All posts by BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?

A trip to Herring Village: Part two

You might think that a night out in Herring Village would be, well, crap, but that’s only because you’ve never been out in Herring Village with me. Over some delicious goulash and wine in the Usedomer Brauhaus, I got chatting to the delightful Waltraut* after making a hilarious quip about probably holidaying in the wrong place since I don’t like herring, or any fish for that matter. We bonded over my knowledge of Ostfriesisch – and, by that I mean, the fact that I had heard of Ostfriesisch, not that I actually knew any. She didn’t either and she’d been living there for close to two decades.

Unable to persuade her to join me in O’man River, the bar with “the best live music in town” (the only bar with live music, as far as I could tell), I perched myself on the last available stool at the bar and enjoyed the surprisingly decent Bad Temper Joe. When he took a break, I politely asked him if he was always in a bad temper and he glared at me so I guess the answer is yes. And, if you want to know why a white German man is singing the blues, you’ll have to ask him yourself.

After a pleasant hour or so, I strolled on over to the hottest venue in town, i.e., the only bar that’s open past midnight. And that was where I met the lovely Lars.

Me: On the off chance I write a blog post about this trip, what would you like your blog name to be?

Lars: I am Lars.

Me: Yeah, but you can’t be Lars.

Lars: I am Lars.

Me: I’m not sure you’re getting this – you need a fake name for the blog. You can’t be Lars.

Lars: But my name is Lars.

Me: But you’re probably the only Lars on Usedom!

Lars: Na, und?

And so, Lars is Lars.

When we woke up the next morning, he offered me a coffee.

Me: Do you have tea?

And that was when he started rummaging around behind a chair.

What is he doing? Does he have a weapon back there? The coffee machine is in the kitchen so why is he rooting around behind an armchair in the living room? I guess if he’d wanted to murder me, he could have easily done it while I was asleep… Turns out, he had this amazing samovar back there. Sure, the tea took around half an hour to actually brew, but I’d never had a cup of tea like it. I went for a pee to pass the time. Upon my return:

Me: Do you know your washing machine could impregnate someone?

Lars: Hä??

Me: It has an “imprägnieren” setting.

Lars: Ha! No, imprägnieren, it’s like your boots, er, when they don’t let water in.

Me: ?? You mean waterproof?

Lars: Ja, genau!

I lingueed it and sure enough, imprägnieren can mean to impregnate or to waterproof. (Or to soak in the case of a washing machine.)

Me: Hmm, I wonder how many unwanted children there are in Germany because of this verb.

It was Lars’s turn to “??”

Me: Well, what if a woman says, “Hey Schatzi, can you imprägnieren me for Christmas?” and he does but what she really wanted was some nice, new, waterproof Jack Wolfskin gear…

Yes, this is actually how my mind works before I’ve even had my first cup of tea of the day. I am an awesome first date.

Lars: Well, I’ve got to go and help my Opa einwintern his Auto.

Me: Ha, einwintern, that can’t be a real verb!

Lars: Na, klar. To prepare something for winter. Einwintern. Steht im Duden.

I checked.

Me: OK, you’re right.

Like Germans are ever wrong.

Me: Can you einsommern something?

Lars: Why would you?

Me: I don’t know. Or einfrühlingen?

Lars: …

Me: Can you auswintern something?

I’m sure Lars was wondering at this stage if it was possible to einsilencen me but, utter gent that he is, he gave me his number for any and all possible future questions and dropped me off in the village before heading to his Opa’s and the einwintern challenge – which probably seemed like a breeze in comparison to the barrage of language questions he was faced with before his first cup of coffee.

I headed to a café I knew from a previous trip – OK, full disclosure, I’d been in Heringsdorf, for a few days, a month and a half before this trip and liked it so much, I’d decided to go back for a week – found a nice table outside, and ordered a croque monsieur and another cup of tea.

Schmidt’s Bistro No. 1 – I don’t know if there’s a No. 2… LARS! I have a question!
I also had no idea what a Diplomatenkaffee is but have since googled – turns out it’s coffee with egg liqueur…

After I’d finished, the waitress came over and gave me a reproving look.

Me: I know, I’m sorry, it was really tasty but just a bit too much for me. Sorry, I’m really sorry.

Waitress: Yes, I know, I remember.

Like I said, it had been A MONTH AND A HALF since I’d been there and she remembered. Clearly I was the only person who had never finished a meal there. Then again, I was probably the only non-German on the island and Germans can actually handle German portions. This puny Irish woman has yet to encounter one she can conquer. I decided to order a glass of wine and show her that I could at least finish one thing.

