Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin

The sun rises earlier in Berlin than in Frankfurt. I was there yesterday to give back the keys to our old apartment, and stayed the night with friends. Early this morning I caught the bus M85 towards the train station. It was a double-decker, and I snagged the front seat on the top. The sun was just rising as the bus wound its way through the haphazard capital streets.

"Nächste Halt: Bülowstrasse." announced the recorded voice. I tried to remember, how do I know Bülowstrasse? As we passed it I saw, of course, the train bridge held up by stony maidens, leading right past my old church. How could I forget so soon the train station we used to take every Sunday to the American Church of Berlin? I saw in the early light the missing turret and the stones black from bomb damage. The Pastor always assured us of its "solid foundations."

We drove on, and on the left passed what looked like a palace flanked by armies of columns. I had never seen it before. That's how Berlin is, I suppose. I heard a story about the last Czar of Russia. After his family was arrested he told his wife and daughters to sew jewels and money into their corsets and undergarments, and then to dress like paupers. I don't know if that's true, but its always reminded me of Berlin.

The sun next reached the fan-like roof of the Sony Center, which reflected its rays over Potsdamer Platz. I thought about the Platz's old glory, the years of destruction and division by the wall, and finally of its rebuilding. It seemed to symbolize resurrection better than the church.

The bus lurched and occasionally tree branches smacked the upper deck. I felt a bit like a Maharajah astride an elephant, surveying my former kingdom. Ahead I saw the Reichstag's cupola and four flags rising out of the trees. To the right was the Brandenburger Tor, with the goddess of Victory charging towards the rising sun. We turned and passed the Kanzleramt, and I told Angie I would see her on TV.

We made a final turn east, and before me was the whole skyline, the Reichstag and Fernsehturm gray against the brilliant sun. At last the bus stopped before the Hauptbahnhof and I left Berlin.

"Sehnsucht" means longing or craving, but to me it always takes another meaning from its sound; sounding like the words "sehen" and "suchen" which mean to see and to search. Its like searching after something you can only see in your mind. Marlene Dietrich sings about her Sehnsucht for Berlin, and I couldn't agree more.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bad Hair Day

Yesterday I rounded the corner to visit my favorite stylist, Elmaar, and I saw something no woman should ever have to see. The shop was dark and a letter posted on the door said that Elmaar is officially retired. I stood slack-jawed for a few minutes. A teacher from my school rounded the corner and called "Hallo!" to me. He asked me what was wrong, and I showed him the note. He read it and said "Yeah, looks like he's gone." I started to reply that it wasn't fair, and that Elmaar hadn't even told me he was leaving. He said, "Yeah, but he must've been pretty old, right? The note says he was a hair stylist for 30 years."

I was stunned. I needed time to grieve, but I also really needed a haircut. I poked in a few places that had no appointments available until next week. Just when I had resigned myself to letting it go longer, I saw a friendly looking man sweeping up hair. I paused in front of the glass store front and he waved me in. I told him want I wanted and he took me over to wash my hair-- giving a nice head massage as he did so. We were chatting and he asked me where I was from. I told him the States and he switched to English-- he had family in Boston. I was thinking "this guy seems alright." Then he took the scissors diagonally from the arch of my right eyebrow to my left cheekbone. I was stunned. This was not what I asked for! I started to say something but then he piped up "Who is cutting your hair? Its so uneven!"

He asked me how old I was. I feel that I'm getting to the age when people should stop asking me this. I told him 24. He laughed, and I said, "what you don't believe me?" Normally people tell me I look younger. I was once even carded while buying wine here, and the legal age for beer and wine is 16. He said "Yeah. I think you're probably 30, you know, just from your face." WTF?

Now I am trapped as this maniac slices at my hair. Here's a sentence you never want to hear about 3/4 of the way through a haircut: "Yeah, I don't really like Americans." Lots of people have told me they don't like Bush, or they don't like American tourists, but I've never had someone flat out tell me they don't like every single person from my country.

