Friday, June 22, 2012


Today was my last proper day in Berlin. Naturally, I tried to get as much out of it as I possible could. For one thing, I had breakfast at Curry 36. The type of sausage I ordered today came with mustard instead of the usual curry sauce. Heinz mustard is dead to me. It is nothing but a neon yellow imposter.

After learning the true meaning of mustard, I spent the rest of the morning packing up until 12, when Mister Minsch opens. Mister Minsch is a small cake shop that I kept hearing good reviews of and kept not having time to visit, despite living only 7 minutes away. Finally, I got to give it a try. It did not disappoint. The choco-choco cake, a dense chocolate confection layered with the thickest and richest frosting I've ever tasted, made me wish I'd never heard of the cafe. Now, I know what I'll be missing.

With a slice of cacao bliss stowed in my belly, I scampered off to St. Mary's Church in Alexanderplatz for a free midday organ concert. I had expected to sit in the pews and just listen. Instead, the organ player invited the handful of attendants upstairs with her to sit in front of the organ and listen to it and her as she explained a bit about how it works. I had no idea how complicated an instrument an organ is. Not only does the player have to work pedals and three keyboards, but she must also push and pull knobs to control which sets of pipes are in use. The organist demonstrated the significance of these knobs time and time again. First, she played a quick piece using only the flute-like pipes. Then, she played a bit with the "brass" pipes. They actually have a piece of metal inside of them which vibrates while being played, adding a buzz to the regular toot. After demonstrating its range and a few other oddities about the nearly 300 year old machine, the organist performed a modern piece. I don't know how to describe it apart from thrilling. It started with just the flutes and built more and more until the music was pouring down on me like a thunderstorm, complete with thunder. For the final stretch, she pulled a knob that started up the Zimbelsterne, tiny stars on the organ that spun and struck chimes with their spokes. I almost wanted to laugh. The organ had spinning rims for goodness sake, but the 4 meter tall growling pipes kept me sober. I don't care that the rest of the audience was 55 or older. I made the right choice with that trip.

Perhaps the best part of the day was that I did not once need to use a map. Mister Minsch is on Yorckstraße in Kreuzberg. St. Marienkirche is on Alexanderplatz. Finding my way back after wandering around various shops in the afternoon was a piece of cake. In short, for practically the first time in my life, I know my way around a city. Now, I have to leave it. I'm amazed by how much I want to stay. It isn't the people I've met; they've been nice, but they won't be life long friends. It isn't the Goethe Institute; as much as I enjoyed it, boot camp is boot camp. It's the city itself, the patchwork metropolis I've come to love. Grammatically correct or not, I'm glad to say:

Ich bin ein Berliner.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cake To Die For

Today, I woke up at 10:30, showered, did some lazy yoga in my room, and went to my last day of class, armed with a black forest cake that I bought yesterday. Another student brought Ritter Sport chocolates and a box of assorted truffles. Yet another student brought a bottle of sparkling wine. Needless to say, it was a rather agreeable couple of hours.

Even the subject matter was fun. We read a few of the brothers Grimm's fairy tales and heard interviews with fairy tale researchers. Contrary to popular belief, the brothers never went more than a day's worth of traveling to get their stories. For the most part, they talked to a bunch of women and a few Frenchmen that happened to live in the area.

After class, six other students and I went to a Spanish tapas bar to say our goodbyes over some sangria and dinner. I had a spinach and smoked salmon soup and a spinach cake with cheese sauce. Not exactly traditional German fare, but delicious nevertheless.
Once we finished dinner, we said goodbye, wished each other good lives, and parted ways. I wandered over the the museum island to visit the Alte Nationalgalerie (old national gallery). The art gallery had a large Adolf Menzel collection displaying his paintings of Friedrich the Great. Personally, I found them boring. Historically significant, and well composed, but boring nevertheless. Upstairs, Arnold Böcklin's Toteninsel caught my eye. It portrays the island of death, where Charon ferries the dead. Looking at the painting in person, I found it strange how alluring the island seemed. I wanted to explore it, or at least see what lay beyond the shadowy harbor. The fact that my other favorite painting showed death leading the deceased into the afterlife might just say something about me...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Neues Museum

I recently discovered that students 18 years or younger receive free admission at all public museums in Berlin. Fortunately for me, I still have a few months of being 18 left, and I intend to exploit that to the fullest. Today, I visited the Neues Museum on the Museumsinsel. It may be named the new museum, but the building is still over 100 years old. It had essentially two distinct halves, an Egyptian half and a Classics / early Europe half. This meant that you might be admiring Germanic jewelry and suddenly find yourself surrounded by pharaohs.

I found it particularly interesting how the two halves interconnected on occasion. The Egyptian sarcophagi and the European stone coffins displayed in the afterlife exhibit looked rather similar in a few cases. Furthermore, the late Egyptian busts occasionally supported the curly beards of Greek statues. Early Greek statues also borrowed the Egyptian pose where the statue is in mid step, left foot forward.

