I went to Ikea.

Ominous. This cannot end well.

You might have noticed a certain anticipatory silence settle over GMBerlin in the last few days. I haven’t had the time or mind-space to write anything. This is because I have been preparing to move, for the first time, into a Flat Of My Very Own. No Zwischenmiete, no WG, no flatmates, no nothing – and no furniture. With a 9-6 job (in which leaving the office at 6pm is an occurance about as rare as seeing a phoenix fly past the window) there hasn’t been much time to get things ready before D-Day and yesterday, the day of reckoning, crept up harrowingly quickly. There was no other option but to move house AND get all my furniture in the space of one day. I woke up early, spent four solid hours scraping the old flat into a clean and presentable state, picked up the new keys and then – cue clap of thunder and possibly one of these – I got on the tram to IKEA.

(And may I just briefly take this opportunity to say: Germany, open your shops on Sundays you ARSE!)

In the UK, IKEA is rare and deposited in remote places that are never quite near enough to where you live to make it convenient to go there. For this reason, Britons fight their way over there maybe once or twice a year, like spawning salmon. In that one trip they plan to buy everything they could possibly need for every upcoming renovation, season and blind whim. They bring the entire family including as many small grizzly children as they possibly can, ideally all infected with a cold. They strap furniture to their car roofs and their car boots and the members of the family and haul it all back home, ablaze with family arguments and queasy from ultra-cheap meatballs.

Berlin alone, however, has three IKEAs. Three! They are living in a land of Swedish cheap-furniture bounty, which is possibly why every flat and office in this fair city tends to look like a plagiaristic riff on the central idea of lots of BILLY shelves, some shiny squat coffee tables and a bunch of curvy plastic chairs that look like they’ve come from a spaceship cafeteria. And while I would much rather furnish my palace with lots of charming carefully-selected second hand pieces, the prospect of only paying 90 smackers for a bed and then having some large bearded men haul it up four flights of stairs for me is too tempting to resist. But I should have known better. I should have known better than to go on a Saturday.

Despite the fact that Berlin’s IKEA cup overfloweth, that in no way means it is any less crammed or that the people are any less rabid. When I arrived I made a beeline for the transport desk to see if I could book a delivery spot in advance and had to go past the ‘hotdog station’, where a hotdog costs a euro and there are lovely little metal stands filled with pickles and onions and colourful goop for people to decorate this gourmet treat. This Saturday the hotdog station was like a hotdog frenzy, with people crowding round the bins of mustard as if it were a life-giving liquor. There were people hovering by the drinks dispensers necking cup after cup of dilute coke, determined to fill every cavity in their body with free refills before heading home. It did not bode well for what was to come.

When I arrived at the transport desk, some delightful German youths with uncouth hairstyles informed me, about as bluntly as if they’d hit me in the face with a hammer, that they could only give me same-day delivery if I got my delivery ready and made it to the counter by 4 o’clock. “But it’s 3.15 now! You mean I have to get everything and pay and get back here in 45 minutes?!” I cried. “You’d better hurry,” the rudest member of the team replied, and punched me for good measure.

Hyperventilating, I ran up the stairs into the main bit of the store which has been designed for deathly-slow meandering and not for the kind of Olympic power-jogging I was doing. I ran to the wardrobe I wanted and wrote down the numbers I needed and then whisked over to the mattresses to test each of them for a millisecond at a time – I must have looked like one of those fainting goats – before selecting the one I wanted and realising that the ticket said ‘Ask a member of staff for advice’. The member of staff wasn’t sure, it might be in stock but the computer said no, she would have to ring down to the warehouse, chat to the guy on the phone about his kids for a bit, hmm, maybe, oh yes, good, yes it was in stock and here’s the order slip for you. I whipped it violently out of her hand and ran over to the beds department to go through the whole lazy fandango with another member of staff about my bed, checking my order meticulously with this one because her hairstyle suggested to me that she didn’t know what she was doing in life. 

I flew through the shelving and cookware, barged (carefully) through the vases, picked up a duvet and cover and managed to get to the furniture warehouse with fifteen minutes to go. Everything was there and in its place; brilliant. And here was the wardrobe I wanted, which comes in three separate flat-packs, don’t forget all three! And if you can, try to make sure you’re in a committed relationship before you choose this wardrobe, because lifting these ENORMOUS packs of MDF requires at least a strong and dedicated life partner to take the other end, calmly absorbing your irate ranting about the hellfest that is IKEA all the while. IKEA is neither designed for, nor visited by, single people. I think I was the only person there who was on my own, and certainly one of the very few people there who wasn’t part of a small clan including several small gyrating infants trying their hardest to get under the wheels of your very heavy furniture trolley. I had to beg a nearby exasperated dad for help, and eventually everything was on board and paid for and my mattress and bed emerged from the depot in a shining moment of angelic chorus. 

I arrived at the delivery counter on the dot of 4, and the surly youth from before informed me that I would now have to wait at home until 10pm at the latest, during which window the delivery men could arrive at any time, but would try to wait until a moment when you are on the loo or in the bath if possible. I whimpered – it was supposed to be my birthday night out – and asked if I could be given any notice of when they would arrive. “No. They will call you five to ten minutes before the delivery.” “So I have to wait in my place doing nothing for the next six hours?” “Yes. That’ll be fifty euros.”

Wrestling my two loaded trolleys over to the pick-up bay, one friendly IKEA girl came and asked if I needed help. I cracked, and in my most indignant English tone I told her that the people at the deliveries were rude and unhelpful and I simply wanted to make that fact known. Also, it was (almost) my birthday and they could all go to hell. She gave me coupons for a free hotdog and coke.

Finally, two hours later, I got a call from a large bearded man. They were there with the van and greeted me with enormous grins and the thickest Berlin accents I have ever heard. The largest and beardiest man picked up the duvet and duvet cover and said to me: “Right. I’ll take this, you take those three wardrobe packs, alright?” Suddenly everything was good in the world; the delivery men were hilarious and clearly deserved a drivetime radio slot, and as we carried everything up the stairs together the whole thing turned into a competition of strength, with the blokes daring me to try to lift the most giantest packages and me showing them my unnaturally large biceps. At the top, the skinny guy gave me his personal phone number and said he’d be happy to come by and put it all together for a casual handful of euros. His burly mate told me that he would also cook and clean for me, although he didn’t come with a receipt so there was no right to a refund. The skinny guy then asked me if I by any chance had a fridge with a glass door that I needed to get rid of, which by a preposterous coincidence I do, and so I gave him my number and we parted with a shake of hands and a high five. 

I never collected my free hot-dog.

Rose T