As it’s my two-week anniversary here in Berlin, I thought it might be time to reflect on what Riga does better.
Right, moving on.
Sunday saw me kissing Hermie goodbye Hermie kissing me goodbye, and me clanking down four flights of concrete steps with a 30-kilo suitcase. So much for Quiet Sunday. Still, I made it to Bjorn’s place (now ‘our place’) in one piece and have settled in perfectly. Just to prove the point, I bought a nice pair of slippers, because nowhere feels like home without a nice pair of slippers waiting for your tired little tootsies.
In the mornings, I wake up to birds singing and this view from my window:
It might just be my imagination but I’d swear even the birds sound happier in Germany. I looked out just now and there were a couple of bunnies frolicking around the yard/forest… I mean, seriously, is this place for real?
Bjorn also seems happy to have me here. In the mornings, I’m greeted with ‘Hello, Sunshine’ (which I definitely am not), and in the evenings, when I get home, ‘Hello Pretty’, which I also definitely am not. Still, I guess it beats ‘Hello Demon Bitch from Hell’ and ‘Hello Roadkill’.
He says it’s nice having me around the place, which is just as well as it seems like we’ve already synchronised our peeing habits. This was evidenced by me, half-asleep, stumbling in on him in the loo in the middle of the night. He took it well.
He also hasn’t mentioned (or hopefully slept through) me waking myself up from a dream by shouting ‘NO, NO, NO’ at the top of my voice on my first night here. I might have been dreaming about Hermann, but then surely it should have been ‘NEIN, NEIN, NEIN’?
In other news, I started teaching today – and it went well. I’ve been offered five more groups starting from mid-October. Now I just need to get the red tape show on the road so I can actually get paid for them.
My new landlady seems to be having difficulty adding my name to the lease, which is holding everything up – so much for German efficiency. I might set Hermann on her…
I’ve had my first German sexual encounter. I think. As with most things, it wasn’t what I was expecting and I’m not even sure it was a sexual encounter. At least, I know it wasn’t for me anyway…
So I’m sitting in my room, working away on my laptop and dressed in my (very nice, mostly cream) interview dress. Hermann knocks at the door. When I open it, he’s standing there looking a bit dishevelled and out of breath. He draws a line with his finger from his throat down to his crotch, which I take to mean that he’s had some sort of major operation. (Now I think he may have been pointing at something else entirely.)
He asks me to help him in the kitchen, so I dutifully trot along after him. When we get there, I see that he’s emptied the fridge and now wants me to clean it. Sigh. He pulls out an apron and puts it on me, fastening it with a chain… Then I get my instructions on how to clean a fridge, German-style.
So, I’m bent over with my head in the fridge; Hermann has placed himself on a seat right behind me. Suddenly, I hear cries of:
JA, JA, JAWOHL! OH, WUNDERBAR, WUNDERBAR. JA JA!
coming from the general direction of my ass.
Hermie: Wait, what is this?
Me: Umm, it looks like a bit of card stuck to the back of the fridge.
Me: (scrubbing at it ineffectually) Maybe we can put some hot water on it and let it soak for a while…
So he grabs a knife, bends over my back and starts attacking the offending bit of card like a man possessed. For someone who didn’t have the strength to wipe down the rest of the fridge, he’s making up for it now, grunting and working up a sweat as he hacks at the card, his considerable girth finding repose on my nice-interview-dress-clad behind.
JA JA! DAS IST WUNDERBAR! JAWOHL! JAWOHL!
Smelling of industrial strength cleaner and old man sweat, I retired to my room, only to be disturbed again a few minutes later. Hermann needed my help printing something. When I managed to do it, he kissed me on my cheek. I guess this is the German version of snuggling.
Anyway, as I’ve mentioned, I was in my nice interview dress because, yes, you guessed it, I had interviews. The first was with a German man and I was in and out in 15 minutes flat. The second was with an English woman and I was there for almost two hours. We bonded over Hermann and his dish towels in the first five minutes (she’d had a similar experience when she first arrived) and got on like a house on fire after that.
Me: So, when do you think you’ll let me know?
Sally: Oh no, we definitely have work for you!
And she gave me a group there and then. Later that day, I got an email from the other school, saying that they also have a group for me. It’s not much, but it’s a start – and a big relief to know that I am hirable in Deutschland. So I went and celebrated with a cup of tea in a Mercedes-Benz showroom – as you do.
After days of rigorous house-training, it appears that I can now make eggs and Brötchen in a way that is pleasing to Hermann. As I wandered around the kitchen looking for a saucepan and firing up the grill, I could hear Hermann muttering behind me.