Waitress: Wine? Like cold wine?

Me: Yes.

Waitress: Wouldn’t you prefer something hot? Like Glühwein? Or hot Aperol?

Me: Jesus, hot Aperol?? NEIN!

What is wrong with Germans?

A lot, clearly. Glüh Gin? I can’t even…

I paid up and headed over to my favourite Bude. The last time I’d been there, this guy had brought the house down…

The German, er, Elvis? Roy? Johnny? Just a very German German?? Let’s simply call him Schlagermann.

…but this time, out of season, things were a bit more sedate. Which was actually kind of good because you don’t really want an over-excited German landing on you when you’re holding a piping-hot Glühwein.

*Waltraut is not her real name and, no, I didn’t give her a choice in the matter.

A trip to Herring Village: Part one

You might assume, as I did, that not many people would be crazy enough to want to travel to an island in the Baltic Sea at the start of November. You’d think I’d have learned over the last seven years never to underestimate Germans in Jack Wolfskin. And so it was that I found myself on a train to Heringsdorf on the island of Usedom, curled up on the floor outside a toilet. The Germans, as with the sun loungers in Mallorca, had reserved every seat on the train.

Happy travels.

An old lady who passed by (probably on the way to her comfortable, reserved seat) asked me if I wasn’t afraid. I said no, that in an emergency, it was actually the best spot to be in. Shortly afterwards, the ticket inspector wished me a pleasant journey; I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or not. Maybe it’s just an automatic phrase he trots out, regardless of whether you’re in first class sipping a flute of Sekt or stiff as a post, leaning on your backpack, praying your water bottle doesn’t burst all over your laptop. I passed the time by googling the places we stopped at that I couldn’t see out the window. Your travel writer is pleased to tell you that Eberswalde looks very nice on the internet.

Guess where…

By the time we were approaching Züssow, me arse was like a grape, as my dad used to say.

(No, I don’t know either.)

I was very much looking forward to a cup of tea and a slice of cake as I had almost an hour to kill before catching the next train. Alas, German efficiency kicks in when you least want or need it. The train driver announced that the 13:08 train (mine) was now leaving at 12:08. We would be arriving on time at 12:12 but the train would wait for us on the opposite platform.

If you ever want to see sensible footwear moving at the speed of light, this is the way to do it.

Just over an hour later, I got my stuff together and moved towards the door. The conductor asked me if I was in town for the “Kur” (a course of convalescent treatments). After a second or two of being impressed with myself for knowing what the Kur is and that this region is pretty famous for it, I was a bit offended that he thought I looked like I needed a Kur. What did he think was wrong with me? Although I guess my arse could have done with a nice massage…

And so it came to pass that I arrived in Heringsdorf an hour early. I had told the manager of the apartment I’d rented that I’d be there at three so my cunning plan was to finally get that cup of tea and cake and then stroll on over at my leisure. Unfortunately, it seemed that German efficiency had ended for the day. The first likely place didn’t open until five. The next café I passed was now a real estate agency, which was also closed. The last chance café had closed at 10:30, 10:00 on Sundays seemingly. I mean, who, in their right minds, is up, showered and ready to buy their Brötchen before ten o’clock on a Sunday!? Germans, that’s who.

I called the guy to tell him I’d be early and waited on the windowsill with my book. The weather at least was glorious, one of those perfect late autumn days. He showed up around twenty minutes later, a nice friendly man, who scored points by not asking me if I was there for the Kur. We sorted out the paperwork – there’s a special tax you have to pay if you stay in one of these spa towns – he gave me a quick tour and then left me to my own devices.

Finally, TEA! Of course, like a good German, I’d brought some tea bags along with me. Always prepared. There was just one problem – I couldn’t reach the socket to plug in the kettle. I did have six chopping boards but that’s not really much use when you just want to boil water.

Short people problems strike again

After some jumping, grunting, sweating and swearing, I gave up and moved the kettle to the bedside table. Finally, with cup in hand, I did a quick recce of the place to see how my “home-away-from-home office” could work. It couldn’t. Sockets beside the bed, too far away. Socket behind the TV, even a contortionist couldn’t plug anything in there. Socket over by the kitchen… if I swapped the coat stand and the table and chairs, and didn’t mind being wedged in a corner, that could work. I gave myself some time to consider the set-up and went for a contemplative wee.

