Honey, I’m…home?

No, it’s not tidy. Feast your eyes on real, gritty Berlin life.

At least, I bloody hope this mean I’m home. Over the last few months I have been in seven different domiciles, both in the UK and in Germany – let’s break it down:

1. My UK home. Where I grew up and spent the largest part of my conscious existence. A beautiful old huge house with cavernous, airy, freezing-cold rooms and an ever-changing variety of problems to be repaired at great expense. 
2. The hostel in which I stayed when I started my time here. I haven’t really had much of a chance to write about this, since at the time I was busy trying not to end up living in a bin behind a supermarket somewhere in the city. I spent about two and a half weeks in this hostel, frantically looking at flats and attending training for my job whilst spending any free time I had learning my repertoire of songs for the ‘assessed performance’ part of the training period. Staying for a long time in a youth hostel is a completely incomparable experience. You become almost like the jaded old janitor of a night club, lurking around the building watching fresh-faced young things skip joyfully in and out with the ephemeral briefness of mayflies, while you sit in the quieter spots and bitterly glare at them or occasionally take a nap with a newspaper laid over your face. I stayed so long I knew all the names of the staff and learnt every foible of the building and its running, meaning that other guests assumed I was also staff and regularly asked me to help them with their queries and problems. Other guests came, stayed a couple of drunken and thrilled nights, and then moved on to the next exciting European city. I had my own breakfast cereal and milk which I kept on the windowsill and the reception people knew to give me a bowl when I came down in the morning.

3. My colleague’s flat. Ok, so I only stayed five days here, but five days rolled into a ball sleeping on the armchair in my colleague’s bedroom was enough.
4. The flat in Charlottenburg. See previous posts.
5. The flat on Schönhauser Allee, which I have also already mentioned, I believe.
6. My new house in the UK. 
7. My new flat in Berlin, which is comfortable and friendly and small and very ‘me’.

But most importantly, the new flat is the one. That means I’m now here for good. Hubris aside, this has been the most eye-opening experience, as nothing shows you how severely a person needs an anchor until they have it uprooted. There is a beautiful part of Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ where he writes about human beings being connected to their home by invisible tendrils which flail around in hyperspace once that person’s home is unexpectedly taken away. Adams was completely right; when you don’t have a lasting place to anchor your sense of ‘being’ to you simply drift about like a limpet squelching from rock to rock, and this life makes you feel vulnerable and unsafe, as if any moment a seagull will come and suck you out of your shell and some child will come and take it and put it on their thumb and pretend that it’s a miniature Chinese hat. So Gott sei Dank, finally there is a corner of Berlin with my name on it for good. (thunder rolls ominously in the distance)

As for the rest of what’s going on in this semi-molten glob of a city: the ice thawed and then immediately refroze into a completely invisible, transparent layer of death which caused everyone in the entire city to struggle from place to place scooting about, slipping and essentially suffering frequent comedy moments; one man yesterday was walking his little Jack Russell dog who was skittering about on the ice like a cartoon character trying to skedaddle, and so eventually the man took pity and picked his dog up. He went on with the dog in his arms, at which point he instantly fell over himself, before getting up and heading off whilst intensely conversing with the dog. Now everything has started to thaw once again in preparation for Monday morning when people have to go to work and it can once again become a teflon pavement varnish. Berlin’s small children, meanwhile, are starting to get bored and cross with the paltry selection of words and songs they are permitted to learn and are getting naughty in ever more inventive ways, running away and hiding somewhere in the school or playing London Bridge with the added rule that you have to headbutt everyone when you’re not busy being headbutted yourself. One particularly delightful boy spent the entire lesson with his hands in his knickers groping his own genitals  – oh, except for the points at which he decided to hold my hand.  At this point it is important to focus on the little things that make everything worth living through, and therefore I would like to finish this post by thanking all the children in my Thursday class for still confusing the words ‘rooster’ and ‘rock star’, and for bursting into an air guitar solo every time they do so.

Besichtigainandagainandagainandagain…


















Yes, so I may have mentioned this briefly at length in my last post, but it is hard to find a place to live in Berlin. Let me give you an idea of the process:
1) Wake up. Immediately put kettle on.
2) Whilst the kettle is boiling for the strengthening cup of what the Germans think Earl Grey tastes like, immediately turn on laptop and open the internet.
3) Go to WG-Gesucht.de and spend the following hour and a half writing approximately twenty application emails to various room offerers, drinking your body weight in tea in an attempt to forget the fact that out of these twenty applications you will probably get one reply on a good day.
4) Shower, dress, plaster concealer over livid purple under-eye circles (a condition which I like to call ‘Laptop Eye’).
5) Leave the house for the first of many room viewings that day. Spend day traipsing around the boroughs of Berlin like an ambitious vagrant.
6) Return at the end of the day. Eat. Sleep.
7) Repeat steps 1-6. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And repea… 

The success rate relative to the effort and time put into the WG search is astonishingly small. I like to think of each application as a baby seahorse: six hundred baby embryos find their way into their dad’s stomach pouch and are later squirted into the ocean waters, but in the end only three survive, the rest having been unceremoniously eaten (i.e. rejected) or simply having died of sheer patheticness (no response at all). Of the final three, two die for the sake of pathos, and the one left has a preposterous deformity which doesn’t even result in a heartwarming adventure starring the daddy seahorse and an irritating but lovable fat blue fish.
Once you have sent your applications you move onto the Besichtigungen (viewings), where you go and visit the place and try your best to make a good impression/conceal your disgust at the sheer vileness of the place you’re supposedly applying to live in. Today I was in three separate flats: the first was beautiful but the furniture was to be removed on my moving in, and for some reason the other tenants make the new tenant have a fully separate contract which means I need a letter written by my parents in German (they don’t speak a word) assuring the landlord that if I drastically break something they will pay for its repair. The second was pleasant, but I would have to buy the furniture in the room off of the current resident. The third…well, the interview was conducted with one of the flatmates lying wrapped in a blanket and the other with his eyes glued to the TV. Although I did impress the blanket man with my knowledge of robotics.
Nonetheless, it gives you a chance to really see Berlin, and not just the overdone touristy bits. It also gave me an excuse to have lunch in one of my favourite places here, the Blumencafe. The Blumencafe is filled from floor to ceiling with plants, the walls bristle with bromeliads and in the cafe itself luscious and glistening cakes stare at you through fruits and shiny green leaves. Two parrots (one pictured) mumble about and occasionally fight in the shop area. The soup is hold-on-to-your-lugnuts good and the bill always comes with a real flower on top. 
One more week to find a new place before I have to leave Charlottenburg.

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.