“So Berlin”


Berlin looks so innocent sometimes. But it never stops being synonym for something out of the ordinary. It’s the excuse for being different. “It’s so Berlin,” one would say, when something is off.

One of the first few things I got to know about Berlin was the booming start up scene. It was full of young freelancers meeting over coffee at St Oberholz, planning their next entrepreneurial move, making jokes at the big corporate world. The big multi-national corporations are the inefficient, money-wasting yet money-hungry group of people. It was the snub that basically said, they book plane tickets, we book buses. Where buses was the cool one.

I’m not that extreme, but I’ve to give in that I’ve started taking that mindset a little. Since living in Berlin, I’ve never thought less of fancy bars. Those are where the fancily dressed people with pearl necklaces go to. This is my start-up snub.

But recently I got to know someone who was a social snub. The moment the answer “I work in a small start-up” escaped my mouth after she asked what I do for a living, she had already placed me into a drawer, as they say in German. She has me fully stereotyped as she snorted and said that she already know how to identify people like me. Those young guys with their beard, with their pool tables in their offices.

Foosball table, I corrected her. But hang on, I hadn’t even explained what I do. I’m not a programmer, I’m not a designer. Why am I getting stereotyped before saying anything else?

Maybe I deserved it for being a start-up snub. But I don’t put people into boxes from the type of company one works in. And my husband works for a corporate, but I’m still in love with him.

Still, this sort of behaviour would be termed “so berlin”. I’m not sure if there’s a place anywhere else in the world where a substantial group of people spent more time defending refugees, and saying things like people should spend more time helping people, and still be completely against religion. I think that summed her up quite accurately, at least.



Culture Shock and Living With It

Last weekend I travelled west to Stuttgart for an assessment center, which took place on Monday and Tuesday. Okay, so I didn’t get the job, but it was an amazing experience, where I got to meet lots of like-minded (i.e. business-minded and high-achieving) Germans and just not through S.

It was nice to be reminded that I am also a qualified person, I also seek many high-achieving dreams like these people, and my German was truly conversational. I could understand 95% of the time, and could respond in a way where my grammar was off and on right, but completely understandable. And I didn’t have to nudge S to say, hey what did he just say? Well, he couldn’t be there at that very spot with me, though he did do the big trip with me.

The city was also beautiful and quaint, with (very) German-styled architecture, yet with the view of the mountains and rivers. Apart from that, I would say the city is more similar to Singapore. The cars were fancy, the roads were clean, the people were rich and career-driven.

Returning to Berlin was a little strange. There I was, back in the capital of this country, and then I hunched back and returned into my comfort zone of jeans and sneakers. Then I went to class and met with artists (painters, directors, photographers) and spoke to people 10 years younger than me, or 20 years older than me, with their dreams of making it in Berlin – the fellow jobseekers.

The buildings are grey but the city still sparkled in an unconventional way – and it’s strange to still find it unconventional. It should be conventional now that I see it every day for seven months. It’s the city where rules aren’t rules.

It’s interesting now that I can really foresee living in both cities, it would be perfectly okay. It used to be just a catchphrase, a way to sound cool. I don’t know where I’ll be in a few months. I don’t know where I’ll live in a few years. It depends on so many things – my career for example would play a huge role. But it is a good feeling to truly be at peace with myself and say, it’s true. I can foresee myself living in a different city.

Hey, Big-Spender-in-the-Casino!

An activity S and I enjoy is checking a casino out.

My very first casino visit was none other than in Toulouse. The casino city of the world. Okay, not quite. But where I come from, the locals have to pay S$100 just to even get in, before we can make any gambles. The S$100 is considered lost before I make my first step. Therefore, fancy as they are, I’ve never been to a casino in Singapore.

Finally, while flying to S’s in Toulouse, we decided to pop by a casino. It was such fun seeing everybody in action, finally understanding how Roulette works, and losing everything I had (read: 20-30 euros).

We visited it once more, that same casino in Toulouse, and this time we both won enough to pay for our (budget) hotel stay the next day, as we had planned a trip out of the city.

Last Saturday night, we visited the one in Berlin. Again, we had fun though I lost everything I had (read: 30 euros). It is already highly frustrating when you lose everything you have. They were 2 euro chips; how could I have such terrible luck?!

