Monthly Archives: November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all!

The sun has finally decided to shine here in Berlin, and for that, I am very Thankful!  I was thinking about composing another list of everything I’m thankful for, but then I came across the one I wrote last year, and it pretty much says everything I wanted to again this year!

So, instead, I thought I’d share this picture with all of my fellow PhD students out there.  It’s from the guys and gals over at PhD comics, and – as always – they have captured the essence of grad life perfectly.  So, I hope you’re all enjoying the holiday and are with some loved ones.

I was going to go have some schnitzel and sauerkraut for dinner, but then I found out that Hard Rock Cafe Berlin is offering a Thanksgiving Dinner all day!  So, after another evening in the archives, I’m going to go enjoy some turkey, dressing, veggies, cranberry sauce, and most importantly of all: pumpkin pie!


X Thankful PhD Students

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Strolling Around

I’ve been in Berlin for almost a month now, and this is my last week.  Time really has raced by, and I haven’t gotten everything that I need out of this archive yet.  But, that’s why I’ve decided that I’ll be coming back in February to finish up.  Knowing that I’m coming back has kept me from getting upset that I’m leaving on Saturday, because I have come to love Berlin.  In fact, I can easily say that it’s my favorite German city, which is ironic being that – in so many ways – it’s not very German at all (I have to be careful when granting the “favorite city” award, because Marburg, a city with ancient charm – holds a special place in my heart ever since it was my home for a year just over five trips around the sun ago).

I’ve been impressed while walking around Berlin’s city center, with its sprawling government structures, monuments and war memorials.  I’ve taken a couple of strolls down the perpetually-under-construction Unter den Linden, and down Friedrichstrasse, Berlin’s swanky shopping district.  The cheesy Christmas Market (complete with mobile log cabins and fake snow in the shadow of Berlin’s modern, glass, Deutsche Bahn tower) was a weird, yet fun, place to have a Bratwurst and Glühwein.  And I’ve spent nearly $15 to go see a movie (Catching Fire, which was awesome!) in the futuristic Sony Center at Postdamer Platz.

Those places are cool and all, but I really love Berlin for the places like Kreuzberg and Neuekölln.  My bus to the archive goes straight through Kreuzberg, another multicultural, young district of Berlin.  When I leave the archive at 6, and my stomach starts growling, I have to drive through streets lined with temptation:  sushi joints, Italian pizzerias, Indian restaurants, Malaysian street food, kebab stands, schnitzel shops, Chinese takeout…you name it – if you spin a globe and stop it with your finger, chances are there is a restaurant in Kreuzberg that’ll serve food from there.  So, needless to say, on more than one occasion, I haven’t made it home for supper – after my mouth waters for several stations, I can’t take it anymore, and I push the stop button on the bus, hop out, and take my choice.  One night, the pun of the burger joint called “Kreuzburger” tempted me, but I decided to go with Mexican instead.  I’m not sure why I thought German Mexican food would be a good idea since I’m a Mexican food snob, but hey, it was happy hour, so that made up for it.

In fact, since I’ve been here, I’ve only had “typical” German food once – sausage, potatoes (with a bit of salad thrown in for good measure) and beer – doesn’t get much more German than that.


Guten Appetit!

I’ve already written about my neighborhood, Neuekölln, so I won’t take up more space on it here.  I’m going to miss it, but what I could tell from the 24 hours that I’ve spent in Köln (Cologne, which is where I’m heading on Saturday), it’s pretty diverse as well.  So, maybe not all is lost.

Here are a few more shots of my neighborhood, Neuekölln:


Heading to the archives. Despite spending 80 Euros on a month pass, I have yet to have a single person check for my ticket.


An Indian restaurant 25 steps away from my house. I’ve gotten spoiled on good, homemade Indian food, too, so – like Mexican food – I always find myself judging on whether it’s “real” or not. (Yeah, I know: snobfest.) I guess German tolerance for spice is even less than American, so the food lacked the typical Indian kick, BUT the Gulab-Jamun (think, balls of fried dough soaked in syrup!) made up for it!


The soul cat bar didn’t have any soul on Sundays, though.


Second hand vinyl shop, with a touch of German graffiti and a dash of the typical half-shredded posters


Sometimes the graffiti can be pretty good, though.


I love this: The Rosa Parks Elementary School


Rosa Parks Elementary School: Play together, Learn together, Live together. A pretty fitting motto in such a diverse neighborhood


And then right next to the Rosa Parks Elementary School, we have the Tempest Anarchist Library.


