Shannon’s Super Sexy Blog. Music. Travel. Randomness. And a Lot of Wine.

Archive for March, 2007

Tchuss Berlin

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

It is my last day in this city that I have totally fallen in love with. Tomorrow I have to go home. But I am already planning the next trip here.

In the past few days I managed to do a lot of the things on my list; Wednesday Tom, Kasch and I went to the Checkpoint Charlie museum, a collection of exhibits and photos about not only the Berlin Wall but also non-violent protest and the fall of Communism in other countries. It is shocking to me that less than twenty years ago, people were still burrowing tunnels in efforts to escape to the west. My apartment here in only a block and a half from where the wall once stood. Crazy.

After that museum – and it is a very big one – we went across the street and ate some lunch and then Tom and Kasch left. It was about three in the afternoon but I knew I was running out of time so I went to the Jewish history museum, housed in a zig-zaged modern building. I spent about two hours in there, checking out the history of the Jewish people in Germany starting in the middle ages until modern times. THEN I decided to go to the top of the Fernsehturm. There is an elevator that takes you to the top very quickly, and there is a viewing area where you can see the layout of Berlin. They also have a restaurant one floor up that rotates so you can sit and have a drink and look at at all of Berlin. When I first went up they said the restaurant was full, but heading to the elevator I noticed there was no one waiting, so I asked and was given a table. It was so cool! I had a glass of wine and a herring salad that was kind of nasty but who cares! I revolved around a couple of times with my head pressed against the window. Looking down at Alexanderplatz I could see all the people walking around like so many ants. I did not get home until nine that night – it was a very full day.

Thursday Tom and I went to the Pergamon museum, which has an an ancient Greek altar and an actual city gate from Babylon reconstructed inside. It was really cool but I think I was a bit museum-ed out. Then I met Paul Scraton, a writer who writes A Berlin Diary among many other things, and his wife Katrin and beautiful baby Lotta in a ginourmous beer garden called “Prater.” Later Tom and Kasch and I went to dinner at a place called White Trash Fast Food. I had an “L.A. Style Burrito.” Not! But it is a cool place and we had a lot of fun in there.

Yesterday we went to Potdam and Park Sanssouci. This is an amazing place just a half hour away on the train. The town itself got heavily bombed but there are still some cool buildings there that have been restored {also some really hideous DDR buildings.} Sanssouci is like the German Versailles. You walk in from the town and round a corner and WHAM, there is the most amazing, huge palace in front of you, with terraced grounds sloping down. And that is not all; there are amazing buildings all over the park, in all sorts of architectural styles. I brought along a picnic which we ate in the shadow of the Sanssouci palace and then we walked and walked through the vast park. We even saw a deer!

Last night was Thai food and then a drink at a place I went to last week called Scotch and Sofa. The bar has all kinds of kitsch from the 50’s and 60’s in it so I wanted Kasch to check it out.

This week hasn’t been the 24 hour party last week was but I think I am glad because I did manage to see an awful lot. Even with Sad Arcade Fire day.

I’m off then, for the last adventure. I am going to have one final wine at the outdoor wine bar in Alexanderplatz and then head to the KaDaWe where I WILL have an overpriced glass of champagne. I promised myself.

Tonight I am cooking for Kasch and Tom at their house. Tomorrow I will be home. Onward.

At the Foot of the Tower

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

I am sitting in an internet cafe with a window looking out to the giant Fernsehturm, the TV tower which you can see from everywhere. It is in the middle of Alexanderplatz, a square that I have become very fond of these past few days. The square has been around since then beginning but in the days of the DDR the East German government built all these futuristic buildings in a sort of “city of the future” theme. As anyone who knows me knows, I am loathe to call any city Disneyland, but heck if parts of Alexanderplatz don’t look like Tomorrowland. Except, as I told Tom a couple of days ago, Tomorrow has passed them by. Tomorrow, is now at Potsdamer Platz and where all the new government buildings are. Two days ago, Tom and I took one of the Spree river cruises which took us by the chancellory and all these other amazing modern structures. There is some truly spectacular architecture here.

