Prenzlauer or Kentucky?

Nearly a week in. We’re looking for apartments, starting a round of open houses this afternoon. Our first, yesterday, was a large echoey white box with huge windows and zero furnishings, except a stainless steel sink shoved against a wall. We’re finding that we probably can’t afford the neighborhood we want, which isn’t a big surprise – after all, exploring poverty is part of the goal of this trip. We are no longer yuppies.

Last night we were sitting on the sidewalk at a table, eating a doner, when we heard the pair of young men at the table next to us laughing. We ignored it at first, until it was clear that their comments were directed at us. “Prenzlauer or Kentucky?” one asked (Prenzlauer is the Eastern neighborhood that has beautiful buildings, has been somewhat gentrified, and where we want to live). “Was?” I finally said, and told him we were from San Francisco. A joke, he told us. But we apparently stick out.

They talked to us for only a minute before Bush came up. Germans judge people as people, but the rest of the world hates Americans, they said. The implication being that here too, we are Americans before we are people. When 50 percent of the U.S. voted for Bush again, it was clear that it was not an accident the first time, and people began blaming ordinary Americans for Bush after all, they said. “If Bush attacks Iran, then it is over for America,” one said bitterly.

And so goes our image in the world. There may have been a time when American’s innocence, a quality we have always believed in even at our most hypocritically cynical moments, was accepted overseas. Now we are simply bullies. If we attack Iran, everyone in the world will be against us, except Israel. It’s a horrifying thought.

As for the trip so far: It has gone more or less smoothly. Our Air India flight from New York to London had been canceled when we arrived at the airport, but we were switched after a moment of panic to British Airways. RyanAir groaned when we brought roughly 180 pounds of baggage, and charged us more than 270 pounds, making our $25 airline ticket a very poor investment. But so we learn.

Our temporary studio overlooks the Landwehrkanal, precisely where we sat and had a beer seven months ago and decided that moving to Berlin might be a pretty good thing after all. It shares a hallway with a veterinarian, and so the daylight hours are punctuated by the arrival of sad-looking puppies and worried owners. The bar across the street, on the canal itself, has breakfast far better than any bar deserves to have, and a brilliant jukebox.

Musically, we’ve seen two organ concerts with Paul, and one Japanese half-doom show featuring Boris, whose diminutive woman guitar player contains – to paraphrase Rob – more Rockitude in one tiny hand than does a whole stadium full of mulletted headbangers.