Monthly Archives: July 2012

I finally heard back from the owner of the Berghotel where we stayed in Elbsandsteingebirge. The park ranger who is the resident worm expert was on vacation when we first came across the Worm Monster. Now he’s back and has sent his professional opinion. He thinks the disgusting, writhing living rope that we saw is made up of Eichenprozessionsspinner, or Oak Processionary caterpillars. They too swarm in a disgusting manner, moving together in a parade of nastiness. Recent summers have seen a plague of them in Germany, possibly due to climate change. Their fine hairs cause bad allergic reactions in many people and have even caused the closing of city parks.

However, Eichenprozessionsspinner are not nearly as disgusting as the Worm Monster and I feel that this park ranger must’ve laid on the beach too long during his holiday. What we saw was some kind of larva, hairless and tiny and not nearly as orderly as the Oak Processionary caterpillars who often cross the road in a straight line (instead of a writhing, slithery mass of worms crawling over each other at an alarming speed).

Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever find out what the Worm Monster is, but you can compare them to the Eichenprozessionsspinner below and decide for yourself if they are one and the same:

Eichenprozessionsspinner (Oak Processionary caterpillars)

Worm Monster


The Seven Sleepers are finally relaxing their grip on Berlin and the sun is out! Yesterday, Christian, Matti, Silke and I took the S Bahn out to Strausberg to go exploring and hopefully jump in a lake.

A friend had warned me that there are a lot of Nazis in Strausberg, and right away some were spotted drinking beer near the train station. I myself am not very good at identifying them, but I don’t think we saw anymore after that. Maybe it was the weather, but the everyone we encountered seemed very relaxed and the landscape was very beautiful. We rode our bikes along pretty forest paths, saw several good swimming lakes and ate fish at restaurant overlooking the water. Part of the paths that we traveled are ancient pilgrim roads to Santiago de Compostela. Strausberg has a charming medieval center with an old city wall still intact. Its coat of arms inexplicably has an ostrich (“Strauss” in German). According to Wikipedia, this is because the lake alongside Strausberg is shaped like an ostrich (it is not).

After lunch, we spent hours lazying about at a quiet little bathing spot though Silke was the only one who went into the water. The air temperature was still a bit cool, but it was perfect for napping in the sun and reading the paper. I am so happy to have the summer back.

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Riding my bike down Behren Str., I was surprised to see that the Vladimir Lenin head that used to be on a swimming pool facade behind the Russian Embassy had been removed. It couldn’t have been that long ago, it’s still intact on Google’s street-view:

East Berlin was very important for the Soviet Union so it was very important to have prominent depictions of Lenin there. The most well known and largest one was carved from red Ukranian granite and towered over Leninplatz:

Foto von

In 1991-92, the statue was dismantled and buried in 129 pieces in a forest on the outskirts of the city. The plaza has been renamed the United Nations Square and now holds this rather unassuming, gurgling fountain/sculpture/rock formation:

Many East Berliners tried to prevent the Lenin statue’s demolition (one giant hand-painted banner hung on the statue read: “To the West German occupying forces -are you even afraid of a stone Lenin?”). The poignancy of its removal was depicted in the 2003 block-buster comedy “Goodbye Lenin” about a family coming to terms with the end of the GDR:

Back to Behren Str. though, what’s surprising is that the Lenin head lasted so long. Just a block away another head of Lenin graced the garden of the Russian Embassy on Unter den Linden. I never saw it though, because by the mid-90s a box had been built around it. This fascinated me, since I knew that facing the back of the embassy was the swimming pool Lenin. Why cover one and not the other?

Of course back then, the Russian Embassy had only just stopped being the USSR Embassy. The swimming pool on Behren Str. was part of a network of buildings built for Soviet citizens in Berlin to work and play in. I was inside the swimming pool once in 2000. There was a spa, a sauna and a lounge with large blue lava-lamps. The pool itself was in a white tiled room that had definitely seen better days. I remember that classical music was piped into the hall, so that every time I lifted my head from the water to take a breath, I would could hear a tinny orchestra bouncing off the rotting tile.

