The Big Ponder

In Season 2: THE BIG PONDER, our transatlantic podcast is devoting itself to aspects of German and American life that often go unexplored. Each episode takes a deep dive into an abstract topic, like friendship or gardening, inviting listeners to reflect on our interconnected cultures from a new standpoint. We release a new episode every other Thursday here and on your favorite podcast apps.
Kosmos Spoetzel, first official brewmaster at Shiner Bock’s Spoetzl Brewery
Courtesy of Spoetzl Brewery

American Experimentation Meets German Tradition
#42: Beer

Long ago, German immigrants brought their brewing traditions to the United States. More recently, brewers from the U.S. have begun bringing American-style craft beer to Germany. Sally McGrane and Axel Scheele look at two breweries on opposite sides of the pond. More ...

Traffic in Los Angeles
Photo: Nicola Hofstetter

At a Standstill
#41: Traffic

Most city dwellers view traffic as an unavoidable downside of urban life. But according to Susanne Papawassiliu, freeway standstills have their benefits. In this episode, Susanne speaks with traffic experts, city planners, and professional drivers in Los Angeles and Berlin about congestion on the roads. More ...

Ira Karp playing the piano
Photo (excerpt) © Erica Heilman

Stories from Rural Vermont
#40: The Farm

Ira Karp lives on a farm in northern Vermont, surrounded by music, puppets, and a family of incredible storytellers. Over his brief lifetime, he has become a ‘story keeper’ himself, collecting epic tales from his everyday life that he recounts with relish. More ...

A photo from the “Offering” choir, a project dedicated to contending with both personal and collective loss
Photo: Leigh Davis

Speaking Loss
#39: Grief

Grief is all around us these days. But what exactly is it? And why is it? During a time of global trauma and loss, Jocelyn Robinson seeks to better understand this basic human emotion through the voices and stories of the grieving. More ...

Portrait of Ollie Harrington by Harald Kretzschmar
Illustration: Harald Kretzschmar

The Unofficial Ambassador to Berlin
#38: Cartoons

Have you ever heard of the cartoonist Oliver Harrington? Probably not, but the artist played an instrumental role in German-American history. From the Harlem Renaissance to the division of Berlin during the Cold War — he was there for it all, capturing the world around him in his masterful comic strips. More ...

Street sign of Frank-Zappa-Straße in Düsseldorf
Photo (detail): Hinnerk11, published via CC-BY-SA-4.0

Surprising Transatlantic Connections
#37: Street Names

Why is a Nazi resistance fighter famous in Brazil yet unheard of in Germany? How did an African American musician become a hero in East Germany? Dina Elsayed finds the answers to these questions and more while uncovering the stories behind Berlin’s unusual street names. More ...

The Street
Photo (detail): Harald Rumpf

Embracing the City
#36: The Street

As a lifelong photographer and filmmaker, Harald Rumpf has spent decades exploring the cities that his subjects call home. In this retrospective of his work, Harald builds on his film and photography projects that took him into the streets of cities like Munich and New York by combining archival material with new interviews and narration. More ...

Deutsche Kriegsgefangene in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee
© Stribling/Brock Archive, mit freundlicher Genehmigung von Curtis Peters

Crossing the Divide
#35: Hidden History

During World War II, over 400,000 German POWs came to the U.S., where they worked on local farms alongside civilians. Cariad Harmon tells the story of the unlikely friendships that one American family from small-town Tennessee forged with enemy soldiers. More ...

Photo: Tosca Terán

A Soundwalk Podcast
#34: Sounds of Nature

Tosca Terán creates soundscapes using fungi. In this immersive piece, Tosca takes listeners on a soundwalk, pausing periodically to interview other sound artists who work with nature. More ... 

Photo: Gordon Welters

Crises in Berlin and Toronto
#33: Housing

The demand for affordable housing has reached an all-time high in both Europe and North America. In this episode, Tomma Suki investigates the housing situation in two major cities on opposite sides of the Atlantic: Berlin and Toronto. More ...

Ann-Katrin Grimm on a swim in a freezing cold lake
Photo: Marek Iwicki

Notable New Experiences
#32: Firsts

What happens inside our brains and bodies when we experience something new? What is it like to perform surgery for the first time? Or to swim in a freezing cold lake? Monika Müller-Kroll and Susannah Edelbaum interview people from all walks of life about their most memorable firsts. More ...

Bilal Qureshi
Photo: Matthew Asada

In Winter’s Light
#31: Winterreise

In the endless sunshine of Dubai, Bilal Qureshi revisits Franz Schubert’s acclaimed song cycle “Winterreise.” The lyrics of a heartbroken man’s journey across a wintry landscape become a way for Bilal to reconnect with the spirit of ‘wintering’ while living in the desert. More ...