He finished off my hair and handed me the dryer. (Normally in Germany people blow dry their own hair or pay a bit extra for the stylist to do it) I looked at my bangs. Not only were they diagonal, they were uneven, some long pieces down to my eyebrows and some itty bitty short pieces. I asked him to blow dry my hair, so if the bangs still looked bad after a style he'd do something to fix them. He was trying to give me what looked like a Farrah Fawcett style, and then he said "Yeah, I make you pretty for your husband and when he see you he say 'let's make a baby.'" I stared at him speechlessly. "I make joke. Joke is my friend!" He finished the styling in silence, and then I pointed out the unevenness in my bangs. He cut more, and then more. They were finally evened out, but the bangs on the right start at about 1" now. He smiled as I paid him and he said "Y'all come back now!"

Oh Elmaar, how could you leave me like this?

Friday, September 11, 2009

No Babies! / I Just Want a Normal Doctor.

I think my doctor may be a quack. I picked her, as I pick all my doctors, by going to the local Doctor's Association web page and seeing which doctor's office is closest to my apartment. Its always worked in the past.

But last month I got a UTI. I had never had one before, but I figured out very quickly what it was, and even checked Web MD. So I went to see this doctor near my apartment. She is about 100 years old as far as I can tell, and last time had two black eyes and a wrist cast. (I guess she had a fall?) She wears two hearing aids, and only talked to me for about 30 seconds before telling me there was nothing she could do, I'd have to see a specialist. I told her I was pretty sure it was a UTI, couldn't she just give me antibiotics? No. So I spent 2 hours waiting at a Urologist's, so he could tell me I had a UTI and give me antibiotics.

I was less than pleased, but decided to give her another chance. It doesn't hurt that the way the German health care system works is that you pay €10 to see a doctor once a quarter. In that quarter you can see the same doctor again or be referred to a specialist and not have to pay anymore. So, since I'm running low on birth control, I could've paid €10 to go to another doctor, but I'm cheap, so I went back to this old crazy lady.

Thankfully, her mysterious injuries seem to have healed. She welcomed me into her office and I began talking until I noticed her taking her two hearing aids out of a desk drawer and slowly installing them. After she was hooked up she asked, "what can I do for you?" I explained that I needed more birth control ("Verhütungsmittel")

She looked at me for a moment and said (this is all in German of course) "You have back pain?"
"No, I need Verhütungsmittel." blank stare. "VERhütungsmittel. VerHÜTungsmittel." Could she not hear me? Could she not understand my pronunciation? We looked at each other for a long moment.
She gave me the look of an impatient teacher. "Last time you were here with a bladder infection. What is hurting you now?" She raised her tone as if I were the deaf one.
"No, I don't have a pain. I just need Verhütungsmittel." Nothing. Then I became embarrassed. Previous doctors understood me when I asked, but maybe this was the wrong word? Had I been just ranting Verhütungsmittel like a crazy person? So I tried "die Pille" (the pill) and "contraception." I might as well have been speaking Latin. So I said "Its a medicine to not make babies! No babies!" I drew a pregnant stomach with my hands and then gestured an X.

After a silence she finally said "Oh, you want the pill."
"You have to go to the Frauenarzt." (OB-GYN, or as Ryan likes to translate "lady doctor")
"I was at the Frauentarzt in March. She gave me my last prescription. I just need a refill."
"No, you should go back to your Frauenarzt."
"I can't, that was in Berlin."
"Great, then you can meet a new one."

We argued for a few more minutes then I finally realized I wasn't going to win. She printed me off a referral and then smiled and told me to come back and tell her how it was. Right. As I walked home and I wondered why she'd never diagnose or prescribe to me. I decided probably she is not a real doctor, just one of those with a fake diploma whose references never got checked. But probably not, it just seems that most German doctors are a bit weird. For example prescribing magic infrared lamps or this obsession with the Frauenarzt. Well, next quarter we'll try again.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Eternal Job Hunt

I've signed on for another month of German class. I wasn't sure I would at first, although its very fun and I have a lot to learn, because I want to get a job. Odd as it may sound, I miss the feeling of needing to be someplace. I don't like to have so much free time on my hands. Having a job makes one feel very useful. Up until this year I've always had a job-- ever since I was 16 years old. So its very strange to be a full-time Hausfrau now. I've become a cleaning maniac. Yesterday I even dusted the baseboards!

