An American in Berlin
29 July, 2015
Well this is fucking weird. Here I am, sitting in my parents’ backyard again. It brings back memories of last summer, when I would sit out here with a drink and listen to Welcome to Night Vale podcasts. But being here now is surreal. Especially when I realize that my goal this evening is to pick up the Berlin story where it left off. It left off last Thursday, which now feels like another life. Surely it’s not a mere five or six days that separates me from that evening in my beloved Tempelhofer Feld?
That was a lovely night. The German class Lisa teaches is part of a series she started called Deutch für Dich.1 And so it was that at the end of the session, her and her fellow teachers organized a picnic in THF for all the students. I got there a bit late, as I had come from meeting Alice for a coffee, which migrated into a beer. Grand old time, that. Anyway, I show up and the party is well underway. But Oz is there, so at least I have somebody to talk to. He’s a good lad.
But there were lots of good people as it turned out. I chatted for a while with an older gentleman from Finland.2 He was very soft spoken and had a rather strong accent, so that he could be hard to understand at times. But we got on well enough and he was a fascinating guy. A photographer, he travelled on a moped from the very North to the very South of Finland, taking pictures the whole way. And in the end, he made a book of his journey; though the text was German and he didn’t himself write it. Still though, pretty amazing.
Later, I had a chat with a Greek dude who I actually had shared one class with. Really interesting guy. We even talked about Ancient Greek and Homer for a bit. Later on, he and I, as well as Oz and an English fellow got into a very interesting discussion about European politics, all the more so as we weren’t all of the same mind. Nevertheless, it remained respectful throughout. These are the sorts of political discussions I love, and of which there aren’t nearly enough these days.
When the park closed for the evening, our group moved on to a local Ecke Kneipe – or corner pub3 – to continue the festivities. A couple of nice things worth mentioning about this portion of the evening. First, whiskey cost 2€ a glass. Fantastic. Second, I found myself engaged in conversation with a beautiful Dutch cellist. We talked for quite a while about how awesome Bach is. Which, I mean, isn’t he just?
We talked about not just how gorgeous the music is, but how you learn something new every time you play it, how Bach is a life-long journey. It’s a bit strange, actually, to have this conversation with a proper professional musician. Because when she says it, you know she really means it. Me? I was just bad enough at the piano, am just bad enough at the guitar, to understand how this can be true. I’m nowhere near good enough to experience it.
Where I can properly relate, however, is Homer. Because Homer is to…well actually, what do you even say? – poetry, literature, Greek, epic, life? – Homer is the Bach of his world, is the point. And there, I know the feeling of learning something new every time, of the life-long journey. And also of that being the thing you reach for when you just want the best feeling. Which is a dreadful paraphrase of what The Dutchess said about playing Bach for pleasure.
Well, anyway, nothing beyond a really lovely conversation happened. She was in town visiting her sister (who was also there), and said sister wasn’t going to let anything happen. Also, I’m sure she had a boyfriend anyway. Not because of anything she said, mind you. But because I don’t believe I live in a world where beautiful Dutch cellists don’t have boyfriends. Still, chalk that experience up to a win. It was probably one of the best conversations I had in all my time in Berlin. And I’m not just saying that because she was a beautiful Dutch cellist.4
I also had a nice little chat/goodbye with Lisa. It was bittersweet, I’ll admit. But that’s life. Hopefully we’ll stay in touch while I’m here. Certainly, if all goes according to plan and I get back to Berlin, we’ll pick up where we left off. Of all the awesome people I met there, she became my best and closest friend. She’s a good lass, that girl.
Friday night was the Shabbat dinner. I was late for that too. I was reading my book as I stepped onto the S-Bahn, and so didn’t realize that I had caught the wrong train. Slightly embarrassing, that. But I got there in time for sundown, and all was well. We had a nice little group. It was me and the Israeli girl, as well as four others.5
Israeli Girl asked me to start things off by explaining a little bit about the history and traditions. This I did as best I could6 while sprinkling in plenty of self-deprecating Jewish jokes for effect. Then IG did the whole candles-eye covering routine along with the appropriate blessing. Then I did the bruchas for the wine and bread.7 Then we ate and drank and had a grand old time. One of the other girls was a German teacher, and those who didn’t have an overriding interest in language had an interest in travel. So there was plenty to talk about in a room full of strangers.
