There was an issue with the S9 line to Pankow so we had to disembark. Yesterday, I decided to take a random trip on the U-bahn, missed my actual stop (Zoologischer Garten) to go to Tiergarten. I decided to disembark on Deutsche Oper and walked around to find myself around the Charlottenburg area. Today, I decided to keep to the script and take the bus to Ostbanhof.
I’m still getting used to the landmarks, so I completely forgot that remnants of the Berlin Wall (with some art) are nearby. I decided to take a walk around the antiques market then make my way to the Wall.
The antiques market was definitely not the type you’d see in LAPADA Antiques Fair in London or the Spring Masters in New York (both I’ve been to) and there wasn’t a lot that wowed me. But then again, I don’t know that much about German history. I think that if you are there with an agenda in mind – ie purchase X from era Y – you might find some enjoyment in it. For me, it was a good browse around. I saw some medals, a lot of stamp collection books, a lot of children’s toys, some very old-looking stuff but that was really it.
The Berlin Wall
I admit that right now, I don’t know a lot of history about the Berlin Wall. So my first sightseeing trip was to look at the street art and think about how much walls suck.
This is also another area to check out, but I haven’t had a chance.
I was only around the Kottbusser Tor area and didn’t do much as it was rainy/Sunday. I dropped by at a vegan cafe to try out their raw cake (which was OK, although I have an aversion against anything that hints at having coconuts) but walked around a bit before going back to the U-bahn.
Based on my first impressions (the photos turned out quiet interesting), this is not really my type of area.
Living in Germany, or at least from the lens of living in Berlin, for the past three weeks has mainly been focused around settling in.
Here are some of my thoughts from being here for three weeks. Take note that I’m internally comparing to all the places I’ve lived in before so these are all based on my personal frame of reference.
Berlin has a slower pace of life compared to London but not necessarily boring.
Really amazing transport infrastructure. This has been my qualms in places like Dublin, Vancouver, and Toronto where if one part of public transport fails it pretty much can derail your day. Not so here. You can move on with your life with little to no interrupting if there was a service ending at a stop earlier than expected.
The quality of life here is great – and even better is that it is truly accessible to a lot of people (in the ways of cost, public transport, availability in a lot of places). There is a lot of choices here in Berlin, and they (as far as I’m concerned) won’t break the bank. For me, a simple act of buying food or random homeware stuff (more on this later) is like paradise. Although, I don’t know if I’m still in honeymoon stage here. But yes, it truly beats the faceless, depressing concrete blocks of Walmart or Costco in North America. I look back on those days like some sort of nightmarish haze.
The food here is really great. The kind of food items that you buy in ‘specialty’ shops in Australia, in the UK, in Dublin, in Canada is food that you can buy at any grocery store that you step in.
There is no such thing as the ‘best place to live’ in Berlin. A lot of things you need are all fairly accessible and there is a neighbourhood type that suits you most.
One of the cons is that I still feel really awkward when I try to navigate simple things when prompted to in German like lining up to the till or asking for a plastic bag. One of the shop assistants in Charlottenburg (where I was shopping) seem to have a mini anxiety (ok, not anxiety but still…) when she asked in German if I wanted a plastic bag, and I couldn’t understand her so ended up doing some nodding yes when pointing at the shopping bag.
Even if I get lost, there is something new and exciting around the corner. A museum, a memorial, a cool shop. I walked into a store thinking that it’ll be your run of the mill cheese-and-bread shop but it ended up being this awesome deli with people standing around and eating inside.
Since I move around a fair bit and in the past few or so years, I’ve been staying away from purchasing really frivolous things related to a ‘home’. I can’t remember the last time I bought cutlery, kitchenware, homeware (I bought a lamp in 2015 for some Philips Hue lights that I later gave away), those sorts of things. I’ve only stayed in the essentials. Bathtowels – and even then I still moved around with my cheap Walmart bought towels. Beddings – I have only ever purchased one, a House of Fraser pillowcase from when I first moved to London during my first ‘domestic’ shopping trip. Kitchenware – the last time I bought a mug must have been in 2011. The last time I bought picture frames was in 2010 and they were gifts. The last time I splured on ‘domestic household’ stuff was probably in 2012-2013 when I was living in London. Ever since then, a lot of items were in the rentals or from friends. And I was fine with this. And it wasn’t because I couldn’t afford these things. In one way, I was attempting to save up but at the same time, I wanted to get into the mindset of doing less consumerism. I just felt so guilty buying things and having ‘more’ things. I don’t feel guilty when I purchase things that will be ‘used up’ and perishable anyway like food, makeup or skincare or items that I know can be sold on like high quality clothing. But when it comes to homeware, I’ve skimped on this part.
