Tag Archives: Russia

Pull up a chair

A company that I teach at has recently moved offices. Unfortunately, their new conference room is a bit like a fishbowl, surrounded by around 50 other people who waste no time in gawking in at my highly entertaining lessons whenever they happen by. While I have no problems with having an audience, my Germans (believe it or not) are a little on the shy side.

As a result, they’ve decided to have their lessons in one of their offices. This would be fine but for the fact that desks, shelving units and files take up most of the space. Being the short-arse that I am, I also can’t see my students’ faces over their computer monitors. In short (ha ha), it’s not ideal but I persevere.

On Friday morning, the usual dance of manoeuvering chairs around the desks and wheeling extra chairs in from another office began.

Me: Jesus, it’s like musical chairs in here. 

Bertha: What is “musical chairs”? 

Me: Oh, you know that game that kids play. If there are six kids, there are five chairs. When the music stops, they have to stomp on each other to get a seat. 

Bertha: Oh! Yes, Germans play that, too!

Me: What’s it called in German? 

Betlinde: Stuhltanz (chair dance).

Bertha and Bertilda: NEIN! It’s “Reise nach Jerusalem”. 

Me: What? Journey to Jerusalem? 

Bertilda: Yes. 

Me: But why? What does Jerusalem have to do with anything? 

Bertilda: I know not. 

Me: Don’t know.

Bertha: Maybe they have not enough chairs in Jerusalem? 

Me: Don’t have. Hmm, it seems unlikely. Jerusalem has been in the news quite a bit recently but I don’t think I’ve seen any mention of a shortage of chairs…

Curiosity sufficiently aroused, I did a Google search when I got home. It turns out that nobody really knows where the name “Journey to Jerusalem” originated but there are a few educated guesses. It could date back to the mass migration to Jerusalem during the Crusades when space on the ships was limited. It could also refer to a military manual from Byzantine times when (yawn) Emperor Maurikios devised a method to (yaaaawn) identify enemy spies…

Curiosity sufficiently dampened, I was about to close the window when things got interesting again. Seemingly, “Stuhltanz” is the East German term, and “Reise nach Jerusalem” is what the West Germans call it. They also call it “Journey to Jerusalem” in the Philippines, probably because the Philippines are so similar to Germany in every possible way…

I’m not sure how accurate the following translations are (I found them on a website called grandparents.com) but they tickled me so here you go – a short list of what “musical chairs” is called in other languages:

Japanese:”Isu tori game”(The game of stolen chairs)

Romanian: “Pǎsǎricǎ mutǎ-ţi cuibul” (Birdie, move your nest)

Swedish: “Hela havet stormar” (The whole sea is storming)

And my personal favourite:

Russian: “Скучно так сидеть” (It’s boring sitting like this)

If anyone has any more to add to the list, I’d love to hear them. My thirst for largely useless information really does know no bounds!

 

 

 

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The Russian does Berlin

When Anna first visited me in Riga, I delighted in trying to poison her with the local Black Balzams. So, when she said she wanted to come to Berlin for more torture, I wondered what fun and games we’d get up to. Her wishlist was, thankfully, pretty straightforward. Do a boat tour, go to a couple of Christmas markets, see the Berlin Wall and, most importantly, go out and meet people or, more specifically, men.  I had absolutely no problems with that.

I briefly considered trying to hook her up with my new half-naked, opera-singing Asian neighbour. I hoped that it might shut him up for 4 to 7 minutes. Then the thought that he might get louder put that idea out of my head.

When Anna arrived, like most tourists, the first thing she wanted to do was visit the… post office. Yup, it seems that in Russia, you can’t post something and expect it to actually arrive, so good old Deutsche Post would have to step in.

Lovely, reliable German post office...
Lovely, reliable German post office…

She decided she would like to use DHL and was just about finished filling in the form when we got to the top of the queue. It was the wrong form and she had no envelope. So we left the counter, picked up some envelopes and rejoined the queue. We got to the counter again, but she should have taken the envelopes out of the packaging, filled in all of the information, and then brought it to the nice lady. So we left the counter again. Anna filled in the form, I lost patience at the thought of having to queue a third time and went outside, and Anna rejoined the queue.

I needed a drink
I needed a drink

After a massive glass of wine for me and a tiny cappuccino for Anna – the waiter actually brought her a free second cappuccino as he must have felt sorry for her with her puny drink – we set off for Gendarmenmarkt. Pretty lights, a beautiful backdrop, oodles of ridiculously cute tat, little wooden huts, sausage and Glühwein – Anna was in heaven. In fact, when the choir started singing, she even shed a few tears. Normally, this sort of behaviour might result in a slap but, even I have to admit, there is something pretty magical about Gendarmenmarkt at Christmas. (Don’t judge me.)

We hit the town where Anna was horrified to see that Germans keep their children out so late.

Me: It’s 7.30…

The next morning, we were up bright and early for breakfast. Not really. We made it in time for brunch though. I was manhandled away from my food so that Anna could take a photo of it first. As everyone knows, “if it isn’t on Instagram, it didn’t happen”. I wondered what I’d been doing for the last 37 years.

Massive German portions
Massive German portions

We’d lucked out with a truly beautiful day so it was definitely boat tour time. We arrived with seconds to spare before the 2pm tour and hopped on the boat. While I wondered what the hell was wrong with my headset, Anna hopped from side to side, photographing everything to within an inch of its life. Because, you know, if it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen…

Watching someone else run around like Usain Bolt on speed can be thirsty work, so it was off to try the Feuerzangenbowle at Charlottenburg Palace. As I’d really liked it, I thought Anna would feel the same. Judge for yourselves…

Brave little Russian lamb
Brave little Russian lamb
Uh oh...
Uh oh…
Is she going to puke?
Is she going to puke?
She can't puke in front of a palace, can she?
She can’t puke in front of a palace, can she?
Breathe, breathe, little one...
Breathe, breathe, little one…

I think we can safely say Anna will not be trying that again.

After a night spent drinking vodka with a bunch of Russian men, there’s nothing I like more than getting out of bed and going sightseeing. And so, off to the Berlin Wall we went.

Anna: Is that it? 

Me: Yes. 

Anna: Oh. 

Like my mirror image that day
Like my mirror image that day

Anna had also mentioned that she quite fancied seeing some street art (more of it), so I escorted her over to my old hood, which is quirky to say the least. I’m not sure what kind of pretty, fluffy street art she was expecting but, well, this is Berlin.

Um...
Um…

Anna: Oh my god, oh my god, what IS that?! Why is it all so scary and creepy? What does that baby have no head? Why is that little girl trying to kill her cat? Why did you bring me here? I’m going to have nightmares after this…

Me: Heh heh heh.

I brought her to a local restaurant before she passed out. I guess Moscow is fluffier than Berlin. Who knew? After finishing the buffet  her meal, Anna decided to treat herself to a cocktail. Why she ordered a Swimming Pool I’ll never know, but it prompted the barman to point out where the bathroom was, just in case. Then again, he also said that Russian men looked like East German lesbians, so he may have had a couple himself. I would never insult East German lesbians like that.

Soon, it was time for the pièce de resistance of the weekend – the ice slide at Potsdamer Platz. We met my favourite German-Venezuelan couple – Engelbert and Enrique – filled up our Glühweins with rum from Engelbert’s illicit hip flask, and it was time. The slide was a lot bigger than I remembered but (Scheiße) in for a penny, in for a pound.

You can hear the German cackling in the background. Thanks for the support, Engelbert…

So, Anna’s now back in the land of smiles and fluffiness. Thanks for visiting and I hope you had fun apart from the TERRIFYING street art…

Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone!