TQE | That Queer Expatriate

Expatriate, not ex-patriot: I'm a progressive liberal and queer American in Berlin, Germany. My roots in include 18 years in Denver, 6 in Laramie, Wyoming, 6 in Bloomington, Indiana, and 6 in Weimar, Germany. Sense a pattern? Don't want to leave a comment on this blog? Email scintillatingme at gmail.com, username "elmadaeu"

My grand return to Montréal.

I’m nearing the end of my time in Montreal – it’s been a lovely few days with some nice art discoveries (Kent Monkman — I saw another one of his works today), nice long walks, and some good food.

This is not actually my first time in Montreal – in fact, Montreal was the first place I visited outside of the United States – this was back in the 80s, when I was young. I’d guess that I was 9 or 10 years old.

My paternal grandparents had a summer home north of Albany – nearby the interstate to Canada – and one summer, we headed to Montreal.

I have a lot of scattered memories related to this trip—like crossing the border into Quebec, then stopping at the Welcome Centre to get information about Montreal. The woman working behind the counter – at a welcome center a few miles north of the United States – could not speak English. That was fun for my Dad and Grandma.

Other things that I remember: the Montreal Metro ran on rubber tires and not on metal wheels, as most other subways (e.g. New York City, Berlin, London, Tokyo) do. This is true – I noticed it immediately when taking the metro: it is significantly quieter technology.

We did some shopping at a department store somewhere (I suspect la Baie) and then had lunch in Chinatown, at some restaurant on the second (US counting) floor. This sticks out in my mind because the restaurant was completely empty at lunchtime, when we arrived, and we were the only customers. We were about to leave when they insisted we stay. At the time either my Dad or Grandmother speculated that it was mob-owned, a place to launder money.

But that’s not what stuck out the most to me.

What stuck out the most was a poster that we passed somewhere on the street. It featured a completely naked, muscular, black man. He was holding himself, thus making it not X-rated.

This is the detail that I remember most from the trip – that evening, on my way to take a shower at my grandparent’s summer home, I walked naked from my bedroom to the bathroom, covering myself with my hands. My grandma, sitting in the kitchen between the bedroom and the bathroom, laughed.

That’s probably not why I chose Montreal for the back half of this vacation – at least not seriously. I’d considered a number of other places (Anchorage, Portland, and Winnipeg – to name a few) but landed on Montreal, thus making my trip this week all about French North America.

It’s been a very good, much needed week off.

Artist Love: Kent Monkman

Over the last two days, I’ve seen two amazing paintings by Kent Monkman.  One was at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the other at the Musée McCord d’Histoire Canadienne. The first really caught my eye and I spent some time exploring it’s more subtle details — before wandering on.

Kent Monkman -- at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Details — the artist faints — in “Trappers of Men”.

Then, Friday I was looking at an otherwise uninteresting exhibition about the history of Montreal when I came upon “Welcome to the Studio: An Allegory for Artistic Reflection and Transformation, 2014″ — really the only thing worth looking at in that exhibit. Again, the detail enchanted me.

Kent Monkman

Detail of “Welcome to the Studio: An Allegory for Artistic Reflection and Transformation, 2014″

So taken, I decided to search him out, and I picked up a copy of “The Triumph of Mischief” — a 2012 catalog covering a tour of his art that year. Amazingly, I paid $200 Canadian for a new, never opened, still sealed in plastic, copy of the book. Over on eBay, a used copy is up for grabs at US$475.

A Few French Quarter Snaps

Aunt Tiki's

Aunt Tiki’s – I passed this at noon. Looking in the door I noticed two shirtless guys at the bar. This was almost enough to get me to pop in — but I kept wandering.

I spent Monday in the French Quarter – wandering randomly, evading rain, and then meeting up with one of my hosts for a tour of the French Quarter. All-in-all, an excellent day.

Psychic did not foresee rainstorm.

Shortly after arriving at Jackson Square, I sensed it was going to storm, so I settled into a cafe. Apparently the psychic outside could not read the signs.

