Category Archives: Germany

German Customer Service

As I mentioned in the last post, I avoided speaking in German as much as possible while in Germany. Which is probably why it took such a long time for my German to improve and that it never got to a level that I was happy with. But, there were times when I couldn’t avoid it. Some of those times were when I had to ring up a service provider to complain, or ask about my contract, or something like that. An Australian friend advised to always make ‘them’ speak English to you – it puts them on the back foot and gives you an advantage, instead of making you stressed, sweaty and struggling for words from the get-go. Good advice, even if it made me feel slightly dodgy and entitled expecting all Germans to speak English  well enough to provide customer service in that language whenever it was convenient for me.

Unfortunately though, these days, there is usually a computer on the end of the phone which guards the entrance to human interaction. So, whether or not I was going to ask to speak in English, or whether or not I was going to alert the customer service provider to my terrible German, but assure them that I would try to speak in German and could they please speak slowly, I still had to make my way through an automated, voice-and-language activated system before I could get to a (hopefully) understanding person.

So, there are a few problems with the computer-bot on the phone if you’re not confident with a language. First of all, the computer speaks unbelievably fast. Sure, it’s probably a decent speed (maybe even too slow!), for a native speaker, but for a beginner, it is like the computer bot’s mouth is galloping faster than a thousand hyper-speed horses. In daily interactions, there was a good chance I would not understand 50% of what was being said, so I relied on context and body language to clarify people’s meaning. I would use the movement of a person’s mouth to help ‘hear’ German words and woe betide if someone was trying to explain something complex to me while a child was having a meltdown and a rubbish truck was passing and the music was on too loud – too many sound distractions essentially shut down my brain’s translation mechanism. Of course, all these things are extra difficult on the phone – there is no mouth to watch, no body language to follow and phones seem to never be loud enough (I felt like I was already 90 years old with a dodgy hearing aid). Finally, because it’s customer service, they are using super polite German, which means using far too many words to say very simple things. I would have been far happier with a service that just barked slowly and loudly, ‘Kundennummer!’ at me over and over again until I finally worked out they needed my customer number and entered it.  All of the thank yous and we’re here to helps just meant that I’d still be translating a greeting in my head when computer-bot would have moved on to what information I needed to provide for it to continue.

And that brings me to the other side of the problem. Not only do you have to understand computer-bot; computer-bot has to understand you. Man, I’ve never had a harsher German teacher than these automated voice services. Most of the time all I had to do was list numbers (a relatively easy task), but the computer-bot would be all, ‘oh, I have no idea what you just said! Was it a drei? Was it a zwei? So confusing your ‘German’ is! I will shut down now.’ When computer-bots first became popular on phone services my father despised them. So, he came up with a system for avoiding the computer bot and being immediately transferred to an actual human. It essentially involved him getting on the phone and yelling, ‘No!’ or ‘Help!’ over and over again until the computer bot gave up trying to understand him and transferred him to a human being. I’ve tried that trick on numerous German customer service lines and in Germany, it seems that if the computer-bot can’t understand you, computer-bot hangs up. Even if you are genuinely trying hard, if computer-bot tries to understand you more than 3 or 4 times, sometimes computer-bot will just hang up anyway. Presumably because computer-bot is tired and has more important things to do than try and understand your ‘German’.

