An American in Berlin
13 May, 2015
The last few days have been somewhat less adventuresome, at least in terms of exploring the city. The weather has been somewhat less favorable, and I have been perhaps a bit lazier.1 That’s not so say, however, that the last few days have been uneventful. They have been, in fact, quite fun. Not fun in the New York sense, mind you. That is to say, I haven’t been out at bars till closing and then eating noodles to sunrise. But fun, all the same.
Saturday night, we had a bit of a dinner party here. Funny thing though, I didn’t know it was going to be a dinner party. Originally, I was going to say: “Nobody told me it was going to be a dinner party.” That’s possible. It’s also possible that they told me and I didn’t understand. Anyway, Mischa, my roommate, cooked up a bunch of food. And as I was sitting in the kitchen, I noticed there were four place settings. I noticed, but I didn’t ask.
Anyway, at one point the doorbell rings and in walks a very nice and well dressed blonde girl.2 Now I mention well dressed only to point out the contrast. As I was unaware that there would be company, I rolled up to the table in a ripped Cheap Trick T-shirt and with my hair a complete mess.3 Whereas homegirl was wearing a lovely black dress which was not unflattering with regard to her natural assets. Fortunately, where American Dave would have made some self-defeating-albeit-humorous remark, Berliner Dave can’t think fast enough in German. Immediate embarrassment averted.
In any case, it was a lovely evening, in terms of food, conversation and company. We all had a lovely time and drank possibly just a touch more than we should have. Or at least I did. I got to know my roommates better. I made the blue-eyed blonde girl laugh. I learned more German. I didn’t embarrass myself. Oh wait, I did a bit.
DON’T MENTION THE WAR!
At one point, we were discussing our ancestry. Anja, my roommate, mentioned that her family originally came from Königsberg. She then explained that Königsberg, though now a part of Russia,4 was once a part of Germany. Whereupon I remarked something along the lines of “Aber alle Europa war am einer Zeit ein Teil von Deutschland.” Which was supposed to mean, “But all of Europe was a part of Germany at one point.”5 Blank stares all around. Dave tugs at his collar. “Krieg Witz?” I offer hesitantly. “War joke?” More blank stares. Silence. Terror. Horror. Now all I can hear is John Cleese screaming, “Don’t mention the war!” I shake my head and wave my hand, since I don’t even know how to say “nevermind.” And we move on.
Now I should point out, these are people are not easily offended. I don’t think they mind war jokes in principal. More likely, my joke made no sense. Or most likely – as I can vouch from 30-odd years of experience – it just wasn’t funny. The joke, I mean. Because the situation, at least in hindsight, was pretty hilarious. However, I made no more war jokes that evening.
In any case, after much wine and perhaps too much absinthe,6 the evening came a to a close. After Blondey left, I sat and chatted with Anja for a bit. And she offered for me to come back for the month of July.7 “We like you,” she said. How fucking nice is that? I’ve only been here since Wednesday. I said that that would be great, but we’d all drank a bunch and let’s talk it over again when we’re sober. Which we did tonight, and there’s been no change. So that’s fantastic. I’ve got July sorted now. All I need to worry about now is June. But that’s for another day.
And what about Blondey? Who knows? Maybe she liked me. Maybe I liked her. Hard to say, with the language barrier. Hopefully I’ll see her again. She’s got great blue eyes, did I mention that? But at the very least, the language barrier was good for one thing. I didn’t “Davey it up,” as one of my friends so eloquently put it.
For Sunday, the day after the dinner party, I had scheduled a conversation exchange. This was to be in a part of town called Charlottenburg. By foot, I’d guessed it to be a solid hour-and-a-half, maybe two. And I’d planned to walk it. But I was in no condition. So I took the train.
A brief aside on the Berlin metro-sitch. There are no express trains and trains don’t run much past midnight.8 But other than these two [glaring] deficiencies, the mass transit system here is actually quite nice. But it’s one of those systems with no turnstiles. If you’re not on an unlimited, be it weekly or monthly, you have to buy and validate your ticket, in case there’s an inspection. My main problem with this is, inspections are so infrequent that you feel stupid for spending money on a ticket. And yet just frequent enough that you really do need to buy and validate. This annoys me. That is, to the extent that anything annoys me here. Which is exceedingly little, given my sate of general-annoyance-for-all-things back home.
