Tag Archives: Food

A trip to Herring Village: Part two

You might think that a night out in Herring Village would be, well, crap, but that’s only because you’ve never been out in Herring Village with me. Over some delicious goulash and wine in the Usedomer Brauhaus, I got chatting to the delightful Waltraut* after making a hilarious quip about probably holidaying in the wrong place since I don’t like herring, or any fish for that matter. We bonded over my knowledge of Ostfriesisch – and, by that I mean, the fact that I had heard of Ostfriesisch, not that I actually knew any. She didn’t either and she’d been living there for close to two decades.

Unable to persuade her to join me in O’man River, the bar with “the best live music in town” (the only bar with live music, as far as I could tell), I perched myself on the last available stool at the bar and enjoyed the surprisingly decent Bad Temper Joe. When he took a break, I politely asked him if he was always in a bad temper and he glared at me so I guess the answer is yes. And, if you want to know why a white German man is singing the blues, you’ll have to ask him yourself.

After a pleasant hour or so, I strolled on over to the hottest venue in town, i.e., the only bar that’s open past midnight. And that was where I met the lovely Lars.

Me: On the off chance I write a blog post about this trip, what would you like your blog name to be?

Lars: I am Lars.

Me: Yeah, but you can’t be Lars.

Lars: I am Lars.

Me: I’m not sure you’re getting this – you need a fake name for the blog. You can’t be Lars.

Lars: But my name is Lars.

Me: But you’re probably the only Lars on Usedom!

Lars: Na, und?

And so, Lars is Lars.

When we woke up the next morning, he offered me a coffee.

Me: Do you have tea?

And that was when he started rummaging around behind a chair.

What is he doing? Does he have a weapon back there? The coffee machine is in the kitchen so why is he rooting around behind an armchair in the living room? I guess if he’d wanted to murder me, he could have easily done it while I was asleep… Turns out, he had this amazing samovar back there. Sure, the tea took around half an hour to actually brew, but I’d never had a cup of tea like it. I went for a pee to pass the time. Upon my return:

Me: Do you know your washing machine could impregnate someone?

Lars: Hä??

Me: It has an “imprägnieren” setting.

Lars: Ha! No, imprägnieren, it’s like your boots, er, when they don’t let water in.

Me: ?? You mean waterproof?

Lars: Ja, genau!

I lingueed it and sure enough, imprägnieren can mean to impregnate or to waterproof. (Or to soak in the case of a washing machine.)

Me: Hmm, I wonder how many unwanted children there are in Germany because of this verb.

It was Lars’s turn to “??”

Me: Well, what if a woman says, “Hey Schatzi, can you imprägnieren me for Christmas?” and he does but what she really wanted was some nice, new, waterproof Jack Wolfskin gear…

Yes, this is actually how my mind works before I’ve even had my first cup of tea of the day. I am an awesome first date.

Lars: Well, I’ve got to go and help my Opa einwintern his Auto.

Me: Ha, einwintern, that can’t be a real verb!

Lars: Na, klar. To prepare something for winter. Einwintern. Steht im Duden.

I checked.

Me: OK, you’re right.

Like Germans are ever wrong.

Me: Can you einsommern something?

Lars: Why would you?

Me: I don’t know. Or einfrühlingen?

Lars: …

Me: Can you auswintern something?

I’m sure Lars was wondering at this stage if it was possible to einsilencen me but, utter gent that he is, he gave me his number for any and all possible future questions and dropped me off in the village before heading to his Opa’s and the einwintern challenge – which probably seemed like a breeze in comparison to the barrage of language questions he was faced with before his first cup of coffee.

I headed to a café I knew from a previous trip – OK, full disclosure, I’d been in Heringsdorf, for a few days, a month and a half before this trip and liked it so much, I’d decided to go back for a week – found a nice table outside, and ordered a croque monsieur and another cup of tea.

Schmidt’s Bistro No. 1 – I don’t know if there’s a No. 2… LARS! I have a question!
I also had no idea what a Diplomatenkaffee is but have since googled – turns out it’s coffee with egg liqueur…

After I’d finished, the waitress came over and gave me a reproving look.

Me: I know, I’m sorry, it was really tasty but just a bit too much for me. Sorry, I’m really sorry.

Waitress: Yes, I know, I remember.

Like I said, it had been A MONTH AND A HALF since I’d been there and she remembered. Clearly I was the only person who had never finished a meal there. Then again, I was probably the only non-German on the island and Germans can actually handle German portions. This puny Irish woman has yet to encounter one she can conquer. I decided to order a glass of wine and show her that I could at least finish one thing.

Waitress: Wine? Like cold wine?

Me: Yes.

Waitress: Wouldn’t you prefer something hot? Like Glühwein? Or hot Aperol?

Me: Jesus, hot Aperol?? NEIN!

What is wrong with Germans?

A lot, clearly. Glüh Gin? I can’t even…

I paid up and headed over to my favourite Bude. The last time I’d been there, this guy had brought the house down…

The German, er, Elvis? Roy? Johnny? Just a very German German?? Let’s simply call him Schlagermann.

…but this time, out of season, things were a bit more sedate. Which was actually kind of good because you don’t really want an over-excited German landing on you when you’re holding a piping-hot Glühwein.

*Waltraut is not her real name and, no, I didn’t give her a choice in the matter.

