The next week, there was a public holiday- the Day of German Unity, which explained the profusion of white tents which had been popping up on the stretch from Universität to Odeonsplatz. The day itself dawned bright and clear, arches of black, red and yellow balloons fluttered merrily overhead, and the world and his wife came to see the festivities, including, somewhere, Angela Merkel. Each tent represented one of the Länder- the Berlin tent even had a mini Brandenburg Gate to pose by for photos. Jolly whiskered Bavarians beamed over their accordions, the scent of Bratwurst and the clinking of tankards filled the air, and in the evening, everyone gathered in solemn silence to watch a documentary of the events leading up to reunification, projected onto a large screen.
I also went to a gig that week, at Backstage, which is like Bath’s Discord, only more so- and was lucky enough to see OOMPH!, a German rock band from which Rammstein got their inspiration, or so it is rumoured- had an amazing time in the front row (until the singer and guitarist started crowdsurfing, that is) and definitely felt the after-effects the next day, sleep-limping through the drizzle to work.
“I’m sooooo tired,” I moaned to a colleague in barely coherent German, thunking my head down on the desk while my neck twinged painfully.
“Yes, sometimes it’s hard,” my French colleague agreed. “But we’ve got a safeguard.”
“And what’s that?”
He smiled sweetly, came into my office and opened the cupboard under the dictionary shelf to reveal a secret stash of bottles representing the alcohol aisle of a supermarket- vodka, brandy, whisky, still sealed (mostly) and waiting for that day when one of us would finally snap over ridiculous deadlines, tetchy customers and demands to create rhyming couplets over the phone (yes, it’s happened to me.) Even as a non-drinker, I had to laugh.
I was starting to realise that I could really do with some more friends, and so I joined a forum for English speakers living in Munich (it wasn’t cheating; Germans who wanted to learn English were members too!) The first meet-up I went to was in a pleasant bar with good music, extremely long sofas (a good thing too, looking at how many people turned up over the course of the evening) and a football table. But of course, as is the case with any gathering of slightly-drunk twenty-somethings, it did turn into a bit of a speed-dating circle, whereby you got steadily more uncomfortable, politely excused yourself and found yourself lumbered with a new well-meaning but completely misguided stranger.
“Do you believe in destiny?” said one beaming Mexican.
I was like, Really? Do people actually say that? I had to laugh, but he laughed too, which was weird. Did he realise his chat-up line was appalling, or did he just like to mimic his target for reassurance? Either way, I made my excuses. I also took advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity- that of speaking Finnish to a real live Finn. Doubt it will ever happen again, but hey, it was fun while it lasted (read: about two minutes, while I used up my rather scant knowledge of basic greetings and realised I couldn’t shoehorn any colours in.)
I bonded especially with an English au-pair. We agreed to meet up on the weekend to visit an art exhibition advertised on the forum. When the time came, we took one look at how tiny the gallery/shop was and how knowledgeable and arty all the other visitors looked and stood around in the rain trying to be inconspicuous until someone spotted us and beckoned us in. Luckily the art was all very accessible- we didn’t have to make up highbrow comments about it, it was all genuinely pleasant to the eye, and you could tell what everything was supposed to be. We admired the use of light and shade, painting techniques and the skilful interposing of photographs into paintings, where you could barely see the painted-over edges, and generally felt grown-up. A band played jazzy covers of English songs in the corner. Quietly my friend slunk to the refreshments table and politely toothpicked a couple of cubes of cheese, crackers and chocolate hearts, washed down with an artistic wine glass of Prosecco. On the return journey we achieved the rare feat of getting hideously lost and disorientated in a city where there are U-Bahns on virtually every street, entered a bar to ask directions, got chatted up by a middle-aged Münchner (the waiter said he should either buy us a pizza or leave us alone) and parted at Hauptbahnhof, promising to do it all again (minus the getting lost) soon.
So, in case you’re still expecting this blog to be vaguely advisory, that would be another Handy Hint. Get involved- there’s always heaps of things going on, if you know where to find them.
Oh... and don’t fall for creepy chat-up lines.
Unless you like that sort of thing, of course.