All posts by BerLinda

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

Elbow Gloom

A couple of weeks ago, I developed a little dry patch on my elbow. It wasn’t painful, just a bit itchy. I blame Berlin’s insanely hard water for this. However, I only have myself to blame when it comes to what happened next. I found some sort of cream in a drawer and rubbed a bit in before going to bed. When I woke up, I looked around the room for the bowl of acid someone must have dipped my elbow in while I was sleeping.

My fairly innocuous dry patch, about the size of a one cent coin, had turned into an angry, seeping, bloody, open wound. I did not think this was good.

Hmm, not good.

Mammy O’Grady has always sworn that salt and water can cure pretty much anything (“Got leprosy?” “No problem, put a bit of salt and water on yourself and you’ll be grand…”) so I decided to follow her advice. Unsurprisingly, my elbow did not like this much. I decided to leave it uncovered so it could heal naturally and went about my business.

Me: Umm, I’ve done something a bit stupid. 

Colin: What?

I showed him the offending elbow.

Colin: Sweet Jesus! F***! What the bloody hell is that?! Did you burn yourself? 

Me: Nah, I had a little patch of dry skin so I put some cream on it. My elbow disagreed with this course of action. 

Colin: Dear God, it looks like a burn. Go to a doctor, woman! 

Me: Nah, it’ll be fine. I’ll get some aloe vera tomorrow. That should calm it down a bit. ‘Allo, Vera! 

Colin: But, but, it’s all fluffy…

Me: Yeah, I decided to leave it uncovered so it could heal naturally in the fresh air – under my jumper and coat.

Colin: But the fluff…

Me: Yeah.

Over the following couple of weeks (yes, weeks. I know…), my elbow and I embarked on a voyage of discovery. Every morning, I’d wake up to find out what it had morphed into overnight. Scabbing, leaking, bleeding, peeling, cracking – my elbow developed quite a repertoire of repulsiveness. When it reached the point where I could hardly bend my arm, I decided it was probably time to see a doctor after all.

Just before 8 a.m., I trotted the ten seconds down the street it takes to reach the closest one. Despite the ungodly hour, this is Germany so there were already six or seven people ahead of me. I sat down to wait, wondering why a random baby beamed at me and jigged up and down every time I looked at him. Guess it’s just the effect I have on men of all ages…

After an hour, Frau O’Grady was called. I didn’t think there was much point in trying to explain my stupidity so I just whipped out my elbow there and then.

Ah, how far we had come together…

After recoiling in horror only a little, he declared that it was probably infected. I agreed.

Doc: Funny, you’re the second Irish person I’ve had in here today. For weeks on end, no Irish people, then two of you show up on the same morning. 

Me: We’re like buses. 

He prescribed me some cream and large, sterile wound dressings and I was good to go. I was to put some cream and a new dressing on it each day over the weekend and be back in his surgery at 9 a.m. on Monday morning to check what mischief my elbow had got up to in the meantime.

Prescription in hand, I strolled over to the chemist’s across the street. My eyes popped a bit when I saw the total on the display but I assumed that it was a leftover from the previous customer. There’s no way a bit of cream and some plasters could cost over €78, right?

Wrong.

Thinking I might have to go back to the doctor for a newly-formed heart condition, I paid up. Grudgingly. The worst part was that the cream was only €4 which meant that the stupid dressings were almost €75. With 25 of them in the pack, that works out at almost €3 a plaster.

These things had better be made of gold.

The next morning, after showering, I put the first diamond-encrusted dressing on my (now much happier) elbow. I bent my arm to test it and it fell off. I threw €3 in the bin and put on another one.

With my elbow now healing nicely and another doctor’s appointment in the morning, I think I will probably have around 20 of these bad boys left over. My new plan is to build a little house with them (they are waterproof) and try to make back the money I spent on them by saving on rent. I’m just not sure I’ll have much elbow room…

 

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Germans are flippin’ hilarious

I’ve just had one of the funniest lessons I’ve had in a long time. This was in no part due to my amazing skill as an English teacher, but rather due to the Germans’ amazing lack of skill when it came to something I think most six-year-olds have probably already mastered. (Not that I know anything about six-year-olds. Or want to.)

Anyway…

We were doing a lesson on comparatives and superlatives – you know: good, better, the best/bad, worse, the worst (or bad, badder, the baddest if you’re German and new to the language). The book wasn’t overly inspirational on this topic, so I thought I’d spice things up a bit by bringing in a game I’d found on the internet.

