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If you missed it, part 1 is here.

Friday, February 1st -- On the flight from Paris to Berlin, I read the second half of Nisi Shawl's Filter House. I've still got a few pages to go as we come in for our first landing attempt. About five seconds from touchdown, the pilot revs the engines and pulls up sharply -- it seems a cow has wandered onto the runway. OK, no, not really, it's just wind shear. "Perfectly normal," the pilot tells us, which makes me glad I don't fly in here often. Anyway, I get another ten minutes reading time as we circle around. The second landing attempt succeeds.

This is my fifth visit to Germany, although I've only been to Berlin once before, in 1991, during the Fool on the Hill tour. It's changed a little since then. My hotel -- the Berlin Hilton -- is located on the former East side, very close to where the wall once stood, so it and most of the buildings around it didn't exist last time I was here.

After check-in I meet with Martina Kohl from the U.S. Embassy, who explains that my visit here is being cosponsored by the State Department. While I am thrilled to serve as a cultural ambassador and counterexample to George Bush, this complicates things as far as money is concerned. In France, my publisher covered all of my major expenses (like the hotel bill) upfront, and quickly reimbursed me for out-of-pocket costs. Here, I am expected to pay for everything except plane and train tickets myself, using money from a government grant, the amount of which is determined not by what I actually spend, but what a formula says I ought to be spending. 80% of the grant was to have been wired to me before I left home, the remaining 20% being withheld against delivery of my in-country taxi receipts. However, owing to a snag with the State Department email system, I never got the form I needed to release the initial grant money. This is not a huge deal -- I've got a credit card and plenty of cash, and even if I didn't, Hanser would surely bail me out -- but it does serve as a timely reminder of why Ron Paul is still getting votes.

Dinner tonight is with my longtime German editor, Anna Leube, and two other former Hanser employees, Rebekka and Annette. Anna, bless her, is worried that I'm going to be stuck eating nothing but boring German food all week, and has made a reservation at a Vietnamese restaurant. I break it to her gently about my nut allergy, and allow as how I'd actually really love to have a wienerschnitzel. "I know we're probably in the wrong part of Germany for that," I say, and Anna says yes, the Vienna schnitzel comes from a very different part of Germany... But this is Berlin, they have all cuisines here, and Rebekka and Annette are locals who know where things are. We then set out on an epic quest to find wienerschnitzel. Two of the restaurants we go to are closed, and a third -- very promising, with a picture of a smiling deer on the sign out front -- has been reserved for a private party. We press on, and eventually arrive at Brecht-Haus-Berlin, a cellar restaurant across the street from the cemetery where Bertolt Brecht is buried. According to the menu, all dishes are prepared using Mrs. Brecht's recipes. Mrs. Brecht clearly knew what she was about -- I have a great wienerschnitzel, frittatasuppen (bouillon with vegetables and slivers of herb pancake), and, for desert, a gigantic hollowed-out lemon stuffed with lemon ice cream (the other ice cream flavors on offer are coconut and chocolate, which raises the question of what the chocolate ice cream would come stuffed in). All this, and a reunion with old friends. I am once again very happy.

Saturday, February 2nd -- My hotel room's cable package includes Al Jazeera, which I find fascinating, even though I can't understand a word. Why can't we get this on Comcast at home?... Oh yeah, that's right, we're at war with Islamofascism. Never mind. Other TV curiosities include Spiegel VOX, which, like the American History Channel, appears to devote most of its programming to documentaries about the Third Reich, and Schnuffel, a singing cartoon bunny who is in love with his carrot.

A cab takes me to my first event of the day, a radio interview with RBB Potsdam. The radio station is located on the grounds of Studio Babelsberg, the oldest film studio in the world -- my interviewer, Knut Elstermann, points out the window to a set where a scene from The Pianist was filmed. He also shows me a photo of Carla Bruni, who came here during a publicity tour once, and tells me he and his colleagues are in mourning over the news of her marriage to Nicolas Sarkozy. I tell him I'm pretty sure the French aren't happy about the wedding, either.

Back to the hotel to meet Annette Pohnert of Hanser, who will serve as the German equivalent of Marie-Laure (All hail Marie-Laure!) while I'm in Berlin. She apologizes for not being with me at the radio studio, but her flight in from Munich was delayed. Cow on the runway. Don't worry, I say, that happens a lot here.

This afternoon I have a photo shoot, and then another radio interview. Already I am noticing a marked difference in the kinds of questions I am getting. The Germans seem much more interested in the possible political subtext of Bad Monkeys than the French were (e.g., am I trying to Say Something about the war on terror?), which is the opposite of what I'd expected. Another thing I notice that bothers me: the knowledge that I am being sponsored by the U.S. State Department makes me at least slightly more reluctant to make rude jokes about the Bush administration than I normally would be. It's not that I'm worried that anything will happen to me, I just don't want to jam up Martina Kohl and the other folks at State by agreeing on a nationwide broadcast that President Bush "ought to eat more pretzels." This is how they get you, kids: they slip you a little bit of cash -- or, in my case, an I.O.U. -- and next thing you know you're sticking up for The Man.

Sunday, February 3rd -- Out for an early walk, I find myself at the Holocaust memorial. My first, irreverent thought is that it would make a really cool location for a sci-fi film, although you'd have to position the cameras carefully to avoid the line of cafes and beer gardens along the memorial's southern edge. My second, more serious thought is that -- as a moral lesson, at least -- it's a waste. One thing you pick up on very quickly here is that the Germans are well aware of their history, and the current generation have got the message that it's wrong to slaughter people just because they're different. Indeed, the Germans' extreme reluctance to kill anyone at all, even for a good cause, has been a big source of tension with the U.S. since 9/11, and probably has a lot to do with the interview questions I've been getting.

Speaking of interviews, my first one of the day is with Wieland Freund of Literarische Welt, who wants to talk about the seeming contradiction between Sewer, Gas & Electric, which he feels was written from a very liberal perspective, and the "much more conservative" attitude on display in Bad Monkeys. I tell him about my deep admiration for Nicolas Sarkozy. No, I don't.

Monday, February 4th -- Tonight I have my first reading, at the Kennedy Museum in Pariser Platz. The Platz, which in postcards I refer to mistakenly as "Brandenburg Plaza," is the site of the famous Gate. The British and French embassies are located here as well, and the new American embassy is due to open on July 4th -- my appearance tonight is one of a series of cultural events leading up to the grand opening.

The reading goes well. It's a great venue -- I'm surrounded by pictures of JFK and Jackie -- and my hosts have done a good job publicizing the event, so it's standing room only. The Museum sells out its stock of Bad Monkeys copies. During the signing I meet molosovsky , aka Alexander Müller. Alexander is also an illustrator, and he takes several photos of me, one of which will serve as the basis for a portrait. It's a decent likeness, although I'm clearly starting to show the effects of all the schnitzel:



Tonight's reading at the English Theatre is, I think, the best of the lot, with a great stage and a big, friendly crowd. When the Q&A is over I sign books for almost an hour. I meet another lj friend, shannachie . Word comes down that the stock of Bad Monkeys copies has again sold out, and both Anna and the Theatre management are happy about this.

I have a farewell dinner with Anna and Christina. By now I really am tired of German food, so I let Anna talk me into trying Indian. It's very good. We walk back to the hotel and ride the magic elevator to the highest floor, just to see what that's like.

I pack. Call Lisa. Sleep.

Thursday, February 7th -- The long trip home. Browsing in a Frankfurt airport bookshop, I spot a copy of Kelly Link's Die Elbenhandtasche, which I take to be a good omen. It is. My return flight isn't a nonstop -- I've got to change planes in Denmark -- and as of this morning, I'm booked in a middle seat for the Copenhagen-Seattle leg. But in Copenhagen, after spending forty minutes in line at the Scandanavian Airlines desk, I'll get a last-minute switch to an aisle. Thank you, fairy handbag!

Between Copenhagen and Seattle I read the last four hundred pages of Anathem, pausing now and then to peak out the window. Once again we're flying above the Arctic Circle, but this time the sun is out, so I can see the icecap below us.

In Seattle, Homeland Security is waiting to remind me what a real customs checkpoint looks like. Actually, it's not that bad, just tedious -- although I do have to suppress a groan when the guy at passport control asks me what my novel is about. I'm sorry, sir, you haven't been cleared by my publicist.

But I'm home! Thank you to Carl Hanser Verlag, Anna Leube, Christina Knecht, Annette Pohnert, Leonie Obalski, Helene Weigel, Martina Kohl and the U.S. State Department, the Kennedy Museum, Manfred Strack and the consulate in Hamburg, the English Theatre, cohen + dobernigg, and Alexander Müller and my other interviewers. Schnitzels for you all!

Comments

( 14 comments )
morbid_o
Feb. 19th, 2008 08:01 pm (UTC)
Sounds like great fun; I really need to shopw my girlfriend Berlin. I can't believe you had so much Wienerschnitzel and no Jaegerschnitzel or Doeners!
matt_ruff
Feb. 20th, 2008 11:15 pm (UTC)
Wienerschnitzel was the only schnitzel on offer in the places I ate at. (I really wanted the version with spaetzle, but I think I was definitely in the wrong part of the country for that.)