The Secret Life of Binz (2)

The next morning, I woke up full of the joys after the best night’s sleep I’d had in ages. I dawdled around my lovely flat and eventually made my way into town. It was a beautiful, sunny, autumn day and I had to stop myself from singing out loud with happiness at how pretty Binz was in the sunshine.

La la la la la, I am so happy!

I made a beeline for a café I’d noticed the day before, in hopes of a nice hearty breakfast.

Me: Hi, can I still order breakfast? 

Ute: (looking rather horrified) No, it is too late. 

Me: Huh. 

To me, wanting breakfast at 12.30 on a Sunday isn’t unreasonable but then I’m not German. As I looked around the place, I realised that the Germans (who’d probably been up since 5 a.m. and hiked or biked 50 km already) were already on rounds of Aperol Spritz and beer. I had some catching up to do.

Me: OK, I’ll have a Toast Hawaii and a cup of tea. What time does breakfast finish then? 

Ute: 11.

Me: Oh. 

I knew then that I would never eat breakfast in this town.

When my sandwich arrived, I’ll confess to doing a double-take. I looked at Ute for some sign of humour or even the vaguest twinkle in her eye but there was nothing. I stared at what was on my plate.

Wouldn’t you?

It was, quite unmistakably (to me at least), a titty toasty. Was there more to this idyllic little town than met the eye? Or perhaps Oma was moonlighting here and had brought a touch of her kink to the Küche? Maybe everyone in Binz had a little kink in them? This might turn out to be the best trip ever, in that case. It was also rather a good sandwich, once I got over the pine-nipple thing.

I had decided that today would be a day of walking so I headed for the promenade and the beach, looking forward to taking some cheerier photos that would do the place justice.

I walked along the edge of the water until I came to this rather interesting structure.

According to my extensive (ahem) research, it’s called the Müther-Turm, an old rescue tower (is that the correct English term?) which is now used as an observation tower. Seemingly you can even get married in there. I guess it’s only for quite unpopular couples though as you could only fit a handful of people inside. I still can’t decide if I like it or not. Eye-sore or eye-candy? You decide…

I strolled back along the promenade, admiring the rather spectaculous autumn colours…

Oooh…

…making new friends…

Yeah right, Binz. You’re not fooling anyone with your wholesome woodwork…

…and having a right old chortle at what is definitely one of the most German signs I’ve ever seen.

It’s important to keep your dogs and your dangly bits separate.

I meandered my way back towards the lake along the “Art Mile” where I was (unsurprisingly) accosted by more titties.

Flying titties!

After all of the excitement of the afternoon so far, I decided I was definitely ready for a glass of wine before continuing on my journey of discovery.

This looked like a likely spot.

Unfortunately, I’d missed the German boat yet again. Now that I was ready for an alcoholic beverage, all of the Germans had moved onto Kaffee und Kuchen. Sigh. Can’t keep up with these people.

And you’ll never guess who owned the place…

More horn.

After relaxing in the sunshine with my book for a little while, I set off again. The lake was also rather gorgeous – like everything else in Binz.

As it was still such a beautiful day, I thought I’d keep going and walk through the woods for a while. Yes, you may call me “Linda Nature von Grady” from now on.

I walked and walked and before I knew it, I was outside the sand sculpture exhibition which I’d been planning to visit the following day. Oh well, as I was there, I decided I may as well go in.

I wondered if this was part of it. I call it “Butts in Sand”.

I paid the rather exorbitant €8.50 entrance fee and in I went. The theme this year is “A Journey through the Whole Wide World” and it delivered – even if it was a rather quick journey. I was done in 15 minutes so I went back around a second time to get my money’s worth. While the sculptures were very impressive, I didn’t really feel it was worth €8.50.

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On the way out, you could buy a wooden horse’s head for around €10,000 but I figured I could probably buy a real horse’s head for that – if I was so inclined – and kept going.

Neeeeeeeeeeee.

I headed back into town just in time to catch sunset over the beach…

…and then it was time for food again. As I was eating my dinner, I had the strangest feeling of someone looking over my shoulder but it was OK – it was just a massive arse.

After all of my exertions, I thought an early night was probably in order but, as it was only around 8 o’clock, I thought I’d make a stop at the Rasender Roland restaurant to break the journey home.

Old Roland was just pulling in to his resting place for the night so luckily, the restaurant was still open.

Raging!

I’d just about finished my first glass of wine and was debating another when my bill was placed in front of me. Huh. Seemingly they were shutting up shop for the night. It was 9.20, after all. Still, from what I’d seen so far in Binz, these two homely-looking ladies were trying to kid the wrong woman. I had visions of them breaking into Roland and taking him on a joyride to the secret Binz Swingers Convention. And I’d lay bets that Oma and Opa are the ringleaders.

 

Part three to follow…

The Secret Life of Binz (1)

Every now and then, I like to get away by myself for a few days.

Mammy O’Grady: Well, you always were a bit odd.

Me: Indeed. 

As I’d never been to the German side of the Baltic Sea, I decided that now was as good a time as any to check it out. I settled on Binz on the island of Rügen, picturing myself skipping along the beach in the autumn sunshine, the sea breeze in my hair, or holed up in my flat reading a book while rain lashed against the windows. Either way, I’d be happy.

After a relaxing four-hour journey, the Flixbus rolled into town just after midday. I still had three hours until I could check into my apartment (Germans are usually rather strict about this sort of thing so I didn’t imagine I could rock up early) so I grabbed my suitcase and set off in the drizzle to find somewhere to eat.

