Diary of an Expat, Part 7
Weather, Deutsche Post, Hot
The weather is turning rapidly.

A few weeks ago, it was warm and sticky — warm enough that you wouldn't want to wear too many layers if you had to be out and about. Now it's cold, and the wind off the River Spree is decidedly biting. For now, I'm making do. I lived the last four fall/winters in California, and I've decided that, for one winter, I'm going to enjoy having an actual season. Snow crunching underneath boots. Hot chocolate with a small dram of Irish cream. The smell of woodsmoke. The sight of a silent city, blanketed in white.

Then I'm going to bitch about it. You can catch that 52 expat diaries from now.

I'm curious to see what changes the snow brings to Berlin. In general, I walk everywhere, and take the train for short stretches when walking isn't fast enough or I don't feel like dealing with being frozen. Many Berliners share my inclinations; the trains, even at peak hours, generally aren't that full because walking is popular here.

Berlin is my first large city, so while this doesn't come as a surprise, exactly, it is a bit interesting to see just what all there is around. In five minutes, from my desk (that is, including the time it takes to exit my apartment) I could be at:
  • A druggist.
  • One of two bakeries
  • A butcher
  • A photography studio
  • An appliance store and repair shop
  • An organic grocer
  • A convenience store
  • A dozen restaurants
  • Two laundromats
  • A post office
This latter being close by is good to know, because I have been back and forth three times attempting to retrieve a package (which I still do not have). The problem, so near as I can tell, is identification and the need for order.

Deutsche Post alerted me that they were holding a package for me (it's an ID card I can use to get into an automated 24-hour post receptacle where mail can be delivered if I can't pick it up at home — a good idea if ever there was one). They don't always do this; when Deutsche Telekom sent me my DSL modem (next weeks' post will, ideally, be about DT) they just left it with the photo shop next door.

When I went to collect it, I attempted to give them my passport, because the Germans want my passport relatively often (for example, when making large purchases, or when withdrawing money from the bank). But this was not good enough. They wanted more.

I don't have more.

I have tracked the problem down, I believe, to a lack of "registration." The German authorities have a deeply rooted need to keep track of people, so when you move, or buy a car, you must obtain an Anmelde (registration) paperwork posthaste. If I follow the nice lady at DP (the Post has a reputation for surliness, but I didn't have any trouble) and her genaus properly, they are willing to believe that I am who I say I am (because of the passport) but they are not willing to believe that I actually live at the apartment (because I didn't have my anmeldebestätigung, which confirms my address).

This is not entirely uncommon. Paperwork that you would be inclined to file away and not deal with in the United States is paperwork that you need to keep on close hand in Germany. Imagine if, for example, painters refused to paint your house unless you could demonstrate to them that you had the title, or if Car Toys wouldn't let you buy a stereo unless you could provide current emissions testing on your car.

What's perplexing about this is that it feels quite schizophrenic. You need to register your car, but then once it's registered, hell, drive as fast as you want on the Autobahn. I signed a bunch of paperwork for my lease, but I can basically do whatever I want with the apartment, as long as it looks the same when I leave. The state used my anmelde to put me in touch with the GEZ, the broadcast license fee collecting agency, but they have no legal authority to actually collect the fee or to enter my house.

So there's a lot of limbo.

You might expect there to be some impetus, from this, to keep things organized and tidy by paying only in cheques or credit cards, where expenses can be neatly tracked. But, no, many German shops don't take credit cards at all, and people pay for everything in cash. I'm planning on buying a monitor as soon as I can find a store that has one in stock, and that will be a four-digit purchase, again in cash.

This means that I'm living more off-the-grid than I had in awhile, but it also means that I'm generally spending less. I'm not sure if Germans have a reputation for frugality, but needing to make the conscious choice to withdraw money makes it more difficult to spend. Of course, I'm also helped by my unwillingness to deal with the shame of trying to communicate at local restaurants.

This is sometimes for the worst. I was, for instance, finally able to find a place that served food that was, at least, passably spicy. Because this is Germany, "spicy" was indicated by highlighting the item in red, putting a picture of a chili next to it, and explicitly describing it as "Scharf" (hot). It was on the middling side of what would be considered hot in the States, and probably the low end of what would be hot in India, but you take what you can get. Unless there's some secret menu I haven't yet discovered.

... Not that I'd have the proper identification to see it anyway.
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