Bright and early tomorrow, I hit the skies. Sometime in the late morning EDT, I’ll reach American airspace. The air will be warmer, brighter, and filled with more car exhaust and factory emissions but less cigarette smoke than what I’m accustomed to, as I’ll surely notice through the double-paned airplane window in seat 39a. After 2 hours and 20 minutes in the Newark airport, riffling through magazines and maybe eating a crappy burger somewhere, I’ll board a little shuttle plane and touch down on the west bank of the Potomac at precisely 4:14 p.m.
It was fun being a Berliner for two months. But of course I wasn’t really a Berliner, was I? Several Americans I talked to in Berlin, who have lived here for at least eights years each, told me that no matter how much you immerse yourself in the culture, no matter how fluent your German gets, no matter how German your spouse is, you can never really become German. It’s just not that kind of culture. In America, as long as you speak fluent English and live somewhere within the 50 states, no one really questions your American-ness (OK, maybe Lindsey Graham does, but still). But German-ness, by all accounts, is more impenetrable. Sure, the Germans were crazy enough to give me a red passport with my face in it, but did that really make me German? Anyone who hears me speak or sees me struggle to figure out how many grams of Rinderfleisch to order at the supermarket meat counter would tell you that there’s still a healthy chasm separating me and Deutschheit.
OK, it’s not exactly socialism, nor is it fair to pass judgment based one one single snapshot in time. But today’s FAZ brings the news that the unemployment rate here sank 0.4% last month, to 7.2%. The number of unemployed in Germany, just over 3 million, is the lowest since 1993.
Meanwhile, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ last (August) report, unemployment in the U.S. is 9.6%, and no one’s expecting it to drop below 8% anytime soon.
So at least at this one moment in time, Germany’s tax-hiking, job-killing, freedom-hating pseudo-socialism isn’t looking so bad.
If there’s any song that’ll get a crowd of American twenty-somethings riled up and singing along, it’s “Wagon Wheel.” Old Crow Medicine Show managed to take a form of music generally regarded as quaint and turn it into something massively popular, creating a hipster anthem with a fiddle, a six-string, a banjo, and a few creaky voices singing harmony. There are certainly bigger names out there in America these days, but not tons that are better-liked across a spectrum of urban-dwelling Americans.
Here in Germany, where aside from nameless techno tracks most popular music is American, I was surprised to get blank looks from hip young Germans when I mentioned Old Crow or “Wagon Wheel.” And so when I went to see the group in concert on Tuesday night, I was curious to see what kind of recognition it’d get from the crowd.
The show was sold out and jam-packed — that boded well. The opening act, a guy named Nathaniel something, was kind of a drag, and so there were plenty of cheers when Old Crow took the stage. They started off big, with Hard to Love, followed by Down Home Girl and I Hear Them All. Ketch Secor was his usual virtuosic self, tearing apart the horsehair and finding a home for himself on the top four holes of the harp. Willie Watson’s vocals were exceeded only by his grinning antics. A funereally slow CC Rider really hit the spot. They were firing on all cylinders, and yet…
I’m sorry, dear readers, for having dropped out of touch. I just checked, and saw that I haven’t posted anything in a week. My bad.
But I’ve got an excuse, I swear! It’s been an insanely busy week. I’ve been working on several stories at once. One of them was published in Slate yesterday; check it out. It’s on the German government’s conundrum as it decides what, exactly, a person needs to lead a decent life. For the first time, Internet access is in, and alcohol and tobacco are out. It’s interesting stuff.
It’s counterintutive, isn’t it? But Berlin actually has quite a few beach bars along the Spree River. They come in all shapes and sizes. My first taste of the beach bar scene came early in my time here, at a Latin music/dance night at a huge beach bar by the main train station. Lots of sand, tropical drinks (and, of course, beer, which I went for), the whole shebang. It was cool, if a bit kitschy. (Incidentally, this bar was either part of or next to the Bundespressestrand, or federal press beach, which I don’t think is actually owned or run by the press, though I could be wrong.)
Last night, I went with a friend to a beach bar behind the East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain. The atmosphere was quite different — more Venice Beach, certainly, than Venice. A Brazilian reggae/jazz/samba band was playing (later replaced by a talented Brazilian rap duo and a dancing guy on stilts in a horse costume). An alternative young crowd was spread across the ample sand and along the river. Smoke from the odd joint wafted our way. Nearby, some people played beach volleyball.
The city with the world’s highest ratio of horse shit to actual horses. It’s a biological wonder.
Apologies to all you non-German speakers for my last piece, which probably didn’t do much for you beyond the pretty pictures. Here’s one you’ll have an easier time making sense of.
And since FP decided not to use any of the pretty pictures I took this weekend at the anti-nuke rally I describe in the piece, here are a few for your viewing pleasure:
A young boy placed this sticker, reading "Nuclear power? No thanks," on a Mercedes just as I approached it. I'm particularly proud of this photo, I must admit.