at a time. Isn't that amazing?! It also reminded me how frustrating learning a language can be trying to figure out how to say something you don't have the tools for.

FYI: The entries now have less bells and whistles because I am writing them on my laptop during my downtime in Venice with mom and dad. This entry, however, was drafted in the Berlin airport. Happy Turkey Day y'all!

Monday, November 24, 2008

An Open Letter to the Cheese-Heads of Germany

Dear Germany,

I have something to tell you...


So it's cold outside and I have a hankering for grilled cheese (yumm-o!), and I was going Christmas shopping for everyone (I think you'll all soon agree I'm a NINJA at that), so I figured I could go to KaDeWe, the biggest EVERYTHING EXPENSIVE AND WEIRD STORE EVER.

Let me tell you, Americans, we think we're bad with our malls and culture of consumerism, but KaDeWe is proof that Germans can be just as bad; the place was packed to the gills. But I fought my way past the Burberry bags and 18,000 threat-count sheets to the foods floor. It's like Central Market up there or something, totally wild. Anything you can think of is there, including

which I did NOT buy, because I needed to make sure ginger ale was getable to go with it...which it is, but will at a later date, rest assured. Anyway, I mosey up to the cheese counter and ask for some cheddar, and the guy just looks at me. He says, "We only have white cheddar. I trust that is sufficient." No! I can't make a grilled cheese sandwich with WHITE cheddar...that's simply not acceptable for reasons I can't quite articulate, but it just isn't.

"Do you have any orange cheddar?"
Look of complete disdain and perhaps confusion. "No."

For those concerned Wisconsinites out there, I did find some Cheddar at Kaisers that was to specification, so this story has a happy ending, but SERIOUSLY, GERMANY?!?! It's like one of the only cheeses we can manage to do right in America, and if you're going to be pushing our sodas, our white bread, and our other stuff, why not throw a little love Cheddar's way?

Nommily yours,

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dear Germany...huh?

So I have no clue what's going on with German holidays; sometimes they sort of happen, and that's why I assume these things started popping up on the streets around, but I have to admit, these decorated IKEA lamps hanging in the air on an early November evening...a little weird.

This music store is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, but they have one too...

I like this one...the blue gets me, but the lips (or "leeps"
as some would say) look hella-creepy!

You know, this could be a great illustration of a red blood cell!
Angela The RedBlood-Cell-a

This restaurant did a darn good job on their fish! Bravo!

This one maybe had something to do with the wine shop,
but I didn't get the tie-in between the dangley dealies and the wine...thoughts?

This guy looks...hmm...what emotion would I pick for it?
It looks like he's a junior high school boy who asked out
a really cute girl, and she said "No," and he slams his head
into his locker like "GAWSH! You're such a DORK, Jared!"

I can see up its skirt I think. Do fishes wear skirts? Are these things fishes
or are they supposed to be like abstract artistic figures?

I wish I had a decent vantage of this thingy, because
they kinda went all-out.

This guy is pretty typical, but he's the first one you see on the street.

I am remembering a time in Tuebingen, one night walking in a field past the student ghetto I ran into a troup of little kids with bobbing lights on sticks, some Catholic holiday. They were lamps like from an era in which you'd put these things on your Gondola because you weren't fancy enough for gas lamps. Them wacky Catholics!

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Bit on the Election

So here's a note: This post will look rather sparse, but it's because html is giving me fits, and I spent longer formatting this than writing it, so sorry y'all! Pretend it's sized and colored, and it might be that way in a few days...UPDATE: FIXED IT! GO COMPUTER GEEKS! Grandma C, THIS WILL ONE DAY SOON BE YOU!

So I’m watching Obama’s first Prezzy Elect conference, and I’m just so pleased to see him speak, like a mumbling, intelligent professor…I wonder why he sounds like that…OH WAIT! HE IS ONE!

So where was I when history was made? Well, technically I suppose I was in a bus full of drunk Germans on my way home from watch parties, my throat sore, and my mascara runny. But the night began much earlier.

Reminder: I am 7 hours away from most of you, so noon for y’all is 7PM for me.



Football players put the paint under their eyes--I put henna on my hand

I started my night an 8PM/1PM (me/you) with a private party! That’s right, a PRIVATE PARTY. See, I’m on a listserv for scholars living in Berlin, and everyone was sending emails about how irked they were that most of the viewing places were sold out and/or overcrowded, when this last-minute email was circulated: a woman and her husband had managed to rent out a ballroom in the middle of the city, and we’re all invited. I RSVPed, went to class too nervous to talk about much else but the election, and then went home to prepare for a party.

The ballroom itself is above a restaurant/tango hall, so when I walked in there were couples lit by a red light, dancing while cameras followed them. It was rather surreal, like a strange Russian movie, a bit unsettling. Then upstairs…

Some of the crowd at the PRIVATE PARTY!

