Category Archives: Berlin

German Contracts

Here’s a thing.

If you talk to the English-speaking migrant population of Berlin about living in Berlin, they’ll tell you, ‘Oh, of COURSE you can live here without German. It’s NO PROBLEM. Absolutely FINE.’

This is true to a point. You can definitely go into a restaurant in Berlin and order in English. You can buy U-bahn tickets from the little automated machines and you can do it in English. You can use google translate on German web pages and basically get the gist of what’s going on. You can even find work in English, watch English films, buy English books from English bookstores and find English-speaking friends (in fact, it may be impossible to find friends who speak any other language except English).

But, if you want to live there, actually, live there, on your own, without someone in your household who speaks fluent German and is forced to translate all your documents for you (forced because they are married to you, or love you, or just can’t get away), then you are going to find it rough. And you are going to find yourself paying a lot of money to a lot of people for reasons that you cannot fathom and seem completely unfair.

The main reason I’ve gotten into trouble is because of the Germans’ obsession with having everything written down. If you want to end a contract, it must be written down, signed and sent to them, usually, 3 months in advance of when you want to end a contract. Contracts can only ever be cancelled at the end of the month, regardless of when you started your contract.

I first encountered this problem when I tried to end our rental contract. I knew we had to give 3 months notice, so I sent an email to our realtor with, what I thought was, 3 and a half months warning. The realtor emailed me back saying it would have to be in writing. Something about her broken English made me assume that I had to sign a specific form and as she also wanted to come and see the house the next week, I assumed she would bring the form to me and I would sign it then. When she came to visit, she informed me of the cancellation ‘only at the end of the month’ issue. She then pointed out that it was now too late for me to cancel when I wanted to cancel – there was no special form, I just had to write a letter and I would’ve had time if I had sent the letter the day I received her email requesting a written cancellation.

There are many misunderstandings there, not least of all that an email actually IS acceptable – I checked with a German lawyer – but the only way to get the realtor to agree to that would have been to involve the lawyer and we decided we didn’t want the hassle. In the end, an extra month turned out not to be a bad idea – what with all the stress of my visa being rejected, I don’t know if we would have managed to get the place empty and clean in time.

But, in the last week, I’ve just noticed another massive error on my behalf. I checked my bank account to make sure that I had no standing orders left to various vendors in Berlin. That’s when I saw that a yoga studio I had signed up to for a 6 month contract in 2015 was still taking money out of my bank account every month.

Why didn’t I notice it earlier, you might wonder. Well, getting into my German bank account was quite stressful. Part of it was the language and part of it was that I could never remember my password (yes, if I’d signed in more regularly perhaps the language wouldn’t have been stressful and I would have remembered the password better). I had no German credit card, so I didn’t need to organise payments to it, which is one reason I kept a pretty careful eye on my Australian bank account. But, also, the design of the bank website was not very user friendly. When you sign into the account, it tells you the general overall statement. If you want to know about actual transactions, you have to type in the dates of the period you want, instead of just clicking on the account and having all transactions appear. I know that sounds like a pretty poor excuse, but it meant that I would look in a very specific window to find a specific transaction and wouldn’t just scroll through my transactions like I do with my Australian bank account. When I scroll, I often find things that seem suspicious – usually it’s just that I’ve forgotten the transaction or it’s a weird name of something that I did actually buy, but it’s a good habit. The design of my German bank account didn’t encourage that. So, my usual behaviour with the German bank account was, if there’s still money in there, then we’re all good. Not great for picking up yoga memberships you didn’t know you still had.

So, I feel an absolute tool. When I signed up in 2015, the woman could tell that my German was no good, so she offered to do it all in English. I originally requested a 12 month contract, but she said it wasn’t possible (they had 12 month contracts on offer, but weren’t signing people on to them for some reason), so I would have to sign up to a 6 month contract. She took me through the important conditions of the (German) contract in English. At no point did she tell me that it would be automatically renewed after 6 months, unless I cancelled (in writing) – and it seems bizarre in hindsight that she wouldn’t sign me up for a 12 month contract, when the 6 month contract was actually ongoing. Most likely to do with price changes, or the minimum amount of time you had to keep the contract, of course, but still. It was another huge part of my misunderstanding of what kind of contract I was signing up to.

SO, last October, I got very busy applying for universities (I developed a plan. A misguided plan, but I wasn’t accepted into university, so it was all ok). I stopped going to yoga and by the time I had got my applications in, it was 6 months from the start of my yoga contract. Ah well, I thought, I’ll wait until I get back from Australia in January and then go renew my contract. Of course, I never set foot inside that studio again. The yoga studio also didn’t contact me in any way – didn’t send me receipts every month (as my internet provider did), didn’t send me emails thanking me for being a good customer (as my gas & electricity companies did), didn’t send me a letter on the one year anniversary of my signing up to the studio (as… tumblr did). Anything, any kind of contact or marketing that could have alerted me to the fact that I was still, as far as they were concerned, a member of their gym.

I’m pretty disgustingly mad about it all. Especially as I am currently unemployed in the UK and I could really do with the all the excess cash they’ve taken from me. I also don’t sign up for ongoing contracts like this, because I know, I KNOW, that it is how gyms screw you over. I’ve always signed up for fixed-term contracts because, yes, they might be a bit more expensive, but at least you know in advance how long you’ve signed up for and you don’t have to argue with the company about ending the contract.

