The Russian does Berlin

When Anna first visited me in Riga, I delighted in trying to poison her with the local Black Balzams. So, when she said she wanted to come to Berlin for more torture, I wondered what fun and games we’d get up to. Her wishlist was, thankfully, pretty straightforward. Do a boat tour, go to a couple of Christmas markets, see the Berlin Wall and, most importantly, go out and meet people or, more specifically, men.  I had absolutely no problems with that.

I briefly considered trying to hook her up with my new half-naked, opera-singing Asian neighbour. I hoped that it might shut him up for 4 to 7 minutes. Then the thought that he might get louder put that idea out of my head.

When Anna arrived, like most tourists, the first thing she wanted to do was visit the… post office. Yup, it seems that in Russia, you can’t post something and expect it to actually arrive, so good old Deutsche Post would have to step in.

Lovely, reliable German post office...
Lovely, reliable German post office…

She decided she would like to use DHL and was just about finished filling in the form when we got to the top of the queue. It was the wrong form and she had no envelope. So we left the counter, picked up some envelopes and rejoined the queue. We got to the counter again, but she should have taken the envelopes out of the packaging, filled in all of the information, and then brought it to the nice lady. So we left the counter again. Anna filled in the form, I lost patience at the thought of having to queue a third time and went outside, and Anna rejoined the queue.

I needed a drink
I needed a drink

After a massive glass of wine for me and a tiny cappuccino for Anna – the waiter actually brought her a free second cappuccino as he must have felt sorry for her with her puny drink – we set off for Gendarmenmarkt. Pretty lights, a beautiful backdrop, oodles of ridiculously cute tat, little wooden huts, sausage and Glühwein – Anna was in heaven. In fact, when the choir started singing, she even shed a few tears. Normally, this sort of behaviour might result in a slap but, even I have to admit, there is something pretty magical about Gendarmenmarkt at Christmas. (Don’t judge me.)

We hit the town where Anna was horrified to see that Germans keep their children out so late.

Me: It’s 7.30…

The next morning, we were up bright and early for breakfast. Not really. We made it in time for brunch though. I was manhandled away from my food so that Anna could take a photo of it first. As everyone knows, “if it isn’t on Instagram, it didn’t happen”. I wondered what I’d been doing for the last 37 years.

Massive German portions
Massive German portions

We’d lucked out with a truly beautiful day so it was definitely boat tour time. We arrived with seconds to spare before the 2pm tour and hopped on the boat. While I wondered what the hell was wrong with my headset, Anna hopped from side to side, photographing everything to within an inch of its life. Because, you know, if it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen…

Watching someone else run around like Usain Bolt on speed can be thirsty work, so it was off to try the Feuerzangenbowle at Charlottenburg Palace. As I’d really liked it, I thought Anna would feel the same. Judge for yourselves…

Brave little Russian lamb
Brave little Russian lamb
Uh oh...
Uh oh…
Is she going to puke?
Is she going to puke?
She can't puke in front of a palace, can she?
She can’t puke in front of a palace, can she?
Breathe, breathe, little one...
Breathe, breathe, little one…

I think we can safely say Anna will not be trying that again.

After a night spent drinking vodka with a bunch of Russian men, there’s nothing I like more than getting out of bed and going sightseeing. And so, off to the Berlin Wall we went.

Anna: Is that it? 

Me: Yes. 

Anna: Oh. 

Like my mirror image that day
Like my mirror image that day

Anna had also mentioned that she quite fancied seeing some street art (more of it), so I escorted her over to my old hood, which is quirky to say the least. I’m not sure what kind of pretty, fluffy street art she was expecting but, well, this is Berlin.

Um...
Um…

Anna: Oh my god, oh my god, what IS that?! Why is it all so scary and creepy? What does that baby have no head? Why is that little girl trying to kill her cat? Why did you bring me here? I’m going to have nightmares after this…

Me: Heh heh heh.

I brought her to a local restaurant before she passed out. I guess Moscow is fluffier than Berlin. Who knew? After finishing the buffet  her meal, Anna decided to treat herself to a cocktail. Why she ordered a Swimming Pool I’ll never know, but it prompted the barman to point out where the bathroom was, just in case. Then again, he also said that Russian men looked like East German lesbians, so he may have had a couple himself. I would never insult East German lesbians like that.

