A bit of a rant

Don’t worry – it’s not about the Germans. They’re still being utterly charming.

No, this is a language rant; one that probably won’t make me terribly popular, but well, I’m used to that so here goes.

Part of the fun of being a blogger is reading other people’s blogs, and I read quite a few of them, written by both native and non-native speakers of English. Maybe it’s because of the line of work I’m in, but it saddens maddens me to see how many of these blogs are rife with simple grammar and spelling mistakes. And yes, I’m talking to you, native English speakers.

As a newbie language learner myself, I have the utmost respect for people who write in a language that is not their mother tongue. Learning a language is bloody hard, and if I ever get to the stage where my German is that good, I’ll probably be too busy doing happy dances around Berlin to even think about blogging.

My problem is with native English speakers who consistently make simple errors – things like confusing ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, ‘they’re/their/there’, ‘affect’ and ‘effect’, and don’t even get me started on the heinous misuse of apostrophes.

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NEIN

Yes, it’s a busy world we live in. Yes, we’re all short of time. But if you expect other people to read what you’ve written, the least you could do is read it yourself first – and reread it – before hitting ‘publish’.

But, as I’m a kind soul really, I thought I’d mention a few of my pet peeves, in the hopes that someone, somewhere will read them, reread their own writing, and save my eyes from rolling dangerously in my head.

You’re welcome.

1. It’s over there in its place on the shelf.

2. They’re over there in their house.

3. Your trousers might be loose if you lose your belt.

4. You’re the greatest. Your knowledge is second to none.

5. Then I drank my beer. It was better than any other beer I’ve ever had.

6. Bad spelling and grammar affect me greatly. The effect is a lot of eye-rolling and sighing.

And if you’ve ever written ‘should of’, ‘would of’, or ‘could of’, you should probably be put down.

Right, I think I’ve made my point. Feel free to share your pet hates in the comments below – I’m sure I’ve missed a few. And if you spot any mistakes in this post, please feel free to shoot me.

 

Images taken from Apostrophe Catastrophes

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Back to the Bürgeramt

Four words I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to say again so soon, but well, welcome to the world of German bureau-crazy.

The next step in becoming German is the (unfortunate but unavoidable) tax number registration process. In order to get this show on the road, a trip to the local Finanzamt is necessary. I’d looked up the word for ‘freelancer’ so was pretty confident I’d be able to spot which form I needed easily.

Not so. The dizzying array of tax forms in the reception area made my eyes water. I had no other option but to hit the button for a ticket number and wait to talk to a real person. Thankfully, unlike the Bürgeramt, this happened in around ten minutes.

In my excitement, and desperation to get it over with as quickly as possible, I forgot to take a seat and instead started babbling in cavewoman German, while sweatily clutching the edge of Norbert’s desk.

Me: Me…tax number. I freelancer. Need, um, um, document? Don’t know. So many. (Faints.)

Norbert: (In English) Um, OK, why don’t you take a seat for a couple of minutes and we’ll sort that out for you. So you’re a freelancer? 

Me: (Pathetically grateful nodding and grinning through happy tears)

Norbert: Right, so this is the form you need. I’ll put an ‘X’ beside the sections you have to complete… Do you have any German friends? You’ll need help filling it in.

Me: (More nodding)

Norbert: OK, so fill it in, drop it back here, or post it to us. You’ll have the number within two weeks. 

Me: (Coming to a little) Is it possible to pick it up from the office?

Norbert: No, we send it to your registered address. 

ARSE
ARSE

At this time, I was still registered at the mad Swede’s place but I didn’t trust him enough to get important mail sent there. So that meant UNregistering that address and REregistering my new address AND the only place you can do that is… yes, you’ve guessed it, the dreaded Bürgeramt.

Now, if you’re not fussy, you’re averse to getting up at 4am, and you’ve got time on your hands, you can search every Bürgeramt in Berlin for an appointment simply by sitting at your computer and clicking ‘refresh’, ‘refresh’, ‘refresh’…

Staggeringly, an appointment popped up for 2pm the next day. Pretty sure that this had never happened to anyone ever in the history of the entire world, I jumped on it – then looked up where Marzahn is. Turns out it’s in Poland. (OK, not quite but far enough east not to make much difference.)

Indeed, when I got there, things looked strangely familiar, and not in a good way.

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Still, brave little soldier that I am, I knocked over a couple of grannies and women with children, and took a seat. It seems that there is no good time to go to a Bürgeramt, no matter where it is.

Really?
Really?

Unless, of course, you’ve got an appointment. I marched boldly through the door, and with a little German, a lot of miming and even a few words of French, I marched out again, triumphant.

