Club of the Polish losers

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I’ve seen this place before, but it’s not been open when I happened by. At some point I want to go in and see if they’re being hipster ironic or if this place is what they say they are.

And what’s a Polish loser like anyway? How might he be different from any other run of the mill loser?

If you ask nicely, I might go do a bit of sleuthing and find out.

Bound to be adventures in Berlin

 

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Berlin Berlin…wir fahren nach Berlin

Going to Berlin tomorrow, and although there’s no wifi in the flat we’re staying in, the city is purportedly all wired up. You can connect anywhere there, or so I’ve been told.

I’ve written about the capital of Germany on this blog before. What, you don’t believe me? Check out these links:

Berlin, Berlin, wir fahren nach Berlin

Willkommen in Berlin

and some of my favourite photos are here:

another day in Berlin

Some of you who badger me with requests for more photos of my dogs Ella and Louis will be happy to know that they’ll be making their first trip to Berlin

There are bound to be adventures and there just might be hijinks involved. If you’d like to know more, watch this space.

Simply staring out the window

 

Staring out the window one day long ago in Hamburg

Staring out the window one day long ago in Hamburg

Stumbling round the web today, I happened upon a New York Times article that was talking about how our brains work. The whole thing is worth reading, so I’ll link to it here:

Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain

However, you don’t need to read the whole thing to get what I thought was the best part. Never hurts if you can slide the word stick-to-itiveness into a sentence…here, enjoy:

This two-part attentional system is one of the crowning achievements of the human brain, and the focus it enables allowed us to harness fire, build the pyramids, discover penicillin and decode the entire human genome. Those projects required some plain old-fashioned stick-to-itiveness.

But the insight that led to them probably came from the daydreaming mode. This brain state, marked by the flow of connections among disparate ideas and thoughts, is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable. You might be going for a walk or grocery shopping or doing something that doesn’t require sustained attention and suddenly — boom — the answer to a problem that had been vexing you suddenly appears. This is the mind-wandering mode, making connections among things that we didn’t previously see as connected.

Did you read that? Daydreaming mode. That’s the best mode. I excel at that one.

Have had some long meandering conversations this summer with some of my favourite people, and quite an unlucky few have difficulty with down time. Time when they don’t actually have to be doing something. It’s a topic I find myself coming back to again and again.

Writing and playing music and teaching are all things that I enjoy. They bring me untold pleasure, and I shine when I’m in my element. Yet, if there’s one thing I’m exceptionally good at, it’s idling. Doing as little as possible.

You don’t put much value in such a thing? Yes, I suppose I get that. Probably not going to change your mind on this one, anyway, which is why I was so thrilled to see the above-mentioned article. Don’t take my word for it.

The creative answers that make the breakthroughs? They don’t necessarily come when you buckle down and try harder. They just might materialise while walking the dogs or catching a street car. Or the one of the best scenarios for daydreaming?

Simply staring out the window.

Go ahead and try it. You’ll be glad you did.

 

The Media’s ‘Silly Season’ is Upon us – What the Germans call the Sommerloch

This originally appeared in MunichNOW, which you can find here:

The Media’s ‘Silly Season’ is Upon us – What the Germans call the Sommerloch

We have entered what the Germans call the Sommerloch, which is yet another example of a German word for a situation that we did not even know was needed. Directly translated, this is the ‘summer hole‘, but for some it is more colloquially referred to as the media’s ‘silly season‘.

To fully understand this phenomenon, one first has to understand that many Europeans are on holiday for the entire month of August. Small shops are closed and getting a craftsman to do even the smallest job is inconceivable. Politicians are far away from their constituents, and as a result, there is little traditional news to report . Because these newsmakers are absent, journalists are left to write about topics that would not normally make it into the news.

Several years ago, a lot of both real and virtual ink was spilled to describe Yvonne the wild cow which had miraculously escaped from a slaughterhouse in Upper Bavaria. A few years previously, there was an octopus who could accurately predict World Cup game winners.

One of the most recent examples of such stories we read only last week on the German news site Focus Online. We were alerted to the plans that some Swiss had to annex regions of Southern Germany; culturally and philosophically, the southerners are far more aligned with the Swiss than with Northern Germany, after all.

