An American in Berlin
Right, so either Berlin hasn’t yet figured out that #davestheworst or else friends, colleagues and students are trolling me. How else to explain all the nice things that have befallen me here with regards to my 36th at-this-age-it-doesn’t-matter-anymore birthday? And that’s with a number of people being out of town.
OK, so my actual birthday was Friday the 10th, and tbh, that was kinda depressing. The original plan called for Zibs and Jan to come over for dinner and drinks. Only Zibs texted me the day before asking if we could move it to Saturday, since they’d both be tired after working all day. Of course, I obliged. I mean, it’s a fair point. Or, well, it’s a fair point for people who don’t go home, nap til 8, eat Chinese food at 9 and then show up at 11:30 for a party that started at 7.
And so while I did get a lovely (albeit tipsy) birthday phone call from Charlotte on Thursday afternoon, for whom in Australia it was already my birthday, my actual German birthday was a bit of a drag. I bought myself a bottle of whiskey and drank rather a lot of it. I did some Hebrew, watched some Netflix and started writing another silly fairy tale, which I may or may not finish at some point.
No one else was around. Joschka was in the Caribbean with Cindy; Annett is out of town on an internship; the roommates were on their honeymoon; Christian the ex-roommate was hosting a friend from out of town; Anne the French language partner was in Paris; and I already mentioned Zibs and Jan. But at least I wasn’t drinking Absinthe at 3am on a weeknight, like I was when I turned 30. I suspect Jared remembers more about that night than I ever will.
Be that as it may,1 Saturday turned out to be pretty great. Z&J met me out here in K-nick, where we went for dinner at a cute little Italian joint in the Altstadt. We had a grand old time of it. I ordered what was basically a (very tasty) filet mignon and we all shared a bottle of wine. All of which set me back a whole 25€.2
After that, we stopped by the supermarket for beer and then headed back to the apartment for more drinking. When we got there, Z&J presented me with a birthday present. This turned out to be a bottle of Glenfiddich 12. Which, I mean, is just glorious. And it was no coincidence, either. Jan and I often talk about whiskey, as he’s quite interested in it, but doesn’t have a whole lot of experience in that department. Somewhere along the line, I said something about the Glenfiddich 12 being quite nice and not bank-breakingly expensive either.
So when I expressed my heartfelt gratitude and added that I happen to love this particular scotch, they were like, “Yeah, dude, we know.” I mean, that’s pretty fucking great. As was the rest of the night. Jan and I put a nice dent in the bottle. Zibs tried to learn how to smoke a pipe. She needs more practice, but it was fun. And with all that, just the usual good conversation, good laughs and general good times that always ensues with those two. And when they left at the end of the night, I had two thoughts. The first was, “You know, I’ve got some pretty good friends here. I’m very lucky.” The other was, “Fuck, I’m pretty drunk. I hope my bed will stop spinning long enough for my ass to climb into it.” It did and I did. Happy birthday, Davey, and good night.
Now as I said, the roommates were away on their honeymoon. But they returned Monday afternoon. Which was surprising, as I was expecting them on Tuesday. Look, I’m just happy I was wearing pants when they came home. Anyway, I was already planning on cooking dinner, and I had plenty of food, so I asked them if they wanted to join. They were happy too.
I made not the best braised chicken I’ve ever made, but it was good enough. Nevertheless, we had a very nice evening, and it was good to catch up. They’re really both very sweet. And the more time I spend with them, the better my German gets, which is an added bonus. Not just that, but they’re also very patient; always happy to explain things; and very much appreciate good (and bad) puns. It’s a nice situation, is what I’m trying to say.
After dinner, I asked if they wanted a bit of nice scotch. Lucie didn’t, but Marco was happy to dive in. Whereupon did we proceed to put another serious dent in the bottle. It’s funny. Had I bought the bottle myself, I probably wouldn’t have broken it out. But since it was a gift, I account it as not being properly mine anyway, and as something that’s meant to be shared. So on the one hand, it’s not going to last nearly as long as I thought it might. But on the other hand, it’s already brought me many hours of good times. Really, there aren’t many things better than good scotch.
