Non, je ne regrette rien

Or whatever that is in German.

After the last few drama-filled weeks, you’d be forgiven for wondering if I’m regretting my decision to move to Berlin. If so, you’d be nuts. A little drama never killed anybody. It’s perfectly possible that psychotic Swedes did, but, fortunately for me and my blood pressure, I’m out of that situation now.

Bye bye bunnies. Take care Bjorn doesn't boil you.
Bye bye bunnies. Take care Bjorn doesn’t boil you.

So, why don’t I regret moving to Berlin? Well, aside from a psychotic Swede, a horny Hermann and an insane registration system, Berlin is fantastic. Most days I have to pinch myself to make myself believe that I’m actually living in one of my favourite cities in the world.

Even Queenie likes it.
Even Queenie likes it.

Here are just some of the reasons I’m happy I moved from Latvia to Germany (or Berlin, for those who insist that Berlin is Berlin, and not “real” Germany).

  • German drivers don’t act like they want to kill you.
  • German pedestrians don’t act like they want to kill you, either.
  • Germans are not as punctual as you might think. This is, in fact, rather annoying but it’s nice to know that Germans aren’t as perfect as everyone thinks they are. They do, however, treat long distance bus journeys in much the same way as they treat sun loungers in Majorca. On a recent trip to Hamburg, I arrived fifteen minutes early for the bus. I got on and thought that all of the seats were empty. Silly me. No, the Germans had probably got there at 4am, left their jackets and snacks, and gone home to bed for a few hours.
  • Even homeless people have high standards. I started teaching at one of the major banks in Berlin last Monday. The student was late (sigh), so I waited in the ATM vestibule. While I was phoning the school trying to find out where my student was, I woke up a young woman who had been sleeping behind the ATM machines. “Have you got €20 for me?” “€20??? No, I don’t.” “But you just took out money.” “Yeah, for me, not you.” I waited outside after that.
  • The fashion. Or lack thereof. I’m pretty sure you could dance down the street naked in Berlin and nobody would bat an eyelid. On one of the rare occasions I’ve seen someone wearing heels, it was a dude. Refreshing after all of the falsity in Latvia.
His 'n' hers lovely sensible German footwear
His ‘n’ hers lovely sensible German footwear
  • German people are friendly and helpful. No, it’s really true. They strike up conversations with total strangers on public transport; they help people with heavy suitcases. In fact, I think I’ve had more help from the few Germans I’ve met over the last four or five weeks than I had from the Latvians in four years. I don’t know where the cold, unsmiling German stereotype comes from, but nothing could be further from the truth.
  • German people are amazingly sociable. While I hear rumours that Germans like rummaging about in the forest for mushrooms, I haven’t seen that in person. What I have seen is every café and bar (and that’s a lot) full to the brim with shiny happy Germans holding hands talking and laughing like it’s the most normal thing in the world – which it is.
Shiny happy Germans holding hands. And dancing.
Shiny happy Germans holding hands. And dancing.
  • Germans aren’t shy about drinking on the streets. In Latvia, when you see somebody walking around with a beer in their hand, they’re usually the lowest of the low. Here, it’s the same as walking around with a bottle of water.
  • Germans work. And I mean WORK. There’s no faffing about. You will never see five or six Germans standing around looking at a hole in the ground the way you would in Latvia (or Ireland). They’re there to do a job, and they do it. In Latvia, a bar maid will grunt at you because you’ve interrupted her Youtube marathon. In Germany, a bar maid will come running from wiping down tables, sweeping floors, emptying ashtrays… they just don’t stop.
  • In Germany, if something is shit (and really, there aren’t that many things), you get the feeling that people are trying to improve it. Latvians would rather bitch and moan and, ideally, blame the Russians. (I doubt I’ll live long enough to see this change.)
  • Pretty much everything is cheaper in Berlin.
  • Food – oh wow, the food. First of all, you don’t have to pick your way through 254 mouldy onions in supermarkets to find the one good one – everything is shiny and fresh. The quality of everything is just better. And the variety – you can buy pretty much anything you want in the supermarkets, and I don’t think there’s a single cuisine that’s not taken care of in the restaurant market.
  • They have English bacon, Irish cheddar AND Heinz baked beans. Now I won’t need to bring back an extra suitcase from Ireland at Christmas. I have access to everything I need.
  • I don’t need to wipe down toilet seats everywhere I go. German women pee like women, not like dogs. However, one thing I cannot wrap my head around is the German “poo shelf”. Why anyone would want to examine their poo that closely is beyond me.
Dear god, why?
Dear god, why?
  •  I’m now living with two very hot German women – proof that not all German women are complete munters. And, more importantly, they’re über nice.
They even put sweets on my pillow - all together now, AWWWWW
They even put sweets on my pillow – all together now, AWWWWW

So, do I regret leaving Latvia? Not for a second.

