Tuesday, August 29, 2017

So I've been reviewing the pictures on my phone, as this is sometimes how I start the process of structuring my blog posts... and this post seems as if it might be a disjointed one, lurching from one seemingly disconnected topic to another. I will try my best to tie it all together!

It wasn't long after we left Barcelona that the Ramblas, the heart of our old neighborhood, was attacked by insane muslim teenagers, and I need to just say a few words.
First off, how sad. How pointless. And how grateful I am that no one we know was injured or killed, and how sorry I feel for those that were.
I sometimes find myself thinking of the world, or perhaps the human population of the world, as a single large organism. In this context, many aberrations of human behavior start to look like a disease, and religious extremism fits right into this metaphor. Cancer comes to mind, because of cancer's ability to spread... but so does mental illness. The willingness to drive a van at 80kmh into crowds of people reveals a kind of mental illness, and when such an act is seen as valiant by some segment of the population we are looking at a disease in the body of humanity, a disease which looks like insanity but spreads like cancer.
I do believe that overpopulation with its attendant competition for resources, exacerbated by climate change, is at the heart of this and many other social disorders. I think there are simply too many ants scrambling for their little crumb. When I say resources, I mean things like education and a good job, a good future... the kinds of things that make a person feel invested in this reality, their reality. It is a lack of investment in this reality which causes young people to imagine that a better one awaits them, and all they have to do to get there is kill as many non-believers as possible. It's crazy, and sad.
One of the videos that made the rounds on the news sites, one of the graphic ones in which the camera-person walks up the Ramblas swinging their camera from one dead body to another, was shot by our friend Pap. Hey Pap, glad you're OK.


OK, on to lighter fare...

Before we left Taos, our friend Richard Spera told Christina and me that our extended trip to Europe would end up teaching us a lot about ourselves. Later that evening Christina and I shared a skeptical chuckle, mentioning that we weren't sure whether he was really right about that. After all, what more could there be to learn about ourselves?
Richard's comment looks like a genuine prophecy in retrospect. How right he was. His casually spoken words come up all the time, as we learn new things about ourselves, and each other, daily.

One thing I've noticed about myself is how I approach a new place. In short, I like to wander around, get lost (using my phone only when necessary - only when I'm really lost), and visit bookstores and flea markets. It all sounds a bit trivial, but I've come to realize that these are the ways I get to know a place.

Berlin flea markets are, so far, amazing. Barcelona had about 5 (even counting those that only happened intermittently), while Berlin has something like 20, as far as I can tell. I've only visited a few. So far my favorite one is the Trödel- und Kunstmarkt in der Straße des 17. Juni. All old stuff, nothing new. But also not cheap. Not much buying for me, mostly looking. But it's like a museum.

The Flohmarkt am Mauerpark is bigger, but less interesting. I did manage to find one really interesting vendor selling, among other things, a nice selection of Schulwandkarten, or school wall charts.

I guess these were a "thing" in East Germany, they are not hard to find here. They are high-quality printed images of maps, technical images, educational topics, etc., bonded to linen, with wooden dowels at the top and bottom to facilitate easy rolling and storage.

The book stores here in Berlin are also amazing. My selection is a bit limited by the fact that I don't really read German (yet), but even the English language offerings here are impressive.


Even casual readers of this blog will recall that I am a motorcycle enthusiast, and was hoping to be able to get one over here at some point. The big thing standing in my way, for most of our time in Barcelona, was my lack of a proper residence permit, or NIE (Número de Identificacion Extranjero). Well, two weeks before our scheduled move to Berlin, I did finally get the fabled NIE (it only took 9 months!) Knowing that I would lack the proper documents to purchase a vehicle in Germany, this meant that if I wanted a bike in Berlin I would have to find one in Spain, in less than 2 weeks.
The holy-grail-bike would be • cheap • small enough for Christina to ride when necessary • easy to work on • able to tackle a little dirt-biking, and • ideally, familiar to me. I feel like I hit the jackpot when I found this little 1987 Honda XL200R...

It is all of the above, plus cute. I've owned 5 bikes from the Honda XL family (this is number 6), so when it comes to working on it there is no problem. I subsequently learned that this bike is a bit of a rarity - having been built in Italy, it is one of the few models Honda built outside of Japan. I'm using it to get around Berlin more than I thought I would.

In fact, the bike was responsible for giving me one of my first really memorable Berlin experiences...

