Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Random acquisitions in Berlin

It's amazing how much random life flotsam you can acquire over a few months, isn't it?

When Oli and I first arrived in Berlin with two large suitcases and a couple of kilos of hand luggage, we barely had anything to decorate our 20m square room in the heart of Friedrichshain. We've since moved across the city into our own place, and found ourselves carrying a whole lot more than we originally arrived with.

We still don't have much to call our own in our small, half-decorated apartment (which I prefer to think of as 'shabby-chic taken to it's logical conclusion'). However, unlike the vast amount of crap we ditched back in Cardiff, I think the few possessions we have collected over our four months here provide some choice snippets of our Berlin story so far.

Veuve Clicquot bottle - empty
My mum has always told me that she has champagne tastes on lemonade money, and this has never been more evident than the time she rocked up to the swank hotel on our doorstep and promptly settled in with a bottle of the finest bubbly available. The five of us sat talking and laughing on her balcony and polished the whole thing off in under half an hour, and for one short night Oli and I were able to drown our financial sorrows in a vat of crisp, fruity fizz, and temporarily forget about the fact that we probably wouldn't able to pay our rent that month...

Beer crates
Q: What does one do when one moves into a semi-furnished flat with zero disposable income or creative nous to expend on jazzing the place up?
A: Forgo the deposit on the last few crates of beer you bought at the Getrankemarkt, of course! Plonk said crates in a corner, whack a couple of pieces of scrap wood on top and finish with a 1.99EUR Netto pot plant. Anything A Beautiful Mess can do, I can do better.
And before you ask, that bar code was left on the Sterni crate to add a touch of edgy, post-ironic urbanite authenticity to our living room. It definitely, 100% has nothing to do with us being too lazy to pick it off.

Tiny board games
Oli and I no longer own a TV. We also can't get WiFi in our flat anywhere except the kitchen. Aside from Spotify and the occasional 'ice bucket challenge gone wrong' video, we have a hilariously limited exposure to TV, films, viral video memes and just about anything that has happened on the interwebz since June. As 2014's pop culture sails merrily on past us, the best we can do is give it a jaunty wave from the comfort of our Stone Age existence. Because of this, we've had to resort to the kind of good old fashioned fun usually espoused by the kind of finger-wagging mother trope who hangs pictures of Donny Osmond on her fridge and insists that too much TV will make your eyes go square. But hey, who needs Netflix when you can have INTENSE ALL NIGHT CONNECT FOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS*?? I never really bothered with Breaking Bad anyway, and still cringe internally when someone proudly shows off their new Heisenberg t-shirt and I have to pretend to know who he is.

* Due to the nature of the game, Uno is only possible when we have guests.

Hula Hoop
As I've mentioned before, I'm working for a crazy, multi-disciplinary hoop dance festival, which takes place annually in the centre of Berlin. This hoop was kindly given to me for free after the festival this summer by the lovely man who runs Der Kleine Zirkusladen in Charlottenburg, and is pretty much the only form of exercise I engage with these days.

Childrens cat puzzle
77-piece slice of pure joy. Bought by my mum, who knows how much I appreciate small, fluffy things, and how much Oli enjoys my wildly confused expression when he hides the pieces.

Sally cost me a whole Euro at the Mauerpark flea market last weekend. I've tried to curb my addiction to useless, garish, bargain-basement tat since moving here, but she was going so 'cheep' I couldn't resist. Oh, the puns! Somebody give me my own stand-up show -  this is award-winning material.

Beach-style pallett sofa
Probably one of the most impressive things we own. Oli built this from scratch for the princely sum of 22EUR. Ja, fo'real! We carted an old futon bed across the city via tram (yes, it was painful. No, I don't want to talk about it), which Oli then hacked to pieces with a tiny saw and hand-screwed into place. He doesn't want to talk about it either. The palletts were a donation from his old bosses, and we painted the ice-cream colours on the backboard with tester pots mixed with white paint. It's only got a standard bed sheet on it at the moment, because I haven't yet been able to buy enough fabric to make a mattress cover and cushions.

Though I originally suffered a PG Tips drought when we first moved here, regular care packages and visits from home have ensured that a decent British brew is about the only thing we won't be lacking in the next few weeks. The contents of our fridge may be dwindling rapidly, but I plan to keep us fed with a nutritious diet of tea bread, tea soup and Spaghetea Bolognese until our financial situation improves. I'll let you know how we fare with that... 

Artwork by Diddi
My friend Di is a creative genius. In addition to her work as a theatre puppet and prop-maker, Di paints, sews and takes beautiful photographs. After I admired her 'fuzzy faces' collection of animal portraits, she kindly painted me a picture of my kitty Dave as a birthday present. She also made and sold a bunch of these cracking headdresses at the Karneval de Kulturen back in June, before getting moved along by security at Hallesches Tor for not having a licence. Sadly she no longer lives in Berlin, but I still have these mementos from her on display at our new pad. Hopefully she'll be back to visit us before she jets off on her next adventure.

Our new flat
For all I moan about our lack of money and possessions, the fact remains that we got extremely, freakishly lucky with our gorgeous little apartment by Weissensee lake. We may not have much, but it's home.

Bis bald,
Betti Baudelaire xxx

Monday, 11 August 2014

Style Spotting in Berlin: U1 - from Warschauer Strasse to Kotti

In case you didn't already know, fashion is kind of a big deal in Berlin.

