Sunday Afternoon at the Internationales Berliner Bierfestival (2019)

Yesterday, Erica and I and our friends Gregor Gregorov and L. went to the 23. Internationales Berliner Bierfestival to see what it was all about.

The first thing you do when you go there is you buy a beer mug for €3.50. To fill up the mug it costs anywhere from €2.50-4.00 depending on the kind of beer you get, and there is a mile-long avenue of tents to choose from with beers from all over the world. The first beer I got was a brown ale from Scotland, which I quite liked. In fact, it was probably the best tasting beer I had all day because I made the mistake of choosing beers for their high alcohol percentage rather than for their prospective palette-pleasing qualities. My second was some kind of Kellerbier (cellar beer) which I liked not so much because of the way it tasted (not enough hops), but rather because it was served at a lower temperature than the others, and I was sweating in the afternoon sun. My third beer was Cannabis-ginger flavored. It didn’t get me high. Nor did it’s taste appeal to me. It was too sickly sweet, but I forced it down and afterwards stood in line at a little stand that was advertising Schwarzbier aus Böhmen (Trans: dark beer from Bohemia, i.e., the western part of the Czech Republic). Now when I got in line, I had only mentally absorbed the word Schwarzbier. Then I looked up at the sign again and read Schwarzbier aus Böhmen as Schwarzbier aus Bohnen. Now bohnen, in German, means beans, and suddenly it struck me that I was standing in line for a beer that was made from beans. I supposed it was possible since I’d just had a beer made with Cannabis, but bean beer wasn’t for me. I stepped out of line and said to Erica and the others, “I’m not buying a beer made from beans.” They all laughed.It’s Böhmen, not Bohnen, you idiot! Hahahah-bahah-hahha.” And they razzed me about it for the next half hour or so, bringing it up again and again.“I can see I’m never going to live this down,” I said. They laughed.

But then later something magical happened.

We were sitting at some picnic tables listening to a live cover band and drinking our beers when Gregor scurried off to the Porto-john. A few minutes later, on his way back, Erica spotted him beelining through the crowd, dodging, high-stepping, practically throwing people aside. He then reached our picnic table and as he was sliding into his seat he revealed the reason for his haste. There were two glorious wet puddles sopping the front of his trousers, due, apparently, to an accident or malfunction of some sort in the Porto-john. We all laughed, and as he hid his lower half under the table he tried to clarify, and philosophize, which only made us laugh more. I probably laughed the longest and the loudest of everyone. I actually feel ashamed about now. It’s not like I haven’t had my own bathroom malfunctions. True, they don’t often happen in public, at international beer festivals, and don’t often inspire me to bolt through a crowd of howling drunks, but I was trying to raise something to a higher pedestal of idiocy than my bean gaffe, and in the end I failed. I turned out to be the day’s crowned fool when the votes were cast.

The moral: humiliation is the greatest teacher of all. I will never again mistake the western part of the Czech Republic for beans.

Iguana Days


I am back in Berlin after a three-week trip I took with my six-year-old son A. to Florida. I worked most of the time I was there, tending the equipment rental shop, but the first weekend I managed to get out for a little trip-within-a-trip to the Keys. I went down there with my son, my brother, his wife and their son, who is only a year older than mine. A. and I stayed in a little iguana infested hotel in Key Largo, but spent most of our time at my brother’s much nicer hotel and pool in Islamorada. We actually spent too much in his pool, but our kids loved it, and we didn’t feel like doing anything else. The July sun was too brutal and blazing. Besides, we had tumblers filled with lime and iced tequila. We’d brought our own booze so as not to get ripped off at the tiki bar and sat along the edge of the pool imbibing, watching the crowd of rednecks on the other side. There was about twenty of them I think, and from what I’d gathered they had come down for the weekend from somewhere between Vernon and Hell’s Half-Acre. The men were all very large, much larger than the tiny women they were with. They were built like potbellied air compressors, and sat most of the time bulky and stoic in the corner in their ten-gallon straw hats, and their blue-lensed sunglasses, drinking cans of light beer from a Yeti cooler someone had dragged in.

God bless America, and God bless you all!” shouted the singer of the one-man coverband. He then started playing a Toby Keith song, and the rednecks got both proud and boisterous. I watched them and thought about how similar they looked to each other, and how their thoughts, their range of emotions, their relationship to themselves, their surroundings and the culture were probably very similar too. The common denominator was practicality. Anything they deemed impractical, or weird, or foreign to their masculine sensibilities, was so far beneath contempt it was laughable.

There was one redneck in the pool who all the others seemed to crowd around and admire. He was about six-foot-two of hulking flesh, the obligatory broadbrimmed straw hat shading him, blue-tinted sunglasses, stubbly goatee. He had his big hairy sunburnt arms propped up on the ledge of the pool and was kind of leaning his head back while all around him the others formed a ring, hanging on his words as if he were The Floating Godhead of the Dry Tortugas.

I swam a little closer to hear what important statement he was imparting, imagining it to be some wise aphorism, a haiku or a Kierkegaardian soliloquy about the tongue-tied spirit.

Instead, I heard, “I sold that lot for two and a half.” That’s all.

He belched.

Then he reached into his Yeti cooler, cracked another light beer and poured it down his throat.