Two things I witnessed today that you’re not likely to see in America

1. In the drugstore: A woman paying for a pack of toilet paper with a 500-euro bill.

2. In the supermarket:

Customer: Do you sell bagels?

Employee: Do we sell what?

Customer: Do you sell bagels?

Employee: Oh, you mean those rolls?


Altbier v. Kölsch: The showdown

One of the nice things about a weekend trip to Düsseldorf and Cologne was that I got to sample both sides of Germany’s fiercest beer rivalry.

In Düsseldorf, they drink Altbier. In Cologne, they drink Kölsch. They do not mix and match.

The irony, of course, is that Altbier and Kölsch are actually rather similar. They are both brewed using the old top-fermentation method, and are served in small glasses. Your waiter will continue to bring you refills, and tally the number of beers you’ve consumed on your coaster, until you put the coaster on top of the glass.

Not that you can’t picture a small glass and a coaster, but here’s a glass of Kölsch I drank on the Cologne waterfront:

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A whiff of Cologne

On my way back to Berlin from Düsseldorf, I thought I’d stop at one of the many cities that form the Rhine-Ruhr cluster in North Rhine-Westphalia. And soon as I stepped outside the train station in Cologne, I knew I’d chosen the right one.

This view greeted me immediately upon exiting the station:

The Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral, is one of the two or three most magnificent churches I’ve ever seen. Work on the cathedral was begun in the 13th century, but not completed until 1880. It survived World War II mostly intact while most of the city was leveled (see this photo), possibly because the allied bombers hoped to continue using its twin spires — the second-tallest church spires in the world — as a navigational landmark. It’s the largest Gothic church in northern Europe and the tallest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world.

And it’s truly something to behold. Unfortunately, my photos can’t quite do it justice, since I had tremendous difficulty fitting the massive thing in my frame (despite some creative climbing efforts). But here’s a little sampling of views of the cathedral’s exterior and interior:

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Berlin, in cartoon form

My time in Berlin, dear reader, is slowly drawing to a close. And so it’s time now for some retrospection. Much of this blog has focused on cultural differences between Germany and the United States: the things we Americans admire here, the things we miss, and the things that just perplex us.

In that latter category, much as I’ve tried, I’m afraid I simply haven’t done an adequate job through words. And so only one option remains.

Ladies and gentlemen, a cartoon tour of American bafflement in Germany!

(Disclaimer: I have absolutely no artistic talent, and so you probably won’t understand any of these unless you already know what I’m getting at. In which case they’re completely devoid of purpose. But nonetheless, here goes…)

(Oh wait, disclaimer #2: The only way I could think to depict an American was with a baseball cap. But since drawing a forward-facing baseball cap is beyond my abilities, if our American friend is looking back at you, then he’s wearing his hat sideways. This does not imply any untoward bro-ishness on his part. Take my word: He’s a good fellow in a strange land. OK, now here goes for real…) Read more of this post

In America, we have gun shows. In Germany, they have guns for show.

In the entire year 2011, in the entire country of Germany, police fired just 85 bullets. Most of those were warning shots; 36 were aimed at suspects.

I’ve been unable to find accurate figures for the United States, but the number of people shot and killed by American cops every year is somewhere in the hundreds.

All those Europe-bashing American libertarians who rail against police brutality? They might want to give Europe another look.

Leipzig, city of Bach (and maybe some other guys, too)

So I mentioned before how Germany is full of memorials to composers. Nowhere is this more true than in Leipzig. I visited the city last week to attend the International Transport Forum and interview Germany’s transport minister (yes, that transport minister) for a story. But I left myself some time to explore the city’s attractions.

Most of those attractions involve Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach didn’t even move to Leipzig until he was nearly 40, but he finished out his days there and served as musical director of the city’s main churches. And his likeness is pretty much everywhere:

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An embarrassment of Richters

Last week, I finally made it over to the Neue Nationalgalerie to check out an exhibit of the paintings of Gerhard Richter, Germany’s most important living painter by a pretty wide margin. The exhibit’s gotten rave reviews — and hours-long lines outside the museum on weekends.

Now, I’m no expert on Richter, or on painting in general, but I’ll attempt to give you, dear reader, an annotated tour of the exhibit, in the off-chance you’re not able to visit the Neue Nationalgalerie yourself in the next couple of months.

Richter has an unbelievably diverse array of styles that, to my uninformed eye, play on three central contrasts: abstractness vs. realism, clarity vs. blurriness, and color vs. gray. I’ll tackle these one by one.


vs. realism:

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