Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften: come out, little nerds, your time is finally here

This is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the storerooms of a natural history museum, isn’t it.

I love science, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Ok, I am a little ashamed having written that sentence. But ever since I read my first ever Horrible Science I have always had a not-so-secret love for labcoaty things, and over time this has extended to philosophy and geology and everything else that involves the use of the word ‘hypothetically’. 

Berlin loves doing big events, and in particular has a tradition of holding “Long Nights of X”, where X might be art or museums or theatre or bakery products (it’s more plausible than you think). On these occasions one purchases a ticket and from midday until about 1am the following morning you can romp around the city going to various exhibits and shows to do with the overarching theme. I missed the long night of the museums and the long night of the opera and theatre to my great annoyance, so it was a true moment of excitement when I found out that Berlin had heard my cry and was holding a ‘Long Night of the Sciences’. One has to buy a ticket, but they are ludicrously cheap considering that they are an open pass to everything happening for the event as well as unlimited travel on the public transport until 4am. This Frida, therefore, I checked the time of the first thing I wanted to visit, marched down to the train platform to buy my ticket and got ready to start the fun. Well, until I realised that the reason why my ticket was a little cheaper than expected was because the thing didn’t start until tomorrow and I had got myself all pepped-up a bit too early.
You have got to plan your Long Night because there are literally hundreds of events and exhibitions all over the city extending kilometres into the countryside (i.e. Potsdam) and it isn’t so much a case of simply meandering around hoping you stumble around on something good. However, to plan your Long Night you yourself will need to have a Ph.D or at least a basic understanding of calculus. Trying to figure out how to time all the various things you want to do and the travelling time and waiting time in between (plus a good 15 minutes here and there for faffing) is so difficult I found myself staring wildly at the website for hours with the facial expression of the professor in Back to the Future (“ONE POINT TWENTY-ONE GIGAWATTS??”). While researching it also became apparent that this ‘long’ night is actually shorter than they brag about, most of the exhibits closing around 10 or 11pm. On closer inspection of the transport information it also became clear that not even the transport guys understand the transport. So, with absolutely no idea what I was doing and where I was going and why, I set out into the depths of the Long Night.


The first thing I had on my list was a tour of the coral collection of the Natural History museum, a place worth visiting if only to see the quite breathtaking archaeopteryx fossil which honestly really is, like, way cooler than it sounds.  A friendly and interesting woman delivered a brief and interesting lecture about coral reefs before taking us through endless atmospheric corridors full of empty display cases and pickled fish, accompanied by her colleague and her disarmingly affectionate boyfriend (look dude, she’s trying to give a talk right now, do you think you could wait and spoon her later?). The coral collection of the museum is really spectacular and features examples that would be highly illegal to take to a museum nowadays, which is why it is all now locked away and not available for viewing by the general public. Why? I don’t quite know, but it wasn’t always like that and hopefully might someday be brought back out again. I do hope it’s not just to show kids what coral used to be like before it all died out.

The next thing on my list was a talk about youth fashion at a university for fashion and design. It was delivered by a woman who must have been made up by my own imagination; she was all dressed in skin-tight black with a scraped-back bun, thick Andy Warhol glasses and the kind of stiletto boots you could stab a turtle with. Disappointingly she spent twenty-five minutes telling us what she certainly wasn’t going to talk about during the lecture, ten minutes wrestling with her laptop and croaky throat, and the rest of the time telling us things we already knew – “Young people like to wear alternative clothes and get piercings??? I’ve been so blind!!!” 


I then decided to stop by a robotics exhibit before my next thing, and this is where another problem of the programme became evident: everything is listed as having the same importance despite the levels of quality and ‘worth-it-ness’ being very variable. Thus the robotics exhibit turned out to be less of an exhibit and more like one small trestle table with a single robot and a sad-looking research student. I asked an awkward question to make her feel better and ran out before the creepy-as-all-hell robot made eye contact with me again.


Then I came to the nucleus of the thing, the big science event at the TU. There was a vast stage with breakdancers (yeah, it’s like physics or something innit) and a bunch of stands selling stuff to eat and lebkuchen, inexplicably. I was starving so invested a despicably huge sum of money in a pretzel which went directly into the bin the minute they handed it to me and it turned out to be cold, very wet and mottled with tumors of congealing butter. However, inside there was plenty to sate one’s hunger as there was a stall of scientists who had just invented a type of bread which was 65% water for people who have dry mouths. Yes. And they had free samples. There was another stall featuring non-alcoholic beer tastings, another offering samples of a miraculous microwaveable cake and one very disappointing one which had an entire buffet of delicious real food – for display purposes only. It was to show the kind of good food you should be eating for lunch at your workplace, and since it was real but not to be eaten the long hours had taken their toll and the smell was really quite disgraceful.