It was only afterwards that I realised there were no towels in the bathroom. Huh. Maybe they were on the bed and I just hadn’t noticed. Nope, not there either. I rooted through every drawer and cupboard in the place. No towels. Scheiße. I didn’t really want to bother the guy again but this seemed quite important. I sent him a message and sat wondering if I could make a scarf / tablecloth combo work…

Maybe, just maybe…

He replied pretty quickly to tell me that no, there were no towels but that he had an emergency set he could drop off in a couple of hours. Immediate problems sort of sorted, I did what any sane person does when they come to the Baltic Sea – headed to the beach.

Bliss!

There’s something about being on the Baltic coast that really brings out the best in Germans. Everybody was in a great mood, walking around with their nordic walking sticks, metal detectors, dogs, kids, shovels… German guffaws filled the air and I felt that all was right with the world again. I located the nearest café, found a table in the sun and ordered.

It was as good as it looks. The guy who made it wasn’t half bad either.

Apart from being attacked by psychotic sparrows, this was the best I’d felt in ages. I ordered a second cup of tea and sat back to enjoy the people watching while pretending to read.

On my way home, I stopped off at the supermarket to pick up a few essentials. Then genius struck.

It wasn’t exactly German engineering standards, but good enough. I’d just have to remember to unplug it before I started drinking. Aside from the practical aspect of actually being able to use my laptop, it could also double as exercise every time I had to hop over it to cross the flat. And when the guy showed up again with the towels, I got him to plug in the kettle for me. He didn’t even laugh at me (that much).

I have no idea how many words that is – how rubbish is the new version of WP!? – but it seems like quite a lot so I’ll finish part one there. (Oh, wait, I just found the info icon… still crap though.) If I haven’t bored you to tears already, stay tuned for part two. There will be men.

Linda and the Uwes

With work dwindling and an ever-sketchier internet connection, I’ve had to resort to new ways of keeping myself entertained. None of these, obviously, involve cleaning my flat – or learning to bake or crochet.

My initial attempts to be at my laptop by 10 a.m. every morning have largely fallen by the wayside – mainly because there’s no need for me to be at my laptop by 10 a.m. every morning. Being up at 10 just leaves me with around 10 hours to fill until I can start drinking wine with a relatively clear conscience. Showering and getting dressed can kill half an hour but, some days, that’s also a bit effortful and napping is still, and always will be, a viable alternative.

So, a couple of days ago, I was at my desk, ostensibly working on something but really marvelling out the window at the German kids in my building careening around the courtyard on their various wheeled German devices. Suddenly, I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. Since the only moving thing inside my flat at the moment should be me, this attracted my full attention. A spider. Urgh.

However, while I’m not the greatest fan of spiders, I decided that this one could stay a while and keep me company.

Me: I shall name you Uwe.

Uwe: …

Me: No, Uwe, the walls and corners are your territory. The ceilings and floors are off limits. I do not want to find you crawling up my leg or dropping onto my hair from a height.

Uwe: … (proceeds to abseil down the wall and onto the floor)

Me: Uwe! Jesus! What did I just say?

Uwe: … (probably grinning in a spidery kind of way)

Deciding Uwe must be a bit hard of hearing, I proceeded to carry on with whatever I was doing with my legs tucked under me, always keeping a careful eye on Uwe’s whereabouts under the desk. Up my little filing cabinet, back down again, up the side of the printer, back down again. A brave but unwise attempt to teeter towards my office chair. Me banging on the floor with a shoe to try to persuade him back in the opposite direction. Off he went – up the side of the printer again and this time into the paper feed.

Me: Uwe! NEIN! I need to use that later and I do not need you getting mashed in the inner workings of my printer right now!

Uwe: …

As pets go, house spiders are really not the best company.

Why You No Love Me?: 6X9 Funny Spider Journal: Amazon.de: Songbird ...
Image taken from amazon.de

Anyway, he eventually toddled off behind the curtains and that was the last I saw of him for a while. Later, I needed to use the loo so I went upstairs to the bathroom. Huh, what was that small dark shape on the ceiling of my shower? Uwe? Is that you?

Upon closer (but not too close) inspection, I decided it wasn’t Uwe – this spider was a bit smaller with shorter legs.

Me: Hey! Uwe Junior! How’s it hanging?

Uwe Jr.: …

Me: I see you are a spider of few words, just like your father.

Uwe Jr.: …

Me: Right, I’ll leave you be. You’re fine up there for the moment but I want you out of that shower by the morning… erm, OK, mid- to late-afternoon. Got it??

Uwe Jr.: …

Me: Good.

I went back downstairs where Uwe Senior kept me entertained for the rest of the night by playing peekaboo from behind my bookshelves.

