The Internet Personified: Third Impressions
One long digression after another!
My Most Esteemed Eclairs,
By now I’ve been in Berlin exactly a week. I was smart—before I left Delhi, I joined a bunch of Facebook groups for Flats in Berlin, and quickly messaged some people while we were in K’s parents house. Out of the seven people I messaged only two wrote back, and one only because I saw the Goa Hilltop reference on her profile and cravenly referred to it. (“You like Hilltop? I like Hilltop!”) (This is a lie, I believe Hilltop represents the worst of what Goa has to offer, but I am prim and prudish about raves in general and raves with most foreigners making a ruckus whilst off their faces on drugs in particular.) (This attitude needs to be adjusted for Berlin, World’s Party City, but I’ll climb that hill(top lol) when I get to it.) The second person who got back to me was the person we rented this flat from, an Armenian expat, who was so charmed by K (I let him take over for the talking part of things) that despite having ten people look at his house, he decided to give it to us. I was flattered—and suspicious, but flattered anyway. Bear in mind we hadn’t actually seen the flat, only on video call, and bear in mind part two, that I am always on alert for people scamming me when I leave India. (In India I feel like I am too cautious to fall for anyone’s scams.)
BRIEF INTERLUDE TO TALK ABOUT SCAMS I HAVE FALLEN PREY TO IN MY TWENTIES BEFORE I WAS HARDENED BY LIFE
Once I was dying of a fever, and so left work to drive myself home. Lady on the side of the road approaches, says her friend is in labour, indeed friend looks like she's about to give birth right there on the road divider. “I am very sick,” I whisper, “I can’t drive you anywhere.” The woman reassures me she only wants money, not my time, so I hand over 500 bucks and go, wondering if all is okay. Cut to: three days later, health recovered, I am on the same road, and there is the woman at my window again saying her friend is in labour. “I just saw you two days ago!” I say, hurt at my charity being not the charity I thought it was, and she gives me this look I’ve never forgotten. It was like I was doing something socially awkward by pointing it out to her, she was forgiving me for it, and she sailed off with grace and I never saw her again. (I’d like to turn this into a neat little story about how we only want to give when we see a cause we can storify, as it were, as opposed to just giving without caring about a backstory, but you get the gist of it more or less.)
The second crime I’m still a little angry about because sexism, but I saw through it in the end. Basically, a long con of men stopping me on the street in Bombay telling me sparks were coming out of my car, I stop, one “mechanic” magically appears, tells me my alternator is shot and jams in a new one, just shoves it in between gaps in the engine, and then says I have to pay him. Some street smarts return and I ask for the old alternator, at which request he looks surprised and tells me it’s there only, in my engine, it’ll just stay there, rattling around. Then I ask for the bill, and he writes it down on a piece of torn notebook paper. Then I look at the paper and at him and at this “alternator” and tell him I’m actually ok taking it to my own mechanic after all. He is upset but FOILED, I am triumphant when later I realise that it was all a set up, even the men on the road planted to find a female driver or someone who didn’t look like they knew anything. And even though people have attempted to scam me since (mostly bank fraud, calling and asking for details pretending to be from my bank) I’m like hyperaware.
Luckily, this sublet was not a scam. In fact, we (K and I but also our landlord) were all dancing around this question of who do you trust on the internet. We had to prove we were serious with money, he did it with a contract, and we came to Berlin and he buzzed us up to his floor and it existed! And it’s perfect, just about the size of our bedroom at home, 38 sqm (409 sq feet, if you understand square feet more, as I do.) (I mean, we are a metric country but our measurements are damn inconsistent. Real estate in feet. Kilometres on the road. Body temperature in Farenheit but outside temperature in Celcius. Foot and inches for our height but kilos for our weight.) It has a tiny kitchen (no microwave but an oven and a stove) and a tiny bathroom and I like it, it feels like we’re in a doll’s house or something. A hotel room. A service apartment. I’ve been enjoying the tiny kitchen very much, it seems to be made to scale, and everything is just the right size for me.
We are in Tempelhof, a large neighbourhood in West Berlin famous now for the Tempelhofer Feld, a Nazi era airport now turned into a vast park, bordering many neighbourhoods. People buy barbecues at local petrol stations and set up at the Feld, cooking and drinking beer, and people watching, children learn to ride their bikes or their roller skates, and there are dogs everywhere, very fun for me, because I think I like dog-watching more than people watching.
[Although the other day, tired and on the train, I felt a little touch on the back of my arm, and I looked down and there was this friendly baby and as soon as we made eye contact, me with my mask on, him without, he grinned at me, and I grinned back and waved, and I think I felt truly at home in that moment, welcomed to Berlin by one of its younger residents.]
Of course, because whereever there is empty space and people enjoying themselves for free there are people wanting to make money off of it: there are various developers circling Templehofer Feld all wanting to turn it into posh housing but so far Berliners have managed to keep them at bay. I don’t know though, there’s a major housing crisis on, no one can find a place to rent, a friend the other night was telling us about a house viewing queue that stretched all the way from the fourth floor (where the flat was) to around the street so it’s that bad. We haven’t had any luck with our future apartment yet, but let’s hope for the best. Let’s not despair.
