Hafferoder Tragedy

A lesson in science: a sealed bottle of beer can be cooled to sub-zero temperatures without freezing thanks to the alcohol in the liquid and the pressure of the sealed container. However, as the beer becomes very cold the pressure inside the bottle increases. The minimum supported temperature of a bottle of beer is about -10 C. Last night it was -16 C outside:

Supercooled bottles of beer after a catastrophic container failure.

The bottles of Hafferoder on the balcony experienced catastrophic container failure. The rapid loss of pressure actually cooled the liquid beer even further. This plus the sub-zero supercooled state of the beer led to near-instantaneous phase change. Also I’m out two Euro’s worth of beer. Damnit.

Yesterday I walked from my place in Prenzlauer Burg through the Mitte district to the Brandenburg Gate. I remembered the Brandenburg Gate and the sights around it from a walking tour of Berlin I took when I was here for the interview at the end of September. It was 28 C then, unbearably warm. This time it was somewhere around -10 and I was bundled up in my full Canadian winter gear. Despite the weather the Brandenburger Tor reminded me again just where I was. Holy crap you guys I live in Berlin. How crazy is that?!

The sights in the area are still there. The Jewish Holocaust Memorial is a bit less overwhelming when it’s covered in ice and your attention is spent trying not to slide and fall into the corner of a concrete block instead of taking in the grandeur of the place. I’ll be sure to walk through again in the Spring. I can’t really describe the memorial so I’ll ask you to look at it from the air on Google Maps:

View Larger Map

The memorial is amazing in that it doesn’t have any statues, any plaques, or make any specific statements about the holocaust. Everyone who walks through it will have a slightly different interpretation, but will remember the experience. The first time I went through I was very moved.

Today I went to a flea market in Mauerpark. Incredible! There were many booths selling vinyl records. Prices were high but selection was great. Crates and crates of New Wave and Punk records; highly sought after LPs back in Calgary. There were also a lot of artists selling hipster clothing: trendy print t-shirts and handbags, psychedelically coloured knitted gloves and toques, and fashionable retro junk clothing from 20 to 40 years back.

What was really neat was the junk. A few large tents held discarded housewares from generations of German families. Bowls, dishes, plates, cutlery probably full of leaded paint scattered pell mell in bins, no prices on anything. Suitcases, chairs, furniture from the 50’s. Junk, perhaps, but most of it from the GDR with that futurist/communist style looking like it was taken from a supervillain’s spaceship.

There were also shoeboxes of fading black-and-white photos of long-dead families. At one booth one could purchase whole photo albums full of pictures.

There was a lot of old Camera gear but no Nikon or Canon stuff. Again, it’s all GDR stuff: a lot of Praktica.

The GDR imparts a lot of weirdness here. I don’t know much about the communist state but I’m eager to learn. Of course it was a bad time for a lot of people and most would like to forget about it, but in terms of art and product design it bred an alien style. It reminds me of the 1967-era architecture in Montreal but a lot more awkward and a bit more menacing.

Now I’m gonna get back to slogging through my first book in German, Der Goldene Kompass. It’s a translation of an English book and I’m sure you’ll figure out the real title if you squint a little. I am about three pages in and I have a very vague idea of what’s going on. I scribble down dozens of words and every few pages stop to look them up. Then, reread the pages find more words and repeat. I’m on page three but I’ve read the first three pages about three times now…

Swing of Berlin

I am slowly becoming aware of where I am. I mean, I’d been living so long in Calgary the change of Berlin was absolutely shocking (not to mention the language thing). But, as a wise Irish expat told me last week, with time builds confidence in a new city and I am building confidence.

I still thinking like a Calgarian, expecting cool things to pass me by. I need to start thinking like a Berliner who knows the cool things are always here. For instance, my (second) most favorite electronic music group in the whole world are putting out a new album in March and are going on a European tour. First I was like “oh well, that would be nice” but then I was like “wait, I’m in Europe now. I wonder if they’re playing Berlin.”

Well duh! They are only playing at perhaps the biggest club in town, Berghain Panorama Bar. It might be the epicentre of electronic music in world, period. Of course they’re playing here.

Every kind of culture in the world is around here somewhere if you know where to look. Walking along Shönhauser Allee I found a café that had teleported straight from Paris (but without the rude waiters) serving great espresso and croisants. You can get American fashion if you want: in Mitte, Rob pointed out an American Apparel beside the Diesel and Adidas stores. Berlin serves great hamburgers too (although the names of the restaurants wear thin after a while… marienBurger restaurant is on Marienburger Straße… get it? get it?) Oh, and in the organic grocery stores you can find every kind of cheese in the world. Relatively cheap, too.

