Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ham sandwich


It’s just a whole lot of oars. Credit:

Anyone who has rowed for JD knows his phrase “ham sandwich.” He’ll use it to describe a pause you may have, particularly at the catch.

“You’re sitting at the catch so long, you could have a ham sandwich,” he’ll say through his green megaphone, always making me smile at the thought of someone bringing a ham sandwich in a boat with them.

Never did I think the day would come that someone would actually eat a ham sandwich in a boat.

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Street scene

I’m sitting in the front window of a bakery idly stirring a cappuccino, my laptop open before me, looking out the plate-glass window at Viktoria-Luise Platz. I did not know this platz existed a week ago; now I can’t seem to stay away.

There’s a man standing on the sidewalk holding an envelope and a pen. He has stopped in front of the bakery, but he’s looking intently at the business next door. I can’t see what it is from where I sit.

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My love/hate relationship with Aldi

fizzy water AldiMost Germans we’ve met love their Aldi. We’re not so sure; there are cheap deals to be had, it’s true, but the clerks kind of treat you like dirt. Let me give you an example.

Last week I walked to the Aldi store in our neighborhood, filled my cart with the things we needed, which all turned out to be liquid and heavy. A six-pack of sparkling water 1.5-liter bottles. Flat water for C, who thinks the tap water tastes funny (it doesn’t, but try telling that to my daughter). A liter of milk. You get the idea.

I bring my cart to the checkout, where I know from past experience there will be no English, and that’s fine—I see the total on the register, I pay. Alles ist gut, ja? But nee, ist nicht so gut.

There’s a conveyor belt just like at every other store you’ve ever been to, but there’s no room at the end for your items to pile up until someone bags them. That someone is you, by the way; where do you think you are, Kowalski’s?

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Scheiß Wetter

gig boatsYesterday was not lovely. For about the tenth day in a row, the sky was grey and the clouds were making their way across the sky. What made yesterday less lovely than the days before was the rain and how it fell. It wasn’t a downpour; it was spitting, that thing older people say some days, and it felt just like that, like Berlin’s skies were spitting in our faces.

M and I walked through the gloom to get lunch at a favored Turkish place, and the misery of the day somehow followed us inside. When we got up to leave two older women in headscarves sat down in our places before we could even take our coats off the backs of our chairs. Seemed like they were spitting at us too.

I’d emailed with a woman who was arranging an 8+ for that afternoon, and though the weather suggested we might not go out on the water, I made the hour-long trek to the boathouse just in case. Once you sign up it’s poor taste to blow off the commitment.

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What a difference a car makes

old berlin transportation

Form follows function. Credit:

I am exceedingly grateful that we do not have a car in Berlin. There are many reasons we have one in the states (two, actually) and none in Berlin. Here we have: No commute. A walkable neighborhood. Grocery stores in every direction. Great subway system, and buses too, though we haven’t tried those yet. Friends with cars.

There are advantages to not having a car: The cost of buying/renting one. Insurance. Where to park it. Relearn manual driving. The cost of petrol. The need for an international driver’s license.

There are also disadvantages to not having a car: Going to Ikea on the subway, stocking up on housewares, then schlepping the heavy bags on a walk in the rain and two trains. (Note to self: Next time, ask a friend with a car). And having to walk the pitch-black, deserted streets from the rowing club up to the S-bahn station after an evening practice. (Sometimes I get a ride, but many of them bike to the lake).

But more than any of this, I realize that one of the reasons I am so slow in grasping the layout of the city is because I haven’t seen it by car.

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Who you gonna call?

train car doctor office

That’s not play equipment; that’s an examining table. Well, maybe it’s both.

E’s fever took a turn for the worse on Friday. It was her fourth day home from school, and up until then it had followed the course of M’s illness the week before – three days of fever, and then a quick turnaround and good health again. We reached Thursday evening and told her she’d be going to school the next day, but she woke early on Friday with chills and her highest fever yet, and we worried it was strep or worse.

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Just around the bend

glienicke bridge

Glienicke Bridge on the Havel River, near the Wannsee. Credit:

October 3 is coming up. It’s a national holiday here, when schools and offices will be closed. I didn’t know what the holiday was for until yesterday, and now that I do, a few other things begin to make more sense.

The holiday is Unity Day. It’s a day to commemorate the 1990 reunification of Germany.

I am beginning to understand that the Cold War and Reunification have a far greater hold on the psyche of Berliners today than World War II does. Which is interesting, because if you’re anything like me, your ideas about Germany have been shaped by the steady stream of literature and films that dwell on the dark years of the 1930s and ’40s.

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