But, as I said at the start of this post, you might be able to order a coffee in English in Berlin, but trying to do things that are more complex are going to get you into trouble. As all the highly aggressive people on the Toy Town Germany forum would tell me, ‘IT’S GERMANY, OF COURSE EVERYTHING IS IN GERMAN, YOU ABSOLUTE TOSSING SHIT-FOR-BRAINS’ (it’s a really supportive forum of English speakers in Germany, offering sound advice and abuse to people who dare to ask for help).  To which I say, ‘yes. Yes, I agree with you.’ Yes, I don’t think it’s easy just to live in Berlin without German. I don’t think people should just assume they can have everything translated easily into English, on the spot. However, when someone offers, of course your natural instinct is to go, ‘oh! You speak the language of my people? Oh, please, yes, let us speak in that language for I love it so and also don’t understand your language in anyway and it makes me red-faced and sweaty trying to speak it.’ It’s kind of hard to have people act very kindly towards you, assure you that everything’s fine, and of course you can sign this German contract, here, let me explain it to you in English, and then have them to turn out to have screwed you over. Sure, I shouldn’t trust everyone. But, also, why shouldn’t I trust them if they seem like they’re being kind and helpful and reassuring me that I do understand the contract that’s been put in front of me? It would be SO RUDE and inconvenient to tell them otherwise. Besides, how often do I read the T’s and C’s of contracts/companies/internet data-scraping apps even when they’re in English?

angry-man-1

‘HOW DARE YOU ASK FOR HELP ABOUT DOING THINGS IN ENGLISH IN GERMANY ON AN ENGLISH-SPEAKING FORUM DEDICATED TO THAT EXACT PROBLEM. I LEARNT GERMAN FOR 15 YEARS BEFORE ARRIVING HERE AND IT WASN’T TO EXPLAIN THE GERMAN-SPEAKING WORLD TO SCUM LIKE YOU’ every person on the Toy Town Berlin forum. Image found here.

Up until recently, government offices have refused to speak to foreigners in English. It seems harsh until you realise it actual protects the office from accusations that they have mistranslated something (and people have been disadvantaged because of it) and it protects the foreigner from signing something they haven’t properly looked at. Sure, I couldn’t understand a lot of the German forms that were handed to me. Yes, I needed an evening with them, plus some Google translate, plus a German friend to help look them over again. But, that’s a GOOD thing. That meant that I had really looked at the goddamn thing and kind of understood what was going on.

I spent a lot of time in Berlin being highly anxious. Part of that was the circumstances of my job. Part of it was that daily interactions were sweaty, panic-attack inducing mumble fests of wrongly pronounced words and misunderstandings. And part of that was the feeling that I was maybe, probably, absolutely definitely missing *something* that was going to get me into trouble somewhere down the line. And that was because, due to my lack of German, I kept myself distant from so many things that happened in German. Another, less anxious person would have confronted that anxiety head on, tried to be proactive about stuff and refused to sign things unless a German-speaking friend had looked it over for me. But, that would require making requests of people, spending time doing difficult things and possibly telling people, ‘no, wait, I don’t understand.’ All of which are things that I don’t do very easily.

So, yeah. You can live in Berlin with no German. But don’t think it will be easy. And best be prepared with some big ol’ pockets.

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Filed under Berlin, expats

The Wedding

So we had a pretty big June.

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Yep! We got ourselves hitched!

As followers of this blog may know, I’m not a huge fan of the wedding industry. I’m also not a massive fan of the history of marriage or the modern institution, capitalist romance and the performance of said-romance (see also previous blog entries).  So, it might seem a strange thing for a gal like me to be getting married.

And, honestly, it was a strange thing. I know a lot of people view me as hopelessly romantic and whilst that is certainly an aspect of my personality that I may have accidentally cultivated with my interest in Jane Austen, BBC bonnet dramas and flowery clothing; but I assure you the other part of me is a hardened, crusty and angry cynic. I can only describe it as the effects of having been a young and hopeless romantic who came into late and unwelcome contact with the real world. I never really thought I’d get married. When I was in a relationship I couldn’t see a good reason to get married – as a young 20-something it didn’t seem to make a difference to my life. When I was single… well, I just thought I’d never be with anyone ever again. And, that was also… fine.

But, that all kind of changed when I met Alex. I don’t mean (*orchestra playing*) I finally met the love of my life and I suddenly saw the point of marriage. I mean, that because we are citizens of different countries, getting married seemed to make a lot of sense. At some point in our relationship we had each, individually and personally, decided that we wanted, and expected, to be with each other long-term. But that’s not so easy when you don’t have rights in the other’s country. So, getting married was an official way of saying to each of our countries: ‘we come as a package.’ Of course, that explanation doesn’t get rid of all the icky baggage that marriage is carrying around with it, nor does it acknowledge the fact that for many people, an official marriage is still not possible. But for better or worse (ha!) getting married did become very important for us.

Now, I can’t pretend I was impervious to all the traditional wedding stuff. Sure, I wore a red dress and not white, but do you know how much stress I put myself (and many others) through to get that absolutely perfect, one-of-a-kind dress? Sure we only had a civil ceremony in a town hall, but if, for language and visa reasons, you decide to get married in a faux-gothic, early twentieth century Danish town hall that happens to be holding said civil ceremonies in the goddamn clock tower on the day of your wedding, you will still have 6 year old girls looking at the photos and squealing, ‘Jenny! It’s your palace! You’re a princess!’

I think my attitude towards the whole thing was that it should be special, of course it should be special, but if anyone dared suggest that this was, or should be, the happiest day of my life, I would come at them with the unnecessarily high heel of my wedding shoe. Apart from anything else, it simply wasn’t true because we were having a ‘reception’ on a different day (and in a different country) to the ceremony (and possibly another reception in Australia next year – we’re calling it ‘The 2016 – 17 International Festival of Jenny and Alex’. Good God, what were we thinking). So, I deliberately tried to buy things that could be used after the wedding ceremony (and specifically, on the day of the reception). Not only the dress, but the headband, the shoes (which can be died a different colour than spill-attracting white-cream), the make-up (which I bought and did myself), the curlers that I used to set my hair (though I must acknowledge the stupendous help of my best friend Erin who stepped in both days and pinned my hair when I suddenly panicked and couldn’t figure out how to do the back of my hair when I couldn’t see it).

