Category Archives: Idiots

A few more steps

I recently became a little bit more German.

Me: Right, that’s it. We’re clearing out the living room. I don’t mind you having all the wires, cables, batteries, old phones, place mats, last year’s birthday cards, post from 2012… I just don’t want to have to look at it every evening.

Manfredas: You’re right. 

Me: I know. I’ve bought three “decorative” storage boxes. White is for documents, black is for any technical stuff, grey is for anything in between. 

Manfredas: You scare me. 

Me: I know. LET’S DO THIS! 

Ta dah!

And that’s not even the half of it. Everyone knows that the Germans love insurance – Manfredas isn’t even sure how many different types of policies he has. While I’m not quite in that league, I have taken out two more forms of insurance – bicycle and (say it with me) Haftpflichtversicherung.

You see, I bought a new bike not so long ago and, looking at it in comparison to the shitheaps most people in Berlin ride around on, I felt that maybe my beautiful Tecnobike needed a little extra protection.

I heart my Tecnobike.

Given that there were more than 34,000 reported bicycle thefts in Berlin last year, you’d think more people would have insurance. Not so. Having asked Manfredas, friends and students for tips, in the end, I had to resort to Mr. Google – and even that wasn’t easy. I eventually found the brilliantly-named Bike Ass and, for the bargain price of just €46.41 per year, Tecnobike can sleep easy at night, even if she is chained up in the basement.

Manfredas: You should also get Haftpflichtversicherung.

Me: Sounds like some kind of disease. 

Manfredas: (Sigh) No, it’s personal liability insurance. If you do damage to someone or something, it covers you. 

Me: Nah, I don’t really think I need it. 

Manfredas: Well, nobody takes out home insurance believing there’s going to be a fire, do they?

Me: No, I guess not. How much is it? 

I went with AXA and now, for a yearly pittance, I can do €50,000,000 euro’s worth of damage. Woop!

A couple of months later, I’m very happy that I have both forms of insurance. While I haven’t damaged anyone or anything (yet), the potential for this happening in Berlin seems rather high.

Example: “OK, Tecnobike, I’m going to have to leave you here for a couple of hours while I go work. But look, you’ve got loads of room and plenty of bikey company. You’ll be just fine. I’ll miss you…” 

Spacious.

You come back a while later and this has happened.

Tecnobike! Where are you!?

You might be thinking “What kind of idiot would park their car there?” or, more pressingly, “What IS that??” but if I damage either the car or THE THING trying to get out of there, it’s on me. I was tempted to do a couple of grands’ worth of damage just to prove a point, but I’m trying to be a responsible cyclist…

Interestingly, in Berlin, this is probably the most dangerous thing you can be. If you follow the rules, act like a normal human being, and show some consideration for other people using the roads and cycle lanes, chances are you’ll be the one taken out. Naturally, me being me, I’ve learned this the hard way.

So, there I was, pootling my way home on a beautiful sunny afternoon. I was heading for Karl-Marx-Allee, in the cycle lane between the lane of cars turning right and the lane going straight ahead, like me. I had started slowing down as there was a red light up ahead.

BAM. Out of nowhere, another cyclist tried to overtake me at speed (why I don’t know, as the light was red anyway), clipped Tecnobike and somehow my left leg and arm ended up crushed between the two bikes and a taxi. Miraculously, I managed to stay upright, which is good; I’ve found that roaring “ARSCHLOCH!” at someone from the ground isn’t nearly as effective.

Me: ARSCHLOCH!

Arsch mit Ohren: Me?!

Me: Yes, you, you @^$#^%^%#%$#$@#%%$^^&^&^%. You could have killed me!

Arsch mit Ohren: Uh, sorry.

We somehow managed to disentangle the two bikes and I limped to the pavement, the Arsch following me. The taxi driver had since driven off, satisfied that we hadn’t damaged his car. Eye roll.

Arsch mit Ohren: Oh, you’re bleeding. Would you like a tissue? 

Me: I’ve got my own damn tissues.

Arsch mit Ohren: You’re shaking. I’m sorry, I don’t have any water. 

Me: I’ve got my OWN DAMN WATER!