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A Bjorn Loser

On Wednesday evening, just as I was starting to relax and enjoy the peace, Bjorn came back. Yes, his 8 – 9 day trip, had turned into a one day trip. This one day did finally give me a chance to tackle the fridge of dysentery, disease and death, though.

I opened the door to a slightly battered-looking Bjorn, complete with broken nose and black eyes. Seemingly, he’d been jumped by some Turks in Sweden. This may or may not be fictitious.

Me: Where’s your key?

Bjorn: I gave it to my wife to mind and she forgot to give it back. 

Yes, Bjorn is married – to an insane Russian, who also may or may not be fictitious. Bjorn has spent the last few weeks living in fear of said wife, who is an evil genius when it comes to technology. She has been hacking his mobile and screwing with his life, so he keeps on switching off the wifi to deny her access. So it makes perfect sense that they would go to Sweden together…

Me: Why would you do that?

Bjorn: Ramble, ramble, nonsense, bullshit…

Me: Sigh. 

On Thursday morning, I packed my laptop, as Thursday is the day of loneliness when it comes to lessons. I figured if the students didn’t show up again, I could at least get some other work done. This week, two out of four groups showed up, which I guess is progress. One of the groups didn’t have a single German in it, just two Spaniards, an El Salvadoran, and a Pole. Welcome to Berlin.

When I got home in the evening, I was rather surprised to find the front door open. He didn’t, he couldn’t have… He did.

2014-10-10 11.34.26

When Bjorn showed up around half an hour later, I was spitting mad, but decided to start off in a calm, Germanic way.

Me: Are you aware that you left the front door open?

Bjorn: Well, I didn’t know what time you’d be back, and I had to go out. 

(Warning: The conversation goes a bit ‘Tarantino’ at this point.)

Me: Are you a complete and utter fucking moron?

Bjorn: No, it’s fine. I’ve done it before…

Me: You what?? Are you actually fucking mentally ill? Anything could have happened. All of my stuff is here. Where is your fucking key?

Bjorn: My wife isn’t answering her phone. 

Me: Well, fucking call her again, and keep calling her. What is your cunning plan for tomorrow? Go out all day again and leave the fucking door open? Maybe you could put the fucking frying pan on the ring while you’re at it, to heat up the place for when you get back. You total fucking gobshite. 

I would like to say at this point that I am a rather articulate person in real life. However, when faced with this unprecedented level of stupidity, all decorum went out the window. It’s perfectly clear that Bjorn has zero respect for his own stuff, but it would be nice to know that I can actually go out and expect my things to be here when I get back.

Yesterday afternoon, craving some normal conversation, I met up with my new best friend, Dietmar. We met at the restaurant where we first got talking. Over a couple of glasses of Chardonnay, we caught up, and I filled him in on my current living situation. When I showed him the photos of the fridge, he almost passed out. He offered to help me find somewhere new; I gratefully accepted.

Dietmar: I’d like to take you to a speakeasy in a ruin. Would you like that?

Me: Sounds great! 

And then this happened...
And then this happened…

We hopped on his scooter and zipped off into the night, me probably cutting off his circulation in the process. The speakeasy was just opening when we got there and was indeed in a ruin. Only in Berlin!

2014-10-11 19.06.58
The host with the most

Given the choice between spending the night with a mad Swede or a sexy older German man, the decision was pretty easy. It also meant that Bjorn would be locked out for the night, so the flat had a much better chance of survival.

I ignored all calls and texts, had a nice leisurely breakfast with Dietmar today, and eventually made my way home for around 1 o’clock.

Bjorn: You didn’t tell me you wouldn’t be coming home. 

