As a way of celebrating Valentine's Day, fellow expat Courtney Tenz interviewed the celebrated Honourable Husband and myself along with several other sources. She then put together a very enjoyable article as a way to expose our "love exile" plight to a wider audience.
I think it is quite informative, and explains very simply why I am living in Germany and not in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, (you know, where all men are created equal). Why no, of course I'm not bitter.
In January of 2011 a federal requirement went into effect which among other things allowed hospital visitation rights to same sex couples in the United States and the option to decide who can make medical decisions on their behalf in case of incapacitation.
The enforcement of this requirement has finally given same sex couples the legal rights which opposite sex couples have taken for granted all along.
"Uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred
from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades
of their lives—unable to be there for the person they love, and unable
to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated." - President Barack Obama
The article which frustrated me so completely reported that U.S. Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's camp is now asserting that hospital visitation of a loved one is a "benefit" and not a right. A benefit which he would happily erase or allow individual states to withdraw if his bid for the White House is successful.
Romney has once again displayed a lack of basic human empathy by asserting that if he were to win the office he would rescind the few basic human rights which gays and lesbians have managed to obtain in the last few years. Plus he has offered to legislate hate into the US Constitution by pledging to Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition that he would “propose and promote” a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the U.S. if he were to become President.
Romney's own wife has had a horrific medical history. In the late 90's she was diagnosed with MS and more recently survived a battle with breast cancer. I wonder how Mitt "I didn't know you had families" Romney would feel if a nurse who is "only enforcing the rules" would forbid him to be in the room while his wife or child was lying prone and vulnerable in a hospital bed, needing the comfort of their chosen support system?
What kind of appaling society would require a hospital to withhold the care and devotion of a loved one?
How could someone actually rationalise the invalidation of such a basic human need? To be allowed to die with dignity with the ones their loved ones should not even be questioned.
This for me is not a rebublican versus democrat thing... this is a basic human right thing, a human decency thing. On top of all this, I for one am sick and tired of my life being used as a political talking point.
Have you ever had mouse-based wrist problems? I have, and it isn't really fun. Repetitive-stress-related discomfort is a fact of life in our modern world. But I have found something which has helped significantly, and at the risk of sounding like a commercial... I would like to let people know that there IS an alternative to the standard mouse. Somewhere around late 2002 I began to notice a bump forming on the top of my left wrist joint. It turned out to be a ganglion cyst. Throughout history doctors and housewives had been curing this problem by slamming the bump with a large book, thus bursting the bubble inside.
Sweet No and I tried this remedy, and after the stars cleared from my head and I was finally certain that I would not faint from the pain, I opened my eyes... The bump was still there, mocking me. Proving that my bubble wasn't going away so easily. A quick visit to a specialist and a surgery date was scheduled. Before cutting me, the surgeon sat me down and explained that using the mouse was quite possibly causing the problem. I was a "left-mouser" up until that moment, but he suggested that I change that forever. Even after surgery my left wrist would lack the proper cushioning which the ganglion provided, so I should start doing such things with my right hand. When I asked him if the same thing could happen to my right wrist, he calmly explained that it was not impossible.
When I posed the question of how to protect my remaining healty wrist, he explained to me that the natural position of the hand/wrist is a handshake position. Turning the wrist to lie flat across the mouse, coupled with the side to side mousing motion is a double affront to the joint. He told me that if I could find some way to mouse in handshake position, this would go a long way to protecting my wrist. Being a computer geek, and effictively living ON the computer I went directly home and started to search for a better mouse position. Since we are talking about the days of the ball mouse (gawd, remember how dusty those things would get?), holding it on its side didn't work. Even the new-fangled laser mice couldn't be modified to get my hand into the more safe handshake position. It was then that I entered the search term "vertical mouse", and found my solution! A company named Evoluent was selling my perfect mouse! Microsoft had something close to vertical, but still with the wrist twist. Logitech had a trackball which I tried for a while, but I could still feel the strain of the twist. Evoluent however, had what looked like a mouse turned on its side. The price was pretty steep, but worth every penny. All of a sudden I had exactly what my surgeon had suggested. It looked a little strange on the desk, and received frequent comments from people, but it worked like a dream. The movement of the mouse is controlled by my elbow and shoulder which are much better suited for such repetition. My hand just basically wraps around the mouse with the same fingers on the same buttons as a "normal" mouse. It supports my hand in a fully upright handshake position, eliminating the arm twisting required by ordinary mice. But this mouse went one better by adding extra buttons suitable for easy programming. The button at my thumb became a "back" button which functions both with browsers and within the Windows folder system. At my pinkie I programmed an "enter" button. Between these shortcuts I have probably saved multiple hours over the last ten years. Check out a video which shows the movement required. About ten years of use had taken its toll on my original mouse (looks like the white one above). The rubber in the thumb area started to roll off, and a replacement was needed. (note that the old mouse now sits at my home workstation, it still works, it just looks really used).