Arsch mit Ohren: Would you like to go for a coffee or something? You’re probably in shock.

Me: Are you insane?

Arsch mit Ohren: Or I could accompany you home? Make sure you’re OK? 

Me: I was just fine ’til you ploughed into me. I think I’ll be safer by myself, thank you very much. 

I finally got rid of him and, after calming down a little, inspecting Tecnobike (unharmed, thankfully), made it the rest of the way home unscathed. I was scathed enough as it was.

I watched with interest over the next few days as various parts of my body swelled up and turned different colours, my main regret being that I hadn’t turned back and run that asshole over in return. I am insured, after all…

Last weekend, there was a demonstration for safer conditions for cyclists in Berlin. While there is definitely room for improvement, from what I’ve seen, these people’s time would have been better spent learning some manners and oh, maybe how to ride a bicycle.

Berlin Demonstration von Fahradfahrern
Cycling for safety – while on your mobile. Genius. (Source: Deutsche Welle)

In the few months I’ve been with Tecnobike, I’ve seen people cycling while looking at their mobile phones, a guy cycling while reading a book, cyclists with a beer in one hand and a fag in the other, hands-free cycling, one idiot with his feet up on the handlebars, people sailing through red lights, not indicating which way they’re turning… and, of course, no lights.

Since the police and Ordnungsamt are somehow blind to all of this, Manfredas and I have started our own little “Balkonordnungsamt”. This involves yelling “Licht an du Vogel!” at the morons down below. However, as we’re on the sixth floor, it’s more likely that only our neighbours above and below can hear us and someone will call the Ordnungsamt on us.

I wonder if there’s insurance against that…

 

 

 

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Holy Orders

Since my last ranty post, I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough.

I’ve found Jesus.

Christ…

I’m as surprised as you are – turns out he’s been sitting in a souvenir shop in the Alte Münze all this time. Will wonders never cease?

Anyway, since it seems that Jesus has chosen me to be his earthly representative here in Berlin, instead of complaining about what bugs me (though I do enjoy that too), I’ve decided to be more proactive and put together a short list of commandments which, if everyone gets on board, should make life easier for all of us.

The First Commandment: Thou shalt do right (or left)

The first working escalator was installed in 1896 so you’d really think people would have figured out how to use them by now. Not so. In Berlin, the system is really very simple: stand on the right, walk on the left. Yes, that’s it. Right, left. TWO options. Rechts stehen, links gehen. Jesus people (sorry, Jesus), how hard is that to remember? Luckily, I’d polished my aggressive Berliner “HALLLLLOOOOO!” long before I started polishing my halo so a few chosen souls have learned their lesson. Clearly, however, my work here is not done.

Instructional photo – two people are going to be struck down by irritated Berliners. Can you guess which two?

The Second Commandment: Thou shalt pocket thy smartphone

For some people, the stupidity doesn’t end when they step off the escalator. No, they choose to stop dead at the bottom or top of it and pull out their phone, causing mini pile-ups where’er they go. And it’s not limited to escalators. I’m sure you’ve all seen the incredibly bright sparks who walk around a city, glued to their phone, completely oblivious to anything or anyone around them.

Well, I’m here to tell you – you’re not that important or interesting. Nobody is sitting on the edge of their seat waiting to see what you’re going to post, tweet, like, share… If you’re lost and need directions, move over to the side of the pavement and look them up. Better yet, ask a real person – if you look around you, you’ll see that they do actually still exist.

The Third Commandment: Thou shalt deal with thine own trash

When I first got to Berlin, one of the signs on the train windows made me laugh. It’s a picture of a hand throwing a bottle out the window with an “X” through it. “Who would actually do that?” I thought to myself. Well, you’d be surprised.

