Berlin


“air-n-tuh ahn-tile” – harvest share.

THIS POST IS FROM 3 WEEKS AGO. I HAVE NOW RECEIVED THREE CSA BOXES, AND I HAVE SO MANY RADISHES I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. PLEASE SEND HELP.

First off, Min Song did eventually show up. She had been out of town (although she was home to accept the package…) and was super embarrassed about the number of signs advertising her name around the dorm. Should have left the package with a friend. Seems nice, though.

In other exciting news, I joined a CSA, and today was the first pickup! It was very disorganized (why, oh why, can’t the people with the great agriculture-and-community schemes and the people with the organization skills ever be the same people? or at least be friends?), but eventually I did wind up with veggies.

The pickup location is a refreshing return to the Teehaus, the “clubhouse cafe” (de facto squat) that Nathan and I stayed in once upon a time in Berlin. Mostly it’s just an empty space in the basement of an apartment building, with some chairs scattered around and a makeshift bar in the corner, plus a bunch of spray-painted and plastered-up messages about taking a stand against racism/sexism/gentrification/what have you. In short, a very good place to get to hang out, especially now that I live in communion with squirrels and BMW-driving pensioners.

0519161942_HDR

This is the bar of the cafe. In the back, you can see someone in the kitchen where they cook Vokü (although here it’s called not “The People’s Kitchen,” but KüFa, “Kitchen for Everyone.”)

The CSAs I’m familiar with work like this: you sign up, pay up, and then go every week to pick up your veggies, which are usually boxed and waiting for you. But it works quite differently around here, a fact that is reflected even in the respective names of this business model. Here, the agriculture isn’t community supported, but solidary (Google says that’s a word, but spell check says it’s not. I’ve never seen it before but can’t think of an alternative. In any case, solidarisch). 

When we showed up today (actually about an hour afterwards, because the directors forgot what time they’d said to be there), we were split up into groups of four shares (so between 4-8 households per group). The democratically-elected leader of the group collects payment from each member each month and transfers the group total to the CSA account (this step seems completely unnecessary to me, but I’m not queen of the world yet, so there’s not much I can do), and each group receives their veggies each week in one big box, which they have to divvy out amongst themselves according to a worksheet that’s made according to that week’s harvest. Each week, one group is responsible for being there to help set up when the veggies arrive, and one group is responsible for cleaning up at the end. You’re also supposed to make a group commitment to spend X hours at the farm helping out each month. I signed a contract promising “0 ‘zero’ hours” of help.

The American in me says “Excuse me, I am a free and independent human, and I do not take orders from someone who is rendering a service for which I have already paid.” But if you just pay for the things you want and then use them, you’re not going to have a very interesting life. So while I would have liked to know the score up front (I chose this CSA partly because I wasn’t sure I could commit to the requirements of the others I looked at), I’m optimistic about this little project. I’ll let you know.

Anyway. What about the goods?

  • watercress
  • Loveage (aka Maggi weed in German because apparently it imparts a flavor similar to that of Maggi. Oh, the borscht  I shall make….)
  • radishes
  • deer tongue lettuce
  • chives (If someone knows what to do with chives other than baked potatoes and potato soup and mashed potatoes, PLEASE tell me)
  • sage
  • a bajillion pounds of spinach

 

In the weeks since I wrote this, the CSA has continued to be a disorganized mess, but since vegetables continue to be delicious, I guess we’ll keep doing business.

 

Advertisements

We’ve talked before about Scheine–the confirmations of participation in X or Y course that comprise an unexplainable and totally unnecessary middle step between earning a grade and receiving credit for it. Well, I’ve been toting an ever-growing stack of Russian Scheine around for the past two years, and today, I was finally liberated of them–but not quite in the way I’d expected.

