Friday, October 29, 2010

the turkish everything-you-don't-need-store

there's this store near my house.
it's one of those random metal/plastic item things that you think is the small mom-and-pop equivelent of a Target in 1/900th of the size that sells everything you need - until you go there, repeatedly, and find out it in fact stores entirely useless items, none of which are ever even remotely what you are looking for.
a short list of normal items that i have looked for in said store but they never have:
-a mixer, blender, or anything that might facilitate the making of soup or hummus (i live in a turkish/lebanese/algerian neighborhood where NO ONE can make hummmus. no, it's not just a clump of tahini and chick peas, people, you actually need lemon, salt, garlic, maybe olive oil? i know you guys have olive oil.)
-a strainer, like for spaghetti
-a toaster
-deck of cards (we were in the bar next door and really wanted to play a game of heartssss)
-a hair dryer
-an iron
-thing to heat up milk on the stove
-a non-plastic basket (i thought turks were into that stuff)
-champagne flutes (prosecco is mad cheap here)
-all purpose cleaner, like, for the bathroom
-a square cake pan, like for making banana bread or, the wurst-cake i plan on making next weekend for the cake and wurst party (thus: wurstcake.) 

and i go here, because, i haven't found anything that resembles a target or store that sells useful items, that is not ridiculously expensive or within biking distance. and because everything is closed at 7pm, and on sundays, your window for searching for said establishments is very limited. and because you presume, within all the crap that's in the windows and exploding onto the sidewalk there must be what you are looking for. it's not just me, my dad and mom both fell for the place too. we are suckers.

the store routine goes a little something like this:
i walk in, and the really old turkish lady with the head scarf behind the counter smiles, but other than that makes no facial reaction to what i am saying. she may be deaf. i wander the 2 aisles, and then the guy comes out, he's clearly the awkward 40 year old son who still lives with his mom.
he pushes mom over to help in my quest, and takes her place as master/cashier/translator.
i then explain in broken german, or more often hand motions and charades "this is me, with wet hair, i am cold and miserable! brrrr!"  that sort of thing.  
the guy then explains - nay, screams to his mom what i'm looking for. which i imagine is the turkish equivelent of (brooklyn accent) "Ma!! she wants a hair dry-ah!!" the old lady, then digs through the piles of stuff and pulls out the furthest thing from what you want.
that is a spatula. i wanted a strainer?
no, that is paint. i wanted cleaner? you see, this is me, cleaning, my apartment so dirty!
that is a scooby doo blanket. i asked for a cake pan? because i want to put wurst, mmm wurst, in a cake - oh, forget it.
she then shows me every single oven-friendly dish that you would never fathom cooking a cake in. are these for baklava?
or, i have no idea what that is, but i was looking for a deck of cards.

now, i do realize there are ample opportunities for miscommunication in this game of telephone, but they really just do not have anything i need.

so, in case you were wondering, things they do have:
-scooby doo blankets, and casper the ghost blankets, and strawberry shortcake blankets. if you are a turk in berlin, i imagine you are often cold.
-clothes drying racks. lots of them. these people they have very clean, wrinkled clothes (they do not have irons! only rolling pins).
-rolling luggage. this is the hotbeds of cheap chinese luggage. Ramsonite brand, just fell off the truck. not that you ever see anyone rolling through the streets with luggage or anything.
-thermal food bags. it is october, which means it will no longer get above freezing, no need to go to extra measures to keep my food cold thanks, i think my picnics will now be inside. probably until june.
-teapots! millions of teapots! metal, glass, porcelaine, teapots of every shape size, brand and color!

well, i already have a teapot. so i can only hope for the day when i actually find a use for something in your store. elveda, gule gule!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

japanese or bavarian. how about both?

in munich, i was with johannes who wanted asian food, martin who wanted bavarian, so we went to noyima. basically, a japanese yakitori grill with polka music and steins of local beer. i asked the punky asian waitress for an asahi

"munchner hell"

i said asahi

"munchner hell"

so i had a dunkel hefeweissen.

the owner was sitting outside, looking like he just walked off the set of sound of music, smoking a cigar with his leather austrian cap and paying the accordion players to serenade us.
i had a delicious octopus seaweed salad with tons of ginger, some perfect rolls, and grilled kangaroo, ostrich, butterfish (?) and plums wrapped in bacon.

