Thursday, September 30, 2010

GERMANY, CHAPTER 2: Max and Moritz

One day, when I was out skating with the Adidas team at the museum spot in Berlin, I pushed off on my own little adventure. I was looking for beer, but ended up at a giant Sony mall complex. As I was skating around, I ran into a group of Americans.

“GUYS!” one of them yelled. He was a pudgy little redhead in his 30s. He looked like that cute little redhead with the beard on last season’s Top Chef, Kevin Gillespie. (Cmon, he was cute, that dude looked like a Hobbit that would live in your pocket and make you pulled pork sandwiches.)

“GUYS! GUYS! GUYS!” he kept yelling. This ginger boy wasn’t cute at all and he sounded like a fucking five year old. It was embarrassing to begin with, but it just got worse.


“Oh Jesus,” I thought.

Sure enough, we were all in Berlin standing in front of a Dunkin Donuts. His friends all rushed to his side and congratulated him. Presumably because they would have died of starvation without an injection of American food?

“Yep,” ginger boy said, “America to the rescue.”

I enjoy traveling and going other places because, well, they’re other places. Other places have different things to look at, to do, to hear, to smell, and to eat—do I even need to explain this? It’s absolutely baffling to me how some people travel. Why go to another place if you’re going to try and make it be like your home place? If you can’t be without the things and the foods that are at your home place, don’t leave your home place. This is the attitude, I imagine, held in Arizona towards Mexicans—surely created by the very same people who look for Dunkin Donuts while on a European vacation? “This is America! Leave your Mexico at home!” The difference, however, is that, first of all, Mexicans are Americans (as they’re part of the Americas), and, most importantly, they bring tacos with them. You’re welcome anywhere if you have tacos (except Arizona… they should change their state motto to, “Arizona: The Taco Hating State”). If you don’t have tacos, you shouldn’t bring anything with you to a foreign country. And that’s why Tania and I brought nothing to Germany except an appetite for all things German. We were on a mission for authentic German cuisine. And the first place we went to slake our thirst was a restaurant recommended by our drunk friend Renee called Max and Moritz.

Max and Moritz is an old school Berlin restaurant named after the two mischievous boys in the German cartoon of the same name. Max and Moritz are very naughty boys. They kill an old lady’s chickens, sabotage a bridge so an old man falls in the river, put gun powder in an old man’s pipe, and fill their uncle’s bed with may bugs, among other dirty deeds. They eventually find themselves ground to bits in a mill and fed to the geese. And no one in the village cares because they were such little assholes. “In the village not a word/ Not a sign of grief was heard.”

Max and Moritz nonsense behind the bar. The bartender looks awestruck because the ghost of Josef Mengele appeared in the ceiling.

We made reservations at Max and Moritz. Making reservations in a foreign language is fun. “Das reservations, por favor—I mean—shit, Tania? How do you say please?” Fortunately they speak English. Most people in Berlin do. Still, I enjoy trying to learn the native language. It’s kind of like my gift to the people of the country I’m visiting. Because to hear my tongue stumbling around a new language is like watching a newborn colt trying to stand. A newborn colt, cold, shaking, and glistening in afterbirth snot. It’s quite funny, apparently. Here is an excerpt from the King Shit article regarding my first attempt at speaking German in Germany:

I was standing on the deck of the quarter pipe when a dirty little gypsy boy approached me on a bicycle far too large for his tiny frame.

“MEINE MUTTER HAT BUMSEN MIT EIN PFERDE,” he said to me. Or something. I have no idea what he said. Sounded like Hitler. It was just a bunch of German words, but I’m pretty sure it was some variation on the theme of “give me free shit.” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” Which in German might look like this, “Geben! Geben! Geben!” I was prepared for this.

“Oh boy,” I thought, “my first chance to try out my limited German!” I had been listening to language tapes in LA traffic before the trip. I had learned very little, but one of the few things I made a point of committing to memory was, “I don’t understand German.”

“Ich verstehe kein Deutsch!” I proudly said to the little scamp.

“WHAT?” the little gypsy snapped at me. In English no less. His expression was twisted in complete disgust. I had either said something very offensive, or I’d completely butchered what I had intended to say.

“Uhhh, kein Deutsch?” I said again. I was embarrassed before this stupid child.