My last thing was a talk on philosophy and how it is therapy for the brain to consider philosophical questions and paradoxes such as: “The barber is the person in the village who shaves the beard of everyone who doesn’t shave their own beards. Does the barber shave himself?” I’ll give you a minute.


It was delivered by a crushingly cute young philosophy professor with red cheeks and lots of knowledge, and he used Wittgenstein very well to convince us that it’s not just the answer to the question that makes it worth asking, but also the importance of the question itself. He has a point; if you spend your life wondering whether or not the soul is connected to the body, and then one day realise that our concept of the body itself is not what we originally thought, that realisation alone is pretty darn important. There was then a brief debate involving several very odd old men who looked like they’d been living in bins prior to attending the event, and then…well, then I gave up.


I wanted to do so much more, but the trains were running in a ridiculous rhythm at this point which made nothing doable save seeing the straggly end bits of a variety of Wastes Of Time. I was hungry and frustrated. I had missed the fireworks. I had had my fill of science, the night had been Long enough. I went home and left the breakdancers to it.

The high life

If I were a Times reporter I’d make a joke about royal wedding hats right now.

I know, I’ve not been around for a while and I’m sorry. Last week was a frenzy of activity as I completed entirely unvoluntary voluntary work, went to a bizarre exhibition (more on that in the next post) and saw my friends for the last time before the main event of the week: my grandparents came to Berlin to see my new turf for the first time. Unlike friends or parents, grandparents have a kind of dignity and connoisseurial eye that means that you are driven by self-inflicted terror to find not just good things to show them and do with them but to find the perfect things; the sights they will regard with their experience and knowledge and find worth the effort. It’s not an easy task in this city because my grandparents are, you might say, gourmet tourists. They have been to almost every country in the world, they have certainly been to every continent and they have seen enough walls, cathedrals and museums to know that the ones you might take them to in this city are going to have to work very hard to compete. Being so refined, they are also unlikely to enjoy the kinds of ‘rrrreal, grrrritty Berlin’ things that younger friends or my thrill-seeking mother might like, things like the Kunsthaus Tacheles or the Zielona Gora squat. With all this in mind I have been putting most of my energy and tour-guide zeal into assembling a weekend of the best Berlin has to offer for the distinguished tourist. And where did we begin? With lunch in the revolving restaurant at the top of the one and only Fernsehturm (TV tower).

You can go up the TV tower without going to the restaurant, of course, and this is fun and exciting and interesting but with a couple of downsides: you have to revolve yourself, and you have to wait so long to get up there that you might just mistake the eventual ride up in the lift as your final ascension to heaven. If you book a table at the restaurant, you can jump the queue, and…well, that’s where the benefits end. We arrived at the tower to be made to buy our tickets for the lift up, as if they weren’t going to squeeze us dry enough with the ludicrously expensive food, which I thought quite unfair; if we were unwilling to pay an extra fee on top of our lunch and the premium put on it for the location we could hardly stand outside, open our coats and hope a gust of wind would carry us up instead. We had also arrived early so that we could wander around the gallery and look at the view before taking our table, but the woman at the counter gave us a specific time at which we were permitted to arrive and NOT A MINUTE SOONER, meaning my poor grandfather was forced to shuffle behind us as we looked at handbags in the Galeria Kaufhof for 20 minutes to kill unexpected extra time. Finally the moment came and we took the lift to the main gallery.

The TV tower features a large round gallery of windows overlooking the city from the most incredible height. The view is spectacular; you can see the incredible straightness of Unter den Linden, the remarkable hugeness of Tierpark and the strange incongruity of the Reichstag dome with almost birds-eye perspective. Helpfully there are also keys under the windows to explain what it is you are actually looking at, the history behind it, and whether what you are looking at is actually a thing or is just a drab building which you have overconfidently assumed is the headquarters of the East German Secret Police. It’s good fun, and interesting, and for 11 euros a ticket it ought to be; you can also enjoy watching people frustratedly trying to take photos without reflections of themselves in the picture thanks to the way the light works on the windows and if you feel decadent even splash out on a TV-tower-shaped lolly or bottle of schnapps. 