Fine Art

How much is the kitty in the window?

3 for 1

I like how the sign advertises “3 for 1″ — this is at a bar, with the “Responsibility Matters” in small type at the bottom.

I’m in New Orleans

If I had to pick a spot to live in the USA, New Orleans would be near the top of my list, along with Portland, Oregon. New Orleans’ advantages include a dynamic interesting city (equal to Portland) with a diverse culture (different from Portland). The real strength of NOLA comes in its Cajun and Creole food – which makes it the center of interesting American cuisine.

Blue Dot

Bacon Maple Bar up top, Red Velvet down right.

My first 24 hours I hit a number of awesome places – including Neyow’s Creole Café (excellent BBQ Shrimp), Tulane Avenue Bar (weee—I got a little drunk), Blue Dot Donuts (Bacon Maple Bar and a Red Velvet Donut), St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery, Lakefront Airport, Biscuits and Buns on Banks (an interpretation of biscuits and gravy that didn’t completely work) plus the NOMA Sculpture Garden. If you extend it to include the first 26 hours, the Parkway Bakery and Tavern gets on the list – a very nice po’boy sandwich.

St. Louis No. 1

Overflow, 2005

On the negative side, the heat and humidity in August is almost unbearable. Perhaps choosing to visit New Orleans in August was not the wisest of ideas, but I don’t regret it.

Riace Warriors

Karma

I had to have my hole cleaned :(

The first time I saw an iPhone in person, I fell in love. It was PapaScott’s iPhone 3, it was a meet-up, and I… well, I ended up getting the iPhone 3G. Eventually it was replaced with an iPhone 4, and now an iPhone 5.

The iPhone 5 actually rocks – and I have no immediate desire to replace it. I fully intend on using it for at least another 12 months. It would take an absolutely amazing update to make me think the 6 is worth while.

That said, the iPhone 5 is not without it’s flaws – I’m actually on my second. The first one (replaced instantly upon showing the problems to an Apple Store Genius) had a power button that did not work and dirt inside the camera lens.

The replacement had no such problem – and today it is my trusty friend – save for a dirt problem. It seems that the Lightening Port gets dirt in it – whatever micro-particles are in my pocket go right into the hole. Ultimately the cable stops fitting into the hole correctly and… it stops connecting and charging.

This is, I think, the only significantly annoying design flaw introduced with the iPhone 5.

It turns out that using canned air and/or a plastic tooth pick is not enough – that one must actually go to the store where the genius will take your phone to some magic service room and clean out your hole.

Which is what I did yesterday afternoon.

And now that my hole is clean, I’m one happy camper.

Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America (Scott Kaufman)

Project Plowshare by Scott Kaufman

Read this book!

Back in 1998, when I was working feverishly on my Master’s Thesis, I often wondered how many people would ever actually read my thesis.

There is that oft told story about the master’s student who stuck a $20 bill in the library copy of his thesis and then leaves town. Ten or twenty years later, he returns, goes to the library, opens up the thesis, and takes out the $20 bill.

In my case, the thesis has been cracked – at least a copy somewhere has been read because it’s cited in Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America, by Scott Kaufman.

The book came to my attention in early June when one of my friends posted a picture of it on her FB stream – and I asked her if I was cited in it. She said yes, and I hit Amazon.

As a refresher (or for those of you new to me), Project Plowshare was an attempt by the US Government to find peaceful uses for nuclear bombs (or as Scott puts it in the title, “nuclear explosives”).

My work is cited toward the back of the book – as Project Plowshare started to wind down as it lost political support. But I read the whole thing because I was curious to know more about the overall topic.

Some of the ideas included blasting out harbors in remote Alaska (and Australia), digging a new (sea-level) canal across Central America – maybe in Mexico, Costa Rica, or even Panama), or, and what I studied, to stimulate the production of natural gas in tight sandstone formations by using nuclear bombs to fracture the rocks. To name a few – there were other ideas that Scott goes over, including creating a cave under Pennsylvania to store natural gas.

