In honor of the new year and my birthday I made my first-ever visit to a hammam, or Turkish bath. Germans love their spas and there is a strong Turkish cultural presence in Berlin, so I decided it was something to try out. I booked a package that included a body peeling -- a the hammam classic, according to the website -- and thought to myself, somehow it's appropriate to start the new year by sloughing off a layer of skin. In fact, I did the same thing (but the Korean version) to ring in 2016 at a women's spa north of Seattle called Olympus. (I do not consider myself a "spa girl," btw, these are the only two peelings I've ever done in my life.) Pondering the New Year and fresh starts, I just looked back on a few notes I scribbled after my Korean spa visit at the start of 2016 and literally started LMAO. This is the closest I will ever get to writing poetry, so I figure I should publish it as is.
For your amusement, I present:
Korean body scrub
warm water being splashed over me
scrubbing - and then the same spot again and again
silky smooth moisturizer something or another
lined up on cots
reminded of a sardine/fish processing plant
at the end I felt like a naked alien being born out of a test tube
Today was a hot Berlin August day, and my friend Mary and I had a date to go get ice cream. Hooray, right? (One of the things made oh-so-easy since Mary moved into our neighborhood, yippee!) We were headed to Berlin Homemade Ice Cream in Schöneberg, where they have truly delicious ice cream (sorbet for me) as well as a sense of humor - their web address is the German for "lick me," and when you say "lick me" in German it is slightly obscene, the equivalent of "bite me" in good 'ol American English. Anyway, as we approached the ice cream shop, the normally quiet street was parked in with big vans, and we realized they must be filming something -- something I see fairly regularly on my street in Berlin. So we got our ice cream, and since the street felt very claustophobic with all the production vans, we walked into the neighboring park (Kleistpark). As we rounded the corner, Mary gasped: at the front of an old courthouse building facing the park they were flying four or five giant red Nazi flags with swastikas on them. It was shocking, and also totally surreal. This is something you do NOT see in Germany. Public display of Nazi flags is completely illegal except for historical purposes, so it was clear that this was for whatever they were filming, but still. It made us a bit uneasy.
We had started our little neighborhood walk discussing the fairly heavy topic of the recent Burkini ban in France, the images of a French police officer requiring a Burkini-clad woman to take off some of her clothes at a beach in Nice, and the general permanent historical state of women being told what to wear (bikinis were once considered indecent, after all). To be confronted with another symbol of oppression directly afterwards made it feel all the more weighty. I wanted to take a photo but was then yelled at by a guard: "verboten!" To me this just added to the perverseness - I understand why they don't want people taking pictures (it's forbidden imageryl) - but having a man yell at me for taking a picture in a public place just felt like more oppression by the patriarchy. Yes, I'm being dramatic. But if I were the film crew/city, I would've closed off the whole park for the duration of the filming, it seems simpler and more effective than hiring camera police. I actually did sneak a photo from a distance but I will use my good judgement and not post it -- you will just have to trust me on this one.
And now I feel the need to end on a cheery note. Getting ice cream with friends is fun! I will go back and take pictures on a non-Nazi day and update the post so that Berlin looks friendly and beautiful.
While spending a week visiting my most adorable little niece this spring, I was introduced to the concept of "baby tv," wherein the adults all sit around and stare at the baby, because it's just so entertaining, and did I mention that she's ridiculously cute?
Back in Berlin, it's summer, and we're actually home instead of travelling, which means time on the balcony and wide-open windows to try to beat the heat. You know what else I have discovered is entertaining? Eavesdropping on your neighbors! No, I swear, I mean this in the least creepy way possible, hence my attempt at re-branding this activity as "neighbor radio." Spotify can't compete.
Last Saturday morning, we were sitting at the kitchen counter with coffee in hand, the windows wide open trying to catch a breeze, and what we ended up catching was the loud, amusing, hungover chatter of our neighbors, who were rehashing their antics from the night before. "But that's only because he wanted sex from you." And "Man, I've said it before, but it's not a good idea to get wasted the night before leaving on vacation." Ha. Apparently there was a taxi waiting for them rather impatiently downstairs. Charming, right?
This Saturday morning, on the balcony, I was listening to the opera-singing of one of our cul-de-sac neighbors. In our little street canyon the acoustics are such that I couldn't really tell which building the singing was coming from, but it was lovely, and strong. Also charming, right? (An aside - I have met more opera singers in Berlin than anywhere else I've lived, though it's still only a handful. The internet tells me that Berlin is behind only Moscow and Vienna in terms of cities with the most opera performances, and I believe it.) There is also an excellent piano player on our street, whose recitals I quite enjoy. Or maybe it is just someone playing a recording? Now I'm not sure. There is also the 10-year old in our building whose piano and recorder exercises we hear...not quite so excellent, but endearing.
Lately I spend a lot of time thinking about my relationship to city life in Berlin. I have always enjoyed living here, but nonetheless have always felt slightly mismatched -- a feeling largely fueled by the fact that the most dominant cultural understanding of Berlin is as a city loved for its techno music and all-night party scene, which is totally not my world. But these little moments lived in close proximity with my neighbors -- this is when I think, Berlin is something special. So on these lazy summer mornings, I am trying my best to soak it all in.