There are so many neighbourhoods I love though. I keep looking up at promising balconies, at exciting windows. On the junction of Sonnennallee (Sun Road) there was a tall apartment building and on the fourth floor, window facing the traffic, a pair of bare feet. Sometimes the toes wiggled in the sunshine. I was eating grilled chicken and fries, my feet hurt from walking so much, and in that moment I resented the owner of those toes, why won’t they leave so we can take their apartment? It’s a problem! This is one of the coolest cities in the world and so everyone wants to move in and no one wants to move out. The friends who saw that long snaking line of people? They decided to buy a house just so they wouldn’t have to rent any more.
Another neighbourhood I like is Schöneberg, but only because it means Beautiful Place, and it reminds me of Sundar Nagar. I’d love to live in Treptow, because it’s not as hipster as everywhere else (one evening in Kreuzberg and I was terrified by all the cool young things being cool and young all over the place). I’m growing quite fond of Tempelhof and I’d like to call it home too. I’d live anywhere really as long as it isn’t just “technically” Berlin. I want to have a local bar and five local supermarkets (two non-German, Asian and Turkish ideally) (you can get a lot of Indian stuff at the Asian markets too). I want to have a large charming park next door. I want to be able to walk quickly home from the train station and vice versa. When we return, it’ll be cold and we’ll have cats, so it’s important to find a nice place now when it’s summer and the days are endless and everyone is cheerful.
Someone commented time before last that they couldn’t relate any more and so would unsubscribe. (I have turned off my unsubscribe alerts because it was bothering me whenever people left, and sometimes people just leave you know, it’s better not knowing so I don’t know if that person made good on their threat or not.) I fear if I go on for too long about my attachment to this city, about walking for hours, even about the days I spend not leaving the house, just in the apartment, that you’ll find it “hard to relate” too. It’s a new adventure for me, for us, and so, I warn you, my writing is probably going to have some Berlin in it, even later, when all the excitement has died down. This will be my life now, less India, more Germany. I hope you’ll want to discover it with me. I hope you’ll still be interested in what I have to say, but I get that it’s harder to connect to someone when they don’t have your same exact life.
No hard feelings though. I still love you.
I’m working on my German, but as our young landlord said just before he left his house, “Berlin isn’t Germany.” I hear as many English conversations as I walk down the road as I do German, and often, just crossing the street to our U-Bahn (the underground) I hear more Turkish than anything else. It’s the most international place I’ve ever been! But I’ve been nowhere longer than a few weeks, except in India. So, I guess it’s more international than Goa, the most international place in India that I know. I think, from my limited observations, the Germans prefer to speak in German, but will switch without much effort to English if it’s what suits you better.
I did say my first full sentence in German last week. I said, “I understand not German.”
Today I am going—not because I know the writers very well, just because it’s a literary exhibition and it’s free—to a small exhibition called English Writers In Berlin in the 1920s. It’s at a place called Literaturhaus (House of Literature) and I’m really going to check that out, because I want to be part of the Scene, which ok, is probably not going to happen for some time, if ever, but I want to see where the Scene might happen, if there is a Scene. A Literary Scene, ie.
There are some pandemic rules in place, I know you must be wondering. Everyone wears masks on public transport and anywhere indoors. Restaurants have mostly closed indoor dining. But it seems like lip service. Berlin has forgotten about COVID or they’re pretending like it’s gone away. Which, to be fair, it mostly has in Germany, but we know how these things go, don’t we? We might be able to get our second shot next week (Moderna after AZ, the same cocktail Angela Merkel got!) if the centre is ok with neither of us being official Berlin residents, and me a foreigner besides. If not, we’ll travel back down to K’s parents where we have an appointment with a private doctor. We are trying to keep ourselves as safe as possible, following most of the same restrictions we put on ourselves in Delhi, except we’re eating out (and outside) a lot, so I don’t know.
If you liked this newsletter (or any of them!) please consider buying me a coffee! (And thank you to all of you who have tipped so far. My heart is full.)
Okay! I think that’s all my news for now. Here are some tasty links to enjoy on Friday evening:
I wrote a column about Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one) and jet.
Okay, I a non-cricket person, can’t even tell you how many runs to an over (is this a thing? did I say a cricket?) am recommending this lovely story on what Sachin means to India. (Old.)
Unsubscribe from Prime. (Are we going to? LMK!)
LOVED this old piece by Veena Venugopal profiling the owner of Tito’s in Goa.
The NYT seems to only be running pieces about influencer culture, which, to be frank, is getting slightly snake-eating-tail-y but I liked this piece about some random called rgbunny_1.
Used to love Britney Spears (Baby One More Time is still my number one karaoke song) and what’s happening to her is horrible and out of some Margaret Atwood dystopian dream.
Raghu Karnard summed up a lot of my feelings also in this piece about where India is now in relation to the world.
And finally, if you’re feeling particularly bad about the way you look recently, you’re not alone.
Have a great week! My internet is very bad so if you see any mistakes, it’s because I can’t fix them.
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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