My madcap adventures in Germany during my year as a Fulbright Scholar.

30 November 2006

New Favorite

I have a new favorite website: librivox.

They use volunteers to make audio recordings of books in the public domain and then make them available to download (for free! yay!).

Sure, it's supported by volunteers and can't match the quality of a book recorded by a professional actor, and while I might scoff at their filing of Bible chapters under "nonfiction" (and their goal of recording everything in the public domain is unrealistic, not to mention silly), it's still a great resource.

(That sentence had a few too many clauses, didn't it? I'll blame it on the fact that I speak and read German all day, every day. They tend to have a the-more-clauses-the-better attitude.)

When I knit I prefer listening to audio books to listening to music or watching television. I can't even believe I'm going to admit this (it's not as if I haven't given you ample reason to think I'm a complete nerd), but my spring break last year consisted of holing up in my apartment, knitting cupcakes and a miniature Canadian flag, and listening to Stephanie Barron's newest release. While my peers are off doing body shots in Mazatlan, I curl up at home with knitting and an audio book. Oh well, that's why you all love me. Plus, it's likely the only way I'll ever make it through something like A Tale of Two Cities or Swann's Way.

And, ooh, Barron has a new book. Something to do over Christmas! What? You thought I was going to hang out with you lot during my vacation? Scoff.

29 November 2006


This is what I found myself eating for breakfast the other day:

Müsli, banana and apple juice. At home I was always a pop tart and coke kind of girl. What's happened to me?


28 November 2006

Define Irony.

Blogger's spellcheck doesn't recognize the word "blog."


What I've been up to lately

The seasons are changing, but I think Berlin is pretty despite the winter starkness.

I found a new heading/theme/catchphrase for my blog.

I visited East Berlin.

Anyone but me think it's kind of pretty, albeit in a bleak, depressing way?

All I want for Christmas:

I'm still trying to figure out the German fascination with Statler and Waldorf.

What I love most about shopping in Germany... the utter randomness.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Even Germany isn't immune to the obnoxiously large Christmas decoration phenomenon.

I have no idea what this is doing here.

I went to a pretty lame Thanksgiving dinner. The location was beautiful,...

...but there weren't any chairs. (And, no, I don't know why.)

How cool is it that I go to a university with a giant quote from Karl Marx in bright gold letters in the foyer?

I snapped this on my way to school this morning, and I think it's both beautiful and depressing at the same time. On the one hand, the sun glinting through the trees and the outline of the 19th (?) century courthouse in the background are undeniably beautiful, but it's really depressing that the sun's so low in the sky at 2:00 p.m.


24 November 2006


This evening I went to the big, fancy Thanksgiving event thrown by the Fulbright Commission.

I could make lots of snarky observations: most of the food was cold, they ran out of everything, including plates and forks, two obnoxious high schoolers sang.

But in the end I think it's best summed up with this sentence: There weren't any chairs.

I'm thankful I'm home.

Keep voting!


23 November 2006

So where did you go today?

Guess where I went today. Go on, guess.

The docks!

I know what you're thinking, "But, Maureen, Berlin's landlocked." Although that's true, I live about ten minutes away from one of Europe's largest inland port. Who knew?

Or were you wondering what I was doing there?

What was Maureen doing down at the docks today?
picking up the latest cocaine shipment
cruising for guys
visiting a library
wandering around, lost free polls


19 November 2006

It's time to go to bed when... mistake the words "party chief" for "pastry chef" and seriously contemplate why a cook, even if he is a friend of Himmler, would be placed in a position of authority in the General Government of Poland.

18 November 2006

In honor of Walter Benjamin

It's been Walter Benjamin week around here. (More on that another time.) In honor of that, and because I'm too tired to post anything else, I'm offering this little puzzle, copied from a document from the Walter Benjamin Archive, currently on display at the Akademie der Künste and translated by yours truly.

Six authors are sitting in a railway car, in a first class cabin, three authors on each side. Müller, Schulze, Schmidt, Becker, Meier and Lehmann. They are, not necessarily in this order, Essayist, Historian, Humorist, Novelist, Dramatist and Poet. Each has written a book that is being read by another of the travelers.

Müller is reading essays, Becker is reading the book written by the man across from him. Schulze is sitting between the Essayist and the Humorist. Meier is next to the Dramatist. The Essayist is sitting across from the Historian. Schmidt is reading a play. Schulze is the brother-in-law of the Novelist. Müller, who's sitting in a corner, is not interested in history. Schmidt is sitting across from the Novelist. Meier is reading the Humorist's book. Lehmann is reading poetry.

Walter Benjamin says, "Each author is to be named." In addition to who writes what, I want to know what they're reading and where they're sitting.

I'll post the answer just as soon as I get around to solving it.

Given my current workload, that will be sometime in mid-December.

14 November 2006

Only Berlin

Berlin is a city like no other.

Today at the Brandenburger Tor I saw a man riding on a wheeled sled pulled by a team of six huskies.

No one else was even remotely fazed by this rather anachronistic figure.

Without realizing it I've become inured to the general craziness of Berliners, as well. I didn't even deem the dogsled riding through the Tiergarten worth the hassle of digging out the camera to take a picture. Very few things make my jaw drop anymore.

This, however, absolutely blows my mind:

Yes, that's the Berlin wall... running right through a cemetery.

This is the Invalidenfriedhof, and it's one of my favorite places in the city.

It's just mind-boggling to contemplate: a cemetery lies right on the border between East Germany and West Germany, and the only solution the authorities can think of is to "liquidate" any and all graves located in the "death strip." (Ironic choice of words, eh?).

