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Hat, heels, Hochzeit (2)

Everyone filed (in an orderly German fashion) into the front room of the boat for the 2.5-hour tour that would take us around scenic Potsdam and Wannsee. This was probably the most painful part of the day for James as, at 6’9″, he had to stoop just to fit into the boat. Still, I had more pressing things on my mind, namely THE CAKE.

YESSSSSS...
Yogurty, moussey, fruity, spongy, creamy, biscuity goodness…

Luckily, Germans aren’t known for scrimping when it comes to portion sizes so, after queuing for a couple of minutes, I had a slice of cake roughly the size of my head. It was practically a meal in itself and would definitely keep me going until the actual meal later that evening.

Yum.
Yum.

I settled in with my new South African homies out on deck, taking in the views, listening to the tour guide and chatting to whomever came along. The Bridemama emerged and pulled a well-used piece of paper out of her bosom.

BM: Are you relative or friend? 

It turned out that she’d written down several conversation openers – I’m not sure she could understand the answers but she somehow managed to pull it off. I later learned that Kat’s brother had, in recent weeks, been teaching her a few expressions in English but that she’d forgotten them all on the day. Hence, the cheat sheet – more German genius.

The boat docked after 1.5 hours to let the wedding party off for photos but not before I got a quick pic with the beautiful bride. The bright orange dress was deliberate as I’m not much of a swimmer (I sink like a stone) but I knew I’d be visible if I happened to go overboard.

The biggest hat in the world
The biggest hat in the world

The rest of us continued on, munching on our tiny traditional “English Afternoon Tea” sandwiches as we went. At 17.30, the boat docked, around a 5-minute walk from the reception venue. Taxis were available for those who wanted them, but most people chose to walk.

Schloss Glienicke
Schloss Glienicke

You know, villa, boat, palace… just an average day in the life for this expat.

The courtyard was decked out and champagne service beckoned. A bagpipe (Dudelsack haha!) player was standing off to the side waiting for the bride and groom to show up so I asked him if I could take a photo of him.

Me: What is the German word for “bride” anyway? 

BP: Die Braut. 

Me: Not to be confused with “das Brot”. (bread)

BP: Ha ha ha, NEIN! 

Hamish the German
Hamish the German

I grabbed a glass of champagne and tottered around on the cobblestones a bit. A table full of kindly English people took pity on me and invited me to sit with them. Again, I had to explain my tenuous connection to the wedding party but thankfully, everyone seemed to think it was cool rather than downright weird.

The palace courtyard. Or a typical Saturday afternoon for me...
The palace courtyard. Or a typical Saturday afternoon for me…

In typical German fashion, an AGENDA for the evening was set out.

So German...
So German…

We all gathered to watch the German wedding tradition of log-sawing. Seemingly, it’s a demonstration of the couple’s abilities in teamwork. They were both given workman’s gloves, which really set off Kat’s dress, and then they got down to it.

German log-sawing
German log-sawing

I can’t say either of them will ever make it as lumberjacks but I hope they won’t have to. There probably isn’t much call for lumberjackmanship (I went a bit German there) in London anyway. We all gathered for the group photo and then it was time for the 4-course dinner. 13427974_1122601124449930_158288312928114469_n

I was seated at the same table as my new English buddies so chatting was easy. The girl beside me was a teacher so we had something in common. She was also alone as her husband was the best man and, therefore, seated at the top table, beside Santa. He looked like he was about to pass out from nerves at any second so his friends took it in turns to go up and distract him. At 6’7″, he would have gone down hard.

Dinner was delicious, and wine and conversation flowed. The waiter copped on pretty quickly that we were the high-maintenance table wine-wise and was always ready with a bottle.

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Then it was time for the speeches. Santa Claus went first with a short speech in German. An English translation was distributed to the English-speaking guests. Then it was James’ turn. Bless him, he read his speech first in English and then in German. I admired his balls while mentally correcting his pronunciation (because I’m a bitch like that). Finally, it was the best man’s turn. He delivered his speech in English and there was a German translation given out to the German-speaking guests. More great organisation. He also didn’t faint, which was good.

Dessert
Dessert

Dessert (Riesling champagne ice-cream soufflé with strawberry and mint salad) followed and then it was time for the party to begin. A band was getting set up in the next room so we all headed in that direction, ready for the couple’s first dance. “We’ve only just begun” by The Carpenters. Perfect.

