Saturday, December 1, 2007

Get with the program.

The program.

There has been a surprising development.

I, traveling for three months now, have been looking forward to coming back to New York and having a stable homebase. However, I have just learned that I no longer have one. Dan and I were unable to negotiate with our landlords regarding our rent increase, and so we have decided that they can shove the $200 extra a month up their ass and we're moving out. We are confronted with the following challenges:

Dan has to look (and possibly choose) an apartment without me.

When I get home in two weeks, I will have to pack my stuff and be out by December 31.

I am out of a job and knowing New York City´s crazy rent standards (needing to show paycheck stubs and whatnot), I am nervous we will get screwed somehow (though the broker we contacted says it should not be a problem).

Will we even be able to find an apartment at this time of year? Who moves January 1?!?

While fretting about the idea of finding a new home (which will undoubtedly be too small and cost too much), I come to Berlin to stay at the home of Philipp, who you may remember as core member of the inner circle from Polish class, his wife Christina and their 11-month daughter, Ada. Completely tired of hostels (especially after the Amsterdam experience), I was overjoyed a few day ago when Philipp asked if I would like to stay with them. Would I ever!

Philipp and I met on platform 5 in Berlin's brand new train station in dramatic fashion: He on one side, I on the other. If it weren't for the concrete and train tracks, and the fact that I could barely move with my packs strapped to me, it was almost like running across a field of flowers to greet an old friend.

'This is a typical Berlin apartment,' he told me as we walked through the door of his home, saying hello to Christina and Ada. The place is in an old building, and just like most of the other buildings on their street, newly renovated. About three of my apartments could fit into theirs. They have a living room, a dining room, a master bedroom, a baby room, a kitchen, two bathrooms (equipped with washer and dryer), and two long hallways which makes for a nice design. It is stylish, but not uncomfortable, decorated in charming red, electric blue and white motif. Their walls are lined with interesting artwork and photographs, but they have books and papers and babytoys and trinkets littering their shelves and floors, as if to say, 'I am cool, but people live here.' They live in a neighborhood filled with fun shops, close to the center of town. I have seen at least three record stores in this city already which would make my boyfriend very happy. And they pay less in rent than we do back in New York. Why are we living in New York again?

There is a lot of activity in this home. Philipp and Christina seem like the type of people who always keep busy with so many friends and engagements and parties plus the baby. Also, within 30 minutes of being there, Ada takes her first step (only Philipp saw the first, we saw the second and third) and says 'Danke' for the first time. How's that for excitement?

I like their energy. Immediately, Philipp and Christina wanted to set up a program for me on exploring the city. I have been so laid back in my sight-seeing approach that having a program (as they referred to it) made me a little nervous.

'How do you want to approach the city?' Phillipp asked me. 'What are your interests?'

I gulped. I was a little embarassed to admit that I did not know much about Berlin at all. I know of no landmarks except for the Berlin Wall and that doesn't even really exist anymore. And approach? Does finding the best cake shops in town count as an approach?

So I asked them to recommend me a program, and so Christina created a walking plan for me which she drew on a map in green marker. Philipp went over the map, adding his own lines. They talked about places with names I could not pronounce, and I nodded and said yes that sounds good, even though I wasn't sure what any of these places were.

So with map in hand, I ventured into the city. It was one of these big maps, that folded a hundred times over, the kind where if you unfolded it, you could never get it back to its original condition again. And that meant I kept losing the little green line in these folds (I kept finding another green line that looked like it was drawn for another visitor). At one point, I was struggling with this map so long that a person on the street asked if I needed help.

'Oh, my friends,' I sputtered, 'gave me a program.' The man raised his eyebrow. I finally found the green line and showed him.

'Ah, yes!' he said, And then he started pointing out other streets that would be of interest to me. I was nervous he would take out his own green marker. But he didn't.

The Germans knew what they were doing, and basically they had me walk from their apartment down through the Mitte neighborhood, where first I walked through an impossibly hip street filled with coffee shops, art galleries, and little boutiques, decorated with enough grafiti to make it rough around the edges. This took me to an area filled with retailers and Starbucks, including one jewerly store where you could make your own jewelry from a variety of beads and objects, including little dolls. I was not sure if this was totally kitsch and awesome, or just plain scary. Finally this led me to all the big blockbuster sights, which I have never known of before, but oohed and ahhed anyway.

Out of all the cities I have visited thus far, Berlin feels the most liveable to me, perhaps because it is the most like New York. Sometimes walking around New York, I feel inspired by the energy of the place: the buildings, the people, the bustle. I felt the same way here and could not help snapping pictures left and right, trying to capture some of this feeling. While I do not know all the names of the places I saw today (nor can I really pronounce them) but I felt like I had a good sense of what the city has to offer. And what I saw, I really liked.

I came back to the apartment, and helped put Ada to bed. (Well, watched Christina do it). Christina went to a friend's house and Philipp and I made a pasta dinner. (Well, he made it and I sliced carrots). I like the little home that they have created for themselves here, and I hope that come Jan 1, Dan and I will have one something like it of our own.

Philipp, Tina and Ada's apartment. The living room and my room.

Gritty Berlin.

Magnificent Berlin.


Peter said...

I love that last "blue sky" pic with the amazing looking columns. What is that place?

Yvonne said...

That is a picture of the Brandenburger Tor, at sunset, which in Berlin in December is at 4:30 pm.

Anonymous said...

would love to have you in town.
if you need a place to stay, you can crash on my couch!!!
i am unemployed now too!! nbc laid us all off due to the WGA strike.