These feel-good stories would perhaps otherwise be mentioned in the local section of a regional paper, but for a few weeks in the summer they receive unexpected national and even international exposure. Whether this is proper news is debatable at best – and certainly laughable.

In English, we might say that we are having a slow news day. In this case, we have an entire season of it. In Germany, we are right in the middle of the Sommerloch.

Don’t call me right now

‘Can you just go without your phone for a few minutes?’

He asked me this and I thought, ‘Yes, of course. It’s the weekend. No-one’s trying to reach me right now. I’ve got plenty to be doing, anyway…’

That was several hours ago. I wish I could say this was easy. To be truthful, this is the culmination of a story that began a few years ago. It’s useless to tell the story without going back and explaining my bizarre relationships with smart phones.

Not that this is going to be pretty.

It all starts with the ridiculous envy that’s built into the eyePhone. I’m a convert to nearly everything iOS, but simply can’t get over the sticker shock of buying one of those damned devices. I can almost hear some of you saying, ‘Just bite the bullet and get one of them already. Mine is so amazing. I can’t imagine my life without it anymore.’

Well, that’s part of the problem – that ubiquitous need for this one product. I find myself resisting to lengths I’d rather not admit.

It was somehow easier and quite practical when I originally went an alternative direction. There’s this behemoth of a formerly-nationalised telephone company here in Germany, and I wanted nothing to do with them. At that time, the only way to legally use an eyePhone was to use this company.

Someone explained the intricacies of jail breaking a phone so I could bypass this legality and use the phone, which I wasn’t even willing to purchase to begin with, with my mobile phone provider. It was somehow the lesser of two evils to simply buy another phone.

Which I did.

However, I’ve hated the choice from day one. I’ve cursed my device. I’ve written murder ballads with this ridiculous little piece of machinery in the role of the vanquished lover.

The company who made this thing, once a proud and innovative market leader, is now a sinking ship. There’s no point in harking back to the glory days. I loathed this phone from the first time I set eyes on it.

Finally the thing has given up the ghost. It’s not dead, but it’s on its last legs. It’s provided some sort of easer vice despite my constant ridicule.

I’m trying out new phones – still in the hunt for something that is not an eyePhone. I don’t need the nicest thing on the market, and I’m at a distinct disadvantage, because I’m simply not technically inclined.

It’s why I’m so glad I’ve got a phone guy. Someone who’s helping me decipher the Byzantine realities of mobile technology. It’s not getting any easier, incidentally.

You might say I shouldn’t have such a personal reaction to my phone. Like one of those people who names his car. Or actually thinks the television works better when you talk to it.

You’re probably right. Oh and one more thing. Don’t call me right now.

German words and not talking opera

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She looks somehow optimistic, doesn’t she? What’s that she’s holding in her hand anyway?

You know, it can be a bit odd when you tell someone you like living in Germany. The person cocks his head, and either says it outright or visibly thinks, ‘But you could live in Spain or Italy…or anywhere. Why Germany?’

Then you admit that you actually enjoy speaking the German language…oh, and that you genuinely like the people.

The person you’re talking to cannot fathom that last bit. It is simply unfathomable.

Germans are boring. Everyone knows that (they’re not boring, but stereotypes are persistent). Actually, some Germans are painfully dull. However, I’ve met some Brits and dare I say even more Americans who’ve got the personality of drying paint. Every culture has its share of the socially inept. The comically uncurious.

Germans are humourless (aside from slapstick – many Germans adore Mr Bean, after all – the German sense of humour is  utterly language dependent…you’ve got to know the parlance to get the jokes). They’ve got a sense of humour. Do some individuals take themselves too seriously? Well, sure. Of course. I avoid those. I seek out the ones who see the lighter side of life here. The ones who can laugh at themselves.

And finally? Germans are orderly rule followers. Well, this one’s kind of true. It is true. There are exceptions, but on the whole there is a social order here. People do what they’re expected. They break rules and sometimes they lie, but for the most part rules are there to be adhered to.

Is that so horrible?

It’s rather good for someone of my ilk (a bit whimsical) to live in a society where things are reliable. If a German tells you he’s going to do something, generally that something gets done. It’s sort of refreshing.