The next day (I’d like to say it was morning but that would be a downright lie), it was shower time. Uwe Jr. had clearly broken his end of the deal. There he was, nestled up in the corner above my shower.

Me: Last chance, Uwe Jr. I’m turning on the shower.

Uwe Jr.: …

Maybe he was asleep. If he stayed where he was, I could be in and out before he woke up. I got undressed and turned on the water.

Uwe Jr.: ARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

He proceeded to wobble unsteadily across the ceiling to directly over where my head would be.

Me: NEIN, Uwe Jr.! That’s exactly where I DON’T want you to be! Get back in your corner!

Uwe Jr., however, didn’t pay me any heed and continued his precarious acrobatic show. I decided that, in the face of this show of blatant disrespect, my best course of action would be to launch a bottle of conditioner in his general direction. Just close enough to startle him back into his corner or, at least, to somewhere I could reach him and get him out of there. My first throw missed by a mile. Verdammt. Still, it’s kind of awkward to shot-put a bottle of conditioner while hanging naked and dripping, half-in and half-out of a shower. I forgave myself for the terrible girlie throw and tried again.

Again, nothing for Uwe Jr. to be remotely concerned about. However, the bottle was now descending at speed towards my face. I yanked my head out of there, hitting my temple off the metal frame with a resounding thud. It would actually have hurt less if the bottle had hit me in the face rather than my face hitting the shower.

Me: Ow, ow, owwww! God damn it, Uwe Jr.! I’ve had it! I’m coming in!

Uwe Jr. appeared unperturbed, so I stepped cautiously into the shower and proceeded to wash myself with one eye constantly on the ceiling. Let me tell you, washing your lower legs and feet with your face pointing upwards is better than any yoga class. Just as I was ready to get out, Uwe Jr. made his way to the top of the glass door, waving at me from up there with one spindly leg. Again, the last place I wanted him to be. I swear he was doing this on purpose. I slowly slid the door open but not before I registered a little dark shape falling towards the floor. God damn it, where was he now?

Me: Uwe Jr., I know you’re down there – show yourself.

Uwe Jr.: …

So, I waited, dripping, until he revealed himself. Ah ha! There you are, you little bugger! I gingerly stepped over him and onto the mat. Uwe Jr. made a beeline towards my wet feet but some quick-witted naked tap dancing on my part scared him under the curtain.

It’s hard to say who the winner here is. We both got some exercise but probably both ended up mildly concussed. Where the Uwes are now beats me – I haven’t seen either of them since. Perhaps Uwe Jr. shared his horror story of a naked jiggling woman and they’ve decided to keep a low profile for now.

Me: Is that what you’re doing, Uwes??

Uwes: …

Hi-diddle-dee-dee, a hermit’s life for me

As Corona and the madness that goes with it spreads, I have decided to take myself out of circulation for a couple of weeks. This is for two excellent reasons:

  1. I do not want to get the Corona virus.
  2. I do not want to have to fight with crazy people over toilet paper. (I wonder how long these people will be sitting in their toilet paper fortresses before they realise they’ve forgotten to buy food and water…)

Happiness is…

However, it turns out that the hermit’s life actually suits me down to the ground so, in case anyone else is struggling with their period of isolation (whether self-imposed or not), I thought I would share some of my positive experiences.

  • Aside from the obvious benefits of not having to brush my hair or wear any make-up (as evidenced in the photo), choosing what to wear for the day has now been boiled down to two options – do I stay in my pajamas or do I put on my tracksuit? In fact, when all of this blows over, I’m not sure I’ll be able to readjust to wearing shoes again.

