I took off Sunday evening from the US. It’s now Thursday. Things have been a blur for me and I’ve lost track of time. I’ve been wanting to write my first post right away, but just the shock of moving, and a whole host of other things I didn’t expect, kept me busy.
I spent most of Sunday packing up my mountain of clothes. You would not believe how quickly the weight builds up. After just a few items I was already over the 50 pounds bag limit. I had to bring two bags with me. The dogs helped me pack, and I put all the things I couldn’t take right away into boxes. I came up with a numbering system and labled them and have a corresponding list that tells me all of what is in each box. That way I can tell my parents “Hey, can you send me box 1B, 2B, and 3A?” and know exactly what’s in them.
At the airport the bags clocked in at 46 pounds and 49…so close. Even my backpack was bursting at the seams.
Ironically, the boarder agent stamped my passport right over South Carolina, the state I just left…
Once I landed I showed a taxi driver the address of the hostel I was trying to get to, and with a little effort we were able to find it. I’m temporarily staying at he “Happy go lucky hotel and hostel.” It’s fairly decent, although the lack of privacy in the bunk room is rough, and the shower is a glorified motion sensor faucet that spits hot water at you for 15 seconds at a time.
This is the main lobby where I’ve been hanging out late until the sunrise working on my computer.
Here’s the bathroom. To get to it I’ve got to navigate a few corridors. It’s as if it’s understood that the shower will spray water all over the room. They’ve included a special broom to move it towards the drain.
This thing took about 5 minutes to figure out. The knob controls the temperature of the water and that’s it. You wave your hand in front of the sensor to get the water to turn on. You’ve got 15 seconds of water for each wave. I made the mistake of toweling off in the shower and backed up too close to the sensor and got sprayed with water, towel and all… :-\
The view outside my window. The S-Bahn tracks run right near the hotel. At night there’s a gentle cadence of the wheels over tracks in the distance with the light from the cars drifting into the room.
It’s really difficult living in a room with multiple people. There’s no privacy and I feel bad coming and going at odd times of night. (My body clock is still off) I try to be as quiet as I can, but then whenever you’re trying to be quiet, everything’s a million times louder.
My first night in the hostel was really rough. I was tired and felt slightly sick. I hadn’t slept much in the past couple of days leading up to the jump, and I didn’t sleep any on the flight over. To make matters worse, my phone wasn’t working and I didn’t have gps.
I sat in my room on the verge of a panic to be honest. I felt like I was on a knife edge about to fall. I could fall on the side of being really excited “Oh wow! I’m actually in Berlin!!!” or “Oh god, what have I done? I know nobody! I don’t think I’m ready for this!” I had to be very careful with my own internal dialogue to make sure I fell on the right side.
Something I wasn’t prepared for what just how hard Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would hit me. I just instantly lost the two giant chunks of the pyramid by moving to this new place with no friends, no job, no resources, and not stable long term shelter.
It really sent me for a spin. Sometimes when you’re under extreme stress, and you’re aware of it, but you know what you have to do, it helps to talk to yourself and walk yourself through things step by step, coaching yourself along. I did that to go take a shower. “Ok, we’re going to get up off the bed. Good. Step 1 done. Now we’re going to get our shower shoes. Good. Doing great. Now our towel.” (You get the idea) I did that, and got a can of soda and half a sandwich from downstairs and that was my first “dinner” in Germany.
It turns out I have two roommates (well three or four now). Originally it was this young Afghani guy who was in Berlin to study civil engineering. He spoke pretty good German and told me he was at the proficiency level I was trying to reach (B2). That got me kind of worried. He also told me he was looking for an apartment for over a month. I don’t know what he was looking for, but I really don’t want to be stuck in this bunk room for a month. He spoke poor English, but good German, so we conversed in a mix of both. It was a crazy feeling. I could understand him. I’m not exactly sure how, but I knew what he was saying, even though it was in German. I had a little difficulty responding, but we got our points across.
My other roommate turned out to be what I think is a Russian migrant working in his 40’s-50’s? He snores a bit. A couple of other guys appeared the other night, and I think they’re German just based off of the fact that their books are in German. (I peeked at the text while they were out to try and see where they were from)
Tuesday morning came and I slept in a bit. I was terrified to leave my hostel. I had no idea how to get anywhere and I didn’t know how to navigate the public transport system. In retrospect, all this hesitation was a product of the shock and fear I was suffering. It paralyzed me. I’ve done this before! I’ve got to entirely foreign locations and navigated around! It’s one of the things I’m proud of about myself! I feel like I’m autonomous enough and a developed enough adult that I can manage to navigate foreign locations, but here I was paralyzed.
The Afghani student told me that if I go out of the hostel and walk a bit I’ll find a grocery store. I decided to take a walk, didn’t find anything, and hurriedly ran back. I had wifi at the hostel. It was the only place I could reach the internet, my life blood.