Soon, it was time for the pièce de resistance of the weekend – the ice slide at Potsdamer Platz. We met my favourite German-Venezuelan couple – Engelbert and Enrique – filled up our Glühweins with rum from Engelbert’s illicit hip flask, and it was time. The slide was a lot bigger than I remembered but (Scheiße) in for a penny, in for a pound.

You can hear the German cackling in the background. Thanks for the support, Engelbert…

So, Anna’s now back in the land of smiles and fluffiness. Thanks for visiting and I hope you had fun apart from the TERRIFYING street art…

Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone!

 

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An Irishwoman, a Brazilian and a Norwegian walk into a…

It’s not the start of a bad joke but, rather, the beginning of an excellent Friday evening. You see, the Germans have regulated the hell out of most things but, thankfully, they haven’t got around to stopping foolish foreigners from trying to make very dangerous German drinks.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Feuerzangenbowle…

Feuerzangenbowle
Feuerzangenbowle (Fire tongs punch)

I had my first FeuerverylongGermanword at the Christmas market at Schloss Charlottenburg last week and, as with most things German, I instantly fell in love. I mean, it’s got wine, rum, sugar and FIRE – what’s not to like? So, when Young Germany posted a recipe, I just knew I had to try and make it myself.

Now the thing about making Feuerzangenbowle is that it’s rather dangerous, so the last thing you want to do is make it at your own apartment. Instead, you put the suggestion out there and wait for an innocent friend to invite you round to their place. This is where brave, wonderful Brahilde (Brazilian Hilde) stepped in. She invited Norhilde (Norwegian Hilde) and we were all set. A new Facebook chat group was born.

Me: OK, here’s the recipe. Brahilde, what have you got? 

Brahilde: Um, I’ve got cups…

(Finally, a woman after my own heart.) 

Me: OK, so we’ll split the ingredients and bring everything around to your place. Norhilde, I’m shit with things like spices so you can get those and the rum. I’ll get the wine, fruit and Zuckerhut (sugar loaf).  

Norhilde: Done.  

Me: Brahilde, do you have a big saucepan? 

Brahilde: I have little saucepans…

Me: (for once feeling “kitchenly” superior) OK, I’ll bring a saucepan as well. 

I popped over to the local supermarket, obviously located the wine easily, picked up a few oranges and lemons and went on the hunt for the Zuckerhut. Damn, where was the Zuckerhut? I found a jolly German lady who works there.

Me: Excuse me, do you have Zuckerhut? 

Shophilde: Yes, I think we have it somewhere…

Me: (Babbling like a lunatic) You see, I’m going to try and make Feuerzangenbowle this evening but I think it’s going to be a bit dangerous. 

Shophilde: For your head or just in general? 

Me: Both. 

Anyway, we found the Zuckerhut, I paid up and jauntily left the supermarket. I had very sensibly decided that three bottles of wine was probably too much so I told the Hildes that we’d only use two.

One was for drinking while we made the other drink. Sensible, like I said.
One was for drinking while we made the other drink. Sensible, like I said.

I crammed everything into two plastic bags and headed for the station. This time, I was almost hoping I’d get groped as I couldn’t wait to see the expression on the guy’s face when he got walloped with a massive saucepan and three bottles of wine. Luckily for Berlin’s gropers it didn’t happen.

I clanked my way through Neukölln and arrived at Brahilde’s apartment where everything was looking rather festive. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought it would be a shame to watch the place burn to the ground.

Fire hazard
Fire hazard

Norhilde showed up soon afterwards with the rest of the ingredients. She did admirably with the spices thanks to a lot of help from Google Translate. And the rum…

Tip: Do not let a Norwegian buy the rum for Feuerzangenbowle. You need the cheapest, nastiest, strongest rum you can find and a Norwegian will only buy the finest, most expensive, ridiculously non-flammable rum. 

Tip: Choose a friend who owns a CORKSCREW.

After an emergency dash to the supermarket, I poured the two bottles of wine into the saucepan, added the crushed fruit and proceeded with merry abandon to throw in the spices I’d never heard of as well.

Hey, good looking...
Hey, good looking…

At this point, we realised that we didn’t have a sieve or tongs or anything that would be particularly useful (normal) to hold the sugar over the saucepan. Brahilde gamely suggested her cutlery-drying utensil and we were back in the game.

Do not attempt to do it like this.
Do not attempt to do it like this. I am an idiot.

We placed the cutlery-drying thing upside-down in the pot and put the Zuckerhut on top of it.

It wasn't at all phallic.
It wasn’t at all phallic.