In Alexander Platz they have just opened all these kiosks selling crafts and food, and there is a wine bar there. You can sit at one of the tables and stare straight up at the Fernsehturm. I love the guy who pours the wine there, he likes to fill it up all the way to the rim so I have to take a sip before I head to my table. He is just one of many things that I love about this city.

I am trying to shake off yesterday’s depression because I only have four days left and there is so much I have not done. Yesterday was sort of a lost day, Tom and I went to the ticket agency to see about a refund, going to Charlottenburg was “an adventure” and I am glad that we went to that area and walked around. It is the heart of West Berlin, and there are lots of cool shops and nice looking apartment buildings (well some nice and some totally seventies characterless jobbies.) We walked to Schloss Charlottenburg, a big palace right in the middle of the city, with a big park and gardens all around. Then we got on the bus and were going to go to an exhibit called “The Story of Berlin” but when we got there, a million schoolkids were queueing up and I was like, No Way. One thing that was really trippy and cool there though: it is in the lobby of a big office building, and there are all these little tiny bars down there. Only two were open, but there were maybe ten of these tiny little bars. THEY looked like the Story of Berlin. I want to go there when they are open to see what that is all about.

Later I dragged Tom to the Gendarmenmarkt which is a lovely square that actually looks like Old Europe. Somewhere I thought I had read there was a wine bar in the cupola of one of the churches there, but I think maybe I dreamed that. Instead we sat in a really cool cafe full of people in business suits and had a view of the whole square from there.

Last night Kasch made us “Boulettin” which are meatballs that are typical of this area, with a sort of mustard cream sauce. Tom talked her into this because I was so depressed. They were good and then we all went back to the Youth Center and these youths are going to end up with lung cancer because that place is so smoky I literally could not breathe. I managed to stick it out for a while but mi dio. My nose closed in revolt and my eyes were burning.

Today I am meeting Kasch and Tom to go to Checkpoint Charlie and the museum there. I have not been to Checkpoint Charlie yet! I’m going to make the next four days as full as my feet will allow.

Real Tears

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

When I was taking care of my nephew Ryan a couple of months ago with my mom, there was one night when Ryan totally flipped out and started crying insanely. Tears were spewing from his red and puffy face and they would not stop. My mom kept saying, “those are real tears.”

Today it was my turn. I woke up all sad that I will be leaving Berlin soon, but tonight was suppose to be the Arcade Fire show. This was a big night for me and one that I invested a lot of emotion in.

My phone was down this morning so I went to the internet cafe first thing to email Tom, and that is where I got the news – that Arcade Fire has cancelled the next nine shows. I burst into tears, spewing the walls with water. It was, is, a devastating blow.

I went home and cried hard until my face was approaching something unrecognizable. I do not think I have cried that hard since 2001, I almost thought I would puke. Then in an effort to calm down I poured myself a medicinal shot of wine and went on the balcony. My day was destroyed, but the weather remained stellar.

Just then Tom showed up. He had read the night before about the Arcade Fire cancelling and had been trying to call me but something was wrong with my phone so he just showed up. We spent the day walking around Berlin and it was nice but it has proved hard for me to let this go. I should be on the rail right now seeing one of my favorite bands.

I’m trying to put it in perspective. Perhaps I should go to the Topography of Terror tomorrow, the exhibit of the Nazi Torture methods. My real tears mean nothing. But they are tears just the same and my heart is heavy tonight.

Maybe it is because I am traveling and when you travel every emotion is magnified.

In the meantime if anyone can hook a sister up with a ticket to the Arcade Fire show at the Greek Theater in Berkeley I will find a way to get there.

I’ve only got four days left. Gotta dismiss this heavy heart and get back to the happiness I knew yesterday. What a spoiled wanker I am.

One Sunny Sunday in Berlin

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

After I posted my last entry, I told Kasch that if there were any errors or anything I wrote that could be construed as offensive (this being another culture and all) that she should tell me. So she read it and she told me, that the locals at Gerbaty were “absolutely not drunk” because if they were, they would be “unable to walk.” I stand corrected! Also this means I was not drunk myself, whoo hoo! I love Berlin.

