Saturday, March 01, 2008


Last Sunday found me back home in NYC. For the time being. Not really grounded; I am quite free to leave at the slightest whim, so I tell myself. But while the wanderlust may not be totally sated, sometimes even the biggest travel bugs find appeal in staying in one place for a good three month stretch. That doesn't at all mean, however, that future adventures aren't already in the works: Possibly da UP in early June, Scandinavia in August... what all will the future hold?

Feet and place have found their connection, and as the jet lag dissipates, the head is slowly catching up. I'm always entertained by the degree of culture shock experienced even coming back from a place as westernized as urban Germany. Being kerplopped down amidst the silliest of hipster playgrounds in the known universe only enhances the sensation. I have thought at many instances these last few days about the beginning of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, specifically Arthur's line following the "Knights of the Round Table" musical number:

"On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place."

Not that Germans don't have their share of silly going for them, but we're speaking simply of gradients here.

FoodI've found that a certain portion of my Deutschland withdrawal has been culinary. Breakfast, lunch, and intermittent snacking consistently included either a piece of bread or a toastie (English muffins for the rest of us) topped with a number of combinations of creamcheese, other cream dips/sauces (they have so many!), salami or sausages, tomatoes, and mettwurst. I'm not sure how many of these things are particularly German or just favorites of the household, but the latter clearly is. I've grown quite an affinity for mettwurst, a raw, smoked, cured, and spreadable sausage. It's not the easiest thing to find on this side of the ocean, but thanks to the Polish meat markets around here, not impossible either. Regardless of German-ness, tomato and cream cheese on a toastie as become a staple of the breakfast process, and thankfully easy to continue.

LaugenbroetchenAnother recently-formed addiction is that of laugenbrötchen. It's heavy, the satisfaction that comes from these guys, maybe even heavier than mettwurst. And what's worst about them (ha) is that I can't seem to find them anywhere around here. They're dangerous, possibly the best snack ever at any time of the day: a salty, chewy bun made with the same dough as used to make pretzels, best when still glowing with a touch of warmth. Apparently they're named such because they receive a coating with a lye solution before baking (Lauge = lye). Who knew? While this doesn't seem like the most logical of practices, it sure tastes good, so I see no reason to complain. And it doesn't hold a candle to the senselessness of lutefisk.

Though I did indulge in the currywurst while in Berlin as already implied, I haven't felt any such residual jones after cutting myself. Been there, done that, time to move on. Like Bill Clinton and pot.

On the other hand, I now have, uhh... 24-hour access to all the processed food I could ever want?? Yeah. Ok, good sushi. I think that's easier to find here. Especially good sushi right around the corner from my front door. Maybe houses of adventurous culinary practice as well. Indeed. New York is great.

Ok, I could've used another week or so in Berlin, a night train to Prague, or maybe a quick hop over to Greece or back to Lisbon. Once into the groove of traveling, it's hard to accept its conclusion. But I'm here, spring in New York is fast approaching, and there's no lack of things to do around these parts. As mentioned before, there are plenty of Euro-brain-droppings queued up in this head of mine, and I shall work through my unsettled separation by voiding them here. And so, from the Greenpoint control room, until the next.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Endlich, Hab' Ich Sie Gefunden!

Way back in the day, in a land far, far away, I dwelt in this institution known to us from the States as High School. I refer here to my final year, and specifically to my fourth year of German class. One of our largest year-end projects was to divvy up into groups and make movies. As with such open ended, little-to-do-with-the-class-at-hand types of projects, our group went above and beyond and turned a simple-enough project into a major production, requiring many man-hours to complete as well as a cast of thousands. Ok, tens. Our movie was a spoof on the grand theme of Indiana Jones: Baden-Wurttemberg Jones and the Search for the Golden Bratwurst. We named him after one of the 16 states in Germany, the one which name we felt was most likely to elicit a comic reaction from a room full of 17- and 18-year-olds. Yours truly had the extreme pleasure of playing the starring role: the first, the last, and the only. And in place of a holy grail or Arc of the Covenant, what more perfectly German than a legendary gilded sausage?

