Sunday, October 15, 2006

Some generalizations

Now that I'm back, I can freely generalize about my experience in Berlin:

1. German men are very gruff with women, for the most part. They refuse to be charmed and they steadfastly refuse to be charming. They are mostly unpolite, although I came across some shining exceptions (the guy at the Film museum and the guy who sold me the Orangina at the Philharmonic). However, German women tend to be nicer. Also, exceptions apply. For instance, the personnel at our extremely homely hotel could not be bothered to be nice, regardless of gender. Efficient yes, nice no. So I ask one of the receptionists in my best German accent about a theater that is supposed to be nearby: the Haus of the Berliner Festspiele, but you know how it is, if you don't enunciate like Goethe, you might as well be speaking Mandarin. In any case, she sends us to the Berlin Philharmonic, which is not where we need to go, is nowhere near the hotel and is ridiculous.

The yellow building is the Philarmonie concert hall near Postdamer Platz.

I explain that we were told the theater in question was a couple of blocks from the hotel and she basically tells us that this is the answer and there is no other. How dare we contradict her? (she was in her thirties, so there is no excuse). Nazi. Sure enough, the place was a block and a half away from us and I really felt like coming back and setting her straight, but somehow I was afraid she would send me into a holding cell if I did.

The theater that's a block and a half from the hotel. See?

2. Many Germans speak perfect English but they pretend they don't, sort of like the French in France. I find that appalling in its stupid loser pride. You lost the war, get over it.
Others though, like the woman who sold pretzels on the street, was happy to oblige me with her meticulously correct English. A most gemutlich street vendor.
3. The bread in Germany rocks. They have every shade of dark, and rye and with grains and it's incredible. So are the sausages and the beer, but it is not that easy to eat well. We ate a fantastic Turkish meal with beer for 5 euros at a Turkish joint in Prenzlauer Berg, which is like the Williamsburg of Berlin, with hipsters and bad restaurants, but way more interesting.

"Street Art" in Prenslauer Berg.

4. At the Film Museum they had a room about film in the Nazi era, and it of course included Leni Riefenstahl, who directed movies for Hitler, but they didn't show any footage of her films, as if they were afraid that they glamorize Nazism too much. They had no compunction showing footage of other horrors of the Goebbels machinery of propaganda, films rife with antisemitism and obviously terrible films, but not hers. Things that make you go... hmmmm.
I learned that Emil Jannings, the greatest actor of his time, and the first actor ever to win an Oscar, left Hollywood when the talkies arrived for he feared his heavy accent would destroy his career in America. He then made many films for the Nazis, the bastard.
5. I said in one of my posts that no one in Germany dies of passionate enthusiasm. Except for one thing: soccer. They are obsessed.
6. I saw some school kids on an outing. There were some who were black, or Latino or from other non-white exotic descent. Running the risk of being maudlin, I can say I felt something akin to what hope must feel, thinking that perhaps by the time they grow up, they will be more used to different people and they will make a more heterogeneous society.
7. I went to a concert on Saturday at 4 pm at the Philharmonie. It was a concert for families and the place was full of very young children. They were all dying of boredom, even though the program included the fun Lone Ranger theme by Rossini, a Mozart violin concerto, and (yikes!) Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15, which is hard for adults, let alone children. I was amazed by the tenacity of the parents trying to instill the love of music at such an early age and extremely amused by the faces, grimaces and squirming of the poor kids in the concert hall. Culture is far more affordable in Berlin than here. And you can hear the Berlin Philharmonic for almost half the price of any classical music concert here.
8. Travelling to Berlin on a plane is a singularly quiet experience. The passengers are super quiet and well behaved. I like that.

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