My shoulders were firmly clasped and I was shuffled around the kitchen in front of him, ooh-ing and ahh-ing in understanding as he pointed out more acceptable German ways of making breakfast. At one point, he asked me if I had a kitchen at home so he really must think I’m the most useless article ever to grace his apartment. Still, lesson learned.
While I’m happy enough to be domesticated a little, I had to draw the line when Hermann tried to ‘help’ me dry my hair. It would appear that there is a more German way of doing that too. I mean, cooking an egg like a 70-year-old man is one thing, having the hairstyle of one is quite another. Plus, Hermann nearly has a seizure every time I use the dish-drying dish towel to dry my hands, and not the specially designated hand-drying dish towel… And so the flat-hunting began.
First up was a flat on Warschauerstrasse (Warsaw Street), and as luck would have it, the tram outside my door goes directly there. The transport system in Berlin is nothing short of amazing – until it isn’t. So, we were dumped at the side of the road at some random stop because of works on the line. When I asked the driver where Warschauer was, he pointed behind the tram which didn’t make much sense but you have to trust the Germans on these things.
After rambling aimlessly for around 15 minutes, asking people for directions (who all pointed in different directions – and people say Germans don’t have a sense of humour…) I figured out that there was a bus that would take me the rest of the way.
This too, dumped me out at the side of the road around four stops later, and still nowhere near Warschauer. So it was back on the tram to go the rest of the way. I could have been almost halfway to actual Warsaw in this time. When I finally showed up, I was nearly an hour late for my first German appointment, but luckily she was Egyptian so it didn’t really matter.
Although they seemed nice enough, the room was only going to be available for 3 to 4 weeks and I didn’t feel like doing all of this again so soon. And they were vegans… “Well, we don’t eat meat but we don’t really have a problem if you want to…” Getting the Death Stare over my weekend bacon wasn’t very appealing so I turned it down. And went to have a Currywurst and a beer to celebrate the fact that I am not a vegan.
Later that evening, I went to see another apartment. I would have been sharing with an Italian girl who liked to cook. No-brainer. And the room was huge. We got on great and she said she’d call in a day or two to let me know. She didn’t. Bitch.
Anyway, luckily, I’d lined up another viewing – this time sharing with a Swedish guy. The second I saw the building and surroundings, I just knew I had to have it.
Fortunately, Bjorn didn’t want to waste too much time in finding someone so he agreed with me that I should have it. He preferred to share with a woman (because we’re tidy…) and I generally prefer blokes – match made in heaven. (Apart from the tidiness aspect.) Seemingly he travels a lot so I will have the place to myself quite a bit – I’ll run around and tidy up when he’s on his way back from the airport. Or just call Hermann who will do it better.
I’ll be moving in on Saturday, which means that my life in Germany can officially start. You can do NOTHING here without an address so let the bureaucratic adventures begin. Linda vs German Red Tape – it could be a death match.
Just thinking about it makes me want a glass of wine. I hope Hermann’s around to show me how to pour a glass properly in the German way…
Amazingly, I’m not bound and gagged on someone’s basement floor, but am, rather, alive and kicking in Berlin.
I’ve settled into my temporary home in Wedding, which I have until the 23rd of September. The old guy who owns it is currently in hospital so, most of the time, I have the place to myself. However, he does pop in every day (colostomy bag in tow) to give me helpful pointers on how to use various household objects in a more German way. For example, this is unacceptable behaviour in Germany:
After my previous lecture on how to hang up a dish towel correctly, I thought I’d just let things dry naturally from then on and avoid the whole dish towel issue altogether. Now Hermann comes in every day (at unexpected times) and puts everything away where I can’t find it neatly. We’re a bit like an Irish-German ‘Odd Couple’ – after I’ve spent the whole of the previous day unintentionally deGermanising the place, he comes round and reGermanises it, tutting good-naturedly at my slovenly ways.
However, fun as this is, the prospect of being homeless in under two weeks is gnawing at me so I’ve lined up a couple of flat viewings for tomorrow. (One woman replied saying she wanted someone ‘god-fearing’ so I ruled that one out.) After chatting to some people, I’ve decided to just go for a room in an apartment for the first few months and look for my own place a bit further down the line.
I thought my luck was in last night. I’d been at an English language stand-up comedy night in JÄÄ-ÄÄR (Estonian for ‘iceberg’) and afterwards headed back to Offside on the off chance my new buddy might be there. He wasn’t but I did meet a red-headed German named Paddy, complete with leprechaun tattoo, who offered me his spare room. It seemed like fate but it turns out I’d have to buy a bed so that’s not going to fly. Moral of the story – don’t get excited over things that happen while drinking green shots that taste like Listerine.