Me: I did. You just didn’t listen. You never fucking listen. 

Bjorn: I had to check in to a hotel. I checked out at 7am and have been waiting for you ever since.

Me: Why would you do that? You really are a total fucking idiot, you know that? 

Bjorn: Ramble, ramble, nonsense, bullshit…

Me: Look. I’m sick of fucking listening to this. Sort out your fucking wife, get your fucking key and sort your fucking life out. You asshole. You’re 36 years old and you live like a fucking moron. 

Bjorn: Wow, I had no idea you were so crazy. 

Me: ME? I’M CRAZY? YOU ARE A COMPLETE AND UTTER NUTTER. I can’t take this any more. I’m moving out. Give me back my fucking deposit and I’ll be gone by the end of the week. 

Bjorn: Oh, I bought cookies. You can have one if you like. 

Me: Fucking psycho. 

Around half an hour after this conversation, the phone rang. It was Dietmar to say that he’d found me a room. I think I love that man. God bless German efficiency.

 

 

Mad Men and Mother Teresa

So, where to begin? It seems like my perfectly ordered German life is unravelling slightly. I mainly put this down to my flatmate’s rapidly disintegrating mental state.

Yes, it appears that what I’d taken for (sort of) charming eccentricity is, in fact, stark raving looniness. The repeated (empty) promises to clear out the fridge, the bathroom and a cupboard in the living room were mere annoyances. The shaking and the sweating, while off-putting, could be viewed as semi-entertaining. The delusional babbling could be tuned out. Everything would be OK as he was going back to Sweden for almost two weeks, and I could sort things out here, while his parents hopefully had him committed in Sweden.

We now collect maps too seemingly. Because y'know, one can never have too many maps. Umm.
We now collect maps too seemingly. Because y’know, one can never have too many maps, right? Right??

Wednesday rolled around and I clung to my last shreds of patience as Bjorn crashed around the apartment, banging off things, breaking things, flooding the bathroom, eventually ending up with a packed bag. He also offered me the use of his laptop which I knew he’d already packed. By the time he was ready to leave, he was really late so he had to call a taxi. I breathed a sigh of relief as he finally bashed his way out of the apartment, almost taking the door off its hinges in the process.

At 1.30am, I was sound asleep when he crashed his way back in again. There was a lot of muttering and pacing, something about humiliation, something about losing his laptop “under the lights” and then a lot of shouting into his phone. By 2.30, I’d had enough and did a bit of shouting and stomping myself.

At 5.30, I dragged myself out of bed. I was covering four lessons for another teacher, and had to get to the other side of the city for 9.15. Unfortunately, Bjorn woke up too. Now, while I’m not generally known for my patience, I can keep myself in check in most situations. It turns out that a Swede in pajamas, rambling about how he’s Mother Teresa is not one of them.

Anyway, after a lot of shouting (and eating bacon), I made it out of the apartment. I got the metro to the next train and hopped on. I was actually early – yes, I’m that organised, even in the face of madness. Unfortunately, the transport system did not reward me. Works on the line meant finding a replacement bus to another train station, getting back on the train, but ultimately missing the last bus I had to take. A dash in a taxi meant that I arrived at 9.15 on the dot.

I sat down and waited. And waited. The students never showed up. The second group were 15 (very unGerman) minutes late. I had 45 minutes to scoff a bit of lunch and then two more groups – neither of which turned up. Then it was back to the bus-train-bus-train-train game. Needless to say, by the time I got home, I was not in a particularly good mood.

Bjorn was still talking like I’d been there the whole time. But it was OK – he’d be heading to the airport again in an hour or so. They’d managed to book him on another flight. I tuned him out as best I could and waited. Finally, he left. Oh, the sweet blessed relief! I took myself out to a local Greek restaurant and revelled in the lovely normal Germans, indulging in lovely normal conversations all around me.

Food had never tasted so good
Food had never tasted so good

I danced home, cracked open a bottle of wine, and was just toasting my blissful solitude when Bjorn walked back in. Now, one of the main reasons this apartment appealed to me was that my flatmate would be travelling a lot. I just didn’t realise that when he said “travelling”, he meant travelling to the airport and NEVER getting on a f****** plane.