It was full of smart, older (30+ year olds) people, good wine, and candle lit tables. Best part: we could HEAR the TVs! I kept drinking coffee, not drinking too much beer (only one), so I wouldn’t get too sleepy. As the polls closed and things started coming in I and the other political hacks in the room had to calm the Germans down. CNN had some strange graphs showing “75% VOTING FOR MCCAIN!!! Among people earning $100K a year or more” and I would hear murmurs or some people saying “NO!” Stupid graphics. I also tried my best to explain to Germans the real situation with Obama, which I will post here for the record:

Look, Germans, I know Obama is a big deal for you, but he is NOT a member of the SPD, he’s not a social democrat, he’s an American Democrat. Don’t expect us to be the next Denmark…their cheese sucks. BUT what makes this a big deal is THAT he won, not necessarily what he will do (yet). THAT an African American can win the majority of America is HUUUGGGEEEEE, and can you say the same thing for your country? No. So chill.

The projector and the ornate walls of the ballroom

There we go. So I stayed there for a while, till the east coast polls were almost all closed (I just wanted to get the pulse of VA, GA, and PA and I could extrapolate from that), at about 2:30 my time. Then I realized I needed to get home before the night was over, so I moved on to the next party.

This one was a public viewing at Babylon, a cinema, and it was jubilant there. I didn’t get picts (though a vid or two was made), so I stole some flickrs of the night

You will notice the nighttime setting and dorkily happy Germans

The crowd was much bigger, drunker, and perhaps less into talking policy and more shouting “YES WE CAN!” I suppose “Ja, wir koennen” didn’t ring quite as nicely. I yelled along for another hour or so, then swung by Amerika Haus, half empty with election zombies, even a few McCain heads. So I went home, smelling like smoke and with my throat aching, taking the night bus, full of yelling drunks (I love night buses!) back home, where it was about 4, so I napped a bit, and got up at 5:30. This was enough time to hear Obama’s speech in Chicago live, though I was tired and multi-tasking too much to cry…that happened the second, third, and fourth time I saw it. Then I went off to school half-asleep and full of pride.

Now here's the jankey Dems I know and love!

People, this is huge. I mean…GIANT. I wanted to get my “USA! USA!” chant going, and everyone at the school was shaking my hand or “terrorist fist jabbing” me. Europe still looks to America to lead the way, and we confirmed, dreams can come true. The American dream still lives…and has an adorable family…and mentioned PUPPIES, CHILDREN, HOPE, and THE FUTURE in his first speech. The only things missing were RAINBOWS and UNICORNS! I felt so good watching Jesse Jackson crying, and Oprah leaning on some random guy, thinking that just a few decades ago this wasn’t imaginable.

Hugz all around!

And yes, I did notice the Prop 8 vote, and frankly…I can’t talk about it too much. The “No on Prop 8” campaign was poorly run, so you can’t lay this one at the feet of minority voters. I am also, as a feminist-leaning person, happy for an Obama presidency, like Gloria Steinam told a jubilant Oprah, (and his 3 Sup Court judges), what he’ll do for our causes (98% record of voting for labor on labor’s issues), and how eventually this might get back and do the “NO on Prop 8” community more good than they can see at the moment.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ok, y'all...


General Freakout


The election results are being projected onto a building here, which I don't see as working too well because we won't get the results here till 9am or something TOMORROW MORNING, but I'll be going to that for some time at least. It's going to be a WILD NIGHT! And tomorrow I am going to be a hot mess regardless of who wins....


Watch him vote with his bebehs...or his speech about his grandma (crying!) or the news clip from when he was a home health care aid, which was just so amazing...


seriously, don't make me explain a McCain victory to the Germans...please...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Vienna Day 5

Seriously, that boy works like...well...a Norwegian! Not like an exchange student at all! He was off to class before 9, leaving me to my own devices. You might think this gets tedious, but for me it truly doesn't. Jon was impressed with the distances I walk in a city, how much of it I discover, the markets, the churches; often when he'd take me somewhere to tell me its significance (he's a whiz at remembering stuff-- pick an obscure Norse "ting" and he'll give you 100 years of history about it in German, English or Norwegian!) I'd already passed it on a stroll; I just had had NO CLUE what it was. I gave the natural history museum one last try, but they were closed.

Exterior: Natural History Museum. Note the "300 years of mildew"

So I went to the Leopold Art Museum instead. This was quite cool, because they had a sizable Klimt exhibit along with Christian Shand. Here are some of my notes from my run there (think: not-live liveblogging)

-Egon Scheile seems very ill, but uses blue well, lots of creepy people
-I like Schand's woodcuts! (Before the Ballet)
-REalism makes me real sad at times (Gypsy Children)
-Never let Otto Dix paint you ladies!
-I have little patience for expressionism
-the only between-war Austrain painter I really dig is Hauser.
-Why can't the east European families here keep quiet? -Does that ability like go away the minute you get into a place that echoes?!
-What does "--1945 (in Polen vermisst)" mean? How do famous painters like Seladeck go missing?
-I HEART blorps of oil on canvas.
-There's an exhibit on psychoanalysis complete with Freud quotes.
-The French tour guides stubbornly refuse to say "Danke" even in Austria, it's "merci."

