My darling gazebos,
I absolutely feel like Amy in Little Women, taking a moment to pick up my pen and write to you all about my adventures on the Continent. (Although I haven’t stolen my sister’s trip, nor am I about to steal her fella, so this comparison ends there.) This will probably be a letter written to you across a few days, currently it’s Sunday evening, and I am about to go meet a new friend at a wine bar a few stops away.
Hold up: new friend? Yes! I have been super enterprising and joined a Facebook group called Berlin: Girls Gone International. Okay, this came about one evening last week, slumped over my laptop keyboard, poking around Instagram, wondering how everyone in the city seemed to know each other, feeling jealous etc etc, so I Googled, “how to make friends in Berlin” as a good place to start, and it directed me to this group. Voila, I am a “Girl” Gone International, as much as I side-eye the idea of women being called girls, I like it in this case because it feels like a cruise director or camp counsellor has taken charge of me. “Girls,” she will call, across the room, and we will look up from where we are desultorily playing a game of Uno, our legs brown, our faces sweaty, and she will say, “Come along to the next activity” and we’ll get up, not too eagerly, no one wants to be that enthu cutlet, and we will run along and make Lifelong Friendships. Except better than camp, because Berlin is bursting not just with booze but also with every single kind of drug in the world, if that’s your jam. I don’t know how anyone has any time to work in this city, because it seems like they are always partying, from sun down on Friday to mid-morning on Monday, with lots of little hangs in between.
Hold up part two: but what about COVID? Err.. I don’t know what to tell you guys. Summer is full on here, and no one seems to care. We went for a house party on Friday night, and not everyone was fully vaxxed so we had to get a schnell (quick) test on our way, which is easy to do, the testing centres are free and on every corner, and you get your results in half an hour. On the other hand, we are fully vaccinated, and that is the story I will tell you first.
I Get Vaccinated
“Impf,” I said to myself, hopping along the tarmac on the old Tempelhof airport, “Impf, impf, impf.” The German word for vaccine is “Impfung” a fun word to say out loud when you’re slightly nervous you won’t get the shot at all. I was concerned, because I’d read on the internet that they weren’t giving jabs to anyone who wasn’t properly registered in Berlin, which I am not, being on a tourist visa. On the other hand, I’d been reading reports that people were ditching their appointments, going away on holiday, so there was always a surplus left at the end of the day, and one of those surplus shots, I reasoned, could go straight into my body.
It was easier than I imagined. We’d gotten the appointment via the hotline, and once we showed up at the old airport where the centre was, we were just hustled quickly to a booth where a person was supposed to take down our information and send us in to the doctor. This is where I hit my first snag. “What is Covishield?” asked the guy taking down my information. “Astrazenaca?” I said, question mark at the end for him, not for me. I knew it was Astrazenaca all along. “Why not just call it Astrazenaca?” he asked, which was an existential question I wasn’t equipped to answer, but I tried anyway. “Because it sounds less scary if it’s called Covishield,” I hazarded, but I’m not sure he was into this, because he toodled around with his computer a bit and then informed me that my Covishield wasn’t accepted in the EU. “Okaaaay,” I said, feeling a bit grim, considering all I had gone through to get that damn first shot. So apparently, according to Germany, I will only be fully vaxxed once I get another Moderna dose, in a few weeks now, making me the most vaccinated person on the planet.
“Are you running short of vaccinations?” I asked, also making small talk while he set this all up for me, and he said everyone was going off on holiday so they had to throw away large amounts of the vaccine every day, which made me SO ANGRY, in a helpless “eat your food there are starving children” kind of way, which is a logic I never understood before, but finally did.
We were as sick as dogs for two and a half days afterwards, which is a bit much, with all the sweating and the groaning, and the lack of Zomato and idlis flying into my mouth but hey, at least we are semi-bulletproof, inasmuch as these things make you bulletproof. Still masking up, still staying outside, but it’s good, I feel secure-r.
I join language school
The big news of this week is that I have started language lessons. Being in between books—and I know, you’ve been wanting news about a new book, at least, I hope you have, I hope you’re all like, “Omg, when’s your new book?” and I will have something to tell you soon, I promise—I was at a bit of a loose end, and then I met a friend who lives here and a friend he met through language school and I was like, “Heyyyy wait a minute, there’s something to do” by which I mean something productive to do, because wandering around the city is all very well, but sometimes you need something to feel connected by. Therefore, I am a member of an A1.1 (Ah eins eins as they say here, again much more fun to say) class in a little school on a very trendy street. Not a single member of the class is from the same country, we come from *deep breath*: India, America, Italy, Syria, Columbia and Palestine. And the teacher is German, so it’s a nice representation for the days we do “where do you come from?” I am the only Indian, and also one of only two women taking the class, so a minority in many ways, which is nice every now and then, because then we are all outsiders together.
Monday to Thursday then, I walk down the road to the U-Bahn, I have a little walking playlist now that I listen to as I go along, and then I take two short trains and cross the road, feeling every bit the Berliner, a Person with a Purpose, as I make my way somewhere just like everyone else. The best thing about the class is that it’s made me much more confident, my German is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s still a very basic class so I can’t do much more than order a coffee or offer up the information that I’m married with no children, but it’s the most speaking practice I’ve ever had. Also thanks to a year and a bit of language apps and talking to K, I’m pretty good at my A1.1 course, which is nice, because I’ve never been good at school before. I’m enjoying it so much, I’m thinking of taking advantage of the German government’s system of helping out people with resident cards by paying for half their language courses and going all the way up to C2, by which time I will be super fluent. This is also me getting ahead of myself. When I was 11, I took a Sanskrit exam for the first time in my life and excitedly told my mother I was sure I’d aced it, because I knew alllll the answers, and I failed that exam so spectacularly and I was so surprised.