I did manage to make it until 2AM on Friday night despite my exhausted state. We went to this trendy Vietnamese place called Monsieur Vuongs because someone over on the chowhound.com message board had said this was not to be missed. It is a really cool place, packed and not so expensive and Monsieur Vuong himself seems to be in attendance, an older Vietnamese gentleman standing behind the bar smoking cigarettes. Kasch was not too happy to be in this place with all the trendy “Mitte people” and I cannot really blame her because hell if I would ever be dragged down to the Gaslamp district to eat. As if! Cafe Gerbaty is Kasch’s Vine, and Pankow is her Ocean Beach. I totally understand but on the other hand I was very happy that she humored me in my quest.

After that we went to meet the expat musician, David Pedroza, in a trendy, packed bar, but once again I love this about Berlin: even in the trendy packed bars beer and wine are still a commodity, and therefore reasonable. Still we did not stay long and I was on my way home, I mean ON MY WAY HOME when Tom and Kasch talked me into going to the freeking Cafe Gerbaty again. It’s very difficult since everything is just a subway stop away or two, to say No. Anyhow. It was a very mellow night compared to the previous one and even though I did not make it to bed until 2AM I was well rested and prepared for yesterday’s Let’s Discover More of Berlin with Tom.

First of all, it was sunny yesterday, all day, but windy. After a week of really cold weather and almost constant rain, it was pretty great to put on a lighter jacket for once. I am not going to get into the activities of the day, except to say that by way of the UBahn and SBahn Tom and I made a circle of the entire city, walked through the Tiergarten, and then along a mile-long remnant of the Berlin Wall, and then I made Tom come to a very packed area with me where this place called Tacheles is. It is an old squat that is now a cool and anarchist sort of place but I can imagine that it used to be cooler and more anarchist, right now it is sort of Tourist Anarchist if that makes any sense, which obviously makes no sense. Still, I was very impressed with the place.

Last night Kasch made us a dinner of chicken and potatoes baked in lemon and garlic and I actually made it to bed before midnight.

Today it was even warmer and it was a glorious day with all the Berliners out soaking up the sun. We went to the mother of all flea markets, a massive place with stalls heaving with junk and what I really wanted was a beer glass with Russian writing on it but instead left with a TShirt and a cool new purse. After that Tom and Kasch had to go home so I wandered around my neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg. There are obscene quantities of coolness and hot looking urban people around here and also they are breeding heavily because every other one has a baby carriage. I sat for an hour or so at a sidewalk cafe on this very happening street, the Kastanienalle, and at one point I watched this dude who looked to be an aging punk rocker, wearing a knee length tweed jacket and a white scarf, walking down the street pushing a PINK baby carriage and also, smoking a cigarette. It’s pretty awesome here, let me tell you.

Anyhow. After some time I went back to my apartment and sat on my balcony with no shoes or socks, it is that warm here all of a sudden. And now I am starving so I have to go eat. The question: Sushi? Russian? Spanish? Doner Kebab? Hmmmm….

Jumilla Jumilla

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

It is Friday afternoon and I have been here almost a week. Once again, it is raining outside, but it is not very cold, and the sun even managed to come out today for a few hours. Unfortunately I slept through most of that, due to an insane night last night. I remember when I was in Venice for a month back in 2000, and sometimes I would stay out all night and sleep all day. If I could do that in Venice, where there is not a hell of a lot going on at night, imagine the trouble I can get into in Berlin. I don´t think it is possible that there is any one thing you might want to do at any time of the day or night and not find a place to do it, here in Berlin.

