Tag Archives: Shopping

Falling short

In contemplating the 473,937,493 “easy” steps it would take for me to become a real German, I never imagined that I might need actual steps to complete the journey. Or, at the very least, a stepladder. Yep, it turns out that I may just be too damn short to be a proper German.

Ever helpful, Germany has been throwing some not-so-subtle hints my way for a while now.

1. I can’t reach around two thirds of my flat.

I’m sure that smug German egg cup is laughing at me…
So close…

German apartments were clearly not designed for leggily-challenged Irish women. Everything in the kitchen and the bathroom has to reside on the bottom shelves as they’re the only ones I can reach without having to stand on a chair. What lurks on the lofty top shelves will remain a mystery, but the good news is that I only have to clean what I can see. I just have to remember never to invite anyone over who’s taller than me – which could rather limit my social circle here in the land of the German giants.

2. German mirrors mock me. 

Does this make my head look big?

See that dark speck at the bottom of the mirror? No? Look a bit closer… Got it? That’s me. Or at least the only bit of me I can see in the mirrors in many cafés, bars and restaurants. I have to make sure that I look semi-decent before leaving home because that’s probably the last glimpse of myself I’ll catch all night.

Standing on tiptoes might reveal the top half of my fringe; jumping up and down creates a weird gurning expression that isn’t really conducive to checking if my make-up is OK. It also attracts some rather odd looks from the other women in the bathroom who aren’t Lilliputian and will never understand my short-world problems.

3. Limited limbs

German clothes, it appears, were designed for German people. Go figure. That’s a photo of the sleeve of an XXS jumper. My hand is actually in there – it’s just somewhere around the elbow mark. German trousers make me footless, German jumpers leave me handless and kneeless. The upside is that even if I fail to make it to the gym for a week, I still look tiny thanks to the swathes of German fabric floating around me.

This is all quite compelling evidence but the real kicker came a few days ago. I found myself in the strange and wholly unusual position of actually wanting to cook something. As the only things that are an absolute must in my kitchen are tea, milk and sugar, this would require a trip to the supermarket. I sauntered around picking up what I needed and eventually happened upon the frozen foods section. As everyone who is kitchen-skills-impaired will know, it’s always good to have a back-up pizza in the freezer so I decided to add one to my basket.

Unfortunately for me, freezers in German supermarkets are German-sized and stocked by German-sized Germans. And naturally, the one I wanted was right in the back, packed in tight. I slid across the glass top and leaned in. Nope. Not quite there. I leaned some more. My hand brushed off the edge of the box. Almost…

I hoisted myself onto the edge of the freezer and stretched. Both feet dangling above the floor, I gripped cardboard but couldn’t dislodge the damn thing. Grunting with effort at this stage and vaguely aware of someone standing behind me, I elegantly dismounted and turned around with a “nothing to see here” expression on my face. A slightly bemused-looking (TALL) German man was standing there.

Can I help you? 

I answered his chest:

Who? Me? Oh, I’m fine but if you insist… (nonchalant shrug)

He reached into the freezer, smoothly freed my desired pizza and handed it to me.

Erm, thanks. That was a bit embarrassing. 

No, no! Not at all! It really was packed in there! 

Bloody Germans are so nice. And frickin’ tall.

There, there… don’t fret – you were totally worth it. Mmmm, delicious pizza…

In conclusion, it seems the one step that might stump me, is the fact that I’m stumpy.

Hmm, kind of rhymes…

OK, here goes:

There was a young girl who was stumpy,

Her road to being German was bumpy,

But with a “der,” “die” and “das,”

Her short Irish ass,

Was determined she wouldn’t be grumpy. 

You. Are. Welcome.

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Is Berlin drowning in its own filth?

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. 

Him: What? 

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.

FUC is right.

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.

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.

Over and out.

