Germany: A Smoker’s Paradise

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[This post was inspired by Sherbet and Sparkles Thoughts on Smoking!]

After living in New York for over 3 years and not visiting my home country for one full year, coming back to Germany was a surprise in many ways. And, to be frank, more negative than positive ones.

For one, vegetarianism really isn’t as pronounced as I had remembered it to be. Being a veggie from 8 years of age and on, I’ve found that, for the most part, my homeland only offers one or two meager options a la carte when eating out. If even. Once we wanted to grab lunch at a Greek place in a small Eifel town. We literally had to leave the place after 5 minutes because their entire menu contained meat. Even after inquiring if there were meatless options, the owner of the joint denied, without even offering a half-hearted attempt of accommodating his vegetarian customers.

Then, the people on the Autobahn can become really freaking annoying. I mean, being legally allowed to drive 240 km/h should make some people fell less agitated about having to slow down occasionally before they hit a traffic jam or heavily populated area. But no, just in order to do that 10km/h over the speed limit, they almost collide with every fellow driver in front of them and try to drive them off the road. Not enough that they are already honking their horns and wildly gesticulating for the driver ahead to see in his rear mirror. Nope, they have to get real close and almost cause an accident, so that he will fearfully move out of the way.

Finally, among a few more things, smoking in public has become a great nuisance. After getting used to not being surrounded by second-hand smoke for what felt like an eternity, it was almost a shock to experience smoking culture in a typical German bar. In New York, it’s been the law for a decade to take your cigarette outside (not in an outdoor food area, though). No one even complains about this anymore; perhaps only when it’s really cold outside, but that makes the people want to smoke less, which is a healthy side effect considering that smoking can kill, right?! Experiencing how American youth and culture thinks about smoking nowadays was a true eye opener in the beginning. I am pretty sure that the smoking rates here are not as high as they are in Europe, especially when it comes to countries such as France, Austria, and Germany. Not to mention Eastern Europe… Now, I know Europe can be behind in some things. Smoking might be one of these.

Germany’s indoor smoking ban came into effect in 2007 in some states and was mostly implemented by the end of 2008 in most states. What was the result of not being legally allowed to smoke indoors? Two options when it came to night life establishments: 1) Smoking outdoors on the street; 2) Having a disclosed area in a restaurant or bar, in which smokers can peacefully smoke and not bother non-smokers. Or so was the idea. And what has become of it? A complete disaster!

Lots of memories are connected to how things used to be. For example, I used to reek of smoke whenever I was a teenager and came home from a party. It wasn’t possible to go to bed until I’ve taken a shower or somehow deposited the clothes far away from me. Yes, second-hand smoke always had some unpleasant side effects.

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But nowadays, because of these so-called smoking rooms, the smoke is even more confined to a small area. Sometimes it’s not even completely isolated from the rest of the establishment, as I found out the hard way. When going out in Schwetzingen with my dear friend, we ended up at a bar with life music. It was not until we had the desire to use their restroom that we noticed the pitfall: People were standing in the corridor leading from the main bar room to the toilets and smoking their lungs out. Needless to say that just going through that thing once or twice a night was a torture by itself. Now, instead of having the smoke float through an entire room, it was restricted to a small area, making it almost unbearable to pass through. And it was not the only bar with such a “high-end” solution when it came to self-serviced smoking rooms. Why can Germans not just go outside instead of ruining an entire nightlife experience? It certainly ticked me off that night.

Berlin was slightly better in the sense of most people smoking outdoors. But Berlin is really close to Eastern Europe and a transit point when flying through the city. Just while waiting at the airport on my very last day, I was pretty annoyed by the amount of smokers surrounding me. It was one of those beautifully warm days and my flight wasn’t going until another two hours or so. All I wanted to do is sit outside and take in my last moments in the Hauptstadt. Propped on a small chair, I saw one smoker after another exiting Tegel, deliciously inhaling their cancer sticks while they were waiting for their taxi or catching a bus. I just didn’t get it. Was it not possible for these people to go without their beloved cigarettes for just one day? I couldn’t help but think about all the money spent on useless packs of cigarettes. Money that could be invested elsewhere, be it a nice dinner, clothes, or cosmetics.

