~first we take manhattan, then we take berlin~

July 7th, 2009

I’m guided by a signal in the heavens/I’m guided by those birthmarks on my skin/
I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons/First we take Manhattan then we take Berlin.

~ Leonard Cohen

cafe honoring Austrian playwright Joseph Roth, who lived next door. (click to expand)

Its utterly sock-knocking to be back in a proper international landscape after so long. The best part is midnight bicycle riding. And spicy Asian food. And buying books in English. And people. Weird-looking people, loud people, fanciful people, and indeed! even people we know.

We are not county, but city mice (if economy forces a choice) and the city has greeted us with open arms and tremendous summer storms. We set up camp in Schöneberg, the gay hub of Berlin, in the palatial flat of our friend Fred, until we get our bearings and find a (palatial) place of our own.


Bülowstrasse U-Bahn station (1902) was designed by Bruno Möhring, heavily damaged by air raids and rebuilt after World War II, closed in 1972 due to the construction of The Wall. This is the land of Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau), and much of it remains. Most of The Wall (below) does not.


Visits with friends have commenced: backyard bbqs and beer gardens, Bratwurst and Blaufränkisch. Out of town guests (so many!) have begun flooding from the states and beyond. Those from New York remind how much it is missed, but for now, Berlin is home.



Who says there is no German kitchen? My favorite so far is a thin-crusted pizza-ish dish called Flammkuchen with wild Pfifferling mushrooms. Alfonso is glad to have Königsberger Klopse (meatballs), as his mom once made. And who doesn’t love Schnitzel and Spätzle?! Somehow I only have brown bread pictures. Almdudler, a classic Austrian ginger-aleish herbal drink, is delish.

Of blackcurrents you can find both handmade Crème de cassis and Hefeklosse (yeast dumplings), depending on your mood. No, we never ate the frozen blobs, I’m just saying: you could.

We live in the West, which is quiet and bougie and not especially hip these days. Our ever widening circle of exploration has its apex here. We’ve been digging our own keitz (immediate neighborhood), often on wheels, in the dark. Alfonso has shown me Bowie and Iggy’s old flat, and his own very first apartment, both quite near to where we live now. Isherwood’s keitz was Schöneberg as well.

The flats are tremendous, many of them (especially as you head into Charlottenburg) adorned with pensive Nouveau ladies and crawling vines. The streets are lined with ancient oaks and shadowy, skittering bunnies. Bunnies! On the streets! Berlin is the greenest city I’ve ever lived in.


Berlin is famous for its bear (above in Nazi stained glass and the t-shirt version with slight addition), and it’s “naked snails” (below in foreground with our friend Ernst).


U-bahn and S-bahn travel happens rarely, we like to bike. I’ve remembered how to stay upright on one, and am learning to navigate the traffic of cars, pedestrians, and kamakazi cyclists. We are the only people in the entire city who wear helmets. Sometimes just our arrival on a city block in matching Bell old-school skull caps causes a stir. After Suisse, it’s pretty hard to ruffle my feathers with a euro-stare. Anyway, what you looking at with your candy-colored hair? Oh wait, I got that too somehow. Hmmm. It’s an edict they hand down round here, a grave sign of my temporary loss of sanity that my New York hair-fairy has promised to fix when we roll into town in October.


Berlin is full of historic, still-functioning water (hand) pumps that once addressed the lack of universal plumbing. Plus shops that conveniently offer horseshoeing and auto repair.


For now we are trying Berlin on for size, some days wild with enthusiasm, some days reminded how much we miss the states (being back in an urban landscape does this, I spose). We are circling around gut-instinct, educated guess answer to the question that began this journey nearly two years ago. Given all we know and can never know, clear at least that with a choice comes the release of some other possibilities, both of us (we hope) at half life ponder for the days that remain:
what kind of life would we most like to have, and where would we like to have it?

cafe on Lietzensee Lake. (click to expand)

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