Trust me, I’m NOT a doctor

When you first move to a country where you don’t really speak the language, you start off with a straw-grasping philosophy, trying to make any sort of connection to your mother tongue that makes the new language seem a bit less scary. Or at least that’s what I did.

So began my love for “NOT” words. When faced with the word “Notfall” on various signs, I would tip my cap and say, “Why thank you, Germany. I had no intention of falling but it’s so kind of you to look out for my well-being like that.” And then I would skip along on my merry way. Unbeknownst to me, I was actually avoiding a “Notfall” by not falling, but this wouldn’t occur to me for a while.

Things became a little more complicated when I came across signs that said “Notdienst”. I mean, if they weren’t offering a service, then why were they open at all?

But the real stumpers were “Notarzt” and “Notausgang”. Even with my limited German, I knew that Arzt was a doctor. Was this some kind of weird game Germans played at dinner parties?

Traudl: So, what do you do? 

Brickel: Well, I’m not a doctor! (Wink, wink…)

“Notausgang”, however, it seems to me, is just plain dangerous for non-German speakers. You realise after around three minutes in the country that an “Ausgang” is an exit, but a NOTausgang? Picture, if you will, a bunch of foreigners in a burning building. They all start running for the exit…

Linguistically-challenged tourist: WAIT! Stop! It’s NOT an exit!

And then they all turn around and run back towards the flames of doom.

Of course, once you realise that “Notfall” is an emergency, the rest all falls (ahem) into place. It’s probably too late for those poor tourists though.

Don't worry, it IS an Ausgang
Don’t worry, it IS an Ausgang

Another thing that might surprise visitors to Germany is the amount of “fahrting” that goes on here. So to make your next visit a little less confusing, I’ve compiled a little glossary* of “fahrt” to help you along. I know, I’m so helpful.

Fahrt: a fart

Einfahrt: a fart that has to be held in because you are in a crowded public place

Abfahrt: a fart that requires extra pressure from the abs to push it out

Ausfahrt: that moment of blissful release when you finally let rip

Zufahrt: a fart that is so smelly, it rivals those of zoo animals

*Glossary may or may not be accurate

Fart with earth gas
Fart with earth gas

Upon seeing the above sign on a taxi, I just couldn’t resist taking a photo.

Mr Taxi Driver: What are you doing?

Me: Taking a photo.

Mr Taxi Driver: Why? 

Me: Because if you have a stupid sense of humour, this is hilarious in English. 

(Poor Long-Suffering Nigel has, by now, hidden under a table so people don’t think we’re together.)

Mr Taxi Driver: Oh. Yes, I suppose it is quite funny in English. 

Me: It is. Trust me. I’m not a doctor. 

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A run-in with the Polizei

My passport expired last month. Ever the optimist, I assumed that getting a new one would be a relatively painless process. I went on to the German Irish Embassy website, filled in their little online form, and waited for the documents to appear in my letter box. A week later, I was still waiting. Now I know that the Irish are not exactly known for their efficiency – my good self excluded – but this was definitely taking the Pinkel.

I called up, explained that I’d filled in the form a week before and asked how long it normally took to get the documents.

Siobhán-Schwanhild: It shouldn’t take any longer than three days.

Me: Huh. Can you send them again, please?

The next morning they were in my letter box. They must have hired a German in the meantime.

I had a quick look through the plethora of forms and eventually located the actual form I would need to fill in. Page 1 – fine, page 2 – fine, page 3 – not applicable as I am no spring chicken any more (much as I pretend otherwise), page 4 – crap.

Everyone loves forms, right?
Everyone loves forms, right?

In order to apply for an Irish passport, you have to have your application witnessed by one of the following people:

  • Police officer
  • Member of clergy
  • Medical doctor
  • Lawyer
  • Bank manager/assistant bank manager
  • Elected public representative
  • Notary public/commissioner for oaths
  • Peace commissioner
  • School principal/vice principal
  • Accountant
  • Butcher*
  • Baker*
  • Candle-stick maker*

You have to sign the form in front of this witness, they have to complete a section of it, including a work landline number, then sign and stamp two of the four photos you need to submit – once they’re satisfied that the photos are actually of you, of course. I toyed with the idea of popping over the road, putting on my holy face and asking a priest to do it – maybe I could even fashion a halo out of some toilet rolls and a light bulb – but it felt a bit cheeky after my leavingthecatholicchurchtoavoidpayingstupidtaxes fiasco, so I put that thought out of my head. A-men.