Neuekölln recycling


One block over, there’s a “free time colony” where people garden and grow things in the middle of the city. But, from the looks of it, they’re pretty selective about who gets in and who gets out.

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Bundles of Joy?

Kids are just precious, ain’t they? 

X Baby & Paint

You’r going to have to click on this one, and then you can zoom in.  It’s worth it.


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Need a Laugh?

X What Your Beer Says About You

Why You Can't Lose Weight

X SHE let the dogs out

X Slow down!

Most of the time, I’m a pretty open-minded person.  But every now and then you come across a human being so ignorant, that I want to hand them these simple instructions:

X What do do with your opinion

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Houlbrook: Queer London


Houlbrook, Matt.  Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Subject:  An exploration of the variety of queer identities in interwar London.

Main Points:  Similar to Chauncey’s Gay New York, Houlbrook’s work studies the myriad of queer identities that emerged and thrived in interwar London.  Central to the book is its focus on spaces.  He gives importance not only to the parks, urinals, theaters, streets, pubs, and cinemas where queer men met, but also to the city of London itself.  The sexual practices and identities of these men “do not just take place in the city; they are shaped and sustained by the physical and cultural forms of modern urban life just as they in turn shape that life” (4).  So these “queer places” acted as more than a place to hook up; they became sites where a vibrant queer scene emerged as they provided these queer men with a sense of community with others like themselves.

Houlbrook’s discussion of space also intersects with class.  Working and lower class queers (the flamboyant queans, the West End Poofs, and the tough “bad boys”) were forced to meet in public places.  This made them vulnerable to surveillance and discrimination; in fact, most of what we know about this time period comes from police records. Middle and upper class queer men on the other hand were able to capitalize on their bourgeois affluence and cultivate their identities in the privacy of their own homes, thus largely escaping persecution.

Houlbrook’s book also shows that we have to be careful not to project our own understanding of “gay” back onto the past, even when it’s “only” interwar London.  Because the characters that he reveals don’t fit neatly into the 21st century “gay” identity.  Instead, flamboyant queans and “Dilly Boys” (of Piccadilly Square) identified more with their femininity than with their object choice.  Like the “trade” men of Chauncey’s Gay New York, the rough, masculine “bad boys” of London could have sex with queans (and with women) without being ‘homosexual’ or having their masculinity called into question…as long as they were the active, dominant partner in sex.  That is because a working class man’s reputation and identity were more based on his masculinity than on whom he slept with.  Class also ties in with this: Houlbrook argues that these “normal” men had sex with effeminate men also in order to make some money.  “I do not want to suggest that all young single working-class men participated or entered into ongoing relationships with other men, but they certainly all could, and their practice would be readily understood and accepted amongst mates” (181).

Beginning in the 1940s, London’s queer community underwent a transformation.  The middleclass “respectable” queer began identifying as “homosexual” in reaction to and shaping the medicalization of homosexuality.  What defined their queerness was their object of desire, nothing else.  They used their socio-political status as middle-class men to push for certain reforms, but Houlbrook almost paints them as being selfish.  They pushed only for their model of homosexuality, and only sought the removal of the words “in private” from the Criminal Law Amendment Act.  They began using their money also to “privatize” queer spaces by opening up nightclubs and charging admission.  Gradually, by the end of the 1950s, the publically effeminate quean and poof were replaced by an “invisible” middleclass homosexual.  These men, Houlbrook writes, “came out purely so that they could retreat, constructing a respectable subject predicated upon the space of the middle-class home” (257).  This transformation also had an effect on the tough trade men.  As the model of homosexuality took hold and queerness became defined by partner choice, working class masculinity changed and assertive, dominant sex with another man was no longer acceptable.

My Comments:

I think this is a great and interesting book.  I love his emphasis on space and how class played a role in utilizing space to help form identities.  I wonder if such ideas and analytical approaches could be used for rural settings, too, or if it’s unique to urban areas.

For more books on the history of sexuality, see my full list of book reviews here.

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Grad Life: A Story Etched in Stone

During my research year in Germany, I came across a number of epic statues around the city, and they spoke to me.  Below is the story of graduate school as depicted by the sculptors of old Europe.

In the Beginning


This depicts your undergraduate advisor, guiding the young, naive, and still idealistic version of yourself to the hallowed grad school applications.