While the harbor and canal ideas never really got off the ground, the idea to stimulate natural gas production through nuclear explosions, did. (“Off the ground” is entirely the wrong expression – more like “under the ground”.) Experiments were carried out in New Mexico and Colorado – with mixed results.

What I wrote my Thesis about was Wagon Wheel – specifically how the citizens of Sublette County, Wyoming, reacted to the proposal to explode five nuclear bombs under their county.

Honestly, the contribution to the realm of academic knowledge in political science is underwhelming, at best.

What I was proud of was my bibliography: of the 80 pages, the bibliography took up 9 pages – a result of having spent at least 100 hours reading old newspapers on microfilm (and if you don’t know what microfilm is, be grateful). I was also quite proud of the fact that in doing my research I was able to convince the members of the Wagon Wheel Information Committee to donate their old papers to the University of Wyoming’s archives, the American Heritage Center.

Reading Scott’s book made the hours that I spent in the basement of Coe Library worthwhile – seeing my name listed in his endnotes, plus in his bibliography is thrilling.

Of course this makes me a biased observer – but I hope you trust me when I say that the book is excellent – a worthwhile read if you’re interested in nuclear explosions, public policy, or environmental politics – to name a few areas. It’s also a primer on the efforts put forth by the American government to beat the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

His work goes far beyond the narrow focus of my research – broadening the field out and examining the larger picture of how Project Plowshare fit into the larger world and how it might be used to benefit peoples not just in the USA, but also Australia. And how it was used as a tool to keep Panama, with its canal, in line. These are aspects of which I was only vaguely, if at all, aware.

More: My Wagon Wheel Pages / Visiting Pinedale on Vacation

News Flash: Germany won the World Cup! And I don’t care.

So… I might be the last to inform you, but Germany won the World Cup just over a week ago.

To nobody’s surprise, I was part of distinct minority in Germany: the 14% that did not watch the final match. But hey: the game started at 9pm and I wanted to go to work at my normal time Monday morning. I’ve actually met one other person who did not watch the game. The name will not be revealed in order to protect the innocent.

Sunday evening I wanted to read my (then) current (now past) book, Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America. (How’s that for light reading – more on it later.)

There were a number of rain showers Sunday evening, so I’d actually shut my windows and was reading in bed when the game started at 9. I judged that some weird stuff must have happened in the first half (based on neighborhood sounds) before falling asleep around 10 or so. I woke up a fair bit later to loud cheering; well after 11pm – so I assumed that Germany had won in extra time or something. And then I slept like a blissfully ignorant baby until my alarm went off at 6:00.

Berlin, Monday morning, after the World Cup, was a bit surreal: the streets were dead. The bus at 07:30 was relatively empty. Mitte was devoid of people. In many ways it reminded me of what Berlin is like during Christmas – a total lack of people on the street – but different in that public transit was running its normal weekday schedule.

Basically I had my own private bus to the office and it was clear that the vast majority of the few people on my bus were like me: football-not-give-a-damners. One guy got on the bus in a cheap suit wearing a hat in German colors and wearing glasses with the German colors. Other people – including me – eyed him like the freak weirdo that he is until he got off the bus.

The office was also rather quiet until closer to noon – it seems that a lot of people had stayed up watching the game and then partying until the sun came up.

Tuesday, on the other hand, was the polar opposite: There was energy that one could feel – even as I desperately needed coffee – on the streets.

Now I was aware that Berlin was hosting the champions at a rally that day, but I assumed that it would start sometime after the plane landed from Rio – it was scheduled to land at 9, so I guessed noon?

Ha – I guessed way wrong. My bus had football fans – sitting behind me were two wearing championship kit and (for some reason) speaking English. I was amused when one assure the other that, “I am not drunk.” Making that kind of declarative statement at 07:30 on a Tuesday morning is not, in my experience, confidence inspiring.

