Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Sie ist vom Pech verfolgt " or "Bad Luck Follow her Around"

Lucky Ian makes ebe angry!
It's always hard to complain to friends & family back home about how difficult it it living your dream as an expat. But it is difficult sometimes! Obtaining visas, apartment searches, scams can seriously suck. Lately, we have been dealing altogether too much with the icky stuff.

Everyone knows Ian is the lucky one. Usually I think since I've hitched my cart to his wagon I will be safe in his afterglow. But with all of our recent troubles it is unclear if he has lost his shine, or possibly my bad luck is just rubbing off.

Yesterday, a sign from above came to tell me- nope, you guys don't have bad luck (whew!). It's just you, ebe (damn it).

It has been a lovely spring and Monday was the nicest day so far at about 83 degrees F. We had a great day where we finally found some breathing room with a free book, great lunch, and we found an apartment
(we will write about that when we actually, for real, move into the place. Can't blame us for being nervous).

Hummus Plate: grilled meats, veg, & serious fries
Ian + free book

We decided to go swimming in nearby Weissensee. People lounging around the park, a fountain in the middle of the lake, boat rentals, happy dogs....Summer! All this positivity was dashed as I put my first foot in the lake. Something stabbed my foot. Startled, I sat down -plunk!- in the water as the many curious onlookers wondered what the hell was wrong with me. Ian was also looking at me.

"My foot!" I gasped. "Something stabbed it." Bringing it up for the inspection- yep, blood was gushing out fo a straight puncture into the bottom of my foot. Blood dripped into the suddenly disgusting-seeming lake water. As my foot throbbed, I asked Ian for guidance. German swimmers no longer cared that I had made a little scene and now just wanted me to move so they could get in. I hobbled over to the bank and sat with one damaged foot clenched to my stomach and the other dangling in the water. Ian looked at me helplessly, frozen by the awkwardness of the situation. "I don't know." he said. Stuck with a still bleeding foot and a struck-dumb husband I tried to play down the scene. "Just go swim." Thankful to be released, he frolicked into the cooling waters and I watched him swim around as my foot bled and ached.

When he had enough fun in the water world, Ian helped me limp to the blanket as people casually stared.

(I also saw later my ass had been scraped up when I abruptly sat down on the steps so another thing to feel awkward about).
Ian admitted that the swim had been great and I evily wished him Swimmer's ear. We eventually made the long walk back to the bus and all the way home. I opted for no medical care besides neosporin & a band-aid so we will be watching my jaw for signs of stiffness (just joking mum- I'm fine). Today we have to move our bags over to the new place which will be fun with my broke foot.

BUT I did make a positive assessment of our situation. Ian has not lost his luck, it's just me.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mystery in the Berlin Bathroom

We are lucky to have this temporary apartment to call home in Weisensee. We have really grown to enjoy the area and the place is crazy funky. There is a boar's head that the guys grandfather shot. Awesome.

The bathroom's potential is maximized, but it is literally a closet that was re-done into a bathroom. Tight! And what we were really curious about- What's behind the shower?

Want more pics and stories of apartments in Berlin? Click the apartment label for full gory details of our many, many moves and read What Moving 6 times in a Year has Taught Me.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Use Your Hands! Eating in Berlin

 Dolores - Mission style Burritos in Berlin

We had a real "America-Fuck Yeah" eating kind of weekend. To keep up our energy while apartment searching we checked out the much hyped Dolores. Berlin has got the goods on food and cheap bites are the city's specialty, but good Mexican food is scarce. When we arrived in Berlin in 2007 restaurants billed as Mexican were more often Spanish - or not even close. Today's growing taquerias are getting closer, but pickles in the salsa, poorly treated tortillas, and an absolutely pathetic spice level still has us missing the Mexican food of home.