This last point is not insignificant. Going to a party – even an ostensibly Shabbat party – where you don’t know anybody, well, it gives you the feeling that you’re finally starting to figure things out a little bit. I somehow didn’t feel awkward or out of place at all.8 I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’d definitively made new friends, but certainly these were people I could see hanging out with again. And of course, this was happening three days before I had to leave. But lemme not complain. It was a really cool night, and I’m glad I went.
Oh, and one funny story. At one point, we had got to talking about cockroaches.9 It seems you just don’t get New York sized roaches in Berlin. They do have these small roaches, apparently, that they simply call Berlin Cockroaches.10 Well, after hearing the phrase ‘Berlin Roaches’ a few times, I turned to Israeli Girl and said, “You know, it’s nice to know that when they say ‘Berlin Roaches,’ they’re not talking about us for a change!” Well, she nearly fell out of her chair laughing. As for the Germans in the room, I don’t think they knew whether to laugh or cringe.
At the end of the night, I took the train home with the Australian dude and his German girlfriend. They were both very nice and it was very pleasant ride. Turns out they live two blocks away from me, so that was convenient. As for IG, I’m not sure we’ll stay in touch while I’m home, but she’s definitely someone I’ll look when I’m back there.
Saturday night was dinner with Joschka and Lus. We went to a proper German restaurant for a change. The food was very good, although I think we were literally the only people there. I had a Blutwurst, which was really quite good. And it was good to get some time with them. I don’t think I’d seen Joschka since the festival, and I hadn’t seen Lus since she was here in May. Classic good times.
Sunday night was my last open-mic. Alice, Zibs and Jan came down, which was grand. And Annett came as well, this time with her boyfriend (also called Jan). Annett even performed some of her own poetry, which was very cool. It was funny meeting her boyfriend. I think he definitely showed up feeling like, ‘who is this asshole?’ But once we got to talking, we actually got on quite well. And the three of us spoke quite a bit in German, which was great for me. And also a bit unusual. You see, Annett’s English is so good that that’s how we normally communicate. To the point where I almost forget that she’s actually German. But it was great to be able to chat with them in their language and not feel hopefully lost. Actually, I think I did rather well, keeping in mind that I’m not very good.
My performance was alright. Definitely better than last time, so that’s not nothing. And it was nice to have some people there to support me. Afterwards, Alice even complimented me on my French accent,11 which pleased me greatly. And it was nice to get a last night in with her and Zibs. I will miss those two. In any case, to put a bow on the whole open-mic thing: It was a good experience. I’m glad I did it. But I’ve got a long way to go, and a long way to grow.
And then on to Monday night, where I cooked dinner for Anja, Mischa and Blondey. Anja is such a sweetheart. During the day, she texted me to ask what they should bring. I told her wine, and maybe a dessert. Well, when she came home, she had wine and said that Blondey would be bringing dessert. Perfect. But then, she said she had something else for me, a little going away present. She had got for me a can of AC/DC beer and a bag of gummy bears. What a doll.
Dinner was great. I mean, the night was great. Dinner was fine. I made a shepherds pie and an apple walnut salad. Which would have been even better had not Blondey been allergic to walnuts.12 Still though, everybody seemed to like it all, and Blodney was able to eat around the walnuts. For her part, she made some sort of coconut cake balls, which were delicious.
In any case, they’re all lovely people and we just had good time together. Mischa, as always, didn’t ever let my glass stay empty for long. This despite the fact that I told him I couldn’t drink too much as I still had to pack. It was for this reason that he added some water to my wine. It did not, however, stop him from breaking out a bottle of whiskey in my honor and seeing to it that I drank more thereof than I ought to have. Well, I paid for that Monday morning, but that’s as will be.