Nice church I'm not paying for
Nice church I’m not paying for

I scanned the list again to see if game designers, artists, writers, starving teachers and bunker association founders had appeared, but alas, they hadn’t. I then racked my brains trying to think of any lawyers, doctors, accountants or bankers I knew. I realised that, at least when it came to the passport application process, I had sadly been mixing in the wrong circles for the past year.

Luckily, there’s a police station across the road from where I work, so armed with all of my documents, photos and ID, I trotted over there. A jolly-looking policeman sat behind a glass screen so I started explaining (in German) what I needed and waving documents around. I obviously didn’t explain very well as he decided he had to come out of his glass box and into the waiting room to fully investigate what it was I was after.

Me: I need ein/einen/eine/einem signature. (Wave, wave) This is my passport, um, I don’t know the word for application – probably should have looked that up. You look at photos. (Wave, wave) You look at me. Is photo me? You are happy? Then you signature. (Wave, wave) 

PC Pharamond Plod: NEIN. 

Me: Bitte?

PC Pharamond Plod: NEIN. The German police do not sign documents.

Me: But, but… look! Photo is me – no problem!

PC Pharamond Plod: NEIN. 

Me: Sigh.

I trudged out, defeated. Then, as I passed the Deutsche Bank on my way to the train station, I had another idea. An ex-student of mine works there – as a bank manager.

When I got home, I sent her an email explaining what I needed. Two days later, she replied to say, “NEIN, German bank managers do not do this”. Double sigh. Eventually, I managed to charm force one of the accountants at the school (who I’d never even met before) into signing it. It had only taken around three weeks longer than expected.

Herr Accountant: You are aware that your passport is very out of date.

Me: Triple sigh.

I marched over to the Irish Embassy, handed everything in, and paid my €85.

Me: You are aware that the German police will not sign documents. Why are they on the form if they are not an option?

Siobhán-Schwanhild: That’s funny. A lot of people have their applications signed by a police officer. 

Me: Beyond sighing.

By the time I reconcile myself with the fact that maybe German police just do not like the look of me, the passport should have arrived.

*Not actually included on the list. Had you fooled though, didn’t I?

You can find ALL the information you need on applying for an Irish passport in Germany here.

My 1st Germanniversary

This time last year, I was sitting on a bus from Riga to Berlin, my worldly possessions safely stowed in the hold (I hoped), with around 16 hours stretching ahead of me to contemplate what exactly I was doing; moving to a city where I didn’t know a soul, with no job and no long-term accommodation lined up. All I had was about five words of German and a roof over my head for the next two weeks. Little did I know I’d end up sharing with a septuagenarian who would have a penchant for dry humping me while I cleaned his fridge.

I still did a bloody good job on the fridge though.
I still did a bloody good job on the fridge though.

Looking back, there were a lot of things I couldn’t have predicted. And while I’m not saying six flats, three jobs, leaving the Catholic Church, and endless rounds of bureaucracy were a walk in the park, they certainly made for an interesting year. In between all of this, of course, I did have some fun. I’ve been to museums, festivals, lakes, book launches, football matches, Christmas markets. I’ve been to Hamburg, Dresden, Leipzig, Potsdam, and Marzahn (shudder). I even managed to get my name on a plaque in Humboldthain Park.

You have to look very closely, but it's there.
You have to look very closely, but it’s there.

I’ve done my best to unravel the mysteries of the German poo shelf. I’ve been sold on the idea of two single duvets on a double bed (that probably also has two single mattresses). I’ve battled with the German language and am now an expert absolute beginner at business German thanks to “Die Höhle der Löwen”*. Or at least I can almost pronounce “Die Höhle der Löwen” – it’s something like “dee huhhluh der luhffen” if you want to give it a go. (Germans, feel free to laugh now.) I’ve tried – and failed miserably – to be a good German Hausfrau, but I do still rinse out my pasta sauce jars. The fact that I use pasta sauce from a jar explains a lot about my failure to be a good Hausfrau.

Because you can never have too many poo shelf pictures in one blog
Because you can never have too many poo shelf pictures in one blog

I’ve made some fantastic friends, and some colossal mistakes. Thankfully, the former helped get me through the latter. The thing about Berlin is that she’s a slippery little sucker. Every time one thing slips into place, something else slips away. For the past year, it’s all been a bit one step forward, two steps back. Or, sometimes, more like half a step forward, have your feet ripped from under you and end up flat on your arse. But I’ve realised that the trick is to keep getting up again, a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator. (The similarity would probably be more apparent if the Terminator liked a glass of wine and busting out Dusty Springfield tunes.) Aaaaanyway, the point is, one year on, I’m still here and I’m still standing.

