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"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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” 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 with the Siegessaule (victory column) in view.
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 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.
The DJ Booth at the 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.
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.
The start of the CSD Parade feautred flags from around the world, with rainbow flags added.
a boy — he’s got a metal chain attached and his owner is behind him. Both were having a great time.
Shoe switch — She couldn’t take the heels any longer, so she switch with a boy…
There’s nothing quite like a good parade – and yesterday I watched two Christopher Street Day parades.
“Red Card for Homophobia” — it seems that the modern gay allows for football/soccer references to be inserted into their lingo.
This adorable boy stopped at the end of the parade to talk to these two lovely ladies to our left –he was a very nice boy. I got a high five out of him.
A gentle reminder for non-German viewers, “Christopher Street Day” is actually a German phrase that, when translated into English, means “Gay Pride Day.”
What an awesome rig — she brought the entire table with her, for the entire parade!
This security guard has the all too appropriate label, “Super Geil” attached. He also looks super bored.
The day was, for me, fantastic – much better than last year when CSD managed to coincide with one of my worst spring allergy attacks. Further, I went to my favorite spot along the main parade route – a place where you can sit before the parade gets to you and a place where you can stand up and be above the crowd—but only if BVG security aren’t assholes—like they were last year. Happily they were not assholes this year and I had a great time.
The US Embassy had a float this year–one of four embassies to participate in Berlin’s CSD parade! (The UK, Canada, and New Zealand also shared one float…)
Intense discussion amongst the stars for the US Embassy Float.
However, it sure felt like the main parade was a lot shorter. The only political party marching were the Pirates, and beyond a few corporations, there were only a four embassies participating and a couple of dance parties (although every float is a dance party, at least during the parade). The group that came from the furthest away was the Seattle Gay Men’s Chorus – appropriately it was raining as they passed my spot.
Seattle Men’s Chorus
Call the cops — using your rotary phone….
Dutch Police marching the Berlin CSD parade.
Dildo King — which of these three likes to give and which like to receive?
The second parade I hit up was the Kreuzberg CSD along Oranienstrasse. This parade was short – like four or five tiny floats short, but had an enthusiastic crowd. It appears to be geared toward reigniting the flame of grassroots politics and against white (hetero) male culture. However, K-CSD, did not pass without counter protest.
“I’ve had enough”
Cherry-o-kie during the KCSD parade.
Local residents upset with the KCSD parade.
I, however, noticed a bench, and sat down – quickly discovering that I didn’t want to stand up again.
June has, to be blunt, hotted up nicely. With temperatures soaring above 30°C daily since Saturday, my ice cream sorbet consumption has soared.
This past weekend was a three-day weekend in Berlin (and, I suspect, most of Germany). Celebrating Whit Monday, this was the last legal holiday for Berlin until Reunification Day on October 3rd.
I wish I could say that I did something awesome with my weekend. I cannot – I did see two movies: Boyhood (awesome and worth it) and X-men (fun, but I accidentally saw it in 3D, which was not fun). Most of my weekend time, to be blunt, was spent at home, with my windows shut, enjoying stale air.
I’ve seen this guy all over Berlin, riding his bicycle, blowing his whistle, and ranting about the need for democracy. I finally took his photo Saturday.
It’s not that I didn’t try going out, but going out was painful. Saturday, for example, I took an anti-allergy pill 30 minutes before leaving my apartment. Then, 90 minutes later, I needed to take another pill because I could not stop sneezing.
Fresh German eggs, strawberries, and cherries. This is why I love shopping at the Winterfeldtmarkt so much!
Fortunately that cured me well enough that I was able to do some shopping at the Winterfeldmarkt on my way home, but as I noted last time, my anti-allergy pills put me to sleep. And sleep I did: long naps Saturday and Sunday. Long, solid, serious naps – with seriously strange dreams. Monday wasn’t that bad – I took allergy pills as a precaution.
The good news, I guess, is that whatever I’m allergic too has (temporarily) stopped putting out pollen. I actually only took one pill today (sleepiness counteracted with a coffee). My lunchtime walk didn’t cause a single sneeze and I managed to make it home without an allergy attack, including a stop by my local supermarket.
Side note: My local supermarket looked decimated. I was there around 3:30 this afternoon and the produce department looked sad and pathetic – nothing fresh to be had. I guess that the trucks were not rolling over the weekend. The rest of the store had a lot more gaps than normal – a few of the things I wanted to buy couldn’t be bought.
Meanwhile I looked ahead on my June calendar – it’s Pride Month, with Berlin’s big Christopher Street Day parade on June 21st – this is an event worth attending just to see the amazing diversity of people (even though while I am a part of the community I am not really involved in the community). It’s also the same day as Fête de la Musique, the annual free music concerts all over the city bonanza that totally rocks.
Every day is gay in Berlin.
Why is it that some weekends there’s nothing that I want to do, while other weekends there are multiple things that I want to do?
That said, June 21st is also the evening of the Germany:Ghana World Cup game – starting at 9pm. I have the vague feeling that the fun that is Fête de la Musique will be swept into the chaos and drunkenness that is Berlin when a World Cup match featuring Germany is in progress.
It the time of year that I suffer mightily from allergies – I have no idea which plant it is, but the plant took full advantage of the rains late last week to come out and bloom over the weekend.
Saturday I ended up taking anti-allergy drugs. One of the side effects of my anti-allergy drugs is that I get tired quickly and need to take a nap. Nothing like getting up in the morning, taking a pill so that I can breathe and then needing a nap.
My Sunday was miserable: not only did my anti-allergy drug struggle to make a difference, but I had a horrid migraine Sunday afternoon that completely and totally wiped me out. I ended up taking an aspirin and an anti-allergy pill at 1:45 – in the vicinity of my bed. The next thing I knew, it was after 4 and my headache was mostly gone and my allergies were mostly at bay.
In addition to causing drowsiness, my allergy pills are doing a fantastic job of triggering the most bizarre and strange dreams. Most of the times my dreams are strange – I must admit – but in the past week they’ve gone to new heights.
Unfortunately I don’t remember the details of my dreams very often – but I do know that in one of my dreams from last night I was in bed – and somehow my bed was in my office – or maybe my boss’s office – and I was still in bed when somebody came into the office to work. Or something like that. Dreams are hard to understand.
I’m hoping the allergy season passes by quickly this year – it’s earlier than last year, that’s for sure. Last year I was hit hard when I got back from vacation in mid-June.