I have recently become a devoted follower of “Gefragt Gejagt“, the German version of the ITV quiz show, “The Chase”. Of course, it’s great for my German – a little small talk with each contestant, a quick-fire round that’s pretty challenging, written and spoken questions in each individual “chase”, and useful expressions like “stop the clock!” and “the chase begins…” Aside from the practical though, it also means that for around 45 minutes every weekday, I get to drool over the rather delectable Alexander Bommes. (Sorry, Manfredas.)
With his cheeky smile and twinkly eyes, he’s more than enough reason for me to shut down my laptop at 6 p.m. on the dot. He also has a penchant for randomly bursting into song – which I have been known to do on occasion.
So, there I was one day last week, not fantasising (much) about being the first “Jägerin” (female chaser), Alexander falling for my devastating wit, humour and intelligence, and how a Bommes-von Grady duet might sound, when I was startled out of my reverie by a question.
“Which of these terms describes a type of wardrobe malfunction?”
A. Tittenbrief (tits-letter)
B. Arschfax (pretty obvious, I think)
C. I can’t remember anything after Arschfax.
Arschfax turned out to be the correct answer.
For once, the Jäger, the contestant, lovely Alexander and I were all stumped. What on earth is an “Arschfax”?
It turns out that it refers to when the tag of your underwear or trousers sticks out so that it looks like your arse is receiving a little fax. Like so:
I mean, in English, we’d just say “Your tag/label is sticking out.” In German – “Bah haha, you’ve got an arsefax!”
English is so boring sometimes.
(P.S. If anyone has Herr Bommes’ number, let me know. My bum would look great in those shorts.)
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!
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.
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…”
You come back a while later and this has happened.
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.
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.
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.
Since my last ranty post, I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough.
I’ve found Jesus.
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.
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.
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.
“So darling, what would you like?”
“I don’t know.”
“Would you like a doughnut?”
“Or maybe a fruit cake?”
“You like chocolate, right? How about one of those?”
“Which colour? They have pink, white, yellow…”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pointless graffiti adds an extra touch of glamour…
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.
After you’ve moved in with a German, the next logical step is actually living with him, complete with all of his goibles (German foibles). Manfredas will be delighted to learn that I’ve spent the last few months discreetly observing (and photographing) his unique German ways, and have compiled a short list of what it’s like to live with a German man.
Please note: This post may contain sweeping generalisations…
1. German men really love doing laundry
In my previous apartment, I didn’t have a washing machine in the flat. Instead, I had to buy a token from the Hausmeister (for €3.50 a pop, no less) and haul my washing down to the basement. So, I was rather chuffed that we would have our very own washing machine in the bathroom, which I could use whenever I pleased.
Yeah, right. Enter German man.
Me: What are you doing?
Manfredas: Putting on a wash.
Me: Didn’t you just do a wash?
Manfredas: Yes, but after this one, I’ll be good for the week.
Me: Uh huh.
One day later:
Me: What are you doing?
Manfredas: Putting on a wash.
Me: You just did two loads!
Manfredas: Yes, but after this one, I’ll be good for the weekend.
Me: Uh huh.
One day later: …
2. German men really love Tupperware
The first time I went shopping after moving in, I bought some sliced ham. I got home, put it in the fridge, as you do, and didn’t think about it again until the next day when I needed it for my lunch. But where was it?
Yes, Manfredas had found it, opened it, sliced the ham in half, and then sealed it in one of his (many) neat little Tupperware boxes. This might seem logical – most things Germans do are – but to me, it just meant that I couldn’t see the “use by…” date any more. So, my only options were to just keep eating it until I finished it – or it turned green and started growing hair.
3. German men love using dishes
When I cook – which has been a whopping four times since I moved in over four months ago – I tend to plate up in the kitchen and then bring just those two plates into the dining room.
A German man, however, will never use one plate or bowl where ten will do. So, we end up with a little bowl for the veg, a little bowl for the potatoes, a little bowl for the salad, separate plates for the bread, and a large dish for whatever the main course is, complete with separate spoons/ladles to go with each. While it adds a touch of ceremony to every meal, I’m also bloody glad we have a dishwasher.
4. German men love light
Like most normal (read: non-German) people, I like to sleep in a dark room. Germans, on the other hand, seem to have a disdain for curtains that borders on the fanatical.
Me: Jesus Christ! What time is it?
Manfredas: Just after 6.
Me: Jesus Christ! Why am I awake!?
The answer to this, however, was obvious – flimsy little blinds that prevent the neighbours from peering in but flood the room with sunlight at a time when I should be far away in the land of Nod. After a friendly discussion or two, I’m happy to announce that we now have blackout curtains, and Berlin can relax safe in the knowledge that I’m not going to fly into a murderous rage due to lack of sleep.
5. German men love gadgets
As someone who hates all kinds of housework, I was ecstatic to discover that Manfredas owns (among hundreds of other things)… A ROBOT HOOVER! Yep, meet the Roomba:
In theory, you switch him on, put your feet up and he goes around the apartment hoovering it for you. Then, when you tell him to, he takes himself off “home,” plays a triumphant little tune and goes to sleep again.
In practice, you switch him on, he immediately makes a beeline for under the sofa and stays there until you drag him out. He then hits a couple of items of furniture and goes back under the sofa again.
While I’m not overly impressed, if any of our guests ever chance to look under the sofa, they sure will be.
6. German men take holidays very seriously
As it’s only one more sleep until our next holiday, naturally, our conversation the other night turned to that very topic.
Me: Hey, is there a shortened, affectionate form of the word “holiday” in German?
Me: Well, in Dublin, you’d say you were “off on your holliers.” No German equivalent of that? Urli? Laubchen? (The German word for holiday is “Urlaub.”)
Manfredas: Good God, no! Holidays are a serious business! Urlaub ist Urlaub!
I realised just how serious he was the next day when I received an Excel spreadsheet of our travel itinerary – complete with petrol stations.
Me: You have officially out-Germanned yourself.
7. Every German man in the world owns a pair (or several pairs) of these:
Socks optional. But not if you’re German, of course.
So there you have it – or at least the first installment. In the interest of fairness, I did ask Manfredas if there was anything he finds odd or annoying about me but no, seemingly I’m perfect. Then again, he hasn’t read this yet.
On Sunday evening, I went out for a meal with Manfredas. As part of my stirring dinner conversation repartee, somehow the conversation turned to mice. (Don’t ask me how – I normally have so many random thoughts milling around in my head, it’s hard to tell where one burbling session ends and the next begins.)
Me: So, das Maus…
Manfredas: Die Maus. Not “das” Maus.
Me: Well, that just makes no sense.
Manfredas: Why not?
Me: (sigh/eye-roll combo) Becaaaause Maus ends in “s” and so does “das.” Easier to remember. And it’s “das Haus” and “Haus” rhymes with “Maus.” Das Haus, das Maus. The house, the mouse. Simple.
Me: Wait, so all mice are feminine in German?
Me: What about Mickey?
Manfredas: Still DIE MAUS.
Me: So, what… just because some German grammarian says so, Germans have the right to give one of the most iconic cartoon characters of all time a sex-change? I mean, it’s all well and good for Minnie but poor Mickey! Walt Disney must be spinning in his grave!
Me: You know, “mickey” is Irish slang for “penis.”
Manfredas: What does that have to do with anything?
Me: Absolutely nothing.
Me: It’s DER Frosch (the frog), right?
Me: Good, so Kermit is safe. But DAS Schwein (the pig)?
Me: Miss Piggy will not be best pleased with the Germans.
Manfredas: Are you going to go through the entire cast of The Muppets?
Not really sure what Gonzo is supposed to be, I decided to quit while I was behind and get on with the business of eating.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, I am available for dinner parties.
Earlier this year, Manfredas asked me to move in with him. This was actually a brave move on his part as I’d previously told him that I’d set fire to my kitchen while making a ham and cheese toastie. Twice.
Still, from my point of view, it was a great idea for a number of reasons:
Germans have better insurance than I do – i.e. they have insurance.
I’d accidentally flashed my boobs at my elderly neighbour while I was getting dressed and he was having a smoke on his balcony. He’d been very unfriendly to begin with, but it turned out that all it took was an impromptu peep show to lead to daily invitations to his apartment for a drink. I politely (then not so politely) declined.
I’d managed to clog my shower drain with hair beyond what my questionable abilities as a plumber could cope with. Loath to go and tell the Hausmeister and watch him pull a yeti out of there, I tried (and failed) to use my own methods.
I decided to leave my slightly blackened oven, randy neighbour and hirsute shower drain behind and accept Manfredas’ offer. (Sometimes I can be just as romantic as the Germans.)
Manfredas lent me some boxes from when he’d last moved and I assured him I would be packed up and ready to go that weekend. Unfortunately, it seemed that my box-putting-together skills were about as developed as my cooking and plumbing skills. Never fear – after about half an hour of arsing around on youtube, I found what I was looking for, put my first box together (with a lot of pause/play/swearing) and it was plain sailing from there.
Utilising a woman’s touch I didn’t know I possessed, I adorned Manfredas’ (sorry, OUR) flat with cardboard boxes, clothes and shoes, cosmetics, toiletries, and four wineglasses and a packet of Bisto – the only things worth taking from my old kitchen.
Me: (upon closer inspection of my new kitchen) I’m afraid I have to move out.
Manfredas: You just moved in! What’s wrong?
Me: I can’t reach the wineglasses. This could be a deal-breaker.
Luckily Manfredas – being the resourceful sort that he is – quickly remedied the situation and disaster was averted.
While I could cope with living out of a suitcase for a week or so, I kind of needed to hit the ground running on the work front so the first priority was a desk, chair and shelving unit for my brand new home office. Yes, home office. I am now fancy.
An hour or so in Sconto and I was the proud owner of all of the above. In flat-pack form.
While Manfredas was happy enough to let me bash a dowel (I just had to ask him what the word is for “the little wooden things that you hammer into other things to make furniture stick together”) every now and then, it was decided that my unique skill-set would probably be better put to use in keeping the music going and the wine flowing.
Manfredas: Hmm, I don’t think the tools given are good enough for this bit. I need a drill. (Produces a rather nice Black & Decker drill set.)
Me: Bah haha! You own drills!
Manfredas: Well, of course I own drills. How else do you think things get on walls?
Me: Oh yes. Right. That makes sense.
Sometimes I forget that I’m a grown-up dating a grown-up.
Anyway, in a few short hours – for me, at any rate – the office was complete.
Once I had everything in place, it was time for the next phase – showing me how to use the TV, the heating, the dishwasher, the washing machine and various other gadgets that Germans love. Amazingly, Manfredas has undertaken to do most of the cooking so a cooker tutorial didn’t really come into play.
This probably explains why the flat is still standing and we’re rubbing along nicely together. I guess he should probably put the ham and cheese on the top shelf of the fridge though…
“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