is this really japanese? who cares. tasty.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

peter fox is moving out

a few weeks after i moved in i had a dinner party with some germans friends, and one of my guests see a neighbor outside putting his trash in the bin and screams out, "holy f-ing sheizer, that's peter fox!"
oh yeah, neighbor guy, is he famous or something?
this guy is indeed my neighbor.
i live in the same building as the german p.diddy
whenever i go to someone's house, i always hear his songs emanating from a laptop or stereo. i also realized this week that no one introduces me as their friend, or their colleague, or a nice person they just got to know, it's always, hey, this is aurelgrooves - she lives in the same building as peter fox. and then i'm instant center of attention "what's he like?" "does he has a girlfriend?"
yes, and a kid actually, and then all the girls pout. which is probably why he is moving out this weekend.  
as confirmed by the yentas at the spaetkauf, peter fox is indeed moving out.
so there it is, in one day, i'm back to just being your friend or colleague...
that day i was in the courtyard putting my garbage into its apprpriate trashcan when, hey, ho, what have we here? inside the plastics and recyclable packaging yellow dumpster are 2, rather clean, seemingly barely used, not so bad smelling ikea Dilling under bed storage boxes. with their lids. i've so been looking for one of these!

peter fox's box
i'm well within view of every neighbor i have...but i did it. i held the lid of the dumpster open, pulled one out. inspected it, gave it a sniff. good to go.
i may be your friend, i may be your colleague, i may be a dumpster diver, but i have peter fox's Ikea Dilling under bed storage unit.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

little otik

Little Otik

(interview with little otik -they smile more in person).

so the great thing about hanging out with colleagues, is that unlike every other berliner i know, they actually have jobs, and so they don't mind dropping (gasp!) 30€ on a dinner once in a while.
so a colleague and i, we went to little otik. on a friday. tiny restaurant in a fashionable part of east Kreuzberg. no seats available at the 2 big picnic tables, 2 2/4 tops or the 2 top in the window. no parties of more than 6 people allowed. a big long beautiful recycled wooden bar that always seems to have room if you like sitting at a bar. i like sitting at a bar.
it's run by 2 american dudes from michigan and new york, who don't speak much german. they told me what little otik stands for, but i forgot. i think it's related to the creepy movie of the same title where they carve a piece of wood into a baby and pretend it's a baby or something. (will watch this asap).

yes, creepy
anyway, the cook guy used to work at Diner in Williamsburg. he came to visit his friend in berlin and they started a supper club. and then they, like anyone else who realizes how easy it is to open something in berlin were like duh, we should open a restaurant in berlin.
they found a portuguese cafe at a nice address that was closing down and haggled with the owner to rent it cheap (well, rent is already stupid cheap in berlin) - cheap and with everything in it. most of the kitchen was already there. they sold all the chairs, tables, bar stuff and a collection of mini fridges, then gutted and painted the dining room to convert it to an extremely simple, kinda echoey space with not much on the walls besides a few mirrors. (a stark contrast to the baubble you might find adorning every vertical surface of a buca di beppo's).
they are closed sunday, monday, (ah, european style) and on tuesday they go to the farmer's market down the street and buy all the organic, local items from farmers. stuff like wild boar bacon and heirloom tomatoes, duck. then they plan the menu, and open wednesday-saturday. packed every night, call weeks ahead for a reservation. pretty cheap eats, a little pricey on the wines. we bought an entire bottle instead - now that's good economics!