The National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Mike Maguire

A Place for Family Memories
#30: The Zoo

Growing up, Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller traveled the world with his family. On their trips, they always made time for a visit to the local zoo: in Berlin, in Paris, in Rio de Janeiro. In this episode, Nathaniel and his parents reflect on the days they spent watching animals together. More ...

Eva Ullmann in front of the German institute for humor
Photo (excerpt) © Dina Elsayed

The Culture of Jokes
#29: Humor

Despite the cliché of the unfunny German, there is a rich tradition of comedy in German culture. Soraya Nelson visits comedy clubs in Berlin and interviews comedians, disproving the widespread stereotype that Germans do not know how to take a joke. More ...

Thomas “Hotte” Albrecht in his ’Späti‘
Photo: Gordon Welters

Always Open
#28: The Mom-and-Pop Store

In the heart of Berlin, there is a small corner store, lovingly dubbed the “living room of the neighborhood.” Sadly, the shop’s owners are facing eviction after three decades in business. Sally McGrane and Axel Scheele tell the story of the little grocery on Choriner Street. More ...

© François Grisé

Diving In
#27: Immersion

Immersive artwork breaks down the border between the viewer and the artist, submerging the spectator in the exhibit. Nancy Pettinicchio discusses this dynamic at length with three artists. More ...

Photo: Rene Walter via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

St. Nick’s Dark Counterpart
#26: Krampus

In the U.S., Santa keeps tabs on who’s been naughty or nice, but there isn’t much follow through on the naughty list. In much of Europe, however, St. Nick has a stern partner who enforces the rules: Krampus. But who exactly is this Krampus guy? More ...

Super Blood Wolf Moon
Photo: Yassine El Mansouri

A Time for Reflection
#25: The Night

To newborns, there is no discernable difference between night and day. Evening and morning blur together in this piece as Katie Marquette rocks her baby to sleep, contemplating the night. More ...

Photo: Henry Detweiler

Measuring the Immeasurable
#24: Happiness

How do you quantify something as indescribable as happiness? Michael Hobbes searches for a way to measure life satisfaction that works in both the U.S., his old home, and Germany, his new home. More ...

Flying Over the Atlantic
Photo (detail): © Yassine El Mansouri

Flying Over the Atlantic
#23: Airlines

A lot has changed since the first days of aviation, from beverage service to affordable plane tickets. Florenz Gilly and Leon Ginzel recap the history of transatlantic flight and reflect on their own experiences crossing the big pond. More ...

Tony Vallejos in his sweet shop
Photo: Julia Vandenoever Photography

Childhood Nostalgia
#22: Candy

As a kid, candy makes the world go round. As an adult, it has the power to bring back long-forgotten childhood memories. Carol McKinley talks about the magic of candy with Tony Vallejos who ran a vintage sweet shop in Colorado. More ...

Photo: Melissa Gerr

Where Do You Belong?
#21: Community

Community is the story of our lives. It is who we are, who we have been, and who we hope to become. Melissa Gerr visits Jewish congregations in Baltimore, Maryland, and Dresden, Germany, where she speaks with members about the importance of community. More ...

Mike Powers in Berlin
Photo: Austin Fassino

A Bohemian in Berlin
#20: Adventure

Have you ever thought about dropping everything to pursue your passion? Susanne Papawassiliu profiles Mike Powers who left his life in Florida behind to do just that. Today, Mike resides in Berlin, where he spends his days making art. More ...

Photo: Mike Maguire

Small, Lasting Impressions
#19: Encounters

How many people will you meet in your lifetime? How many will you remember? Fascinated by the countless chance encounters in their own lives, Susannah Edelbaum and Monika Müller-Kroll reveal the ways that casual interactions affect us all. More …

Road Trip
Photo: John Paul Kesling

Exploring the vastness of the U.S.
#18: Road Trip

Cariad Harmon and her partner John Kesling embark on a long-awaited cross-country road trip. Cariad interviews locals and fellow travelers of all kinds at national parks, truck stops, and diners while sharing intimate details of life on the road — the good and the bad. More …

© Mike Maguire

Experiencing Sound
#17: Listening

Our ability to hear is fully formed after just four and a half months in the womb. From this early age, sound shapes our worldview. Jim McKee, a sound designer himself, interviews experts who have built careers by learning to listen to the world around them. More …

Photo: James Wisnieski

The Power of Awe
#16: Wonder

Americans on the East Coast were in awe when Brood X, an enormous group of 17-year cicadas, suddenly emerged from underground to mate. Melissa Gerr, who lives in Maryland, was no exception. Inspired by this local wonder, she sets out to explain the feeling of awe. More …

Photo: Mike Maguire

The Mysterious History of Voice Mail
#15: Record Booth

By the 1920s, people had begun using coin-operated record booths to create audio souvenirs — immortalizing their thoughts and feelings on a disc. Cariad Harmon travels to one of the last remaining record booths in Louisville, Kentucky, where she captures her own voice and revisits some touching messages from the past. More ...

