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Day 44: Why Finding An Apartment In Berlin Is So Hard
So the reason I haven’t posted on this contraption the last few weeks is because all my free time and spare mental capacity has been tied up in my search for an apartment.
Now that I finally got one sorted out, I’m tallying the damage.
I can’t count the hours I’ve spent, but my gmail account tells me I sent 28 ‘I’m interested’ mails and inspected 12 apartments in the last three weeks.
There are a few reasons finding an apartment took me so much time and effort.
'Hello, I'm calling about your apartment. Do you speak English?'
'None at all?'
'… OK, I guess goodbye then'
Many of the apartment viewings are set up like open houses. The landlord sets a time and whoever’s interested shows up. Every one of these i went to had at least eight people checking out the apartment, and sometimes as many as 20. It’s really discouraging to write your name on a ‘I’m interested’ list with 14 other names on it.
In a market with so many students and people moving around, I’m amazed at how hard it is to find furnished apartments. Most flats rented through agents don’t have anything, not even a sink or basic kitchen counters.
If they do have furniture, you have to buy it from the current renter. One of the apartments I saw was €460 per month, but the renter wanted €6,000 cash for the kitchen, appliances and the couch.
All the apartment listing websites are lousy with scams. It’s always some variation on ‘I’m not living in Berlin at the moment, but my incredible apartment can be yours if you transfer the deposit to my bank account.’
Some of them are hilariously blatant, like the ad whose pictures still had the watermark from ‘MontrealLiving.com’ still on them. Another crafty lister literally took a picture of a two-page Dwell Magazine spread, and you could still see the fold between the pages.
Still, others were pretty convincing. Pictures of realistically cluttered apartments, nice but not silly-central parts of town, etc. I think I fell for three of them.
After awhile, I could tell the fakes by the longness and kindness of the replies to my letters of interest. For real apartments, typical replies looked like they were written by Cormac McCarthy: ‘The apartment is free. Come tomorrow 6pm’ and signed Mr or Mrs (I’m endlessly amazed at the German slowness to use first names. It’s like living in an episode of Mad Men!).
The fake ones were like ‘Berlin is lovely in the summertime! I miss my beautiful home and garden…’ and went on to specify all kinds of information (‘the washing machine works fine not too loud’) that no one would ever need to know on a first inquiry.
So that’s why it took me awhile. I’m still nervous about having to furnish a whole apartment by myself, but at least when I move out, I can apparently charge the next renter a few thousand euros for my trouble.
Day 43: No Wonder It’s On Sale
Day 42: Terrorists Are Right Sometimes
Here’s a paragraph from Mak’s ‘In Europe’ describing all the terrorist activities of violent women’s suffragists (seriously, violent women’s suffragists) in just one month in Britain. These chicks were not fucking around:
'2 April: Arson at a church in Hampstead Garden. 4 April: A house in Chorley Wood destroyed by fire, a bomb attack at Oxted station, an empty train destroyed by an explosion in Davenport, famous paintings damaged in Manchester. 8 April: An explosion in the grounds of Dudley Castle, a bomb found on a crowded Kingston train.
11 April: A cricket pavilion destroyed in Tunbridge Wells. 12 April: Arson at public schools in Gateshead. 19 April: An attempt to sabotage the famous lighthouse at Eddystone. 20 April: An attempt to blow up the offices of the York Herald. 26 April: A rail carriage in Teddington destroyed by fire.’
We take for granted now the rarity of political debates being waged through violence.
Day 42: An Apple a Day
After 6 weeks of paperwork and procrastination, I finally got my health care sorted out enough to see a real live doctor this week.
I have a recurring running injury in my hip that never really got fixed when I was in Denmark. Danish doctors are generally laissez-faire to the point of neglect, and my last conversation with my GP consisted of:
Doctor: We got the results of your x-ray. There’s nothing abnormal with your hip.
Me: OK, but it hurts when I go running.
Doctor: Well, there’s nothing wrong with it on the x-ray.
Me: Well in that case I should probably see a specialist, right?
Doctor: But there’s nothing wrong with it.
Me: But it hurts.
Doctor: I don’t see that on the x-ray.
Seeing a doctor in Germany so far has been a completely different experience. I was worried about finding someone who speaks English, but my health insurance (there are private ones and public ones here, and I’m on the public one) has a list of doctors online that you can search by language.
When I arrived at his office, I was told that I had to pay €10 for the appointment. It’s the first time I’ve paid for health care in five years, and I got a bit nervous that I was re-entering the ‘health care should be governed by the same mechanism by which we buy jogging shoes!’ economy that makes healthcare in the U.S. such an cornmaze gangrape to interact with.
I later looked this up online, and it turns out that there are a few nominal fees built into the German system, basically to keep people from seeing the doctor all the time for specious shit. Everything else has been free since then.
My doctor is in his early 30s, fluent in English, gay as Christmas and, most distressingly, cute as hell. His office is right next to work, and now I see him at my gym. We nod at each other but don’t vocalize. Once you’ve discussed the consistency of your bowel movements with someone, you can’t backtrack to flirting.
