Fête Nationale Berlin 2012

As expat time spent outside of my home country increases, I find that the American Independence Day July 4th, increasingly hard to celebrate. 
Not due to loss of my sense of pride to be an American or any such thing… simply because there are so few chances to celebrate here in Berlin.
July 4th in Berlin is often put together by some of the local expat organisations, usually in a park somewhere, and annoyingly enough, during normal business hours. Am I the only American actually working in Berlin?

Fete NationaleWhich brings me to what the English-speaking world calls Bastille Day. July 14th is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison, and is celebrated as the beginning of the French Revolution. Every year on Pariser Platz (the square that begins Unter den Linden street right behind the Brandenberg Gate), the French Embassy throws a little party. Not a huge one, but a nice one. Events run most of the day, and importantly for me, into the evening. Interestingly enough, in France, the parties are traditionally scheduled for the 13th of the month, allowing for the party to go late into the night, and the people to sleep in on the actual holiday.The French Embassy erects a large stage and twenty or so booths sell everything from Orangina to fine, French wines. Of course this is still Germany, so someone is selling Rostbratwurst in a bun as well, but most of the stalls are Franco-centric. In recent years, Galleries Lafayette has had a stall selling a bit of the French culture to hungry French expats and Germans alike.

For me the music is not to be missed, so I always try my best to be there for the concerts as the daylight begins to dim. 

Kinda golden
From our own trip to Paris
to celebrate the
Fête Nationale

I love to play “spot the Frenchie”, which is easier than you might imagine. As the music gets wilder and wilder, the Germans can be seen watching intently, generally with not so much as a foot tapping in time with the music… while the French are wildly dancing and obviously enjoying themselves. It is a cultural divide to say the least. 

Oh, and this American is jumping and dancing in the French throng, trust me. Maybe I don’t get to celebrate the Red, White and Blue complete with crazy fireworks… but the Blue, White, Red party is a lot of fun too.

If you’re in Berlin and looking for a nice Strassenfest, come on down to the Gate on Friday night. You will have your chance to taste a REAL crêpe, and show those Germans how to dance.


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Berlin Fotomarathon 2012

Over the past weekend I took part in my second Berlin Fotomarathon. Basically it works like this: 

a. There’s an overall theme each year. This year it was “Der Augenblick genießen” which got translated two ways according to which theme sheet you consulted. The first translation was “Enjoy the Moment”, whereas the second and third sheet had “Seize the Moment” which was actually a much nicer sentiment in my estimation. Unfortunately you don’t learn the theme until the shot of the Fotomarathon gun and the first shot themes are handed out. 

b. Then all participants have 12 hours to take 24 photos. 

c. Each photo must display a theme. The individual themes are given out in stages of eight, at a series of checkpoints around Berlin. 

d. At the last checkpoint participants hand over their memory card with only 24 photos, taken in order and unmodified

e. An exhibition is organized about three weeks after the marathon, and prizes are handed out on the last day of that exhibition. 

01 Here and now (Hier und Jetzt)
This first image must display your start number in some creative way. My start number being 42 was rather daunting since it seems the number is the “Answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything” as stated in the book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I had put out a general scream for help and several people stepped to the plate. 
In the end I combined the suggestions of The Queer Expatriate (who would also be participating) and the Honorable Husband. Spelling 42 phonetically was the brainchild of HH and TQE reminded me about the white mice who were central to the QUESTION in the book. The watch is there because it actually reads 11:42, and I thought that was a cool addition to the “here and now” theme. I had considered using the white mice throughout the day as sort of a theme, but decided that life was too short for that kind of craziness. 

02 Go for it! (Trau Dich!) 
My photowalk buddy stood in for this one. The idea was gathering the courage to do something a bit dangerous. There were originally two photos, one which had a better hand position, but seemed to be ready to shove the hot pepper up her nose. I personally dislike the yellow tint, and would rather have framed the shot differently, but hey, we’re under time pressure, ya know? 
03 Colourful (Farbenfroh) 
This was taken in the grocery store in the basement at Alexa. I had purchased the hot pepper there and knew I would return after that shot to capture something colorful. (I often wonder what people think when they see someone craning over a display rack holding a camera — but this is of course a big city, and no one said a thing. In fact, one man waited patiently for me to compose and shoot before reaching for his bananas.)
04 Free choice (freie Auswahl)
The guys at Alexanderplatz Dunkin’ Donuts were cute, and sweet, and asked for money to allow me to shoot. But in the end they relented. I actually think they were a bit disappointed that I didn’t want to get them in the picture.