The reason we chose Denmark was that we had it on good authority that it could be very complicated for foreigners to get married in Germany. Also, the service had to be done in German or it wasn’t official and if we couldn’t understand properly we had to provide a translator. Denmark, however, has made a cottage industry of marrying absolutely anyone to anyone else, quickly, efficiently and in the language of your choice (provided that your language of choice is Danish, English or German). We contacted ‘Getting Married in Denmark’ who gave great advice, were warm, helpful all along the way (no matter how annoying or stressed the questions!) and got us exactly the wedding that we wanted.

We got into Copenhagen two days beforehand, with enough time to drop off our official documents as well as to visit the fantastic Tivoli Gardens – an historic and beautiful theme park. I can definitely vouch for rollercoasters and an 80m -high swing roundabout thing for getting rid of your pre-wedding anxiety.

StarFlyer

Yup. Went up that thing and lived to tell the tale. ‘Star Flyer’ image found here .

The ceremony was at 10:30am on Saturday, but when we gave in our official documents the woman at the desk had been very disparaging of the notion that we were getting married in the clock tower (way to up the pre-wedding anxiety, random Danish City Hall worker), so we had decided to get there extra early just to make sure that we were actually, really, truly getting married where we had been told we were getting married.

I spent the hours beforehand doing make-up and hair with the help of my stepmum and the the aforementioned Wonderfriend, Erin. I was anxious enough to get approval on almost every brushstroke. Not only is Erin a whizz with the hair, but she is luckily a theatre person and so knew how to attach fake eyelashes – a thing I had bought thinking they looked great but had failed to practice actually attaching to my face. Little tip – 50mins before you need to be at your own wedding is not the time to make your very first attempt at attaching false eyelashes to your face. One does not even know where one should attach fake eyelashes 50mins before one’s wedding – the upper lip? The outer rim of the ear?

Anywho, despite taking way longer than expected, I was ready on time, jumped into a taxi with my parents and wasn’t even the last one to arrive. The City Hall staff on the day were, without exception, friendly, polite, welcoming, happy for us and just generally wonderful. Each staff member showed us to a new section of the City Hall where we would wait a few moments before being shown to another section. The place is stunning with loads of interesting stuff to look at, from nautical and octopus themed wall paintings to exhibitions on WWII in Denmark, so this game of ‘pass-the- wedding-party’ was actually highly enjoyable. The only real issue was when it became increasingly obvious that there was no lift. Not even a little lift for just a little bit of the upward journey. We were to power ourselves all the way up to the clock tower with our own two feet. I mean, it was terribly romantic climbing up all those spiral staircases, but petticoats really do get in the way of making certain that your feet are going where you think they are going.

I can barely remember the ceremony, it was over so quickly. I’m told I squealed. I really hope not. But, then again, I can barely remember the amazing view from the clock tower because I was just so darn excited. So, maybe I squealed. I hope everyone can forgive me. The staff who conducted the ceremony were wonderful and even though we’d never met our celebrant before, she was just perfect – both funny and sincere and just generally warm and empathetic. The little speech she gave in English, of what I can remember, was lovely: something about making sure that we strengthen our relationship by making sure we remain individuals and strengthen each other as individuals. Ah, it was just so perfect. Like I said before, I’ve got issues with romance and public romance, but, I tell you what. This was spectacularly, fantastically, beautifully romantic. Alex was crying (from happiness – I swear I didn’t force him into it). I couldn’t stop smiling.

When we got down to the ground, I dropped our newly minted wedding documents off to be translated and made official (or something) and then we gathered our wedding group together for the post-wedding lunch. We had a bit of time and I was still worked up, so I insisted that we all ‘had to parade’ to the restaurant. In reality, all that meant was walking for 20 mins over cobblestones (though, in hindsight, I should totally have forced them all to play music and throw streamers over me. Missed opportunity). Everyone was extremely kind and all agreed. Nobody even tried to protest. The power of the bride.

Luckily we got to the restaurant just as everyone’s feet were giving out. We had chosen the most Danish restaurant we could find, which served open faced sandwiches and schnapps: Told og Snaps. Again, the staff were wonderful, so friendly and so helpful, considering what a big group we were. They explained we couldn’t possibly drink schnapps without first having beer. This was the way of things in Denmark. So, we all ordered beer and then a schnapps was selected from their long list (‘I will choose a good one for you – if you have never had schnapps before it is difficult to choose’, said the wonderful waiter). The sandwich menu was incredibly long and each one we ordered was incredibly delicious. Who knew a bit of toasted bread with some stuff on top could be so gourmet? The Danes, that’s who.

All the excitement of the past 24 hours: the emotions, the happiness, the stress, the make-up, the hair, the rollercoasters, the lack of food (I’d been unable to eat dinner or breakfast before the wedding) and then the sudden food (so much sandwich! So much cheese!) was starting to take it’s toll. Alex and I went back to the hotel and, in all honesty, all we had the energy to do was watch Danish nature documentaries. Alex fell asleep. Really. I don’t know how couples who do the ceremony and the reception all on the same day do it. I was exhausted.

After about 4 hours of lying down, we had enough energy to go out and get dinner. Around 8pm, people started coming to our hotel room and we had a good ol’ fashioned hotel room party just like in the old days. My brother had brought us lichen liquor from his stop-over in Iceland and we forced everyone to drink it. It was great. I mean, not the liquor, that was pretty awful, but that my brother had brought it and that everyone felt compelled to try it. That was great. Thanks to excellent Danish hotel design, absolutely none of the other guests complained, because absolutely no one could hear anything outside of the room. Spectacular.

