Tag Archives: Neighbours

See gulls?

After five years of living in Berlin, it seems I have finally found a pleasing pocket of this sprawling metropolis that suits me down to the ground. Yes, I recently moved to the lovely, leafy suburb of Pankow – and I only had to go via Wedding, Charlottenburg, Friedrichshain, Neukölln, Wedding (again), Lankwitz and  Friedrichshain (again) to find it. Well, nobody ever said life in Berlin would be easy.

The great thing about Pankow is that it’s (shock horror) a couple of stops outside the Ring train line, which means that it’s largely free from hipsters, wankers, hipster-wankers, men who wear trousers that show their ankles, drunks, drug dealers, drug users, pickpockets, people on trains who reek so much you can smell them on your hair and clothes for hours afterwards, foreigners who expect everyone to speak English, and people who walk around with poo running down the backs of their legs. Yes, Berlin is a wonderfully diverse city like that.

OK, I’m back. The Berlin Tourist Board just called to offer me a job…

Anyhooooooo, anyone who knows me knows that I have long lamented the local habit of people dumping their useless crap on the street. However, in Pankow, even this is rather civilised. People actually put out useful stuff like kids’ clothes and toys, books, and household objects that… wait for it… still work. And woe betide anyone who goes rogue.

Asocial, uncultured people left me here. This is Pankow, not Kreuzberg. Wake up. (I might fall in love with whoever wrote this if I ever find them.)

And so it was, last Saturday, I was on my way back from the speed-packing odyssey that is LIDL when I saw a little treasure trove outside my very own apartment building. It could be that I’m getting old, or perhaps even odder, but I was overjoyed to see that someone had put out mugs. Yes, MUGS!

The sign says that you can drop a small donation to the Berlin Animal Shelter into their mailbox. CIVILISED.

Now, you might be thinking it’s a bit strange for someone to get so excited over something so mundane but bear with me. You see, I’d bought these stupid cups in Kaufland when I moved in, with kind of fancy handles. Little did I know that I wouldn’t even be able to fit all of my midget fingers in there and that gripping the handle in a certain way would cause calluses on my ring fingers.

(I have also just realised that it’s rather difficult to take a photo of a finger on your right hand when you’re right-handed. And that my knuckles might be a tad overweight.)

So, I grabbed the two biggest mugs (with gently rounded handles) I could see and strolled back to my apartment, pleased with my haul. I sent a message to my building’s WhatsApp group thanking the “mysterious neighbour” who’d left out the brilliant cups and got a nice message back. All was well in the world of Pankow (or Pandow, as I now think of it).

“Be bambootiful” 🙂

A couple of days later, I was scratching my healing calluses (because I’m a very sexy person) when a personal WhatsApp message popped up on my phone.

“Hi Linda, this is Sigrid from the front building. You recently took the cups that my husband left out. Was there a white cup with a “Möwe” on it?”

Shit, shit, shit! Had I done something wrong? Weren’t the cups put out for people to take after all? Had I accidentally stolen from my lovely new neighbours? Was I being a weird foreigner in the land of German unwritten rules? And what the hell was a “Möwe”? It didn’t sound anything like “panda” but this is German so who knows!? ARGH! Panic, panic, panic!

I willed my wizened fingers to function and entered “Möwe” into Linguee. “Seagull”. Huh. OK. Couldn’t really get much further from a panda. Relief flooded over me. Then I remembered the other mug. I was pretty sure it was just plain gold but I pulled it out of the cupboard in trepidation to make sure there wasn’t a seagull I’d missed anywhere. Nope, no seagull. Thank God.

I messaged back to say that I hadn’t seen any mug with a seagull on it and Sigrid replied to say that maybe her daughter had hidden it somewhere. Laughing smileys were exchanged and we went our separate virtual ways, with me safe in the knowledge that I could go on living in my apartment without being known as the “sticky-(callused-)fingered Irish girl”. Phew.

Still, I like a story with a happy ending so I messaged her yesterday to see if she’d ever found the mysterious seagull cup. Turns out it’s nowhere to be found. Either her daughter is a really good hider or someone else on the street has a penchant for cups with seagulls on them. Who knows? Will we ever know?

And people say life in Pankow is dull…

(It is. It really is. Please don’t move here. Especially if you’re a hipster, wanker, hipster-wanker…)

 

 

 

On noise and nudity

On Friday, my half-naked neighbour graduated to being full-on naked. While I’m not a fan of my eyes being assaulted by a swaying, sagging, dimply arse, I do have bigger problems with the guy.