So brethren, if you’re drinking a beer on the train, take the bottle with you. If not, it rolls up and down the carriage, spewing what’s left of its contents and stinking up the whole place. If you’re finished treating the rest of us to the smell of your Döner, bin the wrapper on the train platform when you get off; don’t stuff it down the inside of the seat. You’d think that these things would go without saying but I guess there’s a reason Deutsche Bahn has started a Whatsapp “Reinigungsteam” (cleaning team) service. Shame it wasn’t in place when I saw someone taking a shit on the U6 platform at Friedrichstraße station. What a treat that would have been for the team…

On a bigger scale, if you have a broken printer, rickety wardrobe, holey shoe, etc., it’s not a “gift”. It’s an eyesore. Someone dumped a bed frame on our corner on Friday. By Saturday, two mattresses had joined it. If it continues like this, soon it will be like living in a Dänisches Bettenlager.

Stop the madness!

The Fourth Commandment: Thou shalt wear sandals

OK, I’m not fussy about the type of footwear but, in the name of all that’s holy (I’m getting the hang of this), please wear something on your feet. I think I’ve given you all a little taster of what the streets around Berlin can be like. What would Jesus wear? He’d wear bloody shoes, that’s what.

The Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt act like a parent and stop pissing everyone off

I’m pretty sure that anyone who’s ever been in a cafe in Prenzlauer Berg has had the same experience. You’re in kind of a hurry (or not – it’s irrelevant) so you pop in to pick up a tasty German treat to go. Brilliant, you think, only one woman and her toddler in front of me. I’ll be in and out in a flash.

Ha.

“So darling, what would you like?”

“I don’t know.” 

“Would you like a doughnut?”

“Ummm…”

“Or maybe a fruit cake?”

“Ummm…”

“You like chocolate, right? How about one of those?” 

“Doughnut.”

“Which colour? They have pink, white, yellow…”

“Ummm…”

“Or would you like the one with sprinkles? Or with little hearts? That would be nice, wouldn’t it, darling…” 

Jesus Christ. (Oops.) Give the kid anything. It’s two. It will eat it. Or not. Who really gives a damn? (Double oops.) Certainly not me or the tortured cafe worker.

You like little hearts, don’t you, dear heart? (ARRRGGGGHHHHH!)

I know there were originally ten commandments but people have shorter attention spans these days so I’m going to stop with five – for now. How wonderful it would be if people actually took note.

Without me having to smite them, that is. “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger…” Hmm, might be getting a bit carried away now. Back to being holy.

Blessed are those who wear shoes for they are also blessed with the gift of common sense.

 

 

Is Berlin drowning in its own filth?

It pains me to have to ask the question but a few things have happened in recent days (and before that if I’m honest) that really make me wonder.

Take yesterday, for example. I was on my way to the supermarket at around 3 p.m. I was just approaching it when I noticed a man sitting on the street, yelling at the top of his voice, and smashing beer bottles on the ground beside him. Now, people drinking beer in public at all hours of the day and night, broken glass and random shouters are nothing out of the ordinary in Berlin – though I did think it a little wasteful that he was smashing full bottles.

It was around then that a bottle whizzed past my head and smashed against the supermarket wall. I can’t know if he was aiming at me or if he just fancied a more challenging throw but I wasn’t sticking around to find out. I ran, the sound of another beer bottle exploding into smithereens just behind me ringing in my ears.

I hightailed it into the supermarket, which was, luckily, practically empty. I walked over to the cashier.

Me: There’s a crazy man outside throwing beer bottles at the wall. 

Him: What? 

Me: There’s a crazy man outside throwing beer bottles at the wall. 

Him: What’s he doing? 

Admittedly, I was a bit shaken so my German was probably a little hairy.

Me: He’s throwing bottles against the wall. It’s very dangerous for customers. 

That got his attention so he went outside to investigate. I pointed out the man who could have brained me but it turned out I didn’t really need to; a small crowd had gathered and another man was already calling the police. I decided there was nothing else for me to do but carry on with my shopping – now that I still had a head, it would be necessary for me to eat again at some point.

The (rather young and sexy) police showed up just as I was waiting at the cash register and it was all super-dramatic – which way did he go? What does he look like? A description being shouted back, the cops running (sexily) back out the door and peeling off in their waiting van as more sirens got closer.

As I left, I noticed that the man who’d called the police was bleeding quite heavily from one of his legs so I felt even more fortunate that I’d avoided being hit. I have no idea if the police caught him but I learned that the supermarket has cameras on its tills and he’d bought the crate of beer there, so there’s a good chance they’ll nail him. Good thing too – from what I’ve seen, that man has no place on the streets.