On Sunday, Alex and I got up late and then wandered around Copenhagen trying to see a few sights before our flight. Copenhagen is really pretty. That’s my verdict. I would highly recommend it as the place of your next wedding or holiday.

Well, I was going to try and do wedding and reception together but I think it’s getting a bit long. I’ll write the next bit tomorrow.

 

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Filed under Berlin, Dating, Wedding, wedding dress

FOMO and David Bowie

Leaving Australia at the start of January was difficult. 3 weeks at my (old) home was pretty spectacular. It was sunny, I got to wear as many summer dresses as I liked, all these wonderful people that I hardly get to see were there and they are all still very nice and we had more than our fair share of avocados and life was good.

But apart from having to give all of that up, I had also decided I really, truly, hated Berlin.

Of course, that was a bit of an overstatement brought on by sun-mania, dehydration and hyper-avocado-enemia, but there is at least a little nugget of truth at the heart of it.

I’ve had a lot of problems moving to Berlin. I’m terrible about the language thing. Not necessarily that I can’t speak, but that I can’t speak PERFECTLY. That really bothers me. There are some ex-pats who live here very happily knowing no German and there are some ex-pats who live here and work hard and become fluent. I fit into neither category. I’m too lazy to learn German properly, but cripplingly embarrassed about this moral failing in a typically Anglo-Saxon middle-class way.

Plus, I’ve really struggled to find things here that I like to do. I go to work, I come home, I watch Netflix. Seriously, this is my glamorous ex-pat life. The only difference between me and people I grew up with who stayed in Australia is that I get German subtitles on my Netflix and, also, that there are some pretty awesome looking foreign films on offer (that I can’t understand because there are no English subtitles available and because of, you know, the aforementioned language problem).

You’ll be pleased to know that I am taking steps to try and rectify the situation. I’ve turned one of the doors in our apartment into a ‘Berlin To-Do List’, covered in post-it notes that can be easily removed and thrown in the bin (in a most satisfying way), once the activity has successfully been completed. I don’t actually think the To-Do List is that great. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll keep me occupied and it’s stuff I do want to get done, but it still feels like I’m kind of missing something.

Berlin is such a byword for the creative and the avant-garde, the interesting and unique and revolutionary. And yet, in direct contrast, here is my dull little existence, basically indistinguishable from my dull existence in any other city that I’ve lived in (apart from the exciting/cripplingly embarrassing language thing).

Of course, some of the things that make Berlin ‘Berlin’ are uninteresting to me anyway. Taking drugs and staying at clubs all weekend long. That’s a thing, apparently. Working as a kitchen hand and making art in all your free hours and still living comfortably. That’s also a thing, as I found out when I first moved her and stupidly asked Berlin people ‘so, what do you do?’ generating many sniffy responses, which pointedly delineated between paid work and ACTUAL work and that my lack of understanding of the difference made me fairly lacking in value. But neither of those lifestyles, for all their Peter Pan-like appeal, particularly interests me.

I guess this is the problem. Without realising it, I had some strange, perhaps pathetic expectations about how Berlin ‘should’ be and what would happen to me when I got here. A place that was meant to be inspiring and motivating for so many artists, I just kind of assumed it would just naturally inspire and motivate me too. Part of it was my state of mind when I moved here (I GIVE UP! THEATRE IS DEAD TO ME!) But I think I had a secret hope that somehow I would be motivated, inspired and full of words and writing without having to do anything about it. That hasn’t happened. There is nothing I have created here that people will be able to point to and classify my ‘Berlin oeuvre’. And, I have to admit, it’s kind of disappointing.

Certainly it’s hard to be inspired when your main connection with the culture of a place is through a shared obsession with baked goods (so many bakeries! so much fresh bread!) but I’m also at a bit of a loss as to where to find this inspiring, interesting, revolutionary Berlin culture. Is it still there? Was it ever there? Is it something you can actually pinpoint in a moment, or day-to-day, or is it something that you look back on and say, ‘ah, yes, there it was. That time there.’

I certainly haven’t met a contemporary Nabokov or Isherwood or Bowie or Iggy Pop to hang out with, or if I did, I didn’t recognise them (more fool me). Similarly, I haven’t come across an equivalent of the Rote Armee Fraktion (not that I’ve been looking, I swear, CIA). I have visited the ‘trendy’ areas where every young person wants to live and, quite frankly, to me, they seem insufferably full of tourists and ex-pats and pop-up shops selling crappy knick-knacks with moustaches on them. Certainly nothing that’s radically changed my life, or opened up my point of view. I’ve tried to go to artistic nights of poetry and music. I tried to set one up, which we just won’t talk about. I’ve attended a ‘storytelling’ night where various ex-pats told highly ‘moving’ stories of all the drugs they’d taken in countries across the world. But I just can’t find an ‘it’ to satisfy whatever early stereotypes I had formed before I got here.

I don’t want to complain that nothing here is ‘authentic’ any more and I’m certainly not claiming to be some kind of ‘authenticity’ arbiter pointing to bits of the city and declaring this part worthwhile, whilst this over here is valueless. But I just can’t seem to get excited about this place. And so many people are so excited about this place. I just feel like I’ve somehow been left out of the party for the past two years and I don’t quite know what to do about it.

Princess

 

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Filed under Berlin, Uncategorized

What Do You Want?

One of the awkward parts of heading home over Christmas was the amount of times I had to answer the question, ‘So, are you still acting?’ Because I gave up so many months ago (though, really, if no-ones asking you to audition for anything and you’re not getting paid any actual money, is there anything you’re actually ‘giving up’, really?) and then wrote several blog posts about it and then put those blog posts on Facebook, I kind of assumed everyone would have gotten the message. I mean, obviously my family and friends have all subscribed to my blog and eagerly await each new post, which they then read in minute detail, taking notes so that they can later discuss me and my life choices at some kind of ‘Jenny blog’ reading group they have, right?