computersaysno

Found here

The absolute worst experience I had with German phone customer service was having to ring DHL earlier this year. My Dad sent me a Christmas present and because it was electronics, he decided to order it from Amazon Germany, as it would have the right power socket and because he thought the shipping would be cheaper. One half of the present arrived, but the other half, in a separate packet, never did. I kept waiting for a packet, or a delivery note but after 3 weeks, I decided to ring Amazon Germany. I got on the phone and explained, very politely, that my German was not very good, but that I would try. The woman on the other end of the phone sighed very dramatically and said, in German, ‘Oh my God.’ So far, so good, Jenny’s feeling super-dooper. We managed to get through the interaction and she explained that as far as Amazon was concerned, the packet had been delivered and I would have to contact DHL. So, I rang up DHL and the phone call started off with an extremely complicated list of potential actions that I might want to do or may have enquiries about. I had to make computer-bot repeat itself about 3 times before I made a choice. It turned out to be the wrong choice, as computer-bot gave me a lot of information that I couldn’t understand and then hung up on me. So, I called again. I decided to make a new choice, which was ‘packets’. After that, computer bot asked me if I needed international or national packets. I ummed and ahhhed and decided it was international. I got put through, did my spiel on my bad German and then explained that my father in Australia had sent me something that had not arrived and I wanted to know where it was. The man took the number from me and told me that, unfortunately, this was a national packet, not an international packet (it had come from Amazon Germany), so I had to speak to national packets. Instead of putting me though to national packets, he hung up on me, which was a bit of a surprise, but I figured I knew what I needed to do now, so I called up DHL again, made all the choices and got through to national packets. I explained, again, how very sorry I was but I didn’t speak German very well, but that I would try. I explained that my father in Australia had sent me something and without listening to the rest of the story, the man on the phone started yelling, ‘No, you’ve got it wrong, this is national packets, no, you don’t understand, you’re in the wrong place,’ continuing to talk over the top of me, as I tried to explain, in more and more desperate (and terrible) German that the packet had been sent from Germany, that I’d already spoken to international packets and that they had told me to speak to national packets and then, as he continued to say, ‘no no no’ over the top of me, he hung up.

(At this point, I was so furious that I flung my phone across the room and hit a cupboard. I was also at work, so I had some concerned colleagues come in to find out if I was ok, which resulted in a strange story going around the kita that I had been scammed on the internet – I was so mad at that point that I don’t know what German I was speaking but it was clearly very confused and not in anyway accurate)

I took a few deep breaths and called DHL again. I got through to domestic packets and, even though I had spent the last 5 minutes repeating to myself over and over not to tell the person on the phone that ‘my father in Australia’ had sent me a packet, of course, my brain was on automatic, it had worked out a nice German spiel and it wasn’t about to work out a new one now when it was angry and stressed and sick of the entirety of the German language, so, I said it again. Immediately, IMMEDIATELY, the woman starts telling me I’m in the wrong place, that I need international packets. I’m so panicked that I’m about to be hung up on for the 4th time in half an hour that I yell, desperately, at her in German to ‘Wait! Please! Wait!’ And, because she is a good human (unlike the other man), she stops talking long enough for me to explain, as slowly and calmly as possible, that I have already spoken to international packets they sent me to domestic packets and that the packet comes from Amazon Germany. Of course, she is now furious that I yelled at her, so she takes the packet number from me very grudgingly. So grudgingly, in fact, that she doesn’t listen properly, enters the number incorrectly and then tells me that this packet doesn’t exist and it’s not coming up. She’s so angry at me that she doesn’t even suggest that maybe she could try again, I have to beg her in my terrible German to listen to me list the number again (‘Please. Once more. Please. Please. You try. Please. Once more.’) This time, either my German is clearer, or she’s listening better, who knows, but the packet comes up and she is delighted to tell me that it has already been sent back to Amazon. I ask her why and she tells me that they tried to deliver it, but when we weren’t at home, they took it back to the depot and then I didn’t pick it up in time. They only keep packets for two weeks. I tell her that DHL never left me a note to say that they had tried to deliver it and she gives me the phone equivalent of a shoulder shrug and a comment along the lines of it’s not her fault, that’s the policy and the packet is gone.

Of course, Amazon being Amazon, they just sent me out a new one, but that experience of DHL phone customer service still makes me so angry and anxious that I am currently jittery.

I’m really not saying that I should have my own special customer service line in English (though, as a side note, my health insurance – TK – did provide that and it was awesome). It’s Germany after all. But what was amazing to me was, first of all, how terrifying and intimidating customer service by phone is if you’re not confident with the language and secondly, the level of contempt some people aim at you if you can’t speak their language properly, even when you apologise, even when you’re trying very hard.

Of course, not everyone is terrible. Trying to cancel my electricity a couple of months ago, I got on the phone to my provider Stromio. I did my usual spiel of speaking bad German but that I would try. I explained that I was leaving the country and needed to know how to quit my contract. The guy rattled off a lot of information at top speed. I said, I’m so sorry, I don’t understand what you said. Could you please say it again, slower? At which point, with great gentleness and kindness he said, ‘Of course, of course Frau Williams. Of course I can speak slower.’ And then he repeated it all, nice and slowly, nice and clearly and answered all my follow up questions with great patience. The whole interaction kept me on a high for several hours. It really doesn’t take much.

 

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Filed under German, German language, Germany

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

“Alone” in Berlin

Over the course of my life, I’ve moved countries more times than seems sane. It’s gotten to the point now, that if I’m at a party and I start to list the places I’ve lived, people move beyond interested to slightly confused and into well-meaning concern. ‘What exactly is wrong with this girl,’ they seem to think, ‘that she can’t just choose a country and stay there?’

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the commonalities and differences between these experiences. Despite the places involved, a lot of the feelings are the same. Before you move there’s the jittery excitement, which occasionally intensifies into tiny moments of absolute terror.

Once you arrive, for a little while, everything seems wonderful. Everything is beautiful because everything is new, and everything is charming because everything is different. This could last several weeks. There are moments of terror, still, when things go wrong and you’ll be made aware of how completely alone and helpless you actually are. Or feel that you are. You don’t know where to go to for help, or who to go to for help, you don’t know how much money help could cost, you don’t know what the consequences might be. Usually these terrors come from bureaucratic nonsense, but it could also be something as simple as getting on the wrong bus, or getting on the right bus going in the wrong direction, or simply not writing out detailed enough directions that could leave you lost in the dark and dry-heaving by the side of the road in an unknown neighbourhood.

Still, though, it’s several weeks of rose-tinted glasses shook up by occasional moments of terror. So, everything is still exciting. Your adventure feels like a genuine adventure. You might not even be homesick yet (though jet lag can play havoc with emotions). You’ll feel completely justified in moving so far away for such a long time. This is a ‘Big Thing’ you are doing and it is ‘Important’ and it will ‘Teach You Things’. But this perceived ‘Significance’ will blind you to what is coming next: the weeks, or months, of abject boredom and loneliness. Where things cease to be lovely and charming and new, or even terrifying and confusing and new, and gradually become ordinary and dull and expected. You won’t remember why you came. You won’t remember why you want to stay. You’ll become hyper-aware of every moment of every day, feel them slipping through your fingers, aware that they will never come back, and what good have they done you? You’ll watch a lot of TV.

The way to avoid this feeling, of course, is to go out and make friends. Join activity groups, develop a meaningful routine, or at least a routine, which through its repetition somehow becomes meaningful. I know this. I know this from countless moves. I knew it, in theory, even before the first time I left.

And yet, and yet, and yet. I’ve lived here in Berlin continuously for 5 months, and for 7 months in total, but the number of friends I have in this city can be counted on one hand. Since finishing my German course in December and failing to sign up for the next one (I’m too lazy. German is so hard. It’s dark and cold at night now and I just want to be in bed), I only have one regular fortnightly activity.

I blame A. Well, no, I blame myself, but I blame myself for relying on A. so much. The fact is I’ve never moved to another country with someone else before, and it’s made me a little bit lazy this time around. It makes the beginning easier, for certain. The terrors are not quite so terrifying, or, at least, you can dump your terrors on someone else, which somehow makes them seem less horrible, if not less terrifying. When I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get a visa before I was kicked out of Germany, A. gamely agreed to get up at 3:30am take the train to way-out West Berlin, line up until 7am and help me with my application. I might still been terrified, but it was impossible to feel alone when A. was buying me fizzy water because I felt nauseous.

As nice as it is, the absence of this feeling of loneliness has been detrimental in becoming settled in Berlin. If I’ve wanted to see something, or do something, or go somewhere, I’ve just dragged A. along. Yeah, yeah, it’s really sweet (I’m sure you’re throwing up in your teas by now) and it certainly put off the boredom and loneliness and existential worries for a few months, but I’ve now been here for half a year and I still feel like I’m living lightly on this place. Being here, but not actually being here. It became all the more obvious this past weekend, when A. returned to the UK without me and I had to fill 4 entire days (a weekend, no less), with… I don’t know… stuff. I saw a couple of people, which was lovely, but the rest of the time I just watched Miss Marple on youtube and bought a lot of second-hand clothes. It appears that, outside of A, all that is left of my life is old lady crime fighters and shopping. Sigh

It doesn’t help that I’m quite picky about the people I hang out with. Or that I can be quite awkward in new social situations. At a picnic in October, I asked a girl here, ‘so what do you do?’ and the look of confusion on her face spoke such volumes to me: this is not what you ask of people in Berlin. Berlin ex-pats are temporary people. They live here temporarily, they do jobs temporarily. The experience of being in Berlin is what you do in Berlin, and it is Great and Important. But it also made me so aware of what a terribly boring, horrible question that it is to ask anyone, anywhere – and yet I always ask it. I always, always ask it. I can’t help it. My mind goes blank. I either completely clam up, revert to clichéd questions and trot out dull stock phrases like, ‘how interesting’ and ‘I know what you mean,’ or I completely lose my head and confess all my deepest darkest secrets immediately and scare them away.