Of course, this is the sort of idiot that you can call the police on. But there are plenty more people out there who do their best to foul up Berlin for the rest of us. They range from the totally oblivious (morons on mobiles, for instance) to the “I’m so cool and awesome that normal rules of behaviour don’t apply to me” – yeah, I’m looking at you, gobshite who popped the cap off your beer bottle on the train today and hit me in the back with it. GOBSHITE.

However, it takes a special kind of asshole (two of them actually) to carry a sofa loaded with plastic sacks full of twigs and branches – don’t ask me why – throw the sacks over a wall and dump the sofa on the side of the street, as was witnessed by me and Manfredas from our balcony two nights ago.

FUC is right.

And while you might think that these guys are an exception, unfortunately that’s not true. Berlin has perfectly good dumps and, if you can’t make it there, you can arrange an appointment for the BSR to come and pick up your unwanted crap. Of course, you have to pay for this and that’s the problem – too many people in Berlin don’t want to pay for anything and would rather turn the city into their own personal dumping ground than do so.

I took these photos on a five-minute walk to the bakery this morning. And that was just one side of the street.

As this post has got a bit rantier than I’d intended, I’ll wrap it up by saying that I still love this city. I really do. There are freedoms afforded to people in Berlin that should never be taken for granted – the freedom to go wherever you want, to be whoever you want to be, and to do whatever you want (within reason).

The thing about freedom is that, with it, comes responsibility and that is what I’m noticing more and more these days. So many people just don’t want to take responsibility for anything – and have zero respect for other people or their surroundings.

If I’ve come across as a sanctimonious dipshit in this post then I’m sorry, but I really don’t think that a little accountability is too much to ask for.

Over and out.

Wine, words and wankers

Every now and then, an event comes along that you think is going to be right up your street. In my case this was “Wine and Words”, which took place last Friday.

It looked fantastic on paper (or on screen, rather):

“Wine lovers and word fanatics, you are in for a treat!”

All good so far…

“Together with Wine Club Berlin you will be able to ask all the questions you have about the magic grape juice while tasting a range of carefully selected treasures.”

Yes to that…

“Followed by brave readers and their stories, there will be live music with a range of ukulele, violin and live-looping combined with soulful harmonies – what better way is there to start your weekend?”

Damned if I could think of one.

I arranged to meet my English friend Bea there, and she brought along her German friend, Gerlinde. We were all set for a wonderful, cultural (if slightly boozy) start to the weekend. The free wine tasting started at 7pm and I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for the scrum that ensued. However, being the hardy Irish chick that I am, I managed to shove my way in. I discovered that there’s also something quite satisfying about hip-checking hipsters.

The barman proceeded to pour a dribble of wine into the glasses of the lucky few who had battled to the bar, all the while extolling the virtues of the drop that had barely wet my mouth. Still, I could taste enough to know that it was awful.

Round two.

Gerlinde: Hmm.

Me: Hmm. I’m sensing undertones of vinegar.

Gerlinde: It smells a bit like pineapple. But the canned kind, not the good stuff.

Me: Hmm. It smells a bit like paint-stripper. 

Poor Bea hadn’t had the heart to ram her way through hipster-hell so she missed out.

She didn't miss much, to be fair.
She didn’t miss much, to be fair.

 

I managed to taste a drop of rosé and a drop of red before giving up and paying for a proper glass of wine. €4.50 for 125ml – utterly outrageous. I could get 23 bottles at LIDL for the price of one bottle there; it’s debatable which is preferable – dying of shock at the price of one bottle or dying from drinking 23 of them.

We managed to find a table and people-watching commenced. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many tossers in one place. I wondered if all of these people who try so hard to look so different from everyone else, with their craaaaaaaazy hair and craaaaaaaazy clothes, realise that they simply look the same as everyone else who’s trying to look so different. Deep, right?

Needless to say, it was a total selfie-fest but special mention has to go to “the wookie in the wife-beater”. First of all, anyone who wears a wife-beater in January can’t have all of their cups in the cupboard (as we say in German). Secondly, any man who aims to draw attention to himself by displaying his mammoth amount of back and shoulder hair in public should be sent to a galaxy far, far away.