These streets will make you feel brand new
I started my weeks in Berlin by seeing the word “clit” everywhere. It was scribbled across the walls in train stations, catching you by surprise on a road, underneath a doorbell, emblazoned on a door, retreating from you on the up escalator, a string of clit clit clit clit on each stair, disappearing into the floor. I started to welcome the word, seeing it as a sign. “The clit guy was here!” I’d say joyfully, as he walked with me on unfamiliar streets. I’d be lost at an intersection, and I’d see his tag, a small but bright CLIT and funnily, it started to feel a little like a totem, a spirit animal. If he was there, I’d be okay, I thought. I don’t know why I thought of the tagger as a he, but I imagined a skinny man, newly adult, using a word he wasn’t familiar with but one that spoke of adulthood to him.
And then, just as I got comfortable, just as the streets started to make sense, not just a random selection of cross-walks, but the place where I met so-and-so, or where we saw that house, or close to language school, or just up the road from K’s work and so on, the clits stopped. I looked out for them, but they had completely disappeared.
I like to tell people when they ask how I’m liking Berlin that it feels like we’re in a two-way honeymoon. Every day the city will give me a new surprise. Usually small, but like a message, just for me. “Hello M,” it says, “I’m so glad you’re here.” For instance, the other day, walking home I passed a taxidermist and I peered in through the windows, and it was this sleepy little neighbourhood, no other shops, except for one that stuffed dead animals. Or today, just before I crossed the road to meet my new friend (for I am back again, it is later) the wind picked up some yellow leaves off the road and blew them in a perfect spiral, round and round. This may not seem like much to you, wind, leaves, random shops, but if you stop and admire things, there’s so much to love about any city, really. Delhi still has the capacity to make me feel loved, and now Berlin is doing it too. Today, in the train station, a girl got off the train with her dog, and her boyfriend knelt in front of both of them and the dog licked his face and he held the dog’s ears in his hands and they all looked so pleased to be together. I guess, I guess… I am happy? This is what it feels like then. Even the blah days, the blue days, I feel good to feel blue because it reminds me I’m not on holiday, that I almost live here now.
Anyway, there’s now a guy on the way to the station who is trying to make the tag “Boobs” happen, but it’s not going to happen. He’s no “clit.”
The other day, walking down the road in a very popular neighbourhood, I saw a man with a little Pomeranian, and because I say hello to all dogs (dearth of cats, but when our cats are the best cats why meet anyone else’s, she says sniffily) I said hello to his, and he told K in German that he was scared of dying alone, and his mother had died alone, and now he had this little dog, who he loved, and who was very costly (adopt don’t shop didn’t translate) and he liked to walk with him around the neighbourhood.
Just behind him on someone’s front door was a little poster saying, “Hello neighbours, if you like walking, please get in touch with me, we can walk together and talk about things.”
Because what I’d forgotten about being in a big city that wasn’t my particular big city, the one I’ve known since birth, is that it is often lonely. That’s why we all try to make friends as soon as we can, that’s why I appreciate that my friends have moved here and friends of my friends, and they all try to make me feel welcome, because what are we without community? My New Friendship skills are a bit creaky, but they still work if I don’t get bogged down in “do I sound too needy?”
Old Berliners aren’t fully on board with how popular their city has become, I think. A lot are getting priced out of old neighbourhoods, things that used to be grotty are now posh, like near where K’s parents have a house is the fanciest area I’ve seen so far, and his mum pointed to some buildings and told me they all used to be brothels once. Plus the housing crisis really is a crisis, everyone wants to live in the same areas but no new houses come up over there because, as someone told me, once you get a flat in Berlin you just hang on to it. You could go live in Italy for five years, you’d just sublet your place so you’d have it just in case. (We still don’t have a flat.)
“Arm aber sexy used to be our motto,” an old East Berliner I met the other day told me. “Poor but sexy.” I loved that so much, I tuned out the rest of his statement which was that Berlin was no longer poor and sexy because of all the rich people flooding in and pricing everyone out. Poor but sexy for some of us though. We’ve still got it even as we arrive in this city, suitcase in hand, dreams in our eyes, to be one more drop in an already overfull pond.
If you liked this post, buy me a coffee! Or something! Thank you everyone who’s tipped so far, in the interests of privacy I’m not naming any of you, but you make me so happy.
LINKS! Which is also German for “left” but in this case my links are very all over the place.
Living in French—about the immigrant experience in France, even after you’re fluent in French, a very timely read for me.
My classes are all done fully masked so when we step out for coffee I’m always surprised that people’s faces are different to what I imagined. This article explains why we fill in faces and how we’re doing it wrong.
A Curtis Sittenfeld short story!
Disney adults are having a magical time.
Everyone in America wants a rescue dog now, and they’re becoming hot commodities. (Meanwhile my RWA group back home is still fighting over who takes responsibility for the stray dogs in the colony.)
Have a great week! I’ll write again soon.
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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