And on the way out, I ran through Quarter 21, which is like a hall full of practice rooms for conceptual artists in training. One room on freedom had a girl in it, and we got to chatting, and she invited me back that afternoon to be part of its open discussion, which was great because I had NO PLANS! So an hour later I came back and the room filled with people talking about patents, the Fluxus movement, and freedom of expression in the age of the net, just my thing! 15 minutes in, a girl showed up in Japanese street chic, and when she took off her jacket she's painted her arms to look like she'd slit her wrists and was "bleeding" neon glitter ("I eat sequins for breakfast!"). This was as loud as she got in a conversation invoking multiple interpretations of Foucault though.

I left them after a while to go back to J's to pack, but en route (took a tram and not subway, so I could look around) I saw a big Indian grocery. Having seen no such place in Berlin (lots of hippy but no Indian) I ran in to buy hennah and a slightly legal copy of a Bollywood and had a nice chat with the store owner and his two sons about movies and what actors were greater than or equal to others, with his daughter coming in at the end with a yell of "KING KHAN!" "Which one? There are like 7!" Laughter from everyone.

Later came the hard pary, saying goodbye. Remember that Muppet song in the The Muppet Movie "It's Time for Saying Goodbye"? Yeah, that's just how I was feeling, like a sad Muppet. It seems like J and I never get enough time to properly pillage anything, and I got a little >SAID WITH SOUTHERN ACCENT< saynt-uh-mental (sentimental), but as he rightly said, there's mostly a hello at the end of our goodbyes, and I will see him again while on The Continent.

Vienna Day 4

A short day for J's work saw me interested in looking into the governmental high points of Austria. I started with an awesome Bittersweet-meets-Mozart breakfast

"Yum-liscious" as Blayne would say

and then off to the parliament building, city hall, and the embassies

City hall, appropriately called, in German "Rathaus"

Creepy...perhaps historical...but also creepy

Statues outside of the embassy of, I think, Italy

and then outside this one president's building (I seem to recall the label saying something like that) there were some photos and a news van or two, and I'm nothing if not a rubber-necking tourist, so I decided "heck, I'm not doing anything--I'll wait too!" too bad I didn't have my hat with me, so I'd really look like the press. "We" in the fourth estate (I'm more like 4.5) waited for 30 minutes at which point, I, being a child of "instant gratification takes too long" said "Nuts to this!" and started to walk across the street, FULLY EXPECTING the approaching car to stop or at least slow did not. So I scurry out of the way to a flash of camera bulbs as whoever they'd been waiting for arrived!

Well, look at that! Closest I've come to an international incident in a few weeks!

But, even if I almost got hit, it was a reasonably famous person.

Jon was back with me in time to catch a lunch special form a waiter cranky enough to have given the Albanians at Nizza's a run for their money, and then we spent the afternoon trying to be productive. This was interrupted once by a 11 month old Austrian baby named Max who T. had brought for a visit. He's at that "cute" stage where they toss stuff on the floor and make multi-tonal noises to mean perhaps different emotions ("eeeee" and "ooooo"). He had a big fan in Jon, but I held off my judgments. If the kid isn't a family member (because we all know, DEM bebehs are a-door-bell) I'm on diplomatic terms only until it does something to place itself firmly on or off my black list
(yes, I have a Nixon-like black list for 10 month olds, get over it).

That night we went out to a bar next to the city hall (popular with the "maybe just got off working AT city hall" crowd) for the lightest beer they had (we met each other over Koelsch, but we're mostly wheat people).

Vienna Day 3

The downside to being an exchange student is the student bit, and I ran right into this on Sunday when Jon had to do a group project; me being of a more independent stripe, ventured off on my own to the natural history museum, but before I could really set eye on it properly, I saw this:

Most terrifying inflatable tube man EVER

and thought "wha?" so I wandered over to where the action was, what I can only describe as
(army recruitment tent)30
+ massive speaker/media system

+ interactive "for kids" activities
+ testosterone music fest
- self consciousness
+ (locals(their kids in military uniform))

+ 1 guy in a Joerg Haider hat.
It was supposed to be a celebration of the military for their national day, but I'll show you the pictures, and you tell me if it wasn't a little bit creepy

Storming a tank or playing on it? Playing on it.

Celebrating hometown heroes...ok, but...

...but THIS is excessive!

Yes, let's glorify military technology

As dad said really well, "the fact that the Hapsburg Empire died out is only a technical detail to [Austrians]." Still, this was quite creepy, and I'll bet my month's stipend you'll not see this in Germany on National Day! Having had my fill of "JOIN THE BUNDESHEER!" I went for a bit of a wander before leaving to go to the modern art museum and then for a wander...

Viennese street art 1

Viennese Street art 2

And that was just about as much adventure as I could take for one day, so home it was! As a compensation for my creeped-outedness, J took me to a fun park (think Tivoli or 6 Flags but a little lamer), which you'd think would have been full. Imagine Six Flags on July 4... take some deep breaths to recover. Sorry you all had to picture that. But we got this:

What? Only reasonable conclusion, both J and I could make was Austrians are weird compared to Norse/American ones. We took the chance though to ride the big Ferris wheel and see Vienna by night.

Pretty, huh?

Us looking schweet

And how better to end a chilly night like that than with a cup of cocoa?