The 67th thing I love about living in Berlin

photo credit: Angele McQuade
photo credit: Angele McQuade

(Even if I don’t actually still live in Berlin…)

I got an unexpected gift late the other night when Rebecca, one of my favorite Berlin partners-in-crime (er, let’s make that adventure) forwarded a link to this New York Times story on the favorite streets of various European cities. Scroll down the page to Berlin, and there you’ll see what I was so delighted to find: a long piece by Joshua Hammer on Rüdesheimer Strasse, one of the main streets in our lovely (former) neighborhood surrounding Rüdesheimer Platz.

Though this neighborhood is considered to be sleepy and perhaps even boring (gasp!) by some Berliners’ standards, we found it absolutely enchanting and still talk wistfully pretty much every day about the blissful year we spent living there .

Hammer’s article gives a decent taste of the neighborhood’s charms, but we suggest an actual visit (especially when the wine garden is open) if you want to really understand the true joy of life around Rüdesheimer Platz.

And trust me, our own next visit can’t come soon enough.

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Instruments we’ve heard/seen played on Berlin public transportation

ubah accor

You’ll always find the most recent additions at the top of each category – my last update was 14 July 2013.

On an S-Bahn (train)/U-Bahn (subway) car:

  • A solo acoustic guitar player on the U3 line, one of the quieter U-Bahn lines (it’s mostly outside the main part of the city) and one whose trains musicians rarely ever board to play. Too bad, because the guitar player I heard the other day was not only one of the most talented, he was also one of the most delightful I’ve yet encountered (and quite the contrast to Mr. Surly Accordionist below). After an incredibly beautiful performance that stretched the distance between three stations, I gladly gave this musician a 2 Euro coin and was not at all surprised to see almost every other passenger give a little something, too. This should have surprised me because the typical percentage of “paying” passengers is usually quite low, but in this case, his talent was too hard to ignore, as was the genuinely warm and grateful smile he gave each and every one of us, whether we added a little jingle to his cup or not. Truly a highlight of this past year of public music…
  • Another first! While the instrument was familiar (accordion) and the playing was only so-so, the musician bearing said instrument was not only completely aggressive in his demand for money (leaning over the seats of my visiting parents for a full forty or fifty seconds while pushing his plastic cup for donations practically in my poor jet-lagged father’s face — a behavior I’ve never before seen in Berlin — yet somehow still continuing to play), he also cursed at me and then gave me the finger after I gave him a firm “Nein, danke” in an attempt to get him to leave. While some of the musicians we see on the trains aren’t very “good” in a technical sense, they do follow a fairly established etiquette of moving on after just a second or so if you don’t make eye contact or start to reach for money. I suspect this (not quite a) gentleman figured we were a sure thing since we were speaking English and I was showing my parents a map of the transit system when he walked up. At least my parents now have an exciting story about their first full day in Berlin, and I now know to get up and switch cars if I ever see this particular accordionist again…
  • A very talented trio whose instruments included an accordion, a violin, and — a first for me on a train — a cello! Their rendition of Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line was fabulous and I happily added an Euro to their outstretched cup.
  • Melodica with egg-shaker/amplified recorded music (My all-time least-favorite performance ever – both lazy and derivative, and the two “musicians” were part of a roving pack of similarly outfitted buskers hauling small amps on luggage carts from one subway car to the next at each stop in a clearly organized strategy to score the most amount of coins with the least amount of effort.)
  • Accordion (a few too many times, but only because that’s one loud instrument in crowded quarters!)
  • Spanish Guitar (only once but so beautiful – one of my favorite performances yet)

In an S-Bahn (train) or U-Bahn (subway) station:

  • Country Western Guitar (once)
  • Harp (only once so far, sigh)
  • Classical Guitar (once)
  • Blues Guitar (once)
  • Electric Guitar (once)
  • Accordion (a few too many times)
  • Keyboard (a bunch of times)
  • Violin (too many times to keep track of)
  • Cello (once)
  • Banjo (once)
  • Flute (once)
  • Saxophone (at least twice)