The guys got off the bus at Potsdamer Platz and as I looked out the windows, I realized that the two guys were two out of at least a thousand people that were visible from my bus, all making their way to the celebration at Brandenburg Tor.

The doors to the celebration had, apparently, opened around 06:30.

I, for one, was happy to be headed to the office – last week I was drowning in work and was behind on several deadlines. The streets were certainly alive. The office was certainly not. I got a lot of work done, even with the occasional helicopter passing overhead – thankfully overhead my office did not have the best angle for capturing the crowds as the heroes received their welcome back to Germany.

There is one thing I want to clarify: I do not hate football. I just don’t care about it. The games are on my calendar only so that I know when my football loving friends are going to be busy and when the streets are going to be filled with drunken fans. I don’t watch the games because the game is, at least to me, painfully boring. It’s like watching paint dry. It’s as boring as watching American football, golf, tennis, or the Indy 500 – at least for me. I am not particular in my not watching of the American Super Bowl – I don’t watch football any other time of the year, I don’t see why I should make an exception for the “biggest” match of the year.

It is somewhat nice seeing the bounce in the steps of victorious Germans – but, to be honest, I haven’t seen anybody who was directly and personally involved in the World Cup yet – in person. I did make a point of glancing through photos of the German players and I can safely say that I would walk right past any of them on the street without a second glance – I wouldn’t recognize them for who they are and I wouldn’t turn my head because not one of them is physically attractive. Save for the head coach – who I would recognize and I bet would be interesting to talk to, assuming you could get him to stop talking about football because football as an inherent subject would keep my interest for about, errr… 30 seconds.

As for what I’m thinking about the World Cup right now – I actually have been giving the 2018 tournament a lot of thought. Currently it is scheduled to be in Russia. This scares me: putting the World Cup in Russia is a chance for Putin to showcase his country – a country that is increasingly homophobic and likely responsible for providing the equipment that was used to shoot down MH17.

The 2018 World Cup needs to move.

Happy Fourth, Happy Tenth, and Happy Fourth: A week, in review.

I’ve had a busy week – work has, unexpectedly, flared up. Two weeks ago, I was relaxed at the office, right now I doubt that I can meet all the deadlines facing me, without doing some serious work at home this coming weekend.

Such are the vulgarities of my job – which I love.

What I forgot to celebrate last Tuesday was the fourth anniversary of my current employment – I was so busy that it totally escaped my mind that it was four years ago that I moved to Berlin, meaning that I’ve been in my job for four years and my apartment for 3 years and 11 months.

The other thing that last Tuesday marked was my tenth anniversary in Germany – although, to be honest, my arrival date in Germany is a bit more murky, so I hesitate to state any single date definitively, other than to say that this summer marks the tenth anniversary of my move overseas.

Bird Face

Cool art at Mehringplatz, above the U-Hallesches Tor station.

Looking back on it, I am in a bit of shock.

Moving to Germany was a complete accident and I am one of those accidental expatriates.

By the way, I’ve avoided the whole debate about “foreigners” versus “immigrants” versus “expatriates” that has been going on, but I am hands down an expatriate and not an immigrant. I have zero interest in becoming a German citizen even though I am content to live here for the foreseeable future.

Birds at Mehringplatz

More cool art at Mehringplatz, above the U-Hallesches Tor station. There seems to be a things-with-wings theme in the area.

One of the highlights of my week was dinner Thursday evening with one of my favorite expats – well, German living in the USA expat type. He has the reverse culture shock, although he seems to be doing fine in most aspects of his life, but he’s unwilling to give up the possibility of moving back to Germany someday, even if it means not getting married any time soon.

The other thing that I missed – sort of – was the Fourth of July. But not really: I did wear red, white, and blue – and I did wish my colleagues (some of whom needed a bit of clarification) a Happy Fourth of July. My celebrations were tempered by the fact that I was completely and totally uninterested in watching football – Germany was playing France in the World Cup and so while I could have cheered for the red, white, and blue, I found myself at a nearby park reading a book instead, which was quite nice.