After a few minutes, I came across Oma’s Küche; perfect for a wet and windy afternoon.

Quaint and wholesome.

The waitress told me I could leave my soggy case inside the door and seated me at a cosy table in the corner.

I took this as a sign and ordered a glass of white wine and the potato soup (which naturally came with chunks of sausage). I picked up Oma’s newspaper/menu and started to read. I learned that the place was named for the owner’s granny, a kindly old soul who, even in the middle of the night, would get up to cook something hearty for her beloved grandchildren. Opa started a limousine service with a small fleet of London black cabs and they were in business.

I turned the page to see that children are banned after 5 p.m; it seemed that while Oma would do anything for her own grandkids, she wasn’t so tolerant of other people’s. It came as a bit of a surprise that the menu was peppered with smutty jokes. I mean, children read this – before 5 p.m. obviously. I finished up, paid and went to use the facilities, where I made a new acquaintance.

50 shades of brown??

On my way out, I noticed a sign that I’d missed on the way in.

Men: No shoes, no shirt, no service. 

Women: No shirt, free drinks. 

Did this place turn into Oma and Opa’s S&M Dungeon after 5 or something? I decided I wouldn’t come back to find out.

I still had a good hour and a half before I could check in, so I thought I’d have a stroll along the main street up to the pier. Despite the gloomy day, I immediately fell in love with Binz. It seemed that every sensibly-clad German in the country had made their way here and they were now happily striding around, rosy-cheeked and colourfully all-weather prepared. The buildings were absolutely gorgeous and the streets were spotless – not even a stray cigarette butt or a hint of graffiti – a far cry from the grime of Berlin.

 

I stood on the pier, the wind making my hair stand on end, and mused that if I hired a little boat, I could sail to Latvia from here in around 10 years. Or die a horrible death at sea. I decided the latter would be preferable and turned back to lovely Binz. As I still had a bit of a walk ahead of me, I headed in the direction of where I thought my flat was.

After around 15 minutes, I passed the Kleinbahnhof and was lucky enough to see the famous “Rasender Roland” (Raging Roland) pulling into the station.

Everything in this place is so fricking cute…

I carried on and eventually reached my home for the next three nights.

Along the way I passed my new neighbours…

… and sincerely hoped I wouldn’t be woken up by an errant cock at the crack of dawn.

I was greeted by a jolly older German couple who led me downstairs to the apartment and showed me around. The place was massive – two bedrooms, fully-equipped kitchen, and a gleaming bathroom. It was far too big for just one person but, as it was only €50 a night, I’d decided to go for it anyway. My new German mum collected my “Kurtaxe” (visitor’s tax), explained the rules (because Germany), and presented me with my Kurtaxe card a few minutes later.

 

I immediately felt right at home. I only hoped that I would have enough chopping boards…

 

My original plan had been to go to the supermarket, pick up some stuff for the morning and a bottle of wine for the night, drop it off and go out again, but when I realised how far away the supermarkets were, I decided to just go out with my teabags, milk, sugar and (€1.99 from Netto) Chardonnay in a classy Edeka plastic bag.

In a bid to satisfy my craving for sausage, I found a place on the main street that served Nuremberg Rostbratwurst . The waiter was super-friendly, and my food arrived in a matter of minutes.

Not even remotely phallic.

I was starving after all the walking and maybe the sea air so I devoured it almost as quickly as it had arrived. But, not wanting to head out into the cold night again so soon, I ordered another glass of wine and settled in with my book. The other diners were mostly in and out again in around half an hour – one old lady didn’t even finish her beer, which I think might be against the law in Germany.

I eventually made my way to the promenade for a moonlit saunter. It was a beautiful night – crisp and clear – so I’m not sure how long I walked for. I found myself outside Hotel Dorint, which is normally far too sophisticated a place for the likes of me. My bladder disagreed and in we went – me, my bladder and my Edeka shopping bag. I was pretty sure that I was the only person in the place who had a €1.99 bottle of wine stashed on their person but they didn’t need to know that.

It was just me and a German couple. The man was kissing his dog, which I find rather repellent, but it did provide me with a conversation opener.

Me: What’s his/her name?

Frauke: Willi. 

Me: Heh heh.

We got chatting and I learned two interesting things:

  1. Dogs aren’t allowed on the beaches in Binz from April to October.
  2. Even dogs have to pay the Kurtaxe.

Me: But that’s crazy! Dogs don’t have jobs! They don’t earn money! How can they pay taxes?! 

The answer is: Because Germany.

 

Part two to follow…

 

Are you a male or a mouse?

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.

Me: What?

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.

Manfredas: NEIN!

Me: Wait, so all mice are feminine in German?

Manfedas: Yes.

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! 

Manfredas: …

Me: You know, “mickey” is Irish slang for “penis.”

Manfredas: What does that have to do with anything?

Me: Absolutely nothing.

Manfredas: …

Me: It’s DER Frosch (the frog), right?

Manfredas: Yes. 

Me: Good, so Kermit is safe. But DAS Schwein (the pig)?

Manfredas: Yes.

Me: Miss Piggy will not be best pleased with the Germans. 

Manfredas: Are you going to go through the entire cast of The Muppets? 

Me: Erm…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digging up the dog in Rheinsberg (Part 2)

Here it is – the long-awaited, “exciting” second installment.

You’ll be relieved to hear that I did eventually manage to get my cup of tea to my mouth, by adopting a new technique I like to call the “Wurstfinger-out manoeuvre”. I might patent it.

