As part of my bid to become German in 473,937,493 easy steps, one step really should be, you know, becoming an actual German. As I’ll have been in Berlin for 8 years in September, the requirement for getting citizenship, this is my plan for the end of the year. I just have to pass a naturalisation test – there are 310 possible questions with 33 on the test, of which, I have to get 17 correct (God knows who chose those numbers) – and demonstrate adequate German skills. As my German is good enough, but not good enough for me, I decided I wanted to improve before I take the test and, the best way for me to do this, is by talking to real, live Germans.
So, I posted on nebenan.de that I was looking to start a German-English exchange, online, where we could speak for an hour, 30 minutes of German, 30 minutes of English. I thought if I could get 2 or 3 people, that would be a win.
I guess I underestimated my neighbours.
Over the course of the next few days, replying to all of the responses pretty much turned into a part-time job. I now have regular online meetings with several people, one of whom is a retired lady who doesn’t really want to bother with her English; she just wants to help me with my German. Aside from doing that, she keeps me entertained with stories from her youth in the GDR, tells me her 85-year-old mother is more active than I am, and teaches me fun words like “Jahresendflügelfigur” (“yearendwingfigure”, or an angel to you and me). We met in person last Friday and she treated me to a slap-up breakfast in a lovely café, although I felt a bit guilty afterwards about ordering spring onions AND Speck on my scrambled eggs when I thought I was going to be paying for myself.
On top of the people who were happy to meet online, there were also a number of people who were utterly fed up with online meetings and wanted to meet in person. I was a bit reluctant at first but then I thought, what the hell – life has to go on at some stage and it would be really nice to meet some people from my neighbourhood. So, I booked a table for eight people at a pub just down the road.
It was around this time that I got an email from a lady who works at nebenan, asking if she could pass on my details to rbb 88.8, a Berlin radio station. It seems my little contribution to the community had been noticed and a reporter would like to interview me about my “tolle Initiative” as part of their “Lieblingsnachbarn – Geschickte von nebenan” series (Favourite neighbours – stories from next door). While the whole idea had been about improving my German, I wasn’t really sure I was ready to improve it on German radio in German but, like a big eejit, I said yes.
The evening of the in-person meet-up rolled around so I strolled over to the pub just before 5 o’clock. Being a good (almost) German and knowing how much Germans like an agenda, I’d prepared a speech in my head, had a rough idea of where I’d like people to sit – I’d roped in a friend from university so we’d have two native English speakers to six Germans – and was ready to set a timer so we could switch languages every thirty minutes. If only things like this were on the naturalisation test – I’m not sure you can get much more German than that. And, as it turned out, I was more German than the Germans, who were not punctual, wandered in and sat where they liked, and had to nerve to easily and fluidly switch back and forth between the two languages willy-nilly. Not even a hint of following an agenda…
I’d expected that we’d be there for an hour, maybe two, tops. I started off on white wine spritzers so that I would at least look like an upstanding citizen but the Germans hit the beer and wine like there was no tomorrow. You couldn’t imagine a nicer, funnier bunch of people – I think that everyone was just so delighted to be OUT again. Seven and a half hours later, we rolled out of the bar, mainly because the barman wanted to go home.
In the meantime, I’ve become good friends with one of the women who was there. As it happens, I can see her apartment from my balcony but we probably never would have met if I hadn’t organised this little shindig. (She sent me a picture of my apartment from her apartment the next morning, just to freak me out.) We all met up again last night at a Greek restaurant and are going to try to make it a monthly thing. Achtung, bar and restaurant staff of Pankow – if I book a table, chances are it’s going to be a late night.
On the day of the interview, it was bucketing down and I looked like a drowned rat by the time I got to the café. I had googled the reporter to see what she looked like and I waited outside until someone with a vague resemblance to that came along. She hadn’t been dripping wet in any of the photos or accompanied by the massive dog she was walking but I was pretty sure it was her and called out her name. She had also googled me so she wasn’t expecting a blonde. We were off to a confusing, soggy start.
We walked into the café and sat down, with my back to a wall so that the microphone could better pick up my voice. She asked me if I’d enjoyed the bullfight I’d gone to.
Silke: The bullfight. In Madrid. My son wants to know if you enjoyed it.
The penny dropped and I realised she must have gone – quite extensively – through my Facebook photos.
Me: Oh, God no, it was horrendous. I had to leave.
Silke: OK, good. My son said you would be a very stupid woman if you had liked it.
Once that was settled, we started chatting away like old friends. In fact, we were nattering away for around 30 minutes before we remembered we were actually there to do an interview.
I took out my notebook, where I’d diligently written down all of the points I’d like to get through. Silke looked at me a bit dubiously.
Silke: You do realise that the segment is only 90 seconds, right?
Me: Yes, you’re right. I’d need my own talk show to get through all of this… (hint, hint)
She turned on the mic, prompted me with a few questions and I prattled away happily. I got in a few gems like “Die Leute hatten die Schnauze voll von online Meetings” and “Die Gespräche und der Wein flossen in Strömen” – the conversation and the wine flowed. It sounds better in English. Unfortunately, both ended up on the cutting room floor but I’m sharing them with you anyway.
Silke took a couple of photos of me for the website and we were done.
As we said our goodbyes, she told me the interview had been “bezaubernd” (enchanting), the highlight of her day and that I was welcome to pop in and visit her at home if I was ever in the area.
Seems I just can’t stop making new friends now…
If you want to listen to the interview, scroll around halfway down the page until you see me looking like Kevin from Home Alone.
And don’t judge my German too harshly – that’s my job 😉