We were excited to try this place, based on San Francisco Mission style Mexican. We were surprised to enter and find a cooler Chipotle-style restaurant. Ian ordered a burrito with beef, awesome cream (Ian's re-named sour cream FYI), and an unusual spicy peanut sauce. I went for a burrito bowl, which most resembled nachos with house-made corn chips, corn salsa, and mole tofu. Innovation & flavor! Not authentic to Mexico, but some seriously tasty food for under 5 euro. Dolores, we are in your debt.

The Bird - American Burger Joint in Berlin 

On Saturday we ended up at another joint billed as Americana. The Bird has a bit of a kick-ass attitude and tells it's diners how to eat. In all fairness, Berliners, and Germans in general, appear to have a serious deficiency when it comes to dining. They won't use their freakin' hands! The Bird addresses this:

"Note: Burger eating does not require a fork and knife
It ruins the burger, violates several laws of nature and drives the cook nearly to the point of running amok with a hot spatula. We don't provide big rolls of paper towel for nothing. Please pick it up and get it into you, it's just better that way."

We have twice seen a German take apart a burger in this cruel & bizarre manner, taking a bite of pure bun. What are you doing!? French fries are provided with tiny forks, we've watched burritos be dismantled this way, and the sausage vendors appear to be the only ones selling food that escapes this terrible fate. I like a fork & knife. I am embarrassed to say I am a little finicky on picking wings etc. apart with my hands. But the atrocity of eating a burger with knife & fork will not stand, man!

The burgers at the bird were tasty, but unfortunately a bit too expensive & served on a roll that more resembled an english muffin. Good for right then, but doubt we'll be back. Keep up the good fight on table manners guys.

My evolving feelings on this place can be found on Yelp

German Bill Etiquette 

We have thoroughly been schooled on one thing we are still trying to feel comfortable with. In Germany, you have to ask for the check when you are ready to pay. None of this rush-you-out-the-door, waiters gotta make that money, table turnover, attitude. Feeling guilty about asking, we think it is nice to say "When you have a minute, can we get the check?" Our German friend explained this is actually kinda rude. Sounds like we are being sarcastic, like "If you can stop being lazy and bring us our check that'd be grrrrrreeeat." Touche. German manners.

For some real burgers that bite, check out this crazy animated short. BEWARE: it's bloody & beautiful.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Das Perfekte Dinner

I'm in love with a TV show. Which is difficult, because we don't have a TV. Luckily, with the internet being what it is we watch a better selection of TV than most of our friends & family back home. Back to my obsession:

I can make excuses like it is good for my German skills (which it is) or it teaches us interesting cultural norms (which it does), or that we learn new recipes fro it (which we don't) but the plain truth is- I just adore this show. The theme music is permanently etched in my brain.  It was actually on briefly in the States in NYC, but somehow it did not succeed. The show is a dinner party each night of the week, with 5 people who don't know each other. Each night, one person hosts, wines, and dines trying to throw- you guessed it- the Prefect Dinner. Obviously this is  a lot more difficult than it looks and there is a good deal of sweating (sometimes directly into the food- eww!), drinking, and awkward moments. And Germans are not known to hold back on criticism, they can be just plain mean! I love it. 

Ian & I have plans to get him on the show sometime (you know, once we have one of those things called a house with a kitchen and table), but we have lately been the benefactor of 2 fine, Das Perfekte Dinner worthy evenings.

Our friend Jeff had an awesome dinner where a bunch of us came over to watch a masterpiece come together. Salad, bread, and chicken marsala. I am sorry to say the only time I have ever had it is at the dreaded Spag (Ole Spaghetti Factory. Yeah, Ian & I worked there).  This was a vast improvement. And it was my favorite kind of evening where everyone comes together to make a table, set out the dishes, ohhh! and ahh! over the delicious dining, laugh filled conversation, and a group effort to wash all the dishes. Pretty close to perfekt!

Next we got a surprise invite to our friend Chester's for dinner. A transplant from Louisiana , we were looking forward to some serious soul. Cornbread muffins greeted us and homemade lemonade. YES. We bourbon-ed the lemonade up and dug in. Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Salad with chili oil was perfect and by the time we were served Gumbo I was smitten. Tasty fish, rice, sausage, shrimp. Plates & bowls were color-coded. Casually, Chester mentions that he made the andouille sausage. Wow. That's taking it to Perfekte Dinner level.

