Last weekend I was in London — complete with breakfast at my hotel:
Naturally I had a great time, save for a couple details – like, for example, getting gifted a cold on my way out of town. I felt so awful this morning, that I opted to stay home and sleep.
As I was planning the trip, it occurred to me that I haven’t really played around with my Lytro camera enough of late, so I charged it up and took it along. It was, in some cases, the main camera on me – not that I do not love my 60D, but because I want to figure out how to better use the camera. It’s interesting technology, but practically speaking, I’m still not sure how to use it.
I mainly used it at the RAF Museum, where I thought that the planes hanging would be interesting for refocusing. But one of the buildings was oddly lit and I’m not really convinced by the results.
I took the camera with me to Leicester Square, where I trained it on a couple of the Christmas market activities — again, I’m not sure about the results.
Monday, my last day in London, I played with it while riding the bus — again, not sure about the results.
Not even after my trip to London — Here’s a picture from out my seat while waiting for the plane to get permission to land (and, thus, take off).
To all my American friends (both in America and elsewhere) as well as all my friends in America (American or whatever), I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.
I even wish my friends abroad, who are not American, but whom like turkey – a Happy Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and I am loathe to do it too frequently in public.
That said, I am going to open up a tiny bit today and talk about the things that I am thankful for.
Like, for example, I am thankful that my parents have never tried to live vicariously through me. I’ve been free to do what I want, when I want, how I want, where I want. My family has imposed few rules on me – the only one my mother has ever brought up to me, as an adult, is that I must have health insurance. And I do.
I’m thankful that I live in an era where I can travel easily throughout the world, getting to see and experience the world. On days when I am traveling and things go wrong – as they sometimes do – I try to relax and remember that In the 4.5 hours it took me to get from Berlin to London yesterday (I took the long way), 100 years ago, my steam train would probably be only partway to Hamburg. Today I can travel from Berlin to my friends and family in the States in less time the train ride would have taken from Berlin to the port in Hamburg would have 100 years ago.
Another thing that I’m grateful for is that I like my job. In my idle moments I sometimes wonder what kind of job – and what kind of life – I would have had if I’d been living a century or two ago. Usually I come to the conclusion that I would have been miserable—like most people, I’d have been a serf in an era when science wasn’t appreciated – in my worst nightmares, I would have been a Christian. And married to a woman.
Instead I get to work with interesting people and learn interesting things.
This Thanksgiving I am in London – a surprisingly high number of the last 15 Thanksgivings have been celebrated in Europe, even back when I was living in the States. I will never forget peas inside the Thanksgiving burrito that I had the first time I celebrated Thanksgiving in London.
I have no great plans for my time in London – other than seeing Book of Mormon (for the third time) and hanging out with friends. So I am thankful that I am able to enjoy life in whatever form it comes-whether living in a small town (see Laramie, Weimar) or a big city (Berlin), or spending the most American of American holidays in a foreign land.
M48 at Busseallee, the last stop. Or first.
I take the bus to and from work, the M48.
My commute costs me about 55€ a month – unlimited travel in the Berlin AB zones, whether on bus, tram, U-bahn, S-bahn, or regional trains. And ferries.
I think it is an excellent value: I don’t own a car, I don’t pay for car repairs, I don’t pay for insurance, and I don’t pay for car registration. Instead I have a fleet of vehicles at my beck and call.
Generally speaking I don’t think too much about it: the buses are filled with people from all walks of life.
This comes to mind as I’m thinking back to my time in Portland. I didn’t rent a car – I relied upon Trimet, Portland’s public transit provider. While the light-rail rides included the full-spectrum of society, the bus rides showed a clear cut class divide—I was always at the top of the spectrum, as opposed to my middling status in Berlin.
The other difference between Berlin and Portland, when it comes to buses, is that in Berlin the drivers do their damnedest to stay on schedule – as much as traffic and passenger flow allows.
M48 at Busseallee — the first stop toward town.
In Portland I took a bus from the Japanese Gardens – a bus that was supposed to come once every 20 minutes. The bus arrived some 15 minutes late: the driver was one of those talkative types and had previously established a relationship with people who got on the bus with us. She then drove very, very, slowly around the park back to the light rail station. And by slowly, I mean that she basically stopped next to the empty reservoir and stared at it in awe while talking about the fact that she’d never seen it empty before.
It’s nice to have a chatty, informative, bus driver, but not if it comes at the expense of pretty much keeping to schedule: I remember a passenger yelling at a London bus driver who paused for a few minutes too long at a bus stop on Oxford Street (actually, I was getting irritated with the bus driver; the woman reached her boiling point before I reached mine).