But at the very same table, a man came along, sat down on the chair, completely comfortable like he knew every corner of this casino, and he calmly handed a 500-euro note to the Roulette employee, and requested for 100-euro chips. If you play Roulette and you have 100-euro chips, you typically place them on small/big, even/odd, red/black, or on one of the rows/dozens. One doesn’t put 100-euro chips on the numbers, because god knows the chances of winning your 100-euro chips back is so tiny. He had 5 chips, and he calmly placed 3 (read: 300 euros) on one number, 1 on another and 1 on another.

The ball was rolling and landed on a number he hadn’t chosen. Gulp. The bank eats up all the chips. He remained calm. He proceeded to whip out what looked like ten 100-euro bills and requested for 100-euro chips, and did the same thing, placing them on his random lucky numbers.

The ball rolled and landed on yet another number he hadn’t chosen. Chomp chomp. The bank eats up all his chips. He remained calm and thought of how many more bills to whip out and what to do next.

While he was obviously a rich man from his bets (and not from his clothes), or a guy who is clearly in need of a gambling rehabilitation center, that was absolutely an unacceptable way of squandering money! S and I talked about it – some day we’ll win big enough to behave like some of them, and tell the bankers to keep some chips as tips when collecting our winnings, but we’ll never ever be stupid enough to do what he did. And I’m not calling him stupid out of jealousy for his wealth.

I mean, I’m sure he’s won big at least once, because those numbers pay out like crazy. But man, I had only observed him for 5 minutes. I’m sure he spends more than an hour in that casino. I’d love to find out how much he walks into the casino with, and how much he walks out with…


Halloween in Berlin

Last night we left the apartment with this. We casually walked into the metro. The first group of people who caught sight of us paid not much more attention to us.

It was peculiar. I asked, “How come nobody has any reaction?”

S said, “This is Berlin.” There are weird people everywhere. We aren’t that weird. Nope, not even with our masks.

But later in the train, people did a double take, some smiles, some unamused, one took a picture of us.

On the way home we were without our masks on the bus when a group of 4 had funny animal masks on and were standing before us amusing us. S proceeded to take out his mask, which made them laugh. When I put mine on, the helpful “bear” (the guy with a bear mask) was so kind to help me adjust my hat.

What a Halloween!

Crawling out of the shell, again

Yes, this feels very 2009, when I was on exchange in France.

I’ve a tendency to move to an amazing place, then stay cooped up in my shell and then ponder about whether I’m adapting well, whether I’m making the right choices, etc.

Since moving to Berlin, (again, amazing city) I’ve been happy to start a routine, to make me feel at home in my own home. And I do. I’m really happy with the apartment, and though S and I are still figuring out how to live our lives together, we’re still glad to have each other.

Then he left me for his work training that takes place in the opposite side of the country, and I’ve been alone for one week now, and with another week ahead. I’ve been feeling super alone this week, though I’ve been occupying myself with homework, with painting of the apartment, with a cycling trip, jogging, going out, etc. I still felt somewhat uneasy.

Then yesterday half of my language class met up for drinks, and they were the half that was always present but I’ve never spoken much to. Somehow I retreated to a circle that was present only half the time, and never really initiated hangouts.

I’m not an incredibly sociable person, to be honest. I always need the backing of someone familiar. For example, S is super sociable and can speak to really anybody on earth. He can think of topics off the top of his head from the get go, and that’s a brilliant skill. For me, it depends on whether I’m comfortable enough or not. So when we go to parties, he always starts the ball rolling, and because he’s there, I’m comfortable enough to socialize as well.

In conclusion, without him or anyone familiar, I’m a mess. I’m introverted, I’m worried all the time, and I’m nervous. As always, before any social event, I’m whining to people about how I’m alone but how I’m nervous about the night. But I know I’m always glad about how it turns out after, so I decided I do need to crawl out of my shell. And last night I did.

Maybe I haven’t had a great time with friends of mine in a long time. With S’s friends, they’re fun but it always felt like they’re his friends. But last night, my friends and I chatted in German. We were people from Singapore, Italy, Australia, France, Montenegro, Columbia – what a mix. I won’t say that we’re best friends now because we’re not, but now that I’ve seen a possibility of building a better friendship, having good companionship of my own, I feel much more at ease in this city.

Later, I’ll be with a Taiwanese girl, and on Wednesday I’m going to a play with a girl from Ecuador. (What are they called? Ecuadorans?) It’s not perfect because I’m really not super close to any of them, but it’s a huge step forward and a huge relief, knowing that I’ll be okay, and I’m not that alone.

And now, I’m off to check out someone’s guitar, as seen from his ad on ebay. Wish me luck!

Kraftklub – Songs für Liam

This song brings back fond memories for me as it was playing on the radio a lot in Berlin.

