I've discovered that I like Press conferences, But I don't like wearing Business attire. It isn't me, I was relieved at the end of the day to throw off the high heels, rip off the constricting clothing and put on my faded jeans.
But It was fun being a V.I.P for a day and having a fancy tag around my neck with my name on it, taking pictures, Seeing one of my illustrations on a big back drop, and eating hors d'oeuvres . I met an Editor from a German teen magazine that asked me to write an article on my first months in Germany from the American perspective.
To be honest, I think I'll have to contrive a piece of fiction, because the true story of my first months in this country isn't romantic or wonderful. My first impresssion of Germany wasn't a good one. It's more of a horror story..
When I first arrived in Germany with Eric, we had to stay in the flat of his close friend, K. while we searched for an apartment. Upon entering his flat I had to kick beer bottles away with my feet just to make room for my suitcases in the foyer. The place was trashed. There were 5 guys in the livingroom drunk and screaming at the soccer game on the television set. The room was so thick with smoke I could cut it with a knife. For 2 weeks, I had no privacy, and no room to breathe. I had a hard time communicating with anyone because I came to the country on a very spontaneous note and I didn't know a word of the language yet.
Eventually, we found the perfect flat in a prime location, only a 12 minute walk from the office and all the major shopping areas were right around the corner. It was across the street from a huge gothic church and a park. It was the penthouse apartment on the top floor and I could only make it halfway up the stairs the first time before I had to lean against the wall to catch my breath.
"You'll get used to it", Eric assured me.
I fell in love with the apartment when I first entered, it had 2 bedrooms, a nice-sized livingroom, and a cozy kitchen with a view of all the rooftops and church steeples.. The floors were all wooden, and there were no curtains. Some of the walls were slanted, with a niche for the windows. The rent was only 400 euros a month, which was a steal considering the location. But we had to put down a deposit, first and last months rent from the beginning.
Later on a learned WHY it was so cheap and Why noone stayed in it for more than a year. We were sharing an apartment building with neighbors from HELL.
I met the first neighbor while Eric and I were lugging boxes up the stairs in the early evening. She emerged from her apartment, with an angry look on her weathered face. She began yelling at me in German and shaking a fist.
My jaw dropped and I responded "I'm sorry, I can't speak German.."
She rolled her eyes in exasperation "FINE, I will use English to you!", she shouted with a thick german accent. "This is NOT a party house! this is too much noise!! The last people come and think this is a PARTY HOUSE. We had to kick them out!! This is not a party house!! Understand?!"
I was confused, I shifted the boxes in my arms and said "We're just moving in and.."
She went back into her apartment and harshly slammed the door.
The second encounter occured a week later, There are strict rules in the apartment building concerning garbage removal, stair and basement mopping. We hadn't received a scedule from our landlord yet. We returned home to find a note taped to our front door. It was typed in German, Eric translated it for me.
It read "There are rules in this building and they will NOT be disregarded. You did not take out the trash yesterday night. you must learn to pull your weight. You are both parasites -Mr Streit"
"Wait a second", I said trying to collect my bearings "Let me get this straight. Did our neighbor just call us..PARASITES?" I was torn between laughing and crying.
We had the opportunity to meet Mr. Streit personally a few days later. We were walking down the stairs on the way to the store. Eric had accidentally pushed the stairway light button even though there was still a little natural light coming in from the windows.
The door swung open and an overweight old man with bushy eyebrows and a balding head came out with raging eyes. "This is incredible!! I cannot believe this nonsense!"
(This was all in German)
Eric turned to him in annoyance "Excuse me, sir?"
"You are wasting Electricity!! Can't you see it's still light out?! What the hell is the matter with you!!", He shouted. "You wasteful creature! All the money wasted on light you don't need!"
(the lights switch off automatically after 60 seconds..by the way)
Eric stared at him in disbelief. The man slammed the door in his face. Eric was about to ring the doorbell and give the neighbor a piece of his mind. But I held him back.
Any man who stands at his front door to insure that noone pushes the stairway light before it is entirely dark outside, should only be pitied.
