At the Weihnachtsmarkt, or through the Gate of The Time

rotawheelUnter den Linden today, or more specifically, the few hundred meters between the Schlossplatz and the Opera House, offers a lovely contrast in Christmas concepts.

One of the biggest, or at least most elaborate, Weihnachtsmarkts is hosted every year on the empty Schlossplatz, a parking lot in more ordinary times. For non-German readers, a Weihnachtsmarkt (also known as Christ-Kindl-Markt, or just Christmas Market) is traditionally where vendors set up little huts and sell all kinds of ornaments, candles, Christmas breads and cakes, and so on. These days they vary from unbelievably quaint to perfectly carny. Carny or corny, your pick.

The Schlossplatz falls on the carny end. A giant ferris wheel looms over what’s really gateofthetime carnival with extras. Other rides are aimed at the stronger-of-stomach, including the tallest “Transporter” free-fall tower drop in Europe. All kinds of games are on offer, of the throw-a-ring-around-a-bottle, shoot-a-basketball variety. One such game blinks “LOSE… LOSE…” at its top. You can’t say they’re not honest.

My favorite is the haunted house, based somehow on the Terminator 2 movie, that methusalah advertises itself in huge neon letters as “Gate Of The Time.” But a close second is the sign on the roller coaster offering half off prices to riders who are 60 years or older. I don’t think we’ll be seeing that innovation in the U.S. anytime soon.

Everywhere, of course, are sweets, and other odd German carnival foods. Cotton candy, cookies, crepes and the Nirvana that is Quarkkeulchen (fried dough balls with a bit of quark, like sour cream, in the mix). Lots of brats. Then also Grünkohl mash, and chicken livers. One of these days I’ll give these a try.

For a full report on the goodness of Christmascarnyfood, read Aimee’s post on our food blog, Hungry In Berlin, here.

But walk down the street a block or so and you’ll find the Operaplatz markt, quiet and placid, as though it’s a different century. Actual handcrafts are on sale here, and a booth with handmade German fruit brandies that are stunning, and just the thing to warm you up after a few too many dough balls.

The original cool Berlin

Here’s the New York Times with yet another entry in their strikingly finely described, spot-on series on Why Berlin is Super-Groovy.

This was the original cool Berlin, with its own brand of gloomy, spooky glamour, well before East Berlin’s Mitte and Friedrichshain districts were on the tourist map.

Another Weimar love letter, right? Caberet and modernism, sex tourism and the sparkling, fun side of post-inflationary misery? Well no, this “original cool Berlin” is David Bowie’s West, or actually, the new West of a bunch of very wealthy media types (villas on an unnamed lake in West Berlin, places in Charlottenburg) who think the “New East” is now just too cliched for words.

So, uh, they’re going back to what was cool when they were in their 20s. Or rather, a nostalgic, packaged-and-priced version of it. That’s very original. Yes, indeed, regular cultural trailblazing.

Right, then — throw off that shabby chic of the East, get your late-boomer yuppie on and start glorying in the memory of those Bowie years, whether you were actually there or not. Apparently it helps if you start throwing down for 20 Euro entrees in the West. That’s where the action is now, my friends. I read it in the NYT.

Will Durst on the falling dollar

From this column here, which sorta gets inflation and falling currency valuations mixed up, but it’s funny anyway:

Dubyah has turned us into a third world banana republic. We’re Costa Rica to the rest of the World. With lousier snorkeling.

Who can blame the hordes of Eurotrash from clogging the aisles of our Tiffany franchises like an extended family of hillbillies at a dollar store? Everything here is so incredibly cheap. We’ve turned into a discount playground for the world’s trust fund babies. High-end restaurants, the good hotels, VIP sections of our most exclusive nightclubs, Saturday night movie tickets: pretty much off limits to anybody holding an American passport. We’re the minimum wage security guards of a giant high-end outlet mall known as America just one cut rate Virgin flight away from true civilization.

My own personal favorite was being in fairly rural Romania last summer, a country not really known for powerful economic performance, a country that literally has plastic, washable money, and a friend-of-a-friend says: I love going to America, everything is so cheap!

We are unstoppable. Watch out, Costa Rica! What a good time to be paid in dollars.

On the season’s sloshiness

I don’t mind the rain so much. I grew up near Seattle, and I’m pretty sure I can’t remember a single instance when the near-constant drizzle got me down. It lends itself to reading, cups of coffee, jazz on the speakers.

I don’t even mind so much the lack of light. Don’t get me wrong, I like the sun, I like the beach, when it’s around. But when the sun goes down at 4:15, or I have to turn my desk lamp on at 3:00, well, I’m usually still staring at my computer anyway. What good is the sun doing me anyway?

No, what really bugs me are the wet socks.

LOLdogs in Charlottenburg

If you’re allergic to cuteness, just move right along. I prefer to think of it as an study in parasitic evolution.

So anyway, I’m walking around Charlottenburg earlier this week, meeting some friends to go to an exhibit on the history of the Chinese population in Berlin (small exhibit, a few interesting historical notes, displayed “like an 8th grade science fair” as Ben rightly said). I’m hungry, so I stop in a Backerei for a quick belegte Shrippe.

I start to leave, but as I come to the door, three black, panting French bulldogs — squat, almost puglike creatures with bat-ears and bulging eyes —  set themselves expectantly in front of the door outside. I pull it open and step carefully through them; they look up at me impatiently, moving not a centimeter for me.

As I walk away, the proprietress comes out and bends down, talking to them too quietly for me to hear. She hands one of them a little bakery bag. It takes the package carefully in its mouth, and then all three trot off down the street, to meet an owner who is holding an apartment door open for them.

This takes the already very high standards of German canine malleability to an absurd level. No, I don’t have pics, because my camera was out of batteries.  But I’m sure cute overload has some that will do.