What got me thinking about all of this? Well, I read this very funny page by Ed M Wood:

My Favorite German Words, My Barber and I

Go ahead. Click on the link above. It’s not going to hurt you.

There’s so much in here I can relate to. The words he chooses are some of my favourite. The way he winds the story of him and his barber through the list of words? Yes, I like that, as well.

My friend Amy has one of those calendars where you learn a little bit of German everyday, and she regularly regales me with the more ridiculous things that the damned thing is trying to teach her. If you think Ed M Wood‘s article is funny, you should hear Amy arguing with her German calendar.

Here’s the one from yesterday:

 

Quatsch keine Opern!
(Translation: Be brief!)
Literally? “Don’t talk operas!”
I like that a lot. Don’t talk operas for goodness sake. Not bad advice.

 

Don’t Mess with the River Isar

Don’t Mess with the River Isar

Oh man. This is good. There are plenty of things I’ve got to write about, but this Don’t Litter ad is making the rounds – I saw it at the Eldorado Cinema last night – and I think it’s brilliant.

At the end, it says, ‘Zuhause machst du’s ja auch nicht,’ which means, ‘Yeah, you don’t litter at home.’

Ella and Louis (my sister and brother Vizslas) and I spend quite a lot of time on the River Isar that runs through Munich. We completely support any attempts to get people to treat the area better.

Reminds me of the old Don’t Mess with Texas ads I saw growing up that served the same purpose. Yet another Bavaria is the Texas of Germany argument. For good or ill.

 

Unterwegs with plenty I should be doing otherwise

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The FilmfestMünchen is thankfully behind us. It’s the only week of the year where we can see a variety of independent film and even some not-yet-released-in-Europe bigger movies; however, the way I do it involves quite a lot of screenings. My eyes may or may not be rectangular, as a result.

There are still reviews to write and other projects in the pipeline, but I got a call from a good friend who’s visiting from the States. On her way back home tomorrow, the only way I was going to see her was to hop a train to Passau for the day.

What about my dogs Ella and Louis? Well, they’ve been riding the train since they were pups. This is almost second nature for them.

Ooh, here’s a photo I took of them a few years ago in Passau.

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Passau is a gorgeous smaller Bavarian city on the Austrian border and not far from the Czech Republic. It was actually one of the first places I took the dogs after bringing them home from Hamburg.

Although Germans know about this gem of a city, I rarely see any English-speaking tourists there. Perhaps someone writing in English should be talking more about it. Someone who knows a bit about Bavaria and enjoys writing about all that’s going on there.

I wonder who that could be.

Bar hopping in a sportive season

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(Where we watched the Engaland v Uruguay debacle)

First watched the World Cup in 1990, and because I’d lived in Bavaria as a boy, I pulled for the Schwarz Rot Gold of the newly reunited Western and Eastern Germany. They won, and I somehow expected they’d do it again in 1994.

It was hosted in the America that year, and because I was loitering round the Aspen Music Festival and had plenty of acquaintances from the countries playing, we watched a lot of the World Cup matches. Felt sorry for the Italians in the penalty shootout, and since the Brazilians won it that time around, I was pulling for France in the 1998 Final.

By 2002, I lived in the Fatherland, and my adopted homeland made a surprisingly strong showing. I was connected to the national side while watching Oliver Kahn hang his head in shame, even though they’d have never made it that far without him.

The Germans named the World Cup on their own soil a Sommermärchen (summer fairytale) and the mood within the friendly confines of the German heartland is still remarked upon to this day. The weather was somehow perfect, and the Germans took a break from whinging for a brief moment in time.

Four years ago was the Final in which the Dutch apparently decided they could never beat Spain by FairPlay…my curious story about that match was that we were stuck on a train from Vienna for the first half, and my mother and I watched the end of the game in a café in the main train station when we finally returned to Munich.

And now here we are again. I had family visiting as this World Cup got underway, and now even though I’m incredibly busy reviewing movies at the FilmFest München, I still stumble out of the cinema looking for the nearest television screen that’s showing the footie.

It’s what I do.

Tonight there was an event with a bunch of film industry people. I was asked if I’d like to come. Without missing a beat, my first question was, ‘Will they be showing the game?’

They were.

It was the best part of the party. By far.