I’ve been in Berlin for a week now, and I’m finally settling in. I know my way around my neighborhood, so I feel comfortable with standing at a street corner and thinking, I should be able to cut down this street and end up on Sonnenalle. And then, I follow my gut and end up exactly where I thought I would!
(By the way, you can click on any picture to zoom in and get a better look.)
Moreover, I was at the Hauptbahnhof (Central Train Station) yesterday and decided to walk to my archive. It was a 20 minute walk, a little longer than I anticipated, but I didn’t end up lost in Poland or anything, so I take that as a victory.
But, that’s not to say that I haven’t had my moments of utter confusion here in the Bundesrepublik. And one might think that an episode at border control, or instances of digging though archival material, or even trying to maneuver Germany’s trash/recycling system, might provide some moments of confusion. But, NEIN! I’ve got those down pat by now. The two things that have completely stumped me are far more sinister and complicated than that.
Come, let me spin you a tale…
I’d just spent 4 hours, pouring through German newspapers, journals, and leaflets in the archive, and by the time I got home, I was tired and just wanted to plop on the couch and catch up on The Voice. So, instead of cooking anything, I pulled out the trusty frozen pizza from the freezer, set the oven to preheat, and then went to get my computer set up so I could just veg out for the rest of the night. About ten minutes later, I headed back to the kitchen to plop the pizza in the oven only to realize that the oven’s not hot. At all. At first I thought that the whole thing was broken, but I refused to give up so easily.
Now, let me back up a second. This stove/oven is German, which means that it’s overly-complicated and you must be able to control it to the EXACT specifications of your choice (Ordnung muss sein!). To even get to the knobs that control the heat, you push these little buttons, and the knobs for the stovetop or oven pop out. I found the one for the oven, and turned the temperature to 200 Celsius. But, like I said, nothing happened.
But, upon further inspection, I realized that there was a sixth little button, so I pressed it and another knob popped out. And then, tears welled up in my eyes as anger and frustration took over, because I didn’t want to answer these riddles – I just wanted cheap, unhealthy, frozen Hawaiian Pizza!
There were 9 different options for this new knob (10 if you’re counting the off position), and being that the manufacturers of this wunderbar machine decided to go back to hieroglyphics instead of the written language, I had no idea what these settings did. There were options for a mountain range, two mountain ranges, what I could only guess was melting snow, then there were some Tetris lines, something to do with nuclear fusion, and bio-hazard symbols next to mountain ranges.
So, as much as I hate to admit it, I had to come back to my bedroom and Google “How to use a German oven.” Again, Germans just need to control exactly how their food is cooked, I guess. Because, as it turns out, these are controls for regular heat (but it can come from the top, the bottom, or both), convection oven (by itself, or with regular heat from top, bottom, or both), and broilers (you got it – from top, bottom, or both). So, once you get that all set and call Cape Canaveral for clearance, you can choose your temperature and then it’s go for throttle up.
Luckily, the pizza was worth it. Plus, the folks I like on the Voice nailed it, so I was done being bothered by over-complicated German contraptions. Until the next morning.
Because the next morning I decided to do the laundry (die Wäsche waschen).
I thought that I was so smart because I had planned ahead: most Germans don’t use a dryer, so I knew that I couldn’t wait until I was completely out of clothes because it’d take a day or two for my clothes to dry since the sun has decided to go on it’s winter hiatus. Feeling smug in my intelligence, I shoved my clothes in the washer, and then finally paid attention to the control panel. Familiar pangs of frustration rose from deep within…
Damnit if there weren’t an infinite number of setting combinations for your washing. I’m used to “Colors, whites, or delicates” and “start.” There was no way that I was going to Google “How to use a German washing machine” (though, I was kind of hoping that the NSA would be snooping on me and send someone to help out!). So, I just opened the drawer to pour in the detergent. And, you guessed it: over-complicated.
So, I just did a quick game of eeny-meeny-miney-mo, poured the detergent in, pushed a couple of setting buttons (I chose “Energy Saver” in the hopes that the German gods would grant some of their green, eco-friendly love and favor down on me), and just hoped for the best! The machine ran for a little over two hours, so I was sure that my clothes were being ripped to shreds or merging into one, greyish color. But, as it turns out, they’re alright! They’ve been hanging on their drying rack near the window for two days now and are almost 40% dry! At this point, I’ll get to wear them again next week.
I consider myself a rather intelligent person (if, at any point, I feel my intelligence threatened, my go-to defense is: Oh, yeah?! I’m working on my PhD!), but these machines damn near had one up on me. Advanced degree or not, waschen the Wäsche can be a humbling experience!