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Category: Expat Life

Winter, Du Nervst!

As the great German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Oh, winter in Berlin, the cruelest of all seasons! If I were but a bear, nestled in my darkest cave, slumbering from November until the very Ides of April.” Ok, so Goethe didn’t really say that. But if he had, he’d be so right. One winter in Berlin is enough to transform even the most cheerful Pollyanna into a Ms. Gloomy Wednesday for a good five months. SAD is a real thing, my friends. Oh yes, indeed, it is. But before you roll your eyes and blame my Berlin…

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Schnauze, Berliner Schnauze!

If you’ve ever spent time in Berlin, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve experienced Berliner Schnauze. Berliner Schnauze (Berlin big mouth) is what locals call the direct, unfriendly attitude of native Berliners which often involves yelling at perfectly nice, well meaning strangers such as yourself who happen to be breaking zeh rulez. In the video below, I explain a little about why this happens (if such a thing can be explained), how to deal with it and what you can do to avoid it. Viel Spaß! Here’s the German phrases I mention in the video: Entschuldigung, ich wusste nicht, dass…

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What Do You Want From Us?

In 1998, about six months before I moved to Berlin, I got a full-time job at a call center in the Embarcadero for a company called Aegis. The company offered a mortgage acceleration program; they took people’s mortgage payments out of their bank accounts with a certain amount consistently added on top of the principle, so their mortgage was paid off at a faster rate. The program was on the pricey side and stupid really, since in theory anyone could do this by themselves. But I didn’t really mind it because we were allowed to be honest. When people called…

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Berlin Or Bust

At the dawn of a Trump presidency, I’m sure some of you are thinking about moving to Berlin or somewhere else in Germany. If you need any advice on your options or how to jump through all the inevitable bureacratic hoops, click here to get in touch with the good people at Expath, an organization specializing in helping out expats and expat wannabes with such issues. Since I’ve lived in Berlin for 17 years, I thought I’d do a series of videos where I talk about some of the cultural aspects you’ll face if you decide to move to here.…

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EFL 1: The SKB

I started my “career” in teaching English as a Foreign Language in 2001. I wrote “career” instead of career because, other than selling macrame potholders and hemp seed salad dressing at the farmer’s market or getting stoned and watching telenovelas all day when you don’t speak Spanish, there’s nothing more hippie and/or slacker-like than teaching EFL. At least where I started: the Sprach- und Kulturbörse, SKB for short, a language and culture institute tied to Technische Universität Berlin. The SKB was formed in 1989 by a couple of left-wing sociology students who used the winter semester strike of 88/89—which they most likely…

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Motherless Child

No song can make me weep as much as the spirtual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. Why is that? My mother is still alive and well, though she’s always been more of a peer and a pal than someone who fits the bill of the great mother archetype. True, I am a long-time expat—I am and will always be part alien here, an eternal Ausländer—but in many ways I feel more at “home” in Berlin than I ever did in California. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home When I listen to this song it’s like…

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Telegraph Avenue Saved My Life

Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating. But between the ages of 13 and 25, Telegraph Avenue was one of the most important places in my world. In my teens, I was on Telegraph at least twice a week, making a pilgrimage to Cody’s or Moe’s or standing in line at Fat Slice only to have the lead singer of the Counting Crows snatch up the last slice of vegetarian pizza right in front of me (true story). I drank my first cup of coffee at a cafe, long gone, on Durant Avenue across from Yogurt Park. Alright, I admit it: it…

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Not so different after all…

When I first moved to Berlin, Internet access at home was not a given and cell phones still had buttons and antennas. DVDs were the stuff of early adopters and video cassettes of films not dubbed into German were very hard to find. I took German classes at the Hartknackschule and hung out afterwards on Nollendorfplatz, terrified I might order my coffee wrong at Café Berio. A lot has changed in 17 years. Now you can hang out in Neukölln and only hear English for days. You can get a full-time job at a start-up developing a sandwich delivery app,…

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I Voted (the sticker proves it)

I moved to Berlin the last year of the Clinton administration. When Bush first got elected, I remember sitting in Cafe Rix, opening up a copy of Die Zeit and seeing a cartoon of George W. in a cowboy hat, swinging a Colt revolver. “Well, this can’t be good,” I thought. Little did I know his presidency would soon go from “not good” to very bad to downright terrifying. And I constantly got flack for it. “Hey, people. I didn’t vote for him.” I did still vote, even in the local California elections. I’d order an absentee ballot far in advance and…

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