Four Minutes

I can be soooo lazy at times, and prefer to go to the second-run movie theater around the corner (3 1/2 minutes leisurely walk) instead of fighting the crowds to see whatever is movie-of-the-week. And anyway, this theater owner has good taste in films.

I had never heard of "Vier Minuten" before, but it had won some sort of "Best German film in 2006" award - although with the state of German films, it doesn't take much to win an award like that. The plot outline on the IMDB was, um, meager: "An elderly piano teacher trains a young convict at a women's penitentiary." Full stop.

Okay. Just the thing for a rainy Saturday evening. I got there just as the ads were starting and was shocked to find that I was getting one of the last free seats, the place was jam-packed!

The movie started in fits and starts, it was hard trying to sort out who was whom, what time it was playing in (the present, but it is filmed in Luckau in Brandenburg, where time seems to have stood still), which bits were flashbacks, and which bits carried the story on.

An angry elderly woman, Trude, insists on teaching women convicts to play the piano. And one is really, really good, and really, really angry: Jenny. Turns out she played the child prodigy circuit before her life disintegrated. Her father started a "relationship" with her, as he put it, she ran away to live with a male prostitute, who got her pregnant and then killed his father, she got framed for the murder because her Dad would not give her an alibi and here she was, doing time with some, um, lovely ladies in the women's pen.

Anyway, Trude and Jenny get connected, practice a lot, and Trude gets Jenny to the German national youth musician's festival. She makes it to the finals, and then 2 days before the competition her cell mates tie her hands to the bed with her dress while she is sleeping and set it on fire, burning her. She pulls free in rage, grabs something, and smashes a cell mate to the floor. This gets her privilege of attending the finals rescinded.

But Trude manages to sneak her out of prison, they have a big fight ('cause Jenny's father had visited Trude) and Trude ends up telling Jenny her story, about being a lesbian nurse during the Third Reich and ratting out on her communist girlfriend, who was then executed. Somehow they manage to get themselves pulled together and make it to the contest.

They need to prove that Jenny is Jenny, and of course she does not have ID, having just escaped from prison. Trude finds a phone booth (something seldom these days!) and calls Jenny's father, who has an old ID for her, and he comes. She gets in just in time to play - and just as the police enter the opera house to re-arrest her. Cops all over the place, at every entrance, and the jail boss coming up to Trude, who is waiting backstage.

Trude insists that they wait four minutes, so that Jenny can perform, and man, what four minutes those are! Jenny plays Franz Schubert's Impromptu Op. 142 No. 2, but not like you have ever heard it, classical mixed with jazz mixed with beat box mixed with playing the piano strings directly. It is really amazing! The patrons are shocked at first, but then they give her a standing ovation, and she curtsies (something she had fought about with Trude many times), with two cops putting on handcuffs as she is bowing down.

I wanted to put this synopsis into the IMDB, as there is so little there. But they will only do that if I validate myself as a real person by either logging into Amazon or giving a credit card number or giving a (US) mobile phone for them to send me an SMS to send back. Nope. I have a login at IMDB to read the juicy stuff in the forums, but they're not getting real data from me. So here is a synopsis, you are welcome to come and get it!


The Water Pump

I live on a Hinterhof, a house behind a house that has a large municipal playground behind it. This was great when our son was small, now the teenagers congregate there after dark when it is supposed to be closed, but that is another story. The attraction for years had been the water pump - glorious, cool water, all summer long, and lots of sand for building sand castles. The kids got so dirty, but they loved it. I used to wonder where the water came from.

Last year when we were down in the cellar with handymen discussing the expensive repairs needed to be done because we had dry-rot in the flooring, we looked at a strange pipe that ran all the way across the cellar and then outside. I went around the back to see if there was a spigot I knew nothing about - nope, just a shunt for a pipe heading off to the playground.

Water costs 4,70 € per cubic meter (that's 1000 liters, or 5 bathtubs full) - you have to pay it coming and going. At prices like these, we can't afford to be charitable. There was a valve for turning off the pipe, and I closed it, saying: they'll scream if this is indeed their water pipe, and then they can put a water meter on it. Our water bill for last year was a good 250 cubic meters less than normal, some of that must have been the playground...

Nothing happened, and I forgot about it, and there was strangely no water on the playground all summer. They put up a fence around the pump - and silence.

I came home the other day to find a couple of guys wandering around our property, looking for something. Turned out they were waiting for the housekeeper to let them in - they were looking for the water pipe to the playground. I offered to show them one :)

Indeed, this was the pipe.

It's taken them weeks - they had to get a water meter, install it, make sure that it was zeroed properly and normed and primed and goodness knows what else. They turned on the water - and nothing happened, the pump was broken. It had to be removed, a new one installed, the water turned on again - and from the delighted screams coming from the playground, it finally works.

I went over to inspect it - a nice new pump it is, pumps up plenty of the wet stuff. Kids were knee and elbow deep in muck. Mother's were anxiously trying to get their kids to go home, as a thunderstorm is approaching. Fat chance, there is water again! But now it is on the city's bill, not ours.