On Friday evening Hannes and I bicycled to the slightly far-flung neighborhood of Wedding to watch an outdoor movie. A little after midnight, we were on our bikes again, headed home. The air was pleasantly cool after a sticky scorcher of a day, the streets quiet, and I thought to myself -- I love this. Truly, these biking-through-Berlin-in the-summer-dark moments count as my favorite city moments of the whole year. They bring out my most romantic city-girl self (which is usually overshadowed by my tree-hugger nature-girl self, despite living in the city). I feel energized and awake, which is not my usual late-night status. I feel Parisian because I'm wearing a skirt and on a bicycle. The city itself is prettier in the low lighting, everything slightly fuzzy and glowing. And more often than not, we are biking through the Tiergarten, or by the Brandenburg Gate, just because it's on our way home, no big deal. In these moments, the city is beautiful, and it is mine.
Okay...you guys all know what a wedding is like. If you want even more, there are pictures of the church, the civil ceremony, and the pre-wedding hike and beer tour.
Our wedding was really a whole wedding week -- at a minimum, a solid four days. This was relatively crazy but also AWESOME, at least for us. It grew out of a desire to make sure our international guests were well taken care of and to give our families a bit more time to get to know each other, knowing that the wedding day itself would fly by. There are also pictures of the party, the civil ceremony, and the pre-wedding hike and beer tour.
In Germany, you have to go to city hall to get married no matter what (well, I suppose only if you want the marriage to be legally recognized). I find the idea of city hall weddings very romantic, so yay! We had ours in the community where Hannes grew up, in the garden behind the town hall. This happened on Friday, the day before the "big" wedding, and we tried to keep it relatively low key, with guests mostly limited to family.
Hannes is from a rural area with lots of small farms, where you can find quite a few pick-your-own flower fields by the side of the road. Very quickly I got it in my head that I wanted to pick my own wedding bouquet, but in the end, others (rightly) convinced me this was probably too much craziness for the "big day." Instead, I did it for the civil ceremony and turned it into a mini flower-picking photo shoot with my girl cousins. See, more weddings, more fun! Since the the civil ceremony was also a fairly relaxed affair, it was also our chance to take some group photos. Also fun! Afterwards, we went back to Hannes' mom's garden for coffee and cake (and champagne, naturally).
Can I convince you guys that a pre-wedding brewery tour is a traditional thing in Germany? Okay, it is totally not, but it was part of our pre-wedding program just the same. Ulmer Beer is a family-run brewery in the northern Black Forest, and also happened to be the beer that was served at our wedding. I love a good brewery tour, and this one was made extra amusing by the fact that so many of us on the tour were chemists, so there were some interesting cross-cultural and -linguistic exchanges about fermentation and pH and I don't remember what else. Also, like any good brewery tour, it ended with a lot of sampling of the wares, before then heading over to the adjoining beer garden for more wares, and food to go with it.
On the Wednesday before the wedding, we organized a hike in the Black Forest -- and not just any hike, an alcoholic one. An *officially* alcoholic one - we were on a Schnapsbrunnenweg, a hiking trail through vineyards and orchards with stops at "distilleries" every few kilometers. This is a big fruit-growing region, and the local farmers make small amounts of spirits (in German, Schnaps) from their excess fruit. The farmers then make their Schnaps available to thirsty hikers passing through.
"Hike" is probably a stretch here - I put on my hiking boots because that's what I do, but it was totally doable in jeans, and even a stroller came along (though it sometimes had to be carried). There ended up being about 30 of us doing the hike together, which meant that we got nowhere fast - but the views were lovely and the company was great! The full hiking route has at least 5 Schnaps stops, but our leisurely pace meant we made it to all of one (some speedsters made it to two). However, I've done a different section of this trail before and I can tell you that even if you start out fast, it means you drink more Schnaps, and then your pace slows considerably. So this is a hike for the bon vivant, not the mountaineer. :)
The start and end point for the hike was a traditional restaurant in the town of Sasbachwalden, with a great garden looking out onto the surrounding vineyards. Our guests then got to experience an extreme version of German restaurant service -- we arrived, with a reservation, at 7 pm, and the last people got served their food at 10 pm. So yeah, this is not America. (In fairness, waiting that long for your food is also crazy by German standards.) But there was plenty of beer and I think everyone stayed happy. Phew!
I suspect that deep down I am really not a city girl - I'm too much of a nature lover (and no, city parks don't cut it, however nice they may be). But one great thing about living in the city is that I can discover new cultures (microcultures? subcultures?) right outside my door. Last weekend we somewhat randomly ended up with free tickets to an event that previously I didn't even know existed: chess boxing. Although I am neither a fan of chess or boxing, I found the whole thing completely entertaining and amusing.
Basically, chess boxing involves alternate rounds of chess and boxing, each round lasting 3 minutes. It goes for 11 rounds, and is over when someone either gets a check mate or a K.O. In the case of a tie after all the rounds, the fighter who has more boxing points wins the fight. Let me tell you what it was like.