However what was bad about this is that I was always on the mindset that I would not even bother making a ‘home’ because I’d be leaving anyway. So, I was constantly at a mindset that I will always leave, so what’s the point? After spending a few years with that mindset across 3 to 4 cities, constantly thinking that you’ll be leaving anyway is not really a good mindset to be on. So in my attempt of trying to make a home I’m out there to the homewares shop, buying Parisian room fragrance, rearranging some dried grass, and drinking an aerol spritz out of my recently bougth hipster glass mug with a paper straw.
I find it interesting that there is still this desire to tie up identity and ‘homeliness’ with certain things – with purchase and subsequent ownership of such things. I’ve lived in five cities over two years now so I’ve had at least five different homes – and let’s not forget stayingn in countless ‘in-between’ places while I look for a place or wait for a rental contract to start.
I’ve been able to starve myself of this – like being happy with simple things. Sunshine (free!) going through the curtains (not mine, the apartment’s). Comfortable bed. Working Internet. I’ve always felt some sort of disdain towards that need to buy decorations, homewares. Do you really need a pink butter dish? Do you really need an aqua blue milk foamer? Do you really need seven types of chili sauces? Do you really need those fake flowers?
At the same session, I was doing a lot of household related shopping. When I first moved into my apartment, it was already furnished and basically ready to move in but I wanted to buy some household items anyway. I had planned to go out but … again would have to face the task trying to translate things from German to English (again, I know very little German and have only been here for less than a week), getting lost, getting hopelessly distracted by doing tourist things since I’m still in tourist mode. I decided instead to just buy it all online.
I think this screenshot also shows another one of my dilemmas:
Yes, that’s for buying something as simple as a new set of pillow cases and now my pillow world has completely diversified.
This YouTube video is also a good overview of the difficulties that you can have for not speaking German in Germany:
A few people have told me that you can get by with English in Berlin, but I have found this to be far from the case. From government papers, to contracts, from work opportunities to making friends and doing normal everyday activities like grocery shopping…it is immensely helpful that you know some of the German language. So while you can get by being a tourist visiting Berlin, it’s a different story when you are actually trying to live in Berlin.
This was more evident on my first day in Berlin, in Aldi. At the dairy aisle, I was thinking about which yogurt to buy when I had a man’s voice say something in German near me. I didn’t take much notice of him, then I heard the word a very strained “Bitte” and I looked sideways. It turned out that he was hauling some large boxes and I was in the way, so I quickly got out of the way. Another time was in Aldi, when the lady asked for coins…I thought that I was short of cash, so I took out a large note. She shook her head and proceeded to give me the change anyway. Since then I’ve been making the effort to actually hand something in correct cash just to avoid these types of scenarios!
This is all probably minor, but now my mind is thinking various what if scenarios when things are spoken to you in German…
Anyway, right now I am making as much of an improvement as I can to understand the language. I find that my reading and writing comprehension is better than my spoken and I probably fared the worst when it comes to understanding spoken German. Although, I was in Aldi again when I overheard and recognised “Wie gehts!” and was understanding the numbers spoken to me.
Berlin has been completely and utterly amazing. On par with the likes of London and New York City.
It is a big city, but you don’t feel rushed. Whenever I took the Tube or the MRT, I always have this sense of urgency in going from A to B. In Berlin, I don’t have that sense of urgency.
The public infrastructure here is just amazing. I am a big believer in having good infrastructure and that living in a city with very good public infrastructure is an absolute must. This is the one thing that I miss living in London. And it’s not even unpleasant public transport like the MRT in New York City.
The people here have been nice so far, as long as you are also polite and mindful of your surroundings. Not knowing that much in German, I’ve learnt to more aware of my surroundings now that I need to rely on other cues (visual, written, body language) for communication (while I am aiming to be better at the language). Anyway – just be polite – and you get plenty of “Danke schön!”. But, I’ve had greetings (“Guten morgen!”) from the neighbours, a lot of “Danke schön!” and so on.
Hugely individualistic city…I feel that you are not being judged by others… so long as you do the above (be polite, be courteous) then it’s fine.
Things have a certain set of order and organization…whenever I am in a new situation (a new group, a new city), I try to find out what the social rules and norms are and I then try to adjust and meet the ‘social rules’.
Right now, I can write some basic German one-liners but whenever I speak a greeting, I have a tendency to whisper and this is mainly from not being used to vocalizing the language. Hopefully I will improve as I spend more time here!
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