Stone Life

C'mon Over

My very cool brother set up a new site for me and Julie, so I will begin posting there.

Check it out:

Berlin Quick-Hits

I have started to post a few times, but it kills me to not give my full attention to something that I write (which I have not the inclination to do right now), so I thought I would just toss out a few tidbits in short chunks instead of following a narrative of some sort.

*Things I have never seen/done till now:

1. Watched someone smoke crack - that's right; tonight as we were riding the U-Bahn back to our neighborhood, a young man stepped on at one of the stops and quickly proceeded to the nearest corner (aka: where we were sitting). In full view of us and the other dozen or so in the car, he nonchalantly unrolled a piece of tin foil with what appeared to be some sort of crack-like substance, heated it with a lighter, and smoked until the next stop where he exited as quickly as he entered.

2. Been shot at - NYE was a chaotic madhouse in Berlin. There are apparantly no fireworks laws, and so everyone, and I mean EVERYONE is carrying around backpacks full of explosives. We are not talking about blackcats or sparklers; rather, these are industrial grade small-explosives, probably bigger than the shows that they used to put on in Crane. We walked around the city for five or six hours that night, and so we got pretty deft at dodging stray bombs and when to duck away from flashes that were seen out of the corners of our eyes, but nothing prepared us for when we passed under the second/third story window in a residential neighborhood and a guy leaned out the window with a pistol and started firing. Granted, he was not really shooting AT us, but it was bloody frightening having a gun pointed right above you and firing four or five times.

3. Walked on water - as if my ego needed a bigger boost, as I went for a run this morning (side note: Berlin is a great runner's city. There are trails along the rivers all through the city) I took a short cut through a large wooded park area and came across a pond that appeared to be frozen over. I have always wanted to walk out onto a frozen pond like they do in the movies, so I inched my way out towards the middle and then quickly made my way back to land. It was pretty cool.

4. Been to a German movie theatre - I realize this is not terribly excited for most of you, but I wanted to include this nugget. Germany's big Christmas release this year was "Buddenbrooks." I know, I know! I was excited too! As we all know, this was Thomas Mann's first novel when he was in his twenties, and it became a HUGE German success in the 1930's (give or take a few years...I can't remember). This is a big-budget film adaptation of the novel, and I went to see it last night. (side-note2: interestingly enough, they sell tickets at different prices in German theatres, and if you want to sit towards the middle or back of the theatre, you pay a little more. They assign specific seats just like a sporting event.) The film was entirely in German, so I did not catch 100% of it, but encouragingly enough, I was able to follow along pretty well, and it was great. If you have a chance to see it in sub-titles, please do, but, more importantly, if you have never read the novel, you should. It is fairly light-hearted and easy to read for a novelist that is oftentimes difficult.

5. Doener Kebaps are like manna from heaven - This Turkish immigrant to Germany may rival beer as the best thing here. I LOVE THEM, and I would eat them three times a day if I could. Yum, Yum, Yum.

6. German pastries are simply better than U.S. pastries. We do not understand it, but neither Julie nor I ever eat the pastries back home, but over here we cannot get enough. They are so, so good, and we think Abbey should come over here, learn from the masters, and open a Euro-bakery back in the States. (this picture was supposed to have the pastries we were eating this morning, but you will just have to pretend.)

7. Kirschen Bier (cherry beer)...not bad!! - for our anniversary yesterday we broke with the daily tradiation of finding the cheapest, smallest place in Berlin and eating for under ten Euros; instead, opting for a large brewery/restaurant in the heart of what appears to be something of a Times Square Berlin. I started with the house brew, which was good, but Julie had an apple beer that she liked so much that I decided to drink a cherry beer. With the exception of drinking a beer that was basically pink, I really like it.

8. Berlin bars are not smoky (sorry Chad) - apparantly the neo-nazis that run the Dallas City Council have made their way back over to the motherland, and public smoking has been outlawed in Berlin. I still have high hopes for Koeln and Munchen, but it seems doubtful.

Have a good workday tomorrow....and maybe I will let Julie write some later.

Herzlichen Glueckwunsch zum Hochzeitstag!