You’ll be pleased to know, however, that I am attempting to do better. I’ve even tried leaving A. at home on his own once and a while. I’ve been joining a few social groups through Meet-Up.com, like writing groups (hence a new blog post), painting groups, book clubs, walking groups, social groups etc. etc. etc. I’ve joined a few on Facebook as well. Finding social interaction via the internet does sometimes feel like standing in the middle of a crowded square and screaming desperately, ‘DOES ANYBODY WANT TO BE MY FRIEND??’ at strangers, but, hey ho, you do what you have to do, I suppose, to keep the existential paranoia at bay.

Last week was my first attempt at a social week. I attempted to go to a writing group and ended up on a street with the right name on the wrong side of Berlin (ALWAYS put the postcode into Google maps, ALWAYS, ALWAYS). I then attempted to go to a painting group and, due to my old granny ways of not checking Facebook during the day, ended up waiting outside someone’s apartment block for 15 minutes not able to get in because I didn’t know which apartment she was in.

But I will not be beaten! This week I have gotten to the writing group, and this week I will get into the apartment and paint. I don’t know if I’ll make any firm friends in any of these places, as that would require me to invite people out to drinks/dinner/my house/a museum/Potsdam and I’ve never been good at asking people out, even in the non-romantic sense.

(I used to go to the movies on my own as a teenager because 1) I didn’t think films were a social activity and I disliked anybody who thought they were – DON’T TALK THROUGH MY MOVIE 2) the anxiety of someone possibly saying no for some reason 3) the MAJOR RESPONSIBILITY of choosing a film and convincing someone to go with you and then WHAT IF THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT?? That would be ALL MY FAULT and who knows what dreadful things would be in store for a person who wasted $8-10 of their friend’s money. You would probably at least be expected to pay the $8-10 back and the friendship would be put on hold, if not ended entirely. You might also be put on some kind of friendship blacklist so everyone would know you were the kind of person who would waste $8-10 of a friend’s money. I’m not saying I still think this way entirely… but, well, old habits die hard.)

Nevertheless, getting out of the house this evening has already been remarkably refreshing. Even if I’m just sitting here, tapping away, in silence, surrounded by new people. Even this is enough to restore my enthusiasm for Berlin, at this point. As much as I love the apartment (and Miss Marple. Oh, and A., of course), seeing the same 50sq metres of Schöneberg and the same 100 sq metres of Steglitz every single day is enough to drive anyone bonkers. So, onwards, to the next 7 social months!

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Filed under Germany

Incurring the Wrath of the Gods (or a Visit to Potsdam)

We’ve been pretty dreadful at getting out of Berlin since moving here. There are many reasons for this. Money. Time. Weather. The land outside of Berlin is pretty assuredly German, and whilst we are getting better (no-one switches to English in restaurants anymore! I don’t flap my arms quite so much when attempting to construct a sentence!), it is certainly comforting to know that, whilst in Berlin, at least, most people, could, if necessary, switch to English if things got too complicated.

But the fact is, we’ve gotten a little bored of Berlin. Well, not bored exactly, there’s obviously still plenty to see, but, bored of ourselves in Berlin, maybe? Bored of our routines? Waking up late on a Saturday for a big breakfast, some BBC radio online and then a potter around the immediate area, usually involving some kind of delicious German cake. Last weekend we decided it was time to shake things and we were finally going to go to… Potsdam.

Whilst technically it’s own city and capital of the state of Brandenburg no less (Berlin is it’s own city-state), Potsdam sits on the very end of the Berlin Metro transport zone. It takes an hour on public transport maximum to get there. Despite this, and despite the fact that it is the home to an entire PARK of palaces (not just one, not just two, a whole PARK of them), and despite the fact that most of our weeks since arriving had started with a discussion of the fact that maybe we should visit Potsdam this weekend; we still, 4 and a half months later, had not visited the place. It had gotten to the point of being a joke between us. Maybe we would never visit Potsdam. Maybe we would leave in two years time having never gotten to the end of the Metro line. Maybe we weren’t MEANT to visit Potsdam. Maybe it was, for us, verboten. It had been written, in the times before, that we should never see Potsdam together in this life.