Back in September while visiting my Mom, there was a brief conversation about how times have changed – with respect to women.
She observed that when she got married to my Dad that she adopted his name – and I do not just mean his surname, but his full name. When she filled out mail order forms, she put down “Mrs.” in front of his complete name and sent it off. Packages filled with seeds, shoes, and various other sundries were always delivered to the “Mrs.” version of my father’s full name.
At some point, though, that shifted – she started ordering things in her name and receiving packages in her name.
This got me thinking a bit: when my grandfather died, his wife – my grandmother – did not go back to using her name. No, I was told that I must keep writing to the “Mrs.” version of my grandfather’s full name – that she would be insulted if I used her first name in place of my grandfather’s first name.
Naturally I respected this wish – and didn’t really give it much thought.
Yet, in other contexts, I thought about it.
Back in high school I remember taking an English class that had a student teacher. One day, when the regular teacher was out, the student teacher was in control and, out of frustration, asked us why we were calling her “Miss” – we knew that she wasn’t married and that’s what we were doing.
“It’s old fashioned and wrong,” she ranted, or something to that effect.
“You should address all women as ‘Ms,’” she finished off.
We, the students in the class, pointed out that she had not been paying attention at all. She was student teaching for a 60-some year old woman who insisted upon (and I mean that she made it painfully clear) being called “Miss;” that the very woman she was working under did not, under any circumstance, want to be called “Ms.”
Naturally I’ve done my best to respect what the women I meet want to be called: Miss, Mrs., or Ms.
My default, though, is Ms.
The BallinStadt Auswanderermuseum in Hamburg.
When I realized that my BahnCard was expiring (I’d cancelled it), I decided to take one more trip using it… and it was off to Hamburg I went.
I wanted a quiet weekend with interesting things, and a quiet weekend with interesting things I got.
Friday evening I did meet up with PapaScott and his son – we toured the Schokoversum – a chocolate museum that details how chocolate is made, complete with a mix your own chocolate bar portion. Yum. The tour, auf Deutsch, was mostly understandable, although our tour guide gain an unfortunate chocolate stain on her shirt during the mix your own chocolate bar part of the tour, thus leaving her looking a bit odd for the next 20 minutes. After we headed to dinner to a steakhouse – although I suggested we go to a vegetarian stake house, which confused his son—perhaps a bit too advanced word play.
Pathetically, but not unsurprisingly, I crashed shortly after dinner, and I crashed hard. Last week was a busy week at work and I’d been working a lot in an effort to get caught up before my trip to Hamburg – I didn’t, but I also didn’t bring work with me to Hamburg – it was a designated weekend off.
Saturday I made it to the two stops I wanted to make: the Auswanderermuseum at BallinStadt and the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe. The Auswanderermusuem – a museum about emigration out of Germany to foreign lands (most often the USA, but not always) was… errr… sort of adequate. If you only have time to visit one museum about emigration, go with the one in Bremerhaven –which I visited during a totally moist Whiney Expatriate Blogger Meet-Up in 2008.
The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe was out of this world – I managed to get there in time to see an exhibition of photographs by Steve McCurry, one of the most amazing photographers out there today. Beyond that, the museum houses the old Spiegel Canteen, an amazing place for their employees to gather – perhaps a bit overwhelming.
Imagine going here every day to eat your lunch.
Other than that, I had a very quiet weekend in Hamburg – read some books, took some walks, ate some meals, and took some naps. I returned to Berlin feeling much refreshed.
Smiley Middle School
Now that my friends have kids of school age, I’m starting to hear some interesting stories about schools and how bad their administrations are. Fighting strange school policies on behalf of their kids is a refrain I’m hearing more and more.
Listening to the stories reminded me of a story from my childhood.
I was the last of my siblings– and last by a long shot. As the baby in the family, my kindergarten and third grade teachers were well known to my parents and my siblings. Plus the librarian and a few other teachers.
After elementary school, I went off to Smiley Middle School – again I was following in the footsteps of my siblings. My pre-algebra teacher was the same that my siblings had, for example.
Mr. A, I quickly realized, was not the brightest bulb in the box. I’ve never actually met a school guidance councilor who I thought was bright, but he was exceptionally dim. He was the kind of guidance councilor who didn’t understand the rules and would recommend things that were patently stupid. One had to argue with him in order to get what was actually best.
Funny enough, when I met him at the start of seventh grade, I had no idea that I’d actually met him nearly a decade before, back when I was a mere infant.