The game consists of a series of squares with one adjective in each. The students roll the dice and move their marker to the correct square. Once there, they have to flip a coin – if it’s heads, they have to make a comparative sentence; if it’s tails, they make a superlative sentence. Simple, right?

Bertha: Um, I don’t think I can do that. 

Me: Do what? 

Bertha: Flip a coin. 

Me: What? 

Bertilda: Can you show us again? 

Me: What??

Betlinde: Yes, please show us again. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.

Me: …

Slightly incredulous and wondering if they might be taking the piss (unlikely, given that they are German), I placed the coin on my forefinger, deftly flicked it with my thumb, neatly caught it and slapped it onto the back of my other hand. Triumphant, I looked around at the blank faces before me.

Bertilda: Can you do it one more time? 

Me: Wowsers…

Behold! The coin of doom…

After another flawless demonstration, it seemed like we were ready to start. I passed the coin to Bertilda and we were off. She threw the dice, moved her marker, read out the adjective, picked up the coin and… regarded it dubiously.

Me: Go on! You can do it! 

The flip was more of a flub – the coin hopped about a millimetre into the air before crash landing on the table with Bertilda snatching at it wildly.

Me: Bah hahahahaha! Oh my god! Sorry, yes, erm, heads. Make your sentence. 

Sentence made, the coin worked its way around the table.

Me: Come on, Betlinde! Flip that coin! 

*flip*

Me: Or you can just fling it at the table. That works, too.

I can best describe what Bertha did as fist pumping the coin into the air. She bungled the catch and the coin tumbled to the floor, rolling under the table. Ensuing “flips” saw the coin land everywhere in the room except for where it should have, including other people’s laps. I looked at the open window, wondering if I should close it before the battered coin made its getaway. I thought it might be a good idea to end the game before things got to that point but I was laughing too hard to speak.

Bertilda: My turn. 

Me: Gurgle…

By now, she had developed this method of bouncing the coin between her hands as if it was burning her. Through my blur of tears of laughter, she seemed quite proud of herself.

Bertilda: “Interesting.” Umm. This English class is more interesting than my job. 

Me: Aww, thank you! Wait, I don’t know how boring your job is. Maybe that’s not really a compliment. 

Bertilda: Yes, my job is very boring. 

Me: Harumph. 

While the German gift for the coin flip was a flop, it seemed the German talent for ego-piercing directness was still alive and kicking.

 

 

 

Danke, Duden

If you thought you were finally getting your head around the German language, I’m sorry to disappoint you – you now have 5,000 new words to remember.

Yes, the Germans, in their infinite wisdom, have added 5,000 words to the Duden, the official dictionary of the German language, first published in 1880 by Konrad Duden. Back then, there were only 27,000 lovely entries you had to remember. Fast forward to 2017, my intrepid language learners, and you will have to get your head around 145,000 of the tricky “little” blighters. Or I guess you could just go around shouting “DOCH!” at people all the time instead, something I’m considering doing.

DOCH!

For anyone still convinced that the Germans are all about simplifying processes for the sake of efficiency, the Duden is now in its 27th edition, comes in at a whopping 1,264 pages and is published in 12 volumes, which include Die Deutsche Rechtschreibung – The German Spelling Dictionary, Die Grammatik – Grammar, and Das Synonymwörterbuch – Synonym Dictionary. Yes, it’s simple alright – simple German-style.

It’s enough to make you want to throw your knickers in the toilet.

However, for native English speakers, the news isn’t all bad as a lot of the new words come from the English-speaking world. Consider, if you will, some new German verbs – facebooken, taggen, tindern and liken (to “like” or “heart” something on Facebook). What gives me some comfort, and amusement, is that Germans are just as likely to be confused by the changes as foreigners.

Jochem: So, what did you get up to last night? 

Jochen: Oh, you know, not much. I facebookt for a while. Wait, facebookt? Facegebookt? Gefacebookt? 

Jochem: DOCH! 

Duden.de reliably informs me that the correct form is “gefacebookt”, which sounds more like a horrible condition than a fun way to spend an evening. They also, helpfully, give a few examples of how to use this new horror-verb:

  • es wurde die ganze Nacht gefacebookt
  • sie facebookt und twittert über das Leben in Japan
  • facebookst du?

In a weird way, this actually makes life easier as you no longer have to worry about pesky prepositions. Am I bei Facebook? Auf Facebook? Who cares!? Now you can just say, “ich facebooke” – genius.