But of course that’s for the plebs. Those of us who were reserved into the restaurant were allowed access to an even (slightly) higher floor, a revolving donut of restaurant with a stationary kitchen in the middle and tables lining the windowed circumference, turning at a leisurely pace over the sunlit city. Cream tablecloths and soft smarm-jazz music assert the fact that this is a Nice Place. This illusion, however, did not last long. Our waiter came to the table after a half-hour wait while we sat, read the menu from cover to cover and eventually wrote a good long chapter of our memoirs. With arrogant charm that did not seem to correspond to the fact that his face was covered with some kind of odd yellow crusty ooze he took our order and then disappeared, not to be seen again for another eternity during which time we tried using various methods to calculate how many revolutions per hour the restaurant does. Eventually my grandparents’ antipasti plates came, huge black glass sheets dotted with a sad-looking row of wrinkled marinaded vegetables and a couple of mottled handkerchiefs of proscuitto, followed by my salad, which they had got wrong, so they took it away, evidently grew all-new salad leaves from seed, and brought a new one, which was also wrong, so they took that one away too and replaced it by which time we were ready to eat each other. The bread we had also asked for eventually materialised too. Foolishly we ordered coffee which arrived sometime around sundown and I believe they finally came to let us settle the bill just before the apocalypse. The jovial and infection-y waiter joked around with my grandparents and told me in discreet German that my grandfather is a ‘charming old man’ as if to make amends, and we finally were released back into the wild to make our way to the botanical gardens. Which are spectacular. And at the moment the Titan Arum is flowering. It is an incredible plant, the largest flower in the world, and when it flowers it smells of rotting meat. It was definitely a highlight. 

Should you be learning English if you haven’t yet learnt to use a fork?

Yes! It’s a real Trabi! (Plus owner who was not happy about me taking this picture.)

Now I’m not prone to exaggeration (cue raucous peals of laughter from live audience) but Monday morning’s lesson has got to be one of the worst any of us babysitter teachers have to deal with. It is a group of four children: a baby of one-and-a-half years, who can barely speak at all and has a tenuous grip on reality as it is; a two year old Turkish boy who is stocky and strong like a baby buffalo and doesn’t really know any English, German or Turkish but does know how to say “Onur MAAAAAAD!” in German just like the Incredible Hulk; a three-year-old girl who is rather bright and willing to join in if it weren’t for…; the other three-year-old, the adorable blonde who made his fame on this blog months earlier as that cherub who takes his family jewels out of his tights and kneads them like a stressball. It is one of the most impossible groups of pupils to teach, not in the least because none of them have even the faintest glimmer of interest in learning English; the other ‘zone- in this kindergarten is a bomb-site of broken and scattered toy bits and crayons and sweeties which no child would under any circumstances want to leave behind in order to play farm animal memory game with a weary and shoeless ‘teacher’ (something about having to remove my shoes makes me feel like I have lost any authority I could have had before the kids even enter the room).




This class is a shining example of how quickly kids develop when they are so very young; the four of them together, if they ever stand in a line,  resemble the evolution diagram  because each of them occupies such a different plane of early development. The baby is so small that she can barely stand, and spent today’s lesson lying completely motionless on the floor in a manner so lifeless that I had to stop a couple of times and watch her until I was sure she was breathing. She was, and for some reason was also grinning all over her sticky face as if enjoying some kind of treat. Onur, the two-year-old, is just beginning to get a hold on the logic of real life, which is why it’s possible to see him over the lessons getting more and more aware of the ract that language has a communicative role; this unfortunately manifested itself in him working out what ‘Nein’ means and roaring it at me every time I ask him to do anything, from sitting down to being an Easter bunny. Fascinatingly this is coinciding with his developing understanding of games and the point thereof, as a few months ago he used to be a silent force of destruction slowly trudging around the room oblivious of the fact that we were playing things around him, whereas in the last couple of weeks he has been able to point at a card in the memory game and even realise which card is the right card to be pointing at. 


Out of the two three-year-olds, the youngest (the male) is determinedly resistant to everything and is firmly in the stage of still being fascinated by his own and other people’s bodies, meaning that when he isn’t also saying ‘nein’ or massaging his tender parts he is begging the other one to touch her belly to his or is pressing his face against her bum. The girl, the oldest, generously allows this behaviour but is herself now far too mature for this and absolutely loves the games; unfortunate, then, that none of them are possible when the other three participants are rolling on the floor, tearing the room apart or inspecting their perineum. I allow her to play ‘Doktorarzt’ every lesson as it is her favourite game and allows me to subversively sneak in some body-part learning, but she is currently in that point of childhood where you are fascinated by the idea of having babies and so it doesn’t particularly move her that my head or nose or fingers require an injection but I do now have an impressive clutch of invisible babies to tend to.


