Category Archives: Humor

Görgeous Görlitz – Part 2

Later that evening, it was time to brave the death stairs and head out in search of food. It’s hard to say whether Görlitz looks prettier by day or by night.

One thing I did notice was that it was eerily empty at 8 p.m. In Berlin, people would just be getting up around then; in Görlitz, I feared people had already gone to bed for the night. Still, I did manage to find a nice-looking restaurant and, as I was pretty much in Poland, ordered the bigos – a Polish stew consisting of Sauerkraut and mystery meat…

Naturally, by the time I’d finished, I was the only person left in the restaurant. As I sipped my wine, the Polish waitress eyed me like the inconvenience I was so I decided to buy a bit more time by charming her with the fact that I had once lived in Poland. (I hated it but she didn’t have to know that.) Suitably impressed by my surprising knowledge of her language (“thank you very much”, “beer, please”, “old nag” and “under the chestnut tree” – the last two were the names of bars), we chatted for a bit and I got to finish my wine in peace. Win win. I paid up and made my way into the night, hoping there was a bit of life somewhere.

Hmm.

I ran through my mental checklist of questions to consider before choosing a place to drink:

Is it a bar? Check.

Is it open? Check.

Decision made. A bit later, as the two girls next to me were preparing to leave, I asked them where the nightlife in Görlitz is. They exchanged a slightly puzzled glance – it seemed I was in it.

The next morning, I woke up in a fit of breathless excitement. Today was the day. I had a date with… Hollywood Great, Engelbert von Nordhausen! I had a cup of tea, showered and dressed, and skipped down the stairs of doom. Carefully. I’m not a complete idiot.

The weather had decided to play along for the scene of this momentous occasion.

I was planning on doing the 1 o’clock tour so I chose a breakfast establishment close to the bus stop. I sat down outside in the glorious sunshine and ordered.

My food arrived really quickly, so much so, that I was done by the time the bus returned from the 11 o’clock tour. Watching the people stream off the bus, I decided it might be a good idea to book my ticket there and then, to be sure that I wouldn’t miss out. I ordered another cup of tea, left my coat and book there so the waiter knew I wasn’t doing a runner, and trotted over.

Love the licence plates in Görlitz – GR…

I accosted the driver just as he was getting off.

Hi, can I buy a ticket for the 1 o’clock tour, please?

Cztrzczycztyz.

Huh?

Cztrzczycztyz. (Looking slightly desperate)

Oh, you don’t speak German! English?

Cztrzczycztyz.

I realised that my time in Poland might have been better spent learning words like “buy” and “ticket”. So, I did the classic foreigner thing and spoke louder in German.

ONE. (Holds up finger) TICKET. FOR ONE O’CLOCK. (Points futilely at watch-less wrist) TOUR. (Points futilely at massive red bus)

At this point, the poor driver was frantically looking around to see if there was anyone who could rescue him. He managed to communicate that he had a colleague, pointed at his wrist and the ground I was standing on, and ran. I understood that I should come back just before one when his colleague would be there. Genius. I did also fleetingly wonder if he knew the German rules of the road. (To this day, I’m still unconvinced.)

I went back to the café, finished off my tea, and then did as instructed. I beamed at my new Polish bestie who hurried off to hide in the driver’s compartment. I successfully purchased my ticket from his colleague, who was also Polish but thankfully spoke German, and boarded. As I was the first person there, I had my pick of seats so sat right up front on the top deck. Brilliantly, even though there are essentially zero bars in Görlitz, there is a bar on the bus. I decided at that moment that the pandemic no longer existed and ordered a Radler.

And then we were off! Engelbert welcomed us all, introduced himself as the German Samuel L. Jackson (and wisely not the German Bill Cosby, which he also was) and we travelled at questionable speeds – careening around corners and sometimes on the wrong side of the road – through Görlitz, checking out the locations where movies like The Reader, Inglourious Basterds and Grand Budapest Hotel were made. Jackie Chan also jumped out of a tower window somewhere. When I wasn’t clinging to the railing for dear life, I sniggered as Engelbert referred to Brad Pitt and co. as “my colleagues”. I was pretty sure Brad wasn’t wandering around Hollywood returning the favour. But this was Görliwood and Engelbert was actually very entertaining in his own right, despite obviously sounding nothing like Samuel L. Jackson.

If you’re ever in Görlitz, have a spare €13 and an hour’s time, I highly recommend it. Just keep your hands off my Engelbert…

Tour done, I realised that that day was probably the “photo-taking day” as the weather wasn’t looking great for the rest of my time there. So, I wandered around for a bit, doing just that.

