Tag Archives: Berlin

A beautiful trio

From where I am currently sitting – in a cafe not far from where I live – I have a wonderful view of three elderly ladies, all tucking eagerly into their lunchtime special. I might not have noticed them at all were it not for the endearingly, unwittingly comic way in which having crossed the threshold, they stood side by side in absolute stillness as they watched a father struggling to get his snotty toddler to put on its coat.

“That’s your father,” one of the women said. “Yes, your father,” added another. The third didn’t speak, but bent her rickety frame to lend a seemingly unwanted hand. The whole scene was over and done with in a matter of minutes, and the trio has probably moved on from it more quickly than I. Because here I am, half an hour on, looking at them with a certain degree of fascination.

And as I look, one of the things that strikes me is that despite their scored wrinkles, the skin that literally hangs off their cheeks and necks, and the sunken appearance of their eyes – or perhaps because of these things – there is no mistaking the fact that they are sisters. At least that is what my motherly mind tells me. And it asks me how their own mother would have responded to the sight of the three of them standing crookedly around the toddler in the way she might have done with her grandchildren, their children.

I can’t imagine she would have liked the sight, because as sweet as it was to an impartial observer, it was also a public display of elderly vulnerability. I think of my own little ones, and wonder if, 70 years from now, a stranger might recognize their blood relationship to each other when they are out for lunch. I hope so. I like the thought of their emotional and visual bond remaining close, but I’m also glad I won’t be around to see their faces droop and their legs buckle. It would break my heart.

Waiting for a tip

A few years ago, Deutsche Welle (Germany’s international broadcaster for those of you who don’t know) launched a culture column called “Scene in Berlin”. It doesn’t so much report on events, as on cultural and indeed regional phenomena, and has sometimes served as a perfect platform contributors like myself to “talk” about the idiosyncrasies of life in this city.

I was recently asked to do a piece about how Berliners tip – a sentence that would, it seems, have many in the service industry here, rolling their eyes in exasperation… Here is how it goes:

Berliners go down as being too tight to tip

There’s nothing unusual about being thrifty in January. But if Berlin’s service industries are to be believed, there’s also nothing unusual about the proverbial belt staying tightly buckled for the rest of the year.

“Ten-percent tips are illusionary in this city,” a waiter at my local café told me recently. “If you want that kind of money, you have to get a job in Munich or Hamburg.”

The conversation started when I was waiting for a coffee “to-go,” as they say around here, the price of which I noticed had gone up from 2.80 to 3.00 euros (about $4.00).

I always used to round up to three anyway, but since the new price removed the scope to do so, I wasn’t sure how much to give. I could have gone up to four – although a euro tip seemed like a lot for a takeout drink – or I could do the Berlin thing and tack a small and random amount onto the price, thereby creating a wholly unrounded sum. Read on.


Category: Berlin, Writing | Tags: , ,

Unwelcome tristesse

There’s something about the first days and weeks of January that always throws me. The festivities of December past are exactly that, yet (in Berlin at least) the pavements are heavy with their reminder in the shape of discarded Christmas trees. Some 400,000 of them. 400,000! Which makes them equal in number to the entire tree stock of the city. I happen to know that, not because I am a wealth of random facts, but because I recently wrote a column for DW on the subject of Berliners and their trees.

To return to the Tannenbäume, as they are known locally. They will, in the shortness of time, be collected up and taken either to the city’s zoos where they serve as elephant breakfast or to cialis online a power station where recycled, they should provide 700 households with electricity and warm water for the next 12 months.

But until the trucks come to take them their respective ways, the trees lie on top of each other looking bare and so very sad. It is a sadness that all too often seems to be reflected in the faces of people out and about. It is as if the vibrancy of their excited wishes and hopes for the New Year, many expressed beside those now unwanted trees, have been packed away with the tinsel and baubles.

A couple of days ago, I wished someone a happy New Year, and his response was to look at me aghast. “New Year?” We were not two weeks into it at the time of the exchange, but already my words, the very sentiment, seemed – even sounded – outdated. The newness already forgotten as the grind of daily life reasserts itself as the matriarch and patriarch of society.

I have decided, as my grandfather might have flippantly said, to opt out. I plan to reign supreme over my 2013. To treat every day as if it were something new. Which of course, it is.

Category: Berlin, Christmas, Seasons | Tags: , ,

Bad blogger, distracted jogger

Posted on by 0 comment

I have been a bad blogger. I am tempted to blame it on the holidays and family festivites in England, but that would be too easy. Truth is, I was struck by a touch of blogger’s block. I tried to encourage ideas in my usual way, but running doesn’t seem to have the same effect in rural Yorkshire as it does in Berlin. It might be sleepier, but its distractions are more… distracting.

For one thing, the uphill, down dale-ness of the experience makes it hard to hit the steady, meditative pace that subtly provokes thought; then there’s the rain, the gale force winds, and the ankle deep mud to contend with. But the greatest distraction of all is the sheer beauty of the panoramic moorland views, and the big skies that shift and drift above them.

I’m back in Berlin now though, where the skies are currently their usual January pale grey. If past years are anything to go by, they will stay like this until the end of February at least. So watch this space. There should be plenty of blogging coming up.

Category: Berlin, Running, Seasons | Tags: , ,

Smiles – part II

Since writing about smiles here a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been watching them. Closely. I’ve seen all kinds, from those that slowly creep into existence, to those that twitch on pursed lips, to the cheeky grin that just spreads and spreads. What strikes me most, however, are babies’ smiles. Not for their cuteness, but for their innocence and hope.

On the train the other day I saw a baby trying to elicit smiles from those around it. Blissfully unaware of the potential for curmudgeonly Berliners, it singled out a man and fixed him with a beaming expression. The man reciprocated and the baby was satisfied. It then offered an elderly lady the same toothy grin. This time, however, the infant’s efforts were met with a chilly stare. It tried again. No response.

The baby shyly retreated into its mother’s arms with a look of adult-like uncertainty about what its next move should be. A moment later it tried again, this time adding a coo and stretching its head towards the old lady in case she was in any doubt about her role as the addressee of the piece. When the woman allowed her lips to turn up a fraction, the baby smiled wider, sighed, and moved on to the next person.

I was thinking about that baby today when I smiled my thanks at a man who let me go first along on a section of pavement not wide enough for us both. I could see he was not going to acknowledge either his gesture or my gratitude, so I followed the baby’s lead and offered the man a loud and clear danke. His face cracked, he nodded and we went our separate ways. Not ten minutes later, our paths crossed again, only this time round he smiled. Perhaps babies are not so innocent after all.

Category: Berlin | Tags: , ,