Welcome to my hood

I am officially declaring my first week and a half of living on my own a roaring success. But, I suspect that since posting these pictures…

…some of you might think that I have taken to tree-hugging, stuff-picking, or whatever else it is people who live near forests do. Not so, dear reader. If there was ever a chance of that, I think it probably would have happened in Latvia, and the closest I came to tree-hugging there was being driven out of the country by stick-wielding local lunatics. (Slight exaggeration, but close enough.)

Far from feeling isolated from my beloved Berlin, I am feeling very much at home here. During the day, I get to scoff at tourists who spend 20 minutes standing in front of a map of the train system, and a further 20 minutes trying to figure out which ticket to buy; in the evenings, I get to come home to my tranquil little haven. It’s the perfect balance. In fact, living here feels a bit like living in a holiday camp, which I can’t recommend highly enough.

Despite being small, the town has absolutely everything I need for daily living – an efficient transport system, supermarkets, banks, a post office, shops, WOOLWORTH, bakeries, cafés, restaurants, bars, late-night shops (for midnight/Sunday wine runs) and even a little cinema. Oh, and there’s also a church for people who like that sort of thing.

The bells, the bells...
The bells, the bells…

In my back garden, there’s a table tennis table which I’ve never seen anyone using, but am planning to take full advantage of at the first possible opportunity.

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Just down the road in one direction, there’s mini-golf and archery, and in the other direction, there’s a swimming pool, tennis courts and an ice rink. In fact, all I need is some bad karaoke, bingo and ballroom dancing and I’d be living in Butlin’s. (For non-UK/Irish readers, Butlin’s is a famous holiday camp in the UK – think “Dirty Dancing”, but without the dirty bits.)

Something the world hoped it would never see again...
Something the world hoped it would never see again…

Dotted all around the town are pretty little allotments where the Mermans, “merry Germans” in case you’d forgotten, grow stuff, grill sausages, drink beer, bask in the sunshine, paddle in inflatable swimming pools and get naked a lot. This last one is, as yet, unconfirmed, but this is Germany so…

20150808_154517[1]

Naturally, I’ve also been to check out my new local bar. I first went last Sunday as a little treat for managing to lug my worldly possessions – solo – from one end of the city to the other. I was mildly perturbed to find that I was in the minority given that I didn’t have white hair, a walker or a wheelchair. Still, the punters were friendly, in a toothless, elderly sort of way.

Not one to give up so easily, I decided to return on a Saturday night to see what kind of crowd it brought in on a more “happening” night of the week. I had no sooner settled in with a nice glass of wine when the waiter came over.

Eggert: Those gentlemen over there would like to buy you a drink.

Feeling a bit like I was in a movie, I looked over to see three men of various ages/sizes grinning back at me.

Me: Um. 

Me: Ummmm.

Me: OK, I’ll have a white wi… no, sod that, I’ll have a whiskey. Irish. No ice. No water. Danke. 

When it came, I raised my glass to the gentlemen, thanked them in German and offered a pleasantry or two. This was greeted with looks of disappointment. Huh? Surely my German wasn’t that bad – it wasn’t like I was saying anything overly complicated. What was their problem?

As it turned out, their problem was that they didn’t have a word of German between them. They were Croatian builders who’d been in Germany for around ten days. Two out of three spoke passable English though, so in the end, we managed to have what was probably the most uproarious night that particular bar had ever seen.

It used to be so peaceful…

With my flat kitted out, my internet provider coming on Wednesday and my new bar of choice selected, there is really only one thing left to do. Yup, it’s back to the dreaded Bürgeramt to re-re-re-re-re-register my address. I guess if they try to make me wait for hours on end again, I can just start screaming, “Nobody puts O’Grady in a corner!” and see where that gets me.

The Eagle has Landed

I’m finally in my new place. The good news is that it only took two days, six train journeys, six bus journeys, a lot of sweat, some bumps, scrapes and bruises, far too much riding in lifts with screeching brats, and more swearing than Berlin has probably ever heard before. Still, maybe there’s something character building about knowing you can do this kind of stuff by yourself when you have to. I’ll let you know when that feeling kicks in…

Although I’m now living in what most Berliners would probably consider “the sticks”, I couldn’t be happier. This morning, instead of being woken up by blaring Turkish car radios, manic beeping, and sirens every seven minutes, I woke up to the sound of birdsong and distant church bells – something my good Irish Catholic soul finds very soothing. Ahem.