Yet as they age by mere months each of these kids is changing so rapidly I can hardly believe it. The baby began as little more than a drooling flesh-bag, whereas now she is picking up English words and knows when they correspond to certain pictures and when I am asking her to repeat them back to me. Onur never used to understand that words meant things so it used to be a case of me shouting single words at him and him shouting them back at me in a kind of detached way as he was busy throwing things and pressing his face into the wall at the time; now he is grasping their relation to the world he lives in and occasionally will deign to sit down for a full two minutes or so. And the two older ones have learnt new and creative ways to misbehave, such as stealing and hiding my mp3 player headphones somewhere in the toy crate. 


It is one of my most chaotic and least productive classes but it is quite intriguing to watch these little beasts become more and more complex as they age. Like kittens you don’t notice them looking any different from day to day but you do remember the day they stopped puking on that sofa cushion, and I suppose they even look different too. It must be strange to be a Kindergarten minder and watch thousands of toddlers enter your doors too tiny to eat by themselves and leave big enough to tell you they think what they’re eating is yucky. For someone who only spends three quarters of an hour per week with them it’s a little like watching every third episode of a TV series. Still, sometimes you are lucky and catch a really good episode; last week was my favourite so far, when the girl was being a little demon and then accidentally kicked the bottom of a vast clothes rack propped up against the wall. It fell directly upon her with a colossal WHAM. She was flattened to such a degree that you couldn’t even see her under the enormous thing, and when I lifted it up, trying to surpress all my fear and amusement, she was spread out like a photocopy of herself. It took her about four seconds to recover.

Berlin: a city that welcomes you with open arms, then kicks you in the stomach

The most threatening German definite article of them all

I’m not sure whether this is to do with living in a huge city having lived in a tiny village all my life, or rather whether it is more a heightened self-pity leading to a victim complex, but life in the pulsating mass of a metropolis seems to be rather intolerant of…well, almost all individual human effort. Every day seems littered with small signs that while you are trying your hardest to say ‘yes’ to life, Berlin is giving you a solid ‘no’. Take the case of a  few Fridays previous: I arrived at the train station a little late thanks to my stinking German phone’s alarm not going off to find that the train I needed to get wasn’t actually running after all, with absolutely no explanation or provision of an alternative but simply an atmosphere of such indifference to our disappointment that it is as if the air itself were giving a shrug worthy of a French caricature. Eventually arriving at the U-Bahn station I need to get to (against all odds), I literally limp to my kindergarten like a mad scientist’s assistant, suffering at the time from an agonising inflamed tendon in my foot. I give a taut smile as the gooey kid happily buries his breakfast-and-snot-covered face into my belly for my good morning hug, and as I hurriedly prepare the materials for the lesson before finding the children I pick up a nearby box to get a piece of chalk. Inside I find a message in large capital letters: “DIE.” It took me a couple of minutes (yes, that is probably two more minutes than it ought to have done) to realise that this is Germany and therefore the note is not a jarring and suddenly discovered threat scrawled in crayon. But for a split second, nestled among the lollies that were also inexplicably in the box, that note seemed like a sign. A sign that was trying to tell me to get out of where I don’t belong.

No-one can prepare you for the nature of a big city. Anonymity is one thing; seeing the same person more than once in passing is earth-shattering where in a village it’s one of the top ten most mundane things that can happen. And in villages you have to have a top ten because there are just so many mundane things ready to paralyse you with boredom on a daily basis. You do quite honestly feel like an ant in a nest, deedling about the place doing something so infinitesimally insignificant that it won’t really matter at all if you drown in a drop of lemonade. The pace is another thing; everyone is marching up and down the streets, you ricochet between trains and trams and buses like public transport Pong, the supermarket check-out women shuttle your food through the scanner as if she were trying to zing it through the window leaving a perfectly aubergine-shaped hole in the glass. This is why the parks and gardens are so popular, because the people here need a genuine oasis where all of this is simply out of the way for a while so they can dawdle and linger and all those other deliciously lazy words. 

