Berlin is hip. Berlin is vibrating. Berlin is international. So many people act so outrageously enthusiastic when speaking about Berlin one automatically starts to believe Berlin is the hippest and überfunkiest of all places. That is probably true (although I am a very poor judge when it comes to hipness) but all those much talked-of vibes of this vibrating city appeared to be pulsating on an entirely different rhythm than mine. I know the language and I even know my way around through the city, but it seems that I completely lack the right mojo (for example, the concept of mojo has probably been abandoned by the Berlin people already ages ago). But I’m trying!
After arriving in the overwhelming Hauptbahnhof which consists of five levels of platforms and is sheltered by a huge glass roof, I dragged my heavy suitcases into the bus taking me to the ‘three little pigs’ hostel in Kreuzberg. About seven hours before, just before I was going to take the train from The Netherlands, I read that my appointment for a room in Kreuzberg was cancelled; the girl who owned the place had decided overnight to give it to somebody else. Quite a disappointment but I was nevertheless good-tempered and I told myself that finding a room ad hoc would not be that difficult. Actually, it was not that difficult after all, as on Tuesday afternoon I already had another appointment and a couple of hours later I would inspect another one. But that was after experiencing another minor setback.
Apparently public transport in Berlin is ‘€20,- for a day pass or €140 for a monthly’ expensive. As all Dutchmen, I am a bit avaricious and because I am fond of cycling (like all Dutchmen), I decided that I wouldn’t need any public transport if I could get bike. As you will probably know homeless persons are always there when you need a bike: if you see somebody shabby on a very shabby bike swinging in a pace which reveals a certain lack of purpose in life, you can be sure to buy his (the person is never a she) bike for about €10. But it’s nothing like that in Berlin. Shabby people on shabby bikes aren’t homeless, homeless people never carry bikes and the homeless that do carry bikes (it took me literally a day to find one) do not want to sell them.
Yesterday, after a long walk I finally ended up in the cracked down home of the homeless called Tacheles, which is a very artsy and stinky tourist highlight. Over the years the homeless people have decorated the place in a very ‘original’ fashion. Every square centimeter of the building is covered with hundreds of layers of graffiti painting and most of the cracked walls have been demolished to create an even more surreal building. The people living in and around this building have gotten much recognition for their artsy crap, which has made them a bit spoiled, really. With the best intentions and a pocket full of nice food vouchers I walked into the place and simply addressed the first long-haired person vending colorful pictures. The man had at least two bikes in his little shop but on my request for bikes he responded that the regular bike-selling old man had ‘disappeared’ just a couple of months ago. Fortunately, an exotic looking friend overheard our conversation and immediately pulled me to his little shop where he had a mobile phone to call his nephew, who happened to have a large collection of bikes.
I got directions to the nephew’s place on one of Berlin’s several Karl-Marx streets (“just take a taxi”) but before I could leave another art vender, a long-haired hippy, addressed me that he might have the right bike for me. So he took me into his dark hole where indeed, he had a bike. I’ve never seen such a miserably looking pile of rust, the whole thing was falling apart and the only thing not broken about it was only one of the tires. The man, confidently stated that the thing was worth at least €45,-. I explained him that in The Netherlands such a thing would never cost you more that €10,-, but that because of my desperate situation and generous nature, I was willing to offer €15,-. The homeless hippy was so offended that he immediately put the rusty thing back in is hole. “Wow, I offended a hobo today” I thought to myself when I walked towards a proper bike-store where I purchased a purple and white eighties thing for about the price of two broken bikes. At least I was able to move freely now, and I spent the better part of Tuesday doing so.
The search for a new home was not without difficulties either. The first room I visited on Tuesday afternoon was a shared two bedroom apartment in Mitte. The kind and warm Swiss Beatrice with whom I was going to share the place, only wearing a short black summer-dress (it was very warm after all), tiptoed through the place while explaining the practicalities. She told me she had a ten-year old daughter but, as I had to admit, she didn’t look like a mum. It got a little too hot for me when I noticed her toying with her hair: the woman was actually flirting with me! I must admit that until I had seen the second room later that day I considered living with a Swiss with benefits, even though the room was overpriced. But the second room, which is the room in which I am typing this story, was brilliant and completely empty except for a small mattress on the floor and a huge glass table. Furthermore, it’s in a beautiful building which is centrally located near Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse and I will have little distraction as the landlord is a 40 year old ICT consultant.
During my first day of the internship, while reading the German newspapers, I got another e-mail of an 18 year old girl wanting to share a double bedroom apartment near Unter den Linden, an offer that seemed too good to be true! It was too good to be true, as I learned after e-mailing her back, she couldn’t show me the place as she was too busy with school but she sent me pictures and she would send me the contract. My suspicion seemed just when I cycled past the address she had given me, the address led to a deserted old TV-station, indeed on a brilliant location but not very likely to contain fancy two bedroom apartments inside. (I Googled the pictures she had sent me later, they were pictures of a Copenhagen apartment, or so they said.) So after a long first day at the Dutch embassy I was happy to let Ansgar, the soft-spoken ICT consultant, know that I would move in later that day. I am settled in Berlin! The next challenge will be to get the right vibe, so this weekend I will go clubbing!
I'm from Utrecht, 22 years old, I did a bachelor Econometrics and Operations Research in Maastricht and I am currently doing the masters Public Policy and International Economic Studies. I like to read, write and sail and I'm an active member of both M.S.V. Tragos and ESN Maastricht. If you want to read about my experiences during my semester abroad in Vienna, or read about Oktoberfest or the Ball I participated in, please have a look at my older posts.