Last Sunday I took the bike to the Straße des 17. Juni Trödelmarkt, which is situated alongside the aforementioned 17 June Street. This street leads straight to the Berlin Victory Column, which is something I'd wanted to get a closer look at. But as I was suiting up, I noticed LOTS of motorcycle cops. I didn't know what was going on (diplomatic motorcade? crime investigation?) but I was no longer sure that riding over to the column was such a good idea. Well, after about 30 motorcycle cops came....   a few thousand motorcyclists!

My first thought was.. "How am I going to avoid that?" But then quickly came the next thought... "Wait, I'm on a bike! I am going to get in on that!" So I quickly finished putting on my gear and joined in!

Of course nearly every bike around me was a Harley or Harley-clone and I was on a Honda 200, but whatever. We rode around the Victory column, through downtown, and straight to one of Berlin's most historically important and iconic monuments, the Brandenburger Tor... all with a police escort!

The funny part came when we arrived at the Pariser Platz, in front of Brandenburger Tor, and all the bikers suddenly stopped, killed their engines, and got off... and I realized I was completely parked in... with no way out!

I ended up being stuck there for about an hour, listening to speeches about biker rights in German (which I didn't understand), until a few strategically parked bikes finally left and I found a way out.
Not my average Sunday.


Any internet search about "livable cities" puts Berlin in the top 5. (To the best of my recollection, no American city other than Portland even cracks the top 30! But hey, Taos isn't a city.) The reasons for Berlin's high ranking are slowly becoming clear to us. Good public transportation, low rent, and lots of green space. I mean really.... LOTS of green space.

This park... which really feels more like a small forest... is only a short bicycle ride away from our house.

This photo is from Berlin Tempelhof Airport, a fascinating bit of history and an amazing outdoor space. For those who don't want to click the link, Tempelhof was one of Europe's first airports, built in the 1930's, expanded and improved by the Nazis, and closed in 2008. It sits just south of the city center, well within the city, and is now a huge public park. The Third-Reich-designed arrivals / departures hall is ironically now a refugee processing center. Bicycling the old runways, with all the kite-boarders and RC cars and joggers is quite an experience.

And this lake, our new favorite spot, is also right in the neighborhood. It's called Schlachtensee. There is a cafe / beer garden at one end, and if there's even a bit of sun people are sun-bathing, kayaking, and swimming in the lake. Having access to the Mediterranean was great... but this is also pretty amazing.

Now that Kodiak is in school we are having a bit of time to focus on the things that need focusing on, and at the top of the list is finding a workshop. So far we have not had much luck in this, but we are just starting. We saw one space yesterday, and although it was 1000% better than anything we ever saw in Barcelona, it wasn't right. Berlin, in contrast to Barcelona, actually has websites which list available workshops. We will find one. We are both itching to work.

Future topics for this blog include:
In Berlin, history is everywhere
The Fernsehturm
Art in Berlin

I'll leave you with this...
A map, showing the relative size of Berlin (black outline), compared to Los Angeles (background) and Manhattan (red outline). Fiddling with things like this in Photoshop is, I suppose, another way that I try to understand the place that I'm in. (Below the "o" in Santa Monica is a tiny red dot. That's our house, relative of course to the black outline of Berlin.)

Hasta la vista

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Yes, it's been a long time. 

There is actually a specific reason why this post has been so long in coming, but...
I can't share that reason yet. Don't worry, it will come. 

A lot has happened, as you might guess. After all, this is the longest gap of no blogging that I have endured since moving to Europe almost a year ago.

In July, a month in which I did not blog at all, we did quite a lot. 
Well, quite a lot of going to the beach, anyway! 

On our last beach day of the summer we found the best one, a nude beach called Waikiki...

In addition to trying to stay constantly one step ahead of a sunburn, we did actually also visit the French city of Nantes on the occasion of their Maker Faire, which is hosted at Les Machines de L'ile. For those that don't know, Les Machines is a really incredible organization of artists and technicians (and business-people and web-designers and, and, and) who build very large hydraulically actuated puppets which they use in street performance. 

The puppets themselves are obviously mind-blowing, but in some way I have just as much fondness for the maquettes which are on display in their workshop. Maybe it's that they are more approachable, or that it's easier to grasp the idea of the piece on this scale, or easier to photograph them, or...? I think you'll agree they are amazing.

Strangely enough, Nantes is home to not just one, but two organizations built around street theater featuring enormous puppets. The other one, which one can unfortunately not drop in and visit, is called Royale de Luxe. While Les Machines seems slightly more focused on animal forms, Royale de Luxe appears to specialize in human puppets. 