But, as I said, the thing that really gets on my bluetits is the sheer sense of ‘no’ that pervades everyday life here. It is because the city is run by the companies and the municipal bodies, and they are as inhuman as they can possibly achieve. No-one is trying to help you, because you are one squidgy little cell in this big middle-aged body, and while some cells might be on the verge of popping it doesn’t matter as long as the galumphing great corpse still has life in it. Every company’s customer service department is populated entirely by those people whose emotional spectrum only diverges from apathy to touch pure sadism. I have been trying to receive a package I ordered for over three weeks now with no success because the store repeatedly tells me to talk to the delivery firm, who repeatedly reply that the only possible way to solve the problem is to talk to the store. For 3 euros per phone call. Recently, having waited about thirty years for some pancakes to arrive in a cafe, I went to the waitress and asked if we would be getting our breakfast soon please and thank you so much for your help; she merely rolled her eyes and told me, quite frankly: “Well, it won’t take forever…

Not to mention the fact that everything in this bloody place is closed at the moment, meaning that one can spend an entire day travelling from one thing to another just to see a dazzling array of barriers, ‘no entry’ signs and hopelessly dark shop windows. When my most beloved mother came to visit last weekend, I took her to the KaDeWe where we spent our entire life savings on a salad and bread roll, and as a consolation took her to the Gedächtniskirche, which for the first time in years and completely inexplicably was entirely shrouded in MDF. To make up for this, I took her to the Siegessäule, which, despite the fanfares of its finally being completely renovated and now gleamingly finished, was sealed off by military-grade scaffolding and chicken-wire barriers for no apparent reason. To make up for this, I took her to the Reichstag – we saw some beautiful barriers there, although unfortunately didn’t make it anywhere near the building. Everything is closed on Sundays, certain places open and close on a whim like a diseased sphincter, and other things are so rarely open you wonder why they even exist at all; in my last two holidays to Berlin the Bauhaus and the Neue Nationalgalerie were closed, and to my masochistic joy the last time I peered into the Neue Nationalgalerie this month it was an empty mausoleum with Absolutely No Art Here. 

The bureaucratic barriers are just as impressive, with rules that remind you of comedy legal documents where paragraph A section 3.1 line C section iiv syllable 6 is quoted as the dealbreaker. 
-No, you are not allowed an intern’s reduced travel fare despite the fact that you are an intern because the only exception to the reduced rates is English language teachers.
-No, you cannot take books out of the library because your postal address does not match your registered address.
-No, you cannot shower for the swimming pool without fully stripping naked as stipulated by the Berlin pools’ alliance.
 All of these are true.

No, no, no, no, no. Nein. Nöö. If there is such a thing as The Man, he is perpetually shaking his head. And this isn’t just Berlin; London is the same, and every other big city in England or anywhere in Europe (Paris, don’t get me started on you). Happily there is one antidote, which is that the individual people recognise the crushingness of this state and seem to do their best to undo it, and whether they go out of their way to throw your gloves out of the train window as it leaves the platform so your hands aren’t cold or whether they simply give you a beaming smile with your loaf of bread it makes you feel like a rather lucky ant.

Please mentally read the following text in the voice of the pubescent boy character in The Simpsons

Butternut squash-chili-ginger soup. You need this soup in your life.

It has been a quiet week on this blog, and for that I apologise. The reason for this is that the flecks of baby-spittle which landed on my tongue at the beginning of last week heralded the beginning of the end for my physical well-being. It began with a cold, which rapidly deteriorated into a godawful sniff-fest forcing me to fill my entire bedroom with used tissues, and then after the weekend deepened in complexity and heft rather like a fine whisky; all of a sudden I was unable to talk in any voice other than a faint quacking noise resembling the voice of that broken squeaky penguin in Toy Story 2. Feeling left out and bored, the rest of my body decided to get in on the action and my big toe began to creak like old wood and explode with acid pain every time I did something crazy like walk or go up or down stairs. “Why didn’t you guys tell us you were having a party??” demanded my teeth, and proceeded to become hypersensitive to anything that is any temperature or flavour outside of completely neutral.  Unable to speak, walk, eat, drink, sing or dance around properly my daily doings are currently somewhat laboured.

But I so seldom take sick days, and at school used to covet my hundred-percent attendance rate as if it were a Victoria Cross medal.I have my gleaming 100% fixed in my mind and will not let it go for anything less than amputation. I once attended an audition during the throes of Swine Flu and passed off my almost-not-there voice by choosing to play a weeping old lady for my improvisation. No pathetic germ or measly inflamed tendon will stop me from marching Thatcher-style through life, and thus with gritted teeth and a pronounced limp I have been teaching my lessons, turning to the dreamy wonderfulness of this spicy, nutty soup with a crusty hunk of walnut ciabatta to serve as my medicine.

