Berlin has changed me in two specific ways which I very much hope are temporary symptoms of the city and the job rather than permanent dents in the chassis of my prior self. Number one: working with infants all day has smushed any broodiness or maternal instinct I might have ever felt into a fine gooey pulp, and Number two: I am no longer, at least for the foreseeable future, a Dog Person. 

There was a time when any dog would reduce me to a simpering moron, squeeing at its cuteness or wufflyness or the particular quality of its fur (I was particularly partial to fluffy, silky or shaggy). Cats were fine, and my own two cats are of course my treasures and my darlings, but nonetheless it was always the word ‘puppy’ which came at the very end of my Christmas and birthday wish lists. It broke my heart that we were not allowed to get a dog in my childhood home due to the lease, and my life’s ambition was to have a big cheerful dumb mongrel loping around the huge yet rustic mansion I would buy with my future abundant riches. Then I came to Berlin.This city is full of dogs. Everyone has a dog, from the dreadlocked punks who swagger wide-trousered down the street with giant Alsatians wearing neckerchiefs to the tacky overweight women in white jeans whose mobile phone charms turn out to be minuscule trophy dogs leering out of their owners’ handbags. They are everywhere and in everything; they are littered all around the U- and S-Bahns, where they either lie on the floor in everyone’s way, stand in the centre of the aisle in everyone’s way, or perch shivering weakly on their owners’ laps as if suffering simultaneously from intense illness, fear and worry about the economy. The streets are coated with piles of dog excrement, and if someone does feel inclined to bag it out of a sense of public decency they quite often nonetheless leave the little bag in the same place on the pavement as if it is somehow alright for it to be there as long as it is gift-wrapped. About a week ago I watched with tragic awe as a blind man accidentally jabbed his stick directly into the leg of a colossal guard-dog-style hound waiting outside a pub who immediately became apocalyptically furious and chased the poor blind man around the pavement barking like a fiend.

Dogs are everywhere and they are disgusting. Pugs are foul little beasts whose leaking and folded faces look deeply unhealthy and chihuahuas are so bug-eyed and quivery that you wonder if they are all terrified of some impending catastrophe that we humans do not yet know about. Everywhere I turn my head there is a dog squatting unceremoniously on the paving ready to add to the city’s fertiliser supply; you would at least hope that with the sheer quantity they produce we would by now at least be seeing some palpable plant growth but unfortunately everything remains a uniform shade of brown to match. 

Of course, it is not the dogs themselves that make me so w├╝tend but rather the owners themselves. For a start, in a city where the population of dogs is second only to the population of small children I find it rather unpleasant to think that these poor little kids are surrounded by the foulness of these public sewers, that if a toddler should pick something up off the pavement out of curiosity they will require a tetanus jab and a year of therapy as a result. But attention, dog owners: we all hate it, the children and the adults and the old people and the birds and the rats and the woodlice, we hate the turds scattered around our neighbourhoods like old confetti the day after a wedding. Demetri Martin says in his excellent ‘These are Jokes’ that ‘owning a dog in city is like saying “My need for companionship outweighs my distaste for picking up sh*t.”‘ Leaving it on the ground is not the loophole to this argument. Secondly, keeping a huge dog in the city is cruel because when it’s not outside threatening to murder disabled people it is cooped up in a tiny flat somewhere, most probably looking desolately out of the window and imagining huge expanses of green lush fields where its ears can billow in the breeze and it can defecate on springy mounds of moss. Keeping a small dog in the city is not not cruel because these dogs are unfair victims of people who think that pets are simply tamagotchis which breathe oxygen. The dog is given no stimulation, no chance to ever act or feel like a real animal, and shockingly little affection given their mollycoddled existence; they are indifferently manhandled in and out of handbags and tiny quilted coats, pressed into a lying position or erected like a tripod into a standing position on their owners’ laps, their owners even turning their heads towards or away from that which they decide is appropriate. They are animals which are not even allowed to choose how and when they move. 

And you can bet your savings on the fact that if you are in a situation where it would be best for no dogs to be present, there will be at least one there to make things difficult. Oh, you need to take a huge cream-covered birthday cake right across the city on the S-Bahn? Quick, get someone on there with a large black retriever so it can spend the entire half-hour journey endeavouring to worm its snout into the cake-box and take a huge destructive lick! Trying to avoid some very suspicious characters loitering on the street at 3am when you are walking home? You’ll have a blast wading through their swarm of mutts whilst trying to ignore the men’s leery mocking grunts! 

The city-wide tolerance of this Antisocial Animal Usage is astounding and the absence of dog poop bins more so. The one thing that keeps me hoping that once I leave the city I will fall back in love with this adorable species is the occasional good-as-gold and dewy-eyed puppy which you see once in a while and which is so cute it makes your intestines clench. That, and the fact that the only thing worse than having a dog in the city is having a cat in the city. They cannot leave the flat because they would either die or go missing in about four seconds, so they remain in the flat going gradually psychotic with claustrophobia. The cats in my previous flat were so mentally frayed from their captivity that they would stand on my radiator bawling out of the window for hours, and when Oscar once managed to escape we had to get to action like an emergency response team before anything happened to him. The result of this was that my flatmate went out looking for him, found him and in trying to rescue him from Outside had his forearms mauled to bleeding pegs. My other flatmate who owned the flat was furious (at me, for almost losing the cat) and the the other cat was quiet, presumably because she just wanted to sit at Oscar’s feet once we were gone and ask him all the questions she has always had about the big wide world out there.

People of Berlin: get some domestic mice. They are sweet, quiet, low-maintenance and cheap. And they only need a square half-metre to be happy.

p.s. The title of this post, for non-German-speaking readers, is a pun on the German word ‘Wahnsinn’ meaning insanity.

Rose T