German spelling also just got easier with the disposal of, well, the German spelling of certain words. “Majonäse,” “Ketschup” and “Anschovis” are now simply mayonnaise, ketchup and anchovies.

Laptop, Selfie, Tablet, Emoji and Hashtag have all made the cut – a sad day for fans of the word “Klapprechner”. The official German word for Brexit is… Brexit. Post-truth is post-faktisch, cyber war is Cyberkrieg. It’s all starting to sound a bit Denglish, right?

Still, some German German words are also in. Here are a few of my favourites:

Kopfkino – (literally “head cinema”) meaning to daydream. 

Die Wutbürgerin – An angry female citizen. The male version, der Wutbürger, had already been added but I guess now women can officially be angry citizens too. 

rumeiern –  (literally “to egg about”) meaning to amble aimlessly around and not really get anything done

ick – how Berliners pronounce “ich” (I). I have, in the past, been lectured for saying “ick” but now it’s official; ick can ick away to my heart’s content. 

So, what do you think? Likst du the new additions or do they make you want to be a Wutbürger(in). Ick just can’t decide…

 

 

 

I speed-dated a European

With most of Germany being on holiday, my work schedule is pretty light at the moment. As a result, I’m spending much more time than I should scrolling through my Facebook feed. Still, every now and then, a little gem pops up that makes a bored blogger’s heart skip a beat. In this case, it was a post by Pulse of Europe called Speed-date a European.

Having read that it wasn’t a romantic thing, and assuming that there would be no touching involved – I’m still scarred from the Cuddle Party – I decided to ask my Irish friend, Gay, along for the ride.

Gay: What is it? 

Me: I have no idea.

Gay: It sounds a bit mad. In. 

Everybody needs a friend like this.

With the event kicking off at 2 p.m., we decided to meet at 1 for a confidence-boosting glass of wine. Well, come on, we are Irish…

Despite being billed as a “meetup with a twist, a fun way for Europeans from various countries to meet, ask questions, fight bias and smash boundaries”, we still didn’t really know what to expect. But, brave souls that we are, we sat down on the steps of the Konzerthaus, making our Popos comfortable on “I speed-dated a European” cushions.

Happy Popo

If the first surprise was how many people were there, the second was the average age. In my cynical way, I had anticipated the place being overrun with irritating hipsters in their 20s, but no, it was pretty much a sea of grey hair. I actually felt young.

(Photo by Piotr Spierewka)

In light of recent events – Brexit (BOOO!), Trump (BOOOOOOOOOOO!) and Marine le Pen (phew!) – it seemed like the perfect time to get people from different cultures together. The atmosphere was jolly, people waved various flags around and the organisers took to the stage. The opening, by a German girl and a French man, in German and English, was a little Eurovision-y for my taste but that’s why bringing a friend to these things is always a bonus. Eye-rolling and chuckling done with, we settled in for an intro to what Pulse of Europe is about and how the event would work.

Ms Eurovision: By now, you’ll all have red or blue sheets of paper.

Gay and I exchanged confused glances and looked around to see that everyone else had, in fact, got red or blue sheets of paper. He hastily got up and went to remedy the situation. Red sheets were for non-Berliners and blue were for Berliners. The idea was that you had to talk to someone with the opposite colour for five minutes, with three switches taking place during the hour. The words to Ode to Joy were printed on the sheets (in German) but I didn’t give that much thought at the time.

Mr and Ms Eurovision called out various “get the conversation going” questions for each round, but I’ve never needed much help in talking the ear off someone so they were largely ignored. My first victim was a German lady in her sixties and we chatted away happily for the first five minutes. The gong rang and we were supposed to move but, well, sitting… so we chatted away for the next five minutes, too. I could now add “speed-dating a sexagenarian” to my ever-growing list of odd things I’ve done in Berlin.

For the third round, a German man in his sixties sat on the other side of me – next victim ensnared. After a little political stuff from the stage, I spend round four in a sexagenarian threesome. The “prompt question” this time round was “what are your cliches about my country?” I’ve always thought that Ireland was pretty easy to stereotype so I was a bit surprised when my new man date came out with “sheep”.

Me: Sheep?

Thoralf: Yep, sheep.

Me: Anything else? 

Thoralf: Umm… 

Me: Wow. OK. 

Frauke: Wait, it’s green. 

Me: Yes.

Frauke: Oh, oh, RED HAIR! 