Now it is about time for us to host our own event. No surprise, I think we are going on the Mexicana route. We want to class up our usual burrito routine, so we will see what we come up with. We've got plans. Big plans. Pictures are sure to come.


Ian's birthday /Das Perfekte Dinner Mexican Food was a success. We definitly ate, drank and were very merry.

Also, I am still trying to improvie my German through TV. It is going so/so.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cardiff Love

With the whole getting conned thing & looking for housing, we kinda left off on our UK adventure. We did manage to showcase Cambridge, practiced the English accent, cheered on our favorite horses at the track and showed some of our favorite pictures in London, but we have yet to talk about our final destination- Cardiff.

Unlike our trip to England in 2007, we wanted to see more of the UK than just London. With limited time & resources, the easiest option was to get ourselves to Wales. We took off that morning with plenty of time...we thought. After 5 trains- yes 5- went by that weren't for us, we started getting worried. As we hit unexplained stop mid-station after unexplained stop mid-station in the tube we positioned ourselves to run. As we exited the train we attempted to use the machine to claim our ticket. 10 min later, it kept claiming a random error message. Now in a  total panic, we sprinted to the information center on the other side of Paddington Station. I got in line while Ian tried to claim the tickets from another machine. 5 min later- success! Ian had the tickets & we raced to the departure board to find which platform we should be sprinting for. 2 min before departure- no train. We stood in another line to ask at information. The man kindly explained the train would have left already (yeah right) and we would need to go to the ticket desk. FRUSTRATION.

Monday, May 16, 2011

London Town- a Love Story in Pictures

As the source of my paternal roots, the place we were engaged and a pretty rockin place - we easily name London as one of our favorite cities.

London Bus Transportation
Double Decker Buses! We happily took the seats at the front whenever we had a chance

A cheap flight from Berlin, we are always happy to return to the city and in our second venture we based ourselves in a little room in a flatshare just off of Brick Lane through AirBnB. We struggled with the pub closing hours of "no food after 6pm", discussed the short-comings of the much praised Tube, and ate and drank our way through the city.

Eurovision- A Love/Hate Relationship

When we first came to Berlin, we were up for anything and when a friend suggested staying in to watch a singing competition we happily agreed. And what a show.  This was


Never heard of it before? Either had we. This song competition between European nations (although I am confused how Israel is grouped in there) is a crazy mess. Some performances are good. Some performances are fun. Most performances are crazy tacky and terrible. Sequins! Lights! Dancing! Madness!

Unfortunately, in the past few years everyone started singing in English. Luckily, that does mean you can hear some hilarious pronunciation and understand some bizarre lyrical choices.

Example A: Maldova

This guy's were actually our favorite. The Princess on the unicycle? The hats? The monocle!?

Example B: Russia

This was the winning performance on our first watch in 2008. We were transfixed by the Russian Olympic skater and his itty bitty slice of ice. 

Song quality doesn't seem to matter because when it comes to voting, the countries vote for their friends. Each country gets several votes so,
Austria votes for Germany and Switzerland and vice versa,
Spain votes for Portugal and Italy and vice versa,

Proof in point - someone totally random won.

AZERBAIJAN - seriously? This led to a flurry of Tweets: "Where's is Azerbaijan?"

Somehow I almost forgot another favorite: Ireland's totally unhinged Jedward.

Watching this European throw-down has become a beloved tradition. Go Germany!


Update: 2014 Competition

The finale is taking place on May 10th and I can't wait to catch the madness. For details,

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Berlin Ian - Professional Educator

Ian had a photo shoot at the kita a while back to have him put into the list of educators at his school. Thinking this was low-key, he showed up in his usual attire of jeans and a t-shirt (luckily this time not depicting any guns, nudity, or general violence). It was actually a professional shoot and this is his picture on the site:

Not bad! Made ole' ugo look not child-molestery. Just kidding. Ian really is a great teacher and he actually had the most returning students of any teacher last time he taught. He talks about them all the time and I feel like I've gotten to know them too. Especially little Alec.