Now it was time to tackle the tax form. One look at it made my head spin, and I was just about to ask my unfortunate flatmate to help me with it, when I decided it was time to man up.

All together now - AARGH!
All together now – AARGH!

By focusing on words I already knew, Google-translating heavily, and using a bit of common sense, I managed to fill in around 95% of it myself. Suck it, language placement test. I had my flatmate give it a quick once-over, filled in the last couple of boxes and popped it into an envelope.

Just seven working days later, my shiny new tax number materialised in the letter box – like a (crappy) pre-Christmas miracle.

So, for anyone keeping count since my arrival in Berlin, that’s 10 weeks, 3 apartments, 2 jobs, 5 Bürgerämter, 1 Finanzamt, 1 bank account, 1 tax number and a hell of a lot of excellent German beer to get me through it all.

Next up, the German pension scheme and health insurance systems. I’m not sure there is enough beer…

Germanification

I feel like my inner German is growing stronger by the day. I’ve even started glaring at people who jaywalk – not because I disapprove, but because it seems like rather a German thing to do.

The process is being accelerated by the fact that I live with two German girls, and I believe that their German influence over me is stronger than my Irish influence over them. Although, in the beginning, I thought that the Irish might win out.

Hildeberta: Last night I had a night that you would be proud of. 

Me: I assume that something terribly sophisticated happened. 

Hildeberta: HA! NO! (A classic example of that German delusion-crushing directness you’ve probably heard about.) No, no, I ended up drinking with a bunch of randoms in some gay bar, then somehow found myself in an African bar, then finished the night sitting in the road eating pizza with a homeless guy. 

Me: Hmm. Yeah, that does sound more like something I would do…

However, despite this little Irish blip, it is, most definitely, a German apartment. This is mainly evidenced in the fact that it is spotless – apart from my room, obviously.

The cleanest bathroom in the world
The cleanest bathroom in the world

The reason for this is that Germans never stop cleaning. Even when something is clean, they’ll clean over the clean – just for good measure. When it comes to O’Grady vs Germ, I adopt a very ‘live and let live’ attitude – it’s worked for me so far. When it comes to German vs Germ… well, let’s just say you feel sorry for any germ that has the audacity to lurk on German soil.

The most used hoover in the world
The most used hoover in the world – and Elvis

I think that all of this might, one day, have the effect of turning me into a good decent semi-decent Hausfrau. The other day, I actually hoovered – spontaneously. However, I feel that my progress may not be speedy enough for ze Germans.

Last week, I was über proud of myself when I finished a carton of milk and remembered to put it into the “cardboard” bin. I swaggered off somewhere and came back to find Hildegard standing in the kitchen holding the offending item. I’d messed up in two ways –

1. I hadn’t folded the milk carton to the size of a 10 cent coin.

2. I’d put it into the “cardboard” bin, when it was lined with plastic and probably still contained some drops of milk. (Actually, I knew it did.)

Hildegard: I know! It’s such a German thing! 

Me: Yeah… haha. 

Although she was laughing, there was German steel in there at the same time. I then got my first lesson in Mülltrennung (rubbish separation), the one thing every foreigner dreads when they move to Germany.

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Guess which one is mine…

Still, I console myself with the fact that while my German Hausfrau-ness is a work in progress, my German beer-drinking abilities are second to none. Well, apart from the Germans – natürlich.

Linda does Deutsch

One of the things I like about living in Germany, is that when people are throwing stuff out, they give you a chance to get your mitts on it first. This is definitely not stealing.

I'm a big fan
I’m a big ‘fan’

And so, one day last week, my flatmate and I were gleefully rummaging through other people’s junk, when I struck gold. Yes, it’s my ‘new’, incredibly colourful German notebook. Thank you, neighbour.

At least I'll never lose it.
At least I’ll never lose it.

Putting it carefully into my backpack, mature student-stylee, I made my way to the school for my first official lesson. I bounded into the office, paid the balance for my course, bought the book, and babbled away at the bemused receptionist.

Brunhilde: You’re very excited, aren’t you? 

Me: YES! I’ve been waiting for this day for weeks! 

Brunhilde: OK… 

I found the right classroom and tried to calm the attack of nerves that had suddenly overtaken me. Who was I kidding? German is insanely difficult to learn, and because of my advancing years, it would be even more so. This was going to be a disaster…

SOS was right
SOS was right

While we waited for the teacher, I chatted to a French girl and sized up the competition other students. I told myself I was probably smarter than them – if in doubt, be incredibly arrogant to overcompensate.