He had been my sister’s guidance councilor and it seems that he was making some patently stupid recommendations to her – stupid enough that Mom had to march over to the school to set things straight for my sister. Except, of course, he thought that he knew better than my Mom, so he resisted.
Mom, though, had a secret weapon.
At that age, as my sister recalls, I was good, but I needed to be reminded to behave. Mom was good at reminding me to be good, especially in public.
Except in Mr. A’s office. It seems that she got so engaged in the discussion with him, that she stopped minding me and let me do whatever. I can only imagine what infant Adam was like – probably a little terror – and it was one of the few times that I wasn’t reminded to behave in public, so I can imagine that I got into all kinds of nice mischief within the confines of his office.
Mr. A caved very quickly to my Mom’s demands.
Last night I had the pleasure of dining with one of my former colleagues. She was in town for a work function in Mitte and we agreed to find some place in the neighborhood for dinner.
Enter, amazingly enough, The New York Times.
A couple weeks ago they ran an article highlighting Berlin’s up and coming beer scene. I wish I could take credit for having noticed the article; that goes to Olaf in Santiago, who forwarded it to me along with the note, “wish I were there.”
The article was perfectly timed, and the lead recommendation in the article was das Meisterstück – The Masterpiece – a beer and grill joint located rather close to my office and close to my friend’s hotel. In short, a perfect location.
Walking into the restaurant, my very first thought was, “Wow, this place smells good” – I had to walk past a case full of a wide variety of sausages and past a grill to get to our table. The first impression was good.
Shortly after sitting, a friendly waitress stopped by with a small sample of beer and a small dish to try – and then she vanished.
We actually picked out our food, then digested our surroundings – we were in the coo-coo clock section, and we both agreed that the modern coo-coo clocks were much better looking than the old fashioned ones. We then started talking. Eventually we realized that we hadn’t actually ordered – with my back to the waitresses, it was my friend’s duty to get somebody’s attention – which she did.
She ordered the Nürnberger sausages with a side of potato salad, while I went for the Salmon-sausage with a side of rosemary potatoes. She had a Berliner Weisse and I had a Kreuzberg XPA to drink.
I did not pour this beer into this glass. It was the waitress.
Our drinks and food arrived in due course and were, generally speaking, good. The Kreuzberg XPA is an IPA– and ignoring the fact that the waitress pouring my beer gave me large head, it had a rather fruity sweet bouquet to it, but, like all IPAs, ultimately it was a bit too bitter for my taste. The Salmon-sausage (Lachswurst) was really good and came on a bed of wasabi dressed greens – definitely an unusual sausage, but I was feeling adventurous and it was worth having at least once.
Even better than the food and beer was the conversation.
Eventually the food was ingested and the beer gone – at which point my friend suggested another round – again, my back was to the restaurant, so she was left to try to get the attention of a waitress. She tried – shouting out several times, waving her hands – but was unsuccessful in getting the attention of any of the wait staff.
This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced wait staff in Germany that seemingly cannot see you – waiters and waitresses here are the master of looking right at you and not seeing you, even if you’re waving your hands. Usually the waiter/waitress gives in and “sees” you after two or three attempts to get their attention.
At das Meisterstück, they are masters at never seeing you.
Eventually I suggested that we retire to her hotel and its bar, where we could surely get prompt service – so we made our way to cash register, paid our 32€ bill, left no tip, and proceeded to her hotel, where the drinks were stiff and the bar staff attentive.
If the service at das Meisterstück wasn’t so terrible, I’d go back.
Since getting back from the States, I’ve been pretty busy at work – keeping pace (not falling behind) and enjoying the day-to-day life.
Pretty much at the expense of my personal life.
Sunday, though, I broke out of my routine and popped over to a nearby café for brunch. The weather was absolutely, positively fantastic – and the café was unprepared for the rush of customers. Only a few of the outdoor tables had been unlocked and the waiting staff seemed more than a bit overwhelmed.
Happily I didn’t care – I ordered my food and read my Economist.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since I left the University of Wyoming for points east – and ultimately Germany.
Two months after moving to Bloomington, Laramie was in the news.
From the luxury of my home in Berlin, I can still think back to how I felt those 1998 October days – that incredible feeling of shock, feeling like I’d been run over by a truck, and crawling into my closet where I shed a large number of tears.
I’ll be spending my evening re-reading a new book – October Mourning – a collection of poems about Matthew Shepard written by Lesléa Newman. I’ll also reflect on Jason Collins, the first professional athlete to come out whilst still playing.
It might be 15 years, but it still feels like it was yesterday.
For historical reference, see 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, or any of the many times he’s been mentioned on my blog via a search for Matthew Shepard.