Döner ist Wunderbar

Last week I spent a few days exploring Berlin, a unique and amazing city. I think much of the character it exudes stems from the extreme changes it has faced during the past century. The city center was all but destroyed during World War II, then rebuilt separately by the Allies and the Axis according to two wholly distinct philosophies. After the end of the Wende reunited East and West Berlin in 1989 the city began to coalesce once again, but the personalities of the two halves remain highly evident today. East Berlin is still full of vacant lots, piles of rubble, and graffiti. There is a lot of building and rebuilding going on everywhere one looks, resulting in a level of gentrification which I suspect is unsettling to many longtime East Berliners. By contrast, West Berlin is more tame, more “westernized” and therefore quite a lot less interesting.

One of my goals for the visit was to explore the many museums on offer — there are over 70 state-owned museums in Berlin and countless private ones too. That may sound like an obscene number of museums and, in truth, it is, especially if one has only four days to tackle the challenge. I got around to just a handful of them: the Pergamonmuseum, the Altes Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, and the Gemäldegalerie. (Also in the museum-ish category is Schloss Charlottenburg, King Frederick III’s giant baroque castle, which I toured.) Unfortunately the permanent collections of the Ägyptisches Museum, Museum Berggruen and the Neue Nationalgalerie were all unavailable during my visit, or I undoubtedly would have added them all to my roster.

But Berlin is not just about museums. It’s also about the best street food ever: the döner kebab, a Turkish-inspired concoction of sliced meat bits, salad, and garlicky yogurt sauce, all stuffed into a toasted triangle of thin bread. All in all, a lovely invention. I happily ate döner almost every night, but the best one I found was at Pergamon Bistro in the Friedrichstraße train station. I also tried Currywurst (sausage with curry sauce), Apfelsaftschorle (a mixture of apple juice and soda water), and some random confectioneries. I enjoyed huge carb-laden German breakfasts every morning. And of course I couldn’t resist trying a selection of local beers such as the ultra-cheap and quite decent Berliner Pilsner, and the green variety of Berliner Weisse, which is singularly weird.

Anyway, I took some photos, which are now online, complete with pithy and uninformative descriptions. Enjoy.

Day 1 – Unter den Linden, Alexanderplatz

Day 2 – Tiergarten, Potsdamer Platz, Holocaust Memorial

Day 3 – Museuminsel

Day 4 – Charlottenburg

Ethnography in Berlin

Tonight I went out to an “Indie Pop” show at Berlin’s Mudd Club, a tiny place with the feel of a wine cellar; it was underground, with brick columns interspersed and low, vaulted ceilings. It also featured a pitch dark corridor leading off to who-knows-where (actually, in retrospect, it probably led to the bathrooms).

UK band Amusement Parks on Fire headlined. Needless to say, the show was excellent, but since I had nobody to talk to, I took on the role of resident American ethnographer. My observations follow. It’s all quite scientific.

  • Estimated total numbers of attendees: 175.
  • Percentage of which female: 10.
  • Percentage of which smokers: 40.
  • Number of chain smokers standing right next to me: 2.
  • Percentage of audience members dancing: 0.
  • Percentage of audience members nodding heads: 30.
  • Percentage of audience members standing stock still: 70.
  • Number of times I had variations of the thought, “Hey, they’re just like us!”: 3.
  • Number of couples observed making out: 4.
  • Ratio of words spoken by me in German and in English: 11:0.
  • Ratio of words spoken to me in German and in English: 1:7.
  • Minimum number of prostitutes encountered on the 10-minute walk along Oranienburger Straße back to my room: 6.
  • Number of Death Cab for Cutie songs heard during that journey: 1.
  • Overall fun rating of the evening, expressed as number, with 1 representing the least amount of fun and 5 the most: 4.

Bumbleshoot

This year’s Labor Day weekend extravaganza of musical variety, “ethnic” food, and teenaged girls — that storied Seattle festival known as Bumbershoot — was, surprisingly, not ruined by a series of miscalculations which caused me to skip events that I really did not want to skip. For example, although I heard the final, lingering, feedback-laden note of The Invisible Eyes’ set, that was the only note of it I did hear. Still, the highs were quite high indeed, including Jeremy Enigk and Blue Scholars.

But check out this geekiness…

In line for Best Week Ever Live (yes I love that celebrity gossip!) it was an hour before curtain and I was all alone. What else was there to do but whip out my trusty DS Lite and turn that hour into New Super Mario Bros. Fun Hour? As I merrily head-stomped my way past World 5-1, a goofy-looking high school guy with goofy-looking hair tapped me on the shoulder, and with these words my descent into geekiness was complete: “You wanna play some Mario Kart? I’ll host!” And that is how I came to be competing over Nintendo WiFi with a de facto nerd. Much to my delight, I managed to trounce him the first couple of races before he handed the DSL over to his buddy, who whooped my ass at Mario Kart, then whooped it again at VS Mario.

I felt somewhat vindicated when that very same kid was brought onstage at the finale of the show (Who’s Having the Best Week Ever?) and the audience booed him. Ha!