but my friend told them you can't get away with charging minimum 6€ for a glass of wine, berliners usually don't go for that. but it looks like they can and berliners are going for it. jerks. they better not ruin the median 2.50 € huge wine glasses i'm getting used to...we recommended a wine shop they should talk to (the same one we had just previously turned into a bistro by chatting, tasting wine, and forgetting it's just a store, must pay and leave now).
so we had the last of heirloom tomatoes (a freeze this weekend), perfect, simple, coarse salt. ate the super delish no salt needed chicken n dumplings, and an amazing turnip soup with smoked wild boar bacon that was just awesome. fried zuccini blossoms or something like that. lemony. crunchy. they were very stingy on the bread (and yeah, we recommended a better bakery and they should probably switch from baguette to ciabatta or something. germans know their bread, you can serve stale baguette. or get a toaster!!).
they make coffee themselves on the bar in these plastic filter things from taiwan and a plug in water boiler, and cross their fingers in the hope that no one ever orders more than 4 at a time. (drank it without milk and i was up ALL night. good stuff, though i would recommend a french press. afterall, i am franzosich!).
all the plates, mugs are eitehr from ikea or the german target. cash only. 4 employees total (someone in the kitchen and a german girl for front of the house). every order written on notebook paper, no computers.
so that's pretty much your typical, ok let's open a restaurant and do this right and low key and not bother with liquor licenses kinda place.
though in the back of my mind i was thinking about wrestling the property away from the owners (perhaps a duel or betting it in poker, or sending in my own litte otik to scare them away?) and installing my brother as chef, but then, i think my brother can do even better...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

discovering berlin: potsdam

i had some friends in town for more than a week, and it was soon time to pull out all the stops - like visiting potsdam. i had never been, have only heard good things so, let's go to potsdam.
the 50 minute S-bahn ride was made more attractive by our bag full of sternburg export, the cheapest strongest beer from the spaetkauf and a bag full of gummies that were gifted directly from spaetkauf through my living room window at 4 am the previous night.
we took 2 bikes and a skateboard and landed at potsdam Hbf.
we didn't have a map, or any idea where to go, we figured we would just find it when we got there.

the tourist information people wanted 2 Euro for a map drawing i could have made without looking. . a nice guy from the bus tour company gave us one, which we soon found out was a bit useless as it had no constant scale, so was wickedly deceptive about distances.
nevertheless, we headed into the old potsdam, my friend being pulled on his axe by two lovely ladies on bikes. we came upon a neighborhood with these small brick buildings and cobbled stones, a perfect foreground to a wonderful fall day. even some disc golf holes in the center park.

looks like alexandria
we found no less than 4 different wurst stands at various markets and tasted each one, beginning our day of 1000 weiners.  

innovative transpo
i ended up having a flat tire, but found enough bike shops with free outside pumps to keep me inflated. go potsdam. we meandered around, nibbling at weiners and bag of gummies and came upon the famous parc sanssouci.
we got a lot of dirty looks from people towards the skateboard, but found someone kind enough to take our picture.

how do you get an outofofocus picture with a point and shoot?
we played frisbee in a field, drank a few sternburgs, and spent one of the nicest days left in 2010.
we later found out that the previous activities broke no less than 4 rules but those are just rules that are meant to be broken.
we were hungry for more weiners and came upon a nice little bavarian place near the charlottenburg hof train station. since big beers and sausage are what everyone outside germany thinks is germany, it was a must do. trains for east berlin only came ever 40 minutes to we waited in the biergarten with some liters of oktoberfest paulaner and delicious weisswurst and pretzels.
finally, we're in germany.
after drinking so much beer we logically had to visit the bathroom which is when we discovered the hidden gem in the back room - a bowling alley. 2 lanes of duckpin, and one full normal lane. totally empty.
the walls were a faded hue of retro yellowish green, the equipment strangely antique. our waiter came in and offered us a chance to play a game and fired up the machines. ok...we didn't have the right kind of shoes, so he pulled some out from under the bar, clearly from the lost and found or a second hand shop. i had some turquoise boat shoes, while my friends sported late 70s velcro gold sneakers.
we get a little introduction to the system, built in 1969. older than us. you can't rename the players (aw shucks, one of our favorite things about bowling!), so on the modern addition screen, you are destined to be boring speiler 1,2 oder 3. there are blinking lights and buttons like in a spaceship on the manifold, but do not touch them!! 

the jukebox in the corner has those small record EPs, and a wide coin slot for "DM." Deutschmarks? uhhhhh. the waiter opens the machine, pulls coins out of one slot and feeds us some credit. free tunes!
the artists, all handwritten include, and i'm not making this up - one column with D. Hasselhof (another jaded german stereotype turns out to be true?), beatles, abba, and the rest of the 1,000 or so songs are not related to the labels and are simply bavarian polka. 