As I’ve mentioned before, he’s an opera singer. Or opera student. Whatever. All I know is that it entails him singing sporadically, at the top of his voice, from early in the morning until late in the evening most days. I’m as much of a music lover as the next person, but I do need peace and quiet while I work (or nap).

Maybe if he’d mixed it up with a bit of Johnny Cash, I could have stood it, but it was wall-to-wall opera. Opera, opera, opera. I was going out of my mind. Sorting him out had been on my to-do list for quite a while, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it.

20160319_170652
German organisation

The helpful, and often fabulously entertaining, “Free Advice Berlin” Facebook page came to my rescue. On this page, people can post pretty much anything they like in the hope that a kind soul will help them out. Questions have included everything from people looking for unusual products or cool bars, where to neuter a cat or buy a TV, help with moving flat, and even a Russian asking someone to explain feminism to him. (Good luck with that last one.)

The post that caught my eye, however, was by a musician. He explained that he wants to study sound engineering and plays around 13 instruments, including the drums, which he practises at home. Amazingly, he was getting noise complaints from the neighbours…

People were quick to comment on this one and, luckily for me, this being Germany, there are RULES about this sort of thing. It turns out that you can’t actually practise an instrument (voice included) for more than two hours a day. I downloaded the “Merkblatt zur Hausmusik” that someone posted, which contains scary terms like “Gemäß § 5 des Landes-Immissionsschutzgesetzes” and “Einschlägige Gerichtsentscheidungen”. I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant, but I figured you probably wouldn’t want to mess with that stuff.

Fun with German words...
Fun with German words…

A quick perusal through my rental agreement backed up the general Berlin rules with more specific house rules.

Take that!
Take that!

Ah, lovely German rules.

After a night filled with bad dreams about jiggly, naked opera singers, I was rudely awakened on Saturday morning at 9.30am by the man himself. I repeat, 9.30 AM on a SATURDAY. This was war.

WAR I tell ya!
WAR, I tell ya!

But instead of banging down his door like the fighting Irish woman that I am, I opted for the more civilised German approach. This involved me sitting at my laptop in a fury, with extreme bed hair and fluffy pajamas, and hammering out a “pleasant” letter to my neighbour, “politely” asking him to stop with all of the fucking singing because he was driving me fucking mad disrupting my work and my sleep.

I printed out the letter and the Merkblatt and, after making myself slightly less mental looking, popped them both into his letter box.

And now I wait. I guess there’s a good chance an angry, half-naked opera singer will show up on my doorstep. If that does happen, rather than resorting to fisticuffs, I’m hoping we can have a good old-fashioned sing-off. Throw in a couple of beers and a bit of Schlager and that would seem to be the most German way to handle things…

 

There is something worse than naked neighbours

The last thing on earth I wanted to see on Tuesday morning was an angry Hildeberta with a pen and paper in her hands. Groan. Was the dreaded cleaning rota finally going to materialise? I ventured a little closer with a cheery “Good morning!”, and peered at what she was writing. “Lieber Nachbar…” Phew, it seemed I was off the hook.

Me: What’s happening? 

Hildeberta: DID YOU HEAR ME LAST NIGHT? 

Me: (backing slowly away) Ummmm… 

It emerged that, in a fit of rage, she’d stomped upstairs in her pajamas to deal with our insanely noisy neighbours. I had actually heard our front door opening at around 1am but as I was nice and warm in my bed, I just thought, “Sod it. Let the bloody burglars come to me. I’m not moving.” I nodded off again a few minutes later.

Meanwhile, Hildeberta had been banging away on the neighbours’ door, determined to have it out with them. She said she could hear them talking in rather coarse German, tiptoeing around for a bit, and then all was quiet. So she came back downstairs and went to bed again. Having got no satisfaction (duh nuh nuh) the night before, she was now writing a note to them in VERY SHOUTY LETTERS.

The truth is, this has been going on for months now but, as Germans are oh so polite, we didn’t do anything about it. I had previously offered to be the short, silent, crazy-eyed sidekick to Hildeberta’s dignified lead – think Joe Pesci and Robert de Niro in Casino – but my flatmates had turned me down.

You see, there are laws against this sort of thing in Germany. Between 10pm and 6am, you’re not supposed to do anything that could disturb your neighbours in any way. This includes, but is not limited to, hoovering, turning on your washing machine, blaring your TV, and revving your car engine. I have even heard of the police being called on a crying baby. And while Berlin is generally rather lax with this sort of stuff, our neighbours are a pretty extreme case.