The First Semester


You enter the arena that first, exciting fall semester, and are armed with the basic history-grad student essentials: historiography, the latest edition of the Chicago/Turabian manual, cheap alcohol, and a diminishing sense of self-worth.  If you’re lucky, a more advanced warrior (otherwise known as “ABD student”) will take you under his or her wing and help shield you from some of the pressure of the academic battlefield: conference deadlines, seminar presentations, nagging undergrad students, and absentee advisors. 

In the Valley


Woe unto you: You enter your readings/qualifying exams year with determination, only to emerge as a shell of your former self 9-12 months later, barely clinging to an ABD status and letting all other accomplishments and pride fall to the ground.  Exhausted and with your soul crushed, you begin to wonder why flipping burgers or sleeping under a bridge is such a bad thing. Luckily, the angel known as Jack Daniels is there to lift your spirits and give you the motivation (delusion?) to carry on.



Supported by research grants, significant others, friends, family, and more whiskey, and armed with the spear of bitter determination, you finally slay the dissertation beast that has ruled every waking moment of your life for the past decade.  Having been safely sheltered inside the confines of the Ivory Tower during the entire duration of your epic quest, your doctoral committee signs off on your dissertation and you pass your defense.  At long last, you receive validation of your life’s purpose! 




You can finally sheathe your sword, for you are done.  Now that you are [far too] old and wise – symbolized by an awesome, manly beard – Academia places the honor of three little letters behind your name. (The actual ceremony involving hoods, cloaks and funny hats sounds just as fantastical as this statue is epic).  Now you are free to face the world as a revered Doctor of Philosophy, free to lead some other innocent soul to grad school applications. 

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Die Wäsche Waschen!

The front door to my apartment building in Neukölln, Berlin.

The front door to my apartment building in Neukölln, Berlin. My favorite part is the second “5” peeling off the address label. But, through this door and up 87 stairs, is a quaint little apartment that I call home!

I’ve been in Berlin for a week now, and I’m finally settling in.  I know my way around my neighborhood, so I feel comfortable with standing at a street corner and thinking, I should be able to cut down this street and end up on Sonnenalle.  And then, I follow my gut and end up exactly where I thought I would!

(By the way, you can click on any picture to zoom in and get a better look.)

A glance down my street.

A glance down my street.

A burger joint that would make American chains jealous, the BerlinBurger International (BBI) name is a play on Berlin's over budget and delayed project to build a new airport, Berlin-Brandenburg International (BBI)

A burger joint that would make American chains jealous, the BerlinBurger International (BBI) name is a play on Berlin’s over budget and delayed project to build a new airport, Berlin-Brandenburg International (BBI)

On the other side of this bar, there was another sign that said "Had a good day?  Have a drink!"   Either way, you're having a drink!

On the other side of this bar, there was another sign that said “Good day? Have a drink!” Either way, you’re having a drink!

Moreover, I was at the Hauptbahnhof (Central Train Station) yesterday and decided to walk to my archive.  It was a 20 minute walk, a little longer than I anticipated, but I didn’t end up lost in Poland or anything, so I take that as a victory.

Berlin's billion euro, glass Hauptbahnhof.

Berlin’s billion euro, glass Hauptbahnhof.

When you walk inside, there are trains coming and going above, beside, and below you. And of course, you can get a taste of America's finest cuisine: McDonald's, Burger King, & Starbucks.

When you walk inside, there are trains coming and going above, beside, and below you. And of course, you can get a taste of America’s finest cuisine: McDonald’s, Burger King, & Starbucks.

VERBOTEN: Damnit, you can't grill out on the front lawn of the Reichstag (the seat of Germany's parliament).  The Germans take the fun out of everything.

VERBOTEN: Damnit, you can’t grill out on the front lawn of the Reichstag (the seat of Germany’s parliament). The Germans take the fun out of everything.

But, this is the State Institute for Music Research, and I think this high-stepping, dancing Federal Eagle makes up for the ban on grilling in front of the Reichstag.

But, this is the State Institute for Music Research, and I think this high-stepping, dancing Federal Eagle makes up for the ban on grilling in front of the Reichstag.

But, that’s not to say that I haven’t had my moments of utter confusion here in the Bundesrepublik.  And one might think that an episode at border control, or instances of digging though archival material, or even trying to maneuver Germany’s trash/recycling system, might provide some moments of confusion.  But, NEIN!  I’ve got those down pat by now.  The two things that have completely stumped me are far more sinister and complicated than that.