The Wellness Weekend

My friends did not listen to me when I requested "no presents" for my birthday. One in particular got a gang together and organized a wellness weekend at a spa about an hour outside of Berlin for me. And they reserved the weekend already, with WiseMan letting them know what weekend was not already scheduled.

I still had some work to get done Friday morning, so I didn't kick off until after lunch. Traffic was, as always for a Friday afternoon, miserable. The advantage was that the room was already available by the time I finally found the place.

They had already made appointments for me for my Anwendungen. Now, in the jargon of computing, these are programs that do specific things, like be word processors or parsers or bookkeeping systems. At the spa this means the treatments that are offered - usually involving lots of water and heat and some sort of goo.

So I unpacked, headed for the steam bath, and awaited the first application. It was the Cleopatra bath, a bath in goat's milk in a bronze tub. No, the tub wasn't full of goat's milk, it was just mixed into the water, along with all sorts of flowers and stuff. Probably smelled very good, except that I have lost my sense of smell.... There were candles set up next to mirrors, and some wellness music played from the CD player. The goat's milk was very fatty, but I smeared it on, must be good for you. The glass of cold champagne next to the tub was very good - I could get used to that.

After 20 minutes there is a knock to tell me to let out the water, and I climbed into a water bed with a canopy for recuperating from the bath. I had just nodded asleep when the lady came in to tell me that my 20 minutes relaxation were over, it was time to leave.

So it was off to dinner, the restaurant at the spa seemed to be very expensive and there are other places around. The Seebad, right along the water, was just perfect for sitting outside and sipping a cocktail while waiting for the food to get made. The salad was fine, but people around kept getting wrong food, the waitress seemed very confused. I made the mistake of ordering Mousse au Chocolat for dessert (I know, not healthy, but very desirable). It turned out to be a runny chocolate pudding, not real Mousse au Chocolat. It was soooo bad, I didn't even finish it.

The next morning started with breakfast at the hotel. If there is anything one could eat for breakfast anywhere in the world and it wasn't there, I don't know what it was. Maybe yak butter. They even had gumbears for the kiddos, pickled herring, salads, cheese, meats, all sorts of müsli and nuts and cereals, 10 kinds of jam and 4 kinds of honey, and a lady to fry your eggs exactly the way you wanted them with any fixings you wanted. I stuck to the healthful alternative first day, having fruit and veggies and cottage cheese and just a small roll with honey as dessert.

At 11 I was scheduled for a facial. The girl giving it to me was shocked when I described what I normally do in the morning: cold water, soap, towel, finished. She went through what a woman my age is supposed to do: hot towels, cleansing lotion, plucking of eyebrows, face pack, more hot towels, astringent, day cream. In between I got a neck massage, a face massage, and both hands massaged. Okay, even without the massages this takes over half an hour, I am not getting up half an hour earlier to do this. Maybe I can talk myself into slapping on some cold cream every morning. We will see.

I must admit, though, that my face did look rather good after all of this.

I took a brine bath in the outdoor pool, it looks just like a normal pool. There are signs warning you to take it easy, to get out after 15-20 minutes. I was enjoying it, but did get out and lay down - wow, was I ever exhausted! Took a bit to recuperate and then drive to town for some fruit and cheese. I had lunch in the hotel room with the window open, enjoying the air.

Late in the afternoon I had a combined application. First a peeling (gommage) that involved the masseuse rubbing Dead Sea Salt into my skin - all over. I felt rather like a roast, a feeling which was heightened after my shower, when I was put on a layer of cloths and oiled with a mixture of evening primrose oil and some other stuff I have forgotten. It was like butter and got smeared all over me, then I was wrapped tight in all of the cloths (the inner one was dipped in salt water) and then lowered into a waterbed with warm water that was awaiting me below and came up my sides, like I was now in a roasting pan. A candle was lit, the music turned up, and I basted for 20 minutes. After 5 minutes she called to see if I was still okay (apparently this is not for the faint of heart) and then let me have 15 more minutes of bliss. It was really nice!

I wiped off all the evening primrose goo, and my skin was silky soft - must be something to this mumbo-jumbo after all! I was too tired for any more sauna - this stuff really makes you tired! - so I just went for some Tapas in a restaurant I spied the day before. It was a rather strange place in the tourist information office that also housed the police and water board and whatnot. The tapas plate was mostly fried stuff, with one piece of lettuce. Not really healthy, so I returned to the hotel for more fruit and some prosecco.

Sunday morning was another great breakfast, I broke down and had an omlette with mushrooms, green pepper, and cheese as well as jam and honey. It's Sunday! After clearing the room one could purchase an additional daily ticket to the saunas for 5 Euros - that's a deal! So I had another brine bath and some sauna visits before deciding I was soooo tired, I had to go home!

It was a wonderful weekend - thanks to everyone who contributed! You will be getting a letter with the before-and-after-pictures in the mail soon :)


The Swedish Ambassador

It is a few days before the most important Swedish holiday, Midsommer. Or, if you prefer, one of the major drinking occasions.

The new Swedish ambassador to Germany is an economist by trade - and another one of those Alpha Women. She invited WiseMan to the party she was throwing, and he took me along for company. Nothing like standing around with a bunch of strangers waiting for the food.