From this:

To this:

For the first time since I moved to Berlin, I have unpacked everything I own. In fact, there’s so much storage space here, I might need to buy new stuff to fill it all. The joy, the utter joy, of not having to move other people’s stuff to the side, or squeeze my things into the gaps that they left behind. I have drawers, cupboards, wardrobes and they’re mine, all mine! The place is spotless and fully equipped, even coming with a 104″ flat screen TV…

Welcome to the future.
Welcome to the future.

Of course, even when a flat comes fully furnished, there are always some bits and pieces that you need, in my case, clothes hangers and decent-sized mugs. So, after hefting the second load of stuff up the stairs and into the flat, I took a stroll to the DM (a bit like Boots) on the corner.

Where the hell were the clothes hangers? I did three laps of the shop and still couldn’t find them. Thankfully, there was a woman stacking shelves so I approached her.

Me: (in German) Excuse me, do you sell… (Shit. Due to the excitement of the day, I’d neglected to figure out what I’d say if I couldn’t find something. What on earth were clothes hangers in German? Deciding that ‘hangen’ was probably a verb, I finished with…) the things for clothes hanging? (Brilliant, I know.) 

Hadwigis: What? 

Me: You know, the things for the clothes hanging! 

Hadwigis: (looking like she wished she had an emergency security button underneath the shelf) What? 

Me: (lots of enthusiastic miming of clothes hanger shapes and hanging things up)

Hadwigis, finally twigging what I was after, or just desperate to get rid of me, pointed to the other end of the shop, said something in rapid German and went back to her shelf stacking.

I walked in the direction she’d pointed in, did another couple of laps but still failed to find anything remotely resembling clothes hangers. Embarrassed that Hadwigis would see my hangerless basket, I shiftily checked each aisle to make sure she wasn’t there and skulked to the till. Once outside, I Google Translated “clothes hangers”. “Kleiderbügel” – what a fabulous word, and one that I will not easily forget.

Kleiderbügel! Say it with me!
Kleiderbügel! Say it with me!

I wandered down the street and came to a stop outside a blast from the past – Woolworths. Pretty sure they’d have everything I needed, in I went. Naturally, the clothes hangers were again elusive, but armed with the correct word this time, I marched up to another shelf-stacker and confidently asked her where they were. My pronunciation might have been a bit Irish because she gave me a huge grin while directing me to the lower floor. I hadn’t even realised there was a lower floor but, oh my god, it was home-start heaven down there.

I finally struggled to the till with two mugs, 20 clothes hangers, a chopping board, a duvet and pillow cover set, a sheet, a dishtowel, a small bin and a scented candle. I nearly fell over when she told me the total – just over €16. As this makes Woolworths my new favourite shop, Hadwigis can breathe a sigh of relief as I’ll never have to darken her door again.

I now have everything I need, but the only thing I was slightly concerned about before moving here was the internet situation. The company I had contacted said that it would take three weeks to set up a connection. (Um, why?) But, lo and behold, thanks to a T-Mobile hotspot that I can pay for for 30 days, here I am. I’m hoping that by the time the 30 days are up, the other company will have got their act together. I mean, Jesus, I need the internet for Scrabble Facebook work. How hard can it be, Germany, huh?

So, before I go and enjoy a glass of wine in blissful solitude on my balcony, I can tell you that I’ve also made a major leap in becoming a real German…

Yes, it's my very own poo shelf
Yes, it’s my very own poo shelf

You’re free to laugh now.

No IKEA what’s going on

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

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

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

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How thoughtful!

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

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

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

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

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

Me: And where’s that?

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

Me: (sigh)

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

AN ASSISTANT WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY.

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

GRRR.

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

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

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

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

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