Last night Kasch worked at the Cafe Gerbaty, the bar where she and Tom met last summer when the Mudsharks played there. So, after a day that included a solo trip to the Film Museum and then a killer pizza with Tom at a cavernous, chaotic restaurant called Il Due Forni, we got on the UBahn to Pankow and the bar. We got there at nine and it was already pretty crowded. First we were sitting at a little table in the back but I hated it so I was like, let´s go stand at the bar. We then proceeded to the bar where we hung out for hours and listened to music and watched Kasch bartend. Cafe Gerbaty is an interesting place – it reminds me of a blues club or cafe in North Beach in San Francisco. In fact if you picked the whole place up, complete with the clientele and dropped it on Grant and Green, it would fit right in, except for the German speaking, the cigarette smoke, and the cheap wine and beer. The place is full of aging hippies and other assorted characters and they are there to see the blues and to get totally hammered.

Kasch was working with one other girl, and I forget her name but Tom says everyone calls her “the machine.” Well, you´ve got to be a machine, the way the Berliners can drink. Mi dio, they are incredible. Both of the girls were running, one minute taking out four ginormous beers and always returning with a tray heaving with empty glasses. It was like The Vine on steroids. Actually it was like The Vine on a Friday afternoon in summer during happy hour, TIMES INFINITY. They must go through something like eight kegs and two cases of wine on a Thursday night, and there were only something like a hundred people there.

I was very impressed, as you can tell. I managed to do my best to keep up. When I saw all the wine I saw a reserve Jumilla and I was thinking how I would love to have some of that but it was not open, so I figured I´d just get a plain old Rioja. However when I asked for red wine Kasch immediately went for the Jumilla. I love Kasch! I did not even have to ask. I think I drank the whole bottle, maybe more. No, I think definitely more because we were there until 3 AM. I was pretty hammered by the end there, but so was everyone else. Hence, my exhaustion and the missing of the sun.

The band last night was some dude named Tom Blacksmith and then there was a jam after. During the Tom Blacksmith set a drummer my brother knows came in, a Dutch guy named Marcel van Cleef or somethingorother, who looks kind of like David Thewlis. He hung out with us which was good because my brother has a tendancy to wander off and at one point, this older dude who had been staring at me (at first I could not tell if it was me or someone else he was staring at, I think he was staring at everybody} came over and started talking to me, and I was unable to even tell him I wasn´t much of a German speaker. At which point Marcel told him I was American. The dude then got this sort of disgusted look on his face and said something about Bush, which Marcel translated as, “it is OK you are American, but he does not like Bush.” Well! How fucking original! I never heard that one before! I was sort of irritated to be honest but that could have been the wine talking. No one wants to be reminded of what an asshole their president is while in a room full of drunk East Germans. Anyhow. It goes on.

After Tom Blacksmith played there was a jam that anyone could get in on, and my brother sat in for a couple of songs which thrilled me to no end. Then Marcel sat in, and he really is an incredible drummer. That and the fact that he looks like David Thewlis was a bit of a double whammy there. Later I was talking to him and telling him what an awesome drummer he was and he said something like he would like to “see what life is on the other side.” As in, maybe do something besides being a drummer.

“Are you fucking crazy.” I said. It was a statement not a question. You should have seen this guys face when he played – it was lit up from joy. I was like, dude, you get to do what you want, something that makes you happy, do you know how lucky you are? But he went on about it for a bit, I think he was laughing at my vehemence.

It was quite a night and today I walked around recovering via some enchilada suizas and a glass of white Rioja. Tonight we are meeting a musician from Orange County, David Pedroza, that I found when I was googling my address to see what else is on Kopenhagener Strasse. One thing I have noticed is, despite exhaustion, I am always able to go the distance once again.

Whew. And it´s a Friday…

Coins from Heaven

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

I am going to lose myself here, I know it. It is snowing outside, quarter-sized chunks of frozen water are coming down from the sky. Oddly, it did not rain today, though the sky threatened it constantly. Tom and I spent what seemed like a decade inside the German History Museum, and upon leaving there was a sort of “what” hanging over the evening, as in: that was fucking knarly, I am tired, you are tired, let´s just check in later.