Today I met with my friend, Marisa, for our "elite networking association" aka eating ice cream and comparing notes on job-hunting and living abroad. She is here with her husband who is teaching at an international school. Its very reassuring to talk to someone who's going through the same things. She's very easy-going and we get on like a house on fire. We complained about having to get photos taken for our resumes, although maybe being cute will help us get an interview?

I still get emails from the nanny agency I used to work for, and I know that's an option. I had decided that I wouldn't go out for nanny jobs anymore, because when its a good fit its a great job, but when its a bad fit its the worst job ever. Some parents stick to the agreed hours and let you do your job, others try to walk all over you and undermine you at every turn. Plus all the jobs in Frankfurt seem to be insane hours-- well over 40 a week. But if I don't get an interview for something soon, I might have to apply. I really want a job!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I've never really considered myself a patriotic person. In the US there are plenty of cable news types who proclaim that America is the BEST country in the whole world and whoever disagrees should be strung up. But I've always felt like saying "America is the greatest country on Earth" is like saying "My mom is the the best mom in the whole world!" We all feel that way about our moms because we love her and she takes care of us, but its not something I would ever argue with someone about, "No, seriously, my mom is the best. Way better than your mom." But people do argue about American superiority and some people even think that the Bible is not really about Israel, but America, which is quite a reach!

Sometimes my non-American friends will slag off on the US. Mostly it was over Bush, but there are other issues in our past as well. And normally I'm fine with that. Pretty much every country has both wonderful and atrocious things in their history.

But this week, I'm not hearing it. I started off the week with a post-church baseball game, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy about America and our unique culture. Then Monday my German teacher (who is actually Polish) was talking about how she didn't like the USA or Russia (believe me our resident Belorussian, Natasha, was not having that!), and I could understand some of her reasons, but it made me feel really sad that she didn't want to see that America has many good things to offer. Europeans are very good at separating citizens from the government (i.e. "I hate George Bush, but I have nothing against Americans") but sometimes I don't want to be separated. Some national and cultural things are just a part of you, and it gets too personal to hear them attacked.

This afternoon I was walking to the library, when I saw some sandwich boards, "Obama: worse than Bush?" at which I rolled my eyes. A young man stopped me
"What do you think of my signs?" he gave me a sleazy smile.
"I disagree. I am American, and I'm proud of Obama."
"Why do you disagree? Don't you know what he's doing about health care in your country?"
"Yes, and I know there are lots of lies being spread about it as well."
"How do you know there are lies?"
"Because I watch American news, I have lived in America and I know how the current system works. The system here isn't perfect, but it covers everybody at a lower cost that what people in the US pay."

We had a long discussion about health care and I won't bore you with all the details. He made one good point about raising taxes during a recession (Obama has NOT said he's going to do that, but I think its unrealistic in the long term), but other than that I was pretty much winning the argument because I know a lot more about the issue than this guy. So he tried to level the score.
"But Obama, he is a FASCIST." This took me completely by surprise. We had veered off the road of normal discussion into crazy land.
"What?" I exclaimed, "but he was democratically elected." Which I shouldn't have said because I opened the door to the outer reaches of argument ludicrousness.
"So was HITLER. Obama, he is like Hitler." And this I really couldn't believe. While Americans bandy that name around like nothing, I have never heard a German person use it flippantly. I was about to lose my cool and I think that's what he wanted, so I told him that if he wanted to discuss the issues, I would do that, but I wasn't going to listen to this nonsense.

He parted with "But what if its true?"
So I replied "And what if the moon is made of cheese? I haven't got time or interest to argue about crazy things. I just wanted to tell you that I think your sign is stupid. Goodbye."

It is both flattering and irritating that many non-Americans know so much about our country. I am impressed because when I first moved abroad I couldn't tell you the difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, or who the Prime Minister of Italy was. But its irritating when others think they know your country better than you. So here is a warning for people who want to tell me about their stupid 9/11 conspiracies or about Osama Bin Laden's "real" location. I've tried to politely correct people in the past, but I'm just not having it anymore. Maybe I am a bit patriotic after all.