Teaching when you are feeling like death warmed up is a guaranteed disaster. The only classroom situation that suits such a state would be if all of the children had been mesmerised into sedentary contemplation moments before one enters the room. Unfortunately I don’t have any Dido that I can pipe into the classrooms before my arrival so this is never the case. It is fascinating to see how children react to a teacher when we reveal that we are not inhuman machines designed solely to ponce about in front of them; they appear completely aghast that the Teacher should Not Be Untouchable like the guys on TV who are exactly the same every week. It does strange things to their moods and ultimately causes any authority you had to disperse like smoke in a draughty concert hall. Here, for example, is a breakdown of the week’s worst lessons:
Monday
The class with the baby. Sadly the baby is ill, as is one other child who the Erzieherinnen (looker-afterers) tell me (with worryingly dismissive apathy) is actually in hospital. Thus in a class of just two children the youngest spent the entire class sort of sloddling (a cross between slithering and waddling) around the room doing destructive things while the other entered the room, sat quietly in the corner and wept with heart-breaking misery. She wouldn’t do anything I asked or had planned to do so in the end we sat quietly for the lesson and pretended to cook things for an imaginary family of farm animals who were very picky about the colours of their breakfasts.  
Tuesday
One child gets so furious after I ask him not to play catch by grabbing multiple children by the shoulders and dragging them behind him like sacks that he leaves and goes back downstairs; the other children sense that I am physically weak and demand that they should not be made to do anything except hide and seek all lesson. In the afternoon the children are so indifferent to their croaking teacher that they all somehow get hold of huge wads of bubble gum and chew it open-mouthed pointedly in my direction.
Wednesday
Oh sweet Moses. An Open Lesson of French-Revolution proportions. The boys realise that I cannot shout at them and run around windmilling their arms, refusing to sing the songs in favour of going ‘WAA-WAA-WAA’ in time with the syllables of the lyrics. The boy whose mother is present suddenly becomes irate for no reason and spends half an hour sobbing in wet, outraged yelps.The girls are concerned and unsettled. In the afternoon the few children who are not absent reply to my every request with a variation of ‘no’.
Thursday
I sit the children down at the beginning of the lesson and explain in my whisper that because I cannot talk loudly they must be ganz lieb and promise me that they will be good this lesson. They all adorably nod with earnest respect and promise in unison. Never before have so many children injured so many other children in a mere forty-five minutes; near the end I manage to make a loud quack to get their attention, and surrounded by sobbing toddlers I tell them off for being bad even though they promised to be good. They all club together and explain that they all forgot that they promised. In the afternoon the children are late, rude and violent, and one boy who didn’t want to do English bare-faced lied that his mother had forbidden him from doing English. For five minutes, I believed him.

Anyway, as I say, such a week necessitates recovery time and soup. The soup was finally achieved tonight and if I get a few requests I might post the recipe, as it was honestly ladle-lickingly delicious. Recovery time comes in the form of streaming episodes of quality comedy, and so, without further ado, allow me to make some recommendations that you may or may not have yet tried, so that you too will have something to slump in front of when in the throes of illness.
-30 Rock. Starting with this because it is the most embarrassingly mainstream. I was strongly against this show for a long time because I saw it as such a disappointment; a much-lauded example of a successful female comedian in the spotlight which in fact seemed to suffer from Ugly Betty syndrome, that self-massaging worthiness of having a character criticised for being ugly, fat and disgusting when they are in fact highly attractive and desirable. However, it takes a few episodes to realise that the other characters only see Liz Lemon as these things because they are so completely absorbed in themselves and their own perceived awesomeness; once you have made that realisation the show becomes a delight to watch, a parade of self-obsessed twerps who are so oblivious that they are impossible not to be fascinated by. Also, Alec Baldwin is a titan.
-3rd Rock from the Sun. Yeah it sounds almost exactly the same. But this one is about aliens pretending to be humans so they can conduct research on Earth, and it is deliciously over-the-top and wildly silly. It has the fat bloke from Jurassic Park as an obese policeman who thinks he is a sculpture of Sex Itself, and it has a hint of Back to the Future pantomime about it which you don’t find in modern series.
-Absolutely. This is the weirdest show you might ever watch.

Scottish people doing inexplicably bizarre sketches with wild accents and appallingly grimy sets? Yes please, very yes. 
– The Kenny Everett Video Show. This was the daddy of things like The Fast Show and is excellently funny. As a bonus it features completely unnecessary and unexplained dance segments by an erotic and very 80’s dance troupe, Hot Gossip. The sketches are stupid and wild (there is a regular character called Brother Lee-Love who is a Harlem-style preacher with one or sometimes two enormous plastic hands) and a lot of the humour comes purely from Everett’s clear love of the kind of tragic special effects that at the time were the most cutting-edge thing on the market. 