RIGHT?

Apparently that is not the case (do they not LOVE me???) Nothing like heading home to have to come face-to-face with a whole bunch of stuff you happily ignore in your fake, not-quite-adult, day-to-day Berlin life.

‘No, I’m not acting anymore.’

‘No, I’m not writing either.’

‘No, no theatre, none at all, absolutely no interest, but, anyways, HOW ARE YOU?’ (Mental note: must get better at effective conversation subject changes)

The next question then is, ‘Well, what are you going to do now?’

To which the response is, ‘I don’t know.’

And, then, inevitably, ‘Well, what do you WANT to do?’

To which the response still is, ‘I. DO. NOT. KNOW.’

Idon'tKnow

DON’T KNOW, DON’T KNOW, DON’T KNOW

This is a troubling answer to a lot of people. Who doesn’t know what they want?

(Side note: I often don’t know what I want, but usually it’s 8pm, I haven’t eaten since lunch and someone is attempting to figure out what restaurant to go to. At which point, my response is to cry until someone finds the largest possible plate of the nearest available food and gives it to me)

See, I knew what I wanted. For many years I knew what I wanted and that was to work in theatre and I didn’t know how that was going to happen, but that’s what I wanted and I was going to make it work. Somehow. Many people told me that was not what I wanted, or I that I shouldn’t want that, or that was a stupid thing to want, or a bad thing to want or blah blah blah and it turns out those many people were right. Kudos to them, I hope you all feel very proud of yourselves and wow, wouldn’t life have been swell if I’d listened to you all. No, really, I’m not bitter at you, I’m bitter at me.

ANYWAY, the main point is that after having given up on that one thing that I actually wanted, I literally am left with nothing else.

That’s rather melodramatic. Of course there are plenty of things that I could do, and, furthermore, have considered doing, but exactly how does one choose between them? When there is no strong feeling guiding you in any direction? My main criteria at the moment is, ‘must not choose wrong thing again,’ which I’m sure you can imagine is fairly crippling. I do have one other main criteria which is, ‘cannot work shitty, casual, low-paid, soulless work anymore’, which is also kind of ephemeral and all-encompassing and, in it’s own way limiting.

Despite my ridiculous amounts of fancy schooling, I am trained in nothing useful and nothing necessary.

And, to have people still asking me the same shitty question that got me into this mess (‘But, what do you WANT to do?’) is just the icing on the cake.

 

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Filed under Berlin, Employment, Introspection, Theatre, Unemployment

On Speaking the Language

A few weeks ago I wrote a self-deprecating, whiny post about the fact that I hadn’t learnt German yet and that barmen still switch to English even if I’ve managed to get through ‘One big Radler and one big Dunkels beer’ in German without stumbling over my tongue. A few people at the time (possibly sick of my whiny, self-deprecating writing style) reminded me that I was still doing pretty ok with my rudimentary restaurant German and at least had a head start on all those monolinguists out there.

In all honesty, that didn’t encourage me to be easier on myself, but after another barman switched to english in a busy bar last week and as I mentally and verbally kicked myself out the door and down the street and on to the U-Bahn, A. finally snapped and reminded me that I still, at most, only had 12 months of pretty scrappy language learning behind me and was contending with people who had been learning English for, if not all their lives, most of their lives and, in the nicest possible way, could I please just give it a rest for the trip home, it was quite late and we’d drunk a lot of beer. Ignoring his tone, I realised that he was right and have subsequently put my rose-tinted glasses back on and think only happy thoughts about my German. I’ve also started trying to practice more, which I had stopped doing, on the grounds that I was no good and therefore there was no point in trying to learn anything. It made sense at the time.

Furthermore, I also had a very amusing conversation with a fellow ex-pat and he told me a story about one of his friends who had visited him in Germany. The poor girl had scraped together all of her high school German and attempted to order a beer, in German, to which the barman had replied by glaring at her and then demanding (in English), ‘Why is it MY job to teach you German? Just SPEAK ENGLISH. It’s EASIER.’ Which is harsh, but I can see his point. If you’re in a busy bar and you’ve got a stuttering, mumbling ex-pat in front of you and a disgruntled queue of people waiting for drinks behind, yeah, just SPEAK ENGLISH. It’s easier.

Nevertheless, haters aside, I have been trying to practice more. I went to Frankfurt to meet an old friend from my au-pairing days and as she is German, I attempted to speak some German to her, which was… slow and painful and embarrassing but I got more confident as the days went by. Mainly I just annoyed her with lots of questions in English like, ‘So, how do you say the ‘o’ with the little dots on top properly?’ And ‘Is it true about the difference between the two German past tenses?’ and just a lot of ‘What’s that in German? And that? And what’s that in German? Right, cool. What about that?’ I basically treated her the way my pupils treat me.

She did teach me lots of awesome German phrases. Some of these I had seen/heard before, but she let me say them over and over to her until I was pretty certain I had them right. I present them to you now, because they are absolutely awesome, especially if you translate them directly into English:

Ich glaube ich spinne (literal translation: ‘I believe I spider.’ Meaning: ‘I think I’m saying the wrong thing.’)

Jetzt haben wir den Salat! (literal translation: ‘NOW we have the salad!’ Meaning: ‘We did all that and tried so hard, and THESE are the results???’)

Bring mich nicht in Teufel’s Küche! (literal translation: ‘Don’t take me into the Devil’s Kitchen!’ Meaning: ‘Don’t get me in trouble!’)

Mal nicht den Teufel an der Wand (literal translation: ‘Don’t paint the Devil on the wall.’ Meaning: ‘Don’t jump to the worst conclusion’)

Du gehts mir tierische auf den Keks! (literal translation: ‘You go me animally on the cookie!’ Meaning: ‘You make me crazy!’)

