An American in Berlin
3 June, 2015
What the shit just happened, you guys? My last post was, what, three days ago? Four? At that point, I was staying in my kick-ass Airbnb flat, with my super chill hippy roommates and their two cats, for whom I was developing a certain degree of fondness. And now? Shit’s different, yo.1
Ok, so I’m in my new flat. Apartment. Whatever. But it feels so different. In the last place, everything was taken care of, arranged. The room was predecorated and prefurnished. And as much as I got along really great with Anja and Mischa – and I really did – I was always a “guest” in their house.”2 And that came with certain advantages. I didn’t have to buy laundry detergent or toilet paper. But on the flip-side, it was never ‘my’ place, ‘my’ room.
And now, here, it really is. Well, I mean to a point. I’m only here for a month. And I know I’m a stopgap until my roommate’s sister moves in. But still. It’s “my” fucking room here. I get to do with it what I want. And, you guys? This room is the tits. I feel like I now need “doge speak” to express the height of the ceilings. Sure, I could measure them. But it wouldn’t get the point across as well as, “such highest ceilings!”3
But wait, there’s more. My roommate is so cool. Right, OK. It’s only been one night.4 And things can go tits-up in a hurry, of course. But based on the first night – man, did I land in the right spot! So she’s a German teacher. Pretty sure I mentioned that in the last post. But she’s also thoughtful, smart-af, really f’ing nice, and just all around cool.
Last night was our first night together as roommates. And we stayed up ‘til three drinking wine (and then beer) and just talking. Talking about all sorts of stuff. But like, smart people stuff. At one point, we were discussing Nazi architecture, and then Soviet architecture, and then U.S. monumental architecture. I mean, it was so great.
Also, you guys, she has a friend. And this friend is…hold on, Imma come back to it.
But first, a little about my new living-sitch. So the room, right, from a New York perspective, is gloriously spacious. And did I mention the high ceilings? And the giant wall-sized windows that lets in a literal shit-ton of a natural light? But – because there’s always a “but” – it was entirely unfurnished.
Well, right off the bat, Lisa – that’s my new roommate’s name – shows herself to be a real fucking champ. Rather than saying, “Well, here’s your empty room, it’s up to you to find a bed,” she found a friend who was getting rid of a bunch of furniture and sorted out renting a van (with a driver) so we could get it from A to B. Were it not for that, I’d be sleeping on the floor and living out [of] my suitcase.
As for the rest of the apartment, well, it’s just bloody brilliant. The living room is massive. The kitchen has everything you could want, if you like to cook. And on top of that, there’s still another room – itself bigger than the “living rooms” of either my Maiden Lane or Orchard Street apartments. And that room is dedicated as a “work room,” with a desk and chairs and all that. And the bathroom is spacious and, more importantly, clean.
In New York, I’d say this apartment would go for, easy, 3.5k. And I’m paying not even five hundred. Also, did I mention that I’m writing this post on the fucking5 balcony??6 So yeah, I’m well pleased to be here.
And now, I gotta give a shoutout to Joschka. Joshcka, who7 I’m not even sure if he even reads this shit. But in any case, he came to my old place with his car, picked me up with all my stuff and drove me to the new place. What a fucking lifesaver. So, if you do read this, Kumpel, ich danke dir, von meinem Herz. Aber, du bist immer noch Scheiße.
Tonight, I went again to the class that Lisa teaches. And I had my ass handed to me, prepositionally. No, seriously. The class was on German prepositions. And I scored like a 20. The only thing that makes me feel better is, that the rules governing which prepositions are used when are almost entirely arbitrary. Still though, talk about your rude awakenings. Yeesh. And then on the way out, I saw her friend. But I said I’ll come back to that later, and I will.
But yeah, after that, I decided it was time for a nice scotch. So I stopped off to pick up a bottle of Glenfiddich, which I guess I alluded to footnoteally.8 But of course nothing can be easy, right? I decided to pay with my card, instead of cash.9 But of course, the receipt paper ran out in the middle of my transaction. So I couldn’t sign. What a shitshow. Like, seriously. I had to wait a half hour for them not to be able to print a new receipt at the register, and then decide that they needed to print one from a computer in the back for me to sign. Then, after I sign it, the guy wants to see my card again so he can actually literally astoundingly compare the signatures. And I’m like, you realize you are an actual real life stereotype now, right? Anyway, I felt like such a dick for holding up the line. But Germans – or at least these Germans – were so well behaved. Nobody even gave me a dirty look!
But in the end, I got it sorted, and I hear I am. Here I am with my glass of Glenfiddich, and my pipe, and oh, Lisa just got home and I guess we’re gonna chill on the balcony for a bit. So, pause…
OK, we’re both on the balcony, but I guess she’s facebooking, so, umm, hi.
Right, so, open-mic night. I’ve decided that this is something I need to do. I’ve been writing my own songs for a while, but I have done literally fuck-all with them to this point. If I wanted to make excuses, I would say something along the lines of, I couldn’t find people to play with, I couldn’t start a band. But also, I’m mad shy and nervous about playing my shit in front of other people. And in New York? Well, that’s my home. Those are my people. It seemed harder.
But a goal I’ve set for myself here is to perform at an open-mic night. I’m a stranger here, and I don’t know anybody. And ain’t nobody be knowin’ me.10 And this whole trip is about growing myself as a person, right? Ok, so Sunday night, I went to check out this open-mic night. Not to play, but just to see what it was about. Well, it was interesting.
What it reminded me of, was the Java House from college. The Java House was this place where people would gather to drink coffee and listen to live music. In theory, it should have been very cool. And for a lot of people, I’m sure it was. But for me, I dunno, it wasn’t Rock’n’ Roll, if I can say that. It was a bunch of hippies, sitting around, saying things like “Isn’t ‘music’ great…maaaaannn?” Yeah, it’s terrific. Now put down your joint and tap your godsdamned foot!
Well, it was that kind of crowd. But I shouldn’t be throwin’ shade.11 Because for all it’s not “Rock’n’Roll,” they really are an open minded and supportive lot. And they get into any-and-everything. So, next week, when I go back to actually play – which I will, dammit – I think I shall be glad to have such a group of people in front of me.
Still though. The predominant language was English. The MC introduced everybody in English. At the bar, everybody was speaking English. I mean, c’mon, this isn’t why I came here! And also – here comes a rant – godsdamned hipsters! With your flannel and your boots and your ‘artisenal’ accents. You know what I mean. The perfectly rounded ‘O’s, the carefully enunciated consonants, pronouncing final ‘T’s. Like, when did glottal stops stop being cool?12 Can’t you just talk like a normal person? Not every word has to be a craft beer/cheese/whatever. Nah’mean? <<EndRant>>.
So now it’s Wednesday afternoon. And this is a bit unusual. I’m writing, but the sun is up and I’m totally sober. It’s so strange to think that people work like this all the time. In coffee shops, no less. In any case, I’m to meet up with Kelvin later for a beer and then we’re going to head back to that group conversation exchange thingy-whatsit. Should be fun. And also necessary.
Because I feel like I’m starting to hit a bit of a wall with my German. It’s like when you first start learning to play guitar. First, you start learning open chords, and your hands be all, “What? No, we don’t make that shape.” But after a bit, open chords become mad easy, and you’re feeling really good about yourself because now you can play a whole bunch of songs or order a beer at a restaurant. But then you realize you need to learn bar chords. And now your hands be all, “What? No, that hurts, stop it. Also, do you not hear how bad that sounds?” This is sitting with two well spoken German teachers and trying to follow their conversation. Then comes the guitar solo, or you know, speaking like an actual person. Well, right now, I’m just trying to keep up on rhythm guitar.
And the two German teachers I mentioned? One was Lisa. The other was the aforementioned friend. Her name is Divi. Never heard that one. So I ask if it’s short for anything. Yes, she says. It’s Indian, short for Diviam, which means “light.” And then a light goes off in my head. I made some connection, or pulled some half remembered fragment out of the part of my brain I was using when I did my Master’s. “Wait, hang on,” I say. “Surely that’s a Sanskrit word…which must be cognate with Latin ‘divinus,’ divine…because…gods, light, something something13.…(and then in my head: and also obviously, in Greek, Διόϲ (genitive of Ζεύϲ), which obviously would have been Διϝόϲ at some point, and aren’t digammas great?)…” And the whole time she’s nodding along like she knows all this, because obviously you know the origin of your own name, you German teaching, linguistics bestudied beautiful little creature, you. “Yeah, it’s the same stem,” she says. Right. Well. Thanks for letting me walk through all that then. Where’s my wine?
Anyway, Divi. Lovely girl. Smart, as we’ve seen. But also just really sweet. And she has a sense of humor. This I discovered after I managed to get myself locked in the bathroom and only escaped with Lisa’s help. I’ll say this about getting locked in your own bathroom. It’s not nearly as scary as getting locked in a cemetery; but it is infinitely more embarrassing.
There are two other salient facts about this Divi person. One I shall mention here.14 She is all of the cutes. Literally, you guys. All of them. A point which I mentioned to Lisa after Divi’d left. Her response? Well, actually her response came after I had to break down the “all-of-the-x” idiom, using “all of the feels” as another example thereof. Anyway, her response? “Oh yes, isn’t she? I’ve always wondered what kind of guy – and I’m not saying you do – but what kind of guy would have a crush on her.”
What? No! What are you doing? Don’t do that! I don’t have a…I was just…she’s very cute! That’s all I said! Don’t say the “C” word! Now it’s gonna be in my head! Ugh, I was perfectly prepared to go to bed thinking, “Oh, she was cute. How nice.” But after that remark? I went to bed having a crush.15
So of course I ran into her after Lisa’s class last night, because obviously that had to happen. “Oh hi!” I say, terrified now that I’ve said ‘hi’ with either obvious overexcitement or forced nonchalance indicating a complete lack of interest or possibly somehow both, because there’s nothing I can’t ruin. Then she opens her arms for a hug.
