Yesterday was my first full day in Berlin, and it still hasn’t sunk in that I’m here to stay. It feels like I’m visiting a friend or something. I still haven’t been hit with the full understanding that I’ve left my home country and am now jobless and homeless in a country whose language I don’t speak. You’d think that sentiment would be unnerving, but I feel calm. I’m sure full realisation will hit at some point this weekend, most likely when I’m staggering into a 16 person dorm room at 11am having been awake since 8am the previous day, and the full existential horror of how doomed I am will hit me. Oh well.
Berlin, I realised yesterday, is a big fat contradiction. It’s layers and layers of sticky red tape, but once (if) you get through, it becomes a playground of unlimited possibility. However, German bureaucracy is face-slappingly frustrating. I’ve decided my first port of call must be a flat, because you need a German address before you can do basically anything. So I’ve started applying all over the place for flatshares. Hopefully one will come through in the next few weeks, and I can crack on with getting my life together.
Yesterday I stayed in Michelle’s friends flat until midday, attempting life admin with varying degrees of success. At lunchtime I realised I still hadn’t eaten, so I left the flat and wondered further into Kreuzberg, walking beneath the iron girders of the U Bahn to keep out of the worst of the rain.
I always experience acute culture shock when I travel somewhere new, and it’s the same whether it’s Hanoi or Halifax. The same questions flash through my mind, all at once. Is everyone looking at me? Am I obviously a tourist? Am I crossing the road illegally? Is there some unspoken public etiquette which I am unknowingly trashing with my very presence on this street corner? Is this park bench I’m sitting on actually a monument to commemorate some grave suffering, and my firmly planted arse cheeks are now defiling the city’s great heroes? And so on unto eventual brain explosion. I already spend a disproportionate amount of time in England worrying about offending anyone, and it’s a million times worse when I go abroad. My first day in any new city is invariably spent shuffling through busy streets, smiling apologetically at scowling locals.
After an hour, I felt my worries dissipate. Nobody was staring at me. If anything, in Berlin, people stare less, just like London or New York. Berlin, like so many big cities, is full of oddities. Walking through Kreuzberg, I was never out of sight of graffiti splattered walls, tramping along bird shit strewn pavement, tripping on skewiff slabs. Every third shop front offers kebabs. Turkish coffee shops, Turkish barbers, Turkish everything.
Even the supermarket where I bought my breakfast (a bread roll for 19 cents, woo!) was graffitied – inside! Stickers and posters have been plastered around the building, on handrails and escalators. The storefront looks more like a crack den than a grocery store, with half closed, rusting shutters, torn up posters and faded tags sprayed over the doors. Behind the grimy façade, however, it’s just a normal store, with little old women pushing trolleys around and grumpy teenagers packing bags.
I spent the rest of the day writing a new CV and applying for flatshares. I bought a falafel from a Sudanese café and ate it with a couple of beers. Michelle went to some open mic night, but I thought I’d better crack of with sorting my life out before I get dragged into the inevitable party vortex. At around midnight, once my eyes were glazed from staring at indecipherable German on my laptop, I decided to go for a walk. I had a few euros in my pocket, which bought me a bottle of beer to sip as I walked, retracing my steps from that morning.
It’s a different city at night. It’s a waking poster for a B-movie film noir, with streetlights gleaming off wet cobbles, crowded bars spilling music into the street, and the U Bahn flying past at regular intervals, its bright lights momentarily illuminating every dark corner. I wondered along humming to myself, feeling completely safe. An impatient ‘ding’ from behind me told me I was walking in the bicycle lane. Whoops. I reached what I have come to think of as the ‘hub’ of Kreuzberg, (although it almost definitely isn’t) and stood watching traffic for a while, delighted with the inner city gloom of it all. No more black skies at night now. It’s all orange clouds and light pollution. I bought another bottle for the walk back, using atrocious German. I’m trying, though. Earlier, when buying my falafel, the guy asked me if I wanted it ‘im brot?’ and I replied ‘si’, which is Spanish, because I am a dick head.
I walked back, encountering a couple of whispering drug dealers offering everything under the sun. I politely declined, and headed for bed.
Today I am going to continue with the life-sorting-out, and explore further. Tomorrow there’s some huge night on that Michelle’s taking me to, at a night club which I previously failed to get into, which should be interesting. Saturday there’s a big fuck-off house party somewhere. Beyond that, it’s all a blank page. Exciting and terrifying.