My Neukölln Neighbours, and the Quest for the Magic Internet
by Guest Blogger
I moved to Neukölln this year when a seemingly magical apartment came up. I heard about it through a close friend; just renovated, not even advertised. The landlord, meanwhile, didn’t even want papers. No bank statements, no proof of income, no scary document called a Mietewirdpünktlichbezahltwahrscheinlichgarantie, nothing. After hearing horror stories about having to bare-knuckle fight 40 people just to see the the front door of an apartment in Berlin, then needing a stack of papers so large that they can only be moved by wheelbarrow, it seemed like The Universe had just thrown me a Wohnung-shaped bone.
I moved in one evening in January. It was warm, empty, and smelled of its new wood floors. I had a hot shower and a beer, unpacked my single suitcase, then lay down on a borrowed mattress in the middle of the room. I smiled, then fell asleep in my new home.
The next day I was rattled awake at 9am by loud, floor-shaking anarchist punk. Disorientated, confused and staring at a strange new ceiling for the very first time, a slow realisation creeped into my head like a weird hangover:
I didn’t need any papers.
No one else in this building needed any papers either.
As my plan was to go on a little door-to-door quest for a temporary wireless password, it wouldn’t be long before I met a few of them.
Attempt One – No Internet
Most days now, I wake up to a visit from Peter, who was my first neighbour friend. He lives opposite me, and I suspect is an alcoholic. This is partly because he often asks if I want to come over for a whiskey. Mostly, though, it’s because he often asks if I want to come over for a whiskey before I’ve even had a muesli.
He is 60 years old, most proud of his missing finger, and is very keen on bumping fists. We communicate mostly in bad English, bad German, and, for a reason I haven’t quite figured out yet, by shouting “SEX!!” at each other when we can’t think of the right word. He has also decided that I am “very good man,” and that we are in a guitar and harmonica band called Peter und Paul (available for bookings).
One day, when he invited me over for a late drink in the afternoon, I asked him if anyone on our floor had wifi that they might be able to share with me. “SEX,” he replied, which meant no. He suggested, though, that I could maybe drill a hole then feed the wire in from upstairs.
“Oh,” I said, “you don’t need wires.”
He fist-bumped me, laughed, and shook his head. “It’s OK. The ceiling. It’s thin.”
Attempt Two – No Internet
Keen to help me on my new quest, Peter then introduced me to Bomb, who is a Canadian guy called Bomb that lives downstairs. On the way to meet Bomb, who is actually called Bomb, Peter warned me in German about two unnecessary details. Firstly, that Bomb has dogs. I knew this already, in fact, as they woke me up most of the days that Peter didn’t. Secondly, that Bomb has a beard “all over his face,” but is, nevertheless, a “very good man.”
Wondering why Peter thought I needed warning about that trivial fact, I knocked on the door. The dogs barked loudly, then a bloody, bandaged hand reached around the door, followed by a man with no beard at all. I had misheard Peter. By which I mean I had not understood Peter. By which I mean I do not speak German.
Peter had not said “beard” when he had pointed all over his face. He had said “tattooed.”
Bomb was initially aesthetically frightening but, indeed, a very good man. Since befriending him, I have a newfound respect and understanding for tattooing your whole face. There are far too many people in the world. It can be annoying. About 99% of them, however, are probably too scared to talk to people with tattooed faces. Bomb, therefore, has streamlined his life to just include the amazing 1% who are the least judgemental and awesome. It’s genius.
He is a wise man who understands many things. One of them, however, is not wifi. I asked him if we could share his for a bit.
“I don’t know,” he mumbled, “maybe we can drill a hole in the ceiling.”
“No,” I said, and my mind exploded like a thing. “It’s wireless, you know. You don’t needa wire.”
“My girlfriend’s back tomorrow. Come round then, she understands it more than I do.”
Attempt Three – No Internet
It was while knocking on the door for Bomb’s girlfriend that I met Martina, and I took the opportunity to ask her about the internet, which was beginning to seem like a quite a revolutionary technology in my building. Now, Martina is nice, simple, and talks a lot. Most admirable about her, however, is how she is will keep talking a lot even when she is understood very little. She lives next door to Bomb, and has three noisy children. I knew this already, in fact, as they woke me up any day that Bomb or Peter didn’t.
Amazingly, she had just got the internet installed that morning, and was delighted with the idea of sharing the cost. She didn’t know how to turn it on or use it yet, however, but she told me to come back the next night once her friend had explained to her how to get the password. By this point, of course, I was just delighted to find someone who understood the concept that wireless internet was, in fact, wireless.
I returned as instructed the next day with my personal German translator, by which I mean girlfriend, and my idiot expat life enabling machine, by which I mean laptop. I hugged it to my chest like an excited child on Christmas Day.
Now, as I said, Martina talks. She invited us in, and I waited in mostly dumb silence for thirty minutes, wondering how it could possibly take thirty minutes to get a wireless password. It was a long and confusing experience for me, because I didn’t understand a lot. It turned out it was also a long and confusing experience for my translator, who understood everything. To cut a long story English, the punchline is that Martina had decided, in incredibly expansive German, not to share the password with me because she had been warned I could download a movie, and she would have to pay a fine.
My face dropped. Christmas was cancelled. Ignoring the embarrassing length of time that I was still eagerly and obliviously hugging the laptop to my chest, this was understandable. Especially in Germany, the land of the lawyer letter. What was less understandable, however, was that Martina told my girlfriend in that time that she had just cancelled her previous internet and television package, and was now worried that her radio wouldn’t work.
“Well, no…,” my girlfriend told her, before patiently going on to explain that radio works in a different way to television. A way that doesn’t need wires.
Soon after, I saw posters and leaflets from an internet company all around my building, advertising broadband. Realising that I was in such a wonderful building that the internet still needed to be pitched, I gave up with my neighbour-meeting mission and bought a web stick. I have since had three drunken visits from Peter asking to do a “goo-glee.”