The end keeps nearing. Last weekend in Berlin. Feeling ever so slightly gloomy, for all sorts of reasons. Luckily I have the thought of warm Spring days ahead, plus many exciting plans for the months to come, to keep me from thinking about it too much. Also: it is about time that I resume working on that thing they call a PhD.

As usual, way behind in the note-keeping business, but a few random tidbits instead:

  • Gotta love a city where catching an afternoon performance of Mahler’s Third by the Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Daniel Barenboim (brilliantly filling in for James Levine), is as simple as: picking Nino fresh off her plane at Alexanderplatz, walking over to Staatsoper and buying three (very cheap) last minute-tickets.
  • Used the excuse of miscellaneous out-of-town visitors to check a few of the more touristy items off my Berlin list.
  • For an artist squat long past its underground heydays and part of even the most casual touristic tours of Berlin, Tacheles was still surprisingly fresh and unassuming: with some cool art, a relaxed atmosphere and a funky bar to grab a drink at in the middle of the night. You can also buy “Kultur kann man nicht kaufen” postcards for 1.30€ there.
  • I apparently look very fetching in a tiara. A comforting thought, in case I finally quit research to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a pretty princess.
  • Only major piece left missing to our Berlin nightclub collection, Berghain was actually sort of a letdown: not bad, but definitely nowhere near what the legend gave it as. Perhaps just that particular night. Had fun anyway.
  • Also caught Jazzanova (or a two people subset thereof) at Icon. Rather unimpressive DJing skills (at least before the 5th Vodka mit Red Bull), but some damn awesome blend of everything Latin, Jazzy and Danceable (from Calypso to Cumbia, with your fair share of random house beats in the middle). Funnily enough, threw the same Led Zep nod as Theo Parrish at Yellow, a couple years back: except they played Whole Lotta Love, not Kashmir

Thanks to some exceptionally warm weather day this week (where temperatures nearly went over zero for one hour, around noon), a frozen hand sticking out of the snow holding what looked like a note, was sighted by a passer-by. Although the thawing did not last long enough to consider excavating the body before the end of Winter, the note was recovered and is faithfully transcribed below.

Liebes Diary,

It has now been 15 days that the great yellow star has vanished from the sky. Ancient ones have prophecised that it shall return one day if we make the proper sacrifices to the gods. Then again, ancient ones will say anything for a chance at skinning a dozen virgins high on mystical plants. According to German news, such a dark spell had not occured since 1964. I liked it much better back when meteorological records involved “longest dry spell ever recorded on a rainy season” or “warmest autumn since the invention of thermometers”. Now that we have successfully debunked the liberal global warming hoax, can we go back to abnormally mild winters, exquisitely hot summers and dangerously rising sea levels? That Siberian datcha I bought last year is not gonna become a waterfront on its own.

As predicted last month to easily amazed Japanese friends, our German flat comes with such marvels of 19th century technology as central heating and double-windows. Unfortunately it also features 10ft high ceilings, which sorta defeats the purpose. Something is not quite right when the longest dimension of your bedroom is height. I assume, however, that my no doubt imminent transformation into a blood-sucking creature of the night will solve this issue by making “upside down, hanging from the ceiling”, a perfectly natural sleeping position.

Although technically “in” Berlin, my laboratorium sits in the middle of the German tundra. Access requires usage of the entire bahn alphabet, followed by a vivifying walk through neighbouring parks and forests. I spotted a couple wolves in the distance, on my way home yesterday night. They fortunately seemed too busy fighting over the remains of some unlucky coworker to notice me. I did notify the lab secretary this morning that I did not think Hans was staying home with the flu, as was initially assumed.

My German is slowly crawling back to the satisfyingly mediocre level of my high school years. I still tend to answer all questions with “sou desu ne“.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall, German reunification and ensuing economic and sociological challenges of the early 90s, are expectedly way less popular a conversation topic than may have been implied by 7 years of high school language classes relentlessly covering the subject. Had Frau Wagner spent just a little less time obsessing about Wiedervereinigung, Ossis, Wessis and balloons coming in easily roundable numbers, I might actually know how to say useful everyday things. As it is, I am now known in my social group as the guy with a surprisingly rich German vocabulary pertaining to the plight of disenfranchised and politically disillusioned East German workers confronted to consumerist and individualist values inherent to the capitalistic system of the West. Also known as: that guy with the tedious conversation who can barely order for himself at the restaurant. Fuck you Frau Wagner.

Linguistic limitations aside, and despite the equally unsurprising lack of opportunities for congratulating one’s interlocutor about the cuteness of their monkey in casual bar conversations (“Was fur ein süße Affe!” — year 1, lesson 1), people are friendly and fun to hang out with. Sadly, my considerable repertoire of Hitler jokes remains largely unappreciated, strangely enough.

I have an increasingly hard time repressing the urge to punch newly met acquaintances who mention how great and enjoyable Summer in Berlin is. Which they never fail to do. Preferably shortly after it has been announced that the negative double-digit temperature is likely to last until at least the end of February (“When did you say you were leaving again? Oh… I see… sorry”).

I must now step out to go replenish our survival chocolate supply at the store across the street. It looks like there’s yet another small snow storm outside. Where did I put the damn polar bear gun.

It eventually happened.

It took a while, but I think I finally know how it feels to be the ancient one, sitting helplessly while the younger ones try to operate antiquated machinery from another era… say, a turntable.

Picture if you will: a standard Berlin bar, two cheerful yet terminally hopeless barmaids, a pair of standard-issue decks, a [presumably rather cheesy German] record to be played…

It went a little bit like this:

  1. Barmaid places record on deck, tries to play it for 2 minutes before realising said deck has no needle (stylus or cartridge, for that matter).
  2. Barmaid repeatedly tries to spot the beginning of some track she is presumably looking for, using a lighter for sole light source. Gets ever so slightly pissy when yours truly points [as gently as possible] toward the button to enable the dedicated target light that comes standard on all SL-1200.
  3. Barmaid #2 [unsuccessfully] tries to fit a raw stylus into the standard needle connector, apparently oblivious to the obvious size/shape difference.
  4. Barmaids have stroke of genius and finally decide to switch the entire deck with the other deck (changing cables and all), yet again failing to notice that simply switching the cartridge, would have been a considerably easier endeavour.
  5. After finally plugging the new deck in, barmaids enter long struggle to figure the on/off dial on the new deck. Get increasingly pissy at any attempt to point them in the right direction… Finally give up in frustration and put a CD instead.

Seriously: now I know exactly how old-timers feel, when they see condescending-yet-clueless youngsters trying to operate a 1930s radio… and miserably failing at it, as if it was some alien technology.

At the local store, trying to pick hair styling wax and looking for the lightest one. Two strengths are available: “mega starker” and “ultra starker”…

The only question is: does either go up to 11?