Monthly Archives: January 2013

Playing with Color and Layering

So I had another lesson today, my second photography/photoshop lesson. I have to say I am still such a beginner! I still need to find my groove and style when it comes to snapping, and never realized I actually have to learn how to stop thinking like a tourist when taking a shot, and go for the photo that tells a story, (rather than just illustrating it before your eyes.)

So I give you another taste of Amanda magic! This week’s lesson was about taking 3 shots consecutively without moving the lens, all with slightly different exposures. You can pull all the images together within photoshop and it gives the image a sort of surreal look – something that cannot be achieved with one shot alone.

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Snow capped tombstone markers at a graveyard in Kreuzberg, though supposedly no one lays beneath them

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Busy city corner in Kreuzberg with a flourescent yellow building

I waste so much time

This is a common affliction among most people I know. Wasting time. It doesn’t matter whether you are at home, at the office, out with friends, preparing for client meetings…wherever you are the possibilities to waste time are overwhelming.

Rather than getting to the point in what should have been a very productive morning this morning, I read an article on LinkedIn titled “How to Develop Strong Time Management Habits, Even if You’ve Failed in the Past” which is basically just another method of wasting time by reading about how to be more productive, (instead of actually being productive!)

New sites keep popping up left and right with the intention of distracting you from the things you are meant to be doing. Don’t even get me started on how much time I waste on Facebook, Pinterest, and even g-chat (I won’t even add WordPress here because I consider time spent writing to be time well spent!). Even iwastesomuchtime.com is a much enjoyed method of time-waste-management, to ensure that even if you aren’t getting the work done you need to, you are at least not bored.

So I start this Monday morning off the way I start most mornings. A quick check of facebook and gmail, maybe a couple of short conversations with people about how the weekend was, a quick scan of wordpress, sometimes news sites are sprinkled throughout, and then, finally, I feel prepared to start the day.

How are your time-wasting/management abilities? Do you get straight to the point, or take your time combing through the distractions before you can get to work?

Biking in Wintertime

So upon realizing that the best method of transportation around Berlin is really by bike, I took it up enthusiastically (and slightly tremulously since I hadn’t actually ridden a bike since sometime around the time when my Dad was taking me for haircuts…maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

After a few tries being terrified riding along cars, and then a bad crash in a tram track, I finally got the hang of it and feel as brave as the best of them – with one exception: Winter Bikers.

The minute my face starts to freeze (while my bundled up body sweats profusely from the exercise) I put my bike away for winter. It just isn’t any fun to ride to work with snot freezing on your upper lip. I’d like to think this idea is universal, but it isn’t.

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Berliners are tough and like to ride out the winter, (haha, get it? ride out the winter?) Even some of my colleagues will wrap their tires in chains to be able to tackle the snow and ice you find clogging up the streets and sidewalks.

In my mind, this is not only absolutely crazy it is also incredibly dangerous. As a part-time driver, (I rent car shares with increasing frequency,) I find myself dodging the snow and ice on four wheels, and much less capable of paying attention to the two-wheeled daredevils on the side of the road. When there’s an unexpected patch of ice, or a huge pile of snow blocking your route on bike, what choice do you have but to swerve left to avoid it?

Beyond just being annoyed/scared/nervous about being on the road with them, I am just plain scared for their safety. While waiting for the tram the other morning, I saw a man riding through inches of snow on the ground (imagine how little control you have over your car when driving in snowy conditions – can you picture your tires sometimes swerving unexpectedly left or right?) And he was not just riding down any street, but right on my street. Where the tram goes. Remember my comment above about a bad accident I had when I first arrived landing in the tram tracks?

I watched this poor man crash down so hard and then jump up in visible agony from the fall, trying to “walk it off”. He couldn’t even pick up his bike. It was obvious he had injured his hip. As a couple passersby stopped to help him and his bike to the side of the road, traffice was backing up down the block.

Having been in that position before, I did feel bad for the man for the pain he must have felt, but more than that I just wondered what the hell he thought would happen when riding on a busy street lined with tram tracks after a snow storm? And once he recovered, or hid in the bushes out of view, I watched a man probably in his 60’s ride by with one kid in front, and one on the back. Guess there are just some things I’ll never understand!