05 Melting away (dahinschmeltzen)
I would have liked to get two lovers melting into each other, as this is actually the closer translation of the German original. But the ice cream idea popped into mind as we were waiting in line at Alexanderplatz Burger King. (a girl can’t live on Ibuprofen and Red Bull alone, mind you) This cone waited through our lunch and really started to get busy melting as I was finishing up. I like how there are two downward streams in each area. 

One funny thing to experience at this location was that we actually ate lunch sitting adjacent to two sets of Fotomarathoners, even though we were on the opposite side of town from the starting point. As I pulled out the camera for this shot, all eyes were on me with what I assume was the “which theme” question rolling through their heads.  

06 Perfection (Perfektion)
Now we are on our way to get the next set of themes. I was two photos behind by this time and was feeling a bit of pressure. But way back at Alex I had decided that perfection to me was a box of Karl’s strawberries. The nearest stand we could think of was at Bahnhof Zoo… so we took the opportunity to hit that location on our way to the Hotel Bogota for the next themes. 

As the shutter clicked for this photo, I heard the unmistakeable voice of That Queer Expatriate behind me asking which theme I was shooting. How funny to run into him in this huge city, a bus ride away from our eventual destination. We three then made our way to the check in. Hotel Bogota had an interesting feel about it, with many photographs surrounding us as we made our way in and out. I will go back soon to get a better understanding for the place. Maybe to also learn more about their tango nights. 

07 Euphoric (euphorisch)
After looking over the next required themes such as “laughing out loud”, and “hot and spicy” it just seemed natural to head back to the Motzstrassenfest. Let’s face it, Berliners aren’t known for their smiling faces, and I would need some soon. 

I admit defeat on this one. I kept trying to get these girls as they looked not only euphoric, but also catching them as the ADAC advertisement was not showing. Ugh. OK, on to the next shot, please.

08 Absorbed (versunken)
This shot was exactly what I was looking for. My first thought was to enlist the help of my photo walk buddy and shoot over her shoulder as she was checking images on her camera. But then the phone thing occurred to me, with the added benefit of getting the faces of friends around who looked bored because of this guy’s absorption.

09 City life (Stadtleben)
This is a classic, and you might guess is taken very close to the festival. Displaying so beautifully the rough side of the city is the man below. Beer bottle in hand, I thought to capture him, then watched incredulously as he picks his nose and eats it. Lovely. Soon I notice him readjusting his “package” as though uncomfortable. As I start to walk away after the shot, he whips it out right there and proceeds to piss. The guy on the top is of course oblivious to what is happening below, and is busy taking photos of the party on the street. Yeah, city life.

10 Laughing out loud (lauthals lachen)
These two were sooo cute. I saw them and thought that I had finally caught the only smiling faces in the place. When I turned them and asked them if I could take a photo it became obvious why they were walking with their faces in a default smile setting… they were from out of town. Thanks guys. 

11 Longing (sehnsüchtig)
The guy in the vest was working on shirtless dude something incredible. Asking him questions about his life, and where he was from. In general, shirtless dude was looking past vest man towards the guy behind him wearing a hat. What an interaction, and it went on for about 10 minutes. 

12 Pause for thought (Denkpause)
Ahem. Berliner Fotomarathon images are displayed end to end on a 3 meter long strip of photos… so um, well, it is better to have them all oriented landscape, and NOT portrait. Well, sometimes that is easy to forget, especially when MOST of the photos you normally take seem to be portrait. Thus we have this lovely example of a pause for thought which actually displayed my lack of thought. Hell, I’m cool with it. I did have a lovely pause there, and I’m going to continue to display it sideways as though I had intended it all along. 

About this time we met (by accident – seriously, how BIG IS this city?) the Honorable Husband and decided to walk together for a while to discover more of this cool event. He lives in Munich and something tells me the stuffy Münchners don’t let it all hang out quite the way the Berliners do… so as he was enjoying the scenery, we were enjoying showing him what it is like in Europe’s gay pride capital. 

13 Flight of fancy (Höhenflüge)
Balloons, flying, colorful, the flag in the background… I’m going with it. 

14 Hot and spicy (richtig scharf)
Oh my these “ladies” were incredible. I did get a full body shot of the one wearing the black shoes, but she really was a bit too skinny for my taste. Perhaps I expect my transvestites to have more UMPH up top or something. When we saw the shoes with red… oh honey… THAT is hot and spicy. 