The soot covered little wretch just shook his head at me and hopped on his older sister’s twisted mountain bike and pedaled off to another part of the park where the rest of his gang was trying to make handlebars out of a broomstick.

To get to Max and Moritz, we walked down Oriander Strasse through the ethnic neighborhoods that begin in Asia with Thai and Indian restaurants, and ends at a decidedly Turkish quarter of the city. We slid past the rows of hookah joints, with shifty eyed Turks smoking cigarettes in the doorways, and eventually found ourselves on Max and Moritz’s block. As we approached the restaurant with the small round sign protruding off the building, the sidewalk in front bathed in the orange glow of the windows, I rubbed my hands with glee. “Ah,” I said, “this is exactly what I wanted.”

Tania with her fassbeire, candle, and green penis tiles. Someone said they look like jelly fish, but all I see are penises.

Max and Moritz has been serving traditional German fare since 1902. (“No one was even alive then!” —Eddie Izzard.) The interior has a very warm, well worn feel to it, like an old baseball glove, with just a touch of the casual disorder that is so common to the European sensibility. We were seated at the bar and ordered a couple beers while we waited for a table. The beer wench brought us a couple drafts of a cloudy, golden beer. I was wary because I’m not a fan of hefeweizens. But she explained that this was their house beer, Kreuzberger Molle. As far as I could understand, it’s made for them by a nearby Berlin brewery. “It’s natural and unfiltered,” she said. It was fucking good is what it was. It’s so good that when, on our second visit, they served me something different, I almost had a tantrum. It was my fault for just ordering a beer, “Ein bier bitte!” I didn’t even know they had other beers. I would have sent the imposter back, but I don’t think there are even any German words for “wrong beer.” So I just slammed it, and made sure to specifically ask for the house beer on the next order.

"Very special sausages." Are they retarded? Extra retarded?

We were eventually seated at a small table with a candle in the corner against a wall of their ubiquitous green tiles with the penis head on them. I ordered sausages (“Very special Sausages from Westfalia with a sweet/sour green-bean and diced bacon sauce, with Parsley potatoes and mustard”), and Tania ordered the schnitzel (“Wiener Schnitzel: escalope of veal dressed in a fine crumb served with lyonaise potatoes and salad”). This was our first authentic German meal, and it was one of the best of the whole trip. So simple, yet so amazing. It was so good that this duo of sausage and schnitzel became our go-to meal all across Germany. I wish we had kept a running tally of how many sausages and schnitzels we had on the trip, but I’m pretty sure I had at least one, if not both, in my mouth every day of our trip. Ja, I had a lot of sausages in my mouth in Germany.

Ah, schnitzel. It was "spargel" (asparagus) season while we were there, so every restaurant had white asparagus with every meal. More on that in another post.

I’m glad I don’t live by Max and Moritz’s because I would be in there every other day ordering a fassbeire, schnitzel, and very special sausages. I’d get fat as fuck. But at least I’d finally have an answer to that old question, “Where should we go eat?” Because I can eat that shit all day every day. I think I’m turning Germanese, I think I’m turning Germanese, I really think so.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

GERMANY, CHAPTER 1: Renee and the Big Gay Bar

Renee on the left, Nicholas on the right.

“You are all flatheads,” Renee said laughing. “American flatheads!” Renee was wasted.

Tania and I were enjoying some wine at the bar below our Berlin apartment. It wasn’t our apartment. It was paid for by Adidas and we were sharing it with their Canadian team. But we did have our own room. Which we pretended was our own apartment. Plus it’s fun to say, “We were enjoying some wine at the cafe below our Berlin apartment.” It’s like we’re in U2.

“The Americans. You are all flatheads, you know?” he said still laughing. I had no idea what he was talking about.

The bar was actually in the restaurant below our apartment. We were disappointed that we never got around to eating there because the food looked very good, but we did spend a good deal of time drinking at the small bar. Mostly because Nicholas, the restaurant’s big gay waiter, was so entertaining. Nicholas was a flight attendant (sthuprizzzze!) and spoke very good English. Naturally, he was fascinated with San Francisco. In return for big gay SF information, he told us about Berlin.