Thoralf: (looking at me a bit suspiciously) You don’t look very Irish. 

Me: Nope, I guess I was just born lucky. 

Thoralf: So, what are your cliches about the Germans?

Me: Socks and sandals, putting beach towels on sun loungers on their way home from the pub, beer, sausage, Lederhosen…

Thoralf and Frauke: THAT’S NOT US! THAT’S THE BAVARIANS!

Me: Yes, yes, I know. (I glanced down at my sheet of paper) Um, do we have to sing at the end of this? 

Thoralf: Oh yes, it’s wonderful. 

Me: It might not be so wonderful for you with me singing in your ear but OK. 

And so we did. With Bernd playing Beethoven on a banjo, hundreds of voices filled Gendarmenmarkt square as Beethoven probably spun in his grave. It was great.

Bernd plays the banjo

All that was left to do was for everyone to hold hands and dance around the square but with my “no touch” policy still firmly in place, this was my cue to leave.

No hand-holding, please. I’m Irish.

Taking our free cushions with us, Gay and I made good our escape. Still, I have to say, it was a lot of fun and a very well-organised afternoon. Pulse of Europe runs similar events in cities all over Europe on the first Sunday of every month so if you fancy some talking, singing and maybe even a little dance, I suggest you check them out.

Now, once more for Europe, all together please, with feeling:

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,

Tochter aus Elysium,

Wir betreten feuertrunken,

Himmlische, den Heiligtum…

 

 

 

 

Today was quite the day

I’m not normally one to complain (ahem) but today really took the piss. It actually started yesterday with monsoon-like rain all day, which instantly flooded the city causing major traffic delays, flooded U-Bahn stations, knee-deep water in some buses, building evacuations and, because it’s Berlin, people swimming down major streets and being pulled along in dinghies while drinking beer.

I’m not exaggerating

A storm in German is “Sturm” or “Gewitter” – a really bad storm is called “Unwetter” which, in English, would be unweather. Obviously this makes no sense at all as it’s actually ALL the weather in one go and not even remotely unweather. But hey, German…

This morning, expecting delays, I set off for my lesson a bit earlier than usual, grimly plodding through the drizzle. The bus showed up and dropped me off at the U-Bahn station. What should have been a simple ten-minute ride was made impossible by the fact that around six stations along the way were closed due to flooding. This was one of them.

So I travelled two stops, got off, got on the replacement bus and waited while another 100 people squeezed their soggy selves in. The problem with that is that the doors don’t close when people are in the way of the sensors so other passengers were yelling at people to get off at each stop; one man’s beer belly held us up for a good five minutes.

The BVG (Berlin Transport Company) representative had “reliably” informed me that the bus was going all the way to Zoo, one stop past where I had to go. But no, the driver stopped at another U-Bahn station along the way claiming that the U-Bahn was running again. She kicked us all off, down we went and no, stupid cow, the U-Bahn was not running.

By this time, I was already half an hour late so I had no choice but to cancel my lesson. I waded across the road and actually managed to squeeze into a replacement taxi. Yes, things were so bad that the BVG were transporting people using TAXIS. Then it was back on the U-Bahn, back on the bus and, finally, home. It had taken me almost 2.5 hours to achieve absolutely nothing and end up back where I started.

I wrote a scathing email to the BVG and consoled myself with the thought that I had a nice evening with my friend to look forward to – preferably with excess amounts of whiskey. Shortly afterwards, he messaged to say that he wasn’t feeling well and had to cancel. My opera singing neighbour started up and I contemplated justifiable homicide.

Still, I had to calm myself down as I had another lesson to go to this afternoon. I had carefully checked to make sure that the S-Bahn was running normally and set off. I got to the station right on time only to see the three words that every German dreads – Zug fällt aus. My train had “fallen out” and the next one wasn’t until 11 minutes later.

Argh!

A torrent of swear words, a bit like the torrents of rain, ensued. I sent my student a message telling her I’d be a few minutes late. She was actually happy enough as she’d ordered cake and would now have time to eat it. Nothing makes a German happier than coffee and cake.

After walking up the stairs (because of a broken escalator) and being accosted by a rude beggar, I eventually made it to the lesson. While I spoke flawless German, the barista insisted on answering in English – which resulted in him receiving a von Grady growl. It started raining halfway through the lesson and by the time I left, it was more unweather.

