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Beanstalks November 9, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, I’ve had yet another brilliant idea which I’m sure is going to earn me millions so I can pay off my debts and never translate another word and probably win the Nobel Prize for Cleverness into the bargain. None of you be unscrupulous, please, and go stealing my idea before I’ve had a chance to jam the switchboard of whichever organisation can bring my idea to fruition. To discourage unscrupulousness, I even promise to throw a big party for all of us once the cheque has cleared.

In my Nobel speech, I’ll thank my mum, and cry, because mothers are a necessity of invention, both for having you in the first place, for which I suppose we really must all be grateful, and then, in my case, for making me have to fly to go and see her. All my best ideas happen above clouds.

Mothers are troubling though, aren’t they? Mine has been and gone. When she arrived, we’d run out of conversation before we’d got to the train-station in the airport, and that was after I’d even resorted to her favourite subjects of public transport and how to get to and from places. And, being a lady of few interests, naturally my mother would rather have not been here, were it not for me insisting on ridiculously living abroad, but she comes from deferential and non-complaining times and remembers rationing so thinks, I suppose rightly, that flying to and being in Berlin is a luxury – she was horrified that someone we know decided simply to miss a flight the other day – and sensibly decided to make the most of a bad lot.

My mother, as I’ve said, doesn’t really do interests. Or believe in Europe. Germany is probably a hazy concept. War probably features in there somewhere. Football too. Maybe sausage. And Berlin is the capital, so that means it’s sort of London. But my mother knows it’s the done thing to be interested in places. And things. And foreign cultures. She isn’t, of course, at all interested, but we like to keep up appearances, even within the family… We’d set off on an of-unspecified-destination walk. Inevitably, this would take us through our utterly uninteresting and devoid-of-attractions part of town. Conversation would have dried up before the end of our street once I’d asked her if she was cold and how her legs were bearing up. I could cope with the silence, which is probably due to having grown up after punk or something, but my mother must think it’s a grim state of affairs when a mother and son walk along the streets of a foreign city in silence so she’d look for prompts. We’d walk past a video shop called something uncryptic like Videoshop. “Oh, what’s that shop called Videoshop?” “It’s a video shop.” “A video shop?” “Yes, a video shop. Called Videoshop.” We’d resume a silence unbroken even as we passed our local sex shop (uncryptically called Sex Shop).

We flew back to London with my mother. The Russian had that hard-won visa to exploit. And we beed perfect tourists. Didn’t see a soul, of course, as I have finally resigned myself to admitting is now the case for ever. Trips to the UK are so consumed with family and duty that I will never see a friend again unless we agree to meet in a neutral venue. But London was heaven. Utter, total heaven. I fell head over heels in love. I spent four years’ earnings on public transport but it was still perfect. Friendly. Polite. I was called love and darling by total strangers. Beautiful. Exciting. Hectic. (My walking speed doubled.)

And the flight. Which was before I was reminded how heavenly London was, so I was still in disdain-for-England mode. We flew of a morning. Even though I need clouds for my ideas to bloom, they obliged by being suitably wispy and not impeding my view of the island as we flew in. And it looked so wonderful. The Essex coast – I assume it was Essex – seemed to be one long, perfect beach. There was the delicious patchwork of irregular fields, which I associate with England, until I checked and saw that it was just the same in Holland on the way back, but I’m going to pretend it’s English, like Russians pretend silver birch exist exclusively in Russia, even though we have them in the back yard here and they abound where my mother lives, and the nicely rolling landscape. From above, settlements looked wonderful. Nature looked perfect. Indeed, Essex seemed like paradise on earth. And yet we sort of know this isn’t true.

“Hmm,” I pondered. “I am slightly bored of being a linguistic cripple in Berlin. Maybe it’s time to come back to the homeland. But then the people here are so horrid.” (The wonderful love-and-darling-callers of London were yet to intervene, remember.) “And England is so depressing in so many ways. And, anyway, I couldn’t afford a glass of tap-water here. And it’s lovely being a foreigner. And I’d understand the TV here and would have my brain filled with McCannness. Hmm…”

And then I had my brilliant idea. Which none of you must steal. Darlings, as I can resolutely confirm that the world looks nicer from above, and as nice and love-and-darling-callers are, we must still agree that people are basically ghastly and human contact is to be kept to a strict minimum, I have come up with a solution that will ease overcrowding and anti-social behaviour all at once (as long as we’re choosy about who can live in these communities of the future). Living atop beanstalks.