After my first semester at the FU, I dutifully submitted my two Russian Scheine to the department secretary, not knowing that I needed to wait until I’d completed all 5 Russian courses my program requires. Her task was to create a document certifying that the credits I received were accepted for a certain course requirement, after which I would take that document to the institute secretary to get it added to my online transcript. But the first secretary had them recognized as fulfilling a course requirement that I had been planning to fulfill with a different language. I asked her to fix it, and she recommended that I collect the remaining Scheine before I resubmit anything. So I toted the stupid things around with me for the next year and a half from Germany to the US to Germany to the US to Russia to the US…and then forgot them when I left Kentucky in April.

Whoops.

So about a month ago, I went to the (department) secretary’s office hours and discovered, to my horror, that she had left, and there was a new one in her place. So I had to explain the situation all over again. I now had two new Russian Scheine, and while I didn’t have the two old ones, I did know that the secretary would have a copy of the document that had (incorrectly) accepted them as fulfillment for the course requirement. That took a LONG time to explain, although it would have gone faster if she hadn’t kept interrupting me to make helpful suggestions like “Why don’t you just show me the original two Scheine?” (Have you heard nothing I’ve been saying?)

Finally, I managed to at least convince her to consult the department head, one of my (OK, everyone’s) favorite professors. And then today he called me into his office hours. I re-explained the situation to him. As we went over the documents together, we realized that in fact, I was still 3  credit hours short in Russian; the old secretary had made a typo on the form that had led me to believe I was finished (although if I’d thought about it, I would have realized that the numbers didn’t add up).

Profprof: “So let me get this straight. You have taken this same Russian class with this same professor four times before.”

Me: “Right.”

Profprof: “And you’ve always made the same grade.”

Me: “Right.”

Profprof: “So now you need one more grade, namely, from this semester, which you’re already enrolled in, in order to complete the requirement.”

Me: “That’s correct.”

Profprof: “Tja, well, how about we just go ahead and mark it as completed and put the grade you got in all the previous semesters?”

Sounds good to me!

And that’s the story of how I got 3 credit hours for the price of none.

 

Unfortunately, there’s still no word on where my grades from Kazan have disappeared to. But I feel like we all kind of knew that was going to happen all along.

From an article about social media on the homepage of a major newspaper, Die Frankfurter Allgemeine: “Er analysiert unter anderem, wie viele Tweets in welcher Zeit getwittert werden, welche Geo-Koordinaten und welche Serveradresse sie haben oder wie oft sie retweetet werden.”

Retweeten (v.). Conjugation:

ich retweete.
du retweetest.
er/sie/es retweetet.
wir retweeten.
ihr retweetet.
Sie retweeten.

Ich habe retweetet. Ich retweetete. (I have retweeted. I retweeted).

Welp. I guess it’s pretty much over for the German language.

(Although note that, while “retweet” in German is “retweeten,” “tweet” is “twittern,” as seen in line two (“getwittert werden,” “are tweeted.” Imperfect language transfer keeps things interesting!)

 

“On encountering an appetitive stimulus, such as pizza, people often experience desire to consume it.” Barsalou, Lawrence W (2016). Situated Cognition. Perceptual and Emotional Embodiment: Foundations of Embodied Cognition. Bristol, UK: Routledge

He’s really putting that Stanford doctorate to good use, isn’t he?

 

Two random updates:

Sometimes the university passes out “Unitüten,” which are basically free gift bags full of stuff. They always have a CapriSun and some dish soap and some useless coupons that no one uses, but other than that the mileage can vary significantly. The last one contained eyeshadow from Kazakhstan and a cookie, among other things. Two days ago, the standout item was a bottle of Beck’s. Otherwise, the bag was unremarkable (some Müsli, a coupon for a car rental company, an energy drink, some Crystal Lite, and menstrual pads). I know that Unitüten might seem silly and underwhelming coming from an American perspective, where universities throw free stuff at their students all the time, but the German unis don’t even offer so much as free coffee or tea after guest lectures. So getting a gift from the student life folks is pretty thrilling, beer or no. But the beer definitely helps, as reflected by the incredulity of my friends’ messages above.