– Finally, The Goodies. This is ideal watch-while-you’re-ill telly. It was Bill Oddie’s big break and unbelievably popular for a time. The theme tune is goofily catchy and while the episode plot set-ups may make you raise your eyebrows so high they’ll get caught in your stylish mohair hat, the slapstick segments are so cleverly filmed and beautifully timed that I sincerely hope you find yourself doing that kind of suffocation laughter that I fall into every time.

So there you go. Now get some soup and you’ll be fine.

Honey, I’m…home?

No, it’s not tidy. Feast your eyes on real, gritty Berlin life.

At least, I bloody hope this mean I’m home. Over the last few months I have been in seven different domiciles, both in the UK and in Germany – let’s break it down:

1. My UK home. Where I grew up and spent the largest part of my conscious existence. A beautiful old huge house with cavernous, airy, freezing-cold rooms and an ever-changing variety of problems to be repaired at great expense. 
2. The hostel in which I stayed when I started my time here. I haven’t really had much of a chance to write about this, since at the time I was busy trying not to end up living in a bin behind a supermarket somewhere in the city. I spent about two and a half weeks in this hostel, frantically looking at flats and attending training for my job whilst spending any free time I had learning my repertoire of songs for the ‘assessed performance’ part of the training period. Staying for a long time in a youth hostel is a completely incomparable experience. You become almost like the jaded old janitor of a night club, lurking around the building watching fresh-faced young things skip joyfully in and out with the ephemeral briefness of mayflies, while you sit in the quieter spots and bitterly glare at them or occasionally take a nap with a newspaper laid over your face. I stayed so long I knew all the names of the staff and learnt every foible of the building and its running, meaning that other guests assumed I was also staff and regularly asked me to help them with their queries and problems. Other guests came, stayed a couple of drunken and thrilled nights, and then moved on to the next exciting European city. I had my own breakfast cereal and milk which I kept on the windowsill and the reception people knew to give me a bowl when I came down in the morning.

3. My colleague’s flat. Ok, so I only stayed five days here, but five days rolled into a ball sleeping on the armchair in my colleague’s bedroom was enough.
4. The flat in Charlottenburg. See previous posts.
5. The flat on Schönhauser Allee, which I have also already mentioned, I believe.
6. My new house in the UK. 
7. My new flat in Berlin, which is comfortable and friendly and small and very ‘me’.

But most importantly, the new flat is the one. That means I’m now here for good. Hubris aside, this has been the most eye-opening experience, as nothing shows you how severely a person needs an anchor until they have it uprooted. There is a beautiful part of Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ where he writes about human beings being connected to their home by invisible tendrils which flail around in hyperspace once that person’s home is unexpectedly taken away. Adams was completely right; when you don’t have a lasting place to anchor your sense of ‘being’ to you simply drift about like a limpet squelching from rock to rock, and this life makes you feel vulnerable and unsafe, as if any moment a seagull will come and suck you out of your shell and some child will come and take it and put it on their thumb and pretend that it’s a miniature Chinese hat. So Gott sei Dank, finally there is a corner of Berlin with my name on it for good. (thunder rolls ominously in the distance)

As for the rest of what’s going on in this semi-molten glob of a city: the ice thawed and then immediately refroze into a completely invisible, transparent layer of death which caused everyone in the entire city to struggle from place to place scooting about, slipping and essentially suffering frequent comedy moments; one man yesterday was walking his little Jack Russell dog who was skittering about on the ice like a cartoon character trying to skedaddle, and so eventually the man took pity and picked his dog up. He went on with the dog in his arms, at which point he instantly fell over himself, before getting up and heading off whilst intensely conversing with the dog. Now everything has started to thaw once again in preparation for Monday morning when people have to go to work and it can once again become a teflon pavement varnish. Berlin’s small children, meanwhile, are starting to get bored and cross with the paltry selection of words and songs they are permitted to learn and are getting naughty in ever more inventive ways, running away and hiding somewhere in the school or playing London Bridge with the added rule that you have to headbutt everyone when you’re not busy being headbutted yourself. One particularly delightful boy spent the entire lesson with his hands in his knickers groping his own genitals  – oh, except for the points at which he decided to hold my hand.  At this point it is important to focus on the little things that make everything worth living through, and therefore I would like to finish this post by thanking all the children in my Thursday class for still confusing the words ‘rooster’ and ‘rock star’, and for bursting into an air guitar solo every time they do so.

Now comes with visual interest! Available in stores.