I poured a shitload of rum on top of it and Norhilde lit a match.

Pfft.

The match went out.

I poured on some more rum. Norhilde lit a match.

Pfft. 

The match went out.

Scheiße.

Why won't you BURN??
Why won’t you BURN??

Thankfully, I’d had a message from my German friend earlier that day saying that if the rum wouldn’t light, heat it up and try again. We poured half the bottle into another (little) saucepan and warmed it up. I gently spooned some over the Zuckerhut and Norhilde lit another match. WHOOSH! WE HAD FIRE!

20151211_224751
Not dangerous at all.

I continued to spoon and Norhilde continued to light matches and I only set the saucepan of rum on fire a couple of times. Soon, all of the Zuckerhut had dissolved into the saucepan and we were ready to taste it.

20151211_224827
Like I said, do it in someone else’s apartment.

I’m not one to brag but I really think I have a talent for making Feuerzangenbowle. I’m not particularly gifted in the kitchen, but this, this was amazing.

YUM!
YUM!

And we all lived.

Fun night.

Groper on the train

You really do see allsorts on the public transport here in Berlin – the teeth suckers, the foghorn nose-blowers, the people who talk to themselves, the people who sing to themselves, the people who pee into a bottle when the train stops for no apparent reason, and the people you’re convinced you can still smell in your clothes and hair a week later. All of this I can cope with but, this week, I had the misfortune of bumping into the lowest of the low – the groper.

My little train station
My little train station

I was on my way to my afternoon lesson with my Costa Rican student, where I usually spend the guts of 90 minutes saying, “WHAT?” It was just after 1pm and a beautiful, sunny day. I had achieved the most coveted of all train manoeuvres and bagged four seats to myself. After a couple of stations, however, a man got on and sat next to me.

Apart from a quick “tsk” of annoyance that he had chosen to sit next to me in a half-empty carriage, I didn’t pay him any attention. He did the typical “man thing” of spreading his legs as wide as they could possibly go and placing his hands on his knees. Scheiße, his hand was brushing my knee.

I moved over a bit, but I could still feel his hand, so I moved over even further. I ventured a look at him in the glass panel in front of me and saw that his face was glistening with sweat. Willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he was just an inconsiderate space-invader, I squashed myself up against the window. Nope, I could still feel his hand. This definitely wasn’t right. I looked down and saw that he had extended two fingers and was touching my knee with them.

My poor violated knees.
My poor violated knees.

After a very brief, incredulous moment during which I processed that this was actually happening to me in broad daylight, I lost it.

“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU FUCKING WEIRDO?! GET YOUR FUCKING HAND OFF ME!”

Yes, there was a lot of swearing and I spoke roared in English but, really, it was simply a knee-jerk (pardon the pun) reaction. I was just happy to get words out in any language. He got up quickly and walked to the opposite end of the carriage, getting off at the next station.

There is no handbook to tell you what to do in situations like this. Should I run after him? What then? Grab him? Hit him? Pin him down and get someone to call the police? But what if he turns violent? Maybe he has a knife? What if he gets his willy out?

NEIN to getting willies out on public transport.
NEIN to getting willies out on public transport.

The only other time something like this happened to me was while I was living in Lyon. That time, I ended up with a knife held to my throat for telling a handsy Algerian something rather rude he could do to his mother’s posterior. I wasn’t keen on repeating the experience.

And so I did nothing. Yes, I got him away from me but I probably only drove him onto another train where he’d pull the same act on some other unsuspecting woman. I feel useless. I’m frustrated that I was put in this position and that I did nothing to stop him from doing the same thing in the future.

When I saw this man on Thursday afternoon on the S25, he was wearing blue jeans and a navy jacket. He has dark slicked down hair and wide, high cheekbones. I only saw him in the glass reflection so I can’t give a better description than that, unfortunately. However, someone out there knows who this sweaty pervert is and I would kindly ask you to get him some help before he runs into me again.

The saddest thing is that this seems to be so common. Nobody was particularly surprised or outraged that I was groped. I would go so far as to say that it’s almost expected that this will happen to a woman at some point in her life; I have very few friends that haven’t had something similar happen to them. Do men ever have to deal with this crap? I’m really interested to find out.

If nothing else, at least I’ve added one more word to my ever-expanding German vocabulary – ein Grabscher, a groper. Pretty appropriate, wouldn’t you say? I just hope I don’t have cause to use it again.