Now the pool is closed and Lenin is gone. According to the Tagesspiegel, the building is being renovated but no one is sure if Lenin will be back. The article calls it “one of the last Lenin heads in Berlin.” Are there still others?

As an interesting footnote, there is an effort afoot to exhume the head of the Leninplatz statue for an exhibition of all the buried and forgotten sculptures in the city. The Spandauer Citadel is planning the show called “Revealed: Berlin and its Monuments,” which will contain works from the 19th century to the present. This means sculptures of Queen Luisa, Aryan idols and Lenin will all stand next to each other inside a 16th century fortress -exactly the mixed-nut history that makes me love Berlin.

The metaphor of the city’s buried past resurfacing is too perfect. I am certain that the Behren St. Lenin will also reappear someday.

So, to try to wrap this up…

Back home and soaked to the bone, we dried off and set to work on our mushroom bounty. It’s quite time-consuming to clean off all the dirt and sand. And then our massive harvest massively shrank in the pan. Still we had more than enough to eat and were able to have dinner outside as the rain had cleared again. After dinner Claudia and I went back to the woods. It was much colder and the sky much clearer. We could see the Oder River and Poland to the east and a beautiful, summery sunset to the west.

The next day however, it started to rain again. We hopped on our bikes anyway because we wanted to ride 27 kilometers to Eberswalder to catch the train back to Berlin from there. Soon the sun came out and we were able to have a picnic lunch. The shadows of the passing clouds on the field were mesmerizing.

The landscape of the Oderbruch shined in the sun and on the way to Eberswalder, we past a giant ship elevator on the Niederfinow Canal.We also passed an old 1930s swimming pool that had since been turned into a trout pond. I really like the decorative stone swimmers (and their wake) on the columns.We reached Elberswalder and caught a train back to Berlin. It’s only a half-hour ride but feels much further. It was a bit melancholic to be home, but that’s a good indicator of how nice the time away was. Vielen Dank Claudia und ich freue mich schon auf dem nächsten Mal!

Mieke, Dennis, and I spent the weekend with Claudia in Altglietzen where her family has a small A-frame house in a garden community.

The forecast for the weekend was terrible but we had been planning the trip for weeks so we decided to go anyway. As soon as we got on the train it started to pour.

But the train was faster than the clouds and we got ahead of the storm. Claudia’s house is only seven kilometers from the train station but the rain quickly caught up with us and we had to take shelter in a bus stop.

We waited forty minutes for the storm to pass and then rode the rest of the way to the house, following a yellow brick road.

After dinner, we took a walk in the forest behind the house, which was surprisingly hilly. The low clouds and mist were beautiful but didn’t offer us much hope for sun the next day.

But the weather was great for mushrooms and we immediately found two Champignons (Agaricus).

Mushroom hunting was our main goal for Saturday -if the weather allowed it. We had even planned our menu around it so we had to find mushrooms -or starve! Luckily the next day the rain stopped and we took off towards the Rotkappen Forest. Almost immediately we spotted a crowded storks nest. One stork had found more space on a roof to the left.We rode along the Oder River that is the natural border between Germany and Poland. We could see an old paper factory on the other side that had been turned into a market where Germans go to buy cigarettes and other goods. Claudia told us that the bridge to Poland was closed during the GDR years and now that it’s open, there’s been a huge increase in traffic of Berliners driving to Poland to buy cheap gas.

Nevertheless, it was still possible to find quiet corners where time seems to stand still.

When we arrived in the forest, Claudia pointed out scarring on the trees where sap had been extracted. She explained that this how the GDR produced their own rubber.

We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for mushrooms and finding mostly lots and lots of Pfifferlinge (Chanterelles). We were able to gather two baskets full of Pfifferlinge, which meant we had dinner!

