Tag Archives: S-Bahn

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


JanusIt’s official; we’re halfway through our time in Berlin. M has studied the calendar backwards and forwards and determined that this week is it; from here on out we’re on the other side.

To celebrate I’m traveling halfway around the world, literally—I landed in Melbourne last night. The rest of my family will be in the UK soon enough as well, though the four of them will be staying with friends south of London, while I’ve gone a wee bit farther than that. Continue reading

Pierogi panic

ImageWe have a full house these days—six girls and five adults. Our good friends from New Jersey bit the bullet and made the trek to Berlin to see us for Christmas. They found a flat just one block away from us, an easy walk back and forth each morning and evening.

On December 23 we fanned out across the city, all eleven of us, some heading to Museum Island for a self-guided walking tour of the heart of the city, others of us setting off to a multitude of markets to track down all the groceries we’d need for the coming days, when the city all but shuts down.

After months of daily shopping, this ban on shopping for a string of days, just at the time when we are planning our biggest meals, had led to much anxiety and discussion. It is serious business, Christmas meals, and for us the focus is the Wigilia, the Christmas Eve meal. Ours is modeled on Polish traditions brought by M’s mother’s side of the family so many years ago. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without kapusta, the whole pea-cabbage-dried mushroom soup, or the baked fish, the stewed prunes, or the homemade pierogies. Everyone’s favorite is, of course, those potato and cheese-filled pierogies, the dough light as air.

On the 23rd, sitting on the S-Bahn across from our visiting friends, M asked Larissa, “Do you have the pierogi recipe with you?” Larissa laughed and said no. She saw M’s dark look but assumed he was just kidding. It wasn’t her recipe; she had seen it at M’s sister’s place in New Hampshire a month or so ago on a recent visit, but hadn’t brought it with her.

Continue reading

See and be seen

wolf in sheep's clothing

My photo of a painting on the inside of a Francesco Clemente tent on Potsdamer Strasse.

They stare whether you’ve done something mildly interesting or nothing at all, and maybe that’s the most disconcerting part. You never know what it was that drew their attention to you.

It’s blatant, the stares; Germans don’t seem to have that American need to avert the eyes. Standing or sitting on a train, walking down the sidewalk, browsing in a store… if you’re out in public, you’re fair game. If you’re sitting on your balcony and are visible to residents across the street, you’ve offered yourself up for observation as well. Continue reading

Liebe Ruderkameradin

Franklin Ave Bridge

Franklin Avenue Bridge, Minneapolis. Courtesy of Hennepin County Library.

In Minneapolis they jump; the Franklin Avenue Bridge seems to be favored.

One imagines a walk through the bleak, unending night. Some untold moments staring at the murk below; the allure of the black, mesmerizing water. They come alone to the bridge, work their way to the edge, and they let go, whether in a leap or a fall. Either way they plunge into the Mississippi. If the impact doesn’t kill them, the water surely will.

Their bodies wash up on shore and are fished out by the sheriff, often weeks after they make their plunge.

Sometimes rowers are there to witness the fall. Once, I was told, a man hung onto the stern of a passing shell as the rower rowed them both back to the dock.

Here in Berlin, it’s the tracks that beckon. Continue reading

What brings us here

footstretchersLast Saturday as I walked the last mile from the S-Bahn station to the boathouse, I seemed to be alone on the path, but others emerged through the classic Berlin gloom and drizzle. An older woman with a long grey ponytail sailed down the hill on her bike. A blind man with a stick tapped his way along the sidewalk across the street from me, making slow but steady progress. All three of us were heading to the boathouse to row.

I had noticed the blind man for the first time a few weeks ago, feeling his way along the wall up the stairs of the boathouse toward the men’s locker room. I was somewhat awed when I saw him; if I feel deaf and mute around Germans, it’s a temporary condition that can be remedied by a return to the land of English speakers. His condition has no such land of grace.

The woman on her bike turned out to be Helga, the woman I had met on my first day at the club. She seems to be in her mid-70s and has rowed here since the club allowed women to join nearly 40 years ago. Her lined face and curved back may show the crush of age, but her eyes and wit are sharp and she is always ready to climb into a boat to cox or row. Continue reading

The uneven nature of homesickness

bottlesThere is nothing like attending a young person’s birthday party to make you feel like a kid again. My rowing friend invited me to her 26th birthday party, making her alarmingly close to 20 years younger than me, but somehow her friends did not seem put off by the grey threads in my hair and the three not-so-small children back at my apartment.

Germans! They are remarkably civil. They will talk to you even if they have to switch languages to do so. They will talk to you even though you are not hip and cool and you still use words like hip and cool. They want to know what you think about what’s going on in the world. They notice you exist; they want you to have a good time. They are polite. They are interested. And they like to drink. Continue reading