have we entered a vortex to another decade?
we find ourselves incapable of hitting any pins, as every ball, no matter where you stand and where you throw it, end up in the left gutter. is it me or is this whole place just, perhaps, leaning? 
finally, sarah gets a strike and we order up a round of jaegermeister shots to celebrate.

it turns out, the pin apparatus is not at all like what we're used to - the pins are on strings and get lifted up like little marionnettes and dance, and then get put down, often at uneven distances from eachother.
the game gets weirder and weirder when one of the balls on its return journey doesn't make it up the little track and gets stuck halfway down the lane, and then the other ball hits it, and soon all our balls get stuck there, and so after every roll we have to walk down the lane to go pick them up.
the jukebox is playing david hasselhof's crazy for you, which is the music of YMCA, but the lyrics aof the chorus re changed to craaaazy for you, craaaazy for me.    
we find some techno and think this cannot get any stranger, and race to meet our train. 
we miss it, and then go back to the bar and the waiter seems less than thrilled to see us. at this point we've had way too many large beers so he urges us to order the small cuter ones. we are still way too loud and annoying for the 2 other passed out drunks next to us.
finally, it's train time again and the waiter, despite his air of indifference sends us off with 3 tiny bottles of what are like jaegermeister but it must be the vegetarian version- lots o spice. i think they are the german hangover cure things...
we take the regional train home and eat more gummies, the ones that are fake teeth and cannot believe how incredibly cool potsdam is. and because my friend left my spare keys on the bar, we actually have to go back.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

