Monthly Archives: March 2014

Holding the finish

ImageYesterday I may have received the highest rowing compliment of my life. Trouble is, it was in German, so I’ll never be quite sure what the old man said. But I believe I caught the gist of it.

It came from a man who had been rowing in a gig boat near my quad on the Wannsee. I’d never talked to this person before in my life; he had no idea I’m an American who doesn’t understand much German. After our row I was standing on the dock, holding the quad with my foot in a rigger so it wouldn’t float away, waiting while the other women I’d just rowed with put away our oars. Continue reading

The crazy world of Schülerladen

IMG_3353Last night M made a large batch of fried rice, enough to feed fifteen people. This morning I made a pan full of apple cake. Around noon we walked down our block to deliver this food to our Schülerladen, where E and a dozen other children and a few adults are now enjoying their school lunch, homemade by parents. As they do every day.

Schülerladen still boggles my mind. It is unique to Berlin, I’m told. A German friend visiting from Bavaria, a teacher in training, said she’d never heard of the model. And Berliners have told me it can only be found here. So I think it’s worth taking a few minutes to describe it. Continue reading

On the right track

wannsee stationI’ve discovered an alternate route to the boathouse from my neighborhood. It starts out by heading due north on the bus instead of south, leading me away from the boathouse instead of towards it, yet it gets me there almost 10 minutes faster than the other way.

Does that make any sense? Of course not. But we’re talking about navigating Berlin, after all, so somehow it does.

The bus takes me to Zoo Station, where I pick up the S7 instead of my old familiar S1. There’s little difference really, considering they both drop me at the Nikolassee station.

The best feature of the S7 route is that it takes you through the wooded western edge of the city. The stretch between Grunewald and Nikolassee is the longest distance I’ve encountered between two stops in my trips in and around Berlin. Not that I mind stops, but it does give you the sensation that you’ve traveled a great distance when you are whisked through the woods without slowing down, as if you’re being transported to another place entirely.

Continue reading

A bird builds its nest

Image“Look at him!” said M one morning, pointing out an odd bird hopping erratically up a tree. “Every day he does this”—meaning he carries sticks five times longer than himself, grasping one at a time in his beak, making his way through the dense bare branches and twigs of the linden tree in the middle of our inner courtyard, the one that towers over the trash and recycling containers below.

The next morning I looked for him myself and found him busy at his task. The squat blue bird neared the nest, attempting to settle an unwieldy stick into the existing network of twigs. Continue reading


ImageI didn’t attend my own engagement party, nineteen years ago. For a long time I’ve thought that’s the interesting part—my absence. Now it strikes me that the odder part is that they threw the party anyway. Without me.

They held it to boost M’s spirits, I suppose, to show him there would be life after Jill. They called it the Jilted Party.

But M already knew I was coming back around. I said yes and then I said no and then I said yes. He took a chance and asked me to marry him too soon, and he knew it. I said yes because it made perfect sense and was the next logical step but it was too soon so at some point I had to say no. It was the thought of that damn engagement party, knowing I’d have to fly back to the east coast with him and face all his friends and family, people I barely knew, all those exuberant well-wishers. They were decent, every last one of them, bear huggers and storytellers and people too good to face half-hearted. I anticipated their toasts, their hugs, their demands for kisses while they all watched, and I couldn’t do it, not when in my heart I was retreating to a dark corner, shrinking from the bright light of their community and love. I couldn’t join them yet. Continue reading

Foreign matter


The Autorenbuchhandlung bookstore and cafe on Savigny Platz.

The other evening I attended a book reading by a young author in a bookstore just off Savigny Platz. The store is located directly under an S-Bahn station, and every few minutes the whole room would rumble when a train passed overhead. The author, a Canadian named Sheila Heti, is on a book tour for her latest work, How Should a Person Be?, what she calls a “novel from life.”

My friend Melissa had alerted me to this reading that very day, so though I knew next to nothing about the author, and though Melissa couldn’t join me, a little time spent poking around Heti’s website made me decide to check it out. Continue reading

Play the hand you’re dealt


Quiches from L’épicerie, which is a French café but poses as German, describing itself as a “Französische Lebensmittel und Café.”

The object of the game was simple. I was to take the empty bottle of wine back to the café down the block and ask them to refill it, or else exchange it for a full one. I was to buy a package of salt, whatever kind it was they served on our salad last week when M and I had lunch there.

Before I left the apartment, I asked M, seated at his computer, “How do I say sea salt in German? And how do I ask for a refill?” He just shrugged and shook his head. I had forgotten to look up the words in the dictionary before putting on my coat.

“Never mind,” I said, heading out the door. It’s best not to overthink every errand, I reminded myself, no need to beat myself up for not getting the words right, because shopping here remains a game of back and forth, give and take, German and English. And this time it would bring French into play. But somehow, no matter the language or how badly we speak it, we keep managing to bring home the groceries. Continue reading