Du bist auf den Holzweg (literal translation: ‘You are on the wood way’ Meaning: ‘You’ve got it wrong’)

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof (literal translation: ‘I only understand train station’ Meaning: ‘I don’t understand anything’)

Ende gut, alles gut (All’s well that ends well)

Das ist mir Würst (literal translation: ‘That is, to me, sausage’ Meaning: ‘It’s the same to me’)

And if that has whet your appetite (or you’d like to hear some of the above phrases spoken, at speed, by actual Germans) watch this hilarious video.

I’ve been practicing them ever since, muttering them under my breath as I fall asleep, exclaiming them out loud when A. least expects it, hoping that passerbys will think I am genuinely German (A. thinks I sound like I’m in some terrible ’90s sitcom and there should be a laugh track played every time I say one, like a character on TV show who has an annoying catchphrase). I think of them as good German exercises for my poor English tongue and that maybe practicing them and getting them perfect will make me not only appear to be German to passerbys, but sound German when the time comes to create sentences of my own.

No, but, seriously, I went into an incredibly intimidating German couture wedding dress shop today (just to see what it was like, just to see if they’d kick me out before I opened my mouth, just to see if all the precious white dresses would explode in my face like some kind of fancy alarm system if I touched them the wrong way) and I spoke entirely to the woman in German. And she spoke German to me. THE WHOLE TIME. And I understood everything! And it was complicated! And she kept speaking German even though she could tell I wasn’t German and she kept speaking German even when I told her I was from Australia because I UNDERSTOOD! And she UNDERSTOOD that I UNDERSTOOD!

Of course, the wedding dresses were ridiculously expensive and I don’t think I’ll be going back again, but the main point here is, I spoke German! And I made sense! Oh happy day!

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Filed under Berlin, expats, German, German language, German phrases, Germany, learning, speaking, teaching, translation, wedding dress

The Dress

If you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, you’ll know that A. and I recently made a pretty big life decision, one which involves at least one ring, but does not concern the fate of Middle Earth.

(As a side note, FB friends probably also know A.’s real name and realise how boring a moniker I’ve given him (you may notice it’s boringness even without being a FB friend). He’s actually demanded a new one, something along the lines of Lord-High-and-Mighty-the-Intelligent- Handsome-and-Great, but it’s too late now, I didn’t know at the time (sometime last year) how potentially important he might be in the story of this blog, and he has his boring moniker and I’m sticking to it.)

Anyways, getting back to the point, as a consequence of this major life decision, which we will refrain from naming by name (and not because we are scared of it – though we are scared of the targeted advertising, which is somehow yet to find us), I have been searching for a dress. No, wait, not just, ‘a’ dress.

THE Dress. The Dress of My Lifetime. The Dress of My Dreams. The Only Dress That Ever Was and Will Ever Be.

See, I thought I was just buying a nice dress to wear on a nice day of my life. But that is WRONG. There is a ‘Cult of The Dress’ out there, and they have RULES. RULES THAT MUST BE OBEYED. Perhaps even more disturbingly is how many of these rules I have internalised and am sub-consciously attempting to fulfil when looking for my own dress. GET OUT OF MY BRAIN, HIVE MIND!

1) THE RULE OF TEARS

When you put on ‘The Dress’ you will start to cry. Your friends and family (who you have, of course, brought along for this momentous moment) will start to cry. The sales assistants in the shop will start to cry. EVERYONE THAT CATCHES THE SMALLEST GLIMPSE OF YOU IN ‘THE DRESS’ , INCLUDING STRANGERS AND STRAY CITY PIGEONS PECKING AT LEFTOVER CHICKEN OUTSIDE THE SHOP WINDOW, MUST IMMEDIATELY START TO CRY, OR IT IS NOT ‘THE DRESS’. Look, basically, if everyone in the world isn’t being swept away on a sea of tears, brought into existence simply by the beauty of you in your dress, then you can take off the gown comfortable in the knowledge that whatever boring, everyday taffeta nightmare you just tried on was not ‘THE DRESS’. If the bridal store doesn’t look like that water scene from Alice in Wonderland, then take off the dress. It’s not for you. Maybe it’s for someone else. But not for you.

How your bridal store should look. Found at: https://happeningsonchaosranch.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/postcards-to-share/

How your bridal store should look. Less animals, possibly. Found at: https://happeningsonchaosranch.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/postcards-to-share/

2) THE RULE OF WHITE

Wedding dresses are white. Or creme. Or pearl. Or beige, biscuit, sand, mushroom, eggshell, taupe, off-white, fawn, neutral or whatever other synonym you can come up with that means ‘sort of white’. Otherwise, how does anyone know you are getting married? How do YOU know you are getting married? What if you turned up to the church/temple/mosque/town hall and SUDDENLY FORGOT what you were there for and went home again without getting married??? HOW DREADFUL WOULD THAT BE???? Best get a shade of white just to make sure everyone, most of all you, knows what is happening.

3) THE RULE OF SPECIAL

Wedding dresses are special. It’s a special day. You’ll know it’s a wedding dress because the price tag will incorporate it’s specialness. The size of the dress should also indicate it’s specialness and the bizarre shape, practical for no useful activity (such as breathing, eating or walking) should indicate it’s specialness and, of course, the number of diamantes you’ve managed to squish on the bodice will indicate it’s specialness. It should be so special that you’ll never, ever be able to wear it ever again without having interactions that start: ‘Hey, isn’t that a wedding dress? Oh, no, I’m not judging, it’s just, well…. it’s nice and all, but why exactly did you decide to wear it for a mountain bike ride?’ This dress SHOULD be the most expensive and most impractical dress you have ever, and will ever buy, and if that way of thinking ends up with you, on your special day looking like one of those dolls that sat on top of your grandmother’s toilet rolls, then SO BE IT. REVEL in your specialness! REVEL in your obscene amounts of taffeta! REVEL!