Sibylle Baier and her son Robby
Photo: private

Sibylle Baier’s Secret Music
#14: Sacred Self

In her early 20s, Sibylle Baier recorded 14 folk songs that she says saved her life. Then, she packed the tape away and forgot about it. Decades later, her son discovered his mother’s music and released it — to critical acclaim. Sibylle tells her story for the first time to Carol McKinley. More ...

The Diary
© Getty Images

A Mosaic of Everyday Life
#13: The Diary

Working with personal diary entries, Dina Elsayed and Monika Müller-Kroll take listeners on a journey through the seasons to different places in the U.S. and Germany. These entries create a mosaic of our daily lives in all its contradictions and parallels, seriousness and banality. More ...

A Hunter
© Getty Images

Reconnecting with Nature
#12: Hunting

There exists a strong tradition of hunting in both Germany and the U.S. However, the cultures surrounding this pastime differ more than you might think. Ada von der Decken and Moritz Gerlach speak with hunters from both countries to find out what drives people to pursue the sport. More ...

Home (abstract)
© Getty Images

Where You Feel like Yourself
#11: Home

Is ‘home’ a place or more of a feeling? Jocelyn Robinson speaks with three American expats who unpack the relationship between self and place, drawing from their experiences living in Germany, on the Diné Nation, and in Senegal. More ...

Andreas Weinfort & Birgit Majewski in Big’s Diner
Foto: Leon Ginzel

Food and Community
#10: The Diner

What happens when you uproot an American institution like the diner and place it somewhere entirely new — like Germany? Florenz Gilly and Leon Ginzel journey into the world of diners, visiting hometown restaurants in the U.S. and Germany to find out. More ...

Bilal Qureshi & Geeta Patel, 2017 in New Delhi
© Marc Ohrem-Leclef

A Radio Essay
#9: In Friendship

Inspired by a year of forced isolation, essayist Bilal Qureshi explores the history, landscape, and meaning of friendship across cultures. At the heart of his examination is the question: Who do we call a ‘friend’ and why? More ...

Photo: Alicia Llop © Getty Images

A Serendipitous Encounter
#8: My Pen Pal

One day, Jakob Lewis receives an email from a German man named Ingo asking to be his pen pal. The close relationship they develop teaches Jakob that strangers can connect on a deep level — even when an ocean and a language barrier separate them. More ... 

The Kennedy-Warren Apartments in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Mike Maguire

Contemplating Architecture
#7: How Buildings Mean

Producer Alex van Oss ponders the external, internal, and eternal meanings of buildings in his Washington, D.C. neighborhood. The result is a personal rumination featuring thoughts from friends and neighbors on their buildings, homes, and communities. More ... 

The Flag
Photo (detail): © Yassine El Mansouri

Symbol of a Nation
#6: The Flag

In both Germany and the U.S., the flag can be divisive, eliciting pride in some and unease in others. From patriotism to protest, Jocelyn Robinson explores the role that these symbols play in proclaiming who we are. More ...

Photo: Allied Museum, Berlin — Dr. John Provan Collection

U.S. Military Life in Germany
#5: Little America Revisited

Since World War II, there have been countless American GIs stationed at military bases all over Germany. Sylvia Cunningham and Monika Müller-Kroll talk with some of the people who once lived in these ‘Little Americas’ and decided to stay in Germany. More ...

The Big Ponder Episode 4: Anatomy of an Apology
Photo: Brandon Gatling

Overcoming youthful pride
#4: Anatomy of an Apology

Katie Davis tells the story of an inadvertent provocation between two boys at a teen center in her Washington, D.C. neighborhood, the conflict that developed, and the ensuing efforts to prevent it from escalating. More ...

The Big Ponder Episode 3: Radio Wanderlust
Photo (detail): © Yassine El Mansouri

Stereophonic Longings for Elsewhere
#3: Radio Wanderlust

Bilal Qureshi explores the German-English idea of ‘Wanderlust’ through his personal audio archives and conversations with fellow travelers. Does this romantic idea hold up in the age of fast travel and fleeting social media? More ...

The Big Ponder Episode 2: The Garden
Photo (detail): © Yassine El Mansouri

Everyday Expeditions
#2: The Garden

Jakob Lewis and his wife Catherine transformed their front yard in Nashville into a garden. From conception to harvest, Jakob meditates on the lessons he learned about imagination, play, and grief, all the while drawing on the wisdom of Goethe. More ...

The Big Ponder Episode 1: I Love You, I Hate You
Photo (detail): © Yassine El Mansouri

Sense of Belonging
#1: I Love You, I Hate You

“We have the right to hate Germany because we love it,” German writer Kurt Tucholsky wrote. Listening to positions from both sides of the Atlantic Sylvia Cunningham and Monika Müller-Kroll explore the love-hate relationship we can have with our home countries. More ...