Part one: American Service
The other night, realizing that I had not a single thing in the house to read, I remembered that a friend of mine had sent me the draft of a book he was writing and it was on my laptop. I had guiltily not dipped into it, mostly because I spend too much time in front of screens as it is, and I'm sort of addicted to paper. But this was sort of an emergency.
So I fired up the laptop and started reading. About 60 pages in, I was way past hooked: the (true) story of a bunch of wannabe playboy gangsters in Austin, selling dope, running whores, and robbing banks is my idea of a good read. Suddenly the screen started flashing like a strobe light. When it stopped, everything was frozen. I rebooted.
Five minutes later, it happened again. And then it happened again. And then it wouldn't start up at all. Damn, I was really into the book, but I wasn't going to read any more.
The next morning I posted the symptoms in the Well's Macintosh conference and within minutes, as usual, someone said "It sounds like a canonic instance of this." And I read the webpage, and was happy to see that it did, indeed, sound like that. Plus, I could get it repaired for free. My friend Karen recommended the Apple Hotline, and gave me the number.
So I called, got a young Berliner homesick for Mitte, but working in Cork, Ireland, where Apple's European headquarters is. We went back and forth, he hit some keys, went off to confer with his superiors, and came back to tell me that he wasn't sure my machine was covered under this program, but they'd authorized the free repair anyway. "Just take it to any of our service centers and they'll have the information for charging us back for the repair right at hand." He then did a search for whatever one was nearest me and came up with something I'd never heard of, Omnilab, which he swore was at the corner of Invalidenstr. and Chausseestr. I go there all the time, and had never seen it, but that doesn't mean it's not there. He gave me the address, Körnerstr., and wished me good luck. I thanked him profusely.
Körnerstr. didn't exactly turn out to be in the back yard, but the post zones here are misleading. I would have headed down there right away, but it was 5:06, and I know all about the German Work Ethic, so I decided to wait til the next day. Today.
Part two: German Service
I was a bit apprehensive as I left the house, because according to the map, Omnilab was near two U-Bahn stations which were perhaps going to be affected by construction from now until Christmas. There had been notices about this in the U-Bahn on Sunday, saying I should read the posters, but...no posters, of course. I mean, the construction was only going to start on Monday morning, so why should they post them before then?
Sure enough, I had to get off at Potsdamer Platz and get on a bus, but I missed the part of the announcement saying where the bus was and realized, as I left the station, that it wasn't a very big walk. It was nice enough, given that it was grey and cold (we've had our six weeks of summer, I guess), so I thought, hey, I'll walk.
And I did. Potsdamer Str. is, once you cross the canal, about as depressing as West Berlin gets, but I made one nice discovery: a restaurant on Lützowstr., called Maultaschen Manufaktur. I may complain about German food (and I will again in a minute), but Maultaschen, the huge ravioli of Swabia, are one of my favorite things. This place, which is next door to Berlin's sleaziest old-time hipster bar, Kumpelnest 3000, has something like ten varieties available at all times. That's got to be worth investigating.
Half a block on, there was Körnerstr., too, and I found the building easily enough. It was very badly maintained, dirty, and scrawled with graffiti, but what else is new? There was a sign: Omnilab was on the 4th floor, and there was even an elevator. On the 4th floor, there was, indeed, a door marked Omnilab, and a bell to ring. Which I did. And nothing happened. I rang it again. Again, nothing. There was a sign taped to the door, which said that goods delivery and mail should be taken to the 5th floor, so I hiked up. There was an open door, and a lot of trash tossed around. I walked into a large warehouse-like room, and there were three people smoking cigarettes down at one end. "What are you doing here?" one of them challenged me. "I have a repair for you." "Well, what are you doing here, then," she shot back. "Repairs are on the 3rd floor." "There's no sign anywhere which says that," I told her, for all the good it'd do. "Well, that's where it is. Now get out of here."
So I walked down two flights of stairs and found a door propped open by a can. I walked in and found myself at a bar. Three guys were sitting around it smoking. "What do you want?" one of them said. "I have a repair for you," I said again. "George!" he hollered. "Repair!"
Nothing happened. Finally, a young woman got up from her desk and motioned me over. "What have you got here?" she asked. "A repair. Apple recommended this place," I said. "I have a case number you're supposed to look up and it will tell you everything." She ignored that and called up a repair blank on her computer. I gave her my name, address, phone number (she was amazed I didn't have a cell phone number -- I do, but I never use the damn thing), and the case number. She then spent some time trying to open the laptop up from the wrong end. I showed her how to do it, but told her it would make no sense to start it up because it was dead. Some guy wandered over, smoking, and looked at it. "What's this all about?" he asked. I told him this was a repair under the Logic Board Repair program. "This machine's a piece of shit, you know," he said. "You should get another one." And he walked off.
Finally, the woman printed out the repair order and I left the machine with her. I'll probably never see it again. Doesn't matter; it doesn't work anyway.
Now, right about now, I can see Olivier, my reclusive neighbor, regular reader, and that rarissimus of aves, a Germanophilic Frenchman, sitting down to send me an e-mail which says "What makes you think this would be any different in France?" Since he actually knows something about the place, I always take his comments very seriously: what if France is worse than here? But I do have an answer: I don't expect it to be better when it comes to things like bureaucracy, service (although certainly there's better service in restaurants), or public utilities. But to suffer these problems in a place where the food is better, the weather is better, and the general attitude of the populace is better would, I believe, make all the difference in the world.