“HAHAHAHA!” Renee was just laughing at my face. I was starting to get angry. For one, he was very ugly. He obviously hadn’t bathed in some time, his clothes were dirty and crumpled, his hands were gnarled, his hair was greasy and unkempt, and he was unshaven. In short, he was a typical German man.

Renee did not speak very good English, but I had no problem understanding that he did not like Americans. Mostly due to the imperialistic/military strategies of the Bush administration. “Flatheads,” I think, was a reference to military crewcuts. Renee was completely harmless and totally drunk, but he was getting under my skin. In that “don’t you dare talk about my mother” kind of way. I can talk shit about my country, but don’t you fucking dare.

Nicholas somehow calmed Renee down, and we soon settled into drinking and polite conversation. Renee even began cheering us. “KAAPLA!” he’d say and raise his glass. “KAAPLA!” I’d say back. He was doing it nearly every sip and I couldn’t understand what he was saying. It seemed worth knowing. “Is that German for cheers?” I asked.

“Klingon!” he said.

Klingon? This is when I began to suspect that Renee wasn’t quite right in the head. And he wasn’t. He even had papers to prove it. Not sure what brought that on, but he was very insistent on showing Tania his retard papers.

“They don’t care about that,” Nicholas told him and made him put them away.

Retarded or not, Tania and I wanted to know where to eat. We had been in Germany for almost a day and we wanted some authentic German cuisine. This question delighted Renee. He was very excited to tell us about a number of restaurants, but even with Nicholas’ help, Renee was difficult to understand. He asked for my pen a number of times, “PEN!” and then he’d scrawl some childish words in my book, but we could only pretend to understand what he was talking about. Renee eventually decided that the only way he could sufficiently tell us where we needed to go eat was if we returned to his apartment with him where he could give us a map. Tania and I looked nervously at each other, uhhh? Renee insisted.

“It is okay,” Nicholas assured us. “He is not crazy. I would never send you to the apartment of a crazy man. He is harmless.” I think Nicholas just wanted Renee out of the bar so he could close up and go to bed.

“Alright,” I said. “Let’s go to your apartment and get a map.” What’s the worst that could happen? If he tied us up and raped us, I could just write about it later.

Renee proudly poses before his media center.

Renee’s apartment was on the fourth floor of a cement, communist-bloc style building. He had one tiny room with a small kitchen and bathroom. His bed was a pile of clothes and a sheet on the floor in the corner. The room was dominated by a rather large TV/entertainment center.

“M*A*S*H?” I said looking at the shelves of VHS tapes. There were a lot of M*A*S*H tapes.

“Yes,” he said excitedly. “Every episode.” Renee hates the American military, but apparently enjoys the adventures of our hilarious mobile army surgical hospitals?

"PEN!" Renee feverishly showing Tania places of interest on zee map.

He spread a map of our Berlin neighborhood out on a laundry drying rack. It was a very nice map, kind of cartoonish. He began feverishly searching for places and making marks all over the place, babbling the whole time. He was very insistent we try a place that, I think, specialized in roast chicken. From what I could gather it was less of a restaurant and more of a home. I’m disappointed we never made it to that place because it sounded the weirdest. But some of his other recommendations we did try, most notably Max and Moritz. (Which I’ll write about in the next post. Followed by some of our other German dining adventures.)

This is the cute li'l map Renee gave us. This is a picture of the area in Berlin we stayed in, by the Gorlitzer Bahnhof. Which is right off of Wiener Strasse. HAHAHA WIENER STREET!

It was late and all the bars were closed when we left Renee’s apartment, but we all wanted more drinks. Renee kind of painted himself as a man about town and he assured us he could get us into any bar. I was over Renee, but we hadn’t been raped and I felt like I was still due some sort of an adventure. The first bar we came to was locked up for the night, but people were smoking cigarettes and drinking inside. Renee knocked on the window. The old bartender lady looked up. Renee made the universal sign for, “Hey! It’s me! Renee!” He pointed at his own face and smiled. The bartender didn’t even shake her head “no” at Renee, she just went back to wiping down the bar. “Hey!” Renee said knocking again.

I could tell we weren’t going to get raped or have any more adventures with Renee. The night was over. So we gathered up our maps with our German dining recommendations and retired to our Berlin apartment. That was the last we saw of Renee, but it was the beginning of our German dining adventures.

I made pee pee in Renee's toilet.