I put forward several theories as to what could be going on up there, but as my macabre imagination freaked out Hildeberta and Hildegard, I’ve toned it down to what is probably the most likely one. So here it is – Gebhard’s Guide to Driving your Neighbours Crazy:

1. Look at your watch and realise that it’s around midnight.

2. Put on your hobnail boots.

3. Proceed to line dance for 30 – 40 minutes.

4. When you’re good and warmed up, move every piece of furniture in your flat to a new position.

5. Jump off every piece of furniture while still wearing your hobnail boots.

6. Repeat.

Luckily for Gebhard, Hildeberta and Hildegard are extremely well-mannered individuals with the patience of saints. I, on the other hand, am not. This has led to me jumping up and down, banging on the ceiling with a sweeping brush in my hand while roaring obscenities at night, and “treating” Gebhard to my version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” at the top of my voice first thing in the morning. However, it seems that none of this has had any effect whatsoever.

Hildeberta dropped the note up on Tuesday morning. As I sit here writing this, 2 Unlimited are blaring from on high, and Gebhard is having what sounds like multiple seizures (in hobnail boots) directly above my head. (Although, if I were forced to listen to 2 Unlimited at that volume, I’d probably have a seizure too.)

So it seems he’s not just an inconsiderate moron, he’s an inconsiderate moron with embarrassingly poor taste in music. It’s now around 9.30. At 10.01, I’m going up there. Now, where’s my pen…

 

 

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours…

Having German neighbours is great. Everyone says hello, people hold the door open for you, and they even buzz you into the building at 3am when you can’t find your key.

However, before you decide you want to move in with me, there are a few things that you should probably be aware of.

1. Germans love online shopping.

I mean they REALLY love it. Which is all well and good, unless you live in the ground floor apartment and the DHL guy always rings your buzzer first. I have worn a path in the carpet trotting from my desk to open the door and sign for people’s packages. Half the time, our hall looks like the back room of a post office with all of the packages we take in.

The tip of the iceberg
The tip of the iceberg

There’s still no rest when delivery time is over for the day, because then you’re up and down to open the door to people looking for their stuff.

2. Naked neighbours

While I don’t think I’ve taken in any packages for the couple next door, I’ve seen the boyfriend’s package more times than I care to admit. Not that I’ve been going out of my way to see it, of course.

They have no curtains on their living room window and sometimes things get a bit sexy in there. They also both like walking around naked or standing at the sink naked, something that nearly gave my Bavarian flatmate a heart attack.

And, at the risk of going a little off topic, I think they might have murdered their cat. They had the cutest little kitten that used to leap out at you from all sorts of hiding places, but seemingly also liked peeing and pooping in the bed. Then one day it was gone.

Me: Hey, I haven’t seen your cat around for a few days. 

Traute: He ran away.

Me: Aw, well, maybe he’ll come back.

Traute: No, he’s not coming back.

Me: Right…

Then the next day, they put all the cat’s stuff in the bins. I could be wrong of course, but it does give you paws for thought… (Sorry.)

3. A hit on the house

One day, I came home to find two Xs spray painted onto the front door.

Like this
Like this

I didn’t give it much thought until one of my neighbours put up a sign on the inside of the door a day later.

Like this
Like this

It turns out that the two Xs are Berlin Criminal Underworld-ese for “There’s good stuff in this building. Rob it.” Thankfully, one of my neighbours understands BCU-ese and responded with the sign that means “The police have been made aware of this situation. Don’t even think about it. Punk.”

After an attempted break-in last week, Hildeberta, my flatmate, suggested that maybe I could sit inside the door and bark for a while in the evenings. She did not get a “hoch fünf” for that.

4. Chatty Kathy

I guess every building has one of these. You know, the type that’s into everyone’s business and is almost impossible to escape when you bump into them in the hall? Mine also happens to look a bit like Kathy Bates in “Misery”.

misery_1

 

In our first conversation, she explained how she couldn’t understand why everyone thinks Berlin is cool and Berliners are friendly, as supposedly, Berliners are the least friendly people on the planet. She then told me she is a Berliner and proceeded to talk the ear off me for a good twenty minutes.

As she lives on the fifth floor, she’s worried that nobody will hear her scream (unlikely) if someone breaks into her apartment. She’s also worried that, as you can’t text the police in Berlin, the intruder will be able to hear her on the phone. So now she has my phone number.

The idea is that she’ll text me in the event of a break-in, and then I’ll call the police. Why she took the number of the one person in the building who can’t speak German is a mystery.

Heinz: Hallo, Polizei.

Me: HILFE! HILFE! EIN MANN IST… UM… UM… JUST HILFE! 

You see the flaw in the plan.

Crap, my phone is ringing – private number. I guess it’s time to let a neighbour get murdered. Sigh. I hate when this happens.

 

(Kathy Bates image taken from here.)