Searching for signs of extraterrestrials in Brandenburg

A little over a week ago, I made a new friend who was very excited about going to take a look at some crop circles nearby. I don't think about outer space aliens very much, but I love seeing new things, and I've been meaning to get out of Berlin more often. What better way to start than to take the regional rail (S-Bahn) almost to the very end of the line?

Our motley crew assembled at S-Bahn Lichtenrade, which is not quite the southern end of the S2 line.

We took a bus (I can't figure out the exact number, which is a testament to Berlin's suburban transit system) and then started walking along the side of road, passing by "Zum Ponyhof" which I hoped we would be able to stop by on the way back for a nice, cold beer. But alas, das Leben ist kein Ponyhof and we never saw it again. Instead, we neared our first crop circle.

Did I mention it was an incredibly beautiful day to be out in the Brandenburg farmland? The sky was blue and full of fluffy white clouds, there was a gentle breeze to cool our (my) sweaty urban brows.

We wandered around the first circle. I thought it was pretty amazing how evenly the wheat was pressed down, sometimes in quite pretty patterns.

Whatever you think of crop circles and the mystery surrounding them, I realized I liked them most because they're in the middle of a wheat field. There's something about being confronted by a huge swath of golden grain as high as my shoulder, and walking down a tiny little path that leads to a beautiful pattern of flattened wheat.

The second one was much smaller, but we stuck around and had a little picnic before walking back to civilization. Human civilization, that is.

Berlin Restaurant Week 2015 Map

The great folks at Berlin Restaurant Week have kicked off their first year with 18 restaurants in Mitte, Wedding, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, and Neukölln. This week (June 1 - 7, 2015) you can get a 3-course meal for 20 Euros. Not that these places aren't usually a good deal, but as with past restaurant weeks I've eaten at (San FranciscoPhiladelphia), it's a great excuse to go out and try some place new. 

Julian & Moritz put together a really beautiful website, but I was missing a map of all the restaurants that are participating. With some help from Google Maps, here it is for the geographically-inclined gourmands among you. Click on the pins for a link back to the specific Berlin restaurant week page.


What I've been up to lately

For someone who lives (and makes a living) on the Internet, I've been surprisingly delinquent in posting here regularly. Months ago, I started collecting topics on Wunderlist that I want to write up. Instead of actually getting them out there, the list just keeps getting longer! In lieu of all those, here's a not-so-brief update on what's going on with me.

Personal

The biggest news first (and probably pretty obvious): I got my visa to stay in Berlin: a freelance work permit!

In the middle of January I moved into an apartment in Kreuzberg, not too far from Cocolo, one of my favorite ramen places in Berlin, and coincidentally down the street from Feli, a San Francisco, Hamburg, and now Berlin friend.

My friend David and I are thinking about finding a place together though not in a rush, so if you happen to hear of any great 3-4 room apartments with a balcony in Berlin with good transit connections, keep us in mind!

The good folks at Democrats Abroad Berlin elected me to the board, where I'm serving as the Communications and Media Coordinator. I'm really looking forward to planning working together with the new board and getting some of our ideas off the ground to engage Americans and people interested in U.S. politics over the next two years. If that sounds like fun to you, drop me a line.

Finally, I've been tossing around the idea of starting a podcast (in English) about being all the exciting things going on in Berlin. Since it's about stuff that I like, it'll probably be a mix of cultural stuff, events, tech, and miscellanea. Suggestions, advice, ideas, and offers to come on the as-yet-undebuted show are welcome.

Work

Through a lucky confluence of events, I started off the year with an exciting project: organizing a trip in March to San Francisco and Seattle for a group of German media folks (editors and publishers). I got to work with Ulrike Langer and Annette Milz (Chefrunde, Medium Magazin), and we put together an eye-opening set of technology and media companies, focusing not only what they're changing/disrupting but also how they're doing it.

I just signed on for the New York version of the trip at the end of June / early July, so I welcome any suggestions for and introductions to New York-based startups.