15 Sweet tooth (Naschkatze)
Yeah well, duh. I wish I had pulled out the 50mm for this shot for more bokeh and better focus. But it is at least a decent shot. 

16 Carefree (sorglos) 
Dude was standing just outside the area from the women’s stage. He was chugging a beer and just looked like he didn’t have a care in the world. OK, snap. 

HH invited us back to his nearby hotel for a coffee break and since we were running ahead of schedule, we thought it sounded like a good proposition. Once again, the theme for the day was “Enjoy the Moment”, and we intended to do just that. Thanks HH!

17 Call it a day (Feierabend)
After warm coffee, sparkling conversation and a rain shower pause we made our way over to the next check in location which was the Berlinische Gallerie. Another cool place that warrants further investigation. 

This shot is the entrance to a company which was closed up for the day. Yeah, Feierabend. 

18 Together (zusammen)
Benches, together… I’m going with it. 

19 Chilling (chillen)
Not long after I took this shot these folks got up and left. My photowalk buddy suggested that perhaps they were dealers and didn’t like the idea of a camera being pointed at them, no matter HOW far away. 

20 Refreshing (erfrischend)
Um, yeah. I was thinking water (ok, so that is canal water and CERTAINLY not fresh) and that cute little umbrella over there. Work with me people.

21 Natural beauty (Naturschönheit)
This was taken looking down from the overhead train bridge at Hallesches Tor. I like the lines of the tree branches and how they work with the sidewalk line. 

22 Passionate (leidenschaftlich)
This was a no brainer. What was so hard about it was getting them while embracing without seeing either face. I also wanted to get the train station sign in there to give it a sense of place. 

23 Cherry red (kirschrot)
We headed back to the Motz festival again because… well, why not? We met up with some friends, drank some adult beverages and generally “enjoyed the moment”. I spent two hours in search of an ass for this shot. I wanted two buns tightly packed into a pair of red leather… or red denim… or hell, knowing this festival, it was possible to find those buns with red paint on them. Everyone around was helping me… “Oh look, she’s got red pants”. In the end I didn’t find what I was looking for. 

As the time drew near to get out of there and turn in our pictures, I started to get a bit nervous. Then I saw this beautiful older woman amongst the dancers shaking her thing. When I approached she wanted me to take a photo of her man. He was sweet, and about a head shorter than her, but he wasn’t what I was looking for. 

She and I chatted for some time. Crappy German was our only language in common, as she was from Ecuador and spoke Spanish and I think she said Quichua. We talked about the dance she was doing, which looked like an extended merengue to me, but she said it was something she learned in her village, and she had no name for it. 

24 The last dance (Der letzte Tanz)
These are actually the feet of one of the friends we met up with at the Motz Festival. I had taken about 8 shots, but either other feet got in the way, or they were more blurred than I would have liked, or actually not blurred enough. In the end I settled for this shot because you can more easily see her shoes… which I liked. 

After going through all of these images I now understand why so many others (No Apathy Allowed / The Queer Expatriate) are blogging about their experience in stages. My gosh, that is a lot to consider all at one time.

My second experience with a photo marathon was even better than the last, and that is saying a lot since I enjoyed the other one sooo much. The photos aren’t anything special, and actually there are only one or two which I would even consider loading onto Flickr. But the theme of the day was “Seize the Moment”, and I think we really did just that. 

I had decided to shoot the whole day in manual and to use my new 24-70 lens exclusively. Well, I had to change out the lens twice for an 18-200 my buddy was working with… otherwise I just wouldn’t have gotten the shot. Also I used the 50mm for the melting away shot… and later the strawberry shot, there was no other way to capture the subject and blur the other items the way I wanted. But I carried that HUGE piece of 24-70 glass with me everywhere and didn’t even get tennis elbow for my trouble.

Several things I promise myself for next year. I will work harder to have artful photos. Because I know that doing it alone would be hard I will have a buddy along again. Also next year I want to take non-marathon photos alongside those requested ones. It seems to make sense to download them all to the iPad or something before deleting the ones which don’t fit. I DID delete some awesome pics this year which weren’t right the theme. 

A big thanks to the Berliner Fotomarathon folks who I believe are all volunteers. It must be hard to put something like this together, and they’ve done a great job and deserve a round of applause. The locations were better this year, the prizes are better, and it seemed to flow much easier as well. 

Now… where is my calendar for NEXT year’s marathon?

