The individual versus the group

February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Here’s a story I just posted on NPRBerlin’s blog! Hope things are well.


An interesting afternoon…

January 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

I went to the Jeanette Wolff senior center, one of Jewish old age homes in Berlin on Wednesday, to speak with the mother of a friend of mine.

Inge Borg Marcus will be 90 on Feb. 4.

This is not her apartment — I forgot my camera (aargh) — but it is pretty typical of what one looks like.

I originally went to speak with her because she is a long time member of the city’s Jewish community I wanted to get an historical view about the community’s many political and financial problems.

But we ended talking a lot about her childhood and the Nazi years.

Inge is one of those people many American Jews can’t understand. She was born in Berlin and  went to school here. She  was kicked out of school on Nov. 10, 1938 after the Kristallnacht Pogrom put her father, like thousands of Jewish men, under arrest. She left Berlin for England in April of 1939.

Her parents never got out. They were murdered in Auschwitz.

Yet after the war she reconnected in Paris with a teenage flame. They got married, had their first child there.

And in 1950, they moved back to Berlin.

Many people I know — including several family members — cannot understand that. My Uncle Al, in fact, bitterly complained to my mother when I made my first work trip to Germany in 1987, with the intention of staying one year. I remained for nearly nine.

“It’s not nice that a Jewish girl lives in Germany.”

My mother didn’t defend me. She didn’t like the idea either. Never mind that none of Uncle Al’s four grandchildren married someone Jewish.

Germany was different.

So when I brought this up to Inge, she nodded her head and said she understood all the criticisms.

“But you have to know they weren’t all bad,” she said, referring to non-Jewish Germans. Inge said she was the only Jewish student at her high school, but was not picked on. She also said their neighbors in the building where they lived were very nice to them.

Inge’s parents were able to live in their apartment until they were deported in 1941. Most other Jews were herded out of their apartments into ghetto-areas where Jews were kept.

“If someone in the apartment building had complained that they didn’t want to live near Jews, my parents would have been out of there like that” she said as she snapped her still quite nimble fingers.

She said they returned to Germany because her husband wanted to see what remained there . They also wanted to make claims for their property and needed to file reparations claims.

And Inge told herself if she returned to Germany, she would do all she could to help rebuild the Jewish community.

And that she did.

Though this is a file photo, it represents what Inge does on a regular basis — She speaks to young Germans about her experiences as a 16-year old     German girl in 1938 in Nazi Deutschland. She talks about being lucky to be able to get to England, but the horribleness of having to leave her parents behind.

   And about the importance of building up the Jewish community in Berlin after the war. I’m very grateful Inge and others did this. I’m not sure I would have been able to do the same.

Need some help

January 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’m working on a story that has to do with the obsession Germans often have for rules. I’m looking for some examples of rules that are either

1. really obscure

2. funny

3. seem to be very illogical

As an example: You can take your dog into many restaurants here and into some cafes but you can’t take your dog into a cafe that is also a bakery.

I really don’t get this one and no one so far has been able to explain it to me. I think it might have something to do with a bakery having a production facility on the premises. But a restaurant is also producing food.

Anyway…if some of you could help me out with examples, I’d be grateful.

Schoenes Wochenende. It’s finally supposed to be sunny here, but of course Pauline has an INDOOR soccer tournament this weekend. Which just goes to show you that you can still be a soccer mom without a car. Go Hertha 03 Zehlendorf!

Berlin–New York–Berlin

January 9, 2012 § 3 Comments

Liebe Readers,

As some of you may know, my Mom passed away at the end of December, hence my absence of the last few weeks from the blog. We were actually set to visit her in Atlanta on Dec. 24, where she’d been living for the last eight years or so, but my sister, who also lives there, called with the news on Dec. 21. So we had to reroute the trip to New York for the funeral. She was 92.

Although I’m a Native New Yorker and spent the first 18 years of my life there, I hadn’t been back to the Big Apple in a really long time. Many people compare New York to Berlin.

After our week stay there, I have to say I don’t know why.

The two cities are really different.

New York has well over twice the population of Berlin — some 8.4 million vs. 3.4 million. And it just feels a lot more crowded due to the numerous skyscrapers and the lay of the land. I’m not sure if Berliners really appreciate that their city, a major European capital, has so many open spaces and so much green.

Actually our visit to New York improved Berlin’s standing in my daughter’s eyes. She couldn’t wait to leave the city.

New York is also dirtier than Berlin. It’s louder. And of course it is way more expensive. You can still find one bedroom apartments in Berlin for around $ 700, and sometimes less if you’re really lucky.

That is just not available in New York, where you’re lucky to find something under $ 2,000.

