Pursuing the expatriate life in Italy–DETOUR AGAIN! BERLIN!

This is my first posting in several days. Last Tuesday my MacBook Pro went on the fritz and I’ve been without a computer since. I took it in to a repair shop in Alba Adriatica and it was beyond their ability. They suggested I take it to a store in San Benedetto, a much larger city of 60,000. The gentleman there said the problem was internal and outside his ability, also. He told me he would need to send it to ROME. I opted instead to bring it with me to Berlin figuring that surely someone here could help. Well, this evening around six o’clock I have an appointment with the Mac Store. Keeping my fingers crossed.

So I am here in Berlin to to help with some family stuff that I’m not at liberty to discuss. My brother asked me to come up and has paid for my hotel. I am a half block away from my (ex) sister-in-law and my nephew. I have been enjoying everything.

The first day here I arrived quite late. My iPhone was going dead and my internet was not working. I found a pub across the street from my address destination. The waitress would not let me use their internet without a purchase so I ordered a glass of Chardonnay. I then sent a quick text to my brother and my sister-in-law. Within about ten minutes my brother showed up and took me to my hotel room.

The trip to Berlin took roughly six hours, longer than I expected. I always pictured Europe as so compact, but it’s much bigger than one realizes. The flight from Ancona, Italy to Munich was two and a half hours. Then I had a layover in Munich before the hour flight to Berlin. From the airport it was a half hour taxi ride. But I made it in one piece.

The first day here was spent in the hospital, actually. My nephew needed some surgery and I’m here to help out my sis-in-law. My brother was here for the surgery and my nephew’s release. He then had to return almost immediately to Kazahkstan while I stayed behind.

My sis-in-law, Katia, and my nephew are near my hotel. She is staying with a good friend of hers from Russia who lives in a 2000 square foot apartment with twelve-foot ceilings, crystal chandeliers and solid pine floors.

Katia’s friend, Natasha grew up in Russia and has a fantastic story. Briefly, she was eighteen when communism collapsed and the Soviet Union disintegrated. She saw opportunities and started making money, buying up two petrol locations. By the time she was nineteen, she was making so much money the Russian mafia started chasing her to get her assets. She fled to Germany and has been back and forth since. She plans on staying in Germany as her husband flies back and forth, managing their business affairs.

Nineteen and the Russian mafia is after you? Wow.

She is a sweet and friendly woman with an adorable three-year-old son named Platon and a teenage daughter named Sofia. Her college-age son is studying international law in Moscow. Needless to say, communication in this household has been fascinating. Natasha is fluent in Russian and German. Her English is also quite good. Unbelievably, so is her Italian. She and Kat converse primarily in Russian. I speak basic English to her, sometimes I employ Italian because it just comes out that way! And sometimes it seems like she understands Italian better. I really love the blending of the cultures.

Anyway, after the first day of getting settled in and dealing with the surgery, I went on a walk around Berlin. My first order of business was to find a Vodafone store. I had been unable to access the internet, receive text messages or make/receive phone calls. As it turned out, I had needed to take care of my phone for this trip when I was still in Italy. I needed to contact them about my upcoming trip to Germany so they could make the correct accommodations.

This was a goof-up on my part. I’ve read extensively on Europe and the European Union. It exists as a competitor to the U. S.–a sort of “United States of Europe”. I had mistakenly thought that Vodafone, Europe’s version of Verizon (Vodafone used to own Verizon), was a ubiquitous and easily accessible entity throughout Europe.

Wrong. One must contact one’s country of origin when traveling throughout Europe. Sidebar:  If Europe wants to challenge the U.S., it’s going to have to integrate its technology and its technology companies for rapid and efficient communication.

OK, enough economics for now.

So, I have no phone service, text messaging only through WhatsApp and no internet unless I’m using wifi. Plus, my computer died a quick death. Sucks the bag, royally. But back to our story.

After Vodafone, I walked. My walking tour was about two hours as I found my way back to the hotel. It had started to rain so I looked like a drowned rat and my clothes were drenched. I returned to Natasha’s apartment where we feasted on cheese blintzes, chicken soup and a Ukrainian pastry delicacy. Natasha wanted to know more about me so Kat and I regaled her with my past–adoption, meeting my family, traveling to Italy, seeking identity, writing my book, moving to Italy. She listened wide-eyed. She told me she was fascinated.