Well, little did we know that if it wasn't necessarily a golden BRATWURST we were after but a golden CURRYWURST instead, finding it would have been as easy as taking the S-Bahn to Hackesher Markt in Berlin, dismounting, and walking a few paces:

What I failed to capture in my excitement at that critical moment of documentation was the price. Believe it or not, a Currywurst Gold cost only €5, exactly double the price of a regular one. But I didn't go for it; I thought that those other €2 and change were better spent on a beer. What I also failed to capture are the answers to all the questions coursing through your mind — and mine — at the discovery of something so inane. For that I apologize. “...uncut with 22 kt. beaten gold”?? No way! What exactly does it MEAN!? Well, I leave tomorrow at 1 in the afternoon; perhaps we'll never know...

I guarantee you, this hasn't been the most exciting moment since my photographic encounter with the Fernsehturm three nights ago, but it's certainly up there. And yes, I intend on relating all the relevant details of the last few days, during which much has happened, including but not limited to: epic night at huge rock club, tour of the Jewish Museum Berlin, walk along the East Side Gallery and up into Friedrichschain, almost religious viewing of Wednesday's AC-Milan v. Arsenal match followed by a late-night romp through the neighborhood surrounding Zionskirche, incessant photography of graffiti, and a search for a proper busking spot which took me literally from platz to platz (Potsdamer to Alexander) with no luck. There was certainly some running and some eating in there too, but those parts aren't all that worthy of elucidation. And so, as the dust settles, it'll all come out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

...And Berlin

After years of wondering what this city was all about, here I am. I arrived yesterday in the early afternoon after a less-than-two hour, 200 km/hr train ride from Hamburg. The weather was just as mid-winter-miserable as in Hamburg the day before, but that didn't stop me from doing a bit of walk-around. And on the positive side, the drizzle and fog in the air made for some very dramatic lighting conditions, as with the opening shot of the iconic Berliner Fernsehturm in Alexanderplatz. It's funny to look at that picture and imagine that the base of that tower houses a Starbucks, and around the whole of Alexanderplatz, one can find all the favorite flavors of shopping and chain stores desired — about 50 paces behind me was a Dunkin Donuts. And I thought only America ran on...

I'm staying in an apartment in the northern reaches of Kreuzberg by the Spree, just far enough north to be in what seems to be former East Berlin from my best estimate. * It certainly has the feel of what I would expect the former east to be like, something reminiscent of what I saw in parts of Leipzig... monolithic, expressionless apartment buildings, some brightly graffiti-ed in an effort to bring about something of a pulse. And of course, a drab gray day doesn't exactly bring out the shine in a place. I've posted a few pictures from the neighborhood on my Flickr page, along with a couple others of the Fernsehturm.

It's especially satisfying for me to be here not just because of my long-held curiosity, but also because I've made gestures towards the idea of living here soemday based on the rumors of a lively art scene and the opportunity to gain fluency in German. Back in the summer of 2003 when I knew I wanted to leave Ann Arbor, there were three plans of flight at three different levels of difficulty: Chicago was the green circle, New York the blue square, and Berlin the black diamond. Obviously, I chose the middle road — as was probably wise. But now I'm here. Not living, but checking it out, practicing my Germany, soaking it all in. I can finally marry the reality with the fantasy.

Jewish Museum Berlin - Windows
One of the most exciting individual reasons for being here: the opportunity to finally experience the Jewish Museum Berlin, the first built building of my former employer, architect Daniel Libeskind. For 15 months, I lived with the images, drawings, and stories of this building, and felt like I almost knew it. Yesterday, I did a short drive-by at dusk. Now, it will be the third Libeskind building I have seen up close, the second I have seen completed, but the first I actually get to walk through. Stay tuned for impressions.

And with that, it's a wonder I'm still sitting inside, because it appears that we actually have a little bit of sun today. So I'm outa here. More to come...

* I've been trying to find a satisfactory map of the Berlin Wall's former location superimposed on an accurate and useful street map of the city, say a quality Google Earth hack or something, but haven't found what I really want quite yet. This is the best I've been able to do. Anyone have some better leads?

Monday, February 18, 2008

How To Spend ₤75 In A Day Without Even Trying

Yes, continuing with the trend of general disregard for proper temporal placement, we're now back in London, exactly one week ago. At the beginning of my day of trekking about the city, I stopped at an ATM (or "cash point" for the sake of regional preferences) and withdrew £80, thinking, "Well, if I really squeeze this, I might just be able to make it last until I leave on Thursday." Sure thing... Just as sure as, "Yeah, I'll go to the bar, but only for one."