Oh but it doesn't end there, a few days later the landlord rang on the doorbell. I was home from work with the Flu. I answered the door in my bathrobe.
The landlord pushed his way into the house speaking in German. I tried to explain with the little German I had picked up that my husband was out and that I was sick. But he didn't even look at me. He started walking around the house, examining things.
We had only just moved in, so there were boxes everywhere. We didn't have furniture yet, just a bed and a television set. We had a picnic blanket in the kitchen, with a dish set, 2 cups and a few pieces of cutlery. (actually looking back at those beginning days, I remember now we didn't even have lights yet. We ate dinner on the blanket with candles..We had to wait until the end of the month for our next paycheck. I was too proud to ask my parents to help us out. But we didn't even mind, it felt like this crazy romantic adventure..)
After stalking around the apartment,The landlord turned to me and said in English "You must clean. Now!"
Then he walked out shaking his head and closing the door roughly.
I remember staring at the door in disbelief and thinking "what the fuck was that?" In Germany are the landlords allowed to barge into your home and tell you how to run it?
I called Eric. He was so angry, he hung up before I could even finish and called the landlord on his cellphone. He informed the landlord that if he ever tries to pull a stunt like that again, he would report him. That was the last we saw of him.
There are countless stories with our neighbors..I can't even list them all.. They had nothing else to do with their sad lives, than observe us like hawks and criticize our every move. I was beginning to believe that Germans were pure evil.
If it wasn't hard enough dealing with my neighbors, the people on the street were worse. They all looked angry, cold and hard. I realized that the only reason they will ever talk to you, is to reprimand you. They're impatient and things have to run a certain way. Don't make eye contact on the street or say "hello", they will only think you are insane.
I was lucky after the first month to find a friend. I was visiting a language school to look at the prices of the German courses, and I bumped into a British Girl named Julie. We were both looking for the same thing, we were the same age and had both just arrived in Germany. She had recently moved in with her German boyfriend.
Julie and I were fast friends. She was funny and insanely witty, I loved her british accent and hearing her talk about "Bits and Bums" and complain about being "a spotty cow" even though she was really stunning We went to pubs together, ran around town, made fun of the stuffy Germans, She introduced me to British drama series and gave me all her English magazines. She had read every single biography on every famous person on the planet and was always spouting out the most insane facts. I have so many memories of the two of us drunk off our asses in her livingroom slurring and laughing about the craziest things. Suddenly Germany wasn't so bad..
One month later, she told me she was returning to England. " I just can't bloody stand this country..and to be honest, I enjoy spending time with you alot more than I do with my own man. I'm breaking up with him and heading back home, I'm so sorry. I'll miss you like mad. We really had a time together, didn't we?"
And that was that, We kept in touch for a while and I promised I'd visit her in England some day..Afterwards I met an American woman, the only other one in my city apparently. She was 10 years older than me and pregnant. She was all doom and gloom. She said Germany had sucked the life out of her and she was miserable. She said she had gone nearly insane at one point and told me to get out while I still had a chance.
That was great to hear.
It was around that time that Eric's schizophrenic friend came into the scene (read entry, "Schizophrenia") That was a wonderful experience as well.
To be honest. I wanted to leave the country as soon as possible. I hated Germany.
But one morning I was lying in bed, the sunlight was streaming into the bedroom window and I could hear the church bells ringing. I looked over at Eric, he was sleeping with his leg draped over mine and his arm around my waist. I felt this sense of peace, this realization that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. That there is a reason why I'm here. Eric woke up and kissed me. Throughout all the trials and tribulations, there wasn't a single day that Eric took my decision to live here for granted. Every day he was thanking me. He was right by my side always. I love walking to work with him in the morning, I love our job. I love painting in the studio, I love strolling around in town on the cobblestone pathways, past the cafes and old buildings. I love our evenings together, the different parties and pubs we go to. All the twenty-somethings I've met have been fun, insightful and intelligent. The one thing I can say about Germans, is that they really know how to party, and within Eric's circle of friends, we've had a blast. Particularly at the love parade.
But the old people..my god, stay the hell away from the old people.