Friday, December 31, 2010


I'm currently corresponding with a friend in Brooklyn whether NYC authorities, i. e. Bloomberg, or Berlin City Hall is doing a worse job of coping with the snow. It is hard to judge such a quick race to the bottom, though. Both cities are covered in snow, and all the airports are operating in a rather shaky manner, if at all. And while NCY subway cars get stuck overnight in the Jamaica Bay, the Berlin S-Bahn, the commuter train, has more or less ceased to operate, at least in the outer boroughs.

But Berliners, used to bad service anyway, are outraged about something else: On New Years Eve, David Hasselhoff will sing at the Brandenburg Gate. The area between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victoria column in Tiergarten is supposedly the biggest party mile of the world, about a million people are expected to come on New Years Eve. So, naturally, there is bratwurst, glühwein, and music; Bonny Tyler was expected. Alas, she fell ill, and now Hasselhoff will replace her.

Despite all urban rumors Hasselhoff is not all that popular in Germany, evidently less popular than Bonnie Tyler. So Berliners are expressing outrage in newspaper comments, asking: "Are those "stars" bringing their own booze?", or even assuming that America has sent Hasselhoff out of revenge because the Berlin party is bigger than the Times Square party (that might be somewhat of a stretch). Or, as someone put it: Imagine, David Hasselhoff sings, and afterwards the S-Bahn doesn't get you home.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Northern Exposure

While I was stuck in Heathrow overnight (ok, in a hotel near Heathrow) I imagined I would be bragging about my suffering for weeks to come. Now it turns out that a lot of people were doing a lot worse. A lot lot. I know because I see them on TV every day.

Only days after I left, JFK closed, due to snow. And, even more scary, the subway broke down (partly). An A train got stuck at a station near JFK, and the MTA did not manage to get the passengers out for eight hours straight. They let them use the bathrooms at the manned train station, though. That begs the question: How did the MTA employees get there, and couldn't that have been a way to get the passengers out? After all, all they had to do is get them to the next subway stop.

Berlin is not that much better; here it's the S-Bahn that is breaking down. Some lines have been discontinued completely, other lines are running delayed or at half capacity. Everything is very full, and very cold, and ice is hanging everywhere. The fire departments warns of roofs that could collapse because they can't handle the weight of the snow. The stores have run out of chocolate Santa Clauses and gingerbread, so, on second thought, I am suffering indeed.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fröhliche Weihnachten

A few years ago the "Season's Greetings"-wave hit Germany, but it never caught on. After all, Germany is the country that actually invented Christmas, first as a pagan feast celebrating the solstice, and then again, around the 14th century as a Christian festivity, namely the Christmas tree with candles and ornaments, Christmas cookies, nativity scenes, and Christmas songs like Silent Night and O Tannenbaum.

However, Germans are always trying to be politically correct, especially when dealing with American partners, so this is how Christmas wishes are sent out nowadays.

This year, of course, it is usually followed by: I hope your not stuck at a major airport.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Slow and the Furious

Only a few days ago I felt very brave for having suffered the Hell of Heathrow; now, however, it looks like I‘m one of the lucky few. After all, I got a hotel and was flown out twenty hours later. All in all not bad, given the fact that tens of thousands were stranded at Heathrow, Schiphol or Charles de Gaulle for days. In fact, some still are. And people who tried to travel before Christmas within Germany by train or car got stuck for hours in the snow. Some trains didn't make it at all.

The travel difficulties are also bad for the German tourism industry, especially Berlin, that has surpassed Rome in the annual number of tourists and is now at place 3 after London and Paris. That's because quite a few Americans are usually flying to Berlin, Nuremberg, and Munich to visit Christmas markets. I myself missed the wonderful Christmas market at the Kulturbrauerei in Prenzlauer Berg because I did not want to leave the house. Maybe I can make it tomorrow to Gendarmenmarkt.

I have not really paid any more attention to the War on Christmas, but just before I left, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann told me (or rather, his whole audience) that St. Niklas, the saint Santa Claus is based on, is really an old Germanic God, Baldur. The theory is somewhat shaky. But it tells you that in any case Christmas was invented in Germany where Christmas trees go as far back as 1400-something.

Speaking of urban rumors, while Christmas does in fact go back to the Germanic Solstice, you often hear that Christians "stole" the feast from the Pagans. That is really not the case. Pagans became Christians and remodeled their holiday to their new liking. It's not like there are still droves of cave-dwelling, sheepskin-wearing Pagans around in Germany (or Scandinavia) who want to have their holiday back.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Runway to Hell

It can be interesting to be caught in the middle of a major news story, or not. The big story of these days is the snow in Europe. And I'm in the middle of it because I choose, of all days, the last two to travel to Berlin for Christmas. Via Heathrow.  Heathrow is the biggest airport in Europe, if not in the world, and Terminal 5, where British Airways is located, is larger and nearly as secretive as the Pentagon. So, if you get stranded there with all your luggage because Europe is blanketed with snow that is quite a challenge.

I got stranded in the late morning of Friday, not all bad, because the people whose flights were canceled in the morning were made waiting in the plane for hours, while the ones that got stranded in the evening didn't even get a hotel room and had to sleep on the floor. I had only to wait in line for five hours. Queuing up is a sport in Great Britain, but I am not British. It is even less fun if you watch flights getting canceled from Brussels to Pisa while you queue does not move.

