Saturday, March 19, 2011

Berlin, I love you, but you're getting me down.

Dear Berlin, 

I love you because you are poor, but sexy (arm, aber sexy). Yes, you are a very affordable place to live. Where else can I buy 500ml Paulaner beer for 70 cents a bottle? Where else can I buy a kebab for EU2,90? Where else can I get away with paying 1/6th of the rent I was paying in Melbourne (yes, it's THAT cheap)? Where else do the homeless stalk you at train stations for your empty bottles so they can return them and receive 8 cents back?

Our nearest U bahn station - a place to buy tickets and leave empty beer bottles for the homeless.

Until a month ago, I would have added 'where else can you ride the subway for free and never be fined?' to that list, but it seems that the Berlin transport authority have decided to crack down on schwarzfahren (fare evading, or literally, driving/riding black). Schwarzfahren used to be a SPORT in Berlin; our housemate believes he has a sixth sense for undercover ticket inspectors, which he has tried to pass on to us. He takes his schwarzfahren very seriously. Thus, he is disappointed when his padawans return home with fines in hands, telling us we should have seen the signs (badly dressed – jeans and runners, usually male, approximately 40, generally no bag, but sometimes a satchel, a puffy jacket to hide the ticket machine on their belt). Having officially been fined twice, with one near-miss, I now buy tickets religiously. Although the fine's no big deal – EU40, ticket prices are outrageous, and eat up my dwindling funds like a carb-crazed Atkins junky.

Berlin, I love that you stay awake all weekend. From Thursday until the early hours of Monday morning, 'vibe' can be found in most places. And unlike Melbourne, where memorable nights happen every couple of months, you can have those sorts of nights in multiples every weekend. In that sense, Berlin is like a fantastic sexual partner. Plus, it's only EU12 to get in to even the hottest clubs, and beers still only cost about EU2,50. The music is fresh (if you like techno – almost a prerequisite if you live in Berlin, even if it is only Paul Kalkbrenner or Ellen Allien) and the crowd is mostly unpretentious; everyone is there for the same reason – to enjoy the music.

Party thrown in abandoned supermarket

However, hangovers and generally feeling like shite is no good. Boo.

Berlin, I know I mentioned food earlier in the 'arm aber sexy' bit, but it warrants a second shout. Your food is CHEAP. I have had some of the most amazing kebabs in the past four months, and just quietly, I am cheating on Mr von Studel with Mustafa of Gemüse Kebap fame. Can I mention the price? I'm talking protein, carbohydrate and vegetables for under EU3. If you pay more, you're eating a durum, or simply in the wrong place. Berlin, you had me hooked with my first bite of currywurst. Protein, delicious, carb-friendly protein. And, if I want to get all sit-down-to-eat, then yes, even that is affordable. Except for Mexican, which is expensive regardless of location. Yes, we feast on Tibetan momo regularly, Vietnamese pho, steamed pork buns and chicken vindaloo – this all sets us back about EU7 – including a drink.

Purportedly Berlin's best currywurst, and around the corner from my house!

Of course, I didn't say that the vindaloo was any good. It seems that while Berlin can sure put out in terms of variety, we are yet to find a really good curry. Expats who've lived here for years are still in search of the illustrious decent curry. It seems that Indian restaurants here tend to cater to the German palate, which is a little on the bland side. Spice? No way! After all, this is the country that thrives on sausage, potato, deli meats, cheese and the most gloriously heavy, seeded bread I've ever tasted. But my gosh, they can't do a good curry!

Berlin, I love you for giving me the opportunity to use my years' worth of German tuition. Money well spent. It makes me feel not quite so lost in a country that could be potentially daunting, except for one thing...

That's right, everyone here speaks bloody perfect ENGLISH! If I falter for a second, mishear you, pronounce something a little dodgily, SNAP, straight into English. And of course, every one's English is better than my German which makes it very easy to give in and switch to the mother tongue.

Berlin, I love that you have four very distinct seasons, although thus far I've only really seen a tiny bit of autumn, all of winter, and spring is just around the corner. But my goodness, I can feel it coming. Everyone can feel it coming. After the joy of snow was called off early, (thank you global warming, or climate change, whichever you believe in) days with a top of -5 got boring really quickly. Going outside was an epic effort. Layer upon layer of clothing. Tights with leggings over the top, two pairs of socks, a singlet, a long sleeved top, a cardigan and a blazer, and then a heavy woolen coat, scarf pulled up over the nose and hat pulled down to the eyebrows and industrial-strength mittens from Nepal. I am grateful that the sun is setting later and rising earlier. Sunshine, warmth, crocuses, freesias and daffodils all pushing their way through the moist earth and smiling with their cheery colours. I have learnt to appreciate the changing of the seasons.

Cold winter sun is better than no sun at all. Almost forgot I had a shadow.

Although of course, that doesn't change the fact that winter is a bitch.

Berlin, I love that you have given me the time to breathe deeply, away from the daily grind of 9-5 (or 8-6 rather) and that I've had the opportunity to think about what I'd really like to do with my life. I love that you are full of 'free spirits' and more creative types than a Steiner school. I love that you are full of inspiring, recent history, fascinating stories and quirks. I love that people can work here part-time and still afford to live, in order to pursue their more creative, less lucrative passions.

Only thing is that jobs are ridiculously hard to come by (i.e. I'm still looking), and there are only so many poems I can write about Kreuzberg.

So Berlin, while I love you, you are getting me down. I've shown you the areas you can improve on. Now get to it.

All my love,

Fifi xox

1 comment:

  1. It's funny, I have not been to Berlin but when I went to Frankfurt last year and went to buy my Fahrkarte at the train station, I spoke German to the ticket seller and obviously my accent is crap (!) but he said (in German) how relieved he was that someone was speaking German and not English :P In Hamburg not a lot of people spoke English either, I found - I loved any opportunity to use the language though, regardless of my inevitable stuff ups. I suppose it depends where you go!

    It's funny, I could have written a similar post about London about six months after I moved here - I wasn't in the best place emotionally and the differences in the way things are done here compared to Australia really confused me and got me down. Everything seemed so easy back home! But I think that's normal when you move to a foreign country - the initial high and excitement of moving there wears off when you have to knuckle down to "real life"! It will get better, I promise.

    And yes, spring. It's the most joyous season here in the northern hemisphere. I never appreciated it in Australia - now it is my favourite season. Everything comes alive again and you are so grateful for the sun and the warmth, so much promise in the air!!

    Hope Berlin continues to delight you, and improves where you'd like it to :) xx


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