For once, smoking in Germany really bothered me when being back and I’ve come to notice how little people do it elsewhere, especially in the US. If only my home country could reach a similar mentality when it comes to this subject… It made me sick to see 40-year-old women tightly gripping their cigarette while their skin in their face was making them look 10 years older. Or the smokers’ cough I occasionally heard when strolling down the streets. Really, people? They’re killing you, but you still won’t let go of your beloved cigs!

Hurricane Sandy – Day 1: Still Before but Somehow in the Middle

Frankenstorm has finally arrived. I decided to walk around Park Slope at around 1 PM in the afternoon…. Luckily I did my laundry yesterday already, because, alas, the only laundromat close to my building was closed, of course! They decided to call it the quits yesterday around 6 PM. By that time, the MTA had made the decision to shut down and the bus system was scheduled to ride at 9 PM for the last time. No trains and busses for almost 24 hours. I suppose this is what New York feels like during just another one of their hurricanes… This time it actually is not as bad as the year before. I have a ton of bar and restaurant options to choose from.

So I walked up to 5th Ave, since the bars on 4th Ave were closed down and no bodega was open. However, 5th Ave rocks! 5 bars in my vicinity and all of them are defying the storm that is safely picking up to its predicted speed of 90 MPH.

Of course I picked Uncle Barry’s, which was a deserted place early in the afternoon. However, the bartender came up with the one and only justifiable drink during that day: The hurricane! Made of 4 types of rum and a pink juice topped with a sweet cherry. Looked girly, tasted sweet, and hours later I am still feeling its effects.

Rightfully earned Hurricane drink!

After this, I walked past the packed Alchemy, which offered Sunday brunch and great Bloody’s. Then the rain started to pour down, so I sprinted back home. Just in time for some breaking headlines on the news at that time (actually, they are still reporting about it): Construction crane collapses in midtown!
Supposedly a crane on top of a 95 million dollar real estate project had not been lowered in time and is still dangling over 57th street, threatening to hit passengers who shouldn’t be out on the street and taking pictures with their iPhones in the first place. So beware of the bad crane, it might hit you people walking underneath it on 57th Street and between 7th and 6th Avenue…

Seeing some wet pictures of Long Island and Long Branch Beach made me slightly uneasy. I felt sorry for the poor reporters who had to waddle through knee-high water just to get the real shots of the day… Long Island always seems to be the main target when it comes to flooding (sorry, Queens, you are always screwed!). This is why I decided to keep my millions to myself and stay safe and sound in North Brooklyn!

Other than this, friends seemed to be more bored than usual on the one and only other option to mingle – Facebook. I have the choice between answering my worried friends in Germany, who, after these dumb headlines from a German newspaper, are freaking out even more than I am. Not to mention the rest of America who is avidly praying for… us? We are okay, people, we are just fine!

My one friend has been baking cookies in the Upper West Side and invited her neighbors over for a party. My other friend is bored up in Dykman and keeping us updated about “rats climbing trees in Staten Island.” Those rats are wonder creatures! My cousin has been roasting a whole chicken and baking pies in Philly. I hope they are going to be okay, they don’t even have bars open to celebrate.

Wet streets in Park Slope

Other friends are just waiting it out in Crown Heights. I heard someone talk about wanting the subways to run again and return to work. Oh by the way, some jobs are even more incredible than mine: A friend was required to come into work because she lives “only” 20 blocks away (Manhattan). Others have been asked to do work from home. Excuse me? Possibly the power shutdown will prevent employers from coming up with more nonsense. ConEd has turned off the juice in Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn already. People received a lame voice message on their phones before they were left to the dark. Which is why I want to bring this post up before the real deal goes down and I cannot roast my own chicken anymore.

