Saint Martin’s Day Umzug

Saint Martin's Day

Saint Martin’s Day celebration

On the evening of November 11, Mamta took to the streets to celebrate Saint Martin’s Day — Martinstag — with her cousins. Prior to the day, I was not familiar with Saint Martin or the celebration. When I asked my sister-in-law Doreen about Saint Martin, she gave me a one-sentence summary: “He was a Roman soldier who shared his cloak — by cutting it in half — with a beggar on a cold winter evening.”  It turns out that’s not all he did, but that act of generosity is re-enacted annually in Saint Martin’s Day celebrations across Germany.

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The Cupping

I recently came across an article that likened certain sections of Berlin (“Berlyn”) to Brooklyn, NY.  Apparently there is a good deal of cross-pollination occurring between these two urban hotspots.  The other day I was invited by a friend to attend a coffee tasting in Penzlauer Berg, a neighborhood that has been compared to Brooklyn’s Park Slope.  Or Williamsburg, I thought as I entered the shrine to coffee known as Cafe ck.

Barista in action

Barista in action

The coffee aroma in the cozy cafe was compelling.  Soul music — Mavis Staples, James Brown — spun on a turntable tucked beneath the rear counter.  A small shelf displayed trophies and plaques from various coffee-related competitions.  The two bearded, twenty-something baristas behind the counter executed their work with earnest precision.

This was my first coffee tasting, or “cupping,” as I learned to call it.  The eight participants included several other neophytes.  We could tell the veteran cuppers: they had brought small notebooks in which to record their tasting notes.

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Last Night in the Subway

Last night Mamta and I came home late from her cousin Jonas’s birthday party.  It took me a while to peel Mamta away from the movie — How to Train Your Dragon — that she and the other kids were watching.  Annette had gone home ahead of us by bike.

Mamta rode her scooter to the subway station and I jogged alongside her. As we descended the stairs, we saw two workers in red overalls operating commercial floor scrubbing equipment by the ticket machine. They were just finishing cleaning the tile floor of the subway platform.  The damp tiles glistened, and the scent of detergent hung in the air.

Mamta and I jostled for dibs on the ticket machine, and I then grabbed her scooter and rolled down the brightly-lit platform.  We could see from the signboard above the platform that our train would be arriving in three minutes.  We were the only people waiting for the train.

I started scootering around one of the columns in the middle of the platform — and wiped out on the slick tiles.  I sheepishly arose, and Mamta took over the scooter.  We ended up chasing each other in circles around the column.  When we heard the train approaching, we stopped and folded up the scooter.

“Hey,” I heard a voice call out to us as we headed for the train.  It was one of the workers we had seen operating the cleaning equipment.  A young guy.  Serious.  “You shouldn’t be fooling around like that on the subway platform.  It’s not a playground.”

I was — the word in German is “verblüfft.”  A combination of taken aback, amazed and bewildered.  I was also touched by his concern, and slightly amused.  I didn’t consider what Mamta and I had been doing to be at all risky or dangerous.  On the other hand, accidents do happen.

“Ja, Sie haben Recht,” I replied.  You’re right.  With appreciation for Germany’s culture of order, I hustled to join Mamta on the train.

Energetische Sanierung

[A version of this post was published at on 7Jan14]

I don’t know whether there are any building geeks reading this blog, but if so, here’s a post for them.  I am including more photos of insulation details than a normal person would find interesting.

2 stuccoed facadeA few weeks ago while biking back from a visit to Rani’s high school, I stopped at a job site that had previously caught my eye. Although the buildings were shrouded in the usual scaffolding and screening, I could tell that the work involved “energetische sanierung,” or energy retrofitting.

Two workers were installing rigid foam around newly-installed windows.  I asked if I could take some photos, explaining that I was a project manager from the US, and interested in energy efficiency.  As often happens in this situation, their initial reticence gave way to a quick tour of the work and informative answers to my questions.

While the materials and techniques used on this project are run-of-the-mill for Germany, and may be of limited applicability to projects in New England, I like to think that sharing them might contribute to innovative thinking in someone, somewhere.  The rest of this post contains photos and notes about the insulating skin being installed on the building.

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