Saturday morning wasn’t the most inviting. The skies were grey and my trusty kindle weather app predicted rain, rain and more rain. But we were determined. If not now, when? We told ourselves that it was at least a warmer day: a whole 11 degrees maximum predicted. We rugged ourselves up and headed out. Sure it was raining, but, we could buy an umbrella, we said. Sure, it was blowing a gale-force wind and an umbrella wouldn’t last the day, but we could wrap our heads in our scarves and wear our hats and we would hardly notice the difference.

Potsdam is an odd town. Yes, it has a park of pretty palaces, but it also spent 40 years in East Germany, so it inevitably got lumped with some fairly standard Communist ‘pretty-architecture-is-for-capitalist-pigs’ box buildings (side note: there are some excellent Communist buildings out there that I like very much. But if they exist in Potsdam I did not see them). It’s remarkable the palaces survived communism at all, really, as they were just left there rotting in their pretty park for 40 years. It wasn’t until the glorious return of glorious capitalism in the ’90s that we were allowed to gloriously worship their gloriousness once more. We wandered around the pretty Dutch quarter, managed to order some German cheesecake (and eat it too) at the oddly named ‘Cafe Guam’ and then headed off to find the palaces.

The real headliner of the park is the palace Sanssouci (it is, after all, called Park Sanssouci). Sanssouci was a summer palace built by Frederick the Great, that was meant to ‘die with him’ (so he probably wouldn’t have minded the fact that the the Communists abandoned it and would have resented the glorious capitalists coming back and minutely repairing it so that people could walk around it reverentially in soft shoes and talking in hushed voices). ‘Sanssouci’ translates to ‘No Regrets’, which I think makes Frederick the Great the originator of the ‘sorrynotsorry’ hashtag.

Sanssouci #sorrynotsorry

Sanssouci #sorrynotsorry

In the summer time, Sanssouci is all luscious greenery and overflowing fountains of abundance with fireworks displays and orchestras and everything else the glorious capitalists can think of. But when we went on Saturday, everything was discreetly tucked away. There were hardly any people about. I kept thinking the park had a distinctly seaside feel, which I couldn’t quite figure out until I acknowledged all the small, grey wooden houses, standing about, looking like drab versions of the charming changing rooms on some British beaches. A. thought they were guards houses but we couldn’t figure out why the palace needed *quite* so many guards, and in particular, a whole circle of guards facing into a pond. That’s when we figured out that they were protective huts for all the statues, that had been shut up for the winter months. Because, if you visit Potsdam when you’re not supposed to you do not get to see statues.

When we got up to the palace, we discovered it all shut up. We hadn’t really thought we’d go in, but I was disappointed not to get a chance to look in the palace shop (it’s the glorious capitalist in me). That’s when we noticed the sign on the window. I started struggling bravely along with the German, translating painfully slowly, word by word, when A. blurts out, ‘it’s closed because of the bad weather.’ Of course. This is a tourist place and everything has an English translation printed underneath. However, checking the German against the English we noticed that whilst the English were being told of ‘adverse weather conditions’, the Germans were being advised of the ‘STURMWARNUNG’, which even with my limited German seemed not to be the same thing. Sure, maybe in overly polite England, ‘adverse weather conditions’ means ‘MASSIVE HORRIBLE STORM COMING FOR YOU’, but I felt it was still an inappropriate cultural translation in this particular incidence. Suddenly, the amusingly empty palace of parks, where none of the gates seemed to be open anymore, where the trees were really very tall and being whipped about in a most alarming way, didn’t seem quite so fun. And it also seemed to be getting quite dark, quite quickly.

Quite dark, quite quickly.  Ok, so maybe I cheated a little.