Meet his other teacher's here, the rest of the "pebbles" group, and get inspired by Ian's quote:
"Learning is fun!"

For more dispatches from the kita: http://ianandebe.blogspot.de/search/label/kita

Friday, May 13, 2011

Caught the Culprits!

In a turn of events I would have never expected (sorry for my lack of faith German police, I  have been well trained by your American brethren), they caught the female half of the duo who conned us on the apartment!

I still can't believe it. A prost to you sir! And to you, and you, and you! Little is known about what actually went down, and the man is still on the loose, but I can tell you it made our night thinking about her in a jail cell somewhere in Berlin last night. I know it's not becoming, but I hope it's awful. I hope she is terrified for her future and questioning how she even ended up here in the first place. Because that is exactly how we felt.

Who knows if they will catch him, if they will spend time in jail, or if even a little of our money will come back to us, but for now we feel like

UPDATE: They caught the guy in Munich! We just heard & can't be happier. Feels like victory...even though we had little to do with it.Hopefully the good news will continue to flow in day by day. Thanks for all of your support!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Guide to Berlin- out now!

I just started the guide to Berlin for EasyExpat. Should be fun and I am sure I will learn more about the city, but already feel the pressure from inevitable mistakes...

BUT- we really do love it here and I will do my best to make Berlin proud. And how about a few personal photos that encapsulate our adoration.

Badeschiff- My FAV place in the summer

Bier & bikes on Männertag

friendly graffiti

Ever moving, ever changing


Goerlitzer park

Shadow of the Fernsehturm in Alex

City Sunset

View of the Fernsehturm from Prenzlauerberg

Berliner Dom

My favorite statue 

Olympiastadion- site of 1936 Olympics and many a Hertha game

Statue at Sanssouci, nearby palace

Happy to be in Berlin

NEWS: It's out- read all about it! 
Guide to Berlin

And here about one of my favorite parts of the job - Expat Interviews!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Getting Scammed in Germany

Now that the worst of it is over and our life is somewhat back on it's axis, we can tell the story of a couple who wanted to sublet an apartment and instead got scammed.

Look at these happy faces! Sad to be leaving a great place in Friedrichshain, but ready to set a more permanent foot down in Neukölln. (Ouch- it is physically painful to watch this now)

Unfortunately, once they went to move into said apartment, there was somebody already there. 3 other somebodies to be exact.  All with matching contracts, receipt of payment, and keys.

What exactly happened:
We have been desperately searching for a place for some time now. Knowing we had to move out in May and that we had a vacation set for late April, we started early. And something that has never happened happened- We had trouble finding a place.  Writing 10-15 places a day, only a response or two would trickle back. Increasingly desperate we raised our limit, expanded our parameters, and lowered our pretty basic standards. We found exactly 2 places that might have become our favorite places...if we had not been third on the list.

On Sunday of the week we had to move, we got a call about visiting an apartment. We visited it & decided it fit our needs & the guy was pleasant- we'd take it! The next day we were back with first month's rent, deposit, and a pen. He gave us his account number, his & his wife's name, keys, a copy of the signed contract, and a receipt of our payment.

The next day we arrived with bags galore and opened to door....to several bags in the hallway. Thinking we came too early Ian asked if they were still there. A guy we had never seen before rounded the corner,

"Wir wurden verarsht."
"We've been made fools of".

The wind was kicked out of us. Apparently he had given the exact same spiel to 4 other people (one more couple arrived even later). We tried to grasp what had just happened, and figured out we needed to make our way to the police station. Torn between crying and total disbelief, Ian & I got our bags and participated in the saddest parade I have ever seen. The 5 of us carried our meager belongings in an assortment of suitcases, backpacks, bicycles, and garbage bags. Two Poles, two German, two Americans, and a Frenchmen were taken. Different ages, different occupations, but all just looking for a place to live.