The Customer is Always…Wrong!

If there is one thing you learn quickly living in Germany, it’s that customer service is not their forte. While you may be expecting a happy, smiling waiter to greet you with a pitcher of cold water, you will really recieve begrudging glares if you so much as dare to ask for “Leitungswasser” i.e. tap water. And Germans won’t be afraid to let you know how they feel about your request!

This may have a lot to do with the fact that this society is not based on earning tips, or customer loyalty, but they take pride in their product and assume if anything is not “right” about, it really must be something wrong with YOU. And they won’t hesitate to let you know, even if it costs them a steady contribution of approximately 3 EUR a day, (that’s almost 800 EUR a year, people!)

A perfect example of this is something that happened to me earlier today. Well, let me give you a bit of the back story first. I work on a busy government street in Central Berlin – a.k.a. Mitte. There are tons of cafes and restaurants nearby, but literally in the downstairs portion of our building there is “The Espresso Bar”. I stop in most mornings for an Obstsalat mit Joghurt, (Fruit salad with Yogurt,) on my way to work. This is usually quite a delicious treat filled with greek yogurt, sweet granola, and deliciously ripe mangoes and kiwi, among other seasonal favorites, (in Germany you very often won’t find someone serving a fruit or vegetable out of season – since that would mean they had to import from somewhere far far away, which is not eco-friendly!)

So on this particular day, actually two days in a row, the fruit was underripe and sour. I tried to eat it, but every bite made me cringe and I finally decided it was ridiculous to force myself to eat something that didn’t taste good. Since I’m a regular customer, I thought it would be worthwhile to let the owner of the cafe know that the fruit was particularly sour, in case she wasn’t already aware.

I arrived at the cafe and explained to the woman working there (not the owner) that the fruit was really too sour to eat, and I thought they should know. She offered me another and I told her that was really fine, I didn’t want to try the same thing with another since it was just not good. So she gave me my money back, which I was surprised by, and I thanked her.

I went in a couple days later and again asked for the fruit salad, to which the same worker informed me that it would still be sour and I might like to choose something else. I thanked her for her honesty and picked  a sandwich instead.

This brings us to today. I stopped in this morning for a croissant on my way to a meeting, (knowledgeably avoiding the fruit salad,) and then again at lunch to get a quiche. Now you see just how loyal of a customer I really am! While they heated the quiche I went quickly next door to buy a sandwich for my colleague, and upon returning to the Espresso Bar was somewhat hostily accosted by the owner of the shop.

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Given this was all taking place in German, and while I can hold basic conversations auf Deutsch I was not prepared to have an argument, or defend myself to someone in my 3rd language, must less the owner of a cafe I visit regularly. She told me that had she been at the cafe the day I brought back the fruit salad that she would not have given me my money back. She saw the container, and since I had eaten some of it it wasn’t fair that I would try to return it, (because I am clearly hurting for the 3.50 EUR it cost to buy and desperately wanted to eat for free, of course!) She said something about me being a regular customer and knowing better, (my language skills were a bit hazy during this part of her rant.) She then proceeded to lecture me that since I work for WWF I should know that in the wintertime fruit and vegetables are not always sweet and I couldn’t expect them to carry “un-sour” (i.e. ripe) fruit during these months, that kiwi would always be a bit sour and it didn’t justify returning the meal.

I was completely floored. I have never been spoken to that way by a virtual stranger, in a language I can just barely get by in, who is the owner of a cafe I visit multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day! I tried to explain, in my broken German, that the fruit was sour, I didn’t enjoy it, and I thought she should know it wasn’t good so she could be aware for future customers. I said that my intention was not to ask for my money back, but to let them be aware that the fruit they were selling was not ready and perhaps they should reconsider selling it.

She then proceeded to defend the quality of the fruit and her vendor and to explain that she couldn’t open up every container and try the fruit herself so they had to serve it as it was delivered, (good to know they don’t actually make the salads on the premise itself, but order it “fresh” every day.) I asked if she could maybe speak in English so I could better explain myself, but both her and the waitress did not speak my language and so my efforts were futile.

