Welcome to number 10

I promise, very few blog pictures will be as dull as this one.

Every story needs a setting. You, the reader (and I’m going to assume there’s only one of you out there), need to be able to imagine the place where the plot plays out, where your tortured writer sits hunched over her great work with a glass of absinthe and definitely not a Tunnocks marshmallow teacake but something much more bohemian. I thought I would use this first reunion post to set the scene and give you the ‘Monica’s apartment’ locale for the next few months’ worth of storyline.

I am a student at a college in Oxford – it’s a secret which one, because I want to stay anonymous to protect me from stalkers overwhelmed by my staggering beauty (ok, ok, I look like a beardless BeeGee) – and this photo above is the view from my window. I like to think of it less as a view and more as a sort of squirrelarium, as there are so many squirrels scampering up and down those trees all day it’s like one of those time-lapse videos of train platforms they sometimes show in the news for no reason. As you can see, even though it’s spring the tree on the left, my favourite of the two, has sprouted its leaves and they have already started to turn brown and die off. It takes a lot of effort not to interpret that as a metaphor for something bleak. What’s that fancy-looking balustrade in front, I hear you ask? That is my balcony. I cannot actually use it, of course, for the minute the room was awarded to me the college blocked up the windows to prevent people going onto the balcony for a relaxing chilled glass of Riesling and then spontaneously plummeting one storey to their death. The person who was here before me could use it, though, so it is now just a large and inaccessible collection of oddities (some might use the term ‘garbage’). Five thousand cigarette butts, one bud from some headphones, an old flowerpot, and a large metal coffee-bean scoop. What I want to know is whether all those items were used separately or were all used together in some kind of incredible party.
  

 

  This is the nest area, featuring the remnants of this morning’s revision and a zodiac pillow. The enormous hanging cloth is a giant batik sheet I got at a Berlin flea market from a lady who was determined to give me the hard sell for fifteen minutes despite the fact that I really wanted it and it was three euros and I already had the money there in my hand: “Drei!! Nur drei euros! Es ist doch echte Baumwolle! Nur drei! Drei nur! Baumwolle!” I have hung the sheet up against my wall as chic d├ęcor and a memento of better days but mostly to hide the huge and disconcertingly greasy stains smeared all over that wall which is already a shade I like to call ‘Infectious Dried Pus’. And yes, the elephants look like they’re ascending to heaven in some kind of Sri Lankan version of the Rapture but that’s the only way around that it will fit. One final point to be made is that it isn’t attached to the ceiling very well and so there have been nights where I will be watching a film or sleeping and then unexpectedly be draped in a huge blue tent which then takes an age to put back up and involves balancing a computer chair on a broken mattress.

 There isn’t much space in here, and the room is a divided poky compartment of what used to be one large and opulent room so everything is on a sort of slant. My bookshelf is diagonal and also leans forward at an alarming angle, and my ‘wardrobe’ might better be termed a ‘storage coffin’. It holds two dresses and a box of cereal. As you can see, the carpet is a colour which I think Dulux simply calls ‘Malaise’, and the curtains are long swags of gold velvet. There is a sink, a desk, and a mirror propped in front of the mirror because the original mirror is too high for me to actually see into. I am short.

The earring box is actually a drawer for old newspaper printing press dies from Fleet Street. It is the best thing in my entire room.

This is where I spend most of my days, and all of my nights. It is not just a bedroom but a study, coffee-shop, dining room, toast emporium and Grandma’s attic. The neighbour above seems to spend his days throwing mallets, the neighbour next door is brilliant and I’m sure more annoyed by me than I am by her, and breakfast is served between 7.30-9am following your complimentary wake-up call of the street sweeper bellowing past the window at 6am. Shoes optional, tea compulsory. This has been my life this year, and soon it won’t be any longer. Welcome to number 10.

Guten Nachmittag Blogwelt!

Hi everyone!

I am a student studying German and English Literature, and as a direct result of this perhaps unwise life choice I have ended up moving to Berlin for almost a year to ‘practise my German’ and more importantly immerse myself once and for all in this mad, tiring, hilarious, weird and endlessly changing place. I have now been here for a month (almost to the day) and already so far I have accumulated far too many stories and musings for me to torture my friends with over the occasional Skype conversation. ‘Oho,’ thought I, ‘this is the perfect time to start that blog you’ve always told people you’ve wanted to start just to sound interesting at dinner parties.’ And yes, I am afraid that is how I write. You will get used to it.

So here I am, in what many people call the coolest city in Europe. Certainly it is cool; I spend every day yomping from district to district and each one has something totally unique, which makes me think that perhaps the reason why Berlin is such an awesome city is fundamentally because it’s more like twenty-five fascinating little towns sellotaped together at the edges with some excellently quick railways. What am I doing here, you may ask? Let me give you the full story.
 

A few months ago, I began to work on ideas for what I was going to do for this year abroad. Was I going to study abroad? No, that would be like carrying all the stress and endless essays of my current university life into a different setting. Would I work? No, why would I use a year in a different country to sit behind a desk every day? I decided to go for the British Council assistantship scheme. It’s a cushy setup: you work as a language assistant in two schools in the host country, teaching for a piffling thirteen hours a week for a staggering 800 euros a month wage and a few thousand quid thrown at you by the British Council in case you accidentally spent all your ludicrous salary on gold-plated smoked salmon. Perfect.

I wrote my application, mentioning about two, three, maybe twelve times that Berlin was the ultimate city of my dreams. But I would settle for Dresden or Leipzig. I waited for a response. Eventually, it came: Bautzen. Bautzen is a small place in Saxony which is famous for prisons, concentration camps, the Sorbians, and mustard. Twinned with Dreux, a French town in which a friend of mine spent a painful and heart-achingly boring year of his life on the same assistantship scheme. Needless to say, I wasn’t keen and I pulled out. Having sent my CV to every single place in Berlin, it eventually found its way to a language school which specialises in teaching English to little children, from the age of 1 year old and up. Two high-pressure Skype interviews later, here I am, teaching the colours of the rainbow to people so small they can barely (and often are unable to) control their own bodily fluids. I sing, I dance, I perform small skits featuring a dolphin hand-puppet called Sushi, I play games, I blow bubbles…dignity and job-satisfaction in this position are low, but lord knows it’s not boring. Thus a lot of this blog is going to be focused on teaching, kids and language learning and general.

At the moment I am also searching for a new place to live, as my current flat is so far away from where I work that I am able to crochet entire garments during the hours I spend on the trains. Searching for a WG-Zimmer (a room in a Wohngemeinschaft, a flat-share) is a high-stress and high-octane process involving visiting the residences of complete strangers multiple times per day (thus completely violating everything your mum ever told you not to do) and hoping that one group of them find you nice enough to want to live with you. At the moment, of course, everyone wants to live in Berlin, and it’s practically impossible to find a place to live; a friend has just accepted a room that is just SIX square metres in size and has Winnie the Pooh printed on the carpet. Birds are given more space in the crappiest zoos. Hence a lot of what you read here will also be about finding a Zuhause (home) in Berlin and living there once that’s accomplished. 

You will also read about the German language, about Berlin as a city, about German and Berlin culture (they are certainly different enough to separate), about my own private projects, which I will elaborate on in later posts, about everything I am reading, watching, listening to…I hope it will be interesting and that you will enjoy reading it. Ultimately, I hope you come to Berlin one day yourself. There’s nowhere like it.