Since we’ve been here, I haven’t experienced anything I’ve found to be too out of the ordinary. I’ll be honest, life in Berlin is much like our life in Detroit. We work, we have our meals at home, we see friends from time to time. I work on progressing as an opera singer and occasionally David brings home abandoned objects he finds on his walks around the city*. When we leave the house, it just so happens that we need to speak German! That is perhaps the biggest difference.
Everybody who told us that we don’t need to speak German because “all Germans speak English”, you are completely wrong. Most Germans might speak some English, but when it comes down to it most Germans would rather speak German. Of course there are exceptions, but in our neighborhood in particular we have to be prepared to only understand 30% of what is said to us if we ask somebody a question. I took a semester of German to fulfill my degree requirements and David has several years of study behind him, but every time we venture out into the city we are reminded about how much we have yet to learn! To combat our cluelessness, I ordered some practice workbooks from Amazon.de and herein lies the inspiration for my post.
Today, David came upstairs with the mail and handed me a slip that read “Ihre Sendung wurde an Ihren Nachbarn/Wunschnachbarn ausgeliefert.“ “Your package has been left at your neighbors/wish neighbors.” I could understand the German, but I did not understand where to find my package.
Enter Isa, our truly fantastic neighbor across the hallway, who has been indispensable in helping us settle into our life here so far. She explained to me that the German postal delivery service will pick the apartment most convenient for them to deliver your package, and chances are good it won’t actually be yours. She said sometimes they even end up at a building down the street. They say that this is your “desired neighbor”, the person that you have designated to accept your packages for you, but they are lying.
To give you an idea of why this might happen, I have sketched** a diagram of our building layout:
Pretty typical layout for apartment buildings here.
When you enter from the street, you find yourself in a hallway with an entrance to the kindergarten and stairs to the apartments above. Continuing our tour, you pass through a hallway and go through the door on the other side that opens up into a courtyard that houses the garbage bins, a place for bikes and lots of plants! On either side of the courtyard there is a door leading to more apartments.
The post person has about 20-24 last mailboxes to deliver to when s/he enters a building. You’ll see from my diagram that the hallway is where you find the mailboxes, which are too small to hold anything but letters. I am grateful that the post person didn’t just leave it out for the taking (the hallway is still a relatively public space), but I would have gladly come down to get the package if they had rung our bell. Easier to give it to somebody else, I guess. On the delivery slip, they tell you the last name of the person they left it with. Then you have to go around to every door until you find the name on the doorbell that corresponds with the name on your slip.
When I found the appropriate door, I knocked and a woman answered. She was on the phone, clearly not expecting to be disturbed. I started to introduce myself in jumbled German, but she just said, “Ah! Die Packete!”, handed me my box, smiled and shut the door like this wasn’t a strange situation at all. My German workbooks lived at this woman’s house all day and she didn’t think twice about it. Isa told me I should bring my passport, because some Germans are really particular about not giving you your package unless they have very firm proof that you are indeed the person to whom it belongs. I wasn’t asked for any ID (brought my driver’s license just in case), but due to the phone maybe she was a little less scrupulous so she could get back to her conversation.
In sum, I owe Isa a big thank you for helping me find my books/navigate my first big German culture shock!
Practice Makes Perfect!
*I’ve affectionately dubbed him as a Scalvager – Scavenger/Salvager. Berlin happens to be a great city for scalvagers. It is quite common for Berliners to leave unwanted objects out in the street for others to adopt. We’ve seen everything from furniture to a printer so far. Scalvagers are great because if you pay attention to their habits, you can learn how to survive any impending apocalypse. They are always prepared for the end of the world.
**Remember I’m a musician, not an artist.