The Internet Personified: Everybody's looking for something
Drinking in the park is my new favourite kind of outdoor activity
Dearmosts (and especially one particular set of friends who remember the origins of “dearmost”),
As unbelievable as it sounds, my Berlin summer ends in two weeks, which is a glass half empty situation if I’ve ever seen one. (Berlin’s own Berlin summer will go on for two weeks after we go back to India to do some admin and retrieve three ridiculously spoilt animals who are now going to have to ADJUST to being GERMAN.) (Side anecdote: K popped into a pet store to buy this spray thing called Feliway, which is supposed to be synthetic mama cat pheromones, I mean, does it work or is it just something anxious pet parents buy into, like, idk, homeopathy or something. ANYway, so the salesman there was like, “Oh your cats are going to have a MUCH better life here in GERMANY and GOOD FOR YOU” and K tells me this story later and it made me half-laugh, half-be mad, because obvs the salesman did not know that for our cats their new life will be a definite downgrade, because no vast (relatively) rooms to sleep in, no terrace to lie in the sun.) (I don’t know if you can tell but I am EXTREMELY ANXIOUS about subjecting my poor kitties to all that trauma. If you have moved with your pets, please send me soothing stories about how little trouble it was.)
House hunting but haven’t caught anything
Meanwhile we are only very slightly closer to finding a flat. By which I mean we put our names down for three flats, already got rejected by one and are waiting to hear back about the other two. This is not a good sign and likely means we’ve been rejected but I’m still hoping.
The first one is way out, I’d say the Gurgaon of Berlin, but more wooded than Gurgaon, with lots of lakes that people go swimming in in the summer, so location-wise, Gurgaon, but temperament-wise, like a little Goan village or something. We fell in love with it because it is an “alt-bau” which stands for “old building” which are relatively rare in Berlin, because of all the WW2 shelling. It has cork floors which will keep it warm, a tiny but nice balcony and large rooms except for one teeeeeny one off the kitchen which will be where you will sleep when you come visit.
The second one is smack-dab in the middle of everything, the Bandra of Berlin, and like 40 other people had already put their names in the running for it, so who knows if we’ll get it, but it’s got even larger, even sunnier rooms, except the living room is just one large space so no guest room for you, but we can close the living room door and you can have some privacy anyway.
The other day I was on Reddit—which I do just before bed, leading it to be called Beddit in this household—and I saw this one response to a question that asked “what things are normal in Europe that aren’t in the US?” Someone had said, “in germany, looking for a apartment doesn't automaticly [sic] mean it will come 100% with a kitchen. 90% they don't have them in and you have to buy them yourself.” This is very true by the way, and of course it is very strange, but having never lived “abroad” I put it down to one of those crazy things that maybe white people do??? Like, a friend messaged me from Paris where she has just moved to from New York and she’s like, “Are you finding it hard to get used to the late sunsets?” And I say, “Wait, you mean this isn’t a universal thing for all of the western countries?” Hate spicy food, have late sunsets?
Everything is so foreign that everything feels strange and so nothing feels strange if that makes sense.
But the kitchen thing is real. Kitchens often do not come fitted, you buy it yourself and either sell it to the next tenant or take it out with you. Good apartments are like gold dust, so people charge all sorts of money for their old things. 10,000 euros we saw the other day, for someone’s laminate flooring. It’s called an abstand, which is also the German word for social distancing, so it doesn’t make sense, but also we will 100% do this in the future when we get our actual house. Most of the houses we’ve seen are owned by corporations, not private landlords, so they don’t care how charming we are, they just care if we’ve got the cash and all our documents in order. Which is where the previous tenant comes in, they can shortlist and put your names forward. In return, they don’t have to pay a hefty deposit for breaking their lease. Another thing people do is hang on to their flats even if they spend two or three years somewhere else, so you sublet off them. This is illegal, and they are planning on clamping down on it, but there is such a housing shortage that I don’t see this changing. Basically, Berlin used to have a rent control act, and so some landlords just left their flats empty because it made more financial sense to them that way? And so apartments became a scarcity. Now the rent control act has been struck down, so you can charge outrageous prices for anything.