With S, the radio (tuned to a rock station) is usually not on during our long breakfast chat. But when breakfast is done, we turn on the radio while washing up.

Somewhere between me washing the dishes and him waiting to receive them to dry and put back in place, this song came on and he started head bobbing and going all rock-star in the chorus “wenn du mich küsst! wenn du mich küsst!”

I was between thinking, “oh god he thinks he’s a rock star” and “what the hell is he singing”. I pursued with the second query.

He said that it meant “when you kiss me”. I said okay and thought that doesn’t explain much. It could be when you kiss me the world ends. I mean just listen to the tune. Right?

Then I got to googling the lyrics and the English translation and I’m in love with the song, it’s hilarious.

The song is called Songs für Liam because the first line of the chorus goes, “Wenn du mich küsst schreibt Noel wieder songs für Liam” (When you kiss me, Noel writes songs for Liam again.)

The song goes on to feature a whole bunch of other events could’ve been avoided if you kissed me earlier. But it’s okay, we can still save the future.

And my favourite line was “und wenn du mich küsst, dann ist die Welt ein bisschen weniger scheiße” (and when you kiss me, then the world is a little less shitty/crappy). Mostly because it’s sweet but also because they put scheiße in there.

Wenn du mich küsst!

Die Städte vermisse ich (the cities I miss)

I came across a good read this morning: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/how-to-miss-another-city/

Wow, I can definitely relate. It’s not just about being envious that someone is visiting the city that I adore, but I grow fiercely defensive of it and of my experience in it.

The whole idea of others having a negative viewpoint of that city, or of them thinking that they’ve combed the city and done all things worthy of their time is just unimaginable.

The belief that their experience will never come close is always there.

I think that has been Paris, and now Berlin, for me. My two favourite cities in the world remain the same after 3 years. I’ve visited both twice now, and I’ve never dared to say much about Berlin because I spent a grand total of a weekend there previously. But I had already made up my mind that it was a place I could imagine living in.

Almost 3 years later, I returned for a closer look, and it is new on my radar of places I will fiercely defend and believe that my experience was better than yours. Even if you saw everything that I’ve seen, and ate everything that I’ve eaten, and more.

Sounds ridiculous? Perhaps.

But it’s never just about the sightseeing and eating, is it? It’s about how you lived, walked, breathed while you were there; Who you were with, what you did, who you met…

Trust me, Paris and Berlin, I will return to you again.

das Frühstück (breakfast)

Yesterday I woke up with a strong craving for the same breakfast style I had in Germany.

It might sound strange but I don’t think I’ve ever eaten with the French so I can’t say I missed that style. I do miss their bread though. I did have it with tea in a bowl as my host in Nancy showed me. But it was typically grab and go, or eat in front of the PC.

In Germany, however, every morning at his parents’ in Achim, or his place in Berlin, or his brother’s in Nürnberg, we had fresh brotchen (bread rolls) laid in a dish, and a wide variety of marmalade (jams and spreads), and a block of butter, and fresh coffee.

There were a couple of things I learnt:

  • One bread roll per person is too little. Two is little. Three could be about right.
  • If there’s a long bread, don’t slice it all up for convenience. Let the person cut the amount preferred.
  • Slather the bread with any jam preferred. This means nutella, fruit jams, honey (honig), some kind of herb spread…
  • Operating a simple coffee machine. Woh.
  • Coffee isn’t the only beverage at breakfast. It’s usually coffee with juice as a side.
  • Long breakfast conversations are a norm.

I love the long breakfast conversations. I love every long meal conversations. Because back home we’re too busy eating to talk. Or too much in a hurry while eating. Or too occupied watching tv while eating. And when one is done eating, mealtime is over and everyone leaves.

Coming from a land of food culture, I actually didn’t miss meals back home. Probably also because I wasn’t away long enough, and I had some Asian food while I was there, but mostly because often, the experience kicks the actual product’s ass.

So I tried to replicate it yesterday. I had my sliced loaf of whole meal sunflower seed bread, another sliced loaf of buttered bread, and my jams laid out on the table. I enjoyed slathering bread with jam. I had milk instead of coffee.

But still I had no long conversation that made it the breakfast I missed. Scheiße!


snowing in Berlin

Because I’m still jealous that where I’m at – we don’t have four seasons, and I’ve got a writer’s block at the moment, and S‘s internet is finally up, I’m posting this:

He was also happily describing how he could see little kids below the age of 5 running around in the snow, completely mesmerized by it.

Did I mention I’m so jealous?