It’s night before O’s third birthday and I have spent the day baking a cake and wrapping presents. I’m not cooking, I declare. We head out to the italian restaurant at the corner. The guy in the obligatory big square glasses at the table next to us is holding a wineglass full of the orangey-champagne drink that’s like an adult lollypop. I want one of those, says M. Moments later it arrives on a tray along with a platter of antipasti and spaghetti for the children. The sun is setting, we watch people walking by on the sidewalk. This is great, M says, why don’t we do this more often? Then the guy with the greasy hair and the suspenders comes around the corner. He’s a face we know from the neighborhood; we’ve lived here 19 years, he’s probably lived here all his life, but we’ve all been here longer than the guy in the big square glasses. Spare some change, he asks with his dirty hand out. M gives him a two-euro coin. And that piece of salami, he says, his long yellow fingernail nearly touching the hunk of meat. We all look at each other, not quite knowing what to say or do. No, M says, this is my dinner, you can buy something with the money I gave you. He shuffles off and R bursts into tears, angry with her callous father. I feel guilty that we have so much and others so little, she cries. We spend the rest of the evening talking about the line between a cold heart and a bleeding heart. The next day at the street festival R is planning to sell old toys and junk from our basement and donate the proceeds to charity. After she’s in bed, I go through the boxes of stuff she’s weeded out for the sale and pick out the rings: just because I really want them.



December in Germany – if you have kids – means you will find yourself more than once at the dreaded Christmas Market. You will be informed that your offspring wants to peruse the various crap for sale, eat cotton candy, ride the carousel. Buying three rides at once is cheaper. Around and around they go as your toes turn numb. Again! Again! No matter how many times, you always end up with one leftover chip in your pocket after the Christmas Market has disappeared, wondering, what now?



There is something so tragic about finding compromising images of strangers. I have to take them home with me, even though I don’t really want them around – I have enough photographs of people I know – but how could I just leave them there? That hopefull young girl in her yellow bikini languishing in a moldy cardboard box nestled between all the Nazi wedding portraits. The little boy left on top of a stack of encyclopedias (I resisted the urge to take them, too) next to a door where the dogs pee. And what monster throws their kid’s school picture out anyway?



Ah, Berlin in March. Now that the glacial covering has receded, vast swathes of slushy dog shit and piles of crushed gravel (strewn by the city in an ineffectual effort to keep us all from slipping) create an interesting obstacle course for the average pedestrian. If you lost your keys in November, now’s the time to search for them. And if you’re me and have a fetish for select kinds of garbage, it’s like Christmas. Alone on a block long walk to the mailbox I found these three treasures from the thaw.

But everytime I see a soggy rocket I’m a little sad. Berlin on New Year’s Eve is a war zone. New Year’s Day the streets are filled with the strange burnt out remains. I collected these for years in a large cracker tin when I first moved here. Then I needed the tin for something else and saved only a choice few, throwing out the bulk of the collection. So my instinct when I see a rocket is to pick it up. But I don’t. Because now, like clothes I once loved to wear but are no longer fashionable, they’ve just become something from another time and only serve to remind me that I can’t go back.



Last week I went to my friendly local taxidermy shop to see if they had any more old bug boxes. Since she was six weeks old, I’ve been taking a portrait of my daughter every six months. At first all I had to do was shake a rattle and make reassuring noises. Then we moved on to outright bribery, lollipops being the payola of choice. Now, I’ve become a sort of meditational guide (there are still lollipops involved), talking her out of the giggles, exhorting her to concentrate, encouraging her to relax. The first box is almost full, hence the trip to one of my favorite places in Berlin.

The Berliner Präparationswerkstatt is a tiny store front crammed full with the prepared remains of a variety of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. They had a shark head sitting around once. Always lots of antlers. Sometimes they’re works in-progress, as in the half-sewn-up pig I see when I walk in. The smell of formaldehyde brings up bad memories of being pelted with frog eggs in an out of control 7th grade biology class.

They do have two nice boxes for me, dusty and full of broken bits of legs and wings. After a woman in a black leather jacket comes in (I’m here for the fox, she says), I get to talking with the owner. I ask him if he ever finds the whole thing with the animals disturbing. No, it’s science, it’s fascinating, he tells me. The only thing that really gives him the creeps is when people bring in their Fluffy or Buddy to have it stuffed and mounted for display in the living room. One of the nicknames I call my daughter is Bug.