Finally learned how to make the “ch” noise accurately
I still can’t quite believe this is happening, that I know all these things. Every now and then I have an out-of-body experience, where I’m standing next to myself. I go, “Wow, how do you know that?” and the part of me that knows looks smug. “I know a lot of things,” she says. I order coffee and drinks in German now, having just finished up my A1.1 course. Some random old man asked me in German if I was Pakistani the other day, and I understood all he said to me. At a thrift store, I eavesdropped on a woman looking at herself in the mirror, “Too short,” she murmured to herself about her pants. Another held up a top for her companion to admire, “Beautiful, right?” she asked, and her partner said, “Mmmm sure.” All these conversations happened in German. Instead of drinking Diet Coke, I drink a local German brand called Fritz Kola, which makes a rhubarb flavoured fizzy drink (they also do a Diet Kola with like a ZILLION times more caffeine which is delicious). I tell an American friend this, she said she did the same thing when she moved here. “Something about having a rhubarb soda was very exciting” she said, which is exactly how I feel. So I am having the same experience as everyone else, I think. This is not unique to me, but since it’s happening to me, it’s all brand new.
After I wrote that yesterday (Saturday) (you don’t open this if I send it on Sunday so I’ve done this automatic schedule thing for Monday morning), I went out in the evening, and wound up sitting next to a friend of a friend, who spoke no English, only German and Spanish, so we communicated entirely in my very basic German, and I managed to make myself understood and we had a whole conversation, so I think the language class was completely worth the money, for what it’s worth. There’s a part of you, an adult learner of language, that’s always a bit shy, a bit hesitant to speak, because you won’t sound like your usual fluent and witty self. Instead, you’re forced to speak slowly, using only the basic vocabulary you have. You might be boring to others. But then, at some point, you’ve got to think, “Fuck it” and just let your tongue go loose. People are nice when you’re attempting to try out a new skill, unless they’re massive assholes, and why would you want to hang out with an asshole anyway?
Two Park Parties
Two weeks ago, we went to two parties in two parks. It wasn’t the sort of weekend you’d think people would have parties in the park, the sky was blue but the winds were brisk, all deceptive light and no heat.
I knew what I’d miss most about leaving Delhi behind (in my late THIRTIES at that, I should have just lain down and prepared for death) would be my friends. And so like a person who has been friendless and lonely before (in my childhood, there were some uncomfortable phases) I have been hoarding people like they are bags of rice and I am a survivalist. (Or just a person preparing for Modi’s next random lockdown har de har). With Indians, it’s easy. Everyone in Delhi has a friend in Berlin, so they put me in touch, the person here very kindly agrees to meet us for a drink or a meal, and through them, we meet other people, and more, as our circle expands. I too have some old friends here—one from Delhi and one from Bombay, and that makes life a little easier, a little more comfortable, knowing that there are two people in the city you haven’t only just met. I told you about that Facebook group for women I joined in my last newsletter and through it, I made a friend with whom I have definite Friend Chemistry. Like Anne Shirley, I wander through this life looking for kindred spirits, and like Anne Shirley, I think I am discovering them more often than not. A person who attended a trial class at my language school. A person I met through another person, who I exchanged numbers with and then met for a long walk. A person who came along with the other people I was meeting and we struck up a conversation. And finally, the people who asked us to their park parties.
The first one was K’s new colleague here. His girlfriend was having a birthday party in the park, and he said we should come along, and my one rule in new places is to say yes to everything (until we hit that Wall of Exhaustion and then we say no to everything) (one of the persons I just mentioned in the previous paragraph was asking me how old I felt inside—she is 24—and I said 19, but really, while my head may be nineteen, my poor aching feet, unused to so much activity, are 75.) It was in the middle of a meadow in a massive wooded park (280 acres! I don’t know how much that is but it sounds like a lot!) called Rehberge.
When we walked through the woods, following the pin he’d sent us, we found ourselves in a little clearing, surrounded by trees. There, in the middle, our friend had set up a large sound system around which was a circle of multicoloured fairy lights. That was the dance floor. As the evening went on, lights circled everything, from the makeshift bar, to people’s cycles as they came in, all looking a little stunned by what they emerged into, after a darkly wooded tree-line path to come out into a field. We squinted at each other in the gloaming, and I sort of tapped my foot to the random electronic music (not my favourite genre by a long shot, but one I will have to get used to if I want to participate in Night Life Activities) and had a conversation with a chemist-turned-strawberry seller (in the summer there are all these little kiosks shaped like strawberries, and that’s where you buy them) who wanted to be a carpenter, but all this delivered in the classic deadpan Teutonic style, so I thought he was doing a bit, you know like chemistry is so boring I might as well sell strawberries then saw he was serious so I quickly segued into, “Oh, how interesting, do you get to meet a lot of people?” (One hopes the music drowned out my awkwardness at this point.)