  • 5.90 – Zone 1-4 day pass for Tube
  • 1.60 – Starbucks small drip coffee
  • 5.00 – Sandwich, crisps, nuts & raisins, bottle of water
  • 20.00 – Two t-shirts at Camden Market (and I talked the guy down...)
  • 7.00 – Three funky voodoo doll keychains (also from Camden Market, also talked the guy down. Always gotta score some good gomi. Pictured: my Samurai St. Christopher)
  • 1.00 – Postcards (4)
  • 3.00 – One pint, to promote the penning of postcards
  • 34.00 – Dinner at a Moroccan restaurant in a relatively normal neighborhood

Sadly enough, I had but a fiver come the end of the day. Ahh my dear London, I fear I cannot visit you for any longer stretches of time unless I'm somehow earning pounds, or an exorbitant amount of dollars. When the New Yorkers wince, you know it's bad... just double for dollars.

Why didn't this ultra-simple posting appear sometime last week? I felt it appropriate to accompany it with a handful of pictures from the day in the form of a Flickr set, which pictures I finally got around to editing last night. And so, please enjoy 24 Hours In London at your leisure.

Considering that it's as gray and damp and gloomy here in Hamburg as I initially thought it would be every day, it's a perfect day for sitting around a domicile, listening to lugubrious music, and catching up on tasks left heretofore undone. Maybe this afternoon I'll finally get around to those Lisbon pics I was talking about way back when...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bobby's Back!

Good morning and happy weekending to all! As it's a hair past noon here, a tiny part of me actually misses the familiar sounds of Jonathan Schwartz's self-indulgent voice and song choices which err a bit on the side of treacle. But I'm quite happy here with Sam Cooke's Night Beat instead, and thoroughly appreciate the irony that it was on Schwartz's Saturday Show where I first heard a track from it — the sparse and transfixing "Lost And Lookin'." Godly. I've been listening to a ton of Sam lately, and the more I listen the more I love...

I was taking a shower yesterday evening and the radio in the bathroom was tuned to Hamburg's oldies station — probably the only tolerable station around here. Standard fare for what Germans consider "oldies" continued for a while (ie. just about anything American recorded between the 50s and 80s) and then the familiar strains of "Bobby Brown Goes Down" crept past the curtain. Now, the first time I heard this raunchy Frank Zappa anthem over the public airwaves in Germany, I was both shocked and seriously amused, especially given the context of a Frankfurt department store (remember??). This time around it didn't have quite the sting, but still elicited a chuckle, smirk, and shake of the head.

Sheik Yerbouti
At this point, it would take a real banger to shock me here. Something like another one of Zappa's classics off the same album,
"Broken Hearts Are For Assholes." (Children and schoolmarms, please be advised: do NOT follow that last link.) Wrist-watch, crisco. Yeah. But I think even these folks have the taste to realize how absolutely wrong it would be to expose innocent women, children, old folks, and Christians to that one. We'll see. One week left...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hin Und Her

The happiest of happy Valentine's Days to everyone who might be reading this today. Despite the fact that cynicism on this special day won't grow old until long after I do, I shall endeavor for one time to steer clear of it. I can guarantee you though, nothing says V-Day quite like traveling, especially the part where you sit in an airport for a couple hours 'cause your flight has been delayed. London is now behind me, as are the three days of perfect weather and the lion's share of my bank account, and Hamburg lies seemingly near on the horizon, but never gets any nearer as I plod along. My apologies if I should trail off suddenly here and there, I'm trying to keep my eye on the announcement board to see when we'll have an airplane...

I expected Luton to be a much worse experience all around. It's really not that bad. Much better than Heathrow with it's histrionic security measures and hour long trek on the Piccadilly line. Luton is smaller, easier, and seemingly closer: my express train this afternoon took only 20 minutes from St. Pancras, compared to the longer hauls out to Gatwick and Stanstead. Even a local only takes 35. Certainly, one benefits if St. Pancras is within easy reach of their residence, it being situated centrally yet north-ish. It was great for arriving on Sunday evening and heading out to Tottenham (NNE), just a few stops on the Victoria line. Journeying from the absolute other side of town today — Chiswick (SW) — consumed a fair portion of the afternoon.