Or: Happy Anniversary.

Yes, as of today Julie and I have been married for five years.

We are considering sticking it out for at least one more.

We spent last night wandering through the Charlottenberg section of West Berlin, shopping at the Weinachten Markts (Christmas Markets), and eating/drinking along the way. We discovered something new: Gluewein (hot wine), which is just like it sounds, and OUTSTANDING, and I won Julie over to a snack that I learned to love in Muenchen: Laeberkaesse (Liver-Cheese). The latter is a thick, hot meat that is served on a roll with spicy mustard.

We made our way to another hole-in-the-wall, which touted itself as the "House of 100 Beers"...or something to that effect. We stayed and warmed ourselves with some good cheeses and breads and beers.

Today we walked more than 15 miles around Berlin, so I'll toss in some pics.

The memorial to the murdered Jews

On the banks between the Reichstag of West and East Berlin (Julie chose the West)

Monument to the 17th of June (worker's revolt in Berlin)

Not a great picture as far as scenery, but this is taken from East Berlin, so imagine something oppressive and profound

Deutsches NYE (or...Sylvester)

Firstly, I will have to give Julie credit, because for over a month she has said we are going to Berlin to celebrate "Sylvester," but I did not believe her. Turn's out she was dead-on, and everywhere we went last night there were "Merry Sylvester" signs.....s0, I stand corrected.

After settling yesterday evening, we decided against taking a nap, even though we needed one desperately. Instead, we thought we would grab some dinner and wander about all evening until closer to midnight, when we planned to head to the Brandenburg Tor, the largest Sylvester celebration in Europe. Julie was forced to endure another Michaelish euro-travel experience - I do not like to eat places that are on-the-beaten-path, so to speak; instead, I would rather wander around for an hour or two until I can find somewhere sufficiently obscure and non-touristy.

We hit the jackpot with our search. Julie was losing patience with me, and we were both getting pretty cold and hungry after walking over half the city, but then we came across a tiny hole-in-the-wall where no one even spoke english. They had an all-you-can-eat buffet of German foods, and the place was filled with families from the neighborhood who all knew the owners. We stayed there for hours, and we ate and drank so much that we were ready for bed by about 9.

Julie, true to her word, drank her very first full-beer (a half-litre Franziskaner, if you care) during our meal.....and I had an array in the time she took to finish the one. I was very, very impressed.

We left Goethestrasse and the cozy comfort of our little pub for the freezing, dangerous (literally, there were people firing guns and fireworks EVERYWHERE...more on this later) streets of Berlin for the remainder of the evening. Within minutes, the notion of sleepiness was blown away by the biting wind and miles of walking that we were in store for.

To put it simply, we got ourselves quite lost, and were it not for a Libyan student that we ran into near the U-Bahn, we probably would have never found the Tor. We stood in the freezing cold amidst hundreds of thousands, drinking from our bottle of champagne, fireworks being lit all around, and counted down with the Germans to the huge fireworks display that ended our portion of the evening.

Here we are, probably lost
Approaching the Tor (in the background)
As the clock struck midnight

insanity ensued

we are pretty sure we saw this same picture on CNN today
It took us hour(s) to get home, mainly because we did not look at a map, and we stopped at the street vendors for snacks, but finally, who knows what time, we ended up back in the warm comfort of our hotel.

I am sure there is more to tell, especially about the fireworks portion of the evening, but I thought some of you would like to see a few pictures. We are off again, so until next time....Tschuss!

Wir Sind Hier!!

Here we are at DFW (right).....showered, fresh, ready to go. This was all before the flight to London.

I think the second picture (below) is showing a bit of fatigue. Ten or more hours of sleeping upright...etc, but our layover in London was short, and we soon boarded our flight for Berlin.

Julie was exposed to the Michael Stone way of traveling when we got off the plane, and I refused to use her printed-out directions. We found a bus, went across town, and wandered the street until we found our great, old Hotel Berlin, Berlin. More pictures to come.

Just When I Was Losing Faith in My Country....

I bet you thought that this was going to be another political rant by that title, but, alas there are other things worth reporting....except, do you think someone today told McCain that there is a difference between autism and down's....I'm just saying.