Come, let me spin you a tale…

I’d just spent 4 hours, pouring through German newspapers, journals, and leaflets in the archive, and by the time I got home, I was tired and just wanted to plop on the couch and catch up on The Voice.  So, instead of cooking anything, I pulled out the trusty frozen pizza from the freezer, set the oven to preheat, and then went to get my computer set up so I could just veg out for the rest of the night. About ten minutes later, I headed back to the kitchen to plop the pizza in the oven only to realize that the oven’s not hot.   At all.  At first I thought that the whole thing was broken, but I refused to give up so easily.

Now, let me back up a second.  This stove/oven is German, which means that it’s overly-complicated and you must be able to control it to the EXACT specifications of your choice (Ordnung muss sein!).  To even get to the knobs that control the heat, you push these little buttons, and the knobs for the stovetop or oven pop out. I found the one for the oven, and turned the temperature to 200 Celsius.  But, like I said, nothing happened.

But, upon further inspection, I realized that there was a sixth little button, so I pressed it and another knob popped out.  And then, tears welled up in my eyes as anger and frustration took over, because I didn’t want to answer these riddles – I just wanted cheap, unhealthy, frozen Hawaiian Pizza!

Oven from Hell slash Germany

The encrypted oven from hell/Germany

There were 9 different options for this new knob (10 if you’re counting the off position), and being that the manufacturers of this wunderbar machine decided to go back to hieroglyphics instead of the written language, I had no idea what these settings did.  There were options for a mountain range, two mountain ranges, what I could only guess was melting snow, then there were some Tetris lines, something to do with nuclear fusion, and bio-hazard symbols next to mountain ranges.

So, as much as I hate to admit it, I had to come back to my bedroom and Google “How to use a German oven.”  Again, Germans just need to control exactly how their food is cooked, I guess. Because, as it turns out, these are controls for regular heat (but it can come from the top, the bottom, or both), convection oven (by itself, or with regular heat from top, bottom, or both), and broilers (you got it – from top, bottom, or both). So, once you get that all set and call Cape Canaveral for clearance, you can choose your temperature and then it’s go for throttle up.

Luckily, the pizza was worth it.  Plus, the folks I like on the Voice nailed it, so I was done being bothered by over-complicated German contraptions.   Until the next morning.

Because the next morning I decided to do the laundry (die Wäsche waschen).

I thought that I was so smart because I had planned ahead:  most Germans don’t use a dryer, so I knew that I couldn’t wait until I was completely out of clothes because it’d take a day or two for my clothes to dry since the sun has decided to go on it’s winter hiatus.  Feeling smug in my intelligence, I shoved my clothes in the washer, and then finally paid attention to the control panel. Familiar pangs of frustration rose from deep within…

Ordnung muss sein!

Ordnung muss sein! (There must be order!)

Damnit if there weren’t an infinite number of setting combinations for your washing.  I’m used to “Colors, whites, or delicates” and “start.”  There was no way that I was going to Google “How to use a German washing machine” (though, I was kind of hoping that the NSA would be snooping on me and send someone to help out!).  So, I just opened the drawer to pour in the detergent.  And, you guessed it: over-complicated.


So, I just did a quick game of eeny-meeny-miney-mo, poured the detergent in, pushed a couple of setting buttons (I chose “Energy Saver” in the hopes that the German gods would grant some of their green, eco-friendly love and favor down on me), and just hoped for the best!  The machine ran for a little over two hours, so I was sure that my clothes were being ripped to shreds or merging into one, greyish color.  But, as it turns out, they’re alright!  They’ve been hanging on their drying rack near the window for two days now and are almost 40% dry! At this point, I’ll get to wear them again next week.

I consider myself a rather intelligent person (if, at any point, I feel my intelligence threatened, my go-to defense is: Oh, yeah?! I’m working on my PhD!), but these machines damn near had one up on me.  Advanced degree or not, waschen the Wäsche can be a humbling experience!

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From Boston to Berlin

It’s a nasty day here in Berlin – cold, gray, and drizzling  – that kind of drizzling when you can’t see it from your window, but by the time you take two steps outside, you’re already wet and wishing you had brought an umbrella.  In other words, it’s a typical fall/winter day in Germany.  In a few hours, I’ll have to bundle up and head out there, on my way to the Schwules Museum archives.  Until then, I’ll sit in here where it’s warm and wish I had bought some coffee to brew this morning.

