Diary of an Expat, Part 37
Alexanderplatz, slow culture, German localisation
There is a place called Alexanderplatz, which is where East Berlin goes to hang out and reminisce about how great things were in the DDR.

Alexanderplatz is a funny sort of thing. It's basically like the sketchy mall in your hometown that nobody ever really wanted to go to, but that was where the Dillards was so sometimes you did anyway, and then every time you did you regretted it. There are only so many things that a man should be willing to sacrifice for Orange Julius. Alexanderplatz is like that, except open-air.

It's the sight of my favourite thing in Berlin, the TV Tower, as well as a host of various consumer-culture shops and an omnipresent carnival that feels so rundown and Soviet-era in its rides and attractions that watching children play on it is somewhat uncomfortable. It is also surrounded by a dense protective clot of construction, detours and streetcar lines, so good luck if you want to get there by bike.

(Naturally, I went there by bike)

This is where I discovered, among other things, a man with an Oompa-Loompa tan spending €150 on a massive stack of WWE DVDs, lest you think a) that Jersey Shore is strictly an American phenomenon and b) that Germans were averse to guilty pleasures. No, no. Germans are quite fond of guilty pleasures. Actually, Saturn, the electronics store, is a guilty pleasure of mine because it's where I can go to stare at walls of flight simulator accessories and expansions I can't bring myself to buy.

Nor, actually, would they necessarily be much good even if I did. I've discovered a problem with living in Germany, which is that German is quite a popular language. This means that any given piece of software you purchase is likely to be in some German variant, and it's even odds as to whether or not additional localisations will be present in the software. You'd like it to, but German is a unique SKU with unique packaging (and Germany is a country with unique regulatory environments) so it's never quite guaranteed.

How we get around this, of course, is to purchase a VPN and order our software via American websites so that we don't have to worry about niggling inconsistencies. (Naturally, I mean that we order such things for download, because I would rather amputate parts of my body (such as my hair, or lesser fingers) than deal with the goddamned Zoll again). It's slightly slower than buying locally, of course; but then, that gives us time to relax and go have a scone or something. I don't know.

Germans have a weird relationship with speed, I am coming to discover. If you import a car from the United States, you will have to have it recertified to fit German standards, such as being able to regularly drive at 200 kilometers per hour (American cars have speed-limiters on them; German recertification also removes those :3). German mass-transit is quite fast. German passport control is speedy. The German post is ridiculously efficient.

On the other hand, people in Berlin walk so goddamned slowly they may very well be carried forward only by plate tectonics. You can tell a crowd of moving Germans from a crowd of stationary Germans only because oh, wait, you can't; there's no way to tell. Pick any random German pedestrian and they'll probably have moss growing on their shoes. OPERA has plans to time a German walking there from CERN, but they can't because their computers only go up to 2038.

Similarly, as it turns out everyone in Berlin has a stationary bike, and it's what they use to get around town. I don't cycle ridiculously fast, because my Gazelle weighs as much as a small tank, but I manage a good 20-30 kph on a good day, which leaves me passing every other German cyclist and a number of German cars. I get that Berlin is not terribly pleasant to bike in, so why put any effort into it — but at the same time, then why spend more time doing so than you have to?

(Of course, I would be bitching about the opposite phenomenon on San Francisco, and admittedly between languid biking and dealing with lycra-wrapped Tour de France rejects — a specimen that doesn't exist at all here — I'll go slow every time)

Anyway, I try to stay in traffic where possible, because "bike lanes" are a trap for the stupid here and because as I've said before German drivers are pretty considerate. This has led me to a secondary conclusion, which is that Germans become less functional the slower they are moving. Cars on the autobahn? Brilliant. Cars on normal city streets? No problem. Heavy traffic? Parking? Pffffff. On one single commute to work I nearly had a car parallel park into me, watched a Smart Fortwo come half a meter from squashing a stroller into a wall when the driver parked so badly he got halfway onto the sidewalk, and waited three light cycles for two trucks to be able to figure out how to merge, a process that by all appearances required lengthy planning and the intervention of Kofi Annan.

I'm extra miserable because the weather has been shit here this week. It's been in the mid teens, and windy, and rainy, and none of this makes for a pleasant experience. On the other hand the clouds finally cleared earlier today, so perhaps that bodes well? I stepped out to get some dinner and found this:

Pictured: 21.30, Berlin

And that does make me happy.

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