I am a genius.

While elegantly sipping my exquisite Netto own brand tea, I spotted Oma emerging from the tool shed in the garden and decided to pop out to say “good morning”. This was just after 10 a.m. and I was feeling rather pleased with myself for simply being up, even if I was still in my pajamas with bed hair. Oma, however, looked like she’d been up for hours and was suitably full of the joys. I raised an eyebrow at the toolbox she was carrying and she threw back a cheery, “So ist das Leben!” (Such is life!)

I couldn’t even imagine a life that would involve me chirpily carting around a toolbox at 10 a.m. (or any time of the day for that matter) but then I’m not a German Oma; she’d probably built the shed while I was sleeping.

Feeling a little underachieving, I went back inside, showered and got myself ready for the day. I figured I would probably have enough plasters to get me through.

Now looking slightly more presentable (and appropriately plastered), I set out in search of food. Before long, I hit the jackpot – a cosy little café that served… Käse-Schinkenbrötchen! The nice lady behind the counter even offered to heat it up for me. (I think there must be something gormlessly endearing about me, or my accent, that Germans find appealing as she just glared at everyone else who came in.)

Gold.

On the way out, I discovered that there must be some live dogs* in Rheinsberg as dead dogs don’t poop, as far as I know.

The dump dump.

Satisfied with my morning so far, I set off for the palace and lake. My plan was to take a few photos of the palace and lake, walk around the lake to the obelisk, take photos of the palace and lake from the other side and then walk back again. Just when you thought this trip couldn’t get any more exciting, eh?

I set off, convincing myself that I was enjoying the (freezing) fresh air. Along the way, I passed a few other brave souls out for a walk, all very clearly German in their sensible footwear and all-weather clothing. Most of them gave me a cheery smile and a hello. It could have been the even more gormless, half-frozen look I was sporting at the time.

Brrrr.

Anyway, I achieved my goal of making it to the obelisk, taking a lot of pretty photos along the way.

At this point, I was feeling so “at one” with nature, that I decided to carry on walking for a while. After ten minutes or so, I noticed something odd. I was completely alone. I hadn’t passed any Germans since the obelisk. Did they know something I didn’t? Had I missed a sign or something? I sent Manfredas a quick message.

Me: Are there wild boars in Brandenburg? 

Manfredas: Hmm, I think you’ll be quite safe in the middle of the day. 

Pfft. What did he know? Maybe the wild boar had never smelled Irish meat before and would disrupt their nocturnal habits for a nibble. Feeling more like eating than being eaten, I headed back towards town for some cake.

Unfortunately, I came to a Glühwein hut first.

Actually, there was nothing unfortunate about it; it was bloody brilliant. My cockles warmed, I continued on for around three minutes until I hit a likely-looking café.

A mandarin, cream and sponge concoction that was just as delicious as it looks.

Naturally, after all of this wild adventure I was exhausted, so I walked back to my apartment for a nap. A few hours later, I was ready to eat again. (I know – it just keeps getting more exciting…)

I’d spied a reasonably-priced restaurant on my earlier travels and, this being Rheinsberg, had no trouble getting a table. A lively foursome were sitting at the table next to me and thankfully, they didn’t look like they were about to leave any time soon. This was good as we were soon the only people left. We ended up having a nice chat but soon they were also ready to leave. Determined not to be the last one in the restaurant again, I downed my wine and left with them. We parted ways and I headed to the only Kneipe in town.

OPEN! YES!

While it wasn’t the most salubrious of joints, I’m generally quite at home in these places so I plonked myself at the bar and ordered a glass of wine. The heads around me turned. Ah, “strange face in a local bar syndrome” – fun.

Me: Huh. Am I the only woman here? 

Holger: (nodding behind the bar) She’s a woman. 

Me: (casting a dubious look at the barkeep giantess) Oh, yes, of course she is! I meant, you know, as a customer… (eek, bad start)

Holger: Hmm, you speak good German but you don’t sound like a German. Where are you from? 

Me: Ireland. 

Holger: Oh, right then! Shot? 

Me: Yes, please. 

And so began a merry night of shot-drinking, bizarre conversations and terrible dart-playing. It seemed there was some fun to be had in this town after all.

Day three got off to a rather later start and was pretty much a carbon copy of day two, apart from a nice glass of wine on a (currently non-touring) tour boat – and skipping the Kneipe; I was worried I might have some damages to settle from my slightly erratic darts skills.

And, while I may not have dug up the dog, I did find where he’s buried.

Woof.

All in all, a perfectly enjoyable few days. I can definitely recommend it – especially if you enjoy having entire restaurants to yourself at the outrageous hour of 9 p.m.

*If you’re confused by the dog references, you probably need to read the previous post.

Linda helps the homeless

Me: Did I tell you I’m volunteering at a homeless thing tomorrow? 

Han: Yep. ML. 

This has been going on between us for some time. For example:

Han: I quite fancy a sherry. 

Me: OMH. 

Han: Old man Han? 

Me: Correct. I had a grand-aunt who used to drink sherry. It always reminds me of her. Auntie Peg. 

Han: Peg short for Peggy? 

Me: NEIN. Peg short for Margaret. English is weird sometimes. 

Han: Ha hahaha!

But what was ML? Magnificent Linda? Majestic Linda? Selfless doesn’t start with an “m”…

Han: Mother Linda. 

Me: Ha hahaha! 

Best I could do.

Han: JML.

Me: ???

Han: Jedi Master Linda. 

Me: Ha hahaha! 

And so, on Christmas Eve, I found myself on the S-Bahn on the way to Ostbahnhof, passing Germans on bikes, tandem bikes and scooters… walking, Nordic walking and jogging. These people never stop.

Anyway, Kälte Nothilfe – it roughly translates as “cold (weather) emergency aid” – were hosting an event at YAAM nightclub to feed the homeless in Berlin for the 6th year running; they were expecting over 1,000 people. There were several different ways in which people could help but, this year, I decided I would be hands-on and actually go there. Setting everything up would start at 11 a.m. and the guests would start arriving at around 2 p.m. At 10.45, I was walking past Stump Tower.

Not to be confused with that other guy’s tower – though an easy mistake to make.

Having never done anything like this before, I really had no idea what to expect (though visions of me in an apron and hairnet slopping some kind of gruel into bowls had come to mind). I got to YAAM just before 11 o’clock along with a few other people.

As it turned out, I didn’t have any time to worry about what I was going to be doing. Several vans were parked in front of the club and I joined the human chain carrying crates of food, drinks and various other stuff into the venue. As soon as I walked in the door, I was plunged into darkness and picked my way carefully across the floor to where people were depositing the crates on counters and tables. Seemingly, they were working on getting the lights to come on…

This went on for some time. Daylight, crate, darkness, deposit, daylight, crate, darkness, deposit until all of the crates had been unloaded and piled high in the club.

I had never seen so much food in one place in my life. None of us were really sure what to do at that point but luckily someone took charge and we started sorting everything into different “areas” – fruit, veg, sweet stuff, fresh bread, tetra pak, dairy, tea and coffee, toiletries, pet food, cigarettes… The lights also came on.

I was closest to the fruit and veg so it would have made sense for me to start there but half the time I didn’t know if the thing was fruit or veg. Is an avocado a fruit or a vegetable? I figured Googling it would have looked a bit weird. And what on earth was that terrifying-looking, red, spiky thing? Clearly, I was in uncharted territory here.

Toiletries. Toiletries were safe.

Toiletries done, I appointed myself “Head of Glühwein Transportation” and starting hauling the boxes over behind the bar.

Safely transported, courtesy of moi.

I wanted to help the guy slicing the bread after that but there was only one knife. (Come on, people…)

Once everything was neatly organised, we started bringing in the Christmas trees.

The tables were set up and the decorating commenced. I realised that you can drop baubles on a concrete floor and they won’t break. Useful information. Tubs of white candy floss appeared (Weihnachtsmannbart – Santa Claus’s beard) and we draped it over the trees to look like snow. After getting through two tubs, my hands looked like Santa Claus’s beard so it was time to go to the bathroom to wash it off. Another girl was already there.

Me: Weihnachtsmannbart?

Girl: Yup. 

Even though the place essentially looks like a huge, bare warehouse, we managed to get it looking pretty festive.

I made my way to the “Garderobe” area where people were sorting out the clothing donations. I ended up working with a sweet, American, gay guy.

Mountains of t-shirts

GG: Oh my GOD! This t-shirt is soooo cute! 

(It was hideous – like someone had eaten 10 packs of Skittles and vomited the contents of their stomach onto some material.)

Me: I don’t think you’re allowed to take the stuff…

A German guy dropped a pair of trousers on the floor.

GG2: Aw, NEIN! 

Me: DOCH! (snigger)

At this stage, the guests had started arriving. As is pretty typical for Berlin, it was kind of hard to tell who was homeless and who was just artfully distressed. A Johnny Cash t-shirt that I’d just folded (badly) was swiped by a guy wearing better clothes than I was. But that was OK because I definitely didn’t have my eye on it…

I also definitely didn’t want these (sob).

By now, pretty much everything was done. The first guests were helping themselves to the food, or sitting at the tables talking and eating, and the DJ had started. I was ravenous.

As I wasn’t really sure what the policy was on eating the homeless people’s food, I thought it was as good a time as any to leave. I hit the Backwerk at Ostbahnhof and got back on the train. An old homeless man was in the same carriage. In a move reminiscent of the Latvian Snot Rocket, he pressed his fingers down hard on one nostril, expelled the contents of the other onto the floor and then repeated the procedure on the other nostril. In the reflection on the window, I could see the snot dripping off his moustache and clinging to his beard. I immediately ran over and wiped it away with my bare hands, smiling at him beatifically as I did so.

Did I heck.

I figured I’d done enough for one day and went for a glass of wine.

Happy Christmas 🙂

Do you give up or are you Hungary for more?

Eight Hungarian men have moved into my apartment block. Thankfully, the only hot one moved into the apartment opposite mine. He has a propensity for walking around half-naked which I find pleasing. We have mildly flirtatious conversations that I can barely understand as he only speaks Hungariman. They don’t seem to go to bars but, instead, enjoy knacker-drinking on the roof of the parking garage which is just below my balcony. I feel like a bit like Juliet some nights, if Juliet had had eight Hungarian Romeos, that is.

On one such occasion, they offered me some Hungarian moonshine. (If you want to know what that tastes like, go and swig some petrol.) We all ended up at a party in one of their flats and I immediately impressed with my one word of Hungarian – “egészségedre!” Where I could have picked up the word for “cheers!” in Hungarian (and around 15 other languages) is a mystery…

Anyway, on Sunday, I decided that a major blitz of my flat was necessary. I had amassed enough paper over the last year and a half to start my own recycling plant. Five sacks of paper and general rubbish (separated, of course) sat in the hall and I proceeded to lug them down to the bins one by one. On my fourth trip, I bumped into the Hungarian who acts as an interpreter for the rest of them. He looks a bit like Chris Evans, unfortunately not the hot Hollywood one.

This one. But less smiley.
(image taken from imdb.com)

He also likes wearing socks and sandals.

He kindly unlocked the front door for me and I trudged back upstairs. I was hoping he’d have finished his cigarette by the time I went back down with bag number five but no, he was still there.

András: Wow, so much rubbish. 

Me: Ja, heute ist Putztag. 

Luckily, he hadn’t seen me schlepping down with the first three bags. He opened the door for me again and then paused on the steps.

András: Em, Linda, can I ask you something? 

Me: Sure, (whatever your name is).

András: I’m looking for someone to practise my German with and I was wondering if you’d be interested.

Me: I’m not sure I’m the right person for that job. I’m pretty sure your German is better than mine. (Educating someone on the art of the Sitzpinkel does not make you an expert on the German language; it merely means that you have a rather unhealthy fascination with the peeing habits of German men and like talking about it when you’ve been drinking Hungarian moonshine.)

András: (peering at me intensely through his black-rimmed glasses) I’d like to try though. I can cook dinner for us. Monday? 

Me: Erm, no, I can’t tomorrow. I have a pub quiz. 

András: Tuesday? 

Me: Erm, erm… Maybe. I have a late lesson though so… we’ll see. Maybe. Byeeeeeee!

On Tuesday, I arrived home, put on my slippers, spooned some beans into a saucepan and started up my laptop. I hadn’t even had time to enter the password when there was a ring at the bell. Scheiße.

Me: Oh. Hi.

András: Are you coming? 

Me: Well, I’m really tired and I’ve just got in the door. (He lives directly under me so he had obviously heard me coming home.) Would you mind if we left it for another night? 

His face fell. More.

András: But I’ve already cooked. 

Me: I’m…

András: It’s 20 minutes out of your life and I’ve already prepared everything. 

Me: (Sigh.) OK, then. 

I then flopped around the flat, sighing loudly, sulkily taking off my slippers again and angrily bunging my poor beans into the fridge. I gave the bottle of wine in there a last wistful glance and walked wearily downstairs.

When I stepped into the living room, I was comforted to see that András had his laptop on and was currently browsing a website full of terrifying-looking knives.

Me: Em, what’s that? 

András: Oh, it’s a hobby of mine. I make knives. 

Me: … Cool? 

He then opened a cupboard and proceeded to show me his collection. Just in case I wasn’t convinced by the glinting blades, he then shaved a chunk of hair off his arm to demonstrate how sharp they were. Tufts of ginger hair floated lazily to the floor.

Me: (Hmm, I wonder if I should throw myself through the window or try to make an attempt for the door…) Um, wow, impressive. Oh, is that a photo of your family?

Immediate crisis averted, we sat down to eat. To be fair, he had gone to quite a bit of effort. He’d even bought wine. I tucked into the goulash while making what I felt were appropriately appreciative noises. We chatted a bit about his family in Hungary, his work here and the joys of learning German. He pulled out the book he was using. It was quite possibly the most boring book I’d ever seen.

András: I’m using this book. 

Me: (Say something positive, say something positive) Bah hahaha! That’s probably the worst book I’ve ever seen! It’s just table after table of conjugated verbs! It’s so dry! 

András: (Peering at me over his goulash) You think your books are better than my books? 

Me: (Say no, say no) Yes, for sure. They have pictures and dialogues and useful everyday German. I can lend you a couple if you like? 

András: OK.

I polished off my goulash and got ready to make good my escape.

András: I’ll get the main course.

Crap.

He set down a plate of grilled chicken and a pot of vegetables. I refilled my glass.

Me: Mmm, this is really good, thanks. 

András: You know, I don’t want to be… wait, I don’t know the word. 

He started typing the Hungarian word into the translator app on his phone. The German word appeared letter by letter:

g-e-w-a-l-t-t-ä-t-i-g

Me: (Gulp) Violent? You don’t want to be violent? 

András: No.

Me: And are you? 

András: I don’t want to be. But when you said you didn’t want to come tonight after I’d prepared everything…

At that moment, I knew exactly how Julia Roberts had felt in “Sleeping with the Enemy”. Door it was.

Me: Well, that was delicious but I really must be going now. Thank you for dinner! 

András: Next Tuesday? 

Me: Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! 

I scarpered back upstairs and gave Manfredas the abridged version over Messenger.

Manfredas: Double lock your door.

Me: Done:

Manfredas: And your balcony door.

Me: Also done. I mean, he has a wife and kids, but then, so did Fred West.

The real tragedy of the story is that I never did get around to eating the beans.

Forlorn-looking beans

 

 

Sacré vert! It’s Green Day in Paris!

A random Tuesday night in the local bar:

Me: I think Green Day are coming this year. I’d love to see them live.

Manfredas: I’d be up for that. When are they coming?

Me: Not sure. Hold on, I’ll check… Aw crap, they’re coming on Thursday! There’s no way I can make that. 

Manfredas: (Sad face)

Me: Oh well. Guess I’ll just have to wait until the next time they’re in town. (Sigh)

The next morning, I woke up to a Facebook message:

Manfredas: Do you fancy going to see Green Day in Paris? 

Me: ??? Mais oui, bien sûr! 

Within the next couple of hours, flights were booked, concert tickets were reserved and an AirBnB apartment in the centre of Paris was found. German efficiency. Stupidly early on the 3rd of February, we were off!

We got to Orly Airport and made our way outside to wait for the Orly Bus to the city. The first one was too full to get on, with passengers’ faces squished against the windows. We managed to squeeze onto the next one, where we stood like sardines the whole way into the city. There was no chance to validate our tickets so it would be a free journey back. Irish rule-shirking.

We navigated the Métro easily and were soon standing in front of our apartment building on a postcard-perfect, cobbled street in Saint-Michel.

PARIS!
PARIS!

We had been sent a list of quite detailed instructions by the owner of the apartment, Julien. Unfortunately, he had failed to include the correct code for the front door. Luckily, another resident was leaving just as we were punching in the wrong code for the fifth time so we finally managed to get in.

After that u have to cross the yard : dont climb the first stairs but the last. The flat is at the 4th floor (without elevator) and it’s the door in front of the stairs, the last possible.

The door is sometimes a bit hard to open.
The lock to open is the lower one. The tip to do it easily is to push the key until the end and to take it back a little. Then turn a quarter round unclockwise and it’s done ;).

I wisely let Manfredas grapple with that.

Please don’t throw anything anormal in the toilets, it’s getting blocked really easily. There is a bin under the bathroom sink.

Poor Manfredas would refuse to poo in the loo for the whole of our time there. He figured, using flawless German logic, that a lady poo would probably be OK but a manly poo might be too much for the delicate French plumbing. It was actually quite hilarious having a German in a French apartment; if he’d had his tool kit, I think he would have spent most of the weekend straightening the crooked shelves and replumbing the entire apartment.

Thankfully he didn’t and it didn’t seem like Julien possessed anything remotely practical so we were able to leave the apartment and start exploring. The narrow, winding streets around the apartment were just so pretty and so French that I may have had a tiny orgasm. We certainly wouldn’t go hungry or thirsty as practically every second building was a bar, restaurant or café. The chances of going broke were far higher.

€20 for two scoops of ice-cream...
€21 for a lemon tart…

We managed to find a place that wouldn’t require taking out a loan and enjoyed our first croque monsieur and bottle of wine in Paris. We strolled around for a while, scoped out where the bus to the concert venue went from, and I exclaimed “Sacré bleu!” and “Oh là là” sporadically and for no apparent reason.

After a little rest (and some wine) in the apartment, we made our way to the bus stop. Upon overhearing our conversation on the bus, a lively debate sprang up among the locals about which stop we should get off at. Yeah, the French are soooo unfriendly…

We got off, got half-heartedly frisked on the way in, and made our way to our seats. Manfredas went and got us a couple of beers and then Green Day were on.

Billie Joe! It's me!
Billie Joe! It’s meeeee!

Having been a fan for quite a long time, my expectations were high. Green Day surpassed every one of them – they absolutely rocked the house. There was a lot of audience participation and one girl even got to keep the guitar that she played on stage. Manfredas had the added bonus of listening to me roaring along with the band for over two hours. Lucky devil.

We stumbled out of the stadium on a total high, jabbering on about how amazing it had been and how cool it was that we were actually in Paris and had seen Green Day. I wondered if I should hang around and wait for Billie Joe to come out so I could creepily stalk him but decided that a celebratory glass of wine was more important.

Coming across as a complete “Basket Case” probably wouldn’t have endeared me to him much anyway.

A very German Christmas party

Me: What time is it? 

Manfredas: 11.

Me: Ugh, I think I’ll sleep for another hour. It shouldn’t take more than five and a half hours to put on a dress. 

Manfredas: One would think not. 

Me: Grunt. (I hate it that a German sounds more natural using “one” than I do.)

We were being picked up by Manfredas’ boss, Heribert, at 5.30 to go to their company Christmas party. As there would be at least a hundred new people and a hell of a lot of German, I suggested one for “Dutch courage” in the local bar beforehand. Amazingly, Manfredas had never heard of this expression before so I smugly took my leave with four hours and forty-five minutes remaining to put on a dress.

Heribert and his wife, Fraubert (yeah, I know I’m pushing it with that one), were waiting for us so we hopped into the car and I entertained everyone with my charming Germish. Manfredas and I had devised a game called “Spot the Ossi” which we shared with the Berts, neither of whom are East German (Ossi).

The shindig had been organised by Manfredas’ colleague, who is known internally as “The Sheriff”.

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Yes, you read that correctly – the party was scheduled to end at 11.59. Not midnight, not 11.58, but 11.59. Germans…

We were greeted by The Sheriff and I craned my neck to get a good look at her over the vast expanse of her yellow outfit; I imagine it was how David must have felt when he met Goliath. (I was David, in case you were wondering.) Our names were checked off a list and we were given name tags, which everyone just loves. We made our way outside to the mulled wine reception.

Me: There’s one.

Manfredas: Correct.

A woman with hair like blonde candy floss was an obvious first Ossi-spot.

Me: There’s another one.

Manfredas: Correct.

A woman who had dyed the back of her wall of hair purple was an easy second spot. We mingled a little, with me attempting to be on my best behaviour. The Sheriff soon started herding us towards the main reception room, where the big boss was due to give a welcome speech. We took our seats at the Berts’ table and I restrained myself from commenting (too much) on the phallic festive chocolates.