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Webmu 2012 – Blogger meetup in Berlin

The Hauptstadt will never be the same.
Berlin is going to host WEBMU (Whiney Expat Bloggers Meet-Up) this year!
Put September 7-9 in your calendar and get your chance to meet your favorite expat bloggers face to face.
Looking back, we’ve had WEBMU meet-ups so far in Bonn (2006), Dresden (2007), Bremen / pics (2008), Munich pics (2009), Hamburg / pics (2010), and Cologne / pics (2011).
I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of Bremen, Munich & Cologne and found them to be exciting and interesting. I always end up with no voice and new friends… even when I’ve been a bad – ahem, absent – blogger, they still welcome me with open arms. It really is a great group of people.
Finally after hinting at it for years, the group has decided to bring this bunch of craziness to Berlin! Whew, I guess this means I need to find a thinking cap! Mandi of No Apathy Allowed and I will be putting together the details. Thankfully she’s an old hat at this, since she helped put the Hamburg WEBMU together.
If you’re blogging/Tweeting in English while living in Germany, and think it would be fun to hang out with other English-language bloggers talking about the thrills and pitfalls of being an Ausländer in Deutschland – Come to BERLIN!

It isn’t just an event. It is a forum for people just like us. Need to know where to find your Christmas Crackers in Munich? Just ask. Looking for help about how to more easily assimilate into the German world? We’ve been there, done that, and can help you too.
Register yourself for the discussion board and prepare to laugh, talk, make new friends and generally enjoy yourself at WEBMU 2012!!
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Berlin is Blooming

Easter Egg Tree
Ah, I love spring and most of what comes with it.
Here in Berlin it brings the people out. Many of us have been trapped inside for months now. The winter weather in the Hauptstadt is simply put, not pleasant. Temperatures hovering at the 0 mark (32F) for months on end, a gray blanket which serves as a sky shielding us from the sun; these things are considered normal through the harsh Berlin winter.
Spring on the Spree
To remain true to our Berlin heritage, the citizens (also known in my circle as Berliner Bears) are good hibernators. When we absolutely MUST get out, we scurry from place to place bundled up against that unforgiving wind out of Mother Russia. 
But with the increased frequency of blue sky sightings and golden orb warmth comes the unmistakable urge to get outside. Even in the chilliest of weather, as long as there is sun to be absorbed, Berliners can be found huddling on cafe patios, sipping warm goodness while wrapped in blankets provided by enterprising cafe owners.
The chocolate
goodies are gone
Moving forward to now. Spring has sprung in all ways possible. Berliners can be seen walking the streets contrasting the almost completely empty areas seen just a month or so previous. The brown grass has given way to fresh, green blades with flowering weeds interspersed. And in the streets, the grassy areas separating the lanes are bursting forth with perennial bulb flowers planted haphazardly by past Berliners as a way of sharing the floral wealth.
The air coming up from the subway is cooler than the air on the street… a sure sign that the times are changing. All winter long as one sinks into the depths of the subway, the air coming at you can be counted upon to be warmer than the incredible chill felt on the street.
Tulips at Britzer Garten
Berliners are not just coming out in droves, they are wandering around, enjoying the temperatures, wallowing in the warmth, holding their faces up to the sun as though to absorb every bit it has to offer. Bicycles are on the paths, people are on the riverbanks, motorcycles are heard, windows are being thrown open, and Berlin is at long last thawing.

What is not to love about spring in Berlin?
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Random Tuesday – No name version

Whoo hooo… It’s been a LOOONNNNNGGG time since I’ve been on the Random Tuesday Bandwagon. I’ve missed the ladies, and thought I would take a circle with them today and catch up on what kind of craziness Keely is up to… so, let’s go!

No and I bought a new blender/mixer thing after the Tchibo POS finally gave out. It has this weird glowy/blue/hologram thingy that kinda freaks me out when I walk into the kitchen. Nothing says “I’m home” like a making frozen margaritas (come on, you didn’t think we were going to make healthy smoothies or something) in a machine which looks as though it came directly off the set of Star Trek.

Last Friday the image you see to the left opened in a little Berlin gallery named Cozmic Photos.

It’s not my best work, but since it was an assignment (Reflections) and I HATE assignments, I don’t think it’s too bad. Click through to get more of the story.

Summer has made it to Berlin. The last few days were crazy hot. All of this in a place with very few air-conditioned buildings. Unfortunately this has brought back sooo many of my gripes with some of the Germans (thankfully a minority) and how they handle heat.

First off… um, there is this thing called soap… when used with water over your body it can help get rid of the severe STANK the rest of us around are getting from SOME Berliners. I’ve been taking upwards of three showers a day, I would hope that the dude I ran into last night on the underground was on his way home to one… WHEW!

