15 September 2011

Berlin! Sprechen zie Englisch?

Still at Luton.
At 3 am I discover that my carry-on is too large.  It doesn't matter that it separates into two pieces.  You're only allowed 1 piece of hand luggage, be it handbag, laptop, carry-on bag, whatever.  I spend the next hour sitting by the little "your bag must fit here" EasyJet carry-on display looking like a crazy woman unpacking and repacking my bags, trying to make it fit.  The problem is the goddamn cake puppet and my clown shoes.  They must by in my carry-on.  I have a gig on the 17th. What if something happens to my checked luggage?  I'd sooner lose all my clothing and toiletries than my clown show.  I can replace the other things or just be sad they are gone, but I need my working materials.  I finally take off the little day pack that attaches to my rolling luggage and shove it in my big army backpack which, when i originally packed it, was underweight, but now I'm worried. 
At 4 am i check in at the ticket counter, and my pack IS overweight by 2 Kilos, but the ticket counter guy is nice to me and says, just be careful on the way back or you'll get charged, and I think, "On the way BACK!  I am NEVER taking EasyJet again."  I probably will, though, 'cause I be po"!  I go through security and it is bizarre.  There's this conveyor belt that's shaped like a big, curvy snake.  They make me take off my belt but not my shoes, and I think, "Great, I just go wait at the gate now."  But nope, not yet.  One has to go sit in these hard, plastic chairs in the middle of what resembles a huge shopping mall.  My flight doesn't board for an hour, so I just sit there, totally zonked, not knowing whether I need coffee or sleep, and read the flashing signs.  "Relax and Shop!" they command.  I don't know about you, but I don't think those two words belong in the same sentence.  If I'm going to relax, I'm going to do it at the beach, the park, in the woods, maybe at a movie.  Definitely not while shopping.
I start talking to this old (and I do mean old) British lady.  She asks me if I'm on holiday and I tell her about my clown show.  "I've never met a clown before!"  Her eyes light up.  She and her husband are going to Ibiza for their 60th wedding anniversary.  I congratulate her.  Her husband returns to the empty seat next to her.  She turns to him excitedly and says, "She's a clown!" 
"Really?"  He leans forward and grins at me. 
We start talking about England and America, but then I look at the kiosk and my flight says, "Final boarding call."  What?  It's only 5:40!  They didn't even tell us what gate it was going to board at until 5 minutes ago.  I politely excuse myself and run to gate 19.  Fuck you, Easyjet.  I hate you and I hope I can find a better way to get back to London.
The flight is 90 minutes long and I manage to sleep for about 45.  We land at Berlin Schoenfeld Flughafen at 8:30 am and getting through customs is fast, thought the agent spends a little too long looking at my passport.  This happened last time I entered Germany back in 2007 on a train from Prague.  It made me uncomfortable then and it makes my uncomfortable now, though not as much this time because there is an orthodox Jew standing in back of me who is speaking German and looking quite comfortable.  Finally I'm out, transfer things around so I again have shoulder satchel, rolling carry-on and beastpack.  Time for currency exchange.  Changing my British pounds is exciting.  Changing USD a bit, well... we all know what's going on with the dollar.

The directions my new roommate gave me are clear, but I don't know how much fare is and I don't speak ANY German.  Someone helps me figure it out.  I get on the 171 toward U-Rudow, descend into the underground, stumble through buying a ticket from a woman who doesn't speak English and get on the U-7 toward Rathaus Spandau, transfer to the U-8 at Hermannplatz and ride one stop to Boddinstrasse.  Ascending into daylight, I look to my left and there, just as the roommate said there would be, is her building on Hermanstrasse, nestled in between a bakery and a Chinese restaurant.  I ring the bell and she buzzes me in.  It's a walk up and she's on the fourth floor.
You know the kind of ache in your joints that comes from dehydration and lack of sleep.  If you've ever been a heavy drinker, you know what I'm talking about, but if not, guess what?  No alcohol necessary!  Still, I'm almost home.  There's a bed at the top of the stairs.  I can do this.  She meets me on the second floor landing and takes the red, rolling carry-on bag.  B-- is only a slight bit taller than I, shaved head, androgenous features.  When we started communicating, I thought she was trans and she thought I was a man.  Neither of us really cared.
B-- is a native to Berlin but speaks English like an American, although every once in a while, her consonants come out a bit sharp.  She shows me around and I really want to talk to her, but I feel like I am underwater.  That, and I am coated with the sticky film of sleepless travel sweat, my feet strangling in the swamp of my striped socks.  Every once in awhile I get a whiff off myself and it is that mannish smell of cut grass with just a hint of taqueria.  I shower and then nap until 16:00.  By this time, Bridge, who did not sleep well the night before, is napping.  I dress and go out with my list of things to I need to buy.  There is a Woolworth's next to the apartment, so I stop here first for hair conditioner, sunblock, shower gel, hand creme and laundry detergent.  Simple, right?  But of course everything is in German.  Things like sunblock are easy to find because the plastic tubes are illustrated by pictures of the sun and they have numbers on them indicating their strength.  Sonnenmilch!  Suntan lotion.  I can read it, but I can't say it.  Yet.  I feel what is a ridiculous sense of accomplishment.  I am also able to find shower gel, hand creme and hair conditioner without a hitch.  They are all spelled the same or similarly to English, although the pronunciation is very different.  Laundry detergent poses more of an issue.  I am able to find powder, but I want liquid.  There are some bottles, but they seem to be stain remover and bleach.  One is definitely for black clothes only.  I'd be up for experimenting, but I didn't bring much with me, and a mistake, especially with my costume, could prove disastrous.  I find someone who works at the store.  "Sprechen sie Englisch?"  They go and get someone else, a pretty girl with a dark, complexion, long black hair and a lazy eye.  I am pointed at and labeled, "Englisch."  My cheeks flush.  The sense of shame I feel is almost overwhelming.  I am so scared of being an ugly American, some Anglo-centric idiot who grew up speaking only one language.  I try to explain that I am looking for liquid laundry soap, but we have a communication breakdown.  I say "Danke," and leave. 
I decide to keep walking, see what I find.  There is an outdoor mall that looks promising.  I float in, hoping that I don't have to talk to anyone.  I walk into a small drugstore (side note: the drugstores here don't actually sell western medicine, just make-up, detergents, soaps, things like that.  For stuff like ibuprofen you have to go to a pharmacy, where you can buy it over the counter, just like in the US.)  I come upon a large, plastic bottle with the word Sensitive on it.  Below it says, "Color- & Feinwaschmittel" and has pictures of colored clothing on it. YES!  I walk proudly to the counter to buy it, only to have my pride evaporate when the cashier tells me the price in German.  I understand "Zwei" (two) and then there's some change in there somewhere, so I give her 4 Euro.  Ah, accomplishment. 
Stuff is much easier at the grocery because I recognize the kind of  food I want to buy and I know how to say and read "Kaffee"  (coffee) which is the most important and necessary item on my list.  On my way back to B--'s place.  (I guess it's my place, too, for 2 months, as I'm paying 350 Euro a month.) I treat myself to a currywurst, a guilty pleasure unique to Berlin.  It's a cut-up sausage doused with curry powder and ketchup and is mm-mmm good.  My hunger sated, I go back to the fourth floor walk-up and spend 15 minutes trying to unlock the door to the flat while not having a total conniption.  Eventually, I get the goddamn door open, make some kaffee and unpack. And I've got a gig at ZirCouplet (http://www.zircouplet-variete-berlin.de/) on the 17th and 18th. 
Yep,  it's happening!

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