Date: Sat, 25 Aug 2001
From: Lee Lady
To: Many friends
My second evening in Berlin came the evening after summercamp ended. My flight wasn't scheduled to leave until the following morning. I could have stayed at ZEGG for the night, but Danny found me a woman who wasn't going back to Berlin until the next day and who was willing to let me stay at her flat that evening. (She was married and had her two kids with her at summercamp. There were lots of kids there.)
Anyway, for my second evening I was in the Mitte section of Berlin, a little bit north of Alexanderplatz. And I walked down Brunnenstrasse as far as Torstrasse and up as far as, I believe Bernauerstrasse. (The flat where I was staying was on Fehrbelliner Strasse, not far from Invalidenstrasse.)
Now bear in mind that I only saw Berlin at night, and never saw either of the two famous streets: Unter den Linden and the Kurfürstendamm (Ku'damm). But I liked Berlin enormously. From what I experienced of it, it looked like San Francisco was twenty years ago, or maybe even thirty years ago. It was obviously a place where there were lots of artists and musicians and, judging by the number of small bookstores and bookstore-cafe combinations, writers. And the part of town where I stayed the second time was, judging by the little restaurants, a center for middle-eastern immigrants.
Berlin is, of course, the German center for the avant garde in the arts. And for exuberant sexuality.
It's interesting that although my French is vastly better than my German, somehow I felt much more confident in my ability to communicate with people in Berlin than I did last year in France. However I'd forgotten that the Berlin dialect is not standard German, and that definitely caused me some problems. Monday morning when I was trying to find a cab to the airport, I went up to a bus stop to see if the sign would tell me where the bus went, and an old woman said something like "Er ging gerade wich," and it was only about fifteen minutes later that I realized that she'd been telling me that the bus had just gone by, which I already knew.
Just as in France people were always saying that I spoke excellent French, despite the fact that I only understood about 10% of what people said, people in Germany kept telling me that I spoke very good German. This was especially funny in a bar in Berlin, where a somewhat older guy had to ask me about four times if I was American before I managed to understand him, and when finally I said, "Ja, ich bin Americaner," and he said (in German), "You speak German very well."
Finally, what should have been obvious occurred to me. When people say, ``You speak English/German/French very well,'' their judgement is based almost completely on your pronunciation. So at the airport, I think it was, somebody gave me something and I said, ``Vielen Dank,'' and they said, ``Oh, you speak German.'' Or, even more extreme, when I checked in at the airport the day I left, I said, ``Guten Tag,'' and the airline woman immediately said, ``Oh, you speak German'' and unleashed a stream of German in which I recognized only the word Ausgang. (She'd been asking, it turned out, whether I was happy to have an aisle seat.) Anyway, that was fun, because she then said, once we started talking in English, ``Oh, you live in Honolulu? You're so lucky!'' and so I asked her if she'd like to come visit me, telling her that I have a nice apartment on the 17th floor. She laughed and did her best to make sure that I had good seats all the way back home.
Anyway, it occurred to me that if I meet a German here in the US, and if I hear him say, ``Thanks a lot'' with a pretty good American accent, then I'm going to assume that he speaks English pretty well. Of course this might not be such a good thing for him if I start speaking English to him too fast for him to follow.
I do want to mention one more thing about Berlin, though, which was very interesting to me, nerd that I am. And that is the way addresses are numbered. As far as I'm concerned, there are two kinds of American cities: the ones like Honolulu, where addresses are numbered in a sane way, so that in knowing that an address is, say, 1700 Beretenia Street you can have a pretty good idea of where it is even if you're not familiar with Beretania Street; and the cities like New York and San Francisco, where each street has its own numbering system so that in order to find an address, you have to ask, "What is the cross street?"
But in all American cities you can tell which side of the street an address is on by knowing whether the number is odd or even, once you learn the system for that city. And you can also tell whether you're walking north or south, east or west, by whether the addresses are increasing or decreasing. For me, having walked around a lot of cities looking for someplace over the course of my life, this is a very useful principle.
In Berlin, though, they don't do things that way. Instead, addresses increase on one side of the street until one gets to the end, and then they come back down the other side. In other words, when you're walking up a street you'll see buildings with low numbers which are increasing (both odd and even) on one side of the street and buildings with high numbers which are decreasing on the other.
Well, I don't suppose this sort of thing interests anyone else very much, but hey, this is my mailing list, so what you read about is what interests me.