At the end of the night, it was a bit sad to say goodbye. I really enjoyed living with them for two months, and you could tell they liked having me around as well. And it’s a very nice dynamic with the four of us. It’s just very comfortable and easy and fun. I don’t know if I’ll do the whole AirBnB thing next time around, but I certainly hope there are more dinners like that in my future.
I wish I could say the trip to the airport was uneventful. But it wasn’t. I felt fine when I woke up. I felt fine when I got on the train. And then three stops before my destination, I felt an overpowering nausea and dizziness. So I staggered off the train with all of my bags and proceeded to throw up in a U-Bahn trash can. Ein bisschen peinlich.13 But it had to be done. Still, the same thing happened on the way back from France. So if there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s this: don’t celebrate so hard the night before you fly. Time will tell if I ever actually learn this lesson.
Then the airport. Well, I knew my main bag was overweight and that I’d have to pay extra for it. However, on the way to Berlin I was able to bring my guitar as a carry-on, and so I was hopeful I’d be able to do so again. Unfortunately, the lady at the counter told me that this was impossible, and that furthermore they never should have let me do that in the first place. It would be another 160€ to check the instrument. However, the lady felt sufficiently bad about this that, given the circumstances, she allowed me to check it free of charge.
But then, she wanted to weight my carry-on backpack. What? No? I didn’t know those were subject to weight restrictions. I thought it was just size. It was with that in mind that I had stuffed it full of heavy books, hoping to lighten the load in my checked suitcase. Well, my backpack was three kilos overweight. Oh god. So she asked me if I could get rid of anything. I politely told her I couldn’t possibly just throw books away. So I asked how much to check it, and again it was 160€. But you could tell she just felt bad. So she said she’d see what she could do. “Ich mach für dich einen schwere Tag, oder?” (I’m making your day hard, eh?) “Ja, wirklich.” (Yes, really). Then she said something in German about how I shouldn’t have to pay so much money for this. In the end, she allowed me to check my backpack free of charge as well. To which I responded, after saying ‘thank you’ about 64 times, “Du bist eine Lebensgeretterin (You’re a lifesaver). This may or may not be a real word, but she understood.14 So I say here again, Thank you, Air Berlin Check-In Lady.
The flight itself was fine. I was seated next to a very nice Jewish girl who was pretty and not at all fat; always a plus when flying. Anyway, she was an interesting cat and we had some nice conversations along the way and just generally got on well. Probably not someone I’d be friends with in real-life, but certainly above-par as a cross-Atlantic seatmate. Anytime you’re able to talk about languages and literature, you can’t really complain.
Anyway, here I am back in New York. Or, Long Island at any rate. Hot, sticky Long Island. Where you can’t walk down the street with a half-liter of beer. But, where air conditioning is (thankfully) a thing. I don’t know definitively what comes next. I can’t got back to Europe for three months. But my plan is to get right back to Berlin in November and make a real go of it. Will that actually happen? Time will tell…
- German for You [↩]
- Who, it must be said, was in possession of fantastic and snow-white beard. [↩]
- The sort of pub, it must be said, me and Kelvin were often in search of, but never managed to find. [↩]
- But it didn’t hoit! [↩]
- I was also hoping Joschka and Lus would show up, but they were coming back from out of town and didn’t arrive in time. [↩]
- Probably sufficient for the goyem, but hardly befitting my behebrewschooled education. [↩]
- IG did up a homemade challah from scratch, which was quite good, I hasten to add. [↩]
- And I didn’t even drink that much! No, seriously, I think there were two – maybe three – bottles of wine for the six of us. Oh, and here would be a nice time to mention that IG got hold of an aluminum camping cup to use as the Kiddish Cup. I thought that was quite clever and really a very nice touch. [↩]
- Don’t ask. [↩]
- We spoke mostly English, as one of the dudes was from Australia and speaks little-to-no German. [↩]
- One of my songs is in French. [↩]
- #davefail [↩]
- Slightly embarrassing. [↩]
- I just looked it up. There is a word, and it’s Lebensretter (or at least, that’s the masculine form). Still though, not bad for trying to make it up on the spot. [↩]