I was estatic to see that Evoluent had found some more distribution points; my original version had to be ordered from the company itself. Now I found them on Amazon.de and .co.uk with no problem. Also it was nice to see that they now offer wired and wireless right and left handed version.
I've been quite happy with my VerticalMouse 4 Small which fits in my incredibly tiny hand even better than the original. Now to contemplate my 14 year old MS ergonomic split keyboard with the sticky space bar... hmm.
The Hauptstadt welcomed a fantastic group of expat bloggers to explore, eat, drink and enjoy the general merriment. It really was loads of fun. Thanks to everyone for coming and making it such a great experience.
It was another WEBMU which took my voice away. After an entire weekend of what seems like non-stop talking, I almost always lose my voice, and this year was no different.
We put together four days of events and pretty much filled every waking moment for folks who were able to pick and choose what they wanted to attend. As always there was excellent food to be had. We feasted at Dolores, The Bird, Due Forni, Frida Kahlo and no Berlin experience would be complete without at least one Currywurst.
Since so many of the folks are seasoned Berlin tourists, it was decided to concentrate on two Kieze in east Berlin, namely Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg. We toured the Stasi Museum, and checked out two of Berlin's bunkers with Berliner Unterwelten.
Paul Sullivan of Slow Travel Berlin led us through a Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood discussing everything from its humble beginnings as a brewery/beer garden, to the unique architecture and lifestyle of the Kiez most popular with young couples wishing to push a pram. After a fantastic lunch - which was thoughtfully planned to coincide with a HUGE rainshower - we continued on to the Karl-Marx-Allee. There we learned about the grand plans of the GDR to build a monumental boulevard lined by "wedding cake" style buildings designed to hold the "working man" and his family in style. The tours were great and I heartily recommend his services to anyone wishing to discover the hidden sides of Berlin at a slow and easy pace.
However for me, the coolest part of any WEBMU experience is getting to know those bloggers I read throughout the year. There are a group of folks who come back time after time, and I have to say that I look forward to WEBMU mostly to see them again.
The Regensbloggers, are the core of the event itself. Even though every city has its own organisers, it couldn't be done without them. Thanks again you two. Ian of Letters Home never ceases to crack me up after he has a few drinks down his gullet. I thought I was going to bust a gut when I looked down the table and saw Heidelbergerin with this HUGE grin on her face and a drink in each hand.
No WEBMU would be complete without our resident smart ass, PapaScott. The Honourable Husband of Deutschland über Elvis fame not only came, ate, drank and took in Berlin with the rest of us... he also took me for a ride in his BIG ASS CAR! The Geek Mädel stayed with me and Deputy No at Chez Snooker, and was an absolute dream of a roomie... well, except for the cold she so nicely shared. But we won't hold that against her (I blame her boss). Der Mann and Resident on Earth aka Resident EVIL slipped in and out of the group delightfully.
My "co-hostess-with-the-mostest" (sorry, I had to steal it) from No Apathy Allowed was ever present, ever helpful and got soooo many bonus points for saving seats over the weekend. I hear rumors that she's considering a move to Wiesbaden (or wherever) for the next WEBMU because helping to organise two events just isn't enough.
The newbies were a lot of fun. I really enjoyed getting to know the year's cutest bride, Sarah Stäbler. I actually had to drag Deputy No out of a bar one night because they were having so much fun chatting. This was the first WEBMU for Der Irische Berliner, although I've previously had the distinct pleasure of knocking back a few with our own home town funny man. Dixie of Top Floor Corner IS every bit as sweet as Mausi told me she would be. Speaking of whom... Christina darlin, you were missed. Next year, OK?