These photos are from a book we picked up inNantes.

Not surprisingly, there is a bit of juicy history between the two groups, with certain key people moving from one to the other, and some good ego-fueled disagreements about theatrical approach and values. All that is beyond the scope of this blog, but you can find some of it online if you poke around. 

Not long after our trip to Nantes, I visited Berlin for a few days to try to evaluate whether this hare-brained idea of ours, this kooky concept of actually moving to Berlin, might actually make sense. Christina had already found a good candidate for a school for Kodiak, and my job on this trip was to check out a specific flat she had found online, in a neighborhood close to the school. Renting an apartment in Germany is no easy task; certain documents are required which prove one's financial soundness and general good-standing in German society, all of which makes moving to Germany as a foreigner a bit of an ordeal. There's not really any way to get these documents unless you live there for a while. Well, the realtor of the apartment Christina found was somehow willing to overlook all of this, which made it a real contender for us. I arrived in Berlin, took the train into town, met the realtor, saw the flat, liked it, and signed the lease. 

And two weeks later, we moved to Berlin. 

As I write this, we are enjoying a sunny day in Zehlendorf. From what everyone tells us, we should soak up the sun while it lasts. They say that winter is brutal. I'm not too worried, but I'll check in again in February and let you know how it's going. Kodiak's school starts in a week.

We've been here almost 10 days now, and to be honest I can't quite tell yet how I feel about it. We moved from a dense and lively city center, which faithful readers of this blog will know was an environment in which I found myself surprisingly happy but Christina did not care for too much, to a quiet and leafy suburb, an environment in which Christina feels much calmer but in which I might just feel a bit too calm. Berlin is about 10 times larger than Barcelona, and all indications are that the German capital offers art and culture on a much deeper, broader, and richer scale than the jewel of Cataluña. But it's all 30-40 minutes away from us, rather than right outside the door. I feel slightly under-stimulated, but time will tell. It might just be the perfect arrangement. Once school starts we will have time to go "into town" and do some grownup things, to see what the place has to offer. It's definitely different from Barcelona, but I'm optimistic. 

I've been thinking off-handedly about some things I will miss about Barcelona, and some things I won't miss. 

Things I will miss:
• The density of the city, and the sense of history in the architecture, especially in the old town.

• The intensity and occasional insanity of bicycling there. It was really a wonderful place to bike; everything close enough, good bike lanes, and enough hills to keep you sweating.
• The beach, the Costa Brava, the access to the Mediterranean.

• All the amazing sculpture.

• My sculpture class. This is probably what I will miss the most. Jorge, your class was a real treat for me. I loved every minute. Thank you so much for the opportunity.
• Cabrales cheese.
• The friendly and approachable cops. 

I haven't had occasion to interact with German police yet, and hope I never do. Knock on wood.
• Our building. The fact that it was rough around the edges was its charm. You felt like you were on a movie set every time you walked in. This is the last picture I took in Barcelona, of the street-level entry hall.

• All the beautiful women, everywhere, all the time. The women in Germany all look like Angela Merkel.
• The access to stuff. USB drives, fresh peaches, spray-paint, and everything in between was always less than 2 minutes from our front door, and cheap. Stuff is harder to find in Germany, and definitely not as cheap.
• The great people we met there. Hopefully we will see you all again, really soon.

Things I won't miss:
• Spanish. Even though I speak it pretty well, a year in Spain taught me I don't have a real fondness for the language. In contrast, I love everything about German, and can't wait to enroll in a language course.
• The Raval location of Carrefour. Jesus, that place was a nightmare.
• The heat. Especially the humid heat.

Midnight in the Raval and it's too hot to wear a shirt.

• The food (Cabrales cheese excepted). Everyone talks about how great the tapas are, but at the end of the day it's mostly olives, deep-fried cheese, and pickled cuttlefish, or variations thereof. I ended up not liking jamon at all, the chewy stringy pride of Cataluña. When we arrived in Barcelona we were really excited about the proliferation of restaurants in our neighborhood, and 6 weeks later there wasn't a single one we were excited about re-visiting. On the other hand, I cannot get enough schnitzel, sausage, smoked fish, and spätzle. My heritage is something like 60% German, with another 20% shared between Scandinavia and Poland; maybe that's why this food feels like home. (Let's see how I feel about it all in a few months!)

Oh, and the beer. Kostritzer Schwarzbier is my current favorite, but it's hard to get a bad beer here.

More blogging to come. Thanks for your patience. Bis bald.