Asparagus Fest!

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Asparagus Fest!

I can’t go anywhere in Berlin without meeting a bundle of asparagus. It’s “Spagel” season, and locals are going to town with asparagus recipes.. and festivals.. and newspaper stories.

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Three Ideas That Have Changed The Way I Think

1. Creativity Is Not What You Think It Is

If you are struggling to think of what to say, or how to say it, or of what to bake or how to dress, you probably need to stop worrying about being “original.” One of my favourite realisations last year was that stealing is okay, and that without it, there’d be no such thing as the “creative process.” I used to think “original” meant “never been done before.” Now I know it means “never been done in this way before.”

Austin Kleon, a young artist whom I have written about before, couldn’t think of anything to put into a short story. He sat in his home in Texas, dreaming of being an artist but his mind felt like blocked toilet. Then he took a copy of the New York Times, and with a marker, started to blot out the words he didn’t like. Before he knew it, he was choosing the words he blotted out very carefully. He had become a poet, and now his books “Newspaper Blackout” and “Steal Like An Artist” are bouncing off the bookshelves.

2. Encouragement Is A Gift

My mama is magic in a lot of ways. But one of her special powers is in her capacity to encourage. When I was young and scared she held me in her arms and said “Ich kann es und ich will es auch.” (I can do it and I want to do it too). So I learnt to swim and climb and jump and to take nearly everything that people told me with a pinch of salt. Encouragement works like a magic powder added to water. The second you release it, it moves through you, opening up, spreading out like a flower burst from a bud. It can change your life. And usually it’s only a few carefully-chosen words or a little smile away.

3. Too Many Choices Is A Bad Thing

What will I buy? What shall I wear? Who will I marry? Where will I go? What should I become? What should I write my novel about? We’re overwhelmed! Freedom is precious and good but too much choice can stifle us. Here is Barry Schwartz explaining it all:

What ideas have changed the way you think?

Eye Candy

A few days ago I found a note from DHL in the letterbox. It said that a package had been left for me in the shoe shop next door. I had to wait until Saturday to pick it up as the store closed before I finished work. The package was from LSB. I think you’ll agree that it was worth the wait?

The Graveyard

My parents brought me running shoes when they visited me at Easter. Yesterday I tried them out. The day was mild and dewy.

I was looking for a park, but instead I ran into a graveyard.

Inside it was still; the birds were singing. Daffodils peeked out from under little heaps of earth. Leaves rustled. A red squirrel skirted past me.

Plastic pots and watering cans lay in a pile of withered flowers.

I passed some buried children; tiny mounds, close together. Words and prayers and a teddy bear.

A woman pushed her bicycle past the graves. The wheels crunched against the gravel.

Further on, I found enormous iron casts from the 1900’s. Whole families were resting there: soldier sons, an 18-year-old girl ripped away from her widowed mother. A family’s heartbreak documented into thick stone slabs. Always the same word: Unvergessen; “unforgotten.”

Then from the trees, slowly a withered old man pushed his Zimmerframe and got down on his knees to tend to a grave.

I watched his tiny frame crouched over a tombstone and his wrinkled hands shovelling the earth in little scoops.

My tears fell like unexpected rain. I was ashamed.

I turned and ran away, past the graveyard shop where they were selling over-priced potted plants, past the red-brick church on the roadside, past the cinema and grotty record store, past the kebab stand.

In the park, dogs bounded through the woodland, toddlers dipped their hands into the water fountain and families played catch. And the birds sang.

Can you remember the last time you got lost?

The Stress Test

Katekatharina stressed (I couldn't open my tin of tomatoes.. I'd been trying for weeks)

I was walking down Kudam, west Berlin’s main shopping street, yesterday when a man with bulging eyes stopped me in my tracks. He smiled sweetly.

“Would you like to take a stress test?” he asked.

“Yes please!” I replied.

He was delighted.

“What’s your name?”

“Kate.”

“And where are you from, Kate?”

“Ireland.”

“Ireland?”

“Yes.”

“Do you speak English?”

“Yes, but German too of course.”

He laughed. “Oh yes, of course!”

A moment of awkwardness passed as he peered at me.

“Let me introduce you to my colleague,” he said.

“Oh, sure.”

“Em, kkKarl,” he called nervously to his superior. “This is Kate.”

Karl, an older man with a harder face but equally penetrative eyes turned to me.

“Hello,” he said and shook my hand.

“Hello.”

“Take a seat.”

“Thank you.”

“First of all, look at these metal rods I am holding,” said Karl.

They looked like dumbells.

“Obviously they are not going to give you an electric shock,” he said. “Look, here I am holding them and nothing is happening.”

“Yes,” I said.

He handed me the rods and I clutched them with all my might.

“I am going to ask you a question, Kate.”

“Okay.”

“The energy from your body will flow into this machine.”

“Right.”

“Think of somebody in your life.”

The counter hovered around zero.

He waited.

Finally he said, “who were you thinking of?”

“My mum.”

“What kind of a relationship do you have with her?”

“It’s good.”

“Do you ever have differences of opinion?”

“Oh, sure. But nothing big”

“But there are sometimes disagreements?”

“Yes.”

He paused a while and then said “What do you do professionally?”

“I’m an intern.”

“In what capacity?”