german ultimate frisbee - so fun, so weird

through a connection from DC and the magic of email, i am on a traveling frisbee team composed of english speaker expats living all over germany, and anyone else who might want to play with us, we're not fussy.
our team entered a tournament south of frankfurt. i was going to take the train, but the captain sent me a phone number of some other people coming from berlin if i wanted a ride. i called ben, who rented a minivan and said i was welcome to join as long as i have a driver's license. i love driving in germany, hell yes!
so i meet ben in front of a budget polish car rental place and slowly more and more people show up...all i could think was, wow, these guys are exceptionally tall. so i ask, what team are you on?
"vat do you think?" one answers in a low grumbling voice
i dunno, The Giants?
"you are correct."
we pile into our tiny kia van and they all fight over who doesn't sit in the middle. i don't even get a choice, i'm in the way back back with the luggage while the first guy drives.
i got to drive for a bit but the guy who traded seats with me wasn't happy. we get to the tourney site and people just stare as i let 6 giants out of this clown car. we have a couple of beers and set up our tents.
i meet some friendly people from my team, and we see on the schedule that our first opponents are PUF, from holland. hehe buncha stoners, we all laugh.
um, but they were anything but. they were the rare non-smoking dutch people who ran laps around us the next morning, and i kept on having to guard some guy with smelly dreadlocks and the whole game was a catastrophy. more and more games followed in the same manner, miserable loss after miserable loss. it wasn't just bad, it was blooper reel awful.
my team was composed of mostly over 40 english and american expats, who as it turns out couldn't run much, so there weren't many people available to score. there was barnie, the 50 year old who looked and sounded exactly like the "inconceivable!" guy from the princess bride. before our third game barnie lit up a big joint and as he blew smoke into my face said "you can take the guy outta california..."
the next game, barnie was the first, and only person to score.
we then had a big pause and i was invited to play with another team that needed girls. this team had all the the hot guys from luxembourg and even though i was tired, and on my third beer, and a stomach full of bean chili there was no way i was saying no to the hot luxembourgers.
and maybe because they were hot and i was trying to impress them but i think i played the best frisbee of my life - diving for stuff, not throwing the disc into the ground, it was amazing. they also lent me one of their amazing silky red shirts. so silky.
barnie was cheering me on, "go hot luxembourgers! and aurelgrooves" for the rest of the weekend, i never said no to the luxembourgers and that is how i came to play 13 frisbee games in one weekend and lost all feeling in my legs and feet for 2 days.
The Giants were doing really well, and during their breaks they would sometimes mill around me and say hi. for whatever reason they became known as "my" giants. hey aurelgrooves, your giants scored another point! i loved my giants. we were watching them play a point when barnie said "you know, when they're not standing anywhere near normal sized humans, they don't actually look that freakish."
after our games i had to ask one of the giants if i could take the car to drive my team to a mexican restaurant and ben pointed his finger to me said "no drinking and driving, only driving while drinking" and then dangled the keys above my head while i tried to jump for them. i finally caught them and said "thanks DAD", and one of the eavesdropping guys from the under 21 team asked puzzled "wow, really that's your dad?" barnie blew smoke into my face and hugged me and said "no, she's the daughter i never had." under 21 one kid walked away perplexed, with his juicebox. "you people are strange."
at the saturday night party i was surrounded by giants, like my own team of bodyguards. as soon as they left to sleep (i think giants need a lot of rest to power those gargantuan bodies) i was left to my own defenses. my irresistable charm attracted a series of weirdos, and all i could do was call "foul!" whenever they got too close, just like in a game.
these guys were all the leftovers, because the girl with the wolflike dog came and had sucked all the hot luxembourgers off the dance floor. they were all around her, petting her wolfdog. that's when barnie agreed "yeah, you need a wolfdog." we then made a bunch of jokes about the twighlight series, and moonlit yoga circles, which wolfgirl is probably into. stupid luxembourgers.
i then went to the bar and decided to play my luck at the frisbee wheel.
spin the wheel of misfortune
the frisbee was divided into 6 sections - 2 areas for a free beer, 3 spots for 1x the price, and one area for 2x the price. spin and play and pay (or not).i figured those were damn good odds and somehow managed to hit the one 2x and had to bum the extra coins off of barnie.
"thanks sugar daddy" and high five barnie when the matronly woman behind the bar asks "vat eez a sugar daddy?" and so i explain it's when a young woman gets an older guy to pay for stuff and barnie adds "yeah, well where i come from the older guy gets a in return" and i'm laughing and spitting beer out my nose and the woman asks "vat eez a ?" and the captain of the team, a respectable english bloke catches a whiff of the conversation and is agast "what are earth are you fools talking about?"
on the way back to the campsite we find that someone tried to get their bike through one of those metal revolving door fence things, like the ones at entrances of stadiums and metro stations. the person had just abandoned it there, giving up. it was a really nice bike. but it wasn't budging an inch. but it meant we had to climb a giant slippery metal fence to get back to our tents. not fun.
anyway, our team continued to lose on day 2, but managed to squeak into next to last place in a one point sudden death against some high schoolers who had never played frisbee before. whew!
so, the absolute weirdest thing about the whole german frisbee is the co-ed shower at the end. i managed to bathe the first day in the handicapped stall in total privacy, but after the tournament was over, barnie told me the luxembourgers would be there in the shower too so i joined the team in the locker room. it was all a ruse though, it was just our team and some of the less hot dutch guys, but we all drank a beer and i put all my concentration into "look at them in the eyes when they speak to you" that i washed my hair with shower body gel.
we bid our adieus, sadly no luxembourger phone numbers (what is their country code?) and i drove most of the way home. sitting in shotgun was the singing giant. he put in his mix cd and we got to sing the meatloaf paradise by the dashboard light duets and guns n roses harmonies.
we stopped at a restaurant with a plaque saying that it won the prize for best rest stop in Germany, ever. i totally agree. the bathroom stalls were all themed. i peed in an honourable shrine to einstein.
as we got to berlin i got tired and didn't want to have an accident so i switched with the other guy, who managed to hit a phone pole and destroy the front bumper right within minutes of taking over the wheel. ...whoopsie. i said goodbye to the giants, and the endearing end to the weekend was when one of them hugged me and said if they form a "Giants and Dwarf" team next year that i could maybe join. maybe!

Monday, October 4, 2010

an angel!

after a horrid trans-atlantic charter flight, i passed out in a very uncomfortable chair in the duesseldorf airport, hips awkwardly and painfully jammed under an armrest, only to awake minutes later with a shiver. and as i reached for my brand new warm black cashmere cardigan that i had placed just besides me --it was gone. son of a $%&$#!!!!
some little piece of garbage not only stole from me, while only a mere cm from my arm, but made me live with this punishment for the remainder of my freezing cold flight, and landing in freezy rainy berlin with nothing but a t-shirt. i cursed so much that day.
and here, only a few days later, a package was waiting me for on my doorstep. an exact perfect new replacement! i slept in it last night. thank you, angel!