Am I right?
Am I right?

The Sheriff was given the credit for organising the event and lumbered up to collect a bouquet of flowers. All credit to the woman, she had organised it with military precision and everything went off without a hint of a hitch. The food was amazing – honeyed ham, duck, cod, mushroom ravioli, an extensive salad bar, fresh baguettes, a veritable potato fest, and a choice of desserts with fancy descriptions that defied any logic. “An interpretation of Apfelstrudel”… Anyone?

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The endless supply of free wine lubed up my linguistic skills and conversation at our table flowed as easily as the booze. The DJ played a rather bewildering array of tunes and, despite one failed attempt to get our dinner companions to do the YMCA, Manfredas and I had a rollicking good time.

Best of all, at 11.59, the Berts gave us a lift back too, saving us up to two hours on public transport. We finished our night as we had started it, looking fabulously overdressed in our local bar.

I remembered to remove my name tag just in time and avoided looking like a total prat.

Meeting the Manfredases

Manfredas: Do you fancy a couple of days in Hannover? We’d be staying with my parents…

Me: Oh God.

But I agreed to go; the chance to see a typical German family household with alles in Ordnung trumped my nervousness at having to try to be “normal” in a foreign language for an entire weekend. I made Manfredas stop at a supermarket close to their house so that I could pick up some flowers. I figured that I could at least make a good first impression even if it was going to be all downhill from there.

Me: What kind of flowers does she like? 

Manfredas: I dunno. Everything? 

Me: Sigh.

We arrived just after sunset and were greeted at the door by Mr and Mrs Manfredas. I needn’t have worried – they couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming. We were ushered into the dining room where Abendbrot (evening bread) was waiting for us. Abendbrot, as far as I can tell, is basically breakfast without the jam and Nutella. Yes Germans, your secret is out…

Me: (eyeing a suspicious-looking grey mass on a plate) What is THAT?

Manfredas: Leberwurst (liver sausage).

Me: Jesus. 

I excused myself to go to the bathroom, which was so clean you could have eaten your Leberwurst off the floor. His dad had rigged up a radio to the light switch so it was a very nice, musical pee. I made sure to compliment Mr Manfredas on his ingenuity when I got back downstairs.

Musical bathroom
Musical bathroom

After a little more small talk – yes, Germans do that – we were off to visit Manfredas’ friend and his wife. We sat in the “party kitchen”, drank wine and good whiskey and I managed to not come across as a total idiot – I think.

The next morning, after a musical shower and a massive breakfast, we hopped on the U-Bahn to the football stadium where Hannover 96 were playing Sankt Pauli. As the Germans are capable of having ideas, the cost of the trip to and from the stadium is included in the season ticket in a bid to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

20161001_1258031

The weather was a bit shit but Mrs Manfredas had been nice enough to lend me a practical German raincoat. As we approached security, I prayed that she had no illicit substances in her pockets. Having been briskly frisked and having my phone charger taken off me, we were in. The match was sold out and the atmosphere was buzzing. Sechsundneunzig – immer nett und freundlich. Various chants were being sung and I sung along with what I imagined the right words were.

Me: Are they saying “Ole asshole”?

Manfredas: Ha, NEIN! “Ole HSV!” (pronounced like “Ha ess fow” in German so an easy mistake to make…)

Hannover won 2-0 in the end and the stadium was a testament to what simple creatures men really are.

Woop! Ole asshole!
Woop! Ole asshole!

We met up with another of Manfredas’ friends on the way out and proceeded to the Hannover version of Oktoberfest. It was a bit like Las Vegas on steroids.

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We managed to stick the noise and drunkenness for one drink and then walked to the old city to find somewhere a bit more civilised. The German love of sausage appears to be strong in Hannover.

Manfredas brought me to Gosch, which is where the Hannover wannabes hang out. I looked a little out of place amid the primped and preened ladies in my over-sized red raincoat, jeans and trainers but it’s Germany so nobody really cares. Still, I wanted to find somewhere a little more “me” (i.e. dodgy) so we left after one.

Walking past a bar where women  with partially shaved heads and tattooed necks were roaring out the window at some poor bloke on a bike, I decided we’d found it.

Yup, this was the place!
Yup, this was the place!

We stayed for as long as I could bear listening to the Hannover Hyena laughing toothily at everything I said and then went for a bite to eat.

Sunday morning was sunny and warm and, when I got downstairs, Manfredas and his dad were sitting in the garden putting the world to rights. I decided there and then that my mission in life was to become a German pensioner – these people know how to live.

After another huge breakfast, Manfredas, his dad and I took a stroll to the nearby Blauer See, not five minutes from the house. Of course, this being Germany, there was also a beer garden.

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Manfredas: Do you want something to drink? 

Me: Ummmm.

Manfredas: My dad’s going to have a beer. 

Me: OK then, I’ll have a glass of wine. 

It was 11.55.

We sat and chilled for an hour or so, sunning ourselves and enjoying the peace and quiet. I made witty conversation – in my head – and Manfredas and his dad pretended that what I said in reality was actually correct German.

20161002_1153051
Blauer See

We all went for a delicious lunch in a Croatian restaurant and then it was time to pack up and get on the Autobahn back to Berlin.

I can’t say how the Manfredases felt about me, but I’m a huge fan of theirs. From the moment I arrived, I “felt myself at home” as the Germans would say – the musical bathroom was just a bonus.