It is a very odd sensation, having this discussion with your brother on the UBahn when in the forty years you have known him, you´ve never ridden on a subway with him before. Even odder when you get up at your stop and know exactly where to go and he has two more stops but he knows exactly where to go. Trippy.

So we took a night off from the cigarette and beer infused lateness, last night was the first night when I thought I would go insane from the smoke. We were in the “youth center” in Pankow, where Kasch’s brother Flo (short for Florian – note to Carrie, any future Essa baby should be named Florian, cause that is the Best Name Ever) is the manager/bartender. Essentially the youth center is a bar with a disco ball and a foosball table, and every single youth was smoking like a chimney. Also, beers were something like one Euro. The youth center is only open Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, because it is subsidized by the government. As we walked in, Flo’s girlfriend offered me a Toffiefay candy, something I haven’t eaten since I was a teenager myself. Anyway.

Tonight, after a long day of walking in my neighborhood and then on down to Mitte where I met Tom for a Currywurst and museum visit, I headed back home. With no plans and no one to see I went into the little cafe on the corner, where I ordered something that looked to be chili con carne with a side salad. It was exactly that, only the chili was inside of a potato. Awesome! I sat there and read “Sound Bites” by Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand and this little cafe is perfect, with lots of low murmurs and good cheap food and not an insane amount of smoke. I am sitting by the floor to ceiling glass door while the theme from Zorba the Greek is playing, and I look out and it is snowing! Snowing! My heart is suddenly overflowing with emotion for the third time today; the first was in the Kollwitzplatz, a sweet and leafy square that was today empty but for some singing birds; the second was in the World War II section of the German History museum, where the faces of normal people photographed in their incarcerated state and a plaster replication of a gas chamber pretty much slayed me. The third I am filled with love and longing and outside the window, even now, the snow comes down hard. But my apartment is just across the street, and I am going to climb into bed, look at the snow, drink wine, eat chocolate, and watch German MTV. All of you who know me know how happy I am.

Tales from a Great City

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

I don’t even know how to start this entry. How do I start? I love my apartment. I love my street. I love my neighborhood. I love Berlin. I love the S Bahn and U Bahn. Uh….

Seriously. I love my little studio on Kopenhagener Strasse. From my window I look down at the street, and a little playground on the corner. Despite frigid temperatures, there are always kids playing there. My first day – the coldest, I think – I sat and watched as some young boys spread their arms and leaned into the freezing wind, like birds do.

There is a wine shop on my street, and an Italian cafe called Bar Centrale. There is a tapas place and also, this internet spot which costs a whopping one Euro per hour. I am less than one block from the Schonhauser Allee station, so I can take the S Bahn or U Bahn very easily from here. Kasch and Tom live just two stops away. I could not be happier with this location I am in.

So Sunday was pretty chill, since it was a) Sunday and b) rainy and c) we were recovering. Yesterday and today, Super Tourist Mode! Yesterday Tom and I headed out to be full on tourists, hitting up many of the typical Berlin sights such as the Brandenberg Gate and Potsdamer Platz. We even went to the famous Cafe Einstein for an overpriced club sandwich. Berlin is a great city just for walking around, even when it is hailing. Yes, it hailed on us, but I didn’t care! Then all of a sudden the sun was out and it was almost hot.

Last night: killer Chinese food and then a late night at the Cafe Gerbaty where Tom and Kasch first met. Everyone smokes like a chimney here but so far I have been able to handle it somewhat.

Today Kasch took me to the KaDeWe department store where on the sixth floor they have this incredible gourmet market. All kinds of spices, chocolate, foods from all over the world… KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce! For SEVEN EURO. There is a huge selection of wine and liquor from all over the world, a bakery, a seafood counter, a deli… and lots of places to sit down and eat something. They even had a Champagne bar and I was dying to go there but Kasch said it was stupid to spend ten euros on a glass of Champagne when outside, you can get a glass of Sekt (German sparkling wine) for only three euros or something. She is right, but I think I might just happen to find myself miraculously at the KaDeWe at some point and I might also have an unquenchable thirst.

Kasch did allow me to buy her a glass of Sekt at a famous cafe called Kranzler and then we went to the totally opposite side of the spectrum, the outdoor Turkish market in Kreuzberg that is held on Tuesday and Friday. Both sides of the street are lined with vendors of olives, arabic breads, fabrics, vegetables, assorted household junk, even a wine guy. From the Neiman Marcusesque vision of the KaDeWe to a Turkish bazaar. Wild. Have I said I love it here yet?

I have to go because I am late for dinner at Kasch and Tom’s, where we will graze on dolmas, tiny peppers stuffed with some kind of creamy stuff, arabic spreads and bread, and cheese that we bought at the Turkish market. Oh, and some Rioja I bought at my local wine shop. I have not had one moment here that I have not absolutely loved.

I am lucky to have such great guides though. Guides that know all the cool places.


I am in Berlin

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

It is Sunday night here in Berlin and I am in a bizarre room with peach colored walls and a needlepoint of some flamingos drinking out of a stream in a frame that is situated just under the ceiling. The rest of the wall is bare except for bright peach and it stinks like stale cigarettes in here. But so what. I am in Berlin!

I got here last night and was picked up at the airport by Tom, Kasch, and Kasch’s dad, Wolfgang. We went to my apartment and dropped my stuff off and then immediately went to a dinner party in celebration of Kasch’s grandmother’s birthday. The restaurant, and the area where Wolfgang and Grandma live, is in an area of Berlin that is like a little village in a forest. We drove through the city and then down a dark forest road and an deer or something ran across it, and I was like where ARE we? In Berlin! Berlin has wooded areas with wild animals running across the road. Crazy.

Anyhow. We get to the restaurant and we are all in our own room – cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, children, and me and Tom. They had a buffet in the room with all kinds of cheese and cold meats, and goulash, and chafing dishes with roulades of beef and creamed chicken and potatoes. And this is the fantastic part – we were there for FIVE HOURS. I got up and ate stuff every hour or so, as did everyone there. Many, many, MANY beers, bottles of wine, and shots of some kind of herbal liqueur were consumed. These people are so cool, so friendly, and so accommodating… one of the cousins made a little speech about his grandma and said it in both German and English, just so Tom and I would understand.

I could have sat there all night, but then it was 1:30 AM and we were far away from the part of Berlin where we were sleeping, so we took the train back in. At one point we changed trains and the trains and the station were packed with people at 2:30 AM. The bars don’t close here until the last person has gone home.

I unpacked a little and finally crashed at four so I spent this morning sleeping. This afternoon we went and ate a schwarma and then Tom went to a rehearsal so Kasch and I sat in the window of a tapas bar in Pankow and had some wine, and later Antonia, Kasch’s daughter came and we ate a big plate of cold meats and olives and potato salad.

Last night, when Wolfgang ordered his first of about fifteen shots of some kind of herbal liqueur, I asked him “is that Underberg?” “Underberg is for CHILDREN” He yelled. Finally, I am home!

OK well the stench is sort of getting to me so I think I will mosey on back to Kasch’s. More later.

Something to Talk About

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

Is the blog dead? Not just my blog, but everyone’s blog? It’s not what it used to be, let’s face it.

If you have a blog, and you don’t write in it all the time, then it is not a blog. Right?

Tomorrow I head to Berlin, a city that I have wanted to experience forever. Another transatlantic flight, another valium, another night passed in that weird void that takes me from California to another planet. When I get there I will be with family. I have never been picked up at a European airport by family before. I can’t tell you what a bonus that is; it’s like flying first class or something.

In the end, I belong to big cities like Berlin. Amazing things will happen. More from the road.

Sunday Brunch with Wilco

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

Wilco will be streaming their new record, Sky Blue Sky, again tomorrow… head over to Wilcoworld and check it out. The hours are:

2 pm – 2 am GMT
10 am – 10 pm EASTERN
7 am – 7 pm PACIFIC

and 1 am – 1 pm AEDT – Monday
(Yo Lisa, check it out.)

I love that Wilco does this stuff. They are awesome.