Happy feet

  • This is probably more one for the ladies (but who’s to judge) – it’s time to let the girls out! Yes, if you’re only wearing a pajama or tracksuit top, putting on a bra seems kind of pointless so feel free to let your boobies breathe.
  • Showering is optional – as is the need to pluck or shave anything. When you’re home alone with nobody else to smell you or cut their hands on your leg hair, you can let your hygiene standards droop as low as your titties. For online meetings and appointments, you only really have to make half an effort – Profi on the top, party on the bottom.
  • Thanks to Corona, or Covid-19 to give it its gangsta name, I’m learning new vocabulary, both in German and English. Hamsterkäufe is used to describe panic buying in German and hamstern is also a verb, meaning to hoard. (Don’t you just love this language?) And, thanks to the beautiful Trevor Noah for coining “pandumbic”. Unfortunately, I fear that the pandumbic will continue long after the pandemic has shuffled off its mortal coil.
  • Speaking of the fight against stupidity, if you only have yourself to talk to, you might find that your conversations have actually got more scintillating than when you interacted with the wider world. “What’s that, me?” “Ha ha ha, God, I’m hilarious…”
  • Consider joining an online gym. There’s nothing like a German shouting at you to “GIB GAS!!!” to increase your motivation levels. I’ve been working out every day (for at least 2 days now) – in the dark, obviously, so my neighbours can’t see me huffing around my living room, red-faced and sweaty, with boobs a-flopping. (This is the one time the no-bra thing isn’t a great idea.)  The idea is that I will emerge like a beautiful butterfly in a few weeks time – after I’ve showered, plucked and shaved, of course. The other advantage is that my exercise mat makes a rather pleasing farty noise when my back hits it at just the right angle and speed. Who says exercise can’t be fun?
  • And finally, think of all the money and time you’re saving. No lengthy commutes, no going to bars or clubs, no going anywhere really. Instead of sitting in a noisy, overcrowded pub, shouting at your friends over overpriced drinks, you can get quietly smashed in the comfort of your own home for a fraction of the price. In fact, it might even be recommended as who knows if Covid-19 can survive in a person who’s more alcohol than human? Might be worth an experiment.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for now. How are you coping? Personally, I’m off to sit on my sofa with a glass of wine, waiting for the day when Corona is just a crap beer again. I raise a virtual glass to you all and hope that you stay happy and healthy.

And please, don’t beat anyone up over toilet roll. Beat them with toilet roll – the world will be like one big Corona pillow fight. Wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

See gulls?

After five years of living in Berlin, it seems I have finally found a pleasing pocket of this sprawling metropolis that suits me down to the ground. Yes, I recently moved to the lovely, leafy suburb of Pankow – and I only had to go via Wedding, Charlottenburg, Friedrichshain, Neukölln, Wedding (again), Lankwitz and  Friedrichshain (again) to find it. Well, nobody ever said life in Berlin would be easy.

The great thing about Pankow is that it’s (shock horror) a couple of stops outside the Ring train line, which means that it’s largely free from hipsters, wankers, hipster-wankers, men who wear trousers that show their ankles, drunks, drug dealers, drug users, pickpockets, people on trains who reek so much you can smell them on your hair and clothes for hours afterwards, foreigners who expect everyone to speak English, and people who walk around with poo running down the backs of their legs. Yes, Berlin is a wonderfully diverse city like that.

OK, I’m back. The Berlin Tourist Board just called to offer me a job…

Anyhooooooo, anyone who knows me knows that I have long lamented the local habit of people dumping their useless crap on the street. However, in Pankow, even this is rather civilised. People actually put out useful stuff like kids’ clothes and toys, books, and household objects that… wait for it… still work. And woe betide anyone who goes rogue.

Asocial, uncultured people left me here. This is Pankow, not Kreuzberg. Wake up. (I might fall in love with whoever wrote this if I ever find them.)

And so it was, last Saturday, I was on my way back from the speed-packing odyssey that is LIDL when I saw a little treasure trove outside my very own apartment building. It could be that I’m getting old, or perhaps even odder, but I was overjoyed to see that someone had put out mugs. Yes, MUGS!

The sign says that you can drop a small donation to the Berlin Animal Shelter into their mailbox. CIVILISED.

Now, you might be thinking it’s a bit strange for someone to get so excited over something so mundane but bear with me. You see, I’d bought these stupid cups in Kaufland when I moved in, with kind of fancy handles. Little did I know that I wouldn’t even be able to fit all of my midget fingers in there and that gripping the handle in a certain way would cause calluses on my ring fingers.

(I have also just realised that it’s rather difficult to take a photo of a finger on your right hand when you’re right-handed. And that my knuckles might be a tad overweight.)

So, I grabbed the two biggest mugs (with gently rounded handles) I could see and strolled back to my apartment, pleased with my haul. I sent a message to my building’s WhatsApp group thanking the “mysterious neighbour” who’d left out the brilliant cups and got a nice message back. All was well in the world of Pankow (or Pandow, as I now think of it).

“Be bambootiful” 🙂

A couple of days later, I was scratching my healing calluses (because I’m a very sexy person) when a personal WhatsApp message popped up on my phone.

“Hi Linda, this is Sigrid from the front building. You recently took the cups that my husband left out. Was there a white cup with a “Möwe” on it?”

Shit, shit, shit! Had I done something wrong? Weren’t the cups put out for people to take after all? Had I accidentally stolen from my lovely new neighbours? Was I being a weird foreigner in the land of German unwritten rules? And what the hell was a “Möwe”? It didn’t sound anything like “panda” but this is German so who knows!? ARGH! Panic, panic, panic!

