Diary of an Expat, Part 2
Apartments, and things that are nobody's business but the Turks
Week two in Berlin ends on the note of a lovely evening.

I've just returned from shopping, and was finally able to spend more than €20 at the supermarket. I did this by a) going to a slightly more upscale market and then by) buying a pepper mill and strawberries, which combined cost me €8. However, it's a full peppermill of reasonable quality, and they are the gods and goddesses of strawberries, committed to earthly form for my gustatory pleasure.

Normally, I eat a lot of cold things, chiefly various salamis, fruit, and chocolate, accompanied by mineral water, which I am warming to ("Perrier by the quart / livin' on Ritter Sport / Maverick is a legend of Berlin"). At the moment, however, I am trying an experiment, which is warm food. Specifically, it is a frozen pizza.

I don't really much care for frozen food, but I admit to a child's gleeful curiosity as to how Germany is going to manage the pizza. It describes itself as being "tex-mex," which I find even more delightful. I would describe my hopes as "guarded." Successful pizza would require the Germans to have done two things: firstly, to import another culture. They're good at that, or as good as any big, internationally minded country.

Secondly, though, it would require them to figure out how to deal with something that is supposed to be flavorful and spicy. This I confess to doubts on; German food (as opposed to "German cuisine") is almost unremittingly bland, and you get the sense that they really just don't care for the audacity with which the Mexicans, say, or certain Indians approach spices.

Anyway, while the pizza is cooling, let's talk for a bit about APARTMENTS, which is where you're going to be living in Berlin. Compared to apartments in America, Berlin apartments are substantially smaller, and nearly all of them come unfurnished. I do not mean that they lack, say, a television or a couch. I mean that most of them come without kitchens, and you are expected to provide such luxuries as a stove for yourself, when you move in.

This means that some Amis move to Berlin with their home appliances, which is likely to disappoint them. Setting aside questions of voltage, American appliances have a neighborly sensibility — as though the owner should be ready, at any point, to entertain the people he invited over for the barn-raising with generous helpings of roast and peach cobbler. Because no Berliner would be caught dead angling for anything as vulgar as a neighborhood party, or acknowledging their neighbors, appliances here are tiny, and cower in nooks and crannies where they very nearly disappear. I toured one apartment where, for 15 minutes, I believed the owner simply lived without a refrigerator until chance exploration of the cabinets uncovered a coldbox hiding in a lower drawer. Similarly, the washing machine in my apartment appears to have been designed for a modest nuclear family. Of smurfs.

However, it was able to clean (and the dryer similarly dried) a full load of American laundry, so.

I live in a temporary apartment 7–12 minutes from work, depending on where I sit on the run-or-dawdle continuum. It is nicely furnished, with a balcony that has a nice view and a well-equipped kitchen. Power and water are included. It's very expensive, however, at €1000 a month. Those of you from the Bay area, I know, have by now stopped attempting to compute the monthly price of a nice, clean, modern apartment a 10-minute walk from the Financial District and are now trying to slit your wrists with the edge of a Rice-a-Roni box. It's okay. Don't do that.

Instead, let's have a talk about the Tex-Mex pizza for a moment. To their credit, the Germans have managed to assemble a pizza consisting of some red sauce, some ground beef, some corn, diced tomatoes, and what I think is either cactus or jalape˝o. Five or six shreds of something whose fake ID probably calls it Monterey jack cheese are keeping the ground beef company. If you were to look at these ingredients, you could reasonably conclude that some Mex was going on, possibly with a Tex along for good measure. Now let us take a bite.



... Hmm.

Well, that's more or less what I expected. The corn is corn — the first corn I've had here, and as an American its presence warms the cockles of my heart. The red smear is some reasonable facsimile of Ragu, which is not the taste I would immediately go to in crafting anything along the Rio Grande. It is also the only element of the pizza that is contributing any taste whatsoever, and it is a strange, sweet taste. The cactape˝o does not become any clearer on consumption. I don't think it's cactus, but it also has absolutely no heat.