It was almost enough to put a girl off her wine, but not quite. I got another glass.

Me: Where are the words? It’s after 8.30 and not one word! 

Bea: Hmm, not sure. Maybe they’re getting organised. 

Me: Well, I’m not sitting here drinking overpriced plonk all night. There’d better be some words soon.

Bea: We could just leave. Go to a normal bar? 

Me: NO! I came to hear words and hear words I will! 

Finally, a girl got on stage and introduced the first act – a violinist. Everyone clapped uproariously now that things were finally getting started and we settled in to enjoy the show. After a pretentious nod to the audience, he commenced to play the most mournful dirge I think I’ve ever heard in my life. Way to get the party started.

As I squirmed with boredom, I chanced a look around me at the other guests. Slack-jawed and glassy-eyed would be a fairly accurate description. One guy poured the rest of a bottle into his glass as another fell asleep. After around three minutes, the caterwauling ended and someone started clapping enthusiastically – probably in relief. But no, it was just a brief pause; he played on for another six hours, or maybe it just felt that way.

Me: Jesus. 

Bea and Gerlinde: …

The next act was introduced – a reader, finally. Now, I know how hard it is to get up in front of a roomful of people so I’ll be charitable.

I have never, EVER, heard such unadulterated, self-involved drivel in my life.

Me: Right, that’s it. I’m done. 

We put on our coats and walked out.

Bea: Never invite me to anything again. 

Me: But it sounded so good on paper! 

This was actually the inaugural “Wine and Words” evening. Next time, if there is a next time, I’d suggest that they call the event “Self-obsessed twats listening to self-obsessed twats talking twaddle and drinking dribbles of crap wine” – it would save people getting their hopes up.

 

More German efficiency

In a bid to make a bit of extra cash before Christmas, last week I applied to a school that is approximately 30 seconds from my house; perfect for these cold, dark, winter days. I got a reply and dutifully trotted across the road at 14.50. I rang the bell. No answer. I rang the bell again. No answer. I called the number and was routed to some central messaging service where, surprise, nobody answered. Slipping in behind a woman who had a key, I made it to the front door of the school, rang several more times and then gave up.

At around 15.10, an unkempt woman with greasy hair and rumpled clothing appeared.

Frau Sau: How did you get in? 

Me: A woman had the key. 

Frau Sau: Huh.

She opened the door and instructed me to sit down in the hall. No apology then. She went into her office and reappeared with part of her coffee machine, went into the bathroom, filled it with water and went back into her office, all the while looking at me like I was some sort of curious exhibit in a museum.

Finally, I was called in. After the oddest interview ever –

Frau Sau: Do you have the right to work in the EU?

Me: I’m Irish. We’re EU citizens. 

Frau Sau: For now…

Frau Sau: This school has been going for years. I don’t know how many.

Me: 28.

Frau Sau: Oh. You know more than I do.

– she offered me a group of 5-year-olds as a cover lesson at the end of the week. Now, I have taught kids before but it’s been a long time and even they were 7 or 8.

Me: Hmm. OK…

Frau Sau: Great. So, 15.30 on Friday.

Me: Well, OK but what am I supposed to do with them? Did the regular teacher leave any notes? 

Frau Sau: (Blank look)

Me: Or is there a book that they normally use? 

Frau Sau: I guess you could try this. It’s in German but pictures are pictures.

Argh, my eyes, my eyes!
Argh, my eyes, my eyes!

Me: Um, OK. What if I want to make copies? Is there another photocopier here? Your office will be locked. (She works from 15.00 – 18.30 every day – poor woman must be exhausted.)

Frau Sau: You’ll just have to make your copies now.

Me: But I don’t know what I’m doing with them yet.

Frau Sau: (Blank look)

Me: Which classroom should I use? 

Frau Sau: Any of them.

Me: Huh.

Frau Sau: Can you sing? 

Me: Uh… (putting the book in my bag)

Frau Sau: You can’t take that with you. I’ll leave it out in the hall for you for Friday. 

Me: …

She then proceeded to fill out forms on her computer, making me say everything out loud, despite all of the information being in front of her in my freshly-printed CV and certificates. After that, she took me through the “student database” – a box filled with alphabetically-filed cards. Instead of there being one card for the group with all of the students’ names on it, each student had an individual card which would have to be filled in after the lesson. Sigh.

As I would want to get there earlier than 15.00 having had no tour of the school or any clue what I was doing, she gave me the key to the building – this seemed a bit strange as she really didn’t know me from Adam. Stranger still was that I didn’t need any sort of police background check before working with young children. Then again, maybe German law is different?

I went home and got on Facebook to tell Han how it had gone.

Me: Ugh, I don’t even know what a 5-year-old looks like…

Han: They look awful.

Me: They can smell fear, right? 

Han: Yup.

Me: Gulp.

On Friday at 14.45, I let myself in. I had a wander around the rooms and chose the biggest one. I had planned on doing a lesson on food but changed my mind and decided on parts of the body, mainly because I didn’t want to sing this:

Even for 5-year-olds, this seems retarded.
Even for 5-year-olds, this seems retarded.

“Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” I could get on board with. I located the one CD player and got set up. At around 15.05, Frau Sau showed up.

Frau Sau: What are you doing with that book? 

Me: That’s the book you left out for me.

Frau Sau: But that’s a book for kids.

Me: I’m teaching kids. 

Frau Sau: No, you’re teaching school children. 

Me: But you said 5-year-olds. 

Frau Sau: Must have been a misunderstanding. 

Me: (panic) OK, so how old are these kids? 

Frau Sau: Oh, from grade blah blah to blah blah. 

German grades don’t make much sense to me but this sounded like a big range of ages and levels.

Me: Riiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them? Is there a book?

Frau Sau: No. 

Me: Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them? 

Frau Sau: I don’t know. Their homework I guess. 

Me: Christ. 

I went back into my room and had a moment of ARRRRGGGGHHHHH. The floor looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” was written.

20161111_1509361

The “kids” started to show up. I guess they were between 9 and 16, with wildly varying abilities. Some of them had English homework, some didn’t. Some of them had English books, some didn’t. Three of them were actually there to study German.

Me: Gulp.

I got the ones who had English homework started on that and set the others a simple writing task. After about 30 minutes, they were all done.

Me: Gulp.

Wolff: Where are you from?

Me: Ireland. 

Wolff: Coooooooooooooooool! 

Gerlinde: Where’s that? 

Wolff: (with much eye-rolling) It’s an island near Great Britain. (Sigh. Eye-roll.)

I decided that we may as well play games for the last hour so we whiled away the time with past simple Xs and Os, Hangman and Who Am I? I have no idea who the cool kids know these days but I figured it was a safe bet they’d heard of Donald Trump. I put Heribert standing with his back to the board and wrote Donald Trump on it.

Heribert: Am I a man? 

Wolff: I HATE YOU!!! 

Heribert: Donald Trump? 

5 o’clock rolled around.

Gerlinde: That was so much fun! Are you going to be here on Monday?

Me: No, sorry, it’s just for today. 

Wolff: Tuesday? 

Me: Nope, sorry! 

All: Awwwwwwwwwwwww!

Me: Yeah, I know. 

Hedde: I really like your hair…

They trundled out and I went to the office to find Frau Sau. Naturally, she’d chosen this exact time to disappear. I stood making idle chatter with a parent she’d also left sitting there waiting.

Mutter: (rather ominously) Yeah, I’ve had dealings with Frau Sau before…

Frau Sau reappeared, went into the bathroom without making eye contact with either of us, and then emerged to call me into her office. I started filling out my invoice.

Frau Sau: I need the key back. 

Me: (through gritted teeth) Yes, in a minute. 

Frau Sau: How did it go? 

Me: Yeah, fine. We did their homework and some writing practice and then played some games. 

Frau Sau: Oh, there are a load of games in that cupboard. You could have used those. 

So I grabbed her by her greasy hair, swung her around a few times and hurled her through the window.

Not really.

Needless to say, I won’t be going back there.