The teacher came in, and I actually knew her. Considering I only know around 10 people in Berlin, this was kind of a miracle. She also works at one of the schools I work at, and we’d been at an induction together the week before. Small world.

We got down to business – my name is…, I’m from…, I live in…, I’m an (English teacher). The class was all done through German, but to my amazement, I could actually understand everything. It seemed like the hours on Duolingo and with my ‘Learn German’ book had paid off after all. The class consisted of the French girl, an American girl, an Italian guy, an English guy, an annoyingly mouthy Croatian and his weirdly silent brother. I figured his silence was the result of years of trying to get a word in, and failing.

After around 15 minutes, the Italian raised his hand.

Luigi: I’m sorry, but is this the beginners’ class? I haven’t understood one word you’ve said, or written on the board. 

Britney: Me neither. 

Meinhilde assured them (in German) that it was indeed the beginners’ class and that the receptionist must have lied to them on the phone when she’d told them that the first classes would be taught through English.

Aside from feeling rather smug that my German was definitely not the worst in the class, I also felt really sorry for him. In addition, it gave me an insight into how my beginners must feel. Poor buggers. I’ll definitely be more patient and less assuming in future.

I spent the rest of the class translating everything for hapless Luigi, who happened to be sitting next to me. I wasn’t sure that he would come back, but on Thursday night, I was happy to see him show up again. He still didn’t know anything but at least he’s trying. We all have to start somewhere, right?

We had to do our first writing exercise in the second lesson, and when we were finished Meinhilde invited answers. I listened to three or four wrong answers each time before piping up with the correct one. It seems like I’m going to be that student. Luckily, I didn’t go there to make friends.

On my way out, excited by my perceived awesomeness, I threw my knickers in the air in triumph.

Not really, but watch this space.
Not really, but watch this space.

And now I have to go and do my homework so I can be annoyingly smug again tomorrow.

Teething problems

What with all the teething problems I’ve had since I moved to Berlin, it was probably only a matter of time before one of them involved actual teeth. And, ever so obligingly, on Monday evening, one of my fillings popped out of my mouth while I was eating dinner.

This was bad for a number of reasons:

1. I haven’t got around to getting health insurance yet.

2. It was a front tooth and now it had a gaping hole in it.

3. My first German lesson was the following evening.

My (lying kind) German flatmates assured me that you would hardly notice it and gave me the name of a local dentist. After a quick Google, I discovered that you could make an appointment online, so I enlisted one of them to help me write a message in German. From what I remember, it was something about my ‘gefilling gefalling aus’, but I could be wrong there…

Then it was straight on to Facebook for a good old-fashioned pity party.

Me: My gefilling has gefallen aus! I’m hideous! I’m going to be the monster down the back of the classroom that nobody wants to do pairwork with! 

My long-suffering friend: Oh stop. You’ll be fine. 

Me: I will NOT be fine. Maybe I can speak German without opening my mouth? Kind of like a German Godfather? 

MLSF: Or you could put your hand over your mouth and pretend you have Ebola? 

Me: Hmm. I think I’d prefer to be the hideous one than the Ebola-ridden one, but thanks for the idea.

The next day, the surgery called to say that they could give me an appointment on Friday at 13.30. I took it, but had no intention of waiting that long. A quick Google search (what did we do before the internet?) gave me a plethora of options so I called one.

Me: Hello, I need an appointment urgently. It’s a matter of pride and ego. 

Helga: That sounds serious. You can come after 9pm. 

Me: You mean 9am tomorrow?

Helga: No, 9pm tonight. 

Me: Really? Oh, but I have a German lesson until 9.15 – it will be at least 10pm before I can make it. Will you still be open? 

Helga: Of course! We’re open until midnight! 

What was this madness? A dentist? Open til midnight? I decided to take her at her word as the alternative was just too horrible to contemplate. Luckily, I had no students that day so I only scared the waitress in a local café, and the dude in a local jewellery shop. He made the unfortunate mistake of complimenting my German, so, forgetting myself, I beamed at him. I remembered myself quickly as he recoiled in horror.

The cake consoled me.
The cake consoled me.

I spent the rest of the day perfecting a weird half-smile, that could have looked coquettish on the right person, but probably just looked mental on me. Thankfully, in class, I ended up paired with an Italian who was so clueless, my teeth were the last thing on his mind.

When the class ended, I raced to the train and across the city to the magical, mystical, midnight dentist. It was true! It was true! They really were open! After some rather painless (for Germany) form-filling, and some Brando-esque/Ebola-ridden flirting with the cute receptionist, I was sent to the waiting room.