The drowned rat

The drowned rat

Truthfully, it kinda cracked me up. I don’t even try to discuss my “situation” now. But other people bring it up and then others are fascinated. Perhaps fame for me will come on a one-by-one basis.

Later that night (last night), Kat, Natasha and I took the Metro deeper into Berlin. We walked around Plotsdam an area that was completely destroyed during Allied bombing in WWII. Everything has been re-built and is sleek and modern. One wall had been preserved behind plexiglass. It was the wall of an elegant apartment building and it revealed the ornate carvings of the in the original building. It was kind of sad that such an ornate structure was destroyed and replaced by glass and steel hulks. Personally, I’m not crazy about the newer architecture here.

Christmas lighting was all over, tastefully done and beautiful. Unfortunately, my mobile phone had died so I could only get one photo which I couldn’t upload until now because I didn’t have my cord to hook up to my sis-in-law’s Russian Apple laptop because my laptop was dead! Jeez, why does everything have to be so labyrinthine?XMAS IN BERLIN

We trekked on. The Metro in Berlin is something to behold. The trains are so immaculate you can eat off the floors. The stations are the same. The trains run like wind on glass. Everything moves so efficiently. It truly exemplifies German precision and functionality. Everything you’ve heard about German technology is true.

We walked through a neighborhood toward another Metro station. Natasha showed us 3×3 inch bronze squares with carvings in them that were embedded in the sidewalks in front of apartment buildings. The carvings had the names and information of Jews who had been torn from each building and sent to the concentration camps for extermination. Some apartment buildings have dozens of bronze squares.BERLIN SNOWMAN

Seeing these squares again brought home the vile nature of these crimes. I believe it also helps to prevent people from forgetting. It is a reminder of such human depravity, the lives that were wasted and the human potential lost.

We continued walking. Block after block we saw pub after pub. We stopped at one and had a shot of Jagermeister. It kept us warm as we continued onward. In another neighborhood we stopped for foot-long kebabs crammed with meat and only $4.

Eventually we came up on a gay bar named “Bland”. Kat and Natasha had brought me there to find a partner for me because they’re bugged that I’m alone. As if. We sat inside and each had a glass of pinot noir. It was a comfortable neighborhood hang-out and did not fit the mold of Americans’ definition of a gay bar. Even the name seemed antithetical–Bland??? Shouldn’t it have been called “Fabulous” or “Crystalline”?

BERLIN SNOW WOMAN

From Bland, we hopped into a cab and drove by Brandenburg Gate, beautifully lit for the evening. The Berlin Wall had been right near the Gate and the cabbie showed us how a line had been painted on the street to show the location of the original Wall. Turning right, we entered what was formerly East Berlin.

The taxi driver took us to a highway overpass. We got out and Natasha walked up to a non-descript wall where there was a nondescript door under the overpass. She knocked. A nebbish-looking man with thick-framed round glasses, a flamboyant scarf and form-fitting blazer opened the door and peered at us. Natasha spoke to him and he stepped aside, allowing us to enter. I realized immediately it was a nightclub. However, it was not the seedy type one might expect in such an environment–industrial-looking with urine on the floors and sweat dripping off the walls.

Upon walking in, we found ourselves in a flashy environment with an acrylic ceiling and mirrored walls. Flocked branches emerged from black ceramic vases. An ocular-shaped objet di’arte resembling the centrifuge of the Starship Enterprise was at one end of the room. Two disc jockeys took turns playing pulsing electronic music. One DJ resembled a trendy Hassidic Jew. The other looked like a sexualized version of the Love Boat captain’s assistant.

We stayed for probably ninety minutes. I was fascinated by the scene, trying to remember every detail to write about later. Patrons would begin dancing impromptu in the middle of the club–there was no designated dance floor. I saw a couple of men dancing together even though this was not a gay bar. It just appeared to me that two friends were talking and spontaneously started moving in time to the music. I thought, “How refreshing that they are so comfortable with themselves”.