My days are spent staring, goggle-eyed, at the endless parade of hipsters, high-fashion victims, street punks and obscure subculture reps patrolling the streets. Forget Pinterest - this city is a living, breathing style mood board. As my disposable income now only stretches to cover the occasional Milchkaffee and a slice of cake, regular style-spotting has become my hobby of choice. I might not be able to replace my broken sandals, but I can still indulge my fashion lust without spending a penny.

Ideally you'd come to Berlin, spot these divine style mavens yourself, visit all the cracking independent boutiques and second hand shops littered around , and share a coffee/high five with me whilst you're at it. For those who can't manage a however-many-mile trip to this freakishly fashionable city, I'll be travelling the key U-bahn routes on foot with my trusty baby-friend Ursi, searching out a mixed bag of unspeakably well-dressed Berliners for you to leach inspiration from. Aren't we kind?

Warschauer Strasse

Warschauer Strasse S&U Bahnhof - home to punks, hipsters and those with a higher than average tattoo:bare skin ratio. If it's an edgy aestethic you're looking for, this is the place to find it. Anna was our first style spot, and cites old-skool movies, 80's new wave, punk and her ever-changing mood as her daily style-spiration. To me, she pretty much epitomises the rough-around-the-edges urban punk vibe of the area. Check out her spidery knees! How cool?

Schlesiches Tor

Schlesisches Tor station is a bit of a club-hub. Underground upside down obscure indie caves, minimal techno boathouses, a floating swimming pool and a dance party underneath a train station can all be found within a 500 metre radius. You'd think with all that night-time carnage that it would be a bit of a shithole, but the leafy streets, pre-war buildings and pavement cafe culture lend it an almost Parisian vibe. Coincidentally, that's where our second style spot Jeanne is from. She's inspired by 1930's music halls, Audrey Hepburn and classic shapes, and her cute pixie crop is making me seriously consider my decision to grow my hair out.

Goerlitzer Bahnhof

Notorious in Berlin for the proliferation of drug dealers loitering around the station, Goerli was the last place I expected to find this high-fashion duo. Ursi and I caught Ileana and Mikaeala just as they were about to step into a super-chic store, which is great because now I know where they shop and have at least a teeny chance of looking as preened as they do some day. These two mainly draw their inspiration from Dazed and Confused, ID and Love magazines, girls they spot on the street and contemporary art. I especially like how Ileana has matched the little orange beads on her dress with her Nikes - nice.

Kottbusser Tor

Aside from being the city's most confusing U-bahnhof, Kotti has been renowned for years as Berlin's punk central. There were no mohawks in sight today, but we scoped out Ayelen and her ridiculously awesome peachy geometric bob as soon as we rounded the corner. Bum bag + side split sarong + quality tattooage = a half witch, half cyberpunk slice of 90's inspired brilliance.

It's around this point that Ursi and I got a bit flustered by the heat and ended up sitting by the canal with a couple of beers and a brotchen. Next week, I'll be continuing my U1 style search between Prinzenstrasse and Gleisdreieck, and hopefully not getting terribly lost in the process.

Bis bald,
Betti Baudelaire xxx

Monday, 4 August 2014

WTF of the Week: 5 things I will never get used to about Germany

1) The milk
It just tastes...different. I can't put my finger on it. A cup of tea here tastes nothing like the tasty warm beverage I know and love at home, and I'm 100% certain that the milk is to blame. No, I'm not drinking the UHT long-life stuff. Yes, I put it back in the fridge when I'm done. I have spent time typing 'why does the milk in Germany taste grim' into Google and yet to find an answer. It may be purely psychological, but all I know is that I'm not a fan.

2) The banking system
Possibly the most customer-unfriendly set-up I've ever encountered. What kind of bank doesn't let you pay cash into someone elses account? That's plain crazy. Because of this, I had to go to the Postbank and pay 10 poxy Euro just to transfer my rent. UK banks may be a bunch of snakes, but at least they attempt to present a veneer of helpfulness, and sometimes even a cup of tea to ease the pain of collossal waiting times. Not so here.

3) The handshakes. Y SO FIRM?
Germans love them some handshakes, which sounds very jovial until you discover that this is less of a friendly formality, more of an attempt to juice your little fingers like a ripe orange. Their handshakes don't just crush your hands, they crush your very soul. Why? Because you know that no matter how much you squeeze, or train with a wrist-strengthener, you will never, ever come away as the winner from one of these bone-splitters. A handshake of steel is pretty much written into the average German's DNA. I never considered myself to have a particularly weak handshake. Now I see how wrong I was.

4) The supermarkets
- You will rarely, if ever, be able to find everything you want under one roof.
- The only 24 hour supermarket is Kaisers, where you can expect to roughly double the cost of your usual shop.
- The queues are always endless, and there are never enough cashiers on hand.
- They don't open on Sunday. This is a particular bugbear of mine, because if you were too busy/drunk/hungover to replenish your food supplies on Saturday you're essentially fucked if you want to, y'know, eat the next day. The man who runs the spaeti round the corner makes a killing from buying bits and bobs at Lidl, then selling them alongside bottles of Advocaat at a vastly inflated cost when everywhere else is closed. Smart lad.

5) The stairs
Six storey apartment blocks. 34 degree heat. A country that appears to be violently opposed to the idea of lifts in residential buildings. My smoke-tarnished lungs can't handle this kind of abuse. I may ask the Hausmeister to install a Stena stairlift.

Bis bald,
Betti Baudelaire xxx