But OK, the conversation exchange. Lovely guy. Bastian is his name. And he’s Bavarian, so he has this way of rolling his R’s which is a) really cool and b) hard to understand at first. But his English is great and he’s super patient and helpful with my German. He likes hockey and baseball too. And not just likes, but is actually current on the state of both leagues! So we had a lovely chat in both languages. Now, since his English is so spot-on, there’s really little for me to help him with. Instead, I teach him a bit of slang. For example: “Imma bounce.” And how “I am going to” becomes “Imma.” Or, “Nah-mean?” And how “Do you know what I-” becomes “Nah-.” He got a kick out of that. Anyway, it went well and we agreed to meet again. More importantly, I might have made my first new friend (not counting roommates).
Thus were the two big events of the last few days. The rest is just general contentment. Walking down the street with a beer in hand. Sitting in my Secret Garden, reading Tolkien with my pipe and a beer. Playing music in my room. I even wrote a new song! In my mind, it might be the best I’ve yet done. But even if it’s not “good,” at least it “swings,” which is generally all I care about. But I haven’t written a new song in quite some time. So I’m hoping this is a harbinger of things to come. With virtually all of my stress removed and with more free time than I know what to do with, perhaps the creative juices will flow once more. Time will tell, I suppose.
I suppose there’s not a whole lot else to say. Last night I drank a bunch of wine with Joschka. That’s never not good. And honestly, it’s really nice to have a proper friend here. I hope he doesn’t read that though. But if you do, Joschi, du bist Scheiße. Tonight I had dinner with the roomies. Hamburgers, can you believe it!? Here I must mention that the generosity of my roommates seems boundless.
You see, I had planned to cook for myself tonight. But as I hadn’t really seen them since the dinner party, I figured I’d pop into the kitchen and just chill for a bit. But Mishca immediately offered me some of what he was cooking. Well how could I say no? And while he was cooking, we had a nice chat. Then Anja came home and we all ate together, which was great. After dinner, Mischa offered wine and schnapps.9 Then he went to bed and me and Anja also had a lovely chat. I love these guys.
After Anja went to bed, I read a bit of Herodotos. And this is something I’m trying to get in the habit of. If I’m home and sober [enough], I’m trying to read a bit of Greek every night. So far, so good. And man, Herodotos is great. Of all the Greek I’ve encountered, it’s the most readable. Not to say I’m anywhere near being able to read it on the subway, mind you. But you really can read this stuff. And he’s such a wonderful story teller. OK, he’s a bit of a ‘drunkel.’ He goes off on tangents. He relates the most impossible tales at times. But it’s a good read. And he is the motherfucking Father of History after all. So that’s my chosen text. But I need to find some way, some time, to get Homer in as well. ABRH. Always Be Reading Homer. For so many reasons, not least of which, I feel a grave responsibility to maintain mastery over all I have learned from the Old Man.
Right, so I’d best draw this to a close. The last thing I want to do is be negative, but there are two small things which have been nagging at me. One, my French is going to shit. I should always have some Jules Verne in my pocket. If I do, I think I shall be alright. But I need to find a French bookstore. There’s got to be one somewhere in this town. The other thing, I’m probably smoking too much. It’s too easy in this house. Anytime we sit at the kitchen table, Mischa’s cigarettes and my pipe come out. So I’ve taken to not bringing it with me on my long walks. And I miss my pipes on my long walks. But for now, at least, I need it more at home. It’s a bit of a crutch, I suppose. Something I can hang on to when the German is flying fast and thick and I’m only catching pieces of it.
Ugh. Even as my german improves daily – and I think/hope it does – it is still full of holes. Full of holes the way a fishing net is full of holes. That is to say, it’s mostly holes, with fine bits of string strung between them. But already tonight, I understood more of my roommates speech than I did on Saturday. So that’s progress!
Well, tomorrow is another adventure. I’m to go to a group conversation exchange. People of all levels in both languages. It might be a real shit-show. But hopefully there will be broads, at least. And worst case, afterwards I’ll go to Joschka’s and drink. And so, all will be well. All will be well…
- Well, I’m on vacation. [↩]
- Girl: Four years older than me. [↩]
- Or, how I look most of the time. [↩]
- Kaliningrad. [↩]
- I still have no idea how correct this sentence is/was. [↩]
- Any absinthe is too much absinthe. [↩]
- They’d already booked June. [↩]
- Point: New York. [↩]
- Cherry flavored. Too sweet for me, but obviously I drank it. #manners #sorrynotsorry [↩]