coffee in a porcelain mug on a wooden table
Photo by Larsomat via Flickr

Choo choo ch’boogie

Martin is on vacation, lives nearby, and had the time so…

Wanna meet for lunch? I ask.

Sure, he replies.

When he says that he’ll need about an hour and a half to get ready and get over to my place, I laugh at him.

You’re such a girly-man, I tease.

He makes it in an hour.

It’s a gorgeous spring day, so I am certain that the outdoor cafés will be crowded. Which choice? Thai, Chinese, Italian, German, French, Tex-Mex, Japanese, Indian—and those are the choices just within a couple of blocks of me.

I offer them up by continent: Asia, Europe or the Americas?

We settle on the nearby Tex-Mex restaurant and even score the one outdoor table remaining. Good eye, Martin.

We both have our books with us: Otherland by Tad Williams for me and, for Martin, Kaltblütig, the German translation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Martin and I had seen the movie a number of weeks ago just before Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar for his performance. It was my second time seeing the movie. Hoffman is amazing.

I want to just share some quiet time with our books, but Martin is feeling chatty. Twelve members of his family are coming into town next week, and he’s trying to pull together an itinerary of river boats, restaurants and…

Museums, I offer.

He scoffs. For family?

I bob my head in understanding and spear another spicy taste of barbacoa.

Here in Germany, you can sit at tables for hours without even a moment’s harassment from restaurant staff or other patrons. You are expected to take your time.

Martin and I sit, nibble, talk and, yes, read until the sun moves away and we feel the chill of the shade. It’s just in the 50s after all.

We are stuffed, so a walk seems very much in order. We decide to follow the remaining sunshine, avoiding the shaded sides of the streets until we are far deeper into the neighborhood than I had gone before. I am surprised by what I see. I think Marianne, my landlady (the German, “meine Vermieterin” sounds better to my ears) had wanted to warn me about just some of the streets after dark, but what I remember her saying is “go north, south or west but don’t go east.” Nein, nein, nein.

But Martin and I are chasing sunbeams into the East and the streets feel so new. No, the ubiquitous graffiti is there. As is the litter, the dog poop and the discarded cigarette butts. But the shops and restaurants are all so new to me I feel guilt about not having really seen the neighborhood that I crow about.

We eventually make our way to Ostkreuz, the neighboring S-Bahn station. Martin points out a favorite brunch place that he’d previously told me about, when I assumed that the destination was much, much farther. The place is on a bright corner, and I want to sit for a coffee. But Martin wants to walk on, so we do.

As if the walk has given us permission to indulge, we loop back to Kaffeeladen for cake and coffee. I savor a warm brownie with plump raisins and slightly roasted walnuts (yes, nuts, Meg) served with a healthy dollop of fresh whipped cream and the most delicious coffee I’ve enjoyed in days. Martin’s so thrilled with his orange cream layer cake that his eyes are practically rolling into the back of his head with ecstasy. I’ve eaten a slice of that one before. Yes, it’s that good.

Martin and I are going to see a movie, but we can’t agree on which one. He pulls a newspaper and one of the city magazines from the wall rack, and we consider the options. He really wants to see Good Night, and Good Luck, but I saw it before I even left Washington. I’m feeling too relaxed to see anything to serious anyway, so I suggest Ice Age II.

No, says Martin, with no room for argument.

Eventually, we make a seemingly silly compromise. The Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz shows film in their original language and it has both Ice Age and Good Night, and Good Luck. The films start within minutes of each other so…

There. Settled.

There is still plenty of daylight between now and then, so I invite Martin across the street to be my first guest on the balcony.

What a joy! We pull fat living room chairs out into the sun, make ourselves some tea, and kick back to read and listen to Louis Jordan.

Headin’ for the station with a pack on my back
I’m tired of transportation in the back of my hack
I love to hear the rhythm of the clickety clack
And hear the lonesome whistle see the smoke from the stack
To pal around with democratic fellow named Mac
So take me right back to the track, Jack


Choo-choo, choo-choo, ch’boogie, woo-woo
Woo-woo, ch’boogie, choo-choo, choo-choo, ch’boogie
Take me right back to the track, Jack

Life is good.

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