Once we slay the giants and can neutralise the smell of an Englishman’s blood, I’m sure we’ll be laughing.


1. A Blogger - November 9, 2007

Would Aussies be banned?

2. pleite - November 9, 2007

No, not at all. It’d be very boring if our beanstalk communities were mononational. And we need to get a bit of miscegenation going on to take away the smell of Englishman.

I hope all’s well with you. Thank you for sending me links to the stuff you write. I’m always interested to read your words. Has Australia welcomed you back – OK, I know you must be well settled by now – properly warmly? Is it home again? Remember the beanstalk option if not.

3. narrowback - November 9, 2007

having spent more time with my mom over the past 6 months than I have in the prevous 10 years… damn guy, that was spot on!

will you be publishing a paper in the next Journal of the American Planning Association regarding your beanstalk concept? Actually, it’s not too different from living in an inner city high rise in the US

4. pleite - November 9, 2007

Narrowback, thanks for the tip. Is that whose switchboard I need to jam? I suppose we could use some high-rises, as long as we all lived on the roof and nobody lived between there and the ground floor… We must compare mums more in early December!

5. MountPenguin - November 9, 2007

I presume space on these beanstalks will be available by some kind of cooperative rental system? Otherwise they’d be snapped up by hoards of Brits with too much equity looking for a growth opportunities, now the property markets in Tirana and Tashkent have peaked.

6. pleite - November 9, 2007

Penguin, bugger, I hadn’t thought of that. Well it would be nice to keep the riff-raff out, of course, though I’d rather our beanstalk communities didn’t have to be gated. Maybe there could be a language test, and anyone who couldn’t speak a foreign language could be barred, which would surely rule out most of those nasty types who buy abroad. Hmm, might be tricky. Legally, I mean. I really have to give this all further thought. Especially if the beanstalks are to be planted in and to sprout above Essex, which must surely have one of the highest percentages of buyers abroad in the country. Still, we want a risk factor, I suppose. If we’re separating ourselves from humanity, we want to have the satisfaction of seeing particularly nasty types through our binoculars clamouring around the bottom of the beanstalk trying to be let into our superior world. I say we hover over Essex and risk the consequences.

7. MountPenguin - November 9, 2007

Egads, I did of course mean “hordes” instead of “hoards”, although arguably the hordes are hoarding.

Anyway, I recently made in passing the acquaintance of an online couple who thought they’d found the bargain of a lifetime in Wedding. Until they went to see the place.

8. pleite - November 9, 2007

I’m too exhausted and frazzled by translation to notice spelling mistakes, especially easily slip-by-able ones like that. Homonym – is that the word I mean? – errors are the most allowable slips.

Wedding’s in Mitte now. Tell ’em to snap it up. I think I’ve heard the Russian vaguely chanting, or perhaps cooing, about flats in Wedding on sale for 12c. I’d like one, in a way, but I’m sticking to the beanstalk idea for now.

9. annie - November 9, 2007

Come back! I’ll call you love and darling every day! (But then I wouldn’t be able to come and visit you in Berlin… hmmm, dilemma.)

10. Katia - November 10, 2007

Where do I sign up?
As an expat German in Brooklyn New York, I have to say, I am ready for your Utopia.
I thought I found it here, but they are building, building, building all around me and the sky is getting smaller and smaller. And all the pretty townhouses are standing in the shadows of big apartment boxes.
Damn developers!
I like your idea so much better. Beanstalks would be so much classier and environmentally friendly.
Katia @

11. pleite - November 11, 2007

Katia, hello! And thank you for coming on board, or rather on stalk. You shame me. I see your blog is written in perfect English, and I don’t even harbour notions of considering thinking about writing a sentence in German. Tell me you went to the US when you were a slip of a thing and that you agree it’s impossible to learn a new language well after a certain age. And wave to my pal EiNY when you, as I expect probably happens a couple of times a day, pass him on the pavement. Oh, go on then… sidewalk.