All-in-all, a nice week, with two Fourths and a Tenth. I guess that makes 0.6.

Telling Regular Customers “No” – Why the Lenzig café lost me today.

I had a strange, but not completely atypical, experience at Lenzig, a neighborhood café, today: I ordered food and “Leitungswasser” – tap water.

Lenzig is a nice neighborhood café – the kind of place where most customers are regulars, the food predictable, and the atmosphere pleasant. It’s nothing I would travel out of my way for, but it’s a short from my house and, therefore, some place I will go once or twice a month.

It must have been the first time that I’d ordered Leitungswasser – and the waitress immediately told me that this wasn’t allowed. She could bring me Leitungswasser with another drink, but that she couldn’t just bring me plain Leitungswasser.

To say I was surprised would be an understatement – it was the kind of thing that took me a few seconds to process as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do.

Keine Getränk,” I managed to say – and as she started to turn away, I kept thinking and then continued, “und kein Essen.”

No drink… and no food.

I walked out as she was trying to apologize for the restaurant’s policy.

Too little, too late. Had she been smart, she would have recognized that I’m somewhat regular and that this house rule (if it is indeed a legitimate house rule) was one that should be ignored because now I will never return to Lenzig.

It’s not the first time I have stopped going to a restaurant because of an interaction like this. Back in Bloomington, I used to go two or three times a month for breakfast at Opie Taylor’s in Bloomington. The waitress knew me and after the first few visits, I don’t think I had to order again.

Problem: the owner kept turning down the lights while I was reading my newspaper. I asked him to stop and he gave me some bullshit excuse about how it was too bright (now that it was too dark to read the newspaper) and that it was using too much electricity.

As I paid my bill that morning, I told the waitress that I wouldn’t be back, that it was too dark to read and that her boss had, effectively, driven me away. I still haven’t been back – and when I visit Bloomington, it never occurs to me to set foot inside Opie Taylor’s.

I had a similar experience with a coffee shop here in Berlin. One block away from my office there are two coffee shops – a local chain with fairly decent coffee, Einstein Kaffee, and an international powerhouse, Starbucks.

My choice was Einstein – stopping by most mornings for my “grosse Latte mit lactosefrei milch.” I only had to say what I wanted when there was a new barista.

The baristas were, for the most part, friendly, save for one girl who seemed not to like working – whether it was because she was there when the shop opened at 7:30 (or 7:00 when they started opening earlier) or because she hates working in a coffee shop, I never could tell. I just put up with her grouchy attitude because it didn’t really affect me all that much.

Then, one morning, I took a picture of the bakery display case.

For the record, it was not the first time I’d taken a picture inside this Einstein Kaffee. Whenever the foam on my latte was especially pretty, I would take pictures of my latte and post them to Twitter. I’d never had any cause to think that taking photos would cause any offense.

Kein Fotos” – it was delivered as a snarl across the shop.

Here’s the deal: there were absolutely no humans in my photo – only the bakery display case – as I’ve thought about the situation, I cannot come up with any particularly good reason why Einstein Kaffee might have a corporate policy against customers taking pictures of the bakery display case – I could see plenty of argument in favor of allowing customers to take pictures (e.g. reference for when taking group orders at an office).

So I was mystified and pissed off. Even if Einstein Kaffee has a corporate policy against photos of the bakery display case, surely the baristas should ignore it unless the customer was getting in the way of other customers. It’s not really an important (or useful) policy.

The end result was that I stopped going to that Einstein Kaffee that day.

It took me awhile, but eventually I gave in and because a Starbucks customer.

There’s something I never thought I would say: I am a Starbucks customer. I even earned a gold card. I have elite status with Starbucks. Most of the baristas at the Starbucks know my order and I don’t have to say a word.

Now the girl who snarled at me has been transferred to another location – so my reason for not going there isn’t quite so strong – and I actually went last Wednesday because when I stepped inside the Starbucks, I discovered that the queue was literally to the door – I would have been standing outside.

