Wednesday, 23 July 2014
5 things I've changed my mind about since moving to Berlin
I expected a few things to happen when I took the plunge and moved to a foreign country for the first time. Missing friends, family and fried breakfasts was a given. I knew that a lot of my English humour would be lost in translation when talking to German acquaintances, and was aware that despite my best efforts I would always refer to pounds, not Euros.
What I didn't count on was that moving abroad would change long-held thoughts and opinions that I had previously thought of as immutable. I'm not talking big, personality shaping things - I'm still a leftie with a preference for quiet time and bad 80's pop culture. It's the tiny thoughts that rarely cross your conscious mind that suddenly get turned on their head without warning, whilst you scratch your head and wonder why you never questioned such clearly bogus logic in the first place.
Here's the list of my top five Berlin-prompted about turns.
1) I now despise carpets
At first it came as a shock to me that, apparently, many Germans are a wee bit disgusted by our well-carpeted British homes. But just think about how quickly dirt accumulates on a wood or lino floor. You've got to hoover that shit every couple of days, because if you don't you'll soon find your feet are covered in a permanent layer of crusty detritus. Carpets, however, render you blithely ignorant, and you can happily pad around for weeks on what is essentially a comfy, well-disguised filth accumulator. So much eurrrrggh. Keep your fancy-schmancy carpets, Britain. I'll take pretty wooden floorboards over a posh shag pile any day of the week.
2) Public transport no longer sends me running for the hills.
This one probably doesn't apply to anyone who has ever lived in a city bigger than, say, Bristol. Londoners and New Yorkers may scoff, but coming from a city as dutty as Cardiff means that you rarely have to rely on public transport to get anywhere because absolutely everything in the city is within walking distance. During my last six months in the city, I cultivated an intense hatred of Cardiff Bus Company, and managed to accidentally confine myself to a 1.5 square mile area which contained my workplace, house, various friends and family members and the city centre. I would have laughed in the face of anyone silly enough to suggest travelling 40 minutes by train to get to a fruit and veg market. "Come off it, y'wanker," I would have snorted. "There's a Tesco Metro on the corner."
As is the case with so many aspects of Berlin life, it was a case of adapt or founder. Going on foot? It just isn't an option when a handful of tram stops equates to 45 minutes of power walking. Great for the buttocks, not so great if you'd rather avoid a reputation as a piss-poor timekeeper. And whilst staying within the same square mile in Cardiff still allowed me to enjoy an active social life, here it would write off 99.99999% of potential fun opps. Who in their right mind would think that was a good idea when there's a floating swimming pool at Schlesiches Tor?
Despite my initial reservations, travelling an hour to work on the Ubahn no longer fill me with dread - in fact, it gives me a welcome opportunity to people watch, browse Instagram and catch up with my reading in peace.
I still hate buses, mind.
3) Working 9 -5? It's no way to make a living...
"Does nobody work in Berlin?" laughed our newly-arrived mate Giacomo yesterday evening. It's a question I ask myself often as I stroll past bar after cafe after bar, all of them full of smart-casual cappuccino sippers and chain smoking Williamsburg wannabes at any given time of day. Why are these people not at the office? Do they even have jobs? If not, how come they're able to shell out endless dolla on fancy coffee and American Spirit tobacco with nary a care in the world?
I've deduced (probably wrongly) that this is because of the inherently fluid, flexible nature of the city and its inhabitants. Yep, there are a lot of unemployed people. There are also a lot of students, artists, would-be artists who haven't quite gotten around to doing any work yet, and people who still haven't come close to figuring out exactly what it is they want to do with their lives. There are young people and university leavers navigating a precarious job market, jumping from part-time bar work to three month internship with a fair bit of time to kill in between. And there are start-ups galore, helmed by people who actually trust their employees enough to let them choose their own hours and work where it suits them without worrying that they'll be pissing away company time.
Living in Britain, we're conditioned to believe that anything other than standard 9-5 work isn't a "real" job. If you tell people you're working from home, they'll probably think you're dossing around in your pyjamas with a bucket of Haagen Dazs and a Breaking Bad box set. Here, staff can take their dogs for a pootle around the shops on a Wednesday afternoon, cafes and apartments double up as makeshift offices, and it's not unusual for a work day to begin at 11am, noon or even 2pm. Berlin has spoiled me. I'm not sure how I'll ever survive a 'real' job in Blighty again.
TBH, I'm sure the city is also teeming with nine to five-ers in their little suits and ties. It's just that I never see them, because I'm too busy enjoying a 2pm milchkaffee and extolling the virtues of flexi-time.
4) House plants.
I've never had much time for house plants. Sure they look pretty, but inevitably my careful watering schedule slips and every single bastarding one ends up dying. Eventually, all I'm left with are a couple of pots full of crumbling soil and a murderer's remorse.
The Germans are bloody mad for them, though. There's a plant shop on every street corner and beautifully bedecked windows in every apartment block. It's hard not to envy the abundant window boxes when all you've got is a weedy little mint plant in the corner of your otherwise vegetation-free bedroom.
In the end fate intervened on my behalf, and we ended up taking custody of the dozen or so plants that came with our new sublet. Jebus Christ, what a difference a few shrubs and herbs make. Our cosy, shabby pad may not have paint, or indeed plaster, on 50% of the walls, but it still looks a darn sight better than any of our student houses ever did, and it's all thanks to a well-placed orchid and a large tree-thing that Oli enjoys rustling around in. I've been converted, and to show my dedication I have invested in some Miracle Gro and bookmarked a page entitled 'How Not To Kill Basil'. We'll see how it goes.
5) 2.50EUR for a cup of tea? Fine by me.
As a born and bred Brit, I come with an in-built appreciation - enthusiasm, even - for our national beverage. Any self-respecting British person knows that a pot of English Breakfast can cure all woes. Even so, I tend to balk at paying any more than £1.70 for a standard cuppa.
At some point over the past four months, however, I've been brainwashed - BRAINWASHED, I TELL YOU - into abandoning all of my conditioning and believing that it's totally OK to pay through the nose for hot water, so long as it's served in a pretty glass with wilted mint leaves and a lemon wedge by a grumpy barista. Curse all ye superchic Scandi-style cafes, with your stripped wood and trendy hot beverage menus and vegan courgette and unicorn tears cake and whatever. Someone get me a cup of builders brew, stat. Milk, one sugar.
Betti Baudelaire xxx