Anyway, as we were drinking, I mentioned that it was a birthday gift. And they were both like, “Wtf dude, you didn’t tell us it was your birthday! When was it?” I told them it was Friday and since they were out of town, it hardly seemed worth mentioning. They seemed to accept this in that way that you accept things you can’t change from simple-minded idiots. That is to say, with a smile and a shake of the head. Little did I know, they were plotting.
For yesterday afternoon, I got a text from Marco saying that Lucie would be cooking that night, so they hoped I didn’t have plans. I still didn’t put together that this was a birthday thing though. But of course it was. And it was delish. Lucie made a pork shoulder in a tasty sauce with mushrooms and broccoli. Obviously there was wine. But the best part was the brownies.
Which is a weird thing for me to say. Not that I don’t like brownies, I surely do. But I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. So desert usually ranks third, after the main dish and whatever there is to drink. And taste wise, the dinner was definitely better. But here’s the thing. I tasted the brownie, and I was like, “Does this have like an orange flavor to it?” And she was like, “Yup.” And I was like, “Dude, I fucking love chocolate with orange flavor!” And she was like, “Yeah, I know.” What? How?
Apparently, she remembered that around Christmas – three fucking months ago already – I had bought some orange flavored dark chocolate. I mean, come on, that’s pretty impressive. Anyway, I was pretty impressed. Well done, Lucie. My hat is off to you.
Meanwhile, I had a private lesson at my “Friday school” yesterday. Anyway, I walk into the office, there to print some worksheets for the lesson. And my boss and the two ladies who work in the office are standing there, and my boss is holding a little wrapped package. “Happy Birthday, Dave!” And again, I’m expressing heartfelt gratitude. But I also said it was hardly necessary.
And, come on, it’s not at all necessary. I’ve only been working there since September. And technically I only work one day a week. Here and there I cover a class when they need me and I do the private lessons sometimes. But when I said it wasn’t necessary, my boss says, “No, it wasn’t. But it was our pleasure to.” And I’m just like, you people are fucking fantastic.
Then I go in for the lesson. I work with this lady who is in her early 50’s. But she’s mad cool. You can tell she was a good time when she was younger. And her husband sounds like an awesome and fascinating dude. And her kid sounds really cool too. Anyway, she’s mostly there to improve her conversation skills. Sometimes we do little grammar lessons. But often as not, we just chat for 90 minutes and I correct her grammar/vocab as we go.
She’s got lots of great stories, and a wealth of knowledge about Berlin. So half the time that I’m teaching her, she’s actually teaching me about Germany, the culture, the language, the history, and Berlin. Good sense of humor too, so on top of all that, we have plenty of good laughs. Anyway, she comes in today, and says, “I hope you don’t mind, but I prepared something for today’s lesson.” Mind? Why would I mind? If you’re doing the prep work, this job just got even easier! So I’m thinking she has some emails or maybe some other writing she wants to go over or work on. Or maybe she’s got some kind of conversation scenario she wants to play out. Wrong.
“So I was thinking,” she said, “it sounds like you don’t really get to West Berlin very much.” Which is true. I’ve never really been west of Tiergarten, and even then, I rarely make it west of Tempelhofer Feld. “So I made a list of things you should check out in the West. Some walking routes, some sights and some restaurants.” Omg, for real? That’s fantastic! “Also, I have a map, so maybe we can go over it all together?” Umm, yes please!
So she unfolds this big old ADAC map. Now the ADAC is the German version of AAA, so it’s really a road map of Berlin. But this means it’s highly detailed and has every street in the blessed city. So we start going over the list, and she’s marking up the map. “Wait, hang on, I want to get a picture of this little area.” To which she explains, I don’t have to, the map is for me. It’s mine now. This was her first map when she first moved to Berlin, and she’s giving it to me. How sweet is that? And keep in mind, we’ve only been meeting since December!
