Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Many Names of Berlin

Having a native German speaker for four days was a great boon to our growing collection of German (and German-language) oddities. Let's start with a brief quiz about the nicknames that Berliners give certain icons in their city. Consider the following pictures:

Please identify the following landmarks.

___ The Fat Hen
___ The Pregnant Oyster
___ The Washing Machine
___ The Pope's Revenge
___ Barad-Dur
(Answers at the bottom.)

There's no potential for beating around the bush when discussing birth control pills here. According to an ad I saw on a subway (recruiting participants for a clinical investigation), the pill is called the Antibabypille. Wonder what it does?

In English, we occasionally refer to underwater basket weaving as a useless activity to pass time (for example, if you need one more class in college but you don't want to do any work). The equally useless and time-wasting activity in Germany is Teebeutelweitwerfen--tea bag throwing. (Literally, it's tea bag distance throwing, which I think adds a certain elegance to the task.) A similar word for a mindless task that requires no qualifications is a Dünnbrettborer--a person who drills holes in a thin board. Which may be how I can find employment in a few years.

I saw a vending machine in an S-Bahn station with a sticker on the side advertising the "Maybe Baby" pregnancy test. Turn out, it wasn't just a regular ad, but the product was actually in the vending machine. Right between the Twix and a pack of Antibabypille. (Just kidding about the pills in the vending machine. Though it's funny, one can't buy even ibuprofen without consulting a pharmacist here, but you can snag a pregnancy test from the vending machine!)

Speaking of crazy vending machines, we spotted this on our way to dinner last Saturday. It's a good thing the promised dinner was excellent, else I would have spent far too many euros on this cookie monster.


After our tour of the Reichstag building on Saturday morning, we walked out of the security building to find the reminder that in front of the capitol building, grilling is forbidden. Don't even try it.


Lastly, I saw my favorite word (currently Sparschwein) in a new form: die Sparschweinerei. Now the -ei ending usually indicates a place where things are made/sold; for example, Fleisch (meat) with the -ei becomes Fleischerei, a butchery. So what is a Sparschweinerei? I'm not sure, but I hope it's a Factory for the Pigs of Salvation (or piggy banks). Especially for the types that we saw (and sadly didn't photograph) in Monschau called "Kapitelistenschwein." Priceless.


E. The Fat Hen is the national symbol for Germany. Apparently drawn by politcal cartoonists a little skinnier depending on the state of the budget.
C. The Pregnant Oyster is actually a building donated to Germany by the USA in 1957, and where JFK spoke in '63. It's currently a center for European contemporary art, following the collapse of the roof in 1980.
B. The Chancellory, where Angela Merkel (currently) works and has a small residence, looks much like a washing machine from the side.
A. The television tower, built between 1965 and 1969, has a globe that reflects light across the sky, including across the Wall to East Berlin when it was separate. Why, then, the Pope's revenge? Owing to the flatness of each individual mirror, The sphere reflects light in the shape of a cross wherever you look. I hear the East Berlin officials weren't terribly happy with that.
D. Okay, it's not really Mordor. It's the world's fourth largest carillon, built to commemorate the 750 year anniversary of Berlin. Not as old as Aachen, but a bit older than Mordor.


  1. They really need the "grillen verboten" sign in Bs. As., where people do set up their hibachis everywhere. . . But at the Reichstag? And I can't believe that carillon is only the fourth-largest. Seriously, somewhere there's a carillon you can see from space?

  2. Please promise me you'll grill out there just to see what happens! Regarding the pregnant oyster, that's a sad statement on the status of Euro contempo art, if it was only moved into the building AFTER the roof was lost. That's just mean. (Can't recall...does contemporary include those brilliant Der Blaue Reiter--if I have that correct--artists? Not to mention the genius Josef Beuys. Shame. Rain cannot be good for oil-based expressionism or felt and ink abstractions.)


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