Anyway, he basically wouldn’t let me leave his office until he ordered every possible test and made sure I was telling him all the relevant information about my hip. He also asked me if there was anything else bothering me, physically or mentally. None of my doctors in Denmark ever asked me that.
So anyway, viva Germany. My hip still hurts, but at least now there’s a pit crew working on fixing it.
Day 41: Outward Bound
I think it’s a little weird that I’ve been at my new job for two months, and I haven’t ‘officially’ told my coworkers that I’m gay.
It’s not that I think they would care. It just legitimately hasn’t come up. Without a partner to drop into the conversation (‘me and my boyfriend went to Potsdam this weekend’), it’s really difficult to mention your homosexuality without seeming like you’re making a Major Announcement.
I was wishing all week that my boss would ask me what I got up to in London, so I could mention ‘I went to Gay Pride’ (possibly adding ‘and it was fabulous!’ just to make it crystal clear). But it didn’t come up argh.
So now I’m left with two choices: Either wait for an opportunity to present itself organically (‘I’m leaving work early today; I need to buy poppers before the dungeon closes’), or pedantically announce it to my colleagues directly.
Day 40: Who Invented the Convention of Saying ‘Sorry My House is Such a Mess’?
I never know how to respond to that statement. If I say ‘that’s OK’, it’s like I’m acknowledging ‘yes, this place is a shithole, but I’ll survive’. If I say ‘It’s fine’ my host says something like ‘noooo, it’s a landfill!’ and we waste 7 minutes on an argument neither of us wants to win.
Personally, my apartment is a shithole because I’m a fucking slob. My friends all know this, and those that didn’t, well now they do. I don’t apologize for my hair being messed up or smelling feloniously unshowered in the middle of the week either.
I still find myself resisting the temptation to say something when people come to my house, though. Western society needs to some up with some other catechism to utter when hosting guests. I suggest ‘this is how I live, son!’
Day 39: I Love Having Houseguests
Because they all the photos you’ve missed.
Day 38: I Agree
Day 37: 1930s Germany Had Political Cartoons Too
Day 36: Because Why Wouldn’t That Headline Link to That Photo
Day 35: German History and the Sopranos Problem
I listened to a podcast this morning about the dilemma of making textbooks in postwar Germany. Education of the population was obviously a priority for reconstruction, but the only textbooks were either a) Nazi as hell or b) written before the Nazis came to power, i.e. old as hell. It took years for the administrators to create new textbooks, and in the meantime they simply blacked out the inconvenient parts of the existing textbooks.
According to the podcast, it was only in the 1960s that education materials started including atrocities committed by the Germans. Before then, it was fine to talk about Dresden, or the Allies shelling refugee ships in the Baltic (which I wasn’t aware of before I moved here) or the terrible shit the Russians did as they bulldozed from Stalingrad toBerlin.
You could talk about Hitler as a sort of Pied Piper, entrancing the German people into nemesis without their full consent or understanding. But you couldn’t stretch the blanket of responsibility over the whole country until much later.
It seems to me that the fundamental dilemma for educators is that it’s impossible to educate a population without propagandizing it. You can’t teach people about their country without making them proud.
We think of subjects like history and sociology as somehow neutral, that the methodology is simply 1) find out what happened and 2) tell the story without bias. But evenbeyond the impossibility of ‘objective’ research, there’s no such thing as neutrally telling a story. Here, lemme try something:
- A man walks into a store and buys a litre of milk.
- A store sits on a street corner. A man enters. Five minutes later, he exits with a litre of milk in his hand.
- A jug of milk stands in a refrigerator. A man removes it from the fridge, lays it on the counter, pays and carries it out of the store.
Even to describe an incredibly simple event, you have to decide whose perspective you’re going to tell it from.
Country histories tend to be told by the Washingtons, the Lincolns, the Rockefellers. This is totally understandable. These are people that made stuff happen, and stuff happening is basically a synonym for history.
But the story of America would be significantly different if you told it from the perspective of women, blacks, immigrants, Native Americans, Iowans, deaf people, baristas or bus drivers.
And that’s the dilemma. Whoever’s story you tell, they get to be the main character. Following a protagonist by definition allows them to explain their actions. No matter how hard you try, hearing the full story of what led Hitler to the Final Solution, or what led Mao to the Cultural Revolution, is going to make readers identify with them. However many times we saw Tony Soprano murder, cheat and shittily parent his way through north Jersey, our contempt for him was always tempered with the knowledge of what drove him to his actions.
This is exactly the problem German educators were struggling with in the ‘50s and ‘60s: How do you tell a country’s history without making citizens proud of it?
I know this is all terribly obvious. I’m just in awe of how hard it must have been to write history in Germany for the 30 years after WWII. Before you could even debate which story to tell, you had to decide who got to tell it.
Day 34: I Can Tell I’ve Lived in Europe Too Long
because I find myself increasingly sitting knee-over-knee, rather than figure-four. Sometimes I fold my hands on my upper knee! Socialism!
Day 33: Germany Has Weird Airport Food
Ew, Munich, seriously
Day 32*: Germany Has Weird Magazines
* I was traveling for work last week, so I’m counting from when I’m back in Berlin.