Must say that Steven of Doin’ Time on the Donau showed himself to be a great sport. In a cute little Irish Pub I managed to make an absolute fool of myself. About 3.5 minutes after a fresh Coke was set before him, I somehow dumped the entire thing into his lap. He completely took it in stride, and I applaud (and thank) him for that. Good-naturedly he commented that he had another pair of jeans at the hotel and that it would be no big deal. Well, we all know that it sucks to be travelling and have something like that happen. Steven, it was fun to meet you finally... and may I say that it was a pleasure to encounter a true gentleman. I'm still looking forward to that dance mix list you promised.
All in all it was a great weekend from which I have needed the better part of a week to recover. It seems that I barely pulled my camera out the entire time, which is simply not like me. But thankfully Regensblogger Cliff was busy with his cool-ass camera and flash!
what can I say about putting together a WEBMU in Berlin? Actually I must say that the
experience has been fun. Not just the set up, but the event itself has
put a ginormous smile on my face. I mean, getting together a group of
bloggers who live in Germany yet blog in English? These are my people!
It is a fantastic opportunity to see some old friends and to make some
I simply need to say that WEBMU 2012 in its current
form would not have been possible without the invaluable help of Deputy
Sweet No. My wife stepped up and arranged so many details that I
hesitate to list them all lest the reader believe that I did nothing for
the event… hm. My lovely co-hostess of No Apathy Allowed fame certainly did her
part when she was actually in the city. Poor girl, I’m still not 100%
certain if she truly lives in Bremen or in Berlin, she’s travelling that
much. Certainly the participants have seen her at almost all of the
events, but what they might not know is how much work she's been putting
in with the last minute plans to make certain that all goes smoothly. I
offer a sincere and heartfelt thank you to both of them.
not forget our Keymasters, the Regensbloggers. Without their continued
backup and direction, these events would never come off. They are the
ones who keep all the computer-based forums, Whiney Expat Bloggers Blog,
Facebook, and Twitter type stuff running smoothly along with so many
other little but 100% essential things. What they do is really constant
work and we all owe them a deep bow of gratitude for their cooperative and
may I add incredibly patient way of helping with so many things.
back to Sweet No. When I told her that the WEBMU was coming to Berlin
and that I would be on the organizing committee, she really didn’t look
incredibly enthused. Not being an expat, she doesn’t completely
understand the desire to be amongst people of your own “kind”.
But I must say that she liked the idea of the
organization of the event. I tentatively asked for her help in dealing
with some reservations, and she simply asked for a list of who, what,
when, and where. Once she had agreed to help, I should have given her a
silver star to denote her new-found deputy status. One day I casually
mentioned that we needed a WEBMU bag, and some things to put in it.
Well, I was thinking about a printed schedule, maybe a city map, surely a
public transportation grid would be helpful, and anything else she
could think of. OH, well THIS sounded like much more fun to her. She
LOVES to do this kind of thing, communicating often with companies to
let them know of her disapproval or gratitude as it suits her. (Someday
remind me to tell you what happened when Haribo released a “new and
improved” Gummi Bear!!)
The next thing I knew, she was writing to companies like Deutsch Perfekt, ExBerliner, Starbucks, Cinestar,
etc. Telling them that we were going to have a blogger event and
wouldn’t they like to belly up with some nice freebies for some crazy
bloggers. I quietly shook my head and wished her luck. She pushed a poor
Praktikantin to the edge with requests for the one bag I really wanted…
the KaDeWe black canvas bag. In the end the young lady simply could not
make it happen, but did offer a city map with a 10% discount card for
Europe’s most famous department store.
One day after work as I walked into our hallway expecting a welcoming kiss, No began waving four Cinestar
passes in front of my face. I was excited! I was thinking YEAH! Thanks
Honey, how did you know? “They’re not for YOU! They’re for WEBMU.” Well,
actually she didn’t say WEBMU per se… because she just never GOT the
name. “That blogger event” is about the most she has accomplished all
along. Nonetheless I was quickly coming to the conclusion that writing
back and forth with these companies was actually working.
walked into a favorite French café in Prenzlauer Berg and saw a local
newsletter on the table. “Look Snooker, we should write them too!” Sure
Honey… ‘we’ should. Potsdamer Platz
was also in her line of fire and received her emails until someone came
through with brochures and a walking tour on CD for that area. Ritter
Sport got put on the spot as well, but was very nice in their refusal.
