Anyone who's read half a history book knows there are plenty of ghosts in Berlin. We've played the game a lot: examining bullet holes here, imagining long-disappeared buildings there, wondering what the nights and days were like on the street we now call our own. And while I've always been more aghast at the stature and cheek of most Soviet-era memorials, I was certainly chilled when we rode up through the gates of the Soviet WWII memorial in Pankow. There are plenty of ghosts here.

The grounds of the Ehrenmal Schönholzer Heide were, during the second World War, used for a forced labor camp; it was after the war when the Soviets buried some 13,000 Red Army soldiers en masse here. At the time, they could only identify a fifth of the bodies (the names of whom appear on bronze plaques surrounding the memorial.) Stalin has his say at the gates: "They gave their lives for your happiness."

Not that one really wants to argue geo-political rights and wrongs when wandering over the graves of thousands. The space is decaying,
slowly; bronze torches have lost their symbolic glass flames, weeds clog most of the flowerbeds, the officers' memorial under a hulking obelisk claims a few rotten tulips. The whole place feels angry, exhausted and completely forgotten.


local parades

So we were sitting at a cafe just across the S-Bahn tracks (We call it the "pedestrian bridge" cafe; before that it was the "cafe with the scaffolding near the pedestrian bridge." Beats me what its real name is.) when suddenly our sluggish, morning-ish, pre-coffee thoughts were drowned out by the squeals of small children. A gaggle of well-behaved tots, to be precise. (A group of small American children would be a "murder," I'm sure.) They wandered north, single file, behind a teacher-type who, of course, didn't have to raise her voice once. Five minutes later another gaggle wandered up and away, across the pedestrian bridge. A few moments after that we spyed a small Kinderwagon stuffed with a half-dozen smaller people pushed down Kopenhagener Strasse.

This is Prenzlauer Berg, after all, the capital of European fertility, where one in every three people is under two years old. I made that statistic up, but park yourself at Arnimplatz around 3 p.m. any day during the week and you'll find the ratio holds. We're simply crawling with Kinder up here.

But then in the wake of tiny giggles over the pedestrian bridge came another parade, a group of senior types, armed with walkers and pushed in wheelchairs. They looked just as discombobulated, but not, obviously, as energetic, as the Kinderparades we just witnessed. And off they went, looking twice before crossing the empty street, for their walk in the park, possibly under the same trees that they too wandered under as children.


building democracy, brick by brick

Good fences make good neighbors, or so goes Frost's oft-quoted line. I read this morning in the NYT that the latest strategic move to keep Sunnis and Shiites from blowing each other up in Baghdad is to build a wall separating the ethnic neighborhoods. Because such a strategy has worked so well in Israel. And gee, I'm sure east Berliners could offer a couple talking points on this one, too.

A quote from the article:
The American military said in a written statement that “the wall is one of the centerpieces of a new strategy by coalition and Iraqi forces to break the cycle of sectarian violence.”
To say that the current administration and the poor soldiers it claims to "command" is clueless would be offering a compliment to a group of historically blind, incompetent criminals who should be tried by the Hague without further delay. The "centerpiece" of a black hole is vast, empty space. I suggest building a wall around Washington, D.C. See if that contains 'em.

Update: It seems that cooler heads may have prevailed.


pickled herring and pop

My good friend and queen of alternate realities just reminded me that less than a month remains before the second coming of Lordi. Peoples, don't pretend this doesn't make you giddy too.

Eurovision 2007 will be swimming in salted fish and sappy Balkan techno-pop on May 12, but not before the Finnish hosts make sure to infuse the continent with "Finland and Finnishness, the contrasts of nature, culture, humans etc." It's the "etc." that gets me. Lordi's already cornered the market on heavy-metal platform boots and inspired lyrics such as "The devil is a loser and he's my bitch" -- be still my quaking spandex sequined mini, what ever could be next?

I'm getting ready, stocking up on the one-liter jugs of wine that made last year's fete so, well, watchable. Now that we actually have a television (I hope GEZ isn't reading this) perhaps we can make an event of it. And more! You can even download a pre-made "house party" invite courtesy of eurovision.tv, complete with extremely endearing yet awkward English. "Hearby I would like to invite you to my personal Eurovision Song Contest house party. I'm looking forward to see you!"




It made complete sense at the time: we went to Vienna and came back with a tajine. We also came back with a very violent desire not to see another bread dumpling ever, ever again -- which explains the inspired Moroccan purchase (as does a lot of wine, but then, when doesn't it.)

My birthday dinner at a wonderfully dark and greasy Gaststube was gulash, Austrian-style: hunks of sauced meat with a knodel the size of a large child's head, two hot dogs sliced to resemble squiggly squid legs, a leathery fried egg AND a pickle, sliced to resemble the hot dogs. It was glorious. Next day: Schnitzel, Wiener Art. Duh. And on the third day, us kids tested our blood pressures and gasped, and thus ran scrambling for the nearest non-central European eatery we could find.

Which turned out to be Moh's. Like a divining rod, John has a nose for lamb. (I, admittedly, may have a nose for knodel. But even I get over-doughed.) Collectively we have a soft-spot for seemingly ignored eateries with old dudes out front clicking worry beads and sipping tea. It's usually a good sign of a family joint that the real ethnic locals (of which there are five) like; or, it's a front for something unsavory, which makes it even cooler. (Which, we later learn as we lugged our large clay cooker home, Moh's is a very tasty front for tajines.)

There was instant bonding, as we shared similar credentials. We haltingly explained the 'wandering Americans-living in Berlin-speaking shite German and French' side, while he traced his path as a wandering Moroccan living in Vienna, by way of Munich and a handful of other European capitals. We drank more wine, Moroccan wine, styled like a southern Rhone (one of the few benefits of French colonialism, I suppose.) Somehow I ended up with the bottle. Our dish of lamb tajine was spicy, as soft as butter and gone in a half-second. I might have licked the clay dish; there was a small fork-fight over the last dried plum. And then we rested, and that's when Moh brought out the goods.

A savvy businessman knows his timing. And there is no better bait than a postprandial, drunken bear (or tourist, or Berlin resident who is simply out of ideas for those damn ancient, crusty chickens from Extra.) We couldn't even haggle, if that was something we could have even managed with our limited German (we are useless at the Mauer Flohmarkt.) It was a done deal.

So a week later the tajine has been put to good use. Chicken wings with dried apricots and cinnamon. A lamb roast with an illegal amount of garlic. And this morning, chewy Ciabatta-styled bread. Now, if we could just turn up the thermostat and get out the dancing girls, we'd have ourselves a real medina.