It’s a nasty day here in Berlin – cold, gray, and drizzling – that kind of drizzling when you can’t see it from your window, but by the time you take two steps outside, you’re already wet and wishing you had brought an umbrella. In other words, it’s a typical fall/winter day in Germany. In a few hours, I’ll have to bundle up and head out there, on my way to the Schwules Museum archives. Until then, I’ll sit in here where it’s warm and wish I had bought some coffee to brew this morning.
My apartment is in Berlin’s Neukölln district, southeast of the government district. I’ve only been here a couple of days, but I could tell from the moment I stepped off the bus, jet-lagged and dragging my bag behind me, that it’s an alternative, young, multicultural place to live. And when I first arrived at the apartment building, stepping over dog shit to unlock the graffiti-covered front door where one of the 5’s of the building’s “55” street address was peeled off and barely hanging to the wall, I thought Well, this is going to be an interesting month.
But, after sleeping off my jet lag, I took a stroll around the neighborhood, and it’s awesome (or “the hammer” as those crazy German youths say). Neukölln is a hodgepodge of cultures. According to Wikipedia, the god of instant, albeit sometimes questionable knowledge, about 60% of Neukölln’s population is ethnically German, and the other 40% are immigrants from all over the place: Europe, the Middle East, China, India, America. When I left home, I was worried about not being able to eat Indian food for the 5 months I’ll be in Germany. A half a block to the east of me, there’s a cheap Indian restaurant (whether it’s good or not, I’ll have to find out soon!) and two blocks to the west, there’s an Indian spice shop so that I can cook Indian at home. Between here and there are an American burger shop, French pastry bakery, Taiwanese food, a pizza joint, a milk shake shop, Greek food, a hookah lounge, and a handful of bars, cafes, and, of course, döner shops. There was one restaurant where everything was in English, and nothing but Americans and Germans speaking English in British accents sitting out front, huddled under the canopy while smoking their cigarettes. Most of these little places are barely large enough to fit five people (and their dogs) in, and I love it.
To make things even better, I can hop on a bus right outside my door and get off 25 minutes later right outside the archive. Or, I can take another bus and be at Potsdamer Platz in 10 minutes.
And now for a little advertisement: If any of you travelers out there haven’t heard of or tried Airbnb.com yet, you should really check it out. This website allows individuals to rent private rooms or whole apartments for various lengths of time. How it works: People who have spare bedrooms, own vacation houses, or folks who will simply be out of town for a while and want to make some extra money, rent out their room, apartment or house via the website. You, as the customer, can book the space just like you book a hotel room: go to the site, select a city and put in the arrival and departure dates, and presto! you have a list of housing options. You can even customize the search by selecting only private rooms, shared rooms, or whole apartments, and you can set a price range, too. It’s really convenient that you can often choose to pay by the night, week, or monthly. The people on both sides of the deal have to go through an identification process to make sure that you are who you say you are. This helps eliminate fraud on both parties’ part. Payments are also made directly through the website’s secure system. With locations in over 34,000 cities in 192 countries, you’re sure to find a spot that meets your criteria.
That’s how I found my apartment here in Berlin – and it’s great. Since you’re travelling, you can’t bring everything that you need/want to feel comfortable while you’re away: sheets, towels, pots & pans, etc. So, why not use someone else’s apartment that’s fully furnished and fully stocked? All I’ve got to do is go grocery shopping and stock up on the food I like, and I’ll feel right at home.
Last night, I was thinking: I had just gotten finished with a Skype call to home, and I realized that I had complained about my flights from Boston to Berlin. The first flight was delayed due to mechanical issues. We were given a new plane, but experienced turbulence across the entire Atlantic. Despite my attempts to fall into a medically-induced coma for the trip, the woman beside me (who told me at take off that she was petrified of flying anyway) kept waking me up so she could, I assume, run into the bathroom and cry hysterically. The lines for immigration and security at London Heathrow Airport were so long that, despite a 2.5 hour layover, I almost missed my flight to Berlin’s tiny Tegel Airport.
But, as I lay there last night at almost 2am (realizing that I definitely had not gotten over my jet lag yet), I thought: What am I complaining about?! Look at what I just did: I sat my fat, white ass in a huge hunk of metal that FLEW THROUGH THE SKY AT ALMOST 600MPH and took me to another continent…in 6 hours. Then I used public transportation (the directions for which I already had in my pocket, thanks to a computer/Internet program that essentially has the whole globe mapped out, able to provide personally-tailored, real-time directions), to arrive at an apartment that I had booked two months ago without ever getting out of my pajamas.
Then I thought to myself: Self, when you put it that way, I don’t guess there’s much to complain about!
And then I thought: I don’t have coffee for in the morning.
Life’s a bitch.