Several others on her target list said that they couldn’t possibly give
out freebies to every event coming to town, and we understood. My
caffeine-crazed cranium was really hoping for Starbucks… tee hee hee…
but they were in this thanks but no thanks category.
Some of them
didn’t answer at all, which really upset her, so she went back at it
until she got SOMETHING from them, even if it was a refusal. Deutsch Perfekt magazine
(German language help) which is part of the HUGE Spotlight Verlag group
wasn’t getting off the hook so easy. It was a no-brainer, as they say.
English speaking expats living in Germany? Well DUH. She wrote them
until they came up with an offer of back issues, which made her happy.
day she asked me for more ideas and I suggested that searching “Made in
Berlin” might be a nice place to start. That started another email
blast out to local businesses catering to the Berlin crowd. By this time
I think she was losing interest, but she did connect with a local
startup selling chocolate pralines named Höflich Schokolade.
This gentleman was very interested in her offer. He is trying to "get into" supermarkets with his product and can use all the
exposure, (and web links) he can get. After personally sampling WAY too
much of his rich coconut/white chocolate concoctions… I think I can say
with no reservation that he should have no trouble with his product.
It’s good… Too good.
iPhone photos kinda suck
Which leaves us with NO BAGS in which to
deliver all of this stuff. Hmm… What to do? I had an idea for the bags.
The hipsters here in Berlin seem to all have one of the simple canvas
shopping bags sporting a sarcastic iron-on fashionably dangling from one
shoulder. That’s what we need! Oh, and wouldn’t it be cool to have the
WEBMU 2012 logo on it? Click to Amazon, oh yes… quite possible. But hey,
that costs money. Damn. “What about that guy you took photos for? The
one that was trying to catch illegal moving companies? He might like to
help.” No kidding, he did. He runs an establishment which organises
forwarding agents throughout Berlin and Brandenburg. Since he has an
indirect interest in making certain that expats get their belongings on
time and in good shape… as well as companies and whoever else ships
around the world, he could see the benefit to his organisation.
Instantly upon approach he smiled. “No problem, I can help”. Before I
knew it, our bags and some other incidental costs were underwritten by
VVL (his organisation) which simply requested that people would check
with AMÖ, a
professional movers organization before they begin their move. Their
basic interest is maintaining a list of moving companies with quality
standards which the companies must maintain.
All in all it has
been fun. Considering what to do, how to do it, where to go, and when
has been a challenge. Offering as many interesting events to folks as
possible in order to give them the opportunity to pick and choose how to
spend their time in Berlin was the general idea. Cliff says that the
next city is going to have a lot to live up to, and that maybe they will
feel some pressure. But hell, since Bremen, I've known that there would
be a lot to live up to. Poodle, (aka Claire of Cheeseburgers and Sauerkraut fame)
really did a great job on the first one I ever attended for certain,
and they've all been great in their own way, and most certainly lots of fun.
Over the weekend we had a lovely day trip out of Berlin, because as wonderful as Berlin is, escaping the city occasionally just needs to be done.
Two hours (+/-) south west of the Hauptstadt we found ourselves in Quedlinburg. This charming medieval town lies just north of the Harz mountains, boasting UNESCO protection, for among other things, over 1,300 half-timbered houses. Escaping the worst of the last century's war damage has meant that it is one of the best preserved medieval and renaissance towns to be found in Europe.
We took a tour with "Bruder Michael" who we found quite by chance as we walked past the tourist info point. 1.75 hours and 7 EUR p.p. later we had walked the cobblestone streets of the Altstadt and had learned much more about the city.
Unlike so many other cute German towns, this Altstadt has not been overrun by souvenir shops and chain stores. Whereas Heidelberg's pedestrian area feels like a mall with a DM followed by a H&M, then a souvenir shop, Vodafone, pharmacy, followed by WMF, cute little "gotta have it shop", restaurant, then a Christ, Sparkasse, souvenir shop, DM, pharmacy... repeat. Quedlinburg is less commercial, less touristy, and just less. It is quiet, and serene, and a person can indeed feel the history in the surroundings since it is not so obstructed by commerce.
One of the things I found most intriguing was the fact that women had ruled the town for 800 years. King Heinrich I's widow founded a convent for aristocratic women in 936, and in 966 their granddaughter became the Abbess which effectively gave her control of the city. Each successive Abbess was the center of the town government.