I've also been working on a project for a documentary film, The Forecaster. We're putting together a crossmedia website to accompany the film, which covers a lot of historical and financial topics. I'm working on pulling together the editorial content and links to resources for people who want to know more about things like the Nikkei crash in 1990 or the role currency played in the fall of Rome, or even what caused the housing crisis (though Planet Money has done that better than just about anyone).

What's especially fun has been just being introduced to various startups in Berlin and getting to know the cool things that people are working on. They deserve their own blog posts, but most recently: Kitchen Stories (thanks Verena!), TestCloud (run by another SFer in exile, Frederik), and Resmio (I owe Yasha a coffee).

Travel

In December, I flew to Michigan and spent Christmas with my family there, which in addition to being a much needed visit, was calculated to put me right over the threshhold for United Premier Gold. If you didn't know that about me, I am a little obsessive about frequent flyer programs and collecting miles. So far all I've gotten out of it is picking Economy Plus seats early on United flights and some time in a lounge in Newark. 

One of my reasons for moving to Europe was to travel more and to do it spontaneously. That's how I ended up deciding a week or two before Mobile World Congress and 4 Years From Now to go to Barcelona. Many thanks to the friends who convinced me that it would be really fun and not stressful (Hendric, Feli, Malte) and to GfK for the extra conference pass.

With just a weekend back in Berlin, I flew off to San Francisco for about two weeks the above trip and also to catch up with all the friends and folks I didn't really say goodbye to when I left a year ago on my sabbatical (which then turned into staying in Berlin forever). I also took the time to clean out my old room in the Mission, which was the last big thing tying me to the city. Surprisingly, despite how striking San Francisco is, gorgeous views like this made me happy to be there, but not heartsick for what is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived.

Seattle was a great way to round out my West coast return, I hadn't been there since I lived in Portland and my parents took us on a trip through the Pacific Northwest.

For the next few months, I'm planning on mostly staying put and enjoying the summer in Berlin, though I'll be in New York (and Philadelphia), and there's a part of me that wants to take a last minute trip to Pioneers Festival in Vienna.


Happy Chinese New Year and a beautiful video from PFLAG China

Tomorrow is the Chinese New Year, it's the year of the sheep. Right now in Berlin I haven't really made any plans to celebrate, but maybe some event will spontaneously present itself. I haven't celebrated the last few years except to go out to dim sum or dinner with friends -- I never even made it to a lunar new year parade or festival in San Francisco.

Regardless, it's a special time of year and an email from my mom with several emoji in the subject and a cute picture of a sheep reminded me of how lucky I am to have loving parents and family in my life, even though last year I moved from a city 2000 miles away from them to another city around 4000 miles (and an ocean) away.

Many people aren't as fortunate to have the acceptance and love of their families, especially many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people. It's not often anymore than a video on the internet touches me (so jaded), but this short film "Coming Home" (回家) produced by PFLAG China is worth your time to watch. Grab some tissues, and reach out to your loved ones.

(You can also watch it on QQ where it has over 100 million views)

Now that you're all teary-eyed? Cheer up with the sheep my mom sent me!

 

25 Years after the Berlin Wall: Lichtgrenze

This past weekend, Berlin was full of people and events commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. November 9th is actually a pretty important date in German history, it's also the date of Kristallnacht when the Nazis attacked Jewish synagogues and businesses all over Germany (1938) as well as the end of the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the German Empire (1918). But these days most people think about it as the end of socialist East Germany (German Democratic Republic).

I went with some friends on November 8th and 9th to check out the balloons that were set up along the entire stretch of the Berlin Wall, an awesome art project called "Lichtgrenze" (Light Border). The balloons were released on the evening of November 9th, which I tried to catch on video but didn't really succeed very well. If I can somehow edit the footage into something watchable, I'll post it here. For now, here are my photos:

Berlin's Better Philly Cheesesteak

Last week my friend Tom and I went on a hunt for some good Philly cheesesteak here in Berlin. He grew up near Philly, and we became friends when we were both living there, so we are pretty discerning when it comes to cheesesteak.