Half an hour later, and rather a lot of money lighter, I left with one perfect German tooth – which really just served to make all the other Irish/Latvian teeth feel inferior. I hope they don’t gang up on the German and push him out – I’m not sure my bank balance could take it.

(More on the lessons in the next post – I’m still digesting.)

Link to magical, mystical, late-opening dentist.

 

 

 

A tour and a tribute

Yesterday, the lovely Dietmar arranged for me to do a tour with his company – Berliner Unterwelten.

What a nice thing to do, I hear you say. And really, it was all the more so as this was the third time he’d arranged it. Honestly, I don’t know why this man puts up with me.

My flatmate saw this and thought of me. Cute.
My flatmate saw this and thought of me. Cute.

He had originally wanted me to do a tour of the flak tower in Humboldthain Park and organised it several weeks ago. I was instructed to be at the office no later than 2.45 to pick up my ticket. As I’m practically German now, this was no problem. I was even a few minutes early. Unfortunately, it was the wrong office.

After a dash on the underground, I made it to the right office at around two minutes after three. The girl was very nice about it, but the tour had already started so I was out of luck. (Incidentally, this girl would become my new landlady around two weeks after this – small world.)

The next week, Dietmar kindly arranged for me to do the tour again. This time, I was on time, at the right office – but unfortunately in the wrong shoes. I’d somehow missed the bit in the programme about sturdy footwear being a must. After four years in Latvia, sturdy footwear is just not in my vocabulary.

After apologising profusely again, Dietmar organised a ticket for me yesterday. Unfortunately, the flak tower tour is now finished until April – bats take over the building as their preferred hibernation destination – so I was going to do Tour M instead, “Under the Berlin Wall”.

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Dietmar also provided me with a ticket for the Germania exhibition which I was to go to before the tour. My landlady handed over the tickets, gave me directions on how to find the museum and off I went. I realised shortly afterwards that I clearly hadn’t been listening properly.

For anyone who has never been in Gesundbrunnen station, this place is a maze in mental asylum green. I went up and down stairs and escalators, in and out of doors, walked along platforms, and did more u-turns than a vodka-fuelled Latvian driver. Eventually, after a rather one-sided German conversation with a transport worker, I found it.

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You’d be forgiven for not realising this was a museum, right?
“Myth of Germania” is an absolutely fascinating insight into the mind of a megalomaniac. Aided and abetted by the architect, Albert Speer, “Myth of Germania” explores Hitler’s planning of an über metropolis, “not meant merely to serve Berlin’s citizens with a modernized habitat but rather as a representation of the Nazi regime’s sheer power.”

Saying that I enjoyed it sounds all sorts of wrong – “enjoy” is just not the right word for an experience like this, but it’s an important and extremely well put-together exhibition and one that I highly recommend. (Drop me a line and I’ll give you detailed instructions on how to find it…)

After a quick cuppa, I made my way back to the meeting point for the tour. I was a) early, b) in the right place, and c) in the correct footwear. Success.

The (rather cute German) tour guide had everyone’s attention right from the beginning as we explored bunkers and heard stories of the Germans’ ingenuity in figuring out ways to escape East Germany, by going under the Berlin wall. The transport system, the sewerage system and self-made tunnels were all utilised and we got up close and personal with two out of three.

Jumping the Wall - while it was still possible.
Jumping the Wall – while it was still possible.

We learned of the successes and the failures, the tales of true love, and the sheer bravery and spirit of these people that just would not be kept down. Although everyone knows about the Berlin Wall, this tour really hammered home the human aspect of it.

After (finally) managing to take one of the Berliner Unterwelten tours, I can’t even find the words to say how much I admire Dietmar for setting up this association. If you ask him about it, he’ll be incredibly modest, so I’m going to blow his trumpet for him – which I’m sure he’ll hate…

Established in 1997, Berliner Unterwelten researches and documents Berlin’s underground. I may not be completely correct with the figures, but I think in its first year, BU had 3,000 visitors; last year, it passed the 280,000 mark. And although 450 people are part of this organisation, it really is a testament to the awesomeness that is Dietmar.

Easily one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met, I think meeting him on my first night here was probably one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. (And his brother can sing the Irish anthem.)

In this city which I now call home, but that is still relatively new to me, it’s amazing that I already have someone that I can call a true friend. I honestly feel that with him in my life, anything is possible. And if that’s too mushy for most of my readers to handle, “tough titty” as another good German friend once said.

So, if you come to Berlin, be sure to check out one of BU’s tours. Who knows, some day, I might even be your tour guide – as soon as my German gets good enough to call emergency services in case you have a heart attack on my watch…