Grandma, what cool things did you do when you lived in Berlin? Cardcraft.

This is a picture of a mask I made for my first ever German ‘Motto’ party – being a fancy-dress party based on some kind of motto (stop me if I get too technical) – where the motto was ‘Traum’ (dream). Now, although I am an eager dresser-upper to say the least, I am always reluctant these days to spend much time or money on good costumes anymore after being sick and tired of being the zombie bride in the ‘Mean Girls’ situation; that is to say, showing up to a party dressed immaculately and enthusiastically as the llama from ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ only to find that everyone else has either chosen a subtle, charming and attractive costume or most commonly, barely even deigned to acknowledge that it is a fancy dress party at all. But out of the two commodities I have, time and money, time is a lot easier to waste, and thus I set about making a donkey mask so that I could go as Bottom from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Tying a teatowel around my neck to look sufficiently Shakespearian and fastening a woollen tassle to my arse to be my ‘tail’, I forged off into the complete inertia of the Berlin transport system during snowy season. There is no real moral to this story; the party was a lot of fun and gratifyingly some people had also dressed up too (as a waiter or in a skiing onesie, for example); the only reason I tell the story is to show material proof of the fact that I am wasting my year abroad, not even in style.

This blog post was also originally written and used as a rather irate little burst of catharsis, which I then deemed inappropriate to publish and boring to read. Hence the lack of golden thread in this post. So stay tuned and buckle up for a selection of unconnected musings!

 Firstly, work: I have been taken on as research assistant for one of my tutors, meaning that yesterday I had the honour of yomping up to Reinickendorff to the Berlin Landesarchiv to spool through a million metres of microfilm to find some mystery photos in order to enlighten the world about Brecht. Sitting in a room that is entirely beige (including the furniture, machines, and people within) flicking through negatives of a communist journal sounds about as stimulating as chewing greaseproof paper, but god help me if I didn’t love every single pseudo-almost-squint-and-you-can-pretend-it’s-detective-work-or-CSI minute of it. I felt important, investigative, and triumphant twofold because not only did I solve the mystery but also managed to understand the instructions of the guy who taught me how to use the microfilm reading machine, who had a pronounced stutter (honestly, it was so bad he could have been Ben Stiller in a bad Ben Stiller film). The feeling of success quickly dwindled after I then turned the spooling knob too far trying to wind up the film and sent it unfurling all over the place, and then had the receptionists watch me with narrowed eyes as I ate my pumpernickel sandwich in the lobby to avoid the driving snow, and then returned triumphantly home and tried to open the front door with the locker key which I only then realised I had accidentally stolen from the archive.


So that’s that. Then, secondly, children: yet more success turned sour in the form of the world’s shyest child, who up until two weeks ago wouldn’t say a single word but would simply shyly and morosely suck her fists if asked to contribute or join in. I recently got her speaking in lessons, after which she would eagerly say any word I asked her to with the kind of tiny, bashful smile that would make a lumberjack get misty-eyed. And this week, her confidence grew even more and she began to be naughty. I have a feeling this is going to go down a bad, bad road…
However, joyous joyous wonderment came in the form of my Tuesday afternoon lesson, where the children are usually so outrageously naughty that I am lost for words about them; suffice it to say, one of the children has now shown up for multiple lessons with blood all over his face. This week I tried new tactics, and learnt two things about the class: these children respond to a) praise rather than punishment, and b) miming playing electric guitar at any opportunity. We spent the whole lesson singing songs air-guitaring like champions and they at no point tried to murder each other or myself, and even the child with the demonic grin and unnervingly slanty eyebrows was a little gem. It is true that you just have to find the right angle with every group, it’s just that some groups’ angles are more obscure than you could possibly imagine. 


Finally: the first of this year’s Christmas shopping trips was made today, and more than finding presents for anyone I discovered how anything you can imagine is made and sold and considered to be a good idea by someone. My favourite items were the 250 Euro corrugated cardboard totem pole, the ‘man-porcelain’ for MEN who want their PORCELAIN to be HAMMER-RESISTANT, the 95 Euro tray which is designed to look as good upside-down as it does topside-up so that people don’t go ‘Oh good lord, is that a…*choke*…tray??!?‘, and the little orange mouse made of vegetable-dyed leather with no apparent purpose at all which for some reason was being sold in a shop claiming to be an anti-consumerist establishment. No doubt there will be more worldview-changing shopping experiences to come, but that’s that for now; I’m off to weep over the white bathroom floor that I just mopped so that as much black cat fur as possible could become firmly stuck to it before the moisture dried.