Anyhow, I got out the next day, in the early morning, not quite to Berlin, but to Hamburg, that's at least close. As soon as our flight had left, the airport collapsed under us like a major Hollywood movie at plot point two, and was eventually closed completely. To quote Newman, Tell the world my story!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Merry 40 Percent Off

Christmas comes closer, though, in New York, it does not really feel like it. Practically no snow has fallen, whereas the airport in Berlin had to close - not so much because of too much snow, but because they ran out of de-icing agent.

The good news is that retailers are scrambling to sell us stuff, so we are getting pre-Christmas discounts. Check the ads, and don't forget to look for "Berlinica" after you clicked on the link. I‘m sure there is a way to change that so my stuff pops up automatically, I just need to figure out how.

And if you want to take a little break from the war on Christmas, why don't you visit one of Berlin's Christmas markets? That is, if the airport has re-opened.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas and Soccer

I finally found out what annoys me about that "War on Christmas". It reminds me on the "War on Soccer". Last summer, South Africa was hosting the World Cup, and everybody in the whole world was celebrating and partying. Everybody? No, there was one single country where party poopers spent weeks to plaster newspapers and commentary sites with letting everybody know all the time that they don't like soccer, that soccer is inferior to football or baseball, and that soccer is sooooo boring.

So, I'm not a big sportsfan, I can understand that having to put up with soccer fans in droves on the streets is stressful, but in your own living room? Why go out of your way to spoil someone elses fun, if all you need to do is to switch to another TV channel? Is it, deep down, a inferiority complex? Honestly, I have no idea. But I know that these are the same people that don't get too many invitations to parties.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

War on Christmas

It is hard to see what the infamous "War on Christmas" is about: Nobody is forced to celebrate Christmas anyway, Hanukkah is culturally and timewise closer to Thanksgiving then to Christmas and there is still no desire to rename Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving is, by the way, also a church holiday, as is Mardi Gras), Ramadan is not a seasonal holiday, and Pagans have their own high holiday. It's called Halloween. As for atheists, why would they even want to participate in a watered-down version of Christmas in the first place?

The War on Christmas seems to be, mostly, Pagan-driven, but I have yet to meet one single Pagan (or Kwanzaan), and I live in New York City. Also, I‘m not sure why American Pagans would even want to pray to fictional characters from German fairy-tales and Nordic sagas, which is, in effect, what they are doing. Shouldn't Pagans rather pray to the American God's of nature that used to protect Native Americans? Then again, they did not do such a great job when they had the chance.

Germans expats and German companies in the USA are always trying to be politically correct. So they mail out Christmas cards to American associates wishing them Season's Greetings and cards to Germans wishing them Fröhliche Weihnachten. I‘ve just read in The New York Times that Mexicans do the same thing, wishing Feliz Navidad to their own people and Happy Holidays to everybody else. I'm sure French and Italians do likewise.

While the War on Christmas has some funny features, it also has a dark side for Germans: The German Democratic Republic, the GDR, tried to get Christmas ignored, not easy in a country that actually invented Christmas the way it is celebrated today, with a tree, candles, gifts, and traditional songs like Silent Night. Urban rumor has it that the Communists renamed the Christmas angel on top of the Christmas tree Jahresendflügelfigur, a term that loosely translates into "end-of-year-winged-figurine". And there was a fringe movement during the Third Reich within the SS that wanted to replace Jesus with Thor and Odin. But the Nazis as well as the GDR utterly failed to take Christmas out of Germany.

Now let me make a pitch for Berlinica's Christmas gifts: We have an Angels of Berlin wall calendar, and quite a few books, the newest one The Berlin Cookbook. Amazon tells you that it ships within two weeks, but it really ships right away. And it also has recipes suitable for Pagans such as Love Bones. It refers to a Pagan ritual I will tell you about if you buy the book.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Traitor, Moles, and Wikileaks

Berlin is blanketed by snow; but it is also blanketed by infighting in the wake of Wikileaks: It turns out that the U.S. embassy had a mole within the FDP, the right-of-center Free Democratic Party that is part of the German government lead by Angela Merkel. That mole, Helmut Metzner was in charge of foreign policy. He has informed the U.S. Embassy about what was going on during the negotiations about the formation of the new government, down to the last detail.

That would have been frowned upon to begin with;  even worse, the Wikipedia files reveal that Guide Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, who is also the head of the FDP, is seen as  "vain", "incompetent", and "aggressive" by the Americans (an opinion shared by most Germans, by the way). He is also scolded for not sending more German troops to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the American embassador, Philip Murphy, has apologized, not so much for what he said but for the fact that it was leaked.

It is very likely that Metzner will get fired. However, it is more interesting whether Westerwelle will survive, politically, and whether the German government will, in its current formation. Merkel was happier with the Social Democrats, so that is an interesting development.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Live Long and Prosper

So, here is your publisher in her free time (if she has any); at the
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York. The guy behind me is, 
yes, Jean-Luc Picard alias Patrick Stewart, starring in
A Life in the Theatre, and on the right, behind me as well,
is Cindy Opitz, Berlinica's senior translator. Engage!


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