The new ambassador is very charming, bubbles over with enthusiasm, enjoys a good laugh - and is quite a networking person. It was a pleasure to watch her work the crowd, dragging men in ties across the lawn to be introduced to other men in ties, or calling them to come over. She herself, replete in a summer dress and a flower in her black hair, was actually barefoot most of the evening, having discarded her shoes for dancing around the Midsommar pole.

I joined right in that, I love folk dancing like this. In Sweden this involves dancing in a circle, singing children's songs that include doing gestures like playing the violin or being a rabbit. Rabbits play an important part in many drinking songs as well.

The food was traditional: Swedish flat bread, new potatoes, sour cream and chives, smoked salmon, and four different kinds of herring. The ambassador announced that her cook - a fascinating guy in a white cook's uniform but with his wild black hair bound up in a black and white pirate's headband and wearing scruffy sneakers - had flown up to Sweden the other day to get the ingredients. And to get the snaps.

Swedes are soooo chauvinistic about their potatoes. They think that only real, Swedish, potatoes taste any good. These were great, where ever they came from! The herring was so good, I liked the mustard herring best, washed down with some Skåne Aquavit.

I met some interesting people: folks at the embassy, journalists, diverse VIPs, and the Alpha-Woman-Husband, who is a professor for literature. One of the VIPs is also an Alpha-Woman-Husband, I joked that they should round up Angela Merkel's husband (a professor in Berlin) and start their own club. Actually, I was only half joking, as they need to be defining their role. Do they fade into the woodwork, like Merkel's? He should have been in Heiligendamm, entertaining Cherie Blair and Laura Bush. Do they run around worrying about the food and the help? Do they do their own thing? They need a support group, I think!

The mosquitoes were as bad as any Swedish summer, this they could have left out of an otherwise wonderful evening.


Oceans's 13

They were predicting heavy storms for this evening, so we decided to take in a movie instead of visiting the German-French fair and downing good French wine. Trying to get 4 adults, one teenager and a going-on-thirteen to agree to a film is not easy, but we decided on Ocean's 13.

Some of us had seen 11 and 12, others just 11, others none. The adults had all seen "The Godfather", so that was kind of fun for the jokes.

Those who had never seen one before just loved it; those who had seen all felt that 13 was better than 12, but 11 was still the best. The teenager felt that it was boring because there wasn't enough "action" in it.

I found it all rather hum-ho. The sequences on finding (and changing) data in FBI files is supposed to be a wild fantasy - actually, with the Bundestrojaner in Germany, it is getting closer every day. As the computer screen was shown filtering data, looking for the known accomplices, I remarked in a loud voice "Schäuble lässt grüssen" (the minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, who started a "terror file" and wants to intrude on all computers, even personal ones) - but no one laughed or seemed to understand.

I liked the split screen (at times 5 different films showing, or the same scene from different angles) and the animation with the winnings above the heads of the people. I think I laughed 3 times, but I've forgotten what for. I found it rather boring and predictable (the teenager agreed with me on that, shock!).

And then it didn't rain, after all. We could have had that nice French wine....


The Alpha Girls

The German newsweekly Der Spiegel has the topic of "Alpha-Mädchen", alpha girls, on its cover this week. Sheesh, they can't even do this without being condescending and calling us "girls". Isn't online yet, so I shall have to go out an purchase it, I suppose.

After the G8 conference many journalists discovered that our chancelor (who happens to be a woman) was actually capable of running the show, and she was clearly the dominant person while speaking with the little boys Putin and Bush. Gosh. Maybe women can run countries after all.

My favorite English-language magazine Ex-Berliner has commentary on the same topic this month: My Mom looks like Angela Merkel. Konrad Werner decides that "menopausal German women are the best demographic group in the world for running countries." So there you have it. Don't know if I prefer "menopausal" or "older". How about just "experienced"?

I was at my old college for the "Long University Night" (a rather crazy Berlin-wide university open house at night which is so popular, it is in its ninth year) and met up with lots of women colleagues during the hour or so I was there. They just had elections, the two female vice-presidents were confirmed in their positions, they've hired some more women professors and are doing a pretty good job at attracting women students. As one of the VPs said to me: Us wimmen are on our way up.

Watch out, guys, we are alphas now, too!


Didaktical planning

Two guys got on the subway today, dressed so that I was rather relieved that they took the seats across from me and not next to me: scruffy, black T-Shirts with strange and nasty comments on them, baseball caps on wrong way round, heavy boots, each with an open bottle of beer in their hands and one with a package of potato salad, the other with a loaf of bread.

But then they started to speak with each other about the homework they were doing together this evening - they had to prepare a didactial plan for an instructional unit. That means they are studying to be teachers! And they went over the important parts, especially the problems that can occur in class. They seemed to have a very clear idea of the stunts that pupils who do not want to learn can play....

I need to stop judging just from first appearances - we need many more teachers in Berlin, especially guys. Of course, be the time they turn into teachers, this will be considered old-fashioned bourgoise fashion and people will be wearing, I don't know, clothing woven out of plastic bags or something.