4) THE RULE OF YOU

Who are you? What would you say your personality is? Are you an introvert? Extrovert? Romantic? Modern-Woman? Girl Next Door? I’ll wait here while you go do some Buzzfeed personality quizzes, if you like. Worked it out? Great. Now, I want you to describe that personality to me AS A DRESS. Do you have a tea-length personality? Or are you more of a ‘dramatic train’ kinda gal? If you don’t know what your personality is, was, and always will be, then I can’t help you buy a dress. Don’t forget. There’s only ever ONE dress for ONE woman and if you can’t sum up your entire life history, personality, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams into that one, single dress, then nobody is going to cry, or even really care, when you say ‘I do’. I guarantee it (don’t think you’ll get out of this question by having a reception dress as well as a ceremony dress – that’s just cheating and everyone knows you’re a weird fence-sitter and possibly sociopath who can’t make up their mind about their own personality. MAKE UP YOUR MIND)

5) THE RULE OF PHOTOS

Will it look good in the photos? Will you look thin in the photos? Will you have a nice bum in the photos? Will you have good cleavage in the photos whilst also still looking thin? Will you look both sexy and demure in the photos? Will you like the photos when you look back at them in a year’s time? 5 year’s time? 60 year’s time? WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE PHOTOS??

6) THE RULE OF THE THEME

Don’t get married out of context. If you’re getting married on a beach, you can’t ALSO have a ball gown. Like, obviously. I mean, you wear pink on Wednesdays but you can only wear track pants on Friday. Don’t confuse people! If you were wearing pink tracksuits on a Tuesday, people would be like, ‘Oh, god, wait! What day is it? What’s happening? Who am I? I seem to be in some sort of extended Mean Girls metaphor! Quick, get me out!’ That’s how people will feel at your wedding if you get married in a ball gown on the beach. The space-time continuum will collapse and life as we know it will disappear. It’s pretty simple: you work out your personality and then you work out your theme and then you work out your dress. Otherwise you’ll be like that girl I saw on the second-hand dress website who had to sell her unworn, $6000 wedding dress because it ‘no longer fit the theme of her wedding.’ Amateur.

Oh, pink! It’s Wednesday then. Phew. Now I understand. Found at: http://allmyroads.com/tag/we-wear-pink-gifs/

7) THE RULE OF PRINCESSES

All women on their special day must feel like and/or be treated like and/or be a princess. Never wanted to be a princess? Too bad. Should have thought of that before you decided to get married. Whilst this is definitely a rule, it seems a little amorphous, to be honest. Maybe I’ll understand it more after my big day. Should everyone stop referring to you by your first name and only address you as ‘Your Highness’ for the duration of the ceremony? Does everyone need to curtesy whenever they see you? Should you develop a sudden and passionate interest in polo matches and ridiculous hats just for your wedding? Perhaps you have to incorporate some kind of coronation for your mother and father during your wedding ceremony just to ensure the legalities of being a princess are all in order and up to scratch?

CONCLUSION

As I’m sure you can tell, I’m coping really well with the search for the dress and am in no way stressed or overreacting or hyperbolising. And I most definitely did not go into a Vintage Store on Monday, hide my engagement ring in my wallet, and then tell the woman in the store that I was looking for a dress to wear to my friend’s wedding just because I couldn’t handle her possibly bringing up all rules of the dress and force me out of the store wearing this:

With that facial expression, also.

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Pepper Spray and Swimming with Ducks

A. and I are sometimes a boring little empire of two-dom. As I’ve mentioned before, moving to a new country as a two-some can encourage this disgustingly couple-ly behaviour. Hanging out with your other half is certainly easier than making new friends and it’s also less risky. You pretty much know they’re never going to come out and express a previously hidden admiration for Tony Abbott’s immigration policies. Whereas, new people. Well, it’s never even guaranteed that they’ll be able to speak English to you. Sheesh.

But we also get stuck in patterns of behaviour. I don’t know why it’s happening more in Berlin than in London, but it seem like every Saturday we get up late and get the same food from the same food stall at the same market as last week. And, at first it makes you feel charmingly local and eventually it makes you feel like the only thing you know about Berlin is how to buy spinach and cheese gozleme from the same salt-and-pepper Turkish man on a Saturday morning.

Again, it’s about ease. Coming up with new ideas of what to do is hard. Especially when most things are advertised in a language of which you only have a basic understanding.

Anyway, last weekend, we struck out for something new. I’m a member of a few English-language expat groups on FB and a month or two ago an Australian woman advertised a jams, pickles and chutney course she was teaching from her home. It seemed appealingly quaint and homely, so I insisted that this was something A. was interested in doing with me and we signed up.

For those of you not based in Berlin, last weekend was a scorcher. So, we were a little bit worried about how comfortable it would be to stand over a hot stove stirring stewing fruit for several hours. But it ended up being delightful. The nice thing about the altbau (old building) houses in Berlin is that they are deliciously cool. Indoors turned out to be the best place to be. Alex and I made a little cooking team and we made strawberry, apple and rosewater jam, pickled cucumbers and tomato kasundi chutney. The chutney is especially excellent because no-one in Germany believes in chilis and the food available here is spiced accordingly (we’ve since discovered that there is a little note at the bottom of some Indian restaurant menus that tells you if you would like to experience the food with traditional ‘Indian spices’, all you need to do is tell the waiter. Presumably, some of that tradition includes chili). The chutney, however, contains 8 chilis and extra chili powder, so I’ve been happily burning my mouth out all week. Ah, the strange things you miss when you move overseas.

