Art Auction in Berlin for ACLU on Sunday

The last few weeks have been a political whirlwind of astonishing news coming out of the U.S., followed by outrage, disbelief, but also amazing displays of protests & solidarity by people not only in the U.S. but around the world. Still, it's been hard to know what to do, to figure out what is actually effective and make an impact.

That's why I think my friend Rachel's decision to hold a fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union is amazing. She's gotten together over 20 artists in Berlin to donate works which will be up for auction this Sunday at Decad, and pulled together a few people to help make it happen (me included).

If you've wanted to take a stand against the gross violations of civil rights that have been happening in the U.S., this is a way you can do it -- and get some art to decorate your apartment. I know mine could use some! Even if you don't think you can bid, come and get some coffee and cake (I'll be baking) or wine & beer, those small donations help too.

Details:

Silent Art Auction for ACLU (More details on Facebook, please share!)
Sunday, February 26th, 2017 3-6pm
Decad, Gneisenaustraße 52, 10961 Berlin (U7 Südstern)

UPDATE (March 1, 2017):

There are still a few works available. If you couldn't make it and regrets not bidding on the art, you can still make a donation (50 euro or higher) and receive a work on paper. There are images of the available works via Dropbox here. Some excerpted below for your perusal! Leave a comment below with contact info or DM me on Twitter.


When you go to a concert and belatedly realize you've seen the band before

Sunday night I went with my friends Thomas, Kristian, and Jens to see a German singer-songwriter called clickclickdecker. There were actually 3 people on stage, does that make it a band?

Despite listening to their albums a lot on Spotify the past week, it wasn't until I was standing in Lido (the venue), when I had a vague feeling that I might have seen clickclickdecker play before. What's the best way to find out? Since I can't trust my memory, I turned to my external brain archive, Gmail, and turned up this blog post from January 2009. Mystery solved! I have seen clickclickdecker before, almost exactly 8 years ago and in Hamburg.

Warning: shaky phone video clip but having walked down nostalgia lane already for this post, I'm preserving it here for posterity... in 2025 when Kamala Harris is sworn in for her second term as president of the United States and I go to another clickclickdecker concert 

Also, the whole night I had this sensation of people I should know being behind me. Turned out it was a poster for my friends Laura & Andreya's band Gurr. They're playing there on Feb 20, everyone should go see them!

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.


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.

The sweet reward of a recipe "translation" well-done: banana bread

With a couple of bananas making their way from ripe to too-mushy-to-eat on my shelf in the kitchen, I decided to dust off my recipes and try my hand at banana bread.

Two things that are different about baking and cooking in Germany. First of all, they use metric units like grams and milliliters, which is to be expected. Second of all, and this catches me off guard every time, they don't use volume measures in their recipes, e.g. 3 cups of sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt. Instead, most recipes call for a certain number of grams of flour. To make things even more confusing, baking powder (Backpulver) and baking soda (Natron) usually come in single-use packets instead of in jars or containers, so while an American recipe may list 2 tablespoons of baking soda, a German one might just say two packets of Natron.

My very simple banana bread recipe (courtesy of my friend Miler) looks like this:

  • 1/2 cup of oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 3-5 bananas
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda

Converted into metric and weight units, this is what I ended up with, using the guidelines on this handy reference "the Metric Kitchen":

  • 120mL of oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g of sugar
  • 3-5 bananas
  • 240g of flour
  • 7-8g of baking soda (1 packet)

(Mix oil and sugar, then add eggs, then bananas. Make sure it's all evenly mixed. Add flour and baking soda and mix until completely blended. Bake at 375*F / 190*C for about 30 minutes)

The main thing that takes some getting used to is that volume to weight conversion depends on the density of the substance. A cup of sugar weighs significantly more than a cup of flour, so when converting, you have to find the right table for that ingredient.

After overthinking this, I went into the kitchen and actually started getting ready to bake, when I discovered that there isn't a scale! Instead, there's a giant measuring cup with markings for how much volume is approximately how many grams... so after taking the time to convert from volume to weight, I wound up using volume to approximate the weight anyway!

Here's how it looked part way through baking process:

I'm not enough of a baker to know how important the exact ratios of the ingredients are, but it tastes to me like the banana bread turned out fine. It tasted especially delicious fresh out of the oven.

Can you imagine being in love with someone for several centuries?

That's the premise of this movie featuring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as vampires, if it has a premise at all. I won't bury the lead, I enjoyed watching it. But the caveat is, there isn't really that much plot or explanation, things happen but they don't really drive the story in any deeper way. Mostly, I simply found it beautiful to watch two fascinating characters interact who have been deeply, spookily (quantum) entangled with each other for hundreds of years. Movies without action-driven plots seems to be my luck these days, since that's how Boyhood felt too.

If you haven't heard of Jim Jarmusch's latest film, here's a trailer to give you an idea.


Tuesday night, I finally had my wish of going to one of the outdoor movie nights that pop up in Berlin over the summer. This particular one was set up by Nomaden Kino at ://about blank, which I've also been meaning to go to -- the club hosts the monthly (twice in June) Homopatik party. If we had gone the night before, Nomaden Kino had shown Only Lovers Left Alive at Badeschiff which is a pool on a ship (or from the pictures, it just looks like a pool in the middle of a river).  Also potentially a neat place to see a movie, right?

I swear I had listened to some group of people on a podcast talk about the film. After I saw it, I tried to find some mention of it in the show notes for any one of the many Slate podcasts that I listen to, but to no avail. I started to doubt that I had actually heard anyone review or discuss it, but then I remembered someone rhapsodizing about the scenes in the movie where Tilda Swinton dances. I don't think that's the kind of memory or discussion I would construct. Unfortunately, podcasts are difficult to search through, and even a publisher like Slate that does a pretty good job of documenting everything that gets mentioned seems to have let this one slip through the cracks.

In which I meet an old friend and finally see the enormous Tempelhof Park

As I've mentioned before, Berlin has an old airfield which they've just decided to keep as public open space instead of building more housing.

Yesterday, I met up with my friend Mehregan who spent a year as a volunteer in Philadelphia and Camden. Since she lives pretty close to the Tempelhofer Feld, we decided to go there, and it was really was amazing to finally see the what airport turned park looks like.

It's a huge open space with a small community garden off to one side of it, but the rest is really just an enormous grassy space where people can hang out, picnic, barbecue, and relax. It was very sunny and hot yesterday, and I would have liked to sit partially in the shade, but there are no trees (yet)!

Even though Mehregan and I haven't seen each other in years, it felt like we were able to pick up just where we left off and talk about the really important and meaningful changes and conundrums going on in our lives right now. It feels really amazing to be able to do that, and in the middle of an enormous former airplane field under a brilliant blue sky was a gorgeous place to do it.