Diary of an Expat, Part 20
Shipping, snow, sushi.
It is snowing, now — not seriously, not like a blizzard, but enough to not be a complete fluke. It's also sticking, partly because it's been really bloody cold here for the last week or so. But, to be honest, I think it's easier to deal with really poor weather than it is to do only moderately poor weather.

I have been in a better mood the last couple of weeks, in spite of the dismal climate and the lack of sun. Wait, wait. That last part is important. A friend of mine clued me into the problems of vitamin D deficiency, which is what happens when you only see sun for literally 20 minutes a day (my walk to work; by the time I walk home the sun is long gone).

So I waltzed myself into the local apotheke and asked for some cholecalciferol, which is vitamin D3. And I have been taking substantial (not reckless, but substantial) quantities of that. Apparently this is not uncommon in Berlin, apparently one of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency may be depression, and either it works or (more likely) it is an awesome placebo. I am not happy, but my mood has stabilized and I no longer want to stab all the things.

As with last time, I'm also going to include a couple of gripes about Berlin.

Firstly, I was warned when I moved into my apartment that there was construction going on nearby. I had to sign a waiver noting my understanding of this, in fact. So I did, and for a long time the construction was separated from me by an entire room of the apartment, and I didn't really pay it any mind.

Now the construction has moved to the front of the building, which is where my bedroom is. German construction workers are not allowed to begin work before 7, but they begin precisely at 7 on the nose. This makes them, effectively, my alarm clock, and it is very, very unpleasant. Berlin is a city that is constantly reinventing itself and there are cranes everywhere; in the abstract, this is nice and makes the city vibrant. When you actually have to live with it, it sucks a lot.

I would order something, maybe some noise-canceling headphones, but then I would have to find a way to have them shipped here, and this introduces me to problem two, which is that you never realise how much you depend on being able to ship things until you can't anymore, or at least not easily. Amazon.de is good for a lot of things — household goods, small electronics, and things like that.

But a lot of specialty things are only made in, say, the United States, and international shipping is tedious and aggravating. When, that is, you can find a merchant that is willing to ship at all, which is not universal. Transatlantic shipping is expensive and time-consuming — and what do you do if there are problems? Pack it up and ship it two weeks back to the United States and hope their service department will be kindly enough to do the same?

I ordered a map several weeks ago in early January. It has just now arrived, and I do not have it. This is because it is at the custom's office. If I wish to retrieve my map, I am going to have to print out an invoice, take the form I was given from the custom's agency, wait for them to get their asses in gear, and pay them the import duty. An import duty, mind you, of maybe five euro, which means that (because of course the custom's office is not open on the weekends, and is only open during business hours during the week) the single biggest expense is wasting my fucking time.

Yay customs.

Anyway, let's talk for a moment about restaurants. So I had Japanese food like five times last week, which brings us to a somewhat interesting point. There is a lot of Japanese food in Berlin. There's a lot of Thai food. There's a lot of Middle Eastern food. There's very little German food, because as it turns out Germans don't really eat much German food.

Two of the Japanese places I ate at are worthy of brief reviews (the third is a longer writeup because it's awesome), I guess. The first is Hashi, a new izakaya restaurant on Rosenthaler Strasse (this makes it very conveniently located for me!). As is typical of the style, they have a somewhat more limited food menu and a decent bar; it's possible to get Asahi Super Dry here, which is a nice touch. The staff is completely authentic and speak English and Japanese but, as it happens, no German.

The prices are quite reasonable; for two people, including two ASDs apiece and a nigiri starter, it came to about €35, which isn't too bad all things considered. The food is good; the only perplexing part of it comes in the fact that the rice in the nigiri was decidedly lacking in sushi-zu. I wouldn't quite say it was completely absent, but it definitely tasted more like plain white rice with some salmon on top than anything else. I think this may just be how Berliners are interpreting Japanese food?

This notion of reinterpretation is a bit stronger at Tokyo-Haus, a teppanyaki joint in Wilmersdorf. Again, the staff is authentic, and while the food is good it's definitely got more of a German feel. In particular, the tempura is heavier — not like schnitzel by any means, but definitely a bit more than American Japanese cooking.

More interestingly: teppanyaki in the United States is frequently treated as a performance art; food is thrown, condiments are juggled, and you're expected to be entertained by your chef. You're not paying for the food at Benihana. At Tokyo Haus, the waiter silently comes in (though he waits until he has your attention), does your food, cleans the grill, and rolls his cart away without fanfare.

But, at least, the food was excellent. I had the salmon and my companion had the steak; both were extremely good — and extremely expensive; for two people, with no alcohol, the bill came to nearly €80. If you really need that "cooked at the table" feel, consider Tokyo Haus and you're liable to not be disappointed; if you're just looking for decent Japanese food and don't feel like taking out a mortgage, you'll be fine somewhere else.

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