Since I had already ordered my quiche and was waiting to pay when she began her tirade, I debated just walking out the door, or paying up and leaving. Without so much as an apology or kind word, I don’t know – something as simple as, “I understand you weren’t happy with the fruit salad, just know that in the future I won’t accept food back,” I decided withhold my ‘danke schon’ while paying for the quiche, and walked out. Never to return again.

It just makes it a little bit clearer why so many restaurants in Berlin don’t last long. Customers have no reason to stay loyal to one place over another, their business is not any more appreciated if they always frequent the same place or try out a new place every day, and rather than taking criticism or feedback positively as a way to help improve their business, they would rather point the finger at you for being in the wrong. So long, farewell, Espresso Bar!

Graveyard Walk

Here’s a shot from last week’s photography lesson. We were wandering through a graveyard in Neukolln, in the southern portion of Berlin, and it was a bitter cold day. This graveyard, however, was filled with all varieties of headstones, statues,  trees and plants, and most noticeably against the stark white contrast, color.

And in some corners all you could see was green against the white backdrop. Whether it was carefully tended, or simply overgrown, I do not know, (I’m a bit of a plant novice as well,) but I do know that despite that “I’m in a graveyard” kind of feeling I always have, it was quite a beautiful scene, even on a shockingly cold Berlin winter’s day.

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An American in Berlin

For those of us expats who have knowledgeably been living outside our homelands for a few years, we come to appreciate both the good and bad of our home country, as well as our newly adopted land. No one can say one place is more perfect than another, though I understand that in many instances certain nostalgias develop for things from home, (peanut butter, for instance!)

But one thing that never ceases for me is my want of sharing American culture or experiences with newfound friends. Not the obnoxious, loud-talking, I’m better than you kind of culture, but the “you can eat fried chicken on waffles with syrup” kind of culture.

So in my quest, and after having made many PBJ (foreigners, read: Peanut Butter and Jelly) sandwiches, some chicken fingers, more than a fair share of mac and cheese, and what for my family always feels truly like home, Noodle Pudding, I have come to scout out all the truly American joints throughout my city.

There was a New Orleans Cajun style restaurant in Kreuzberg when I first arrived, which has since closed, as well as a delicious pie shop down the road. But what has always persisted are the larger-than-life burgers and hot wings at The Bird, (thank you to those brave New Yorkers who decided to introduce a true American burger to Berlin!) And most recently, a new addition to the American culinary delights of Berlin, Nalu Diner in Prenzlauer Berg.

After first hearing about it two weeks ago from a friend, that some new American diner had opened in the hood with real American pancakes, I knew I needed to give it a try. So on Sunday, I convinced one of my (more than willing) friends to join me in my quest for pancakes and hash browns. What we were met with was, well, truly American!

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From the moment we sat down, they brought us two large glasses of water. To any American that sounds normal, ridiculous even that I had to point it out. But trust me, as an American in Europe, that. is. amazing. Free water! I immediately ordered a hot chocolate with whipped cream (!) and my friend, Kora, had a black coffee, (she even got a free refill!)

Please notice the American Presidents on the table mat

Please notice the American Presidents on the table mat

So we agreed to share the Deuces Wild (see above) 2 pancakes, 2 hash browns, 2 scrambled eggs, 2 strips of bacon. Oh. My. God. It was the American dream! We also planned to share a piece of Apple Pie afterwards, with whipped cream on top. (We may have been a bit overzealous, but at least we didn’t order it before the main meal came.)

So the waiter brought our food to us on one giant plate, and we asked for an extra for sharing. It was huge. American diner style huge, if you know what I mean. The pancake was the size of my head.

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Ignore the ketchup and look at the size of that panqueque!

I forgot to take a picture before I ate half of my plate, but I think you can still get the point…

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So we ate to our heart’s content, and I must admit, it really, truly, felt like we were in an American diner. the food was so spectacularly like home, I couldn’t believe we were on a street in Berlin.

So for anyone in Berlin looking for some good American Home Cooking, go to Nalu Diner. I cannot wait to go back and test out the grilled cheese and maybe even a burger!

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Stop Cold, Symbolic?

Here’s another glimpse of one of my shots from last weekend’s photo class

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