My apartment is in Berlin’s Neukölln district, southeast of the government district.  I’ve only been here a couple of days, but I could tell from the moment I stepped off the bus, jet-lagged and dragging my bag behind me, that it’s an alternative, young, multicultural place to live.  And when I first arrived at the apartment building, stepping over dog shit to unlock the graffiti-covered front door where one of the 5’s of the building’s “55” street address was peeled off and barely hanging to the wall, I thought Well, this is going to be an interesting month.

But, after sleeping off my jet lag, I took a stroll around the neighborhood, and it’s awesome (or “the hammer” as those crazy German youths say).  Neukölln is a hodgepodge of cultures.   According to Wikipedia, the god of instant, albeit sometimes questionable knowledge, about 60% of Neukölln’s population is ethnically German, and the other 40% are immigrants from all over the place: Europe, the Middle East, China, India, America.  When I left home, I was worried about not being able to eat Indian food for the 5 months I’ll be in Germany.  A half a block to the east of me, there’s a cheap Indian restaurant (whether it’s good or not, I’ll have to find out soon!) and two blocks to the west, there’s an Indian spice shop so that I can cook Indian at home.  Between here and there are an American burger shop, French pastry bakery, Taiwanese food, a pizza joint, a milk shake shop, Greek food, a hookah lounge, and a handful of bars, cafes, and, of course, döner shops.  There was one restaurant where everything was in English, and nothing but Americans and Germans speaking English in British accents sitting out front, huddled under the canopy while smoking their cigarettes.  Most of these little places are barely large enough to fit five people (and their dogs) in, and I love it.

To make things even better, I can hop on a bus right outside my door and get off 25 minutes later right outside the archive.  Or, I can take another bus and be at Potsdamer Platz in 10 minutes.

And now for a little advertisement:  If any of you travelers out there haven’t heard of or tried yet, you should really check it out. This website allows individuals to rent private rooms or whole apartments for various lengths of time.  How it works: People who have spare bedrooms, own vacation houses, or folks who will simply be out of town for a while and want to make some extra money, rent out their room, apartment or house via the website.  You, as the customer, can book the space just like you book a hotel room: go to the site, select a city and put in the arrival and departure dates, and presto! you have a list of housing options.  You can even customize the search by selecting only private rooms, shared rooms, or whole apartments, and you can set a price range, too.  It’s really convenient that you can often choose to pay by the night, week, or monthly.  The people on both sides of the deal have to go through an identification process to make sure that you are who you say you are.  This helps eliminate fraud on both parties’ part.  Payments are also made directly through the website’s secure system.  With locations in over 34,000 cities in 192 countries, you’re sure to find a spot that meets your criteria.

That’s how I found my apartment here in Berlin – and it’s great.  Since you’re travelling, you can’t bring everything that you need/want to feel comfortable while you’re away: sheets, towels, pots & pans, etc.  So, why not use someone else’s apartment that’s fully furnished and fully stocked?  All I’ve got to do is go grocery shopping and stock up on the food I like, and I’ll feel right at home.


Last night, I was thinking: I had just gotten finished with a Skype call to home, and I realized that I had complained about my flights from Boston to Berlin.  The first flight was delayed due to mechanical issues.  We were given a new plane, but experienced turbulence across the entire Atlantic.  Despite my attempts to fall into a medically-induced coma for the trip, the woman beside me (who told me at take off that she was petrified of flying anyway) kept waking me up so she could, I assume, run into the bathroom and cry hysterically.  The lines for immigration and security at London Heathrow Airport were so long that, despite a 2.5 hour layover, I almost missed my flight to Berlin’s tiny Tegel Airport.

But, as I lay there last night at almost 2am (realizing that I definitely had not gotten over my jet lag yet), I thought:  What am I complaining about?!  Look at what I just did:  I sat my fat, white ass in a huge hunk of metal that FLEW THROUGH THE SKY AT ALMOST 600MPH and took me to another continent…in 6 hours.  Then I used public transportation (the directions for which I already had in my pocket, thanks to a computer/Internet program that essentially has the whole globe mapped out, able to provide personally-tailored, real-time directions), to arrive at an apartment that I had booked two months ago without ever getting out of my pajamas.

Then I thought to myself: Self, when you put it that way, I don’t guess there’s much to complain about!

And then I thought: I don’t have coffee for in the morning.  

Life’s a bitch. 

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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