Basically this is like putting spaghetti sauce on a saltine. Ah well. Actually, I have a jar of hot sauce I bought a few days back sitting on my desk. It hasn't been opened yet, but I plan to use it in making some hamburgers tomorrow. Let us have a bit of a taste in the name of explogoddamnit. This is ketchup. This is friggin' ketchup. Charitably, it has the flavor you might accompany a shrimp with. What the fuck, Germany :<


Grumble grumble apartments where was I? Oh. Yes. So, on balance, apartments are cheap, except for the part where you pay 6 months rent to move in. 3 of this is for a security deposit, and 1 of it is for the rent, okay. Fine. The other 2 (2.38, actually) are what is known as the Provision. It is essentially an "agency fee." The landlord puts up an apartment for sale and, in gratitude for you buying it from the ad you saw on the website that took him 10 minutes to create, you give him 2 months rent plus a 19% VAT.

It is fair to say that if I had a time machine and could go back in time to assassinate only one German, it would be the son of a bitch who invented the provision, because that's ridiculous. Not quite as ridiculous as the landlord who turned me down for an apartment I was otherwise highly qualified for because I don't speak German well enough for him. Note that this behavior is illegal in the United States.

It's not illegal in Germany because, to be blunt, many Germans are quite and casually racist. My first exposure to this was when I was talking to a young man about life in Germany, and he asked me to repay the favour. "Tell me about the United States," he said.

"Well, what do you want to know?"

"What kind of music you are listening to?"

Belle and Sebastian? "Well, I mean. There's a real mix. People like Kanye West are really popular."

"Oh," he said. "I thought you would only listen to that if you were a nigger?"

You can see this, also, if you look at reviews of restaurants or other establishments. You'll find comments about how much better it used to be before "the Turks" started coming to it. Or how things are normally done a certain way (shops being closed Sundays, for example) but you can find shops that break that tradition if you go "where the immigrants are."

South-east of Mitte Berlin are the neighborhoods of Neuk÷ln and Kreuzberg. They have a reputation as being artist havens, with lots of cheap housing. A friend of mine lives there, and while his apartment is only excellent, the local food is to die for and there's a lot of local culture, concerts, etc. But I was warned repeatedly away from living in Kreuzberg by the Germans I know who speak English. "Oh, you don't want to live there," they said. "It's not a good place." There were vague hints of danger, as though it was where you might be accosted by skinheads or mugged if you wandered too far off the beaten path.

It wasn't until last week that somebody at my job, when I mentioned something about how I'd been looking away from the area for housing, pulled me aside: "When the Germans say it's 'not a good place,'" she said, "what they mean is it's full of foreigners."

I think her assessment is correct, from what I've seen of the neighborhood, walking around.

It's not an aggressive racism (at least, not yet or not that I've seen). It's not a "Ragheads go home >:[" style of vitriol. As I said, it's casual — nobody ever said "oh, well, you might like it in Neuk÷ln," because I am after all not German (I'm not even white). On a one-to-one level they assumed that I, like them, just didn't want to be around "those people" even though, by most definitions, I am "those people."

Americans are still racist, to some degree or another. It's not malicious, it's just true. "If you move to this country, you should speak English," they say (it's not a sentiment I disagree with, even locally; I'm making a point to learn German). There's frothing about the need to print signs in Spanish, or to have ESL/bilingual classes in elementary school, but it frequently seems to come down to a bad experience somebody had in making themselves understood at a drive-thru; really, the underlying sentiment of "speak English or GTFO" is "You know your plan to make a better life for yourself? If you cause me 3 minutes of inconvenience at A&W, well, fuck off." And that's stupid.

But for the most part, Americans understand, at least, that it's not good to be racist, and when they see it in themselves they at least have the decency to feel guilty. I'm not convinced this is a sentiment that has yet percolated here in Germany. Germans are perfectly happy to talk to foreigners, to be served by foreigners, to work with foreigners, to pass them on the street; they are not, however, comfortable to think of themselves as living with them.

"Hold on there," you are saying (or maybe not saying, because you're not pedantic). "Aren't you doing the same thing? You are! You are doing the same thing! You're reducing the entire German people to a stereotype! I know [n] Germans who absolutely love Turkish immigrants!"

Well, firstly, I'm a bitch; deal with it. Speaking about living in a foreign country, and my experiences here, requires some generalisation. If you really need it, feel free to insert mental "in my opinion"/"from what I've seen" tags before every statement, even though since it's my damned website you ought to know that to begin with.

Secondly, though...


Secondly, though, is another, much longer blog about racism in general, and I'm not in the mood to feign discontentment with the world right now.

Besides, I have some Tex-Mex to finish.
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