So here I am, about to cook up some dinner and watching more breaking news with the roomies. Sirens howling in the background, winds gushing past our window. The tree across the street swaying dangerously towards us and the small car parked beneath it… Hurricane Sandy, bring it on! Luckily the fridge still has some beer…

Exploring Brooklyn: Red Hook

I can picture the look on your face! “Red Hook,” you might be thinking, “What on Earth is there to see in Red Hook?”
What, has this never been on your top priority list of things to do in New York? No?!

I hope not. The only reason fellow New Yorkers know of Red Hook is because of the one and only Ikea in this area. It can be reached via ferry from the Manhattan side and through a bus shuttle from Brooklyn (Queens and the Bronx are out of luck on this one!).

A coworker recommended I go check out Red Hook. Unknowing of the area, I decided to do this on a warm early fall day – just the right time to go take my camera for a walk and shoot some pictures of the neighborhood. The trip over there was already part of the adventure: I got in on 5th Avenue and 10th Street, after searching for the mysterious bus number B77, which seems to not be running from the Slope to Red Hook anymore. Then I asked a little boy next to me for directions to the “bars and restaurants” in that area and he looked completely overwhelmed. After I had turned away and silently cursed myself for asking a little boy of ten years, he tapped me on the shoulder and cheerfully claimed that there was indeed a bar right next to “his” apartment! What a goofball!
A young man’s fantasy certainly did not make me want to get off the bus, as the route goes directly through the “ghetto”part, which is an area filled with brown stones and prone to bad history. Poor boy, I hope he doesn’t have to be cautious of fights or prove himself every day he wants to get back into his place!

A stop later I finally got off, determined to check out that “culinary mile” in Red Hook my coworker had mentioned. But before getting lost for the second time I carefully asked some passerbys who looked at each other confusedly and then pointed me in the direction of Van Brunt Street. When approaching it, I ran past many cute houses originating from another century. The area is obviously geared towards family life, I would assume. Another drawback for especially younger people is that Red Hook is hardly reachable by subway, so you have to rely on an unsteady bus schedule or own a car (which most young people in New York do not have!).
Van Brunt Street is cute to look at even though there is not much to see. I think I came across one fisherman’s bar and one other restaurant. A cute wine shop had opened up along that area and hosted a cute selection of domestic and foreign bottles.

Since I was determined to prove that I hadn’t made the trip out for nothing, I just walked down Van Brunt all the way through to the end, past the huge grocery store Fairway, past some seedy looking smokers staring at their feet, and even past the notorious IKEA, until I came to a lovely harbor area. There was nothing to do here, not a store or a bar could be found, or anything else to walk into, but I had a nice view onto the East River and I also saw old-school New York subway cars in tram wagon style. As I drew closer, something rustled in the inside and all of a sudden a drunk homeless man staggered out of it. Yicks! Scared to death I ran off, down Van Brunt Street again, until I found the first bus stop.

Trying not to be discouraged by the past hour I had unsuccessfully searched Red Hook for a culinary highlight and still confused at where Red Hook’s flair lies I gave it another shot and asked a group of young people if they knew of any good restaurants in this area. They told me to take the bus with them until Columbia Street and then get off there.

So, Columbia Street is supposed to be another recommendation and indeed they do have a temptingly-good-looking Middle-Eastern, an Italian, and an Asian restaurant, but I am unsure if this belongs to Cobble Hills already or can still be categorized under “Red Hook.”

To come back to my previous first sentence: I came to Red Hook, I saw Red Hook, and I am still not impressed. Guess the general opinion is right: There is not too much going on over there. But don’t hesitate to hop off the bus earlier and explore Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, the neighboring areas! They are very awesome!

For a few more shots on Red Hook, go to A PICTURE EVERY DAY.