I willed my wizened fingers to function and entered “Möwe” into Linguee. “Seagull”. Huh. OK. Couldn’t really get much further from a panda. Relief flooded over me. Then I remembered the other mug. I was pretty sure it was just plain gold but I pulled it out of the cupboard in trepidation to make sure there wasn’t a seagull I’d missed anywhere. Nope, no seagull. Thank God.

I messaged back to say that I hadn’t seen any mug with a seagull on it and Sigrid replied to say that maybe her daughter had hidden it somewhere. Laughing smileys were exchanged and we went our separate virtual ways, with me safe in the knowledge that I could go on living in my apartment without being known as the “sticky-(callused-)fingered Irish girl”. Phew.

Still, I like a story with a happy ending so I messaged her yesterday to see if she’d ever found the mysterious seagull cup. Turns out it’s nowhere to be found. Either her daughter is a really good hider or someone else on the street has a penchant for cups with seagulls on them. Who knows? Will we ever know?

And people say life in Pankow is dull…

(It is. It really is. Please don’t move here. Especially if you’re a hipster, wanker, hipster-wanker…)

 

 

 

Send me your stories!

After four and a half years here in Germany, I think (hope) I’ve tripped over pretty much every obstacle this crazy, wonderful, bureaucracy-loving land has put in my way. Each time, I picked myself up again, albeit with a muddy face and grazed knees, had a chuckle about the absurdity of it all, and carried on – writing a blog post or two (actually 154 of them) along the way.

Still, I thought, surely there’s a more bump-free way to integrate into German life? (I’m getting contemplative in my old age, you see.) It was around this time that a German colleague approached me with the idea of working on a German-English book together. We toyed with the idea of writing a dual-language storybook but I’m crap at fiction; I find real life is generally much funnier.

So I started thinking about what I would have appreciated when I first moved here, with around four words of the language and a naively optimistic attitude to becoming German. The answer was – a “German in my pocket” – someone who could answer my questions, tell me the right way to say something, and basically just guide me through everything from scaling the wall of bureau-crazy to figuring out which pizza toppings I was ordering. Short of shrinking Germans so people can carry them around with them everywhere, the next best solution seemed to be a book. 

So, we’ve written one!

At the moment, we’re adding the finishing touches, making sure everything is “in Ordnung” legally and financially (in case it actually sells) and then it will be formatting time. We’re hoping to publish at the end of this month – I’m working with a German so this will most likely happen. We’ve got 20 chapters, chock-full of useful information, FAQs, useful vocabulary and (hopefully) some entertaining reading.

Now, obviously I’m hi-larious but I thought a nice way to round out the book would be to add some funny anecdotes from other expats here – you know, to show that we all go through the same stuff and (for the most part) survive. And that’s where you come in.

Anything from the red tape madness to everyday adventures; if it’s funny, I’ll find a way to make it fit. All I need is a paragraph or two and the name you’d like to be credited under – this is your big chance to finally be Tallulah rather than Nora or Doris if that’s what your heart desires.

So please, have a think, take a little time to write a few words, and put them in the comments below. If you’re shy, you can send it to me at linda_ogrady@hotmail.com – although surely Germany has knocked any shyness out of you by now.

Making me happy should probably be reward enough but, if your story is included, there might be a few giveaways…

(Note: This is all me and totally unapproved by the German partner so don’t take any giveaways as a given.) 

Thanks in advance!

Linda.

 

Toilet training

If there’s one thing the Germans seem to love, it’s explaining the obvious. Yep, you might think that your folks did a pretty good job toilet training you all those years ago and that you’ve been using toilets successfully ever since, but that is clearly not good enough for our German friends. Oh sure, they try to educate in “humorous” ways, but really, anyone who puts this amount of thought into the correct usage of toilet facilities is not messing around.

So, hold in that pee until the end of this blog post and you will be rewarded in toilet heaven…

Say NEIN to poo!

The sign says “All colleagues who don’t have their workplace here in the office, please pay attention to the following instructions from the Board!” The exclamation mark makes it fun…

There is then an entire laminated A4 page of instructions, which, if you actually took the time to read, you’d probably wet yourself. Two things spring to mind: firstly, did the people who do have their workplace in the office get some sort of special training which makes them exempt from reading the instructions? And secondly, did the Board members really take time out of their day to come up with a list of instructions, type them up and then laminate them? If so, that is some classic German efficiency right there.