Quite dark, quite quickly.
(0k, so maybe I cheated a little)

IMG_1561



 



 



 



 

 

So, we high-tailed it out of the park, past the mini Brandenburg Gate and into a bar, just before the heavens opened and spewed forth their rage on Potsdam and all that dared to visit it. A glass of red and a beer later, it had calmed down enough for us to continue back to the train station, ready for home and planning our dinner. It had been an excellent day, we thought, and we had been lucky. We missed all the bad weather and still got to see the sights. Perhaps not the inside-of-the-palace sights, but at the very least, the outside-of-the-palace sights, which was definitely worth the 4 euro or so our train tickets cost us.

We bought our tickets and went to our platform, not really paying attention to the long lines of people in front of the transport information desk, the large crowds staring despondently at the information screens. We had planned to get an express train back into Berlin, but it was then that we noticed the train we were planning to take, was running at least 20 minutes late. It was, in fact, just sitting on the platform. We changed out plans and decided to get the metro line. An S-bahn was sitting at the platform, apparently just waiting for us and we jumped in gratefully, trying to ignore the people looking concerned milling about on the platform and the fact that the information screen on our platform showed no departure information, but just a lot of intimidating and capitalised German. However, once on board the train, we couldn’t ignore the insistent, and slightly too soft message being played over and over. Our German’s not great, as I’ve mentioned before, so the most we could get out was ‘train not travelling to Berlin’. Over and over and over again: train not travelling to Berlin. A. checked his phone and tried to get information from the German transport’s website, where it became clear that the Gods had taken their revenge: the ‘adverse weather conditions’ (read: F***ING MASSIVE STORM) had knocked over numerous trees onto the train lines and there were little to no trains returning to Berlin from the Potsdam area anytime soon. This resulted in a 3 hour long journey via many buses and bus stops S-bahns and S-bahn stations, and all the wonderful places in between before we finally got home and had dinner around 10:30pm.

So, finally, the lesson is, when it’s taken you 4 and a half months to get to a place, maybe there’s a REASON you’re not getting there and maybe you should just STAY THE FUCK AWAY.

NB. The Gods are still not finished wreaking their terrible revenge: I got a terrible stomach bug on Thursday, which resulted in me throwing up 9 times in one night. NINE TIMES. This obviously has nothing to do with the walking, talking petri dishes I look after every day and everything to do with the fact that A. and I visited Potsdam against the wishes of the Gods.

NINE TIMES, people.

Stay out of Potsdam. You have been warned.

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I will write, I will write, I will write….

I’m forcing myself to write today. There are lots of reasons not to write. I’ve been at work all day. I’ve just finished my German course. I’m writing in a café with a new person who I hardly know and it seems strange to sit here, ignoring her and instead delving ever deeper into what I think and how I feel.

Part of me wants to know why I have to write, exactly. I don’t really have a reason, except that I’d gotten into the habit. A. thinks it is good for me. I think there’s part of me that believes that too. It’s like eating your greens. You know there are good general reasons for eating vegetables, but if you were challenged to explain them you’d be at a bit of a loss (they keep regular? Stop you going blind? Make your hair curly? I can’t remember). At the moment, though, writing feels kind of torturous. And slightly embarrassing. It is slightly embarrassing that I keep a blog. If only I kept a diary. Diaries are honest. Diaries are sincere. Diaries are so much more serious for the fact that they contain mysterious unknowns. That people writing them don’t want you to see them – that must mean they’re good! Blogs are inherently performative. The minute you publish something online you are, on some level, begging for people’s interest and approval. Your writing changes according to the online audience you envision for yourself. I don’t know why I haven’t started a diary. I keep telling A. I’m only writing for myself from now on, no expectations, no unobtainable dreams, no pressure. But it’s a lie, because here I am, forcibly choking down my embarrassment, and not writing, but blogging. Clearly there’s still something of the performer about me that I can’t shake.

I don’t really have a set topic. I was going to write about homesickness. I was going to write about the strange way I feel homesick for the UK (desperately, desperately) but not for Australia. A. and I have started discussing the possibility of staying longer in Germany (more than a year) and whilst some days this is exciting (maybe we’ll build a mezzanine level guest bed in the living room! Maybe we’ll get a cat!) on other days I start to think of myself as some kind of sad economic exile on the level of the Irish during the potato famine (my self-pity really knows no bounds sometimes). ‘Even if I could get back to London, I could never afford to live there permanently. I could never afford a house where I would want to live. I could never afford to raise a family.’ Australia isn’t much better, I think, while mentally filling the gaps between my thoughts with sad fiddle music and Irish pipes. ‘Berlin is cheap,’ I tell myself, ‘you could make a life here.’ And that’s when the panic grips and I can’t sleep and even when I eventually do fall sleep all of my sleep is anxiety sleep featuring anxiety dreams in which I spend my time attempting to cover up murders committed by my close friends and family.