Because this is my life, this is Berlin, and this is home. There’s always something amazing around the corner. And even if there isn’t, there’s only a few months to go ’til Glühwein season…

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So, I hope you’ll all be sticking around, because I know I will be.

*The German version of Dragons’ Den/Shark Tank. The 50% I can understand is massively entertaining.

Another one bytes the dust

Getting a home internet connection in Germany is notoriously painful. I’ve known bloggers who moved flat, said they’d be back, and were never heard from again.

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People have died waiting for wifi (probably). In fact, someone told me that you had to wait for someone to die in order to take over their connection. But, with German healthcare being what it is (i.e. excellent), I wasn’t willing to wait that long.

My company of choice was Kabel Deutschland; I teach there so I already know half of the customer service department, which could come in handy if any problems arose. This, unfortunately, was not to be as they require a minimum contract of two years. With my temporarily permanent living arrangement, I needed something a bit more flexible. Having scoured a few free advice websites, I came across 1 & 1 Internet. As they’re an internet company, I figured emailing was a viable option, and I did just that a week before I moved flat.

The (probably) lovely Marco got back to me within a day, recommending the best package for my needs. Sounded good. I then muddled over the form for a day or so and sent it back. Cue a shitload lot of very confusing emails, of which I could understand around 10%. I’m a Luddite in English so this was way beyond my German capabilities. An angry-sounding German (not as common as you’d think) called me to shout incomprehensible things at me, while I trotted out “baby’s first words” in response. Anyway, I got through it and managed to get an appointment for only 19 days after I moved in. (You might think the “only” is sarcastic but this is Germany so…)

The modem arrived in the post, I’d arranged to have the day off work, and was dutifully sitting on my sofa at 8am, prepared to wait for up to five hours for the technician to arrive and work his magic. At 9.14, I received a text message saying that the technician had been unable to access the apartment and that I would have to arrange another appointment. Um, WHAT? I immediately called 1 & 1 but the customer service rep’s English was the equivalent of my German so that conversation was a non-starter. Someone else would have to call me back. Nobody did.

I wondered if I could squeeze in beside Frederick the Great. He has spuds and everything.
I wondered if I could squeeze in beside Frederick the Great. He has spuds and everything.

But the day wasn’t a total loss. That afternoon, I was off to meet the American Ambassador and family for a Berliner Unterwelten tour of the Humboldthain Flak Tower and “Myth of Germania” exhibition. Sometimes it pays to be the token English-speaking person. The family turned out to be lovely, they had a great time, and I got to watch scary security men say “Clear” into walkie-talkies and be ferried across the street in a super-vehicle with blacked-out windows. Click here to see hi-larious images of me in a shower cap and hard hat –

IMG_4161

Anyway, after that life went back to normal. On Friday morning, I was leaving a lesson and on my way to my other job when the phone rang.

Me: Hello, Linda speaking.

Körbl: Hallo, you need new appointment with Internet Techniker.

Me: YES! Yes, I do! When is it? 

Körbl: 10 minutes.

Me: 10 minutes past what? On what day? 

Körbl: (Sigh) NEIN, 10 minutes from now.

Me: But, but… I’m not at home! I’m on the other side of the city!

I briefly scanned Schlesisches Straße to see if a helicopter pad had magically appeared since the last time I’d been there. It hadn’t.

Körbl: OK, we make new appointment. I call you later. 

Me: (sinking to my knees) NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!

This time, however, someone did call me and I managed to get an appointment only 14 days after the first one. (Again, not sarcastic.) Yesterday saw me dutifully sitting on my sofa at 8am in my favourite “Carpe that fucking diem” t-shirt, though I was more ready to “carpe” someone by the throat if nobody showed up this time. At 9.30, the doorbell rang. I’m not sure if the poor “Techniker” had ever had a woman so happy to see him, but he’s a German internet provider so he probably has women (and men) throwing themselves at his feet all the time. He stopped outside the door to put surgeon’s slippers on over his boots while I chuckled and thought, “German”.

I gleefully danced around after him as he tugged at cables, and made Star Trek noises with his “device”. I trailed happily after him down to the basement and back upstairs again, while shouting inane things like, “It’s a green light! Green lights are good, right?” I was like the puppy he’d never had – and probably never wanted. Finally, he announced that everything was working. I managed to refrain from flinging myself at his surgical slippers, but only just.

GREEN LIGHTS!
GREEN LIGHTS!

So, I now have wifi in my flat. I didn’t die, nobody else had to die, and the whole process only (that word again) took two attempts and around a  month and a half. Basically, I am gewinning at life. So come on, Germany, what else have you got? (Probably shouldn’t ask that question…)