Montag, 28. März 2011

When men lose control

When men lose control - dealing with violence against women in Berlin and Germany, in general.

Japan drowns, Berlin parties

Japan drowns, Berlin parties

Mittwoch, 23. März 2011

Vanilla and muffins

I am wondering if I am the only one who noticed the difference between the left and right sides of Greifswalderstrasse? If you look stright away to Alexanderplatz, the buildings and shops from the right side of the street are ugly and stereotypical communist, in comparison with a rather bourgeois air on the left side.
This is my observation after visiting twice in the last three weeks this area, for cosy meetings with friends at Vanilla muffins shop. (I was to shy to make pictures, maybe I should go back soon only for some snapshots).
English speaking personnel, quiet place, with maximum 5 tables (if I remember correctly), English reviews and a corner for children. Colourful, multiple-sized and affrodable muffins and coffees - cappucino, mon amour, as usual, with the possibility of taking away. 
Wish them a long and vanilla live! Now, that the weather is so surprinsingly sunny (in comparison with the snow in New York), I am seriously thinking to spend again some more time there, at the tables outside.
Are they any other interesting and creative muffins shops in Berlin? (Wish I have my own...)

Moderating lectures, in Berlin

It is a problem with the moderators of book lectures in Berlin. A big one, apparently. My conclusion is based on the latest 4-5 experiences in this area, among them the lectures held in the last four months by Nicole Krauss (pictured left), Jonathan Safran Foer, Colson Whitehead...

What's wrong with the moderators?

- They prepare their homework so well that they stop thinking normally about the books and the authors. They have in mind lots of irrelevant and personal details instead of evaluating critically the books and, why not, the authors. I wonder what are their references in terms of bibliography of literary critics.
- Why do they ask so irrelevant and stereotypical questions (for example, the author of a book touching upon the issue of vegetarianism if he is vegetarian, or an African-American author what does he thinks about Obama administration)? Why?
- The German-speaking part of the presentations are impressively longer than the English ones. Meanwhile, the authors, without any knowledge of German, should find something to do or think about  (a 15 minutes or even longer nap is more than welcome). I can understand that the edition houses are intended to sell the books on the local market but though...the wonderful author is with you, there, take this opportunity and respect his or her time. Or at least, provide them with a translator. It could be the beginning of a gracious friendship.
Beyond these shorts inconveniences, I continue to believe that the literary life and, in general, the intellectual life in Berlin continues to be extremely interesting.
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Freitag, 11. März 2011

My and Fitness First

Fitness FirstImage by Sim Dawdler via FlickrMy following post don't have to look as a complain. It's simply my very direct way to present things.

Let's start:

One year ago, I signed a one-year contract for Fitness First/German branch, of course. Very close to my house, clean and safe environment, careful and good English speaking people, good trainers and perfect diversity of the classes. Nothing to complain about this (excepting, maybe, that last summer, when it was impressively hot, the functioning of the air conditioning was seriously limited, for health - not my opinion - and cultural - "we" are not like - the country where you use extensively air conditioning -...reasons).

But, as one month ago I graduated successfully 12 months of good training and my travel schedule for the next 3 months doesn't look very friendly, I decided (neglecting the cruel reality) to talk with the representatives of my beloved Club about my intention to suspend my membership for the coming 90 days. Went first one week ago explaining shortly, in a paced and clear German, what was my problem. "Why you can't attend the club?", I've been asked. "I have some business and private travels", I answered, a bit surprised by the directness of the question, as despite the friendly smile of the girl I was talking with, I was not supposed to be there for various confessions. "In this case, you need to bring a paper from your work justifying the periods you will not be in Berlin". "Excuse me?", and my question was in English, as when my logical understanding escapes, the German words are more than evanescent and my final sentence is nothing more than a successful dadaist poem. And she repeated the request in English. "But I am travelling in private interest and I am self-employed"..."In this case, you need to establish an appointment to discuss about this with one of our representatives". I always knew this Fitness First is a serious business.

The next day, I was repeating again my problem, ending my monologue on an optimistic tone "An now, what kind of papers do I need to sign for setting the issue". But...surprise surprise..."I am afraid that it is not possible to suspend the membership now". Big eyes, not so friendly thoughts in English, the language I set for the rest of the conversation (adrenaline was reaching high levels): "How comes it is not possible?". "If you want to suspend your membership, you have to announce three months in advance (the wording of my renting contract, or the usual line in job contracts), or to find somebody to replace you in the next 3 months...Or to bring an official justification from your office". Annoyingly serious..."And, if not?", I insisted in a hopefully middle-eastern hunger for finding an open door for negotiation. "It is not possible", the blonde lady answered me. As usual in this kind of situations, I am switching immediately to the "logical" arguments: "But it doesn't make sense. As long as I paid for one year, 12 months, why you don't give me the freedom to suspend or to go away. Why the contract is automatically updated after one year? And what it is with this official explanation from the office? It is my free and private time, do I need to explain what I am doing in my free time?". "I am very sorry, but those are the rules" and repeated again the regulations - the official explanation, the replacement or...or..."In this case, I should pay even if I am not attending?"...This is the kind of stupid question asked only to fill the unbearable void of stilness..."Yes", the unsurprising answer come. 