In some ways I feel like I’m currently in hibernation. Or, maybe it’s more like I’m in hiding. I feel like I’m still in recovery from some massive punches this year has landed. First, I got kicked out of the UK (so I knew that was coming from the moment I started on my 2-year-no-extension-visa, but that doesn’t mean it still didn’t hurt). Second, I suffered through… whatever the Edinburgh Fringe was this year. I’m still not entirely certain what that breakdown was. I do know that most of the stress and unhappiness I experienced was of my own devising. It’s not like the theatre industry collectively voted me off the island. I’m not well-known enough to even get on the ballot. I turned their collective indifference into a multi-spiked emotional torture ball and proceeded to beat myself with it day and night for not being good enough to warrant being noticed. The fact that I will willingly, obsessively, and compulsively persecute myself so enthusiastically because of particular dreams or goals worries me. That I would so completely believe in my own worthlessness because of other people’s indifference worries me. Which is why I am currently backing away slowly and quietly and going into hibernation for a while. Being in Berlin is good for this. I can completely wipe the slate clean. I can reinvent myself without anyone asking me what the hell I think I’m doing or who the hell do I think I am (‘I don’t know, I don’t know, can’t you tell me?’). It’s like being a recovering junkie – moving to some remote area so I don’t have to be around the people that will tempt me back into my old destructive ways. No bad fringe theatre! No workshops or ‘unmissable opportunities’ or competitions or auditions or commissions or whatever over crap. Just quietness.

I don’t know what I’ll do from here, or what I’ll do when I ‘come out of hiding’. I don’t know if I’ll ever come out of hiding. It feels safe here, in the quiet. Maybe I would like a cat. Maybe I would like a mezzanine level guest bed. To be honest, I’m beginning to think that the only interesting way to live your life these days is to be completely normal and everyday. You don’t travel around Ireland with a fridge and blog about it and then get a book deal and TV series. You get an ordinary job that involves filing and numbers. You have an ordinary family and you call your kids Mary and John. You have a completely expected life and you don’t tell anybody anything about ever, not even in Facebook status updates. That’s how to be special these days. Oh, imagine the things they’d imagine about you.

But, that’s just not possible for me, is it? Because, look at me here, blogging, and thinking I’m special.

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By the Canal

After the carnival I walked home. Except I was so exhausted and sunned and dehydrated that I didn’t make it all the way home. I only made it to the canal. Where I collapsed in a heap for an hour and stared at the water.

It was very peaceful:

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Carnival of Culture


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The Carnival of Culture happens every year in Berlin and celebrates multiculturalism and generally having a good time with loud music and awesome costumes.

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It was 36 degrees or thereabouts today. I watched the parade and walked and danced for about 5 hours, from 12pm to 5:30pm. That is, the hottest part of the day.

I am too tired and too post-sun and too post-Radler to be able to describe anything. So, please accept these pictures as a small offering and taster of what it was like. IMG_0888

Dragon! Awesome Dragon!

IMG_0887 More dragon.

IMG_0883I do not know why this man is dressed as a lobster. I do not know why he has a golden ball with a smaller ball inside. But, boy does he look happy about it, so let’s not question it too much.

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If you want more info on who this awesome dude is (and learn a little bit about Berlin culture in the process), please watch this video here:  He’s totes a Berlin celebrity.

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I love how many men were in their feathers today.

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And also, there were many beautiful ladies in feathers also.

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But, mostly, I liked the men in their feathers. There are so few opportunities for men to wear feathers these days.

If, indeed, there was ever an opportunity for them to wear feathers.

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There was quite a bit of excitement (in costume form) for the World Cup.

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And there were swishy skirts in many different colours.

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There were also non-swishy skirts, and many different ways of keeping oneself cool.

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This is a way of keeping oneself cool. It was definitely my favourite. Because it was almost like a Hollywood movie about New York.

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Where everyone’s too hot, and they’re all walking around in their singlet tops and so the fire department has to come and hose them all down.

IMG_0927And then, this happens.

 

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