In totally unrelated news, some one lost their pet turtle and has posted signs offering a reward if anyone should find it. I guess there’s no rose without thorns.

Using the Deutsche Post is a little bit like programming: even if everything is super obvious and very clearly laid out, if you don’t follow the protocol e x a c t l y right down to every line break and every little bracket, you’re going to have a fatal error on your hands.

For instance, German apartments do not have numbers. The only reason that your mail gets to you instead of any of the other, say, hundred people in your building is that there is a bell for every person at that entrance (each entrance does have a unique street number), each one labeled with the resident’s surname. Once the postman gets into the building there are mailboxes–again, labeled with names, not numbers.

So as long as you have your name on your mailbox and the street number of your address is correct, you should be golden, right?

Wrong. Even though the name on the bell is not necessary for mailbox-identifying purposes, if your name isn’t on the bell, you aren’t getting your mail. Even though the postmaster knows that you live in this building, is going in anyway, and will see your name on one of the mailboxes, he will not put anything in your box if your name wasn’t on the bell. In this way, a postman is as helpless as a poorly-programmed robot, only less hilarious.

iofau1jk22am0

But let’s say that you learned all these hard lessons last year, so you made sure that your labels at the new apartment were in order even before you bought your first groceries. There’s still a catch.

For security reasons (it’s always for security reasons), Deutsche Post will only deliver packages into the hands of an actual human. If you’re a good little German, you designate a Desired Neighbor, and when you’re not at home, your mail will be left with them for you to collect at your (in)convenience. If you, like me, are equally ambivalent towards all your neighbors, they’ll leave your package with whoever happens to be nearby.

And that’s how the hardware for my Internet connection wound up in the room of a person by the name of Min Song, of whose existence there is no evidence other than a name on a bell and a mailbox.

Helpfully, the postman left a note instructing me to pick up my package from Min Song in room number xxx-xx-xx-xx. This may be a good time to point out that we don’t have room numbers. Or rather, we do, but the rooms aren’t labeled in any place that’s visible to residents. And the number that I was given is so long and inscrutable that I thought it was a phone number until I called it and was told (by an only-slightly-more-functional-than-a-postman robot) that the number didn’t exist.

So I started asking around. No one knows who Min Song is. Well, one person confirmed that she exists, since that person accepted a package of Min Song’s the other day, but no one knows what she looks like, where she lives, or how to contact her. I’ve asked everyone I know, and I made 4 new acquaintances by popping into the kitchen and saying “Hello! Do you know Min Song?” They never do.

Now, this is a bit of a problem. You see, my Internet appointment is Friday. And the set-up  is free–UNLESS it’s unsuccessful. Then I have to pay 30 euros and reschedule the appointment. The appointment that it took me 6 weeks to get in the first place.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 19.02.40

2. to give money to in return for goods or services not rendered (Ger.): pay the Internet man.

After discovering that this wasn’t going to be as simple as sending a text, I left a note in Min Song’s mailbox. Two days later, it was still there (all these security measures are pretty pointless in light of the two-inch slot in each mail slot, through which I was able to not only see, but read the cover of the magazine Min Song had received, and through which I had no problem retrieving the note I had left her in order to make revisions).

So now I’m getting kind of desperate. While standing helplessly in front of the mailboxes, I notice that the last part of my room number is 02.10, and I’m on the second floor (although it’s a split-level building, so it’s hard to be sure whether it’s the second or fourth). I assume that must mean I’m room 10. So if Min Song is room 01.10, surely that means she’s directly below me, right?

Nope, that’s an American guy who moved in yesterday and could not quite handle the conversation I tried to have with him (I am assuming he was American because of his jeans and the deer-in-the-headlights look he wore when I addressed him in German).

I’ve now taped a note that says MIN SONG and has a nice note inside and a map directing her to my room to the front door of the building, the bulletin board outside the kitchen, and in the mail area. No word yet.