Thereafter, I was sharing my experience with another expat friend. Our common conclusion was that, normally, when you care about your services - similarly to the US standards, let's say - you care about every single client you have. Logically enough - the kind of rationality the RULES don't have - if one client is unhappy, he or she is telling to another current or potential client (what I've done) and most likely, you'll think twice before making a choice. And you start this by having trained people -  the lady-consultant I was speaking yesterday was rigid to unfriendliness - with social skills and able, if not to offer you a solution, at least to convince you that the choice offered is the best. In my case, as in other situations I've encountered in Germany, the magic word is "those are the rules". I don't have any problem with respecting the rules, but I would prefer, if possible, to be took seriously enough for being offered explanations. I strongly believe that social intelligence is an useful skill whose smart use makes our life breathable. 

Now, I am very sorry, but I have some free time and got to go to Fitness First for the next hours, in order to be sure that my monthly payment is not only a cold bank transfer but has also a certain value. 

Happy training to me!
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Dienstag, 8. März 2011

Job hunting in Berlin

This is a post I wanted to write for days, but I was lacking the optimistic and relaxed mood for a clearly ironic (without tragic and dramatic words) perspective. In this post I am gathering direct and indirect experiences, from the last almost two years, and no data or other scientific and official researches about the market, trends and opportunities. I will, definitely, return to some academic background.

What I am hearing very often, from successful and unsuccessful employed people is that the choices in Berlin are relatively limited. Unless you are not a student - accepting free full-time internships - or artist of any kind (preferably as experimental as possible) or rich enough for opening your small bakery (wish I could). For jobs in financial sector, better give up and move in another town. If you are an academic, you have enormous chances to apply in one of the numerous research centers all over the country, not in places with an intense social life but with a very good financing opportunities and possibly, where you could find another expats.

As an expat, obviously, your chances are significantly increasing if you learn fast and almost perfect German. Which I find normal, but not easy at all. For English contributions as a writer, if you are not a native speaker, in 99,9% of the cases you will be rejected. Why, because you are not a native speaker - "I'm afraid that we are looking for a native speaker", a very often rejection expression you'll find in your mailbox, even your application included very successful writing credential. Can you please repeat after me: "You are not a native speaker". Next time, be careful where do you invest your hopes.

If you are desperate to work something, maybe you have same small chances to find a nice paid internship, full-time, not necessarily in your area of expertise, generously paid with maximum 600 euros. For this impressive amount, I would hardly open my eyes in the morning, not talking about convincing myself to go out of the house. But, some - more adventurous will do it for a couple of months and then, will be happy to apply to the Arbeitsamt for the social services. If you are living in Prenzlauer Berg you'll discover that you are very trendy, as many of your neighbours are in the same happy situation. If you are part of a couple, and he or she are in the same situation, you could get more than 1,000 euros without too much effort. 

Are you looking for a new career opportunity? Try some pet-sitting (especially for busy expats). 

Meanwhile, keep walking and send CVs and watch ads and network and tell your friends, neighbours and whoever you can have in the front of you that you are desperately looking for a job. Maybe, one day, the spring will come...

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Berlin, the world capital of tourism

For the next four days, Berlin will be (another) the beating heart of the world tourism, with the famous ITB opening its gates first for professionals, and after (during the w/e) for the large public. As this year my schedule for the next week is extremely complicated, I will miss this event, but I will share shortly my last year experience.

First of all, the place - the usual destination for the big fairs in Berlin - is huge...You need more than 4 hours to see 80% of everything...And to swim across people, long lines for free gadgets and various events meant to attract the attention of potential tourists - live concerts and dance performances - last year I assisted to one from Macedonia and one from Turkey. The most populated places were the exhibitions of North African and Asian countries. Most probably, given the current turmoil from the Middle East, the Asian destinations will win more clients. The public was of all ages, but the reliable clients were, obviously, couples of 50+, especially for long, exotic and also expensive trips. 

Shortly, before embarking for the ITB experience, be ready to: spend there like a working day, be fit enough for walking for hours and waiting for various gadgets - from leaflets, pens, CDs, various bags, TShorts... - and be sure you have a good budget dedicated to travels for this year, otherwise you'll resent a deep frustration to see the world opening in the front of you without being able to go out of your Berlin winter (which is better than the permanent sun in other parts of the world, sometimes). 

Happy travels!
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Donnerstag, 3. März 2011

Party in Kreuzberg, this w/e

Spring is here - yes, it is true, finally - and the party season is opening. Where to? In Kreuzberg, of course, where during this w/e you can enjoy Show and Sell - Birds of Spring