My absolute favorite exhibit displayed large segments of walls from one of the pharaohs' tomb. I do not recall which pharaoh, or if he had a full fledged Pyramid with a capital P. I do know that the hieroglyphs and depictions of everyday life were incredibly beautiful. Sadly, the centuries had worn away most of the paint, but even in beige the artwork sang to me. I could not tell half the time if something was supposed to be a bird or a bird shaped hieroglyph. Both received equal levels of detail. Interestingly, the purpose of all the artwork was not to depict the pharaoh's life, but to provide for his afterlife. The carved servants and animals would serve the pharaoh in death and spare him from having to take servants and animals with him into the beyond. How considerate!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I had to decide today between visiting the Arkaden, a well known mall in Potsdamer Platz, and going for a walk through the Tiergarten. The heat ended up deciding for me. In the time it took me to make my way to Potsdamer Platz from the subway, I had started to sweat, so I took a left instead of a right and walked into the swanky shopping center. My goal was to get a dress that I could wear on semi-formal occasions and did not cost more than 50 Euros. Not all that surprisingly, famous shopping malls are not the best places to go for cheap. I saw many lovely and hideous dressed marked at over 200 bucks.

The food was at least reasonably priced. I came across an Italian ice cream shop and just had to get a scoop. Unsweetened chocolate in a waffle cone. Yum. Some more exotic flavors like tiramisu and strawberry cheese cake also beckoned to me, but today was a chocolate day. Later on, I came across an Ampelmann shop offering shirts, bags, mugs, shoes, and probably underwear plastered with the beloved crosswalk symbols. I couldn't resist picking up a bag of Ampelmännchen gummies.

Eventually, after visiting several shops in Berlin Mitte, I found a place with reasonable prices and flattering clothes called Mango Barcelona. It might not be "German" per say, but it is practically impossible to find a store in Berlin that is. Berlin is nothing if not multicultural.

Monday, June 18, 2012


I attended Bikram yoga again this morning. I didn't hold up as well as on Friday, possibly because the contents of my stomach are different in the morning than in the evening, but I still stayed for the entire class. Afterwards, I tried to strike up conversation with one of the girls in the class. To my surprise, she was from Mexico. Berlin, like New York, is so incredibly diverse that it's almost difficult to find the Germans!

After yoga, I had a few hours to go before my class started. While waiting, a poem started to take shape in my head in German. I wrote the fragment down, then expanded, then revised, then adjusted and fiddled until I had a poem, complete with rhymes. After class, I asked my teacher to review the poem, and she actually seemed impressed. She only had to correction one minor grammatical mistake, and she responded to it emotionally the way I had intended.

A month ago, I don't think I could have pulled that off. It isn't a question of vocabulary; most of the words I used in the poem were fairly basic. Rather, I had to know connotation and what "sounds" right. I have grown so much more familiar with the language during my stay here, and today I got to put that into practice.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Yesterday just so happened to be the last Sunday of my stay in Germany. It also happened to be the day that a relatively nearby Methodist church held a special worship service. I arrived at five and took my seat in the somewhat small sanctuary. Strangely, the sanctuary was on the second floor. I took a bulletin, a hymnal, and a seat.
The service was gorgeous. The choir really knew what it was doing, and the female soloist in particular had such a fantastic voice. They sang pieces by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schütz, and Bach. At one point, they all went upstairs to the back balcony and sang from there. Hearing the music coming from behind me just made it that much stronger, like it was coming from the building itself. Better yet, this sanctuary knew not to applaud after the singing finished. Applause should come from the people the music is intended for, and it was intended for God.

The entire church got to sing a few hymns as well, which were of course in German. It was pretty exciting to worship in another language. It was also incredibly difficult. I had never heard most of the songs before, and I had to sing several words that I'd never encountered before as well. Nevertheless, I made it through and could enjoy doing it. All in all, I'd say God knew what he was doing when he had me stumble across that service.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


The Technikmuseum Berlin, located a quick subway ride away from where I live in Kreuzberg, was definitely worth the visit. One exhibit displayed trains in their development from carts on wooden rails to the sleek and speedy cars of today. Visitors even get to walk underneath one of the older locomotives.

Another section featured chemistry and modern pesticides. I found it entertaining that German seemingly has three different words for pesticide; Pestizid (self explanatory), Pflanzenschutzmittel (plant protection resource), and Insektenbekämpfungsmittel (insect fighting resource). The first and last are so wonderfully German.

I also saw exhibits on jewelry making, photography, and textiles. The textiles section I thought did a particularly good job of clarifying how automated knitting and weaving works. After those exhibits, I skimmed the television and radio exhibits. There was still more to see, like the sailing and aircraft exhibits. However, I was too tired to keep looking. I tried to read only the German information placards and as a result was mentally exhausted.

It was about 1 when I finished and decided to get lunch in the restaurant there. Instead of waiting to be seated like you do at most nicer restaurants in America, you seat yourself and wait for a waitress or waiter. I ordered the Boulette with fries, which I somewhat regret since there were more unusual options available, but it tasted good overall. It was strange not leaving a tip, but I've been told that it really isn't expected for small meals.

The rest of today has been a combination of napping and goofing around on the internet. Hopefully, I can figure out how to use the washing machine...