I also had fun telling a group of Germans how Mein Kampf is an Indian bestseller, and every guy on the road with a stack of books will have at least one copy to sell you, which means it’s probably doing very well. “Why?” they all asked me in shocked surprise and I felt myself having a memory I couldn’t identify about the time a guy told me what a great leader Hitler was?? I don’t know when and where this was, but I’m sure it happened, feels like it was on a Rajdhani train to somewhere.
Down field from us was a group of young men also with a large speaker who were hoping to set up for a rave by slowly playing music and seeing who would come. I made polite conversation with them as they passed us till I realised they weren’t with the group I was standing with. It’s very hard to find context clues when most of the conversation is happening in German.
By the time we got home it was 2 in the morning, and I’d already fallen asleep once on the train, so a successful night. (The rest of the party went on till 6.)
The second party, the next day, was at a smaller park but to get there you could cycle through my favourite park (and the one next door to us) Tempelhofer Feld. I’ve been practising how to ride and since I’m extremely lazy, I’m sort of learning in fits and starts. Too lazy to lock and unlock my bike each time I use it: nah, I’d rather walk but too lazy to walk home from the Feld: I guess I could cycle it instead. So it’s a sliding scale. I’m no good at rushing on it though, and we wound up 30 minutes late for a house viewing thanks to my terrible skills, and the people at the other end were extremely grumpy and not at all moved by my plight (ie: I am learning to cycle), but it’s okay because their house was really ugly anyway, she says snottily.
Unlike the Friday party, this was a really adult one with real food, and actual glasses and a picnic table all laid out with homemade food. Even the music was more my style (oldies, ya) (there is also an oldies coolness sliding scale, while I thought we were all being uncool together so when someone was like “I’m going to play trashy 90s music” and I said, “Ooh Britney!” and he gave me a withering look and said, “Er, not that trashy.”) so apparently, this is how aged I am now.
But there was a moment, one of those moments, when you’re perfectly in sync with every single person around you. Sweet Dreams came on, and we all began to sing as one: the Germans, the Italians, the Serbians, the Indians, all of us going, “Sweet dreams are made of these, who am I to disagree, I’ve traveled the world and the seven seas” and we caught each other’s eye and we smiled as we sang.
Then we cycled home and we couldn’t through the park (Tempelhofer is the only one that closes after 10 pm) so we had to take the long way round and on the way back just on our street, there were some Dutch tourists drinking outside and I tried to avoid them and the bag one of them had left on the sidewalk but because my spatial awareness is very bad, I felt like I was going to fall off sideways against a tree. And so I did, just a gentle slide, and ULTIMATE HUMILIATION, a roar of laughter from the people behind me, and I was so mortified I could’ve just fallen over and DIED, but instead, I said, “I’m still learning!” and after that they were all very friendly and charming and complimented my outfit (I was wearing my tutu skirt) and asked me to join them and I was like nooo I’ve got to get home, so that’s a story of how I faced a fear and conquered it.
Final final final vaccine.docx
Ugh, we get our second Moderna dose today and our third in total, so we will be so vaccinated, which is nice, but by the time you get this tomorrow morning, we might be super sick again, so send good vibes, friends. We both had a medium bad reaction to Covishield (body aches and pains for about 24 hours) a very bad reaction to Moderna (fever followed by body ache followed by profuse sweating for 48 hours) and now who knows what will happen with dose 2/3?
ANYHOW! If you liked this edition (or any of them!) please buy me a coffee, which is lovely and affirming for me, and also helps keep the lights on for this project while keeping it freeeeee. THANK YOU.
A lotta links
How to gracefully turn down plans you cannot afford, if you’re like me and have a lot of rich friends and feel bad saying no all the time.
What is the deal with book reviews these days?
The best hair extensions in the world come from the Tirupati temple.
I used to be OB-SESSED with multiple personality syndrome (now called disassociative disorder) because I read this book called Sybil, which later turned out to be a hoax but anyway, this is a fun profile of a former YouTube influencer who had it.
The strange persistence of first languages.
Related: why is English so weird? (Eternally thankful that I’m not learning English for the first time just now.)
A sad sweet story: the Jessica simulation.
That’s all from me! Have a great week.
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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