You might think it goes without saying but never, EVER, pee out of your shoulder while holding your arms out wide. The Germans will not think you’re big or clever and there’s a fair chance you’ll end up peeing on your own hand – serves you right. Instead, perch on the edge of the toilet seat, hold an imaginary book, point your toes towards the ceiling and let rip. At least I think that’s what it means.

It’s no secret that the Germans like a good agenda – so much so, that they’ve even come up with a 5-point agenda for washing your hands. No, you filthy creature, you will not be spreading your dirty viruses on German soil. You will follow the agenda! Put your hands under running water (as opposed to unrunning water?), soap ’em up good and proper for 20 to 30 seconds, also between your fingers, rinse thoroughly and dry your hands with a paper towel. Got it? No? OK, here’s a more simplified version with no words and bigger pictures.

And just in case you’re still a bit confused:

Finally, one thing you’ve probably been using incorrectly all your life, is your toilet brush. Not to worry, the Germans are here to save the day.

No, you silly billy – don’t use it to brush your hair! Ganz falsch!

Toilet paper is used to wipe your Arsch, not a toilet brush! But you’re getting closer…

Ah, there you go! Yes, toilet brush for use on a toilet. Oof, the relief of finally figuring that out. I’d been wondering why my hair always smelled a bit funny.

Thank you, Germany. I’d never have got there without you. And now, dear reader, go forth and pee with Germanic abandon. But remember, not out of your shoulder.

Falling short

In contemplating the 473,937,493 “easy” steps it would take for me to become a real German, I never imagined that I might need actual steps to complete the journey. Or, at the very least, a stepladder. Yep, it turns out that I may just be too damn short to be a proper German.

Ever helpful, Germany has been throwing some not-so-subtle hints my way for a while now.

1. I can’t reach around two thirds of my flat.

I’m sure that smug German egg cup is laughing at me…

So close…

German apartments were clearly not designed for leggily-challenged Irish women. Everything in the kitchen and the bathroom has to reside on the bottom shelves as they’re the only ones I can reach without having to stand on a chair. What lurks on the lofty top shelves will remain a mystery, but the good news is that I only have to clean what I can see. I just have to remember never to invite anyone over who’s taller than me – which could rather limit my social circle here in the land of the German giants.

2. German mirrors mock me. 

Does this make my head look big?

See that dark speck at the bottom of the mirror? No? Look a bit closer… Got it? That’s me. Or at least the only bit of me I can see in the mirrors in many cafés, bars and restaurants. I have to make sure that I look semi-decent before leaving home because that’s probably the last glimpse of myself I’ll catch all night.

Standing on tiptoes might reveal the top half of my fringe; jumping up and down creates a weird gurning expression that isn’t really conducive to checking if my make-up is OK. It also attracts some rather odd looks from the other women in the bathroom who aren’t Lilliputian and will never understand my short-world problems.

3. Limited limbs

German clothes, it appears, were designed for German people. Go figure. That’s a photo of the sleeve of an XXS jumper. My hand is actually in there – it’s just somewhere around the elbow mark. German trousers make me footless, German jumpers leave me handless and kneeless. The upside is that even if I fail to make it to the gym for a week, I still look tiny thanks to the swathes of German fabric floating around me.

This is all quite compelling evidence but the real kicker came a few days ago. I found myself in the strange and wholly unusual position of actually wanting to cook something. As the only things that are an absolute must in my kitchen are tea, milk and sugar, this would require a trip to the supermarket. I sauntered around picking up what I needed and eventually happened upon the frozen foods section. As everyone who is kitchen-skills-impaired will know, it’s always good to have a back-up pizza in the freezer so I decided to add one to my basket.

Unfortunately for me, freezers in German supermarkets are German-sized and stocked by German-sized Germans. And naturally, the one I wanted was right in the back, packed in tight. I slid across the glass top and leaned in. Nope. Not quite there. I leaned some more. My hand brushed off the edge of the box. Almost…

I hoisted myself onto the edge of the freezer and stretched. Both feet dangling above the floor, I gripped cardboard but couldn’t dislodge the damn thing. Grunting with effort at this stage and vaguely aware of someone standing behind me, I elegantly dismounted and turned around with a “nothing to see here” expression on my face. A slightly bemused-looking (TALL) German man was standing there.

Can I help you? 

I answered his chest:

Who? Me? Oh, I’m fine but if you insist… (nonchalant shrug)

He reached into the freezer, smoothly freed my desired pizza and handed it to me.

Erm, thanks. That was a bit embarrassing. 

No, no! Not at all! It really was packed in there! 

Bloody Germans are so nice. And frickin’ tall.