Awwww
Awwww

The band played all of the 60s and 70s greats, everyone danced (except me because I have two left feet) and a free bar ensured everyone was well-lubed. The night ended with a midnight Currywurst and Pommes snack and then buses were waiting to take everyone back to the city centre.

All in all, it was an amazing day. The way they integrated the two cultures/languages and made sure that everyone was included must have taken so much planning. There was no dead time, everyone had a ball, and most people saw something more of Berlin than they normally would have.

Kat and James, I tip my big, floppy hat to you and wish you all the best. Thank you both so much for having me (the random Irish blogger) at your special day.

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And, if anyone else wants to invite me to their wedding, the answer is YES.

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I’m going deeper Underground

Ever since I became friends with Dietmar, he’s been keen on the idea of me working for his Association, Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underworlds). There was just one small problem: the working language of the Association is German and being able to say my name and order white or red wine didn’t quite qualify as “working German”.

Fast forward a year or so and DD and I were conducting most of our conversations in German rather than English. I’m not sure which of us was more surprised, but the upshot was that DD declared me ready to start. Gulp.

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However, DD declaring it and it actually happening were two very different things. Obviously I had to go through the same process as every other new employee and, this being Germany, it’s a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong process.

Meetings were had, documents were exchanged. Words like “Sozialversicherungsbeiträge”, “Vereinsbarungbestandteile” and “Lohnsteuerbescheinigung” were tossed around. I nodded sagely (and Googled wildly when I got home). After a few short months, I was ready to begin training.

Scheiße
Scheiße

For anyone who doesn’t know about Berliner Unterwelten, they offer a series of tours exploring Berlin’s underground architecture, including air raid shelters, caverns, disused railway tunnels and other places the public normally has no access to. I would begin my training on “Tour 1 – Dark Worlds”, which takes visitors through a maze of a WW2 bunker at Gesundbrunnen Station.

Every tour has a guide and an assistant and I would be starting as an assistant. Basically, the assistant is responsible for getting everyone in and out, making sure there are no tour pile-ups in the bunker, keeping people together and making sure nobody is doomed to wander the labyrinth forever, enforcing bunker rules, and responding quickly if there is some sort of emergency.

In order to be able to do this, I had to do three tour “walk-throughs” with various trainers, a technical and a bureaucratic training session, and a final test. In German.

Trainer: How do you think you did? 

Me: I think I was awesome.

Anyway, I passed.

Time to celebrate!
Time to celebrate!

Yesterday was my first day. I quickly realised that my Underworld small talk could use a little polishing.

Me: Do you want to be a “Führer” some day?

Assistant: We prefer to use the word “Guide”. For obvious reasons. 

Me: Right you are. 

My first group was a German one. I opened the door successfully (yay me) and counted people in as I checked their tickets. While everyone was busy listening to the guide, one woman came over and sat on the steps. Uh oh.

We moved on to the second room. She immediately came over and sat on the steps in there, too.

Woman: Can you please let me out? I don’t feel well…

I’ve been on countless Unterwelten tours and not one person has ever had to leave. Just my luck.

Thankfully, we weren’t far from the front door so I led her out and asked her if she was OK. She responded by vomiting all over the ground. I took that as a “NEIN”.

It did not smell of roses
It did not smell of roses

Despite being trained in getting people out as quickly as possible in situations just like this, I realised that I had no idea what to do with them once they actually were out. My bedside German (or English, for that matter) is pretty much non-existent so I made a few sympathetic noises and handed her a plastic bag, just in case there was a round two. I told her there was a restaurant nearby and she could go there and clean herself up a bit. She asked me to get her friend.

So, on my very first tour, I had to interrupt the guide, speak loud German in front of a roomful of Germans and escort the friend out of the bunker as well. Baptism of fire. And puke.

I called the office to tell them what had happened and they suggested I dilute the vomit by pouring some water on it. I did and improvised by placing a couple of tissues over it, too. It looked ten times worse but there wasn’t much else I could do. I went back in, did the rest of the tour and everyone emerged alive at the end of it. In short, a roaring success.

The two tours I’ve done since were, mercifully, less eventful.

Guide: It is forbidden to take photos anywhere in the bunker.

Japanese tourist 1: Can I take a photo?

Me: NEIN.

Japanese tourist 2, 3, 4, 5…: Can I take a photo of this?

ME: NEIN!

***

Guide: Please do not touch the paint in the next room. It’s a special type of fluorescent paint and mildly toxic. 

Spanish tourist: Can I touch the paint?