New York isn't the only city in which significant transportational delays come about when granny forgets her purse and it suddenly transforms into a suspicious package requiring the bomb squad to offload and dispose of it. I was overjoyed to be stuck on the District line yesterday for a a solid stretch of minutes (yes, only minutes) while an unattended package was investigated and, presumably, disposed of. But, given the history, I suppose we NYC-dwellers are the ones who inherited the suspicious package practice from the Brits and not the other way around. I'm just thankful that one doesn't find any "IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING" posters plastered around the tube. In their place are a series of ads for volunteer policemen:

Volunteer Popo
But how exciting is it really to discuss trains and transportation when you get down to it? My readers, being a cultured pair of chaps, require a much more refined and sophisticated stimulation to find satisfaction: Booze. Sex. Rock and roll. Foolish acts of heroism. Well, we'll get to it all eventually. One day at a time...

Back in May, a good friend of mine haphazardly introduced me to the King's Head Tavern, if only by suggesting that we meet at the Angel tube in Islington, then walk around until we found a suitable place for a couple pints. It's a fascinating hub of the neighborhood, with a theatre in back and one of the most welcoming, warm pubs that I've found in London up front. Even fully pressurized with cigarette smoke in May, it was still a wonderful stop for a pint and a chat — clean air puts it up and over. I try to stop by every time I'm back in London. Most nights, they have some form of live music in the pub, a variety of bands from rock to folk to blues to jazz, which play in a hazily-defined corner-slash-stage in a corner near the front door.

When I stopped in Tuesday night, it was blues. And not just blues, one of the most honest and inspired live renderings of electric Chicago blues that I've heard from a band not directly connected to the Chicago Blues lineage. Now, it's no surprise that I would find great blues in England, what with the tradition begun in the 60s by Eric Clapton, John Mayall, The Rolling Stones, et al, but what really floors me is that I have to come all the way from New York to London in order to find it. Doubtless, it would be unfair to claim it impossible to find great-sounding blues anywhere in the US of A, but I can say from experience that finding it in New York is just about impossible. Readily available is a steady stream of weekend warriors from Long Island for whom the Blues began with Stevie Ray Vaughan and was refined by the likes of George Thorogood, bassists with 6-string Warwicks and SWR stacks, drummers who couldn't play a proper shuffle if it would bring eternal peace to Earth. Over and over the 12 bars they go, grinding subtlety, groove, and reverence into the ground one chorus at a time. I spent many hours at blues jams when I first moved to the city, trying to find my entrée to the grand scene of New York. I remember it well.

The band on Tuesday was led by a guy named Erik Ranzoni, and featured the relentless drumming of Alan Savage, one who sinks his teeth into the groove and doesn't let go for the duration of the gig no matter how much it shakes. No frills, no flash, it's exactly what that music needs, and it's surprising at how difficult it can be to find in the states. Sans bass player, they played as a quartet of piano/vox, guitar, harp, and drums, and one never missed the bass; chalk it up to a strong left hand and a keen-eared guitarist. * All together, it was about the best surprise I could hope for wandering into a pub on a Tuesday evening. I wanted to play, but the saxophone had chosen to remain in Hamburg for a few days. She tells me she's a little weary of traveling.

Well, I hope that everyone is having (had?) a wonderful Valentine's Day evening, and that all you travelers are having more luck than I. Don't get screwed by the airlines, twist it around to your benefit: go ahead, you know you wanna join that illustrious Mile High Club. Take it out with a bang!

* I would mention the names of the guitar player and harmonica blower (a nod to Charles), but they elude me. Sorry, guys.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em

As I settled into my seat on Sunday evening for the short EasyJet hop over to London, the series of usual announcements blurred with other ambient noises of an aircraft in pre-flight preparation. I took pause at one: "We'd like to remind you that this is a non-smoking flight." Sure, of course it is. But that led me to wonder, are there any flights in this world nowadays which actually do permit smoking? I certainly haven't been on one, but then, I also haven't ever flown with some backwoods airline that still flies DC-3s on some domestic flight in Nepal. Or business class in southeast Asia, for that matter.

A query of "smoking airline" on The Google returned this prospective airline, Smoker's International Airline (Smintair), the brainchild of — you guessed it — a German businessman. As the name would suggest, their flights would not only allow for but cater to the needs of a smoking clientele — but, according to this CNN article, non-smokers would also be encouraged to fly. Ha. But why stop there? From the same article, quoting the company website: "Non-smokers will find the cabin air more refreshing than on any other flight with any other airline, as Smintair adds fresh outside air to the conditioning system."