Another interesting factoid, the first German woman who fought for and eventually won the right to attend a university was born in Quedlinburg. In 1754 she received the academic title of Medical Doctor from the University of Halle.
What should you see? The elongated Markt area and Breite Strasse. Like every other small German town, the center of existence is the town square. This one is surrounded by incredible examples of medieval and Renaissance buildings, and buzzes with the residual energy of over 9 centuries of townsfolk. Breite Strasse is half-timber house heaven... for those who are into such things.
Sorry, I can't tell you much about the Romanesque castle and the cathedral except that they are quite beautiful from the outside. It seems that an American soldier absconded with the town's treasure in the confusion after WWII. He took it back home and only brought it out occasionally to show friends. After his death the whole mess came to light, with an eventual return of the goods to their rightful owners against the family's wishes. Bad SoldierBoy, and just a bit stupid as well.
We had coffee/breakfast at a chain bakery on the Marktplatz. It was pretty much like every other store of that company although it seemed that having some sort of metal attached to the face was a pre-requisite for employment, as all employees had piercings in various facial tissue.
Lunch was enjoyed at the Hotel and Brauhaus Lüdde which had plenty of comfy seating inside amongst the brewing equipment, but also a lovely tucked-away Hof offering their special brews under the trees. I had a baked Käse Spätzle (pretty much cheesy noodles) which were prepared nicely with the only downside being that it didn't have enough onion for my taste. The Schwarzbier however, was EXCELLENT and hit the 4.8 spot. My head was swimming before the noodles hit the table.
Before leaving for the day we had a desire for more coffee (the juice that lubricates my brain) and perhaps a nice ice cream desert. We ended up at a cute little out of the way place with a name that currently escapes me. Its outdoor seating had finches in a cage nestled amongst the dining tables. (this finch fascination has something to do with Heinrich the Duke of Saxony being at Quedlinburg castle capturing finches when the Royal Delegation arrived to inform him that he had been elected King of Germany... in 916 AD).
It is a town that was saved in the nick of time thanks to the Wall coming down. The communist government had for the most part ignored it, which was a blessing considering how many historical buildings throughout Germany were summarily torn down because there was no money to restore them. UNESCO involvement in 1994 offering funding and protection has helped to control the refurbishment effort and will keep it looking much the same for decades to come. Now let's hope that this charming little piece of time warp manages to escape the grasp of wanton commercialism the same way it did Communism.
All in all a great day trip from Berlin, although I can certainly see the benefit of an overnight stay as well.
I suggest that all three of this blog's readers make their way to this uncommonly cute town as soon as possible to enjoy its treasures... and I don't say that kind of thing lightly, trust me. Well, except for Greding... and I can't forget Schwerin. But don't spread the word around too much.
In the past I have been accused of being frivolous. It is a trait I own up to willingly. My rainbow Koosh cost more than any toy has a right to, but it is my favorite "handtoy" when I need that perfect word, or fantastic phrase at the office.
But this most recent purchase is likely to make folks shake their heads and wonder what kind of of cracked reality I live within.
Photojojo is a shop filled with fun things... both frivolous and useful. They send me lovely e-mails and tell me about the interesting, useful, fun and generally frivolous photo-related items which I can have delivered directly to my door. Rarely do I take them up on their offers. But this was an exception.
Meet my new espresso friend. It is sold as a shot glass... but let me tell you it will get much more action on my work desk as a caffeine carrier.
The big boy pictured on the left is a mug as well. It is insulated and holds my daily libation as I slave away. This has been the subject of many pre-meeting conversations. And that stunning piece of glass on the right is a real lens... Yes a Nikkor 24-70mm 1:2.8G ED wondrous light-producing, do everything but wipe my ass, lens.
Both of these cute little "toys" are modeled from this lens.
Photojojo generally has an attention to detail which borders on too cutesy. Every order comes with a plastic dinosaur (found in the top pic). The invoice itself lists this item as "Rawwwrrrrrrr", costing 0.00. Cute, yet still understated. And a cheap way of making the customer remember which company it was they've ordered from.
Next take a look at the box in which the espresso cups came. Since they sell it as a shot glass, they've adorned the box with common toasts, "cheers", "mazel tov", etc. Do you think we should tell them that Proust was a French novelist and not the correct spelling of the German !Prost!?