11 June 2006

ich bin ein berliner.

For all its tree hugging and complicated history, Berlin is still a quirky metropolis with its share of cultural oddities to confuse and bewilder the tourists. Pictured is my favorite street corner in all of Berlin. Now, a winged hot dog and a witty slogan would be funny anywhere, but this building is particularly special in Berlin. The restaurant is called "The Flying Sausage." That's not a translation from German to English, that's its name. Berlin, while blessed with an English-speaking and well-educated populace, is still the capital of Germany, a nation whose native language is, not surprisingly, German. Adding to the irony, this restaurant is in the heart of the district of Kreuzberg, a mere block from the city's famous Turkishemarkt (Turkish Market). For those not familiar with Kreuzberg and Berlin's Turkish population, it's the world's largest outside of Turkey. And thus, we have an English-titled restaurant with an amusing logo in little Istanbul, demonstrating that Berliners have indeed preserved their sense of humor.

Here we have either a naive tourist falling prey to con artists in Alexanderplatz or a member of the con team setting a trap for said tourists. I stumbled across this set-up as I headed into the train station in search of crepes. The primary con artist places a ball under one of three boxes, mixes them up, and then the victim pays 50 euro to lift a box and find the ball. Several accomplices in the crowd take turns "playing" the game and winning to inspire tourists to try their luck. I watched for quite a while as the same bill passed back and forth between three people. Most amusingly, a recorded message from a loudspeaker at the base of the tower warned tourists that the game was a set-up and it was impossible to win. And what language did the kindly German authorities select for this warning? That's right, American English. Of all the foreigners who visit Berlin, they decided Americans were most in need of a constant recorded message telling them not to be stupid. Inspiring, no? There's a certain irony in Americans being conned at the base of the TV tower built as a symbol of communist acheivement. There's even more irony knowing that the Soviets couldn't finish the tower and had to hire a team of Swedish engineers to complete the job. Today, the tower stands as an icon of architectural disaster, but Berliners won't part with a beloved symbol (and the best aerial views) of their city. In a misguided effort to capitalize on World Cup fever, the ball atop the tower has been turned into a soccer ball. A soccer ball sponsored by T-Mobile, resulting in a hot pink monstrosity dominating the skyline. Crazy Germans...

While Europeans are well known for welcoming dogs into cafes, restaurants, shops, public transportation, and even supermarkets, they generally maintain a degree of normalcy in their treatment of their pets. Not so for this fine gentlemen, who we captured on film as he drove his dogsled across the street in front of the Brandenberg Gate on a lovely spring day. I feel bad enough for huskies being walked in the Florida summer heat, but to force those poor animals to pull a sled? At least he wasn't selling rides to fat American tourists.

And finally, here we have an instance of Berlin's infamous public displays of affection coupled with a dog patiently staring down a bratwurst stand as he waits to board the U-Bahn. Berliners, old and young, have no qualms about expressing their love to the entire world. While we can debate the relative merits of such attitudes, I maintain that it's rather disconcerting to watch an elderly couple go at it while attempting to enjoy an innocent dinner.

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