December 24, 1991
born: Cab Calloway 1907
died: John Muir 1914
1851-Library of Congress burns in major fire.
Uh, hello? Remember me, that nagging, insistent little call against illiteracy that used to show up mixed in with all your bills? Well, it's that end of year time again and I'm back. Grab some 'nog and curl up with a letter.
Ok, back is a relative term. I'm not back in California but rather back in Europe. Which is not to say I'm back in France but rather back in Germany; which is odd since I have never lived here before. So, you must stretch the sense of being back a bit. I guess what I am saying is that I am back on-line and motivated to write. Which is an odd way of putting it since I am not using a modem and therefore am technically not on the grid. I guess I'm just back in letter writing mode. Well, anyway, I'm living in Berlin.
Not much has changed over here. Oh, a wall or two seems to be missing and the temperature has dropped about 20 degrees Celsius since my last visit. All that really means for me is that I don't bump my nose so much and I wear gloves a lot. Berlin has effectively doubled in size and is rebuilding its infrastructure and outfrastructure as fast as it can. A popular joke here is a classified ad wanting to exchange a small villa near Bonn for a one-room studio in Berlin. Rents are high, space is limited, and we all smoosh up closer together on the subway. A completely new experience is trying to dig a Kleen-Ex out of my pockets with gloves on and my arms pinned to my sides.
Riding around on the U-Bahn is pretty fun. Works out well since I get to do it almost daily. The most striking feature of the modern day U-Bahn is the presence of guard dogs wearing colanders. I assume this is not a new canine vegetarian diet but rather these are the old East German border patrol dogs who are prophylactically sniffing out the expiration time of everyone's transfers. All the uniformed transit workers resemble Karl Malden, which has ceased to amaze me. Instead I marvel at all the different colors and hues that well-ironed human hair can assume. German Punks and American Express are alive and well and are moving steadily underground. You feel like you could be robbed and reimbursed before the next stop.
Berlin has always seemed to be the most interesting city(ies) in Europe, mostly because of the politics and espionage intrigue, the Secret Life of Harry Palmer and all that. Right now I'll leave the spying to any left-over Stasi and am very content to come in out of the cold whenever and wherever I can. Pleasant surprises pop up unexpectedly. The night school where I will learn German is one block from Checkpoint Charlie. Things have changed so much I honestly didn't know when I had crossed over into East Berlin. I am told the lack of telephones and plumbing are hints. I go by lack of falafel and döner kabob stands.
Am teaching at Die Etage, a school for mime, acting, acrobatics and juggling. Think of me as in over my head trying to convey concepts in a language I don't speak, illiterate with a smile. I teach both advanced and beginning students and enjoy the contrast.For anyone interested in juggling you should know that the level in Germany is quite high and climbing. Hope to bring over and show off a batch of jugglers this summer in Montreal. I figure the French will come because it is Montreal and not the US and Germans will go anywhere.
Once again I can catch up on old, exported American tv series. In a few months I hope to find out who that one-armed man really is. All signs point to him being named Fritz or Johann which doesn't sound right but one must make adjustments. Dubbing into German works okay until you start watching old WW II movies. It's strange to see Steve McQueen and Lee Marvin speak German, at least they still win. One station comes through from France so we can see Jerry Lewis whenever we need to. Culture runs rampant, got to see Amadeus in French and then three nights later in German. For Pearl Harbor Day there was just one viewing of Tora, Tora, Tora.
I have a morning jog through Grunewald (Green Forest) and up to the top of Teufelsberg (Devil's Mountain). Berlin is a flat city, excellent for bicycle rides but that will wait for spring and warmer weather. The highest point in town is Teufelsberg, an artificial hill built after the war with the ruins of old Berlin. On good days it is a popular kite flying spot. At some point in the future it will be an incredible archaeological dig. These mornings it is just me puffing through the cold air and crunching through the frost. Most of the leaves have already fallen and the forest consists of lots of sticks pointing up at the sky. Signs say that wild boar live in the woods but we don't seem to keep the same hours.
Telephones are the biggest problem here. There is a minimum two month waiting list to have a phone installed. I expect to be plugged in by January, not sure which year. Instant gratification must wait.
Todd Strong, Jonglierlehrer
copyright 1991 by Todd Strong