Show cover of The Big Ponder

The Big Ponder

This transatlantic podcast explores abstract concepts and phenomena through personal radio essays. Every other week, one of our producers transforms a broad topic into a captivating story told from a US-German perspective.


Ball Bearings
Ball bearings — these mechanisms are all around us, inside our wheels and motors. Hidden away, we rarely see them, and most people don’t even know what they are. In this episode, Scott Carrier reveals the overlooked role this engineering marvel has played in human history.
28:23 9/1/22
The Typewriter
In search of inefficiency in an overly efficient digital world, Jakob Lewis entered the ‘typosphere,’ an online community of typewriter enthusiasts. Several typewriters and a letter to Tom Hanks later, Jakob is a convert to the analog life.
27:42 8/18/22
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.
28:51 8/4/22
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.
28:32 7/21/22
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.
27:37 7/6/22
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.
28:13 6/22/22
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.
29:00 6/8/22
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.
29:35 5/26/22
The Street
As a lifelong photographer and filmmaker, Harald Rumpf has spent decades exploring the cities that his subjects call home. In this episode, he uses archival interviews and personal anecdotes to reconstruct a lifetime of experiences documenting life in the streets.
28:14 5/18/22
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.
30:34 4/27/22
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.
25:59 4/14/22
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.
28:41 3/31/22
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.
28:44 3/17/22
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.
28:48 3/3/22
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.
28:06 2/17/22
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.
27:41 2/3/22
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.
28:42 1/20/22
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.
27:01 1/6/22
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? 
27:26 12/23/21
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. 
26:11 12/9/21
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. 
28:16 11/24/21
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.
29:42 11/11/21
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.
29:05 10/28/21
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.
29:19 10/14/21
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.
28:48 9/30/21
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.
28:44 9/16/21
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.
30:19 9/2/21
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.
28:22 8/12/21
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.
28:59 7/29/21
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.
28:53 7/15/21

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