When it comes to Berlin, we’re enthusiastic to a fault. In fact, we’re often reminded that, if we keep banging on about how amazing the place is, a tidal wave of expats will flood in here – and give us plenty of reasons to complain. Thank God, then, for Rachel Hutchinson, a Brit who’s been in Berlin for four and a half years, and is balancing out our positivity with some stark commentary on the realities of living here. Introducing: Berlin Rants.
Coming from England, I never envisioned not being able to buy everything you want under one roof.
A 24-hour Tesco around the corner can give you the false impression that fully stocked shelves are available 24/7 everywhere.
In Berlin I found out that sadly this is not true.
It was hard to find a chicken. Yes, a chicken! I had to buy three tiny chickens instead. So, we each had our own mini chicken, or Poussin, whatever you call them, on our plate. Novel – as a one off! But, how hard can it be to get a whole chicken?
Sometimes Berlin supermarkets will run out of eggs or milk. You know, just the essentials.
Don’t expect to be able to buy mincemeat on a Saturday evening.
Don’t expect there to buy both baked beans and rocket in the same supermarket.
Certainly don’t expect to buy beef.
Actually forget everything you already know about supermarkets. It no longer applies.
Prepare yourself for having to visit at least two supermarkets to get everything you need. Prepare yourself not to be able to pay on credit card. Prepare yourself not to be able to do your shopping on a Sunday.
Prepare for long queues. Prepare for just one checkout being open. Prepare yourself for unhelpful shop assistants who deliberately don’t move out of your way.
Forget 3-for-2s, 2-for-1s or any other offer. Forget shelf re-stockers. If we run out, we run out.
And forget fresh spinach.
I was cycling to work one summer morning and my bike wheel got caught in the tramlines by Alexanderplatz. I fell off my bike and cut my leg.
Blood started pouring down my leg. Not in a dramatic way, but enough for it to hurt. So I get up and brush the gravel off my leg, wipe the blood, and pick my bike up.
An old man starts walking towards me. I think he’s going to ask me if I’m ok or if I needed some help.
No. He comes over and starts speaking to me in German, and tells me that I should be wearing better shoes to cycle!
I am wearing a pair of Havianas (flip flops), which I wear most of the summer, and always cycle with. And I hadn’t fallen off my bike because my shoes were not suitable enough; I had blatantly fallen off because my bike wheel was caught in the tramline. He saw what happened.
I couldn’t believe it. My leg was bleeding, and this old man had come over just to rub my nose in it and to preach about my wrong behaviour. Typical German.
They seem to love to interfere or nosily point things out to you. Maybe they actually think they are being helpful. But most of the time I wish they just wouldn’t interfere.
Like the woman who stopped me on the bike to tell me my lights were not working. I stopped, pulled my earphones out to hear what she was saying, and then got my earphone cable caught in the bike wheel, so my bike ended up falling over.
Thanks! That was helpful. And I knew the bloody light wasn’t working anyway!
But the worst time was when one woman thought it was OK to tap me on the shoulder while I was cycling, just for joining the bike lane, because she didn’t see me. She tapped my shoulder! To tell me I was in the wrong.
How dare she touch me! I was outraged, but I held my tongue because I didn’t want to really lose my temper.
The rules are the rules are the rules are the rules.
Yes. If you are German, this is so.
Dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s, everything has to be just so.
You cannot deviate from the rules, or the unthinkable will happen. What the unthinkable is, I still don’t know.
I once went to the Berlin Festival at Tempelhof with a friend from London. She had just had clear braces fitted, and so could only drink clear drinks for a while.
She went to the bar, she wanted a vodka tonic. However, the menu said just gin and tonic, or vodka and lemonade.
She asked for a vodka and tonic. The bar woman said this was not possible. They just sold gin and tonic, vodka and lemonade. Both were 6€.
My friend said this was stupid, how could she not have a vodka and tonic. What was the difference, they were both the same price.
But the woman held strong. No. It was just gin and tonic, or vodka and lemonade. That was what was on the menu, that was what was available. So my friend got a gin and tonic, and came back to where I was sat.
“It’s no joke about the Germans being sticklers for the rules!” she said, and told me what had happened at the bar.
I laughed. “Welcome to Germany!”
I’ve been shhhhhsh’d on the bus.
I’ve been shhhhhhsh’d in a café.
I’ve been shhhhhhhsh’d in the office.
Ok, I admit it, I can be pretty loud, but I’ve even been shhhhhhhsh’d at a gig!
The Germans just love their quiet. Even at a concert they prefer it when everyone stands around silently appreciating the music, rather than dancing and having fun.
We were shhhhhhhhhsh’d at an electronic concert. I couldn’t believe it! It is not a library, it’s a place where people go to dance, party and let their hair down. How could someone really think it was ok to shhhhh us?
So we were deliberately loud after that. Petty, but childishly satisfying.
But for the rest of the gig I kind of wanted to shake people and shout at them, “Why aren’t you dancing?” dance goddamnit, this is Digitalism.
All words and images courtesy of Rachel Hutchinson. Read more of Rachel’s rants at 28rantslater.blogspot.de.