On the plus side for New York:  It is way more multicultural than Berlin, has a bigger and better offering of ethnic food, especially Chinese, and is friendlier.

It’s just easier to strike up a random conversation with someone.

But, as my kids say, that may have more to do with the American v. German difference than the one between New York City and Berlin.

Die Berliner SBahn — Aargh

December 15, 2011 § 3 Comments

Lest you think that all things German function well and are on time, I will introduce you to the Berliner SBahn.

A notoriously unreliable and expensive form of public transportation.

Okay — to its credit, it does cover a lot of ground and really goes all over the city.

But it has a lot of problems.

Two years ago and also last winter, I’m told, the tracks froze and there were enormous delays. There also don’t seem to be enough drivers — or there are enough drivers, but many of them are sick and don’t come to work.

And sometimes there are technical delays. There was an electrical malfunction today at one of the stations in the western part of the city — and it brought the whole system to a halt for around an hour.

Not even a pretty Christmas wreath could help with that.

The delays are supposed to last through at least the morning commute tomorrow. They are still trying to figure out how a short at one station could bring the whole system down.

I thought Germans were supposed to good at this engineering stuff. Isn’t that the positive side of being ueber anal?

I guess I’ll take my bike tomorrow.

German Customer Service – with a twist

November 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

First — sorry for that weird link post. Hit the button too soon.

I use my cell phone all the time here, as I don’t have a regular landline in Berlin. I bought a gizmo manufactured from the German company hama ( — that’s the link I sent, and the gizmo broke.

The unit is kind of an odd thing. The part on the right gets plugged into the cell phone and the broken part on the left gets attached to your shirt. It has a microphone in it — you can see the tiny speakers on the table — the result of the unit coming apart. You can plug headphones into the gizmo on the left and listen to the conversation. Folks hear you via the microphone — normally embedded in the black part on the left.

I bought the unit at Saturn, which is about as close as Germany gets to Best Buy. I took it over there and asked for an exchange. I’ve only had the unit for about two months.

The salesman said he didn’t think he could do anything because by looking at the unit it appears that it was deliberately broken.

I said, “You’ve got to be kidding. Could you tell me how I could have broken this?” My suspicion is that the black part on the left wears out because it’s not made that well and is used quite often to clip and unclip to a shirt.

The Saturn sales person said the Hama representative happened to be in the store and he would ask him. He went upstairs, came back down, and said the Hama guy said the unit was broken by someone.

Normally I would have fought this on the spot, demanded to speak with the Hama guy, and gotten the thing resolved. I was tempted to pull out my press card, let them know I am a  journalist and that I’d be making a complaint to headquarters, but I didn’t do that. Instead I gave him an angry look and left.

Back home, still fuming, I called up the press department of Hama and explained the situation. I spoke with Susanne Uhlschmidt, who heads the department. I explained that while I understand that customer service in the U.S. is different than in Germany, I was still miffed that I was accused of breaking the unit. I am not that talented, I assured her.

And then — in a twist — Ms. Uhlschmidt took things into her own hands and said she’d replace the unit and would deal with the Hama representative. I had failed to get his name, as I was so annoyed at the store that I just left. She said she’d figure it out. Within two days I not only had a replacement, but an extra unit on top of that.

I don’t like to “pull out the press card” because I think everyone – not just journalists — should get good customer service. But sadly sometimes that’s still necessary here.

Thanksgiving Abroad in a “Fake” Neighborhood

November 24, 2011 § 3 Comments

Thanksgiving is always rather strange when you are outside the United States — mainly because it is such an American holiday and because I don’t think other cultures eat turkey the way we do.

Pauline and I decided to go to Leroy’s Joy, which is now called something else, but it’s an American-style restaurant in Prenzlauer Berg. This neighborhood is probably the most gentrified in the city.

My ever perceptive 14 year old picked up on it right way.

This is what the neighborhood looks like in the summer. It gets dark here around 4pm so it’s hard to take pictures after that.

As we sat in the restaurant various people came in with their over-coddled children. I had the urge to ask one couple who was daunting over a 16 month         old if their child could already speak Chinese and English, but I held my tongue.

After I explained what is happening in the neighborhood — which used to be filled with artists and alternative types in the GDR days — Pauline looked around and said:

“It’s a fake neighborhood.”
I had an idea what she meant, but asked her about that.
She said it’s filled with people who are trying to be what other people think they should be.

Hmmm. Very perceptive.
And true.
Real neighborhoods develop over the years and have some local flavor and feeling to them. There isn’t much of a local feeling in PB, but the sense that it consists of a bunch of hipsters trying to out hip each other.
And of course when those folks move in, the rents go up and the artists and alternative types leave.
And there goes the neighborhood.

Happy Thanksgiving

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