So, when you realise your flatmate is a nutter, you’ve got two courses of action as I see it – try to help him, or avoid him as much as humanly possible. As I’m no psychiatrist, I went for the latter. Or, as the old saying goes, if life gives you lemons, go and drink wine and eat cake.

Technically it's a waffle, but that works too.
Technically it’s a waffle, but that works too.

On Friday, I took myself off to pretty Potsdam and had a wonderful day.

And one for the ladies...
And one for the ladies…

I watched Germans playing a game I don’t know the name of, but I like to call, “Germans throwing sticks at sticks while drinking beer”.

Germans throwing sticks at sticks while drinking beer.
Germans throwing sticks at sticks while drinking beer.

I went to the flea market at Tiergarten… and didn’t buy anything.

Nein. Just NEIN.
Nein. Just NEIN.

I experienced my first Flammkuchen…

Gott, it was gut!
Gott, it was gut!

and went for a wander around the park with my childhood friend. I didn’t even know he was living in Berlin until he read in the Latvian blog that I was moving here and got in touch.

My photography skills don't do it justice.
Tiergarten –  my photography skills don’t do it justice.

And so, life goes on. Bjorn has calmed down a bit. It seems that telling someone who’s acting like a total nutjob that he’s acting like a total nutjob has an oddly calming effect. Maybe I should have been a psychiatrist after all?

Interesting times…

 

I’m all tied up

Don’t worry, I’m still not bound and gagged on someone’s basement floor. However, that might be preferable to the German red tape fiasco I’m currently embroiled in. You see, in order to live like a real person in Germany, and do important stuff like get wifi and a smart phone (and trivialities like a bank account and a tax number), you need a certificate of registration. This is called a “Meldebescheinigung” – try saying that drunk. Actually, try saying it sober.

In order to get the Meldeblahblah, you need to have found somewhere to live and have a document stating that you live there. So, in the nicest possible German way (which is how I try to operate these days), I asked for a rental contract. I asked again. Nicely. And again. On Friday morning, realising that the polite German approach was getting me nowhere fast, I threw a good old-fashioned Irish hissy fit. The contract was in my letter box on Friday evening. Step one – check.

On Monday morning, armed with my contract and passport, I went to my local Bürgeramt to fill in the form. Inconveniently (but I suppose not unexpectedly), this was in German. However, this is never really a problem as there’s always a conveniently-placed German man willing to help a girl out. With this one’s help, I completed the form and went back to the counter to get it stamped. Silly me – like it could be that simple.

Scheiße...
Scheiße…

No, it seems that you have to make an appointment to get it stamped. So, I went home, got online and looked for the next available one – which was in NOVEMBER. Now, the tricky thing about this registration number is that you have to get it within two weeks of moving in, otherwise they can fine you – up to €500, the scare-mongerers say. So, in desperation, I called the number to see if there was any way around this.

The helpful man informed me that you didn’t necessarily have to register at your local office; you could do it at any office in the city, and some of them had a walk-in service. He listed a few and recommended that I get there early.

The next morning, I was up at 4am. I’d chosen the most far-flung office – Pankow – as I figured there would be fewer foreigners moving to that area than any of the central ones. At 7am, I walked in.

Me: Hi, I need to get this document stamped. 

Heinz: At 11. 

Me: 11???

Heinz: 11, and you need an appointment. 

Me: Can I make an appointment now?

Heinz: (handing me the same bit of card the woman at my local office had) Online. 

Me: But, but, the guy on the phone said…

Heinz: Don’t speak English. 11.

Me: But, but…

Heinz: NO ENGLISH.

As my arguing techniques in German haven’t yet evolved past Arschloch, Scheiße, and Verpiss dich, I had no option but to leave. After some more online sleuthing, and a little help from the Berlin Expats Facebook page, I found out that a couple of offices do have a walk-in service, a couple of half-days a week. (Pankow did until a few weeks ago, seemingly.)

Seemingly, some people lie down and die at this point. (Taken outside my local Burgeramt.)
Some people lie down and die at this point. (Taken outside my local Burgeramt.)

Unfortunately, this morning, I had a lesson and four other lessons to plan for, so it was almost midday by the time I made it to Kreuzberg. The office closed at 1pm. Nevertheless, I gamely joined the queue and got talking to an Italian girl. She said that she’d originally been there at 7.30am and that the queue had stretched all the way from the office on the 3rd floor to the front door.

Just as we were around six people from the magic door, the security guard came over and announced that it was all over for today. He recommended that we come back at 6am the following week.

I mean, really – if this is the best system that THE GERMANS can come up with, what hope do the rest of us have? Luckily, it turns out that being surrounded by mindless bureaucracy and helpless men brings out a hammer-happy side to me that I never knew existed.

Et voila. Built by rage. And a hammer.
Et voila. Built by rage. And a hammer.

So, German bureau-crazy, you may have won the first few rounds, but I WILL win the war. You can expect me bright and early on Monday morning – but not at 6am. That’s just insanity…

 

 

No IKEA what’s going on

Last week saw me popping my “IKEA cherry”. I know, I’m probably the only person in civilised Europe who had never been to an IKEA, but I really didn’t feel like I was missing out on that much. However, my new flat, amazing though it is, is lacking a couple of essential items – one of them being a wardrobe – so it was finally time to bite the bullet.

Bjorn had told me about a wardrobe he’d seen there for around €30, so I had a vague idea what I was looking for. (He’d also offered to come with me, but getting him to make a plan and stick to it is about as easy as teaching a cat to tap dance, so I decided to go alone.) Some emergency coaching by Mammy O’Grady had given me an overview of how the IKEA system works, so I felt like I was fully prepared for the experience.

Two trains and a bus later and I was there. Things started off OK – it even seemed like they were expecting me…

2014-09-24 11.30.30
How thoughtful!

After close to an hour of wandering through various departments, looking at billions of items I didn’t want, I finally found what I was looking for. I noted down the number and tried to walk to the exit. And walked and walked and walked, past another billion items I didn’t want. Starting to feel like I was never going to make it out of the store alive, I finally came across an information booth.

Me: Hi, I’m trying to find this item. 

Gunther: (tapping away at this computer) Yes, that’s the correct number. 

Me: I know that. I’m practically German. I’m very precise. What I want to know is where do I find it, where do I pay for it, and how do I get out of here? 

Gunther: Oh, you have to go to the blah blah room to collect it. 

Me: And where’s that?

Gunther: Just walk through this department and the next department and the next department, and you’ll be there. 

Me: (sigh)

So I carried on walking, and eventually made it to the pick-up hall. I lugged the wardrobe down off the shelf and hauled it over to the self-service checkout. I scanned it, swiped my card and got beeped at.

AN ASSISTANT WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY.

Crap. Gunther the Second trotted over and explained that the machine didn’t accept foreign bank cards. I left my stuff with him and ran over to the ATM. Naturally, it was one of those ones that charges you around a fiver for every withdrawal. I walked back to where Gunther the Second was guarding my purchase. He then informed me that these checkouts didn’t take cash, so I’d have to queue up at the normal checkouts.

GRRR.

With steam coming out my ears, I joined a queue behind people who were buying enough furniture to fill Buckingham Palace. Luckily the cashier was friendly or I might have beaten her to death with the wardrobe poles.

It might look small and innocent but...
It might look small and innocent but…

I finally made it out of the store, where I stopped for a little rest on a bench. Then it was time to heft my awkward, 10kg package onto various forms of public transport. By the time I made it home, I hated IKEA, Sweden, the person who invented IKEA, people with cars, and furniture in general. Poor Bjorn, who has the misfortune of being Swedish, got his first taste of Irish temper as I ranted about what sort of a sadistic Swedish mind could come up with this store concept.

Come to think of it, Tiger, the Danish chain, employs the same concept – namely that you can’t just walk in and walk out again. You have to walk around every aisle in the shop before you can leave. Are Scandinavians notoriously tight, or something? Is trapping them in shops the only way to get them to part with their hard-earned cash?

Whatever it is, it will be a cold day in hell before I put myself through the IKEA challenge again.

 

 

 

 

 

Home Swede Home

As it’s my two-week anniversary here in Berlin, I thought it might be time to reflect on what Riga does better.

Um…

Ummm…

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.

Domestic bliss
Domestic bliss

In the mornings, I wake up to birds singing and this view from my window:

2014-09-23 08.51.46
Not bad, eh?

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’?

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…

 

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