I was charged with the responsibility of transporting one basket safely home. We stopped on the way back for ice cream and cake and by the time we were finished, the sky looked quite menacing again. We rode home as quickly as possible but got caught in a really heavy rain and were completely soaked once more.Our story will continue in Part II of “Claudia’s Garden” …

My first official visitor! I have seen a couple friends from the states -Tina, Susan and Bettina, but they weren’t here specifically to visit me so Helen gets to be Number One. Here she is posing in front of a shuttered library.

It was so great to have her here and catch up on all the news from sweaty New York. She had some great stories about tubing on the Delaware River, going up to Frankie’s upstate and even taking a homemade rowboat to Shooters Island with Marie Lorenz.

We tried to create on our own adventures in Berlin, going on a tour in the giant bunker/anti-aircraft ruins in Humboldthain Park and taking the train and our bikes to Liepnitzsee to go swimming.

Helen also brought me kale seeds from NY and the timing was perfect – the day she arrived, I secured a patch of soil in a planter through a small group of guerrilla gardeners. On the public pedestrian zone of Swinemünderstr. at Vinetaplatz, twelve Forsythia are now skirted with various baby flowers, herbs and in my case kale. Unfortunately some seedlings have been stolen, but the group thinks that the small plants growing from seeds will be less attractive to thieves. I am also fairly confident that no one will want the kale because a) they won’t know what it is and b) even if they do recognize it, they don’t know how delicious it is.

Helen helped me put the seeds in the ground on Saturday and amazingly on Tuesday, there were already tiny green sprouts cresting from the earth. Thanks so much Helen for visiting and please come back soon!

Germany doesn’t actually have green cards, but I basically got the equivalent of one this week! It was a bit of a process – I had to register at the city office and get health insurance before applying, and then make an appointment at the foreigners office. That was all over a month ago.

When the day of the appointment finally arrived, Christian and I met up a bit early to go over everything. We had both dressed up a bit, trying to look like responsible, pleasant citizens. I was really nervous – these offices are infamous for their bureaucracy and rude employees. We walked in and handed the woman our paperwork. She looked at the ID photo I had brought in and said, “I see that you like black and white photographs.” I realized she was comparing the photo with one that was stapled to a pile of documents on her desk -the records of my visa applications in Berlin from 2000 and 1995/96! I couldn’t believe it. Was she looking at a picture of my twenty-three year-old self? I will never know but this definitely confirms the stereotype of Germans as extremely well organized.

Christian and I were asked to leave briefly and fill out two declarations of our marriage. I was so nervous that I didn’t even read the form, just copied down what Christian was writing. Only later did I learn that we had declared that we married for love and that we legitimately want to be together. Such an important form, and I hardly paid attention!

We sat in the waiting room, waiting to be called back into the office. There were two young Chinese women who were friends and two African men who were making friends. I thought about how many times I had been to these offices, struggling to understand the visa process and never sure if I had the right paperwork. It was certainly hardest in 1995 when I could hardly speak German and was caught in a weird Catch-22 trying to get permission to work as an English teacher. It was great to be there this time with Christian and felt confident that he could work out any problems that might occur.

We were called back to the office. The woman took our declarations and told me that I had a visa that allowed me to live and work in Germany for three years. She had already put the visa in my passport, a lovely pink and silvery sticker with a hologram and my black and white photo. She asked if we had any questions. I think we were both so surprised that we couldn’t think of any. I wanted to leave quickly in case she changed her mind. We walked down to the first floor, paid a 60 Euro fee and went and had lunch.

How much harder would it have been for Christian to get a green card in the US? How much longer would it have taken and how much more would it have cost? Our friends Misook and Noah told us that they were continuously probed by the US government for more evidence that their marriage was legitimate. Christian and I may one day decide to live in the US and have to go through all of this, but for now I’m legal in Germany and all is well. I just have to find a job.