Me: (Why on earth would you want to touch toxic paint??) No, lo siento. 

Anyway, I live to assist another day. I’m not sure I’ll ever rock the “safety orange” vest I have to wear, but they’re not paying me to be a bunker fashionista. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to spray some more perfume up my nose.

 

 

 

The Russian does Berlin

When Anna first visited me in Riga, I delighted in trying to poison her with the local Black Balzams. So, when she said she wanted to come to Berlin for more torture, I wondered what fun and games we’d get up to. Her wishlist was, thankfully, pretty straightforward. Do a boat tour, go to a couple of Christmas markets, see the Berlin Wall and, most importantly, go out and meet people or, more specifically, men.  I had absolutely no problems with that.

I briefly considered trying to hook her up with my new half-naked, opera-singing Asian neighbour. I hoped that it might shut him up for 4 to 7 minutes. Then the thought that he might get louder put that idea out of my head.

When Anna arrived, like most tourists, the first thing she wanted to do was visit the… post office. Yup, it seems that in Russia, you can’t post something and expect it to actually arrive, so good old Deutsche Post would have to step in.

Lovely, reliable German post office...
Lovely, reliable German post office…

She decided she would like to use DHL and was just about finished filling in the form when we got to the top of the queue. It was the wrong form and she had no envelope. So we left the counter, picked up some envelopes and rejoined the queue. We got to the counter again, but she should have taken the envelopes out of the packaging, filled in all of the information, and then brought it to the nice lady. So we left the counter again. Anna filled in the form, I lost patience at the thought of having to queue a third time and went outside, and Anna rejoined the queue.

I needed a drink
I needed a drink

After a massive glass of wine for me and a tiny cappuccino for Anna – the waiter actually brought her a free second cappuccino as he must have felt sorry for her with her puny drink – we set off for Gendarmenmarkt. Pretty lights, a beautiful backdrop, oodles of ridiculously cute tat, little wooden huts, sausage and Glühwein – Anna was in heaven. In fact, when the choir started singing, she even shed a few tears. Normally, this sort of behaviour might result in a slap but, even I have to admit, there is something pretty magical about Gendarmenmarkt at Christmas. (Don’t judge me.)

We hit the town where Anna was horrified to see that Germans keep their children out so late.

Me: It’s 7.30…

The next morning, we were up bright and early for breakfast. Not really. We made it in time for brunch though. I was manhandled away from my food so that Anna could take a photo of it first. As everyone knows, “if it isn’t on Instagram, it didn’t happen”. I wondered what I’d been doing for the last 37 years.

Massive German portions
Massive German portions

We’d lucked out with a truly beautiful day so it was definitely boat tour time. We arrived with seconds to spare before the 2pm tour and hopped on the boat. While I wondered what the hell was wrong with my headset, Anna hopped from side to side, photographing everything to within an inch of its life. Because, you know, if it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen…

Watching someone else run around like Usain Bolt on speed can be thirsty work, so it was off to try the Feuerzangenbowle at Charlottenburg Palace. As I’d really liked it, I thought Anna would feel the same. Judge for yourselves…

Brave little Russian lamb
Brave little Russian lamb
Uh oh...
Uh oh…
Is she going to puke?
Is she going to puke?
She can't puke in front of a palace, can she?
She can’t puke in front of a palace, can she?
Breathe, breathe, little one...
Breathe, breathe, little one…

I think we can safely say Anna will not be trying that again.

After a night spent drinking vodka with a bunch of Russian men, there’s nothing I like more than getting out of bed and going sightseeing. And so, off to the Berlin Wall we went.

Anna: Is that it? 

Me: Yes. 

Anna: Oh. 

Like my mirror image that day
Like my mirror image that day

Anna had also mentioned that she quite fancied seeing some street art (more of it), so I escorted her over to my old hood, which is quirky to say the least. I’m not sure what kind of pretty, fluffy street art she was expecting but, well, this is Berlin.

Um...
Um…

Anna: Oh my god, oh my god, what IS that?! Why is it all so scary and creepy? What does that baby have no head? Why is that little girl trying to kill her cat? Why did you bring me here? I’m going to have nightmares after this…

Me: Heh heh heh.

I brought her to a local restaurant before she passed out. I guess Moscow is fluffier than Berlin. Who knew? After finishing the buffet  her meal, Anna decided to treat herself to a cocktail. Why she ordered a Swimming Pool I’ll never know, but it prompted the barman to point out where the bathroom was, just in case. Then again, he also said that Russian men looked like East German lesbians, so he may have had a couple himself. I would never insult East German lesbians like that.