Annie, I’m so pants not to have seen a soul. I am the pantmeister. I thought of everyone I could and should have been seeing when I was there and all I did was go and get on another river-boat. (We liked it so much the first time we did it again.) Have you ever approached Canary Wharf on a boat going east (oh bugger, can’t remember which is upstream and which is down)? WOOF! So impressive. Only a fiver if you’ve got a travelcard from Westminster Pier to Greenwich. Worth every penny. (And don’t know our plans yet, but maybe we’ll be in the UK at Chrimbo, and I just have to see folk then. Have to.) (I’m going to call you love love and darling darling to make up for my oversight in not taking you out for a good old drinkette last time.)

12. Katia - November 11, 2007

Yes, I admit, it is impossible to learn a language perfectly past the age of four! Do you feel better now?
I came to the States as a 15 year old, and my American/German kids still correct my English. And I have an accent.
People get totally confused when they ask me where I am from and I answer: Why, I am from Brooklyn!
P.S. I have been reading A Brit In Brooklyn for a while. ( That’s how I found my way to your lovely blog!) I am sure he and I have walked the same sidewalks.

13. pleite - November 11, 2007

Katia, what, this Brit in Brooklyn? Look, another BiB! Hello New York BiB!

And thank you for telling me what I want to hear. Actually, more depressing than being rubbish at German is being rubbish at Russian. I started studying it in the early 90s, have lived in the country, speak it every day, and am still crap at it. Luckily my English hasn’t withered away to nothing just yet.

14. Katia - November 11, 2007

Ha, you are right! I confused the two Brits….one in New York and our very own here in Brooklyn! Two different blogs. By mistake I have reunited you with your BIB twin.
Small world, ain’t it? ( See, I am learning English good…)
I am sure you wrote about it somewhere in your blog, but how did you end up in Berlin?
Here in New York, Berlin is a hot topic…cheap rents, artists moving there because its like Soho was 30 years ago….Every one wants to move to your part of the world. ( I guess they don’t take into account that the dollar isn’t worth anything any more and that we will soon be in need of care packages from our European relatives)

15. pleite - November 11, 2007

…but my pal EiNY is a Brooklynite too. Keep an eye out for him. (But a beady one. He’s only wee.) I’ve been to New York twice and stupidly and dimly and lazy-unadventurous-touristly never left Manhattan. One day, one day…

Love, fate and the Cold War is how I normally explain why I’m here. Though the fate bit might be superfluous, actually. Love because my beloved wanted to move here from Russia and I agreed as staying in Russia was difficult. Well, fate, if this isn’t total bollocks, because what better place should fate dictate an East-West couple end up in but Berlin? (Sometimes slightly regret that London or Paris or Helsinki weren’t where the Allies decided to split the world in two, but never mind.) And the Cold War because Russians (often) learnt German as their first foreign language at school because at least Ossis spoke it. French wasn’t too ideologically objectionable comme langue either. But my darling’s connection to Germany is purely down to what he studied at school and uni. The Cold War sent us here… (And Russia’s cold-war, empire-of-evil etc. etc exoticness is probably what made me study the language and end up in Russia in the first place. Putty in history’s hands.)

I’m guessing 15 was too young for you to move to New York for love. Did the whole family up sticks?

16. Arabella - November 11, 2007

I can visualise the beanstalk life rather in the manner of the pictures in an illustrated children’s edition of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’!

17. Katia - November 11, 2007

What a great story. And it does make perfect sense to me. A Checkpoint Charlie Romance, literally.

We moved from Germany to France when I was 10 for my father’s job. Then shortly before I turned 15, the company transfered my father to the U.S. And we have been here ever since.
I am married to an American. The poor man first learned German to keep up with my family’s dinner conversation ( and gossip). Now he is struggling to learn French since we spend the summers in the Auvergne. (Long Story) Poor man. I am glad he has a great sense of humor about it all.

Do I feel American after all these years? No. I can’t say I do. I still feel too much at home in Germany and particularly in France.
I am lucky I live in New York City since its so international…and I am just a seven hour flight from Europe.

Next time you are in New York, you must cross the bridge into Brooklyn. Its infinitely cooler than Manhattan on many levels.

18. A Blogger - November 12, 2007

Broke! Yes, Australia welcomed me back with a shrug and a ‘where the bloody hell have you been?