People have asked why we have been subletting as if it is a burden, but until this point it's been pretty fun. We are accumulating more stuff by the day, but we don't have the trappings of a household. No bed, no silverware, and certainly not the sink, oven, or washer-machine most bare apartments are missing. It's given us a look at different people, different neighborhoods, and different lifestyles. This experience kinda sucked all the fun right out of it.

At the station statements were taken and "tut tuts" were handed out about dealing in cash. By now it was almost midnight and my tired mind could hardly take it all in. We have completed exactly 5 sublets in Germany, 3 of which were cash only. This actually seemed more legit than some of the others.

Some friends arrived to help us carry our bags back home and we went back to the apartment in Friedrichshain for one last night. The next day we felt worse. Desperately I searched for temporary sublets starting TODAY and Ian struggled to stay upbeat with the kids at work. Coming up empty-handed, we moved into a friend's place temporarily- we hoped.

We are now in a very pleasant sublet for the rest of the month. Somewhere to pick ourselves up and find somewhere "real", somewhere permanent. There is a garden with bunnies and table tennis in back and it is in a nice area where people move a little slower, a little friendlier. It is the place of an artist and he has cool stuff in every nook like the boar head his grandfather shot. We have a dishwasher which literally makes our world, and a bright and funky kitchen space - perfect for spending an evening preparing dinner side-by-side.

This has been rough, but through it all I couldn't believe my luck in having Ian with me. When we first found out  about the fraud I felt like crumbling but hugging Ian kept me up. I felt bad for those other singles who had been ripped off and didn't have anyone standing beside them. Ian can be the source of great frustration to me, which I tell him too much. What I should tell him more often, is how his value in the area of comforting are unrivaled and even in one of the worst 24-hours of my life, doubt about us getting it back together never crossed my mind.

We've since found out the asshole Austrian (not a Germ!) only subletted the place for the weekend. We're not sure the total number of people he sold it to. The case is proceeding (supposedly) and it may be that the owner of the apartment is responsible for some of the damage as they didn't follow proper procedure. Luckily, Ian & I are financially stable enough to take this hit and keep on truckin', but the hit to our faith in mankind has been harder to take. We got professionally conned, where someone who appeared like us clubbed us over the head with our trust. We definitely could have protected ourselves more and will take pains to do that in the future, but it's a bit sad to lose that straight forward, not-going-to-cheat-you attitude we so like about being in Germany.

One thing is for sure, if we ever find the asshole Austrian we are going to sic the Honey Badger on him. Honey badger doesn't give a shit.

Want more pics and stories of apartments in Berlin? Click the apartment label for full gory details of our many, many moves and read What Moving 6 times in a Year has Taught Me.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Here's to you Mum!

It is Mother's Day in the US & nothing makes you feel more like a bad kid than being thousands of miles away. Bad kid! Bad!

Oh well- enough beating ourselves up about it. Tis the life of an expat to be estranged from those you love & cherish- and them from you. What is important to make clear- how important they are to you and how no distance can can between you.

So here's to you mum, mum-in-law, & grand-mum-in-law. We love you.

Mum & Dad at the wedding

Kelly, Grandma, & Ian at the rehearsal dinner

My primary news source, Gawker, explains what your Mother's Day gift says about you.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Surprise Video (Only Partially Well Recieved)

Last time we were in London, this happened: Dec 5th, Day that will live in Infamy. Spur of the moment, we made a video in Piccadilly Circus with a surprise announcement. Unfortunately I am having trouble tracking it down, but it was just a sly hand wave with a ring that got some of the parents in a tizzy, and caught my dad blissfully unaware until my mum informed him we had just announced our engagement. 

As we wandered the square once again, we looked at each other & just couldn't resist freaking out the parents again:

We know- not very nice. My parents thought it was funny... once they got over their heart attack that it was, indeed, a joke.

To add to our current video extravaganza, how about a re-post of the video our good friend Phil helped us make for the wedding.

We're Back in Berlin Ja!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!
ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008