For a hug? What? No, you can’t do that. Germans are supposed to be unemotional robots. That’s why I came here, to avoid emotional contact. Otherwise I’d have gone to France. Anyway, hug? No. Too confusing. Does it mean something? Is she simply not an unemotional Teutonic robot? Does everybody get a hug after one night of hanging out? Oh gods, why is this happening to me?
“Also,” she says with a divinely16 cute smile, “Was ist passiert, seit gestern?” (So, what’s new since yesterday?) And then it happened. I forgot all the German that I know. I wanted to say something about how I’d just had my ass handed to me in class vis-à-vis prepositions. “Ich hab…” Oh gods. Words, David. Use words. “Ich hab…” Not those words, David. You’ve already said that part. Use other words. “Ich hab…” Mental facepalm. “Ja?” she says, encouragingly, patiently. If you could maybe stop being so cute for a second? I’m trying to think here. Thanks. Ok, try again now. “Ich hab…darin…mein Arsch…getritten?, getrittet17…gehabt?“ “What are you trying to say?” she asks in English now. “Um, I got my ass kicked in there?” “Yeah,” she says. “That’s not a thing in German.” No, of course it’s not. I’ll just show myself out. Whereupon I said goodbye and promptly walked into the street, looking for a bus to throw myself in front of. But there were no buses. So I couldn’t even do that right.18
Fast forward to later in the night, when Lisa came out and joined me on the balcony. I asked her if she wanted some scotch, happy to share, but mostly expecting the answer no, because most girls seem not to like whisk(e)y.19 “Yeah, sure,” she answered pleasantly. “Good girl,” quoth I. So we chat, and we’re having a lovely time of it in the warm Berlin night, with the Big Dipper looking wheeling peacefully overhead. Finally, I bring it up.
“It’s all your fault, you know. I was totally prepared not to have any feels for your friend Divi. But then you used the ‘crush’ word, and now that’s happened. So thanks.” To which she replies, “Oh. Well you probably shouldn’t do that. You see, she lives together with her boyfriend.” Of course she does. Because Dave can’t have nice things. So that was twenty-four hours of emotional hot messitude that I could have done without. Anyway, I must have looked sad/disappointed/distressed, because then Lisa decided to try and say something nice.
“No, but that’s a good thing, actually. Because it means that your heart is open and your open to having feelings for new people.” Is it? I am? Great. Thanks. Hey, I know. Let’s drink more scotch and also change the subject please. Which we did, and all was well.
And all is well, as long as we’re not talking about girls. I’m totally lucking out in the roommate department. I’m meeting cool people. My German is improving. I’m learning the city. And still to come: school, the Rock Harz festival, the trip to Biarritz. Maybe I really can have nice things…
- This is a usage of “yo” that I quite enjoy in spoken English, but which I don’t think I’ve tried in the written version. [↩]
- Anytime I tried to help with anything, they’d always wave me off with the words, “Du bist Gast.” – You’re a guest. [↩]
- I’m as bad at Doge as I am at German. [↩]
- Well, two. My writing was interrupted last night by drinking on the balcony, on more which in a moment. #foreshadowfail [↩]
- I feel like I’m cursing a lot in this post. Two reasons for that. One: I bought myself a bottle of Glenfiddich tonight, and it’s the first bottle of scotch I’ve bought since I’ve been here, which, let’s face it, is ridiculous, as I’ve been here just under a month. #germanstylerunonsentence Two A: I don’t know how to curse like this in German. Two B: When I speak English here, it’s almost always a modified super-clear and semi-formal English so that people will understand me. Rarely do I get to talk the way I normally talk. [↩]
- The balcony is, ironically, the only downside, in this way: In my last place, I could smoke in the kitchen. Which meant I could read Greek and write my posts in the kitchen, irrespective (or irregardless, dammit!) of weather. Here, the balcony is the only place I can smoke. So if there’s bad weather, I’m f’d, in that regard. [↩]
- Should be “whom,” right? I’m gonna say it’s an anacolouthon. And I feel like, if I can name it, I can use it. [↩]
- I unequivocally support the adverbization of all things. Except when we’re busy verbing things. (See: adverbization, above). [↩]
- In the States, you can pay with a card almost anywhere these days. But here, most places still only take cash. And so the reason I went where I went was, I’d be able to use a card. [↩]
- Trying to keep my urban colloquialisms sharp. How’m I doin’? #EdKoch [↩]
- Which is something we totally still say, right? Gods, I’m out of touch. [↩]
- No, I didn’t live in “MaNhaTTan,” I lived in “Ma’ha’an.” Get it right, hipster. Hey, maybe that’s why they all live in Brooklyn (and Berlin, apparently). No glottal stop to avoid in Brooklyn (or Berlin). [↩]
- My actual words. [↩]
- The other, for effect, comes later. #BuildingSuspense [↩]
- Thanks, Lisa. [↩]
- #seewhatididthere [↩]
- ‘Getreten‘ is the participle I was looking for, and which I failed to find. [↩]
- #davestheworst #iruineverything [↩]
- So, good on you, Niki. [↩]