To get into the right mood for this blogpost, I suggest you put on my Berlin-playlist.
One of the things that I find most irritating about repatriation is the amount of people everywhere. Germany is full of people. We have ten times as many people as Sweden and half the space. So what do I, overwhelmed with people, do?
I go to Berlin. So smart! Last time I checked there was only one city in Europe that is bigger than Berlin (it’s London). So I threw myself into this metropolis that I have been to many times before and still wonder when I will start to understand it and its very peculiar inhabitants.
Don’t get me wrong: the moment I stepped off the train and saw the prestigious central station with the Reichstag parliament building ahead, I was of course once again stunned. As a German, as a historian and as a person who loves big city air.
But then you try to get somewhere and have to change from train to tram to tube and then you get off and on the map it looks like it is just one stop so “you can probably walk that bit”. Hm. Let me put it like this: one stop in Berlin is like walking from Gärdet to Strandvägen. Or almost.
Luckily I only had to manage a short time on my own and then was met by Olgannelie. She has lived in Berlin for six weeks and surprisingly knows her way around very well. This made the whole stay very surreal: I was in Germany, but completely lost, and I was with someone who in my brain belongs in Stockholm. No wonder I got excited the first five times we heard people speaking German: “Annelie, listen! They are Germans!” Well, duh, in Germany.
Over a first fika I got a life update on her Berlin life (“Det finns typ bara psykfall I den här staden”) and I introduced her to my Dalahäst. The horse also wants to see something of the world, so obviously he got to travel to the amazing German capital with me. He is 14 days old and was finally baptized by Annelie (even though I am the one who was awarded a degree in Lutheran theology from Uppsala University…). Because Germans like to speak formally to each other, she called the Dalahäst Herr Krupp and that shall now be his name. (“Hej, mitt namn är Herr Krupp och mina intressen är häst och fest.”)
While I have seen the Berlin sights several times and Annelie sees them all the time (I hope), we felt that Herr Krupp has to lay eyes on the Brandenburger Tor and look up to the TV tower landmark. We zickzacked through Berlin (my advice: always buy day tickets, with those distances there is so no point in anything else) and Herr Krupp was very happy to be photographed with some of the important sights. Annelie and I both thought it is kind of difficult to know where one part of town ends and a new one starts (by now you have figured I could never live in, say, Mexico City or Bejing, right?) We quickly figured why we think finding the borders difficult: “There is no islands!” In Stockholm, there is not much arguing because when you are at the end of Södermalm, well, you’re at the end of Södermalm.
In the evening, Annelie took me to Kottbusser Tor. (No fricking idea which stadsdel that is.) I kept asking her things to orient myself so now I know that what Peter Fox sings in his genius song about Berlin, “Schwarz zu Blau” is entirely true: “Ich stampf durch die Kotze am Kotti” – I walk through the vomit at Kottbusser Tor. Annelie explained that this is a common sight on a weekend and I was glad it was Thursday.
Generally, I think Peter Fox is a good representative for Berlin: cool but not too far from mainstream, poetic and deeper than you would think, somewhat rough, and in some songs just a bit too much of a beat for every day (at least if you are over 25 and past your taking-speed-phase).
At Kottbusser Tor we found a Persian restaurant that I forced/persuaded Annelie to eat at and over dinner we discussed our impressions of Germany. I must say that Annelie has germanified without my help in a breath-taking speed. When we walked into her apartment, she did not take off her shoes. It almost made me uncomfortable to see her walk into her bedroom with boots. She also enters busses through the rear door while I stand wide-eyed with my bus ticket and want to show it to the driver. At our fika, she sat down all calm and waited for the waitress while I barely could resist the impulse to go up to the counter. Give me five weeks, I will be as German as Annelie again.
We also established that Annelie shares my theory of national absent-minded facial expressions. In my year-long study of Swedes on the metro, I have observed that a somewhat pissed look is part of the outfit. The pissed expression is though usually not at all meant to be unfriendly because as soon as you approach a person, they will lighten up, smile and gladly help you with getting to the green line to Hagsätra. Germans in public spaces do not look pissed, they look heavily weighed down and slightly troubled. As a German, I totally get it: we’re constantly bearing the German responsibility (for fixing the economic crisis, for all the wars, for Europe, for producing the longest words) with us. You can’t look light-hearted if you have to worry about everything. Just like with Swedes, when you approach a German, the person will lose its worried look and be a happy fellow. (Berliners, however, have a notorious reputation of being very unfriendly.)
The highlight of our time together was when we went to the supermarket. I don’t know why but grocery shopping is so much more fun in Germany. Maybe it’s because things are actually reasonably priced? Or maybe it is because Kaisers, the store, offered such great products as Bibi-Blocksberg-underwear and empty VHS-cassettes? (Who on earth tapes things on VHS-cassettes nowadays?)
I will tell you more about this in a later post, but in Germany, going to a normal grocery store is kind of an “Einkaufserlebnis” (Shopping Experience). At least for Annelie and me who looked at everything as if we were from Mars and got excited about both the Swedish knäckebröd and the long aisles of candy. I must say though that my mission to taste all the typically German sweets Annelie does not know yet was sabotaged by the candy companies that only sell everything in packs of like 500 grams. You can’t buy 500 grams of Nimm Zwei, Knoppers, Rollo and Milka! Or yes, you can, but then you can go to Kotti and throw up afterwards. Our candy integration mission must therefore be continued when we meet again.
As we were doing some research on horses online, I found a Stammtisch for people who like horseback riding. A Stammtisch is a regular, informal meeting in a pub, somtimes with an overarching topic. (NB: In German, Stammtisch-culture, Stammtisch-arguments usually means a very low and populist level of discussion.) The Stammtische are something that apparently foreigners find funny, at least the horseback-riding-Stammtisch prompted Annelie to say, “Geez, they have a Stammtisch for EVERYTHING. I bet there is a Stammtisch for Everyone who does groceries at the supermarket”.
I might join a Stammtisch in Hamburg for “People who like Berlin but think it is terribly exhausting”.
P.S.: This time, I succeeded in taking the right train! I highly recommend taking an ICE when you need to travel somewhere. It is the most luxurious thing I do in my German life. Second class always feels like first class, it’s a perfect working environment and there are only pleasant, civilized people around you.