Then came Matt. I met Matt through Reddit. He’s a British freelance writer who’s lived in Berlin for several years, speaks fluent German, and knows what it’s like to be new and alone in a foreign city. He offered to meet me at town hall that afternoon where he’d translate for me to the officials to see if I could get my residency permit. I need my residency permit in order to get anything in the city. It’s crucial. I couldn’t thank him enough and I agreed to meet up with him. (But that meant I needed to leave the hostel.)
I checked on google and drew a quick map for myself, along with the names of stations and the like. I left the hostel, and again turned right out of the door and couldn’t find the station. I hurried back to see where I went wrong. It then hit me. I was looking at the map upside down this entire time. I was disorientated. I left the hostel and took a left. Suddenly I turn a corner and out of nowhere is this really busy square with shops and a U-Bahn station (subway). I bought a ticket at the automated kiosk, got on the train, and luckily the stop I needed to get off at was only two stops away and a straight shot! I stepped out of the station and didn’t have to guess too hard which building was the town hall.
Within a few minutes of standing outside of the building, trying to look obvious like I was waiting for someone, a cheery looking man in glasses and a well groomed red beard showed up and welcomed me to Germany.
We went inside and discovered that they were no longer taking any walk-in appointments. I still needed to get a new SIM card for my phone, so we visited several shops and finally picked up one that was decently priced. We went back to my hostel to try to activate it, only to run into more technical troubles. Oh, and Matt had a welcoming present for me: A bottle of South African fizzy iced tea that is seriously giving Coke a run here in Berlin. It’s delicious, but at 2 euros a pop, I can’t have it too often.
After wrestling with my phone for about an hour, we decided to go out and start walking around for a bit. We were planning on going to a reddit meetup at a bar that night, but it didn’t start for a couple of hours. By this time it was getting dark. Matt and I found a park bench next to the road outside my hostel where we sat down and he produced a couple of German beers from his backpack and a speaker for his smartphone. We cracked open the beers, he showed me some bands, and we just sat and chatted while watching people walk by with their bikes and dogs. It was extremely settling to just relax for a bit and it finally started to sink in “Wow…I’m in Europe!”
I also started to notice some cultural differences. Drinking in public is perfectly ok as long as you’re not being an ass about it or disturbing others. A couple of police officers walked past us with our open containers and didn’t even look twice at us. It felt so strange!
After finishing a couple of beers, philosophizing on the role of media in the public sphere, and cultural stereotypes we might have of one another, Matt and I decided to go grab some shawarma’s at a little hole in the wall before heading down to the bar for the meeting.
We entered and ordered our food without trouble. I noticed the shop owner had a large display of currency from all over the world above his work station. I didn’t see a US dollar, so I pulled out the only one I had and said “Für Sie” and pointed towards the collection of bills. He smiled and said thank you and then decided to put the bill next to that of Saudi Arabia. I thought this was particularly clever. We got our food and the shop owner came by and gave us two glasses of tea on the house. I think it was a nice gesture in return for the dollar for his collection.
After getting dinner we proceeded to the pub where we would meet up with the local redditors. It has to be one of the coolest little bars I’ve been in. There was a black and white film playing up on the exposed brickwork, and some artist kids in the back doing oil paintings by candle light. I really felt like I was in Berlin then.
There was this cup of pretzel sticks at each table…
At the reddit meetup I meet three other people from the UK. It was great to chat with them, exchange stories, and cultural stereotypes. I got their contact information and even met up with a programmer guy who gave me a doge coin card. (It’s a crypto currency like bitcoin).
We ended up staying pretty late and just barely caught the last train home. I decided to stay up and work on trying to fix my phone, as it was killing me not being able to navigate around on my own. I ended up not sleeping at all and then the sun came up. I finally got the phone working, sort of, around 8 am and decided to go take a nap for a bit. I overslept until 12:30pm.
Matt said he’d like to try and hit up the town hall again later that day, but then we discovered they were closed at 1. We decided to get together again anyways and spent the afternoon walking around Potsdamer platz and seeing parts of East Berlin along with the Reichstag (German Parliment).
Matt and I stopped by Chancellor Merkel’s apartment. It’s a normal apartment downtown and you wouldn’t know if belonged to one of the most powerful women in the world except for the small police detail always stationed outside.
They put these boxes around statues in the winter to protect them.
The US Embassy in Berlin. Currently at the center of a spying controversy. They had fake walls where they’d use specialized equipment to listen into foreign dignitary’s private conversations.
Some of downtown near Potzdamer Platz at night.
A remaining chunk of the Berlin wall! The graffiti on it says “The next wall to fall, Wall Street!”
After that Matt and I parted ways for the night and I went to go meet up with one of the UK redditors I met the night before for dinner. We had a little bit of trouble finding this pizzeria downtown and ended up walking through some sketchy looking dark streets, but were finally able to find it and sit down for pizza and coffee and just chat about moving, Germany, and life.
I’m now back at the hostel and about to turn in for the night. Shit. It’s almost 3:30am… Oh well. Hey, here’s some more pics:
Getting ready to go out on the town for the day:
They have Manner cookies in the vending machine! My mom used to get those special for my sister and I as kids.