There, there… don’t fret – you were totally worth it. Mmmm, delicious pizza…

In conclusion, it seems the one step that might stump me, is the fact that I’m stumpy.

Hmm, kind of rhymes…

OK, here goes:

There was a young girl who was stumpy,

Her road to being German was bumpy,

But with a “der,” “die” and “das,”

Her short Irish ass,

Was determined she wouldn’t be grumpy. 

You. Are. Welcome.

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

For the season that’s in it…

Expat Eye on Germany

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…

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How to derail a German fitness class

Now that temperatures have dropped to around zero in Berlin, I foresee a lot more sitting happening in the months to come. With my arse already big enough, I decided it would be a good idea to join a gym. As luck would have it, FitX have just opened a new fitness studio fifteen minutes from where I live. At €20 a month, with a free backpack, towel and snazzy drinks bottle thrown in, the decision to join practically made itself.

Free stuff! Yay!

This was a couple of months ago and, believe it or not, I have actually been going – two or three times a week, no less. (Oh please, no need for applause – you’ll make me blush…) While I am, obviously, your perfectly normal gym-goer, other people’s behaviour has me slightly confused.

  1. Why do (mainly) women go to the gym to hog a machine and then spend their time doing nothing but looking at their mobile phones?
  2. Why do (mainly) women friends go to the gym to hog two or more machines and then sit there chatting to each other like they’re in a coffee shop?
  3. Why do men sound like a rhinoceros having an orgasm when they lift weights or do a few sit-ups?
  4. Why would any woman show up for a work-out in a skirt and ankle boots?

The mind boggles.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d try one of the classes FitX offers, figuring it would be good for both my German and my gelatinous bits. Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen, as it were. Naturally, I didn’t want to overdo it – this would be my first exercise class since leaving Latvia – so I chose X-Life which, judging by the video, seemed to be largely aimed at pensioners. Perfect.

I walked into the studio, where around six or seven mainly older, matronly types were warming up. Thanks to my astute observational skills, I noticed that they all had resistance bands (I had to google what they’re called in English) and stick thingies (enough googling – you know what I mean) beside them. I sauntered nonchalantly over to the equipment area and picked up one of each. Clearly, I had this fitness thing down.

I did notice that the other ladies’ sticks had knobby bits on the ends and mine didn’t, but the woman next to me had the same one I did, so I figured it would be fine. The trainer arrived; she had a butt you could bounce coins off so I supposed I was in safe hands.

We ambled our way through the warm-up exercises, puffed our way through some resistance band training and swung our sticks around with gay abandon. (Most people don’t know this but I was a majorette in my youth so I have plenty of experience’ swinging a stick around – I even did it in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade once. Unfortunately, I dropped it due to nerves and, to this day, can still hear the hooting cries of “yeh dropped yer baton, missus!”  ringing in my ears.)

Image result for st patricks day majorette
That’s me on the right. Not really. (Image taken from The Doyle Collection.)

Back in the present day, I found myself in a pair-work exercise with the rather substantial lady next to me. We’d crossed our resistance bands and were stretching them as best we could. My partner seemed to have more upper-body strength than I did, however, and almost rendered me airborne several times.

Ahh, exercise over. Back to the safety of solo stick exercises. Up on the stage, the trainer held her stick out in front of her, holding it at both ends, and proceeded to bend it into an U shape. I watched as the septuagenarians in front of me followed suit and tried to do the same. Huh, my stick wouldn’t bend. I glanced over at my fiendishly strong partner and she seemed to be having the same problem I was. Much grunting and grimacing ensued but the damned things wouldn’t give an inch.

We must have been making a bit of a ruckus as the trainer suddenly noticed us, red-faced and sweating, down the back of the room. She looked slightly incredulous for a second then burst out laughing into her microphone.

“Oh my God! Ha ha ha! It won’t work with those ones! Oh God! Ha ha ha! You must have been wondering how everyone else was so much stronger than you were! Ha ha ha!!” She was almost doubled over at this stage.

That was when I realised that my hapless partner and I were trying to bend the metal sticks you put weights on while everyone else had flexible sticks made of foam – with the telltale knobby bits on the ends. There was nothing else to do but join the trainer in her convulsions of laughter.

“I’m Uri Geller!” I sang out as I ran over to pick up the correct sticks for me and my partner. We did our best to continue with the rest of the class but every time we caught each other’s eye or the trainer looked at us, it was game over and all three of us dissolved into fits of uncontrollable giggles.

So, what started out as a butt-improvement exercise ended up with me being the butt of the joke.

You really can’t take me anywhere.