Diary of an Expat, Part 10
Coins! Creativity! Croissants!
I spent this afternoon at Create. Art and Technology, a maker conference in Berlin.

I like going to conventions of creative people, because I find that being around creative people is some sort of strange force multiplier on my own creativity. This makes Berlin a good city for me; Berlin is, like San Francisco, a city of makers. This is a self-made situation, I think, because much of this creative impulse is concentrated in the expatriate and immigrant communities to the south.

This isn't to say that I think that the creative spark in Berlin is driven by foreigners — rather, it's that foreigners come to Berlin expecting it to be vibrant and hip and full of DIY goodness (Berlin is a notorious hipster paradise), and they help cultivate that. So it is that where I live you find a lot of restaurants and small shops, but in the south you have multi-story electronic-component stores and huge DIY Home Depot-like centers and also Planet Modulor.

Modulor is the host for CAT, and I feel that they deserve particular attention because they are, probably, the most awesome store I have yet encountered in Berlin (the one that sold keychains that appeared to depict the lynching of Hello Kitty, obviously, come in at a close second). It is a store for craftspeople and makers, where "make" is extremely loosely defined. It is where you can find art supplies, yes, but also where you can find textiles. And sheet metal. And foam rubber. And audio equipment. And soldering irons. And power tools.

I love that a store like this exists in Berlin, and I love that it is always busy.

Before I went down to Modulor, however, I spent the morning cleaning my apartment, and this is responsible for a slightly different realization about shopping in Berlin, driven by the fact that I now have a big Robin Hood-style bag full of coins.

As I've said before, Germany exists in this slightly awkward space in terms of privacy. The process of registration (anmeldung) is dear to their hearts. Buy a car, go anmeld. Get a new apartment, anmeld with the city authorities. I presume that I have been anmelded also with regards to my power and telecommunications hookups. I know that the GEZ, the German television licensing company, has somehow gotten my address, so I must at some point have anmelded there as well.

And yet.

I finally bought a computer last week. It's a nice piece of kit, the fastest computer I've owned. Nobody knows that I own it. I picked out a model I wanted, went to Deutsche Bank, took out €1700, and paid in cash. I bought a new monitor as well, also in cash. I have used my credit card only rarely, and only online — and even online, everybody offers a cash-on-delivery option.

It was in cleaning out my apartment that I realized that I have no receipts that are traceable to me. I pay a certain quantity for power, and in rent, and for my (50 Mbit!) Internet connection (one of the games I play distributes its installer via BitTorrent. 5+ MB/sec downloads for the goddamned win). What I do with these, though, is a completely black box. My desk, my rug, my bed, my chair, my computer, my monitor, my lamps — nobody knows that I own them.

So I have moved off the grid. This has certain benefits, I suppose. For example, it means that if I mis-sort my trash, there's no way anybody knows it was me. Because it allows them to be extremely anal-retentive, and to interfere with other people's business in a passive-aggressive way, the Germans love trash sorting (organic waste, plastics, green glass, white glass, paper products) and I have heard stories about people who, seeing trash being sorted improperly, pieced together a resident's mail to identify them and report them to the authorities.

On the other hand, it means that when I pay for something, I get change instead of a receipt. Apparently this is a problem that guys have, and girls do not, and since despite my best efforts I may still be a guy I have money problems. Or rather, I experience that condition in which a bill, tendered for an item, ceases to be money. It turns into an item and change. Change is not currency; it's a noncount, ephemeral noun.

That weighs a lot.

Like, a lot.

Just like my trash, I sort my coins, because the laundromat (I do not yet have a washing machine since the laundromat is right next door) is happiest with €1 and €2 coins. I have €50 in such coins, acquired without intent or, really, knowledge. But I am, apparently, not able to do laundry fast enough to use up my coin supply, which means searching for other means of disposal.

Coins with a relatively high mass are pretty unstable and quickly decay. For example, at the bakery next door a one-Euro coin can be refined to produce two pretzels and a single 2-euro-cent coin. Alternatively, it may decay into one croissant and a handful of other objects — generally a 20-euro-cent coin, a 5-euro-cent coin, and two 2-euro-cent coins.

At my office, coins in multiples of 40 can be combined to produce Haribo or various Mars products and 1 euro equals a bottle of soda. Hypothetically, therefore, 20 1-euro coins could react to produce 20 croissants, 6 Mars bars and a soda. Nobody ever said that a balanced diet and a balanced reaction were the same thing.

However, despite the above example copper coins (the 2-euro-cent and the 1-euro-cent) are in a practical sense generally inert (Depleted Euronium, if you will) and do not react with other coins to produce useful products. They can be safely stored for indefinite periods of time, which I choose to do on site. But the goal is still, generally, to find reaction chains that don't generate such things.

Because one thing we Germans do not do, apparently, is coin-sorting machines, probably because there's no central authority to anmeld them.
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