My Dear Krauts. Air will not hurt you. I don’t mean super-chilled, flying out of the air conditioner air… I’m talking about opening a freaking window and allowing the BREEZE into the room/car/train/whatever. If it is hot enough to cause perspiration while simply sitting, hey… it is hot enough to OPEN a window. No, it doesn’t hurt your kidneys (where did that come from?) No, your back will not seize up. No, the dry mouth and sore throat you have didn’t come from the FAN, it came from mild dehydration because you’re sitting in a room that is 35 DEGREES!! (Celsius – 95F)

Football Fever has the Jerrys at a fevered pitch. The German National Team have been solidly beating all comers (except for Serbia – funny, that) the whole way through the World Cup. Next up is Spain on Wednesday which I’m sure will be a real knuckle-biter. We hope to watch it from the Berliner FanMeile with 350,000 of our good friends. (well, at least we’ll be in the area… we’ll get into the VIP area to enjoy the game a bit more safely.)

Bad news. My beloved Beelitz-Heilstätten is being closed by its owner. It is my favorite place in the world to take pictures. Some of you clicked through to those links and wonder why a place that looks like it is already falling down – is closing down. Well, the owner says that he will no longer abide the trespassers (like me) who love the place soooo very much. It seems that not all of us come with the idea of “Take only pictures, leave only footprints, kill only time”. The vandalism is getting out of hand, and I don’t blame the guy for trying to secure his property. But dammit, I want to be able to go play.

Speaking of playing. This time next week No and I will be playing in Paris, helping the French celebrate La Fête Nationale. Yes, I expect to see plenty of French flags and fireworks, eat lots of food smothered in butter, and finally taste a REAL French Baguette. Oh, and take THOUSANDS of pictures. OOOHHH! Check out this little gizmo showing Paris!!! One of my Frenchie buddies gave me the link while giving me clues of where we simply MUST GO while in La Ville-Lumière.

Thanks for playing Random Tuesday Thoughts, head on over to Keely at the UnMom for more randomness.

Now for a cool video.
World-renowned animated graffiti artist BLU returns following a ten-month hiatus with a stunning new production called “BIG BANG BIG BOOM: an unscientific point of view on the beginning and evolution of life … and how it could probably end.”

BIG BAG BIG BOOM – the new wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.
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World Cup Fever

Well, I can finally admit it. I’m a changed person. The move to Germany has made me a “soccer” fan. Yes, Fußball has me. Friday night as the UK goalie scored a goal for the USA I giggled madly. Sunday night as the German National Team whooped ass on Australia (come on, would you expect any less?) I had a shit-eating grin on my face. Yes, I’m hooked.

The picture above was from a little gathering Sweet No and I had on the occasion of Germany’s first match game. Look closely at the colors of the food. Black Red Gold! The colors of the German flag. Yes we went crazy! Blue berries and Buletten (basically a meatball) were representing black (well, they really WEREN’T black… in fact, I got some comments that they were lovely), strawberries and bell peppers were red, and apricots, pineapple and more peppers represented the gold/yellow.

Not really pictured, we had Kostritzer schwarzbier in the line of drinks back there, then red Bionade and Gold Becks beer… how cute is that?

The sauces? Jack Daniel’s BBQ sauce (actually purchased here) “kinda black”, ketchup “duh, red”, and a mix of curry sauce and Bautzner mustard, “yellow baby”.

Maybe a little bit overboard, but fun none the less.

Also fun was this morning’s breakfast. Yes, you’re seeing that right, the bread (in this case a bagel) has been scored in such a way before baking/cooking so as to pop up with what looks like a soccer ball. Add to that the German flag and hey, you have a gen-u-ine “Fanartikel“.

While I’m on the subject of the Cup, let me just say… ENOUGH WITH THE VUVUZELA’S!!! I get it, South Africa loves the horn, they use it for every game. Who knew that a silly plastic horn could be so distracting? Maybe because we didn’t think about THOUSANDS of them all playing together sounding like an angry bee swarm.

All I can say is that I’m INCREDIBLY happy that I’m not actually trying to see (and hear) the game from the stadium. Can you imagine paying a fortune to get to SA, mortgaging your house to buy tickets to watch it live, and then not being able to hear what the hell is going on? Let’s just hope the phenomenon doesn’t catch on in the rest of the world.

Oh yeah, before I forget, CSD (Christopher Street Day – Berlin’s Gay Pride Parade) will be this Saturday. Come out and celebrate!

Been reading:

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