If the super weren’t on vacation, I could ask him. But he is, and his replacement is only here on Monday and Wednesday. We’ll see tomorrow whether he’s any help.

 

The moral of the story, my friends, is that you should all thank your local postal workers this week! And while you’re doing that, drop a letter for me into their bag. At this point, that’ll probably reach me before an e-mail would.

bird20from20up20movie20android20wallpapers

Min Song’s senior photo. She was a late bloomer.

 

Just when I think I’ve just about run out of German cultural experiences* and think it’s just a matter of getting snapped at by bureaucrats for the next 6 months (most recently for attempting to carry my laptop into the library IN ITS CASE), something new pops up.

(*I know I haven’t really run out. I still need to watch the kids go walking around with their lanterns on St. Martin’s Day, and, although I have no intention whatsoever of ever participating in Oktoberfest or Fasching (Cologne’s big Mardi Gras hoo-ha), I acknowledge their existence as German cultural phenomena.)

First of all, German asparagus. I do not understand the point of it, but there are Germans whose hearts have only ever fluttered at the thought of a plate full of the engorged, waxy stalks grown around here. I had been avoiding it on principle, as is my way with white vegetables, until I realized that my possibly-last-ever Spargelsaison is drawing to a close, and I still don’t know what all the ruckus is about.

So I went and I bought the fattest, most alien-looking asparaguses I could find. There was another woman there picking through the crate, checking the ends of each stalk before she made a selection. I didn’t have a clue what that was all about, but since she seemed to know what was up, I just imitated everything she did, dutifully examining each end and trying to look pensive. Nobody will ever know.

spargel1

Get a load of these things!

So that’s cultural experience number 1. I haven’t cooked it yet (because I have no eggs, and what’s the point of stupid white vegetables if you’re not going to drown them in Hollandaise?), but I’ll let you know if it turns out to be mind-blowingly delicious. It won’t.

0430162100_HDR

German asparagus and weird Polish Cheeto thing: separated at birth.

The second cultural experience is May Day, which isn’t a holiday so much as a day of local significance. You see, there have always been  May Day street fairs around the city, but these days it’s not just a celebration of spring. Early in the morning of May 1, 1987, in the West Berlin borough of Kreuzberg, there was a police raid on an office belonging to a far-left group. Tensions had been high between the leftist/anarchist/punk/squatter communities in Berlin and the police, and so that community saw the raid as the last straw in a long series of transgressions (or “transgressions,” depending on your perspective). So during the street festival, representatives of these groups started making a scene, flipping over a police car and pushing two construction-site pods on the street (Wikipedia is poetically vague about the mechanics of this). Somehow after this things got out of hand, and in the end, the police tried to break up the festival. The festival-goers responded by barricading the police out of the area, burning trash, throwing cobblestones, and crafting makeshift bombs to defend the territory. During all this chaos, someone burned up a supermarket and caught a nearby U-Bahn station on fire.

The cops had been unable to get through the barricades for several hours, but in the wee hours they finally managed it using water cannons and SWAT trucks to disperse the crowds. But a lot of people were injured, and one of the 50ish people arrested committed suicide while in a detention cell the next day.

a5e1677b-2f05-43d4-bf81-1da161e37c50

Just for clarification, this photo was taken yesterday, not 1987. Source: morgenpost.de

The May Day fairs were, as I understand it, always organized largely by leftist groups, but after 1987 they gained new meaning as a rallying force for these communities, and they tended to get ugly. A few times they were discontinued or banned entirely, but they always came back in subsequent years. These days May Day in Berlin is closely associated with AntiFa (the anti-fascists), an extreme leftist group that likes to throw rocks at cops. An article published this evening in the Berliner Morgenpost affirms that “For years Berlin on May 1st has been synonymous with violence.” Some of it’s AntiFa and friends attacking cops; some of it’s drunk people being drunk people. Anyway, May Day is usually not a holiday for those who want their skin to form a perfect barrier between their bodies and the outside world.

