Diary of an Expat and Friends, Part 88
No place like home
Okay. Sorry we're a bit late getting this one up, but I've been occupied for the last week with family in town.

My mom has not been to Europe for 30 years, so it was a good opportunity to see how other people go through the same basic trajectory that I did when I first moved here gettin' on two years (urk!) ago.

To begin with, there's the language barrier. On the first day, I handled everything; by the last couple of days, mom wanted to try her own hand at ordering food or negotiating her way through a train timetable. Not bad.

For the most part, there's not as much culture shock as you'd think. Once you get past the fact that stores are closed on Sundays and everyone drinks all the time it's not so completely alien as to throw you for a massive loop.

Having family in town has also exposed me to a few conclusions that I might not have drawn on my own. We'll set aside a conclusion like "god, the weather :/" — it was beautiful last weekend, but, naturally, cold and rainy for this entire week. No. Expatriate things:

Firstly, my German is okay for minor stuff these days. Buying tickets, asking for directions, food, trains, etc. Wouldn't want to talk to someone over the phone, and a lot of it is still faking and context, but it's coming along okay. I guess if I'd bothered to take classes it might've been a bit smoother.

Of course, if your traveling companion speaks even less German than you do (read: none) then you find yourself in the problematic expatriate position of having to translate everything. In the same way as people always want to know what "it" is like "over there," where 'it' is the food or the architecture or whatever, when they come to visit they point at a lot of words and ask you "what does that mean?" ... Sometimes you know; sometimes you don't.

Secondly, I have now acquired enough Berlin to entertain someone in the city for a solid week, presuming that their interests are relatively broad and presuming they don't mind biking everywhere. I try to avoid tourist-tourist things, like Checkpoint Charlie or the Brandenburg Gate or the Fernsehturm restaurant (pretty sure it has one of those). But that leaves:

The East Side Gallery, Stralauer Strasse and the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park
Museum Island, with its Egyptian exhibits and the fantastic, staggeringly, breathtakingly amazing Ishtar Gate — that does it no justice, but you absolutely need to see it
Schloss Charlottenburg, the awesome palace/castle thing in the west, with a lovely attached park
Fleamarkets and farmer's markets galore
Tempelhof Airport, and the "Raisin Bomber" there
All sorts of assorted parks to bike through
Various kinds of food

It was a packed week, but I'm pretty happy with it. So if you ever come out to Berlin, now I'm finally in a position to show people things. Yeah. Rockin'. And this takes me to my third part, which is that

Thirdly, there's no place like kiez. This is a word that I suppose roughly means "neighborhood"; the Germans use it to refer to blocks of the city that, I suspect, have a particular sort of character. San Francisco was the same way.

I'm most comfortable in Mitte, Prenzlauerberg, and to some degree Friedrichshain. East Berlin, in other words. Until I spent more time on the Kurfürstendamm and down around Tempelhof I didn't realize how alien West Berlin feels to me. It just doesn't feel right; it doesn't feel like home.

Hamburg, where we ventured briefly, was an even more extreme variant of this. At all times, once I had crossed the wall back into the friendly world of be-hatted traffic signals and Stalinist architecture.

"Germany" has felt like home for some time now, but I hadn't realised the extent to which it really meant that area of familiarity of the local kiez. I know it's not for everyone; Mitte in particular has a bad rap. But I'd take it over the glorified suburbs of West Berlin any old day. 'Cept that means giving up the Tiergarten, and I would miss that :/
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