There is even some Canadian stuff peeking out here and there. I noticed an ad for a music festival happening at the end of January which features Holy Fuck, my favorite improvisational electronic/loud-noises dance music group from Halifax.

Google Maps pointed me at a café named “Godshot – The Future Urban Coffee Klub” (the irreverent way people name stores here deserves its own blog post) that proudly serves Fratello coffee roasted at 4021 9th Ave SE, Calgary.

I’m in a real city and it’s cool. And you wouldn’t believe how cheap the beer is…

On Language

Today I found the English bookstore. Amazingly the store, Saint George’s, is only four blocks from my apartment. It’s a used bookstore, mostly, and the selection is frankly astounding. Anglo-Berliners clearly have varied and fascinating tastes, and the books they consign at Saint George’s are a testament to this.

I am relieved. The lack of English books, of English culture, was wearing down on me. The TV in my apartment does get two English channels, true, but they are BBC News and CNN. Nothing but half-hour loops of depressing news stories about suicide bombers and football (aka. soccer).

Truth is there are a lot of anglophiles in Berlin. At this point I’m not adept at noticing them because they look just like everyone else (of course) but occasionally in a bar or club I’ll hear a sudden chatter in a British accept like a bolt from the blue. You can survive in Berlin without learning German. You only need a few key words like kaffee (coffee), bier (beer), bitte (please), and entshuldigung (“I’m sorry”).

If, however, you choose to live here and don’t bother learning German you are a real Arschloch. What’s the point of living somewhere exotic when you can’t immerse yourself in the culture? When you can’t really communicate with the people? The fact that most young Berliners know very good English and are polite enough to speak to you in it is a wonderful thing, but after a while you feel guilty for expecting them to speak a foreign language in their home country. So, I learn.

At this point I am soaking up the words like a sponge, but the grammar completely eludes me. For many reasons, German is a difficult language. (For one, all words are gendered like French except they have three genders: male, female, and neuter. And the gendering is not at all logical. The word for boy, Junge, is male. The word for girl, Mädchen, is not female but neuter. It only gets stranger from there.) I am going to start taking some evening classes.

In the meantime, here are some words I’ve learned in no particular order:

  • schön – beautiful
  • straße – street
  • Panier-mehl – what you cover schnitzel with (breadcrumbs)
  • verkehr – traffic
  • Krankenhaus – hospital (lit. sick-house)
  • links – left
  • rechts – right
  • käse – cheese

More words later…


Currywurst is Berlin’s official food. This strange concoction can be purchased everywhere from semi-classy restaurants to weird stalls in outdoor markets and at events. Since you’re likely wondering what Currywurst is and can’t make time to fly to Berlin today to try it yourself (and, I assure you, it’s impossible to find outside of the city) here is a currywurst recipe you can make at home.


Bratwurst. That is, sausage. You will probably not find succulent German bratwurst in your part of the world but that’s no matter. Traditional German bratwurst doesn’t have that many spices or anything (at least not the kind used in most currywurst) so you might want to get some Juicy Jumbo 100% All Beef hot dogs as a substitute.

Tomato sauce. The Germans are not Italians so using your mama’s famous basil and oregano pasta sauce is not acceptable for this recipe. I would suggest a 50/50 mix of Heinz canned tomato sauce and ketchup.

Curry powder. Indian curry? Malaysian? Chinese? Hah, no way. You want that supermarket generic yellow-brown powder you find in the spice aisle beside the cloves and the cumin. Get the mild variety. Let’s not be too ostentatious!


Cook bratwurst. Boiling or BBQing is acceptable but the traditional method is to pan-fry them in a little oil until the skin wrinkles up like fingers in the bath too long.

Cover bratwurst with tomato sauce. You want to use enough sauce such that you won’t have enough bratwurst to scoop it all up so a forlorn tomato puddle remains at the end.

Shake curry powder over tomato sauce and bratwurst mix until it is uniformly brown looking. Then shake on more. Like, a ridiculous amount. No, just a bit more, trust me.

Serve on a paper plate with french fries and a ridiculously small plastic fork.

I’ve had currywurst a few times here and it continues to mystify me. It’s not bad but it’s not good. It’s just… hot dog in tomato sauce. I just don’t get it… yet.