I saw a couple doner kebab stands in Berlin, but wasn't really tempted -- gyros are easy enough to come by at home.
morbid_o
Feb. 21st, 2008 02:07 pm (UTC)
The doeners I had in the Pfalz region were very different than Gyros, but it's one of those things that seems to vary greatly even within a country.

Too bad about the spaetzle, though. Having lived and eaten in Germany for about a year, I'm surprised that there aren't more good restaurants back here in the US. I suppose that the freshness of your average meal over there would be hard to replicate over here.
paula_abroad
Feb. 19th, 2008 08:59 pm (UTC)
i wanted to come to the reading in hamburg, but broke my foot a couple of days before. :/ guess i´ll have to make do with an unsigned copy of 'bad monkeys'...

and - yeah - i was a bit - umn... taken aback learning about the passport thing too.

i think you had more wiener schnitzel during your trip than me in my whole life yet. ;)

matt_ruff
Feb. 21st, 2008 01:19 am (UTC)
Sorry to hear about your foot. If you're willing to cover the postage, though, you can always mail me your copy of Monkeys to be signed.

Re: the schnitzel, I probably overdid it, but you do tend to gravitate to familiar dishes on book tour, because you're usually strapped for time and want to make sure that whatever you do eat will (a) fill you up and (b) not make you sick. My one afternoon off in Berlin I decided to try something different. From the description on the menu -- lamb sauteed with vegetables and potato noodles -- I was thinking "German stir fry," but it came smothered in this heavy cream sauce that defeated me after only a few bites.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 19th, 2008 11:07 pm (UTC)
Sweden?!
Sp wqhen are you coming to Sweden for a reading and an appearance, and how do I schedule an interview with you for then? We don´t have schnitzel here but many other attractions....
matt_ruff
Feb. 21st, 2008 01:29 am (UTC)
Re: Sweden?!
I need to get a Swedish publisher, first.
ladycalliope
Feb. 19th, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks for documenting your trip, it was a fun read. Now I'm tempted to call my husband and tell him that I want wienerschnitzel for dinner. How were the portion sizes as compared to the US?

One more thing: San Francisco is waiting for you... http://www.schnitzel-haus.net/

Edited at 2008-02-19 11:30 pm (UTC)
matt_ruff
Feb. 21st, 2008 01:37 am (UTC)
The schnitzels at both the Brecht-Haus and Cafe Einstein were big enough to be hanging off the edges of the plate, although they pound the veal very thin, so it's hard to say whether you really get more meat than in a typical homecooked chop. The size of the side dishes -- potatoes, cucumber salad -- seemed pretty average.
molosovsky
Feb. 20th, 2008 09:02 am (UTC)
Schnitzels & Jackets
Schnitzels are not as dangerous as ›Frankfurter Green Sauce‹. I totally forgot to recommend this delicious cold recipte. (BTW: Very good breakfast when you have a hangover.) Everyone visiting Frankfurt/M or Hassia should try it. There even is a fine bio-burger restaurant (»Die Kuh die lacht« = ›The Laughing Cow‹) where you can get a ›Green Sauce Burger‹.

Thank you for sharing the portrait! I'm still ashamed about the thing I did to your mouth on the drawing … but I'm proud about how the leather jacket works. Great tradition that, writers with leather jackets: Jack London, Bert Brecht and now Matt Ruff :-)
matt_ruff
Feb. 21st, 2008 01:42 am (UTC)
Re: Schnitzels & Jackets
For what it's worth, photographers have the same problem with me. My mouth's got one good smile configuration, and if I don't get it just right I end up looking sleepy or annoyed.
thija
Feb. 21st, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC)
Your mentioning the singing bunny Schnuffel made me laugh. It's by far the most awful - um - thing I've come across lately, in every aspect.

Thanks for your time. At least you had decent hotel accomodation. :o)

And now we won't keep you no longer from getting on with "The Mirage" ... ;o)

(Anonymous)
Feb. 23rd, 2008 08:05 pm (UTC)
Berlin Signing
Hi,

we really enjoyed your reading in Berlin, especially since you are one of the few authors who actually can read their own work aloud (believe us: not everyone can).

Thanks for signing our copies of "Sewer, Gas & Electric" (still our favourite) and "Bad Monkeys" (a close second). It's funny how a simple scribble can enhance the appreciation of an otherwise unchanged book.

By the way, is there any significance to the Kilroy in your signature? Just wondering ...

Gabi & Jens
morbid_o
Mar. 3rd, 2008 08:08 pm (UTC)
( 14 comments )

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