There’s not much to report on the job front yet (but I do have an interview on Thursday) so instead, I thought I’d make a little list of things that I’m looking forward to in Germany.
1. More sausage than I can handle – and just good-quality meat in general. Take that as you will.
2. Order, rules, systems… it’s going to make such a pleasant change.
3. Being surrounded by polite, considerate, helpful, cheerful people – and yes, I do mean the Germans. Except when they’re in Primark on a Saturday afternoon – then they’re just scary.
4. Sex in German – ja, ja, oh mein Gott, schneller, schneller, ja, ja, das ist ausgezeichnet… what a sexy language.
5. Learning German so that I can understand what’s going on during the sex.
I decided to take the bus from Riga to Berlin for two reasons – 1) it was only €50, and 2) I could take more stuff that way. (It’s by the by that I can’t actually move my suitcase by myself.) As it left at 6pm, and arrived at 1pm the next day, the theory was that I’d watch trees for a while, sleep through the night and wake up just in time for lunch in Berlin.
The bus was really comfy and roomy, and I lucked out with two seats to myself for the whole trip. However, I still couldn’t really sleep, and instead watched the faulty entertainment system as it flashed the Ecolines logo at me in various trippy ways for 20 hours. And if anyone ever doubted how big Poland is, I suggest driving across it. Latvia went by in the blink of an eye, we zipped through Lithuania, then Poland hit. And more Poland, and even more Poland. In fact, around 45 minutes outside Berlin, I think we were still in bloody Poland.
I rolled into Berlin, bleary-eyed and smelling of bus, and hopped into a taxi. The driver turned out to be THE chattiest man on the planet, and I got a full history of Berlin, his family, and anything else he could think of. It was great, and I sort of wanted to make him my new best friend – this would become a running theme with pleasant waitresses, smiling passers-by and friendly shop assistants. I guess four years in Latvia have taken their toll.
Once checked into my room for the night, the rest of the day passed in a blur of:
(As it was only €1.70 and the bar woman was a really nice mammy-type, I stayed for three.)
I woke up feeling full of the joys and set off in search of food, smiling at babies and old people, and doing the odd Fred Astaire jump-click of my heels as I went. What Riga lacks in kebab shops, Berlin more than makes up for, but I wanted somewhere a bit more relaxing so I kept going until I came to a nice little Italian place. I sat, munching away, reading my book and supping on very nice Chardonnay. Just as I was finishing up, a man came over and started chatting to me. (Don’t ya just love Germans?)
It turned out he’s the owner of Berliner Unterwelten, and the leading expert on all things World War 2 in Berlin, has published what sounded like a lot of books on the topic, and been a consultant on a couple of movies. So when he said. “Do you want to go on a tour of a WW2 bunker?”, Good Linda was like “Seriously? What would Mammy O’Grady say to you taking off underground with a total stranger?” Real Linda said, “That sounds cool!” And off we went.
Through a secret door in what looks like an ordinary u-bahn station, we descended into the bunker, which was absolutely vast and went four floors down. I just got a whistle-stop tour, but it was fascinating and I’ll probably do the ‘real’ tour at some point.
My new best friend Dietmar: Do you want to go to a bar that’s got 700 different types of whiskey?
Good Linda: You need to go home. You have to move in the morning.
Real Linda: 700? We’d better get started right away!
We made our way to the Offside Bar, which did indeed live up to its reputation.
We ordered a couple of glasses of wine, and tasted the ‘Whiskey of the Month’ – twice, just to be sure. We chatted away about anything and everything, the lovely bar staff joining in from time to time. When DiDi (as the Yanks call him) suggested heading back to his for a nightcap, Good Linda didn’t get a look in. And so we finished off my first night in Berlin doing shots of vodka in his kitchen. (I don’t think this is standard practice for either German or Irish people, but he’d been married to a Russian and I’d been married to Latvia, so we did ourselves proud.)
This morning, I woke up 5 minutes after check-out time, whirled around my room throwing stuff into my suitcase and managed to make it to reception only around 25 minutes after check-out time. Nobody seemed to notice so I ditched my suitcase and went for breakfast.
Afterwards, instead of calling me a taxi, the manager offered to drive me to my new apartment himself (for €5). Admiring his industry, we set off. I thought that I had rented a room in an apartment for the next two weeks. As it turns out, I have the entire apartment to myself – and it is huge!
The owner popped in this evening. It seems there is a right way and a wrong way to hang dish towels. Germans are funny…
And finally, you know you’re in Germany when you see:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain