A blast from the past

Last week, a little bit of Latvia came to Berlin in the form of Yummy Jānis, my Latvian ex-boyfriend.

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Aww, those were the days…

He told me that he’d be flying into Schönefeld Airport at 13.55 on Friday and I told him he was on his own as I wouldn’t have time to get there after my German lesson. I helpfully sent him a map of the Berlin transport system and left him with dire warnings on which ticket to buy and to make sure to VALIDATE it.

After my lesson and much merriment, I dashed home to drop off my bag and straight back out again to meet Yummy at his hostel. He was staying in the ghetto area of Neukölln, so he should have felt right at home, albeit with a few more Turkish people than he’s probably used to in Latvia. His hostel was right beside the train station so I had no problems finding it.

Me: Are you nearly here?

Yummy: I’m still in the queue at the ticket machine.

30 minutes later…

Me: Any progress?

Yummy: I’ve got a ticket.

Me: Sigh.

This is why nobody flies into bloody Schönefeld if they can help it.

I wandered off to pick up a few bits and pieces and kill some time. Heading back towards the hostel, I noticed Yummy standing directly underneath a massive sign pointing to his hostel.

Me: Oh good, so you’re all checked in.

Yummy: No, I couldn’t find the hostel.

Me: …

I led him to the hostel and waited in the lobby as he took 30 minutes to drop his bag off and put a sheet on the bed. It was around two and a half hours since he’d landed and almost dark by then. I dragged him on to a train and off we went.

Me: Did you validate your ticket? 

Yummy: I think so. 

Me: Let me see it… No, you didn’t. 

So we got off the train again, validated the ticket and back on another train.

Me: (waving my hands around a bit) The world-famous Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag… Right, do you want to go to a Christmas market and drink Glühwein?

Luckily, he gave the correct answer.

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Can you smell the Glühwein and sausage?
Gendarmenmarkt is probably one of the most popular Christmas markets in Berlin, with certainly one of the most beautiful backdrops. We got some Glühwein, Yummy had a sausage and we wandered around savouring the sights and smells.

Me: Huh, it’s not even that crowded. Lucky. 

Yummy: (pale and sweating) My god, it’s so crowded. I’m kind of freaking out. 

Me: Yeah, I guess when you’re used to being one of like five people in your country, this probably is crowded. 

Hordes of Latvians. ARGH.

So we left again.

Yummy: OK, I’m kind of calm again now. Can we go eat? 

Me: But you just had a sausage. That would keep me going all night. 

Yummy: I’m a grown man. 

Me: Sure. 

I took him to a semi-deserted restaurant on Oranienburger Straße, where I had hoped I could show him the hookers doing their thing, but it must have been too cold for them. Yummy presented me with a couple of Latvian “treats” to make up for it.

Yay. Black Balsams. My favourite...
Yay. Black Balsams. My favourite…

 

With Yummy fed, watered and feeling more like himself again, it was off to my favourite watering hole in Friedrichshain. There, we joined my neighbours (not the naked ones) from when I lived with Hildeberta and Hildegard. And, would you believe it, the Latvian chick Yummy had sat beside on the plane was in the very same bar. She was over visiting her boyfriend who now lives in Germany. They both seemed normal enough (for Latvians, anyway), so they sat with us and a raucous evening of Irish-German-Latvian hilarity ensued.

With Yummy off to visit his cousin in Hamburg the next day, I was left to my own devices. As luck would have it, the Lankwitz one-day-only, 5-hour extravaganza of a Christmas market was taking place on the church grounds.

Possibly the smallest, shortest Christmas market in Berlin.
Possibly the smallest, shortest Christmas market in Berlin.

 

As everyone knows, the best way to get over an excess of Glühwein is to have more Glühwein so I headed straight for the longest queue which, I felt, had to be where the Glühwein was at. I strolled around for a bit and when I started losing the feeling in my feet, adjourned to the one bar in Lankwitz I hadn’t tried yet.

Unluckily for me, it’s a Hertha BSC bar and a football match against Bayern Munich was in full swing. It was standing room only so I did my best to look interested and supportive, despite wearing the rather eye-catching red of the Bayern team. Not to worry. With Bayern comfortably hammering Hertha, the place cleared out a bit and I was able to perch on a stool at the bar.

The man next to me immediately started talking to me and, in no time at all, I was being introduced to everyone and having my wine bought for me. Maybe Hertha fans weren’t so bad after all. Nobody really spoke any English and, as well as practising my German, I also had at least three old blokes offering to cook me dinner.

Gunther: You should pay attention. All of the men will be after you because you are the only relatively young, semi-attractive woman in the bar. 

Looking around, I realised I was now the only woman in the bar. Couldn’t he just have left it at “young and attractive”? But no, that just wouldn’t be German, would it?

 

Huge thanks to Yummy for coming to visit – I hope you had a fun night!

 

 

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Attacking German

I’ve been living in Germany for over a year now and my German has come a long way from the “My name is Linda. I come from Ireland.” I arrived with. Of course, I still haven’t come as far as I would like and my natural lack of patience isn’t helping. But instead of bitching about it, I’ve come up with a goal – be B1 level by the end of the year, and B2 by this time next year.

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What a difference a few months makes…

As you can imagine, this is going to take a lot of time and effort so, in a bid to succeed, I have launched a multi-pronged attack on every aspect of the German language.

The first, and probably most obvious, step was to start taking private German lessons. I realised pretty quickly that group classes weren’t really for me as listening to an Italian murder the German language didn’t do much for my German. Plus, I get to talk about myself – a lot – and my teacher has to listen to me because I’m paying her to do just that. I’m sure the comedy value she gets out of listening to me babble away about my life is almost as dear to her as the money. I think it’s probably the most entertaining 75 minutes of her week. I also go to a “Bier trinken und Deutsch sprechen” evening once a month which is I think is pretty close to being the most fabulous idea ever.

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Drinking and talking – two things I’m very good at.
My friend Simone over at Lady of the Cakes is kindly helping me out by sending me a language challenge every day. These are met with spectacular language fails on my side.

Simone: How would you say “The leaves will have turned red.”?

Me: What? That’s future perfect! I couldn’t possibly know that at my level!

Simone: It’s supposed to be a challenge.

Me: Germans…

Simone: Go on, try. 

Me: (Google translating “the leaves”)

Simone: Come on. 

Me: The leaves…

Simone: Good start.

Me: The leaves *utter nonsense*

Simone: NEIN!

Me: The leaves *more utter nonsense* 

Simone: NEIN! 

Me: *something vaguely resembling German*

Simone: Better.

Me: The leaves will have turned red. 

Simone: JA! 

And then I rejoice and congratulate myself – until the next day.

Trips to my local bar are a great way to get me talking in German – and nicely lubricated. The old men in there have a bit of a soft spot for me so are more than willing to let me torture them with my Saudeutsch while engaging in some harmless knee-patting. If the hand starts moving up my leg, it’s time to go.

I also watch German TV every day. Frauentausch (Wife Swap) is great for learning vocabulary related to avoiding getting a job, and Die Höhle der Löwen (Lions’ Den) is doing wonders for my business German. It doesn’t hurt that I have a major crush on one of the Wolves. Yes, Jochen Schweizer, I’m talking about you.

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Swoon (image taken from gruenderszene.de)

My fascination with the man has gone so far that I’ve even bought his latest book and am attempting to read it. I underline every word I don’t understand while reading on the train, then look them up when I get home and compile them into a glossary in a file saved as “Jochen”. I’m almost sure it’s not as creepy as it sounds.

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Dreamy man…

The next step will be to find a German boyfriend. Any takers? I figure it’s cheaper to ask here than to join an online dating site. However, I am also thinking about doing that, mainly to see if German men like sending dick pics as much as their Latvian counterparts.

There could be fun times ahead…

 

You can find Simone’s blog here – https://ladyofthecakes.wordpress.com/

You can read about my Latvian online dating adventures here – https://expateyeonlatvia.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/from-your-sofa-no-one-can-hear-you-scream/

 

 

 

The mother of all visits

The day after Cecil flew out (hopefully fully clothed), Mammy O’Grady landed at Tegel Airport for her first visit to Berlin. Now, I’m sure most people’s mothers can visit and have a perfectly normal, totally drama-free trip, but well, this is me, so let’s begin, shall we?

She thinks she probably saw the gigantic TV Tower but can't be sure.
She thinks she probably saw the gigantic TV Tower but can’t be sure…

Mammy O’Grady’s flight was due to land just after my evening lesson ended which gave me enough time to make my way across the city to meet her at her hotel. My sister had stayed at the same place a few weeks earlier so I knew exactly where I was going. In fact, I was a bit early so I circled the block looking for likely places to eat. MO’G likes her food…

I walked into the hotel lobby just as some guests were leaving in a taxi. I was a bit surprised at the way the receptionist looked at me; OK, so I’d worked a 12-hour day, but I didn’t think I looked like a complete hobo. I turned away from him and started discreetly scrabbling in my bag for a hair brush, just in case.

Receptionist: Can I help you? 

Me: Um, no thanks. I’m just waiting for my mother. She’s staying here.

Receptionist: This is not possible. 

Me: (Harumph – you can call me a hobo but not Mammy O’Grady…) No, she is. She’s just not here yet. She’s at the airport. 

Receptionist: NEIN. The hotel is closed. 

At this point, I took a look around. The reception was much darker than I remembered – and empty. The roaring fire was no longer roaring and the lifts had been cordoned off. Hmm, maybe there was something to this hotel closure he spoke of…

Me: But, but, it can’t be closed. Mammy O’Grady is staying here. 

Receptionist: (taking pity on the confused hobo in front of him) What’s your mother’s name?

I gave it, he tapped at his computer for a few seconds and informed me that MO’G had been rebooked into another – even better – hotel just around the corner.

I managed to get MO’G on the phone, tell her the odd news and redirect the taxi to the new hotel. Thankfully, she was travelling with a friend or I think this would have sent her straight back to the airport.

Receptionist: I’m really sorry about all of this. I wish I could offer you a drink but the bar is closed too. 

Me: (Dammit) What happened here anyway? 

Receptionist: (with a (probably imagined) haunted look in his eye) There was an accident… The hotel has been closed while an investigation is being carried out.

Curiouser and curiouser. Anyway, I didn’t have time to ponder just then, so I marched around the corner and got to the door of the other hotel just as a confused MO’G and friend were pulling up in their taxi.

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Taxi

Greetings, hugs and vague explanations and theories out of the way, we  made our way to reception. The super-cute receptionist flirted with my mother outrageously while checking them in, keeping up a machine gun-like flow of verbal patter like a German Don Juan on speed.

So this was what 4+ star service was like…

We walked away from reception, with MO’G glowing from her first exchange with a handsome, young German gentleman.

MO’G: If I were ten years younger…

LO’G: TEN?? Jesus. You’d still be old enough to be his mother. 

We stepped into the lift and in a scene vaguely reminiscent of Zoolander, MO’G hit 4. Then her friend hit 4. Then MO’G hit 4. Nothing happened.

(Image taken from asianefficiency.com)
(Image taken from asianefficiency.com)

Me: (with only moderate, daughterly eye-rolling) You need to use your card.

Much giggling later, we arrived at room 4034. MO’G swiped the card. Nothing happened. Her friend swiped the card. Nothing happened. MO’G swiped the card. Nothing happened. Her friend swiped the card. Nothing happened.

Me: Oh, for God’s sake. Let me try it. 

Nothing happened.

Me: Are you sure that’s a 4? Maybe it’s a 9?

So we traipsed to room 4039 and carried out the same procedure. Nothing happened. Back to room 4034 for several more attempts and a lot of handle rattling. Suddenly, the door opened, not because the card had worked, but because a ridiculously attractive older man had opened it, from the inside. I wondered how long he’d been watching the three mad women through his peephole before deciding we were probably harmless.

MO’G: (getting the hang of German directness in record time) You… you’re in our room.

Sexy stranger: (with a smile on his lips) No, this is my room.

It was true; he did look rather comfortable in his hotel slippers. After a rather confusing, amusing conversation (and an invitation to join him), I called reception from the phone in the hall. It seemed the receptionist had been so busy flirting, he’d written down 4034 instead of 4043. Mystery solved.

When I got home later that night, I Googled the first hotel and “Unfall”. It turned out that a 37-year-old Finnish man had died of smoke inhalation in the sauna there, following a fire. It also emerged that the fire alarm system hadn’t been operational for weeks in the run-up to the fatal accident. No wonder there was an investigation underway. While the irony of a Finn dying in a sauna was probably lost on the Finn, it wasn’t wasted on me. To the best of my knowledge, the hotel is still closed.

Anyway, not one to let a hotel closure, a fire, a dead Finn and an attempted break-in stop her, Mammy O’Grady ended up having a ball. She loved Berlin and has decided she will come back for another visit in the spring.

I guess I should start preparing myself now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visit to a German sauna – a treat for ball enthusiasts

As experiences go, it’s pretty hard to top riding around the centre of Berlin in a bed. But luckily, I didn’t have to trouble my brain cells for too long as my English friend, Cecil, was coming to town. Cecil, the big perv German culture vulture had decided that he would like to go to a German sauna while he was here and who was I to refuse? OK, so I’d spent four years in Latvia refusing to go to saunas, but it seemed it was finally time to grow some balls and go be around complete strangers’ balls – an inevitable moment in every young woman’s life.

As I glumly regretted the Apfelstrudel, cookies, chocolate brownie, crisps and packet of Jaffa Cakes I’d eaten that week, Cecil dived into the naked corners of the internet. While I was grunting through a few half-hearted sit-ups and butt-lifting exercises, Cecil gleefully resurfaced with the new gem on the Berlin spa scene – Vabali, a 20,000 square metre, Balinese nudist colony in the heart of the city.

Having thought that my sauna adventure would consist of sloooooooooooooooooowly walking to a sauna, dropping towel and hastily exiting again four seconds or so later, this was not exactly good news. A quick look at the website revealed that the spa is open from 10am to midnight daily, and that the minimum amount of time even a chicken-shit Irish girl can spend there is two hours… Brilliant.

Trying to cheer myself up with the fact that at least I hadn’t had to fork out cash for a new bikini, I met Cecil at his hotel. As we walked to the car park to pick up his rental, Cecil had a moment of unparalleled genius while waiting for the green man:

“What’s that noise for? So deaf people know when to cross?”

Possibly in a bid to show that his driving skills were sharper than his medical knowledge, Cecil expertly manoeuvred the car out of the parking space and towards the exit. However, when we reached it, it was clear that he should have paid upstairs. Waving apologetically (and a bit Mr. Beanily) at the car waiting behind us, Cecil reversed, angled, and parked the car around 50 metres from the entrance. This left me in the enviable position of being face-to-face with all of the happy drivers who had to swerve around our car on their way in. Cecil took off at a run to the first floor machine, which was out of order, then to the second floor, where the machine worked, then clattered back down the roundy rampy thing in his sensible, English shoes. Really, it’s lucky I have a sense of humour…

We finally made it the spa where my humour and “naked spa” German failed me. We checked in (in jittery English), got our little watch things that would calculate our bill as we sauntered round in the buff, collected some towels and made our way to the changing rooms.

The walk of doom.
The walk of doom.

I took off my dress and bra and then Cecil took the piss out of me for wrapping my towel around myself to take off my tights and knickers. The rules, which had been explained to us at reception, were that you had to be naked when using the pools, saunas, and pretty much everything else, but wear a towel or robe while walking from one place to the next. With everything safely deposited in our lockers, it was time to go. I fervently wished I’d given some thought as to how to stash a bottle of whiskey in a towel before arriving.

Holding onto that towel for dear life.
Holding onto that towel for dear life.

First on the agenda was a small heated jacuzzi. I dropped my towel and ran down the steps like a woman possessed. But once I was in the water, I actually started to relax. This wasn’t so bad! Everyone was naked – nobody was looking at me or judging my Apfelstrudel consumption habits; everyone was just chilling out (naked) and having a good time. The people there ranged from 18 to 80, with the dangly bits to match, so I really didn’t feel like I had anything to hide.

This place was amazing! (Image taken from the Vabali website)
This place was amazing! (Image taken from the Vabali website)

I emerged from the pool (think of Halle Berry in that James Bond movie…) dried off a bit, and we hit a sauna. Stretched out on a bench, naked as the day I was born, all I felt was a refreshing sense of freedom – oh, and bloody hot. After all that sweating, I felt like we’d earned a glass of wine so off to the bar we went. Amazingly for the last day of October, it was still warm enough to sit outside in just a towel. The sun shone, the birds sang, I drank my wine and tried not to look at the massive balls of the man sitting at the next table with his legs coquettishly spread. This was bliss.

If you get a bit chilly, you can always warm up in here. (Image taken from the Vabali website)
If you get a bit chilly, you can always warm up in here. (Image taken from the Vabali website)

We giggled our way through saunas, massage areas, swimming pools, rest areas with water beds, and more wine, until we came to two rectangular, side-by-side, knee-deep pools of water with smooth round stones at the bottom.

Me: Hmm.

Cecil: Go on.

Me: Hmm.

As the water was only knee-deep, I figured I could leave my towel on for this one but, for some reason, Cecil was insistent I take it off… I tentatively dipped a toe in the first pool – OK, that was pleasant. I sloshed through and up the steps at the other end. I did my toe-dipping thing in the second pool and jumped about a foot in the air. The water was FREEZING.

Me: NO, NO, NO! NEIN!! It’s bloody freezing in there! 

As I tried to back backwards and Cecil pushed me forwards, you could probably hear me guffawing in actual Bali. Some Germans even stopped to watch the show, laughing almost as much as I was. I charged through the water, bits bouncing, and emerged triumphantly shivering on the other side to greet my new-found audience.

All in all, it was a great day and if you have to get your bits out in public, I highly recommend doing it in Vabali.

Disclaimer: Not everyone who comes to visit me will get to see me naked, so don’t get any ideas.