As I sit outside at a sidewalk cafe on Islington High Street, inhaling the fumes from the jerk-off puffing away next to me, I think, man, you guys are really stretching. I got something for you to put in your pipe and smoke...

A spokesman from anti-smoking group ASH had this to say about the airline: "Hopefully it will hit the ground faster than a flightless turkey." Seeing as how the article dates from August 1, 2006, and here we are in February of 2008 with no Smintair flights crossing the skies, I'd say he was right.

But the initial question lingers... If I wanted to throw in the towel, start smoking again, and fly around the world with a butt depending incessantly from my lower lip, could I really live the fantasy!? Here is where the differentiation between "reporter" and "casual blogger" presents itself. The answer? I think I could, but I'd have to spend all of my time on flights that had absolutely nothing to do with the US of A, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Probably most of Western Europe too. Fair nuff, that still leaves a whole lot of interesting places to cover. I'm having a hard time dredging up current information, but each of these pages (page 1, page 2) from 2003 provide tables which show, by airline and region, where you can smoke and where you can't. I would assume that at least a few of those smoking-friendly flights are still around five years later, but the answer remains inconclusive. I'll see if I can find anything slightly more determinate; feel free to comment if you have any leads.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Trav'ling Man

An international airport at end of day Sunday can be one hell of a lonely place. Though architecturally curvy and modern and semi-fascinating, you could've heard a pin drop at good old Fuhlsbüttel as I sat at the bar, its solo patron, and tossed back one last pils before launching off to London. I wouldn't claim that I every really enjoy airports at any time, but there's an optimal density of travelers for which they've been designed. When the proper number of people are flowing through the space, it has that happy, resonant feeling, something akin to cruising down a highway in an Audi doing 80, or finally settling into the 3rd mile of a run. More people than that, it's chaotic and stressful; less, it's sad and lethargic.

This was my first time flying with EasyJet. I got to hand it to those budget airlines, they keep the bullshit to a minimum. Though I wasn't exactly standing vigilant with a stopwatch, I believe it took just under 40 minutes for our aircraft to pull up to the gate in Hamburg, deplane, board our flight, and depart. Seems that's pretty good timing for any airline. The fares are shockingly affordable, as long as one books early (which I did not do) and travels light (which I did do, finally). A previous flight with Ryan Air taught me the pains and expenses tacked onto one's travel experience if they choose to travel with a musical instrument AND a checked bag. Double hell. This time, it's light and easy: one small duffel and a computer bag. I could get used to this...

Though being an American in Europe these days has its obvious drawbacks, it has a few perks, perhaps the most appreciated one being passport control following a channel-jump. After deplaning, one finds themselves in one of two lines at customs: EU Passport Holders, and Non-EU. When the Non-EU line sports ten people as opposed the to the several hundred in other, my citizenship gives me a happy feeling. Of course, one then buys a train ticket to London for £9.20 and realizes that they just dropped almost $20. The pleasure fades.

A train from Luton takes about an hour during the late-evening hours of Sunday and terminates at the newly-refurbished St. Pancras station. I believe I was here in October when it opened, boasting the new EuroStar service which links London and Paris in a stupidly small yet almost reasonably priced amount of time. It's quite a beautiful space, ethereal in quality and somehow lacking in the depth of loneliness felt in the Hamburg airport, even when just as empty. Though the largest contributor to the ethereal effect may be simply a blue paint job on the steel trusses and clever lighting, it feels good. Job well done. It's worthy to note that I already have a predilection for the generic European train station, with vaulted, trussed-and-skylit canopies shielding a rank of tracks. Though arguably no more than glorified poll barns, I love them. They're open, bright, airy, grand, and smell of travel. Each major city here has multiple; New York offers only Grand Central, indisputably beautiful, yet comparatively dark and subterranean. Penn Station need not be mentioned.

I was slick enough to catch the last Victoria Line tube of the evening with seconds to spare, which involved a mad dash down hallways, stairways, and escalators, and still manage to snap a few pictures of the station. £4 took me to my destination of Seven Sisters, and the journey was complete, bringing the total for the trains to almost $30. If I compare it with the $7 it would take to get from JFK to my Brooklyn flat, I cry a little. So I'll compare it instead with the $35 cab ride for an equivalent, think fondly of my customs experience, and feel a little better about life.