“I’m working as a journalist.”

His mouth flickered unpleasantly.

But he said, “I want you to think about your job.”

“Okay.”

“Do you like it?”

“Yes.”

“Are there ever stressful moments in your workplace?”

“Yes.”

The scales budged a little.

“Do you see that? This is the negative energy floating from your body.”

“Ah, yes.”

He paused.

“Would you like to know how to eliminate negative energy from your life?”

“Perhaps.”

“Would you like to buy a book which will change your life for the better?”

He whipped out a copy of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.

“No thank you. I think I’d like to find out a little more before committing to a purchase.”

He handed me a plastic booklet outlining the main tenets of the Church of Scientology. I skimmed it and thanked him without committment..

He snatched it back and flashed me a murderous glance. I continued down Kudam.

Three Women That Don’t Know They’re In My Life

1. The Prostitute

She has white-blonde hair and long, thin legs. She stands by the red-brick buildings of Hackesher Markt. She wears white leather hot pants, tan coloured tights and furry white snow boots. Her cleavage is pushed up by a skin-tight leather jacket, which she keeps half unzipped. She has red lips and cool, blue eyes. Last Saturday night, it snowed in Berlin. She watched a group of Italian men walk up the street. She stood in their way and smiled, casting her eyes up and down their bodies. First they were uncomfortable, then aroused. She put her arms around one and pushed her body towards his. She pressed her breasts to his chest. All the time, she took sidelong glances at his friends. The snowflakes were sticking to her hair. She was cold.

Berlin's Affluent Red Light District

2. The Girl at the Bakery

She sells sour dough bread and pastries at a bakery at an underground station and her red uniform includes a crumpled tie. She has an old-fashioned kind of face, which refuses to be offset by her hoopy silver earrings, lip piercing and the two thick black scrunchies, which hold back her wavy hair. When she serves customers, she is upbeat. There is something naive in her face which I am drawn to. I think she would flair up at injustice and I think that she is happy in her job. Once when I was eating a Nussecke and sipping on a latté at the bakery, I saw her chat quietly to a colleague. The tone was conspiratorial. It surprised me.

3. The “Tickets Please?” Girl

She could be a child but she is not. She is small and has big brown eyes and dark curly hair. She lives at the entrance to my underground station with homeless men and their giant dogs. Her voice rings in my ears. She says the same thing every day. “Tickets please?”. (Fahrscheine bitte?”). She says it like she is a bored train conductor, but really she is a bored homeless person collecting tickets to sell on. She’s not on drugs because her eyes, while large and droopy are alert. She wears puffy clothes from the 80s and she works much harder collecting tickets than her male friends.

The One-Meter Bar Of Chocolate and Katekatharina’s Mega Easter Competition

A few weeks ago I met an important man in his office on Unter Den Linden.

LSB dives into the chocolate Reichstag

The same evening, the new German president Joachim Gauck was being sworn in. The surrounding area was awash with media types clutching furry microphones, adjusting broadcast platforms, parking vans.

I didn’t know the man I was meeting. He was a Spiegel-employee friend of my boss and I was doing him a favour. He was planning a holiday in Ireland and was overwhelmed by the detailed itinerary his travel companion had compiled weeks in advance. He wanted me to amend it.

He made me a latté and we sat down and poured over the meticulous plan.

“You won’t manage all that,” I said. “Not if you want to sleep.”

For the next few hours we teased out the relative merits of Longford and Louth, Killarney and Kilkeel.

“You can give Derry a miss,” I said finally. “Just go to the Giant’s Causeway instead.”

“Is it Derry or Londonderry?” he wondered.

“Oh, that depends on with what foot you dig,” I said.

Joachim Guauck was being sworn in on the television in the background.

“I’m sorry for keeping you so long,” he said as I was making a leave. “Do you drink wine?”

“Yes I do.”

I have a very expensive bottle here.”

“Oh?”

“Alternatively, do you like chocolate?”

“Oh yes, very much so.”

“Well then I have just the right thing for you.”

Out of nowhere he pulled out a metre long stick of Rittersport chcocolate.

“For you!” he beamed, wielding it at me. “As a thank you.”

Loyal readers will know how much of a chocolate advocate I am, but even I was stunned at the scale of my killing. If you are sceptical, examine the chocolate in relation to the medium-sized cat.

Last Saturday, LSB and I went on a chocolate tour of Berlin. We started off at Fassbender and Hausch, where we could afford a single truffle each.

Then we went around the corner to the Rittersport museum and shop. We learnt about the cocoa been, and about Klara Ritter, who invented Ritter Sport because she wanted football supporters to be able to fit a 100 gram bar of chocolate into their pocket when they went to matches.

Choco stack

Then we decided to design our very own bar of chocolate. We chose three fillings from a possible 27. We tasted the chocolate the next day. It was heavenly.

If you become a fan of the katekatharina facebook page, and correctly guess two of the three flavours we picked, I will have a bar of Rittersport personally designed for you and post it to you, wherever in the world you may be. If you can get ten friends to become fans of the page, I will design a chocolate bar for you too.

Entries must be received by midnight Easter Sunday. Just leave a comment on the page with your suggestion. One entry per person. Check out the page for clues until then.

Me at the chocolate Reichstag