Of course, me being me, it was not possible to have an excellent day out without me doing something idiotic. We were just winding down for the afternoon, we’d put the chutney on the simmer and had nothing else to do except sit down and relax for a bit. There were no seats in the kitchen, so we moved into the living room to relax. The other cooking team was making onion jam in there and the spiciness of the onions went straight into my eyes, making them itch. Without stopping to think, I put my fingers deep into my eye sockets and gave them both a good old rub. Of course, I had been the one who had cut up all those spicy little chilis for our chutney, and hadn’t bothered to use gloves or give my hands more than a cursory wash in the sink when I was done. My eyes immediately began to burn with the fire of a thousand suns and as much as I tried to open them up, they would quickly fill with tears and obscure everything. I ran into the bathroom and started splashing water on my face, which would help for maybe 2 seconds at a time. Of course, everyone was panicking, but trying to keep calm so that I didn’t panic more, and I was panicking, but trying to stay calm so that everyone else didn’t panic more. They attempted to manoeuvre me over the bathtub with my head back and then run water from the shower head over my eyes, but this only made me panic more because the water was going up my nose and I thought I was going to drown. Also, the water was making my eyes feel nice, but the top of my head was like ice, so I had two different burning sensations going on in different parts of my head.

After 10 minutes or so of this I had resigned myself to never being able to see again and my eyes being eaten away from the inside by tiny little red chili men (similar, in my mind to pacmen). At least, I thought, if I can’t see anymore, I won’t have to go to work on Monday. But, then, A. used is internet smarts to look up the answer on his phone. Milk was the answer, he told us. After what seemed a lifetime (apparently pain screws up your time perception, which explains why my head was screaming, ‘NOTHING WILL EVER BE NORMAL AND GOOD AGAIN. EVERYTHING IS WRONG AND IT WILL NEVER BE FIXED. OH, I HAVE FELT THIS PAIN FOR THE ENTIRETY OF MY EXISTENCE’), A. got me over the bathtub and poured the milk over my eyes. Being a liquid, the milk then went everywhere; my eyebrows, my nose, my neck, my dress, my bra (and milk-soaked clothing is precisely what you want on a 35 degree day). Almost immediately, I could open my eyes again and the burning had stopped. The milk seemed to have moved the chili oil around my face as my eyebrows and nose were now burning, but it was much more bearable than being in my eyes. A. tells me this experience is exactly like being pepper sprayed, so at least now I’ll have a first-hand experience if I ever want to write a story in which someone gets pepper sprayed. Yay, silver linings. The worst thing though is that the woman who was taking the course had mentioned, not half an hour before I rubbed my eyes with chilis, how someone from her course a week or two ago had rubbed her eyes just after chopping chilis and it was terrible. I had shook my head with a rueful smile. ‘Oh, how silly some people can be’, I said, or words/sentiments to that effect. Look, now, how the prideful have fallen.

Sunday was almost as hot, so we decided to go swimming in a lake. Swimming in lakes in Berlin is the German equivalent of going to a beach in Sydney. There are so many different lakes around, each has it’s own character and everyone has their opinion of which is the best to go to. Because we took so long getting up, we headed towards a ‘Freibad’ on a small like in Jungfernheide, Charlottenburg, under the mistaken belief that a ‘Free Bath’ (literal translation) would be free. Ah, not so, little Grasshopper. After walking many minutes through the forest, we discovered that not only was the lake bathing area full to bursting, they were asking for 5 Euro to get in. However, the pay area was only a small part of the large lake, so, we walked back through the woods to find the section of the lake where all the cheapskates were swimming and went there instead. It did worry me, I have to admit, as if swimming outside the pay area with all it’s fences, was the equivalent of swimming outside the Yellow and Red flags, or outside the shark net or something. Even though I could see that the pay area and the free area of the lake were connected (indeed, they were the same lake), something in my brain was convinced that the paid area was safe and the free area was full of sharks and jellyfish, dangerous rips, chemical dumps, or at the very least, giardia. Presumably your 5 Euro went towards building the underwater concrete wall that kept the two bodies of water separate and the pay one clean and the free one dirty.

Anywho, it was hot, so despite my misgivings, we found a spot and got in the water gingerly. I’m not sure the colour of the water did much to allay my fears, or the fact that once I was ankle deep, I could no longer see my toes, but seeing how my limbs didn’t immediately drop off or start stinging or burning, I continued to venture in. Our spot on the lake included a tree which had fallen into the water, allowing us to edge out into the middle of the lake, without ever having to put our feet onto the unknown and unknowable lake bed. And, indeed, during an hour and a half of swimming, I never once allowed my feet to touch the ground. I know it’s weird. But I just can’t help feeling that if I put my feet on the ground, I’d find that it wasn’t sand, or rocks, but a writhing carpet of slimy eels. Perhaps other people would call these slimy eels pond weed or something similar. But it wouldn’t matter. If I can’t see it and it’s slimy and seemingly moving against my legs of it’s own accord, then it’s an eel, which is practically a snake, which definitely wants to eat me from the toes up. Urgh.

The water was actually a lovely temperature, and providing I kept my mouth shut and didn’t think too hard about the fact that the charming group of ducks floating past me definitely shat in the water I was swimming in, all was well. We did a few laps of the lake, did a few elegant dive bombs into the lake from the tree, got nibbled on by some curious fish (eek! eek! eek!) and then were so starving hungry that we had to get out. It was a delightful afternoon. Also, A. took a photo of me looking like that Venus woman in the shells with the angels and things. Except, you know, standing on a fallen tree, with no angels and with pond water hair and not naked. Which, I feel is a much more accurate and un-photoshopped version of how Venus would have been birthed.

Birth of Venus

See? So much more realistic.

See? So much more realistic.

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