Despite everything being gorgeous, a couple of things caught my eye.

  1. Everything in the Euroshop now costs €1.10, which seems to defeat the purpose of having a EUROshop.

2. I was standing on the grass, taking a picture of some flowers when an old German woman shouted at me that standing on the grass was VERBOTEN! In a fit of pique, I marched around the grassy area trying to find the sign that said that. There wasn’t one. I looked around for her to give her a piece of my mind but she was gone. Germans are pretty speedy, even the old ones.

Illegally obtained imagery

3. Behold, the German uniform…

Dressing up is not really a thing here. Queuing for ice-cream is.

4. German stag dos are a bit weird. They wander around town trying to give OTHER PEOPLE alcohol and, oddly, tiny bread, instead of getting sloshed themselves.

Still, they looked like they were having a blast – and I have to say, I did too. Maybe some day, Engelbert will wander around Görlitz with his tiny bread and booze and I will become Linda von Nordhausen. Time will tell…

Görgeous Görlitz – Part 1

“This weekend, I am off to The Hollywood of Germany!” I announce with dramatic flair and jazz hands.

German 1: “What is that?”

“This weekend, I am off to The Hollywood of Germany!” I announce with slightly less dramatic flair and subdued jazz hands.

German 2: “Where?”

“This weekend, I’m off to The Hollywood of Germany. You’ve probably never heard of it.”

German 3: “Oh, you mean Babelsberg?”

“NEIN, Babelsberg is a film studio. Görlitz is The Hollywood of Germany!” The jazz hands are back.

“Why the fuck are you going to Dunkeldeutschland?”

“Because it’s The H… sod it. I give up.”

Dunkeldeutschland (dark Germany) is the not-very-nice name given to the former GDR and, even though the Wall came down in 1989, you’d be surprised how many “Wessis” still think this way. But not me. Nope, I was off to visit Görlitz, the easternmost city in Germany, otherwise known as Görliwood or… yep, you guessed it, The Hollywood of Germany!

Thankfully, the trains worked the way you’d expect German trains to work as I only had five minutes to change in Cottbus and, at 14:15 precisely, I was rolling into Görlitz. I bumped my wheelie suitcase over the cobblestones from the station to my AirBnB in the heart of the old town and arrived at 14:59, one minute before I was due to meet my host. Goddamn, I’m a good German.

On cue, a lovely, smiley lady by the name of Angela opened the door and showed me in.

I may have gasped a little when I saw the staircase…

… and made a mental note not to drink too much during my stay there. Or at least not while I was in the flat. Crawling back up the stairs, fine, falling down them, not so much.

Angela gave me a quick guided tour, handed over the key, and then I was on my own. The flat was huge, with a balcony, big comfy double bed, fully-equipped kitchen – not that I’d need it – more chairs than you could sit on in three days, and more lamps than you could use in a lifetime.

As I hung up the couple of dresses I’d brought with me, I did notice something odd though.

Why is the door buzzer in the back of the wardrobe? Anyone??

Mystery unsolved, I was off to check out what Görlitz had to offer. Mainly in the way of cake. Luckily, in Germany, you never have to walk more than around 20 metres before you hit a café or a bakery and, sure enough, there was Café Gloria, pretty much on my doorstep.

I selected a rich, chocolatey number and demolished it, all the while making rather porny “hmmmm, hmmmmm” noises. It was totally worth it. My cake craving sated, I took a couple of snaps of the square I was staying in – the Untermarkt (lower market).

That’s my gaff at the end on the left. €45 a night…

Then I decided to walk to Poland.

And no, your eyes do not deceive you. I mean, literally, walk to Poland. Görlitz is situated on the Neisse River and, when you walk over the bridge, you’re in Zgorzelec. (Don’t ask me how to pronounce it.)

Guess which side is Germany…

This is what still blows my mind about living in the EU (suck it, Brexit) – one minute, you’re in Germany, where they speak German, use the euro and customer service is questionable; the next, you’re in Poland, where they speak Polish, use the złoty (but accept the euro) and customer service is non-existent! Boom! No border control, no ID required, just toddle across a bridge and there you are!

The first indication that you’re in Poland is a burnt-out car on the river bank and massive signs advertising “Zigaretten”, which are significantly cheaper in Poland. It also only took around thirty seconds until I spotted a man swigging vodka from a bottle, and another five seconds until I saw a “yoof” clad from head to toe in stonewashed denim.