Stop me when you've heard this one.

You go to the repair-center because your car is in need of some sort of fixin' that you can neither understand nor possibly do on your own. - Check!

They offer you a low-ball quote: "I wouldn't worry about. We'll check it out, but it's probably only the battery." - Check!

A day or so later you get a phone call: "Uhm...Mr. Stone.... We were a little off. Turns out that it was a more serious problem than we first diagnosed." The long and the short of it is that if you want your car not to explode upon being driven from the shop, you need to sink a few rent-checks worth of money into their pockets. Sorta like being held up at you agree. - Check!

You go to pick up the car, and, shockingly, the actual price is higher than the estimate. - Check, check, check, check, check!!!!!

You catch them on a technicality and cut the price in half. - Che.... What!?!

That's right. If only for today, I win. Turns out that the young guy (who may or may not have a job as of this evening) that they let run the place on the weekends isn't quite as competent as he thinks he is (Let me just say this; I realize I may be the most arrogant s.o.b. on the planet, but put up against this guy I would be a candidate for sainthood for my works of humility). He missplacd a decimal place in the estimate, and so instead of charging me for 1,100.00 part and service combo, he told me it was 110.00. OOPS!!

Turns out that they are decent people at the Mini dealership and took it like men. They swallowed hard and basically cut my total payment in half when it was all said and done. I tried not to giggle to hard as I left.

Today's Tally:

Automobile Racket: 0

Me: 1

All Work and No Play...

I am sitting at my desk, a cool red-number from Ikea that is shaped like a peanut, which must mean that I am studying, but I am going to take a brief sojourn away from Thomas Mann and Robert Frost (maybe a little more Heidegger later for desert) and throw out some observations about the debate last night.

- Did anyone notice that John McCain was incapable of looking at Barack Obama when he was speaking about him? It was obvious in the first minutes of the debate that the moderator was interested in the two addressing each other personally, and Obama took to this like a fish to water, but McCain would not make eye-contact. I found this, if nothing else, really strange. I realize that he is not nervous - he has been doing it too long - but he certainly appeared uncomfortable, whereas Obama seemed right at home.

- Funny line of the night (it even made Obama audibly giggle): "Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the's hard to reach across the aisle when you're that far to the Left." Very clever.

- A quick question of protocol: Is it okay to refer to yourself as a Maverick? That seems like the kind of thing that is acceptable to be dubbed as by another person, but to continually reference yourself by a nickname seems...well...wrong. It is like the football player who refers to himself as "Moose" rather than his real name. It comes across as laughable.

- Two moderator comments: 1. Did he not seem a little outmatched in this setting? He was too timid and lacked a credibility as one who should be in charge of the debate at times. It was especially off-putting in the beginning when he was all but begging the two candidates to attack each other personally a-la Jerry Springer. 2. (and I am sure that the FoxNews talking-heads have picked up on this already) He sure seemed to differ to Obama a lot. He was fair with the direct aiming of questions to both candidates equally, but he instinctively shot his glance towards Obama when the rapid-fire responses would ensue. More than once he even cut-off McCain when he deemed it necessary to go on to another question, but he almost always allowed Obama to get his last word in.

- I was very nervous for McCain throughout the evening, because as the 90-minutes wore on there had been no direct exploitation of his P.O.W. experience. The moderator even gave him the perfect lead-in when he asked about Vietnam, but, for maybe the first time ever, McCain did not hijack the opportunity insert his prisoner experience. Thank God that he was able to shoehorn it into the conversation almost as the proverbial buzzer sounded....whew, disaster averted.

- Do you think that Obama will ever take the flag from his lapel again? If he is elected, will there ever be a time that we don't see it? Do you think there is a person on his staff whose sole job is to ensure its proper placement? How many of them do you think he owns?

- I'm tired of the bracelet-thing. Enough out of both of you!

- Too many failed one-liners out of McCain. I will give him credit that they tapered off as the night progressed, but particularly in the beginning, he kept attempting these pithy soundbites that failed miserably.

That's enough for now. Back to the books.

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