Many people smoked, something I don’t like. But then, I was in Berlin and smoking laws are different. Drinks were expensive and quite unique. I ordered an “Eden” consisting of cucumber vodka, mint, lime and grapefruit juice with a sliced apple garnish. I don’t know what Natasha and Kat had. Something orange.

Eventually we left for home. I got to bed at 2:30 a.m.

Today was spent with Kat and Natasha at a flea market, the likes of which I’d never experienced. The weather was cold and breezy and the market was along a six lane highway that made the experience a bit uncomfortable. But what the market lacked in comfort it made up in magnificence. Everywhere I looked I saw German antiques, Limoges porcelain, Hungarian ceramics, African art. I went nuts.

I’m a big aficionado of flea markets and antique stores. Rarely do I buy anything because I’ve got enough “stuff”. But I love the markets and stores. They are glimpses into the past. Past glories. Past histories. Past behaviors. Past interests. Past technologies. Observing tastes in art and reflections of lifestyles fascinates me. I find it interesting to see how people lived and what everyday, ordinary articles were used. It’s a true education to see how we have modernized and “convenienced” everything so that very little anymore is hand-crafted or made with precision and talent. Everything is commoditized to penetrate the mass market. I purchased two German porcelain and pewter figurines from 1900 and a Limoges vase (Jeffsta, you’d like these).

Anyway, the rain started to come down and we went back to the car and returned to the apartment. Kat and I went around the corner to get a Christmas tree for decorating later. Hail was starting to come down so we waited a bit. After a few minutes we ventured out and walked around the corner and BAM!, there was the Christmas tree vendor. We picked out a 10′ tree and, while the proprietor wrapped it, we walked across the street into what was, for me, the most incredible antique store I’d seen in my life.

I mentioned I love antique stores. This one was a dream. Every item was of German origin. Each piece was immaculate. Shoes from the forties, ladies’ hats from the twenties, a bocce ball bag (!), incredible clocks, an alligator skin satchel, solid walnut armoires, hand-stitched, upholstered couches. I was agog. Kat found earrings for a reasonable price. I was astounded at the fine quality of everything. All the pieces had been meticulously maintained yet they were relatively cheap.

BERLIN ANTIQUE STORE

In the store, I ran into a lady from America. She had heard me speaking Italian to one of the proprietors and heard me mention my blog. She remarked that she’d like my blog address. Fortunately, I had a business card for her. We we started to chat. Turned out she had just retired and returned to her hometown of Houston. I told her I was from Oregon and had just moved to Italy to pursue a writing career. She was interested in pursuing a writing career also, so we started talking shop. Another connection made. In Berlin, this time with a nascent writer from, of all places, Houston.

clockSoon, Kat was anxious to go outside, get our tree and get back so we could decorate it. Once we stepped outside, we saw that it was snowing…

It was odd. I started feeling very nostalgic. I flashed back to my childhood to stories and fables I had read or heard. Many of them were set in Germany, Austria, Scandinavia. Something about the environment captured me and took me in a time machine back to my childhood. The memories came flooding back and hence the nostalgia. I felt strangely at home, like I could just kick up my shoes and be completely comfortable.

I am now in the Apple Store in Berlin and a very knowledgeable young man named Max has helped with my computer. As a matter of fact, my computer is working now and I’m typing on it as it charges. Apparently, the problem is with either my adapter for the European electrical current or my actual Apple adapter. I have a feeling it’s a problem with the power cord strip. I plugged it in and blew a fuse in my apartment. Had to “re-boot” the fuse box so I could have electricity. Something tells me that screwed up the computer. I have a new adapter that I purchased yesterday here in Berlin. I think I’ll be fine.BIG TREE

Anyway, I’m sure glad the battery is charging so I can have a life again. The thought of writing with a pen and paper seemed so, so, twentieth century. Besides, I can’t write fast enough to keep up with my brain. It’s hard to type fast enough to keep up with my brain.

So, this has been my detour. I feel confident that I will have my computer from now on. I should be able to write regularly again. Only five days to Christmas!

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