Self Googlage: Follow-Upt

Appending the posting a couple titles down, it appears that shortening up my first name makes all the difference. Nope, no letters from massage therapists or Sing Sing prison guards, I got slots one, three, and four. Mine, all mine!! How do ya like THEM apples? Thanks to those who who have worked however unintentionally to make this happen. Now I gotta just slap a lil' SEO up on this mofo and get things happening with my full name as well...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Also Sprach Herr Luther

My sources in New York have told me that there've been a smattering of 60+°(F) days recently. Or maybe one or two. Today may have reached 60º here in Hamburg, but I can guarantee that it beat the pants off any 60° February day in New York. Indeed, Central Park on the oddball warm winter day is a sight to behold, but it can't contend with the Alster, which I decided to circumnavigate this afternoon — along with nearly half of the population of greater Hamburg. I wouldn't associate the notion of challenge with this effort were it not the case that I had joined the 2% of the population who were running and not walking, strolling, strollering, or biking. Think McCarren Park track on a Sunday afternoon but far busier and much better scenery. Can't say it wasn't fun, even if it stunted my pace a bit.

I've happily discovered that one full podcast of WFMU's Downtown Soulsville show is of perfect length for a few minutes of pre-run pump-up and then the 45-50 minutes it takes to make my way around all 9K or so of Alster shore. Nothing like a bunch of dusty, funky soul singles to keep the pace up and soundtrack the hurdling of strollers. A few days back I used Zeppelin II, which may in fact be better; a shame there's not a new Zep podcast available every week.

Podcasts, Skype, email, blogs
, a different SIM-card in every country... it's struck me while traveling around during the last year how easy it is to disengage from the surroundings and maintain virtual contact with other side of the world. One could easily spend three weeks in Germany without truly spending any of it "in Germany." It's strange to imagine that only ten years ago, one's options for contact with the homeland would be limited to very expensive phone calls, a book of CDs, the occasional English language TV channel, and maybe a non-dubbed movie. Then, one would have to make an effort to withdraw from the local scene and contact the homeland; now it seems reversed. I've been guilty to an extent, between podcasts of favorite state-side radio shows, my own music, The Wire, and a regular flow of emails, but I make an effort to maintain that balance between "comfort food" and immersion in the local language and culture — especially so here in Germany, as I would love to become fluent in the language someday, and that clearly won't happen by sitting around the apartment typing up blog postings in English.

It shocks me every time how quickly the language not only comes back but improves! Even one week in, the difference is remarkable. When in the country, I soak up the language like a brining pork butt soaks up flava. Granted, I'm still climbing from one rung of crappy Deutsch to another, but every day a little higher. It takes about a day or two to dispense with the reticence and just speak, dammit. Of course I'm going to make mistakes and say silly things. But there's nothing like making a solid mistake to learn the right way of putting something together. The funny ones, though, I keep around for comedic effect. I can't say I'd be fluent if I stuck around for a year, but I'd be hangin' solid.

I'm constantly practicing as I walk around, which probably looks and/or sounds incredibly silly to any passing 'burgers. I'll pronounce words I see on signs, try to get the sounds right, or repeat a sentence over and over that I may have had trouble with at the last cafe. Maybe it's just one word, much less a sentence, or a set that are orthographically similar to the point of causing troubles. I recently had to consciously tone it down when repeating “wichtigste” (most important) over and over. As with “Röhre” (pipes) in Leipzig. And I got a couple strange looks while cycling through “zeichnen, zeigen, ziehen, Zehen, Zähne” (draw, show, pull, toes, teeth). Hey, a man gotta do...

A problem often arises when I speak to someone auf Deutsch with proper grammar and a decent accent: they speak it back. Quickly. I'm growing accustomed to cutting in and saying “noch mal, bitte” (again, please), “langsam” (slower), or “verstehe nicht” (I don't understand), which either effects a slower, easier-vocabularied response, or one in English, the latter of which can be frustrating. Waiting for that point where I'll be able to understand people speaking at a pace more brisk than narcotic is like waiting for that day where my fingers finally understand how to switch from chord to chord on guitar. But I'll keep on with it until things start to click. Or I decide to learn Portuguese instead.