This year, AntiFa had their traditional demonstration, and other groups had their demonstrations, and simultaneously with (but far away from) that, a big street festival called MyFest was held in the area of the 1987 disastrophe. It has no political affiliations (except, according to their website, peace and tolerance, whatever that means), and the leftist groups are forbidden from demonstrating there in any way. I read this morning that after several years without incident, this would be the first time in a while that glass bottles would be allowed at MyFest. That seemed like a good sign. So I went down to check it out. (The pictures below are from morgenpost.de. Apparently I can’t caption them.) 

I was unprepared for the throngs of people. Once I got to Prinzenstraße, which was about 2 U-Bahn stops away from the action, cops blocked off the roads to motor vehicles, and I had to dismount, as it was way too crowded to bike.

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 23.20.12

The entire area between these four U-Bahn stations was blocked off to traffic, extending northwards to Köpenickerstr. (parallel to the Spree River) and to Görlitzer Park in the east. It was a Big Honkin’ Festival.

I could try to pull a narrative out of this, but really, you know pretty much what goes down at a street festival, and this was just a really big one, with vendors setting up booths outside their brick-and-mortar locations, lots of beer bottles lying around, and cops in riot gear watching from the periphery. When the gauntlet opened up into a wide, grassy park full of people enjoying the first summery day, I bought a bad beer, found myself a nice spot of grass under a tree, and studied until a drum circle started up, and I had to move.

0501161332_HDR

10/10, would study here again, Pils notwithstanding.

Now, I’m not a big street festival person—you just walk around, consuming mediocre perishables you don’t particularly want while strangers with BO bump off of you—so it wasn’t too long after I packed up my laptop and book that I started heading home. Then Zander, who I’d texted 4 hours earlier to see if he wanted to meet at the event, announced that he was now awake and would I please meet him and his girlfriend so we could all go together. So much for leaving. Battling the jet stream of by-now-mostly-drunk expats, a trip that normally takes 5-7 minutes by bike took 45. When I finally arrived, Zander and Alice invited me to sit down and watch Jacques Pepin and Julia Child charm us with a tomato gratin, handmade truffle sausage, and improbable “candid” banter. 

When we went back out into the storm, the atmosphere had changed. This was probably partly because by that point the AntiFa demo had finished, and the folks from there had moseyed on over. But more than that, it was normal street fair stuff: people were drunker than they had been earlier in the day, and because the city hadn’t provided any extra trash disposal areas, every single municipal trash can had several feet of mixed garbage piled under it (some on now, Berlin Sanitätsdienst). The drum circle from earlier on was still going, and we circled around them, snacking on Bratwursts (see: consuming mediocre perishables you don’t particularly want) and trying to meet up with a friend. He was unresponsive, so after half an hour or so of wandering, I, having long exceeded my people quota for the day, left Zander and Alice to seek their own fortunes while I enjoyed a leisurely bike ride home.

0501161600_HDR

Some jerks decided that bike baskets make good makeshift trash cans. In fact, in the time between taking this picture and retrieving my bike key from my pocket, another butthole came by and dropped in another empty bottle.  I wanted to throw it at his stupid head, but I hear that’s illegal. (Also, for those of you who don’t know, this is my trusty steed, The Very Excellent Velociped. It has been my constant companion these two years.)

Before bed, I checked the news to see what had gone down today after I left. In spite of being forbidden from demonstrating at MyFest, some balaklava-ed AntiFa representatives came through chanting and threw stuff at cops.  And sometime during the night, a car got burned, but that may or may not have been related (there seems to be a lot of arson here…). A few people were hurt over the course of the day, but it sounds like the general consensus is that MyFest was a lot more peaceful than most folks thought.

1491420006d4657f

Source: Berliner Morgenpost

And, festival aside, the day served as a reminder that there is no better place on Earth than Berlin in the summer.

0501161216_HDR

0501161516c_HDR

This was not part of the festival. This kind of thing just happens in Kreuzberg.

Next Page »