My loyalty to Starbucks is not that strong, especially since I’d forgotten to set my alarm for Wednesday morning and was running more than an hour behind schedule and I had a meeting in 15 minutes, so I went over to Einstein.

The barista working recognized me, remembered my drink, and asked me why I had stopped coming to Einstein.

Explaining all of this in German was too much for me, so I resorted to describing the colleague who had snarled at me (she’s easy to describe) and explained that “Sie ist ein arschloch.”

Surprisingly he did not seem surprised to hear this news – and he told me that she was now working at a different shop.

The problem for Einstein Kaffee is, however, that I’m now a Starbucks customer and I am loyal to Starbucks (in part because Starbucks is the only coffee shop with locations open Sunday morning at 8:00).

This girl barista, by enforcing either a corporate policy or her own made-up rule, pushed me out the door, losing about 90€ worth of revenue each month to their competitor.

Lenzig is not going to lose that much revenue a month from me – more on the order of 15-20€/month – but it seems to me that it is foolish to have rules like no tap water unless you order a real drink.

“Finally I’ve been to a place while it’s still hip” – Adam visits the Monkey Bar

King Kong

King Kong — my drink at the Monkey Bar

Yesterday one of my ex-Jena colleagues and still cool friend, AK, arrived in Berlin in order to attend a workshop. Instead of bumming around and wasting her evening alone, she and I met up and bummed around and wasted her evening together.

Her hotel – Motel One Tiergarten – is actually fairly close to where I live, but I picked her up straight from the office and then set off wandering. Honestly I did not have a single destination in mind when we started, but then, as we headed toward Europa Center, it occurred to me that I’d been hearing about Berlin’s newest, hippest, bar, The Monkey Bar.

Monkey Bar

Seating that overlooks the zoo and Tiergarten at the Monkey Bar

This is the kind of place that is so hip that it gets reviewed in The New York Times – well, not the bar, but the hotel that it is a part of.

Sensing Colorspace

“Sensing Colorspace” is some kind of robotic “art” that is driven by noise levels (it loves clapping) as it draws on the wall of the bar.

We got there about 7:30 and, without investigating, grabbed two chairs and a tree-stump-table to call our own at the windows overlooking the zoo – right above the monkey cages (hence the appropriate name) – and the entirety of Tiergarten, one of Berlin’s many green, tree filled, parks.

Tiergarten

Tiergarten with the Siegessaule (victory column) in view.

Berlin Zoo

The Zoo, right below the windows.

To be blunt, the view is amazing.

This is probably not a place to visit on a cloudy/foggy/dreary day, but a place to be enjoyed when the sun is out and the view goes on for kilometers.

We both ordered (pricey) cocktails along with sweet potato fries – the fries were excellent and my cocktail, the “King Kong” was perfect: a tiny bit of sweetness and no hint of bitterness, despite the cherry bitters.

Our table...

Our cocktails — I believe the drink on the left, AK’s, is the Rickey – Tiki, while I had the King Kong on the right. The Sweet Potato fries were excellent.

The vista was worth hanging out for and we considered dinner at the hotel restaurant, but opted to head out for a walk.

Monkey Bar - DJ Booth

The DJ Booth at the Monkey Bar

Outdoor Spaces to Chill - Monkey Bar

Balcony Seating at the Monkey Bar

I’d happily return to the Monkey Bar – but given how busy it was on a Monday evening, I doubt that there’s an evening where it’s easy to get a table. As we left, we explored the rest of the bar – in addition to the indoor space, there’s a nice outdoor balcony with a nice view of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche and other parts of Berlin. That said, I loved the view of Tiergarten and would probably opt for the indoor spaces just for the view and reinforced by the fact that the balcony spaces allows smoking.

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche

The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche — slowly, but surely, the scaffolding is coming off of the church. I expect it to be fully exposed in 2024, shortly before the airport opens.