Soon, it was time for the pièce de resistance of the weekend – the ice slide at Potsdamer Platz. We met my favourite German-Venezuelan couple – Engelbert and Enrique – filled up our Glühweins with rum from Engelbert’s illicit hip flask, and it was time. The slide was a lot bigger than I remembered but (Scheiße) in for a penny, in for a pound.

You can hear the German cackling in the background. Thanks for the support, Engelbert…

So, Anna’s now back in the land of smiles and fluffiness. Thanks for visiting and I hope you had fun apart from the TERRIFYING street art…

Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone!

 

Bedding it in Berlin

I’m always meaning to do more touristy stuff in Berlin but, you know how it is – it’s getting colder, I’m a bit lazy…

Luckily, Berlin has the answer to all of my first-world problems. Introducing (drum roll, please)… Berlin Horizontal.

Genius
Genius

I’d only come across this company last weekend while waiting for a friend at Alexanderplatz – it’s hard to miss a bed on wheels, parked in the middle of one of the busiest squares in Berlin. When I got home, I went straight to the Berlin Horizontal website and emailed the owner to try to arrange a tour for this weekend. We arranged to meet at 3pm this afternoon, he took my telephone number in case the weather took a turn for the worse, and even emailed me last night to remind me about the clock going back – all very well-organised and, well, German.

I managed to rope my friend, Heike, into accompanying me, which saved me putting out a message on Facebook along the lines of:

Does anyone want to go to bed with me – in public – next Sunday afternoon?

I probably would have had a few takers though. At least I like to think so…

We showed up a little early and stood around, waiting for our bed to appear. And, oh! The silly giddiness when it did! We shook hands with Richard, the charming, friendly owner of the company, and after introductions and a little small talk, were presented with little blue surgical slippers to put over our shoes. Seemingly, nobody wants to ride in a dirty bed.

Nice and clean and orderly - the way things should be.
Nice and clean and orderly – the way things should be.

We jumped in, fluffed up the pillows and pulled the duvet over us. Richard took a few pictures and then we were off. I think people could probably hear me laughing in Hamburg…

Getting comfortable
Getting comfortable

We took a nicely winding route from Alexanderplatz to Brandenburger Tor, stopping off at Museum Island, the “Lust Garden”, Bebelplatz, Gendarmenmarkt, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Tiergarten along the way, with Richard providing an entertaining commentary as we went. I asked him how he had come up with the idea to start Berlin Horizontal, and he told us that this very special rickshaw had been built for some sort of promotion but, after it had fulfilled its purpose, was left forgotten in a garage somewhere. Richard had rescued it from obscurity and started doing his thing.

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A very happy Berlinda

Aside from being in a bed in the middle of a capital city, what makes this tour so unique, and so much fun, are the reactions from passers-by. Everywhere we went, people were pointing, belly-laughing, taking photos and waving at us. Cries of “Good night!”, “Sleep well!” and “Oh, das ist so geil!” accompanied us around the city. A couple of people even wanted to hop into bed with us, and a bus driver stopped to take a photo of the show. I was grinning like a maniac and, at times, was giggling so uncontrollably, tears were running down my cheeks.

Imagining drivers’ phone calls to their waiting loved ones was enough to set me off in peals of laughter again.

“Hey honey, I’m going to be a bit late. I’m stuck behind a bed on wheels on Unter den Linden…”

Followers
Followers

We quickly perfected our royal waves, but it was a bit difficult to look regal whilst crying laughing under a duvet.

Sleeping beauty
Sleeping beauty

After an hour or so, we arrived at our final destination – Brandenburger Tor. It’s not often you get to upstage one of the most famous sights in the world, but we did just that. People even abandoned taking selfies for long enough to take pictures of us instead. Richard also had one last surprise, producing night caps out of his little bag of tricks. (He also has a reading lamp he can rig up for night-time tours.)

Looking insane at Brandenburger Tor.
Looking insane (but very happy) at Brandenburger Tor.

Alas, our tour had come to an end. To say that I recommend doing a tour with Berlin Horizontal is an understatement. I can honestly say, with no offence intended to the men who have been in my life, that this is the most fun I have ever had in bed. However, I do feel it is important to warn you of the side effect of this tour: the temptation to keep waving and grinning at people long after the tour has ended is very strong.

And probably not appropriate on Berlin’s public transport system.