The Bird

We first tried The Bird (Kottbusser Damm 95, right by U Schönleinstrasse) which has a lunch special: Philly cheesesteak, fries, and a drink for 8.50€. Tom and I split one, since we knew we'd be having a second cheesesteak in short order. Verdict? Decent, but didn't scratch the Philadelphia cheesesteak itch. The fries were pretty good, and there were plenty of them.

The cheesesteak was on a hamburger bun (though they use English muffins for their burgers, so maybe it's their thing?) and therefore not cheesesteak-shaped. Traditionally it's on a longer Italian roll, or at least what people in Philly call an Italian roll. The meat was good, but very chunky instead of being more thinly sliced. The green peppers you can see are a nice touch, though we didn't ask for them. I can't even remember what kind of cheese was inside.

Hamburger Heaven Kiosk

Our second stop was Hamburger Heaven, of which there are two. We went to the one at Graefestraße 93, which is basically a food stand with some outdoor tables. Dress warmly if you're going in winter! There you can get 6" cheesesteak for 6€ or a footlong (12") for 8€, so we got a big one and split it.

Berlin Philly cheesesteak number 2!

A photo posted by Powen Shiah (@polexa) on Oct 10, 2014 at 6:53am PDT

This one reminded me a lot more of the cheesesteaks of yore. It was cheesier, it was in a long, crunchy roll, it had onions and peppers, and came wrapped in paper. Needless to say, both of us were much happier about this cheesesteak.

Since I've only been to two places, I can't call this the best Philly cheesesteak in Berlin yet, but of the two I've tried so far, Hamburger Heaven's is better by far. But in neither place do you need to worry about how to order a Philly cheesesteak properly. There weren't any options.

Crowdfund it: My Sister's Documentary to Circumnavigate Taiwan; End Big Money in Politics; Chicken Soup for the Social Entrepreneur

HuanDao: a modern exploration of identity

My younger sister SueAnn has launched a really exciting project to document the journey of riding through the entire island of Taiwan, where our parents emigrated from. Instead of backpacking through Europe or journeys of self-discovery (says the 30-year-old on sabbatical) like recent college grads do, she's put together a meaningful way to explore identity and the differences between the US and Taiwan. You don't have take my word for it, here's the fancy Kickstarter video:

If you want to find out more (or want to read it in Chinese!) SueAnn and her fellow producers have put together a great multilingual website about the documentary: HuanDao Documentary

Rooster Soup in Philadelphia

This is the best kind of social entrepeneurship that I can imagine — taking the waste (who knew there was such a thing as chicken backs?) from Federal Donuts as the base for another endeavor, Rooster Soup, creating jobs and profit to support the work of the non-profit Broad Street Ministries. Best of all, it's happening in the city-of-my-heart Philadelphia, which is an amazing laboratory for great ideas like this one.

I just chipped in $20, and I can't wait to pick up my 3 donuts the next time I'm in town.

MayDay PAC

I'm a little bit behind the curve on this one. MayDay PAC has been flying around the internet, its idea being to end the influence of big money in politics by using money to help candidates win who support getting money out. It's already hit the $5M goal, but I just threw a few more their way, since every dollar is being matched by some wealthy altruists -- putting their dollars against their own interests for the public good.

Here's a video, and if you prefer reading, a write-up on MSNBC.


Housing in San Francisco got you down? Our house is looking for a roommate from August to May 2015

Another creative re-subtitling of this famous scene of Hitler blowing a gasket from Der Untergang (Downfall) has been making its way around the web this week, this time as he tries to find a place to live in San Francisco.

House Valencia is looking for a subletter!

You're in luck! My wonderful roommates and I are looking for someone to sublet a lovely sunny room from August 2014 - May 2015 (10 months). One of us is going to grad school, so you could be the one to join our merry home. It's a 4-bedroom 2-bathroom top floor apartment off Valencia Street (at 22nd) in the Mission. 

Update: photos of the actual room

It's $1000/month for the furnished room, including utilities and wifi. The roommates are 29, 30, and 35, and we request that you have experience living with housemates. No pets, please.

Update: better pictures of the rest of the apartment and building

If you're interested, or know someone who is, get in touch! Please include some information about yourself, but if you're serious about house-hunting in San Francisco, you'll already have figured that out.