So we spent the rest of the lesson going over her list and the map and just talking about Berlin. And they fucking pay me for this! Then, at the end of the lesson, she says, “Wait, I have something else for you.” Whereupon she pulls out a little wrapped package from her bag. “Something for your flight.” Wow. I’m so touched. More heartfelt gratitude. But I told her I’d open it on the plane, so I still don’t know what it is. I mean, it’s clearly a book. But I don’t know what it is.
As for the present from the school, that was also a book. This I opened when I got home. It’s called “Hitler’s Berlin: Abused City.” OK guys, that’s pretty fucking perfect. A history book about Nazi Times and specifically about Berlin? Come on. How can they possibly know me that well? So I’m pretty excited to get going on that.
And that about does it for my first birthday in Berlin. Pretty f’ing fantastic. But like I said when I started this post, these people either haven’t yet figured out that #davestheworst, or else their trolling me. Because there’s no way I deserve this. Is there?
So much for the birthday. But there’s3 one or two other vignettes I want to put down before I end this post. You know how in New York, on the subway, you get these mariachi guys or other assorted musicians that come into your car and interrupt your sweet self-in-a-bubble time with their busking? Well, they’ve got that here too. And the other day, this full on four or five-piece band gets on, with fucking brass horns. And I’m just like, “Holy shit, fuck me, why?”
But then the strangest thing happened. The band is to my left. So naturally I look to my right. And what do I see, but a whole kindergarten class, filling up all the seats in the middle of the car. They had to be something like 4-5 years old. Point is, the band starts playing, and rather loudly. And again, I’m thinking, “Fuck you, god(s), why?”
Only when I turn to look at the kids again, they’re all looking on wide-eyed with big ol’ smiles on their faces. And some of them are even up out of their seats and bopping around in the aisle. Which made me smile. I mean, it was fucking adorable and the like the sweetest thing I’ve seen in weeks.
What a strange mix of emotions, you know? Every time I looked left, I hated everything. But every time I looked right, I was just, “How can you not love this shit? This is what life’s all about, amirite?” So yeah, Berlin.
I thought I had another little story to tell, but it escapes me now, so I’ll just leave it be. And tomorrow (well, today, technically), I fly home. Really looking forward to it. But it’s also quite surreal. I was walking home from work today, just like I always do, and somehow I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I wouldn’t be doing this tomorrow; that tomorrow I’d be back in the States. It doesn’t seem real. And it was a reminder that my life, at least now, is very much here. Shit has a way of sneaking up on you sometimes.
One minor disappointment. Back around New Year’s, I’d very much hoped that I’d be able to finish my Hebrew course book before my flight. But then I got sick, and that set me back a bit. So that’s not going to happen. But I’m close. Tonight I finished the chapter I was working on. And now there’s only three left. It might take another two or three weeks, but the finish line is very much in sight. Hard not to be happy about that.
Well, that’s enough for this post. I mean, I still need to pack.4 Although I’m very seriously considering putting that off until morning. I figure, if I make a mental checklist tonight, that should be sufficient. Right? Sure. Welp. See you on the other side!
- Election is Friday, right Dad & Justin? [↩]
- Sometimes I love this city. Imagine that in Gotham! [↩]
- Heard this really interesting observation from Ben Zimmer, WSJ language columnist (inter alia), about “There’s.” So clearly “There is” is for singulars and “There are” is for plurals. For example, “There is a dog.” Or, “There are three slices of pizza left.” But we naturally contract these to “There’s” and “There’re.” Only, “There’re” is awkward to pronounce. So it seems people have just started using “There’s” for singular and plural. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I think I must do this also, without even noticing. I mean, it’s perfectly logical. After all, one is much easier to say than the other. Anyway, I thought that was fascinating. [↩]
- #fml [↩]