I should add this category while  I’m at it…

Musical-y sounds I’ve heard from our apartment window:

  • Car horns, from a procession passing by (a wedding, it looked like)
  • Recorder, being played by either a young neighbor or a student at the Montessori school nearby (hard to tell because of the way our building echoes)
  • Church Bells (daily at 8:15 am, noon and 6 pm, Sundays off and on all morning, lucky me!)
  • Trumpet (almost every Tuesday, mid-morning)
  • Operatic singing (just once so far, coming up through a basement-level apartment building ventilation grate)

The 66th thing I love about living in Berlin…

HollisterHBA little bit of home a continent away.

While out shopping for new shoes at the mall only a few miles from our Berlin apartment, I happened to look at the window display at Hollister.

And smiled. There, right in front of me, was a (supposedly) live feed of the ocean in Huntington Beach, California–otherwise known as my hometown.

While I doubted the feed was actually live (it would still have been dark back in CA at that time) or even actually of Huntington Beach (it showed only water, not coastline), just standing there for a few moments to watch the undulation of the ocean was enough of a connection to keep that smile on my face the whole rest of the day.

And as a bonus, I even found the exact style of short black boots I was looking for at another store the next floor up.

The 65th thing I love about living in Berlin…

myberlinkitchenBerlin books and Berlin authors

One of the most wonderful things about moving to Berlin has been reading books written about the city and by writers from the city.

One of my absolute favorites so far is My Berlin Kitchen by German-Italian-American author Luisa Weiss (aka The Wednesday Chef). I was so lucky to hear her speak (and get my book signed!) at a Dialogue Books Literary Lounge Event at the legendary Soho House Berlin, and I instantly fell in love with her words and her style as she read to the overfilled room. Continue reading

The 64th thing I love about living in Berlin…

Do you see what I didn't?
Do you see what I hear?

An answer to my Tuesday morning musical mystery!

I’ll save you the suspense right now and say that none — that’s right, not a single one — of my theories was anywhere close to  correct. I’ll save you even more suspense by telling you that I found the answer to my question as soon as I stepped out of our courtyard gate the following Tuesday morning. It turns out I didn’t need to walk down the block to investigate after all!

While a small part of me was disappointed that the quest I’d been anticipating all week was over mere seconds after it began, the rest of me was at first gobsmacked (how obvious!) and then delighted by the truth I at last found.

Have you guessed what I was unable to figure out on my own, even after posts like this?

Continue reading

The 63rd thing I love about living in Berlin…

Somewhere, out there...
Somewhere, out there…

The mystery of the Tuesday morning mini-mariachi serenade.

Six or seven times now since moving to Berlin, I’ve heard live mariachi-style music coming from not too far down our street. It wasn’t until the third time that I realized the music wasn’t some random event, and so I started paying attention.

The first detail I noticed was that it seems to happen only on Tuesday mornings. Early last Tuesday morning, I made sure to open the windows wide so I wouldn’t miss it like I had on previous weeks.

This turned out to be an excellent fact-finding strategy. With the windows open, I heard the music the moment it started and quickly wrote down the time (10:28 am, in case you’re wondering). While I listened,  I also made a note on my calendar so I’d remember to be waiting the following Tuesday. Continue reading

Rüdi-Net LESEFEST today!

LESEFESTLooking for something fun to do this sunny Saturday in Berlin? Check out the Rüdi-Net LESEFEST in the Rüdesheimer Platz neighborhood in Wilmersdorf!

You can find the entire program with  a list of authors and presentation topics here. I’ll be giving my talk — What an American Author Loves about Living in Berlin — at 4, 5, 6 and 7 pm in the IBZ Clubraum. A local bookseller will have books from many of the participating authors available in the Clubraum between my presentation times, and I hear there will be cake and coffee, too!

There will be are a ton of other authors speaking through the neighborhood on topics for both kids and adults, so don’t miss out…