And I have to say that, after a three month mourning period, I really got to like it here. Nice country, this. I look around and see fellow Aussies and don’t actually cringe. In fact, I like it. Strange, huh? Maybe I’m turning into a pensioner?

No girlfriend, but plenty of harmles flirting. Which is far less expensive.

I’m writing busily, but no blogs. One day when I’m rich and famous I’ll have someone write a blog in my name, and everyone will want to link to it. Like those bastards with ten thousand Facebook friends…

19. narrowback - November 13, 2007

re berlin being a “hot topic” in new york – a friend sent me this article last week poking fun at the fad


if the pattern continues i’m going to have to find another city to become fascinated with…

if you ever travel to nyc again Bib let me know – particularly if you’re going to visit brooklyn. i know a great pub in red hook.

20. Katia - November 13, 2007

Which Red Hook Bar? There are a few real great ones.
I am just a few blocks over from there. Walking distance!

Here is another article about artists in Berlin from the New York Times

21. Mr D - November 13, 2007

Would it be windy up in the beanstalks? I imagine it would be – especially if everyone started eating the beans. What measures wpuld ypi tale to safeguard the environment?

I’m such a kolljoy! But we can’t have you adding too much extra methane to the atmosphere, BiB.

22. Mr D - November 13, 2007

Oops – all those links resulted in me not being able to see half of what I was typing – same again now – as they did something odd to the interface. I’m actually totally sober!

23. narrowback - November 13, 2007

Katia –

rocky sullivans – 34 van dyke st. …a recent refugee from the commercial rents in manhattan

if you’re daring check out the irish hip hop on saturday nights

24. Katia - November 13, 2007

Hi Narrowback,
I have been there before when it was the Liberty Heights Tap Room. Great space! Have to check out this latest incarnation. Thanks for the tip!

And to BIB and all other Berliners heading to New York, make sure you cross our lovely Bridge to Brooklyn!

25. marshaklein - November 13, 2007

McPhee, McFoe, McFie, McPherson
I smell the blood of an English person!

I love the idea of living above the clouds, spending life wrapped in the ultimate down duvet.

I like London, although I don’t really know it all. I agree about the pace of life. I get the feeling it isn’t the done thing “up here” to praise London. I don’t know why though, it’s not as if it stops me loving Edinburgh.

26. pleite - November 14, 2007

Marshypops, London was, and sorry to get rude on yo’ ass, a mind-fuck on this occasion. Well, OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was so spectacularly wonderful. I just adored it. Might easily have loathed it if I stayed any longer, so the timing was good.

Katia, funny you should mention that article. Some of us bloggers (and others) get together every now and again and the gent who wrote that Spiegel article was actually at one of those occasions. Not sure if he’s still here. But, yes, Berlin certainly seems to be good at selling its cheapness.

Narrowback, Irish hip hop! I want to go. And funny that you should mention that other article, as I had wanted to bring it to Katia’s attention precisely as the lovely B. had done to mine. And we ARE all beautiful losers and artists and creators and puppeteers here. It’s true!

Mr. D., good point. I’ll get onto my fact-finding commission about it. It would be cold up there, actually, wouldn’t it? But if we put a lid on the top, we’ll look like one of those snow-shakers and what if some envious ground-level dwellers get a giant on board to shake the beanstalk from pure spite? We’ll all be thrown around like specks of dandruff.

AB, that is posh. Having a blog ghost-written. (I don’t understand facebook yet.) And I’m not surprised to hear you say nice things about Australia, especially as you’re in Melbourne, which everyone I know who’s ever been for half a second – apart from one single person, actually, but even she didn’t say it was horrible – says it’s heaven on earth. Glad to hear it’s being good to you.

Arabella, but what about the snow-shaker factor? We’ll be flakes in the groundlevellers’ hands, constantly suffering the effects of concussion. Maybe I’ll have to make our new communities float somehow.

27. narrowback - November 14, 2007

i pln on bring some samples on my trip

I actually thought that the article i posted was a more realistic view of the personality types involved than the spiegel article. “new york artists” indeed, they were from alaska and iowa

28. pleite - November 18, 2007

I’m keeping my ears pricked up for all the beautiful losers, but they’re being evasive so far. (And not sure I’ve met many New Yorkers here, actually, bar Ed, though I think his spiritual home within the US has moved far west.)

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