The town that I’d left just a couple of hours earlier was now a swimming pool. My boots weren’t quite up to the challenge and I squelched my way home, as engulfed in misery and self-pity as my feet were in water.

How it looked when I was swimming home
How it looked 30 minutes after I’d got home…

Grrr.

Manfredas: Hey, do you fancy dinner at the Surf Inn? 

Me: Yeah, sure. 

Manfredas: As long as it isn’t flooded. But I guess then we could “surf in”.

Me: Too soon…

A bum deal

I’ve been having a problem with very dry, itchy skin on my bum for a while now. When my self-thought-up treatment plan – scratching and hoping – didn’t seem to be yielding any results, I knew it was time to see a doctor.

While I’m a fan of men looking at my bottom in general, in this case, I thought a lady doctor would be infinitely better so I emailed a couple of Frauenärztin. Boom – I managed to get an appointment only a week and a half later. That’s practically five minutes in German time. I filled the nine days by scratching and sitting on one butt cheek – time well spent.

On the morning in question, I walked into the surgery where the jolly receptionist handed me a form to fill in. I took a seat in the waiting room beside a couple of terrified-looking dads-to-be and examined the form. Name, address, date of birth, how often and how long my period is – no problems there.

Height in metres: 

Um. No idea. I wasn’t sure that “the same height as Kylie Minogue” would be exact enough for a German doctor so I took a stab at it.

Weight in kilograms: 

Even less idea. 85? Sounds reasonable. Yeah, let’s put that down.

Why you’re here today: 

“Problem mit…” Was “Arsch” an appropriate word to use on a German form? Deciding it probably wasn’t, I hit up Google for some options – “Hintern” seemed to tick the boxes. In it went. I handed the form back to the receptionist and waited to be called. A diminutive woman in her late fifties or early sixties announced “Frau Ogg-rah-dee” and in I went.

She took one look at me and started chuckling. Could she see my Arschproblem just from the way I was walking?

Doc: Bah haha! I expected you to be a little bigger! Why did you write 85 kilos? You’d be like this… (imitates a fat person waddling around the room)

Me: ‘Cos I’m Irish and have no idea about the metric system?

Doc: Hee hee hee. What part of Ireland? 

Me: Dublin. 

Doc: My daughter went to university there – I love Ireland. 

Me: Great! 

Doc: So, I see you have a problem with your Popo. 

Me: Popo…! (keels over laughing) 

So, it seemed that Popo was the term favoured by German doctors. Fine by me.

She directed me towards an examination chair in the corner and I took off my jeans and knickers. Feeling a bit like a half-plucked chicken, I hopped up onto the chair, spread my legs and put my feet on the pads. The height of elegance. The doctor proceeded to poke around in my bumly quarters.

Doc: Oh, ganz schlimm, ganz schlimm… (Very bad, very bad…)

Me: Ganz schlimm? 

Doc: Oh ja. Ganz schlimm. 

Me: I wish you’d stop saying that. 

Doc: Aber es ist wirklich ganz schlimm. 

Me: Am I going to lose my Popo? 

Doc: Ha haha! NEIN! Aber es ist wirklich ganz schlimm. 

Me: Please stop saying that. 

Doc: Have you had any other medical problems lately?

Me: Well, I had very dry skin on my hands during the winter…

Doc: Could be related. (Does this woman think I sit around tickling my bum in my free time?) Do you eat a lot of oranges? 

Me: No. Oh, but I am having a love affair with blood orange juice.

Doc: Could also be related. 

Me: Huh, I thought that would be healthy? You know, Vitamin C and all? 

Doc: Yes. 

Me: Erm…

After examining whatever she had scraped from my Popo under a microscope and pronouncing it to be “ganz schlimm” and some sort of bacterial infection, she gave me a prescription for two creams – one to be used twice a day and the other whenever I felt like it.

Me: But is there a particular number of times a day I should use it? 

Doc: NEIN. Schmieren, schmieren, schmieren (smear, smear, smear), whenever and wherever you like. 

Me: So, maybe in the U-Bahn? 

Doc: Ha ha ha! Well, maybe not in the U-Bahn. 

Me: “Don’t mind me, fellow passengers. I’m just schmieren my Popo. Schmieren, schmieren, schmieren. Doctor’s orders.”

Doc: Ha haha! 

I was probably the most fun the woman had that day.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to hear that I’ve been schmieren away like a demon and my poor Popo is finally on the mend. And if I could give you a word of advice, remember that when it comes to your bum, schmieren is carin’.