The family of Captain Manfred von Richtofen (The Red Baron) was allowed to move his grave, but most were simply destroyed. Records indicate there were more than 3000 graves at the Invalidenfriedhof in 1960. Today there are 230. (Although creepily enough, anywhere from 18,000 to 30,000 burials have taken place there since 1748.)

This is a good view of how much of the cemetery was cleared to make way for the Wall:


12 November 2006

Because I know you were curious

Even though Halloween is long past, I thought you'd like to know the verdict.

Although the cupcake hat pulled ahead at the last minute, I opted for the pumpkin. It's slightly less eccentric than the cupcake, and from a certain angle it looks almost normal. Orange, but normal. I also think I can get away with wearing it all fall, and it's the perfect accessory to wear to the big, fancy Thanksgiving celebration Fulbright is throwing for us.

Now, I'm not one of those knitting bloggers who painstakingly document every step of the process. When I think of a project, I just dive right in. I got up on a Wednesday morning, went to Ka De We and bought some orange yarn, and then spent the next two and a half days furiously knitting, at home, on the bus, in class. By Saturday morning it was done. The only step I did archive was the one no knitting patterns mention: the head test.

Most knitters I know do this, simply because patterns aren't perfect and every head is different. It's a convenient way to make sure you're on the right track, to gauge how much you have left, and to know when to start decreasing for the crown.

People look at you really strangely when you do this on the bus.


05 November 2006


I was doing some research in the online catalogue of the Staatsbibliothek this evening, and none of the books I wanted were available. They were all listed with the phrase "Kriegsverlust möglich" (possible war loss).

First of all, it disturbs me that they don't know if they have the book or not. I mean, shouldn't a library know that sort of thing?

Secondly, why, oh, why, do items stand in the online catalogue that were, quite possibly, lost in the war? World War II ended more than sixty years ago. Get over it and just delete those item from the catalogue.

Thirdly, I find it quite amusing that at some point during the 1990s or early 2000s, all of these potentially lost items were added to the online catalogue.


03 November 2006

The most controversial film of the year?

Count on the Germans to have no sense of humor. I assume you've heard about the legal action filed against "Borat" on behalf of German Sinti and Roma (or, in less politically correct terms, gypsies).

First of all, I think the film looks terrible. It seems to fall into the realm of "stupid humor," (like SNL or Will Ferrell movies or anything associated with "Jackass"), and that's not my cup of tea. I also don't find racism and sexism funny, and I therefore don't find jokes about racism and sexism funny. I guess I'm just another feminist with no sense of humor. Still, I understand the film is satirical, so even though I would never go see it, I don't have any objections to it.

I must say, though, that the Germans really need to lighten up. Aren't there enough stereotypes about Germans out there? Did you really need to make your public perception worse?

In defense of Germans, this isn't about movies or lacking senses of humor. I think they simply feel helpless against the rise of right-wing extremism and the increasing amounts of violence against minorities. (Although I don't have a source and am too lazy to google, I did read that the number of attacks against minorities increased a whopping twenty percent last year.)

If any of my readers actually speak German, you should go read this article. It's from Berlin's most popular (and rather trashy) newspaper, and it's quite amusing.

The newspaper "invited Jews, Kazaks, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals and women to a special presentation of the film and asked 'Did Borat injure you?'" Some of them defend the film, saying it's satirical and trying to expose racism and sexism, not promote it. Some say the film isn't about Germans at all. It's talking about America and they're the ones who should be offended.

The token representatives of the Sinti and Roma were offended and think the film is dangerous. Petra Rosenberg, chairperson of the National Association of Sinti and Roma, said the film "makes its name off the backs of minorities." The token Jewish persons were not as reactionary. Bella Zchwiraschwili of the "Jewish community" probably said it best: "The film can be shown because it's good, if shallow. It's senseless to have a detailed discussion of it." Leeor Engländer, also of the "Jewish community" said what was disturbing was not the film, but that it presents "the reality on the street." While I'm not sure I agree with him when he says the film shows how "normal Americans" act, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Racism and sexism still exist today and we should be upset about that, not about a film that lampoons that fact.

He did say something else worth noting. He said the film brings to light "resentment against Sinti and Roma, misogyny and homophobia (or, to use the German terms, "adverseness" to women and to gays), and hatred of Jews." While it's true to film reveals prejudices common to society, I wonder why he felt it necessary to build such a hierarchy: "resentment" toward gypsies, "adverseness" to women and gays, but "hatred" toward Jews.

Anybody seen the film? Were its portrayals of Jews so much worse than gypsies, gays and women?

The most interesting part of the article is that more than one person suggested the state should ban the film because not everyone will understand it or recognize the satire. Rosenberg said, most people "don't have enough background knowledge to categorize this film." If I were German, I would be absolutely insulted by that assertion. The film should be banned because Germans don't know any better not to be taken in by satirical images of racism and sexism?

What disturbs me, though, is how this fits into the trend already present in German politics to legislate and regulate public opinion (Look at Schröder's attempts to outlaw the NPD). Germans are known for being obedient. They only cross the street when the light is green and run public transit using the honor system. (It works, too.) They only do what is proper and legal and sanctioned by the state, but I simply don't believe Germans are so obedient they will give up their opinions because the state deems them unacceptable or illegal.

Hate speech is already illegal here, and so is Holocaust denial, and books like Mein Kampf are banned. Look at all the good its done. I doubt that the way to combat right-wing extremism is to outlaw their political party and reduce their rights to assemble, and the idea that you can actually outlaw a point of view is absurd.