I immediately decided that I would spend my nights on the German side.

I found a slightly less terrifying-looking establishment and ordered a glass of wine which, disappointingly, cost €4 rather than 4 cents.

Poland. It’s not all bad. (Feel free to use that as your slogan, Zgorzelec Tourist Board. You are welcome.)

I sat there sipping away and trying to read my book, but really, I couldn’t concentrate as I was Sitting. In. Poland. Looking. At. Germany. Which, incidentally, is the right way to do it as I don’t think anyone sits in Germany looking across at Poland.

I took a few more photos on my way back but it was pretty overcast and doesn’t really do the place justice. In fact, it looks rather dunkel…

Back at the ranch, I had a rummage through the flyers there, but already knew what I had in mind for the next day – a bus tour on the Görliwood Entdecker (Explorer). If you’ve been wondering why on earth I’ve been referring to Görlitz as The Hollywood of Germany, it’s because over a hundred movies have been shot there.

German 3: Yeah right, what do they film there? Their own belly buttons? Har har har

Me: (Smug Wessi prick, I’ll show him…) Er, no, actually. Try Grand Budapest Hotel, Inglourious Basterds, The Reader, something with Jackie Chan that I can’t remember…

German 3: Oh.

With great excitement, I read the flyer – a Hollywood Great as Tour Guide! Oh my God, it’s frickin’ Samuel L. Jackson! Oh no, wait, it’s the guy who does the voice of Samuel L. Jackson for the German market. Hmm, “Hollywood Great” seemed like a bit of a stretch – unless you’re intimately familiar with the work of Engelbert von Nordhausen. I was not so I googled him.

I would say the similarities end with the glasses but maybe that’s just me.

Stay tuned for Part 2 with me, sunshine, and Hollywood Great, Engelbert von Nordhausen…

All we hear is Radio’ Gra-Gra(dy)

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.

Me: What?

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.

The waitress’s photography skills weren’t the best but she was a master of staring at her own phone.

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.

They didn’t all turn out so well…

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.

https://www.rbb888.de/Programmaktionen/lieblingsnachbarn/lieblingsnachbarn.html

And don’t judge my German too harshly – that’s my job 😉

Boris Merkel?

This morning, I had an (of course) online lesson with a group of students who work at a pan-European company. The Spanish and the Italians didn’t show up – 8 a.m. isn’t exactly my finest hour either so I can’t say I really blame them – so I was faced with eight Germans, one Dutch guy and a French girl. It’s a start-up so they all look like foetuses and have Very Important Sounding Management Titles in teams that, to my 44-year-old ears, have no business existing. Champions Team. Onboarding Manager. Conceptionist… No, just no.

Anyway, we’d been studying the present simple and present continuous for the last few weeks so I devised (i.e. stole from a website) a genius idea to use the tenses in a speaking exercise. I suppose most of you are wearily familiar with Zoom by now but, for those of you who aren’t, there is a chat function where you can send messages to individual participants. So, the idea was that I would send a student a word – it could be a person, an object or a verb – and they would have to describe it to the others who had to try to guess the word.

To demonstrate, I typed “Ed Sheeran” on the whiteboard and asked how they would describe him.

Ute: Ed Sheeran is…

Me: Yeah Ute, it kind of defeats the purpose if the person’s name is the first thing you say. Try again.

Ute: Oh, right. Erm, he’s a singer. He’s got red hair.

Me: Good enough. I think there’s only one. So, you all get the idea?

All: Silence and staring which you assume means “yes” in a Zoom meeting.

After one of the German guys described a “sneeze” as “like an explosion in your nose”, I thought my day couldn’t get any better but that’s the great thing about this job – people can always surprise you.

I sent “Boris Johnson” to one of the German girls.

“I don’t know who that is.”

I mean, really, I think the world would be a better place if none of us had ever heard of Boris Johnson but how was this even possible?

I sent it to another German and asked her to describe him. I’ll admit that my high hopes of witty, political commentary (or just bitchy comments about his hair and fondness for suitcases of booze) were starting to fall a bit flat at this point.

Lydia: Erm, he has blonde hair. He’s the Premier of England. (I decided this was close enough.)

Silence. Then the French girl unmuted herself to save the day.

Angela Merkel?

Me: Right. Three things: She’s a Chancellor, well, now ex-Chancellor. Of Germany. And, as far as I’m aware, she does not identify as “he.

Am I wrong to despair for the future?

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.