Monday, January 07, 2008

The Slum

I'm never moving again. Never. It took two weeks, two €300 sessions with the (excellent) student movers, much stress and strain, and now everything (well, almost everything; the plates and glasses are still back in the old place, which also has to be cleaned) is here.


I mean, I know where the big stuff is, the bookcases and desk and so on. But the books that go in the bookcases, the stuff that goes on the desk... I know it's somewhere. Or, rather, I hope it's somewhere.

But somewhere is big. This place is a full 10 square meters bigger than the last place, which you'd think would translate into ease of storage and a more spacious living situation. No doubt some day soon it will, but until then it's just big and filled with boxes of stuff. And I'm not at all sure what's in those boxes past the occasional scribbled BOOKS or CDS. And I'm going to have to find out soon, because I've actually got a hell of a lot of work to do before I head to SXSW in mid-March.

There are some wonderful additions here. I scored two couches from a departing American journalist, one of which is faux leather and like sitting on a cloud. One thing I was definitely not sad about was finally being able to abandon the old sofa-couch which has been in my possession since 1994, when I moved to Wilmersdorf for a while and lived in a place so small I had to sleep on it after I'd finished my evening reading while sitting on it. It followed me to the rat-infested place in Wedding, then to the place I've just left, where it started falling apart, first shedding the webbing which supported the mattress, making it impossible to put up guests on it, then the cushions gradually tearing, sending a powder of aged foam rubber out of the rents. It, and the no-longer functional washing machine, were taken to a toxic waste storage site by the students. Thanks, guys.

As a Christmas present to myself, I bought a new washer, which sat unused for a week because the installers told me I needed an Abflussnase (drain-nose) for the outgoing water. Fortunately, there's a little hardware store not far from here, but the guy had never heard of an Abflussnase, and instead suggested an odd-looking plastic part that cost €2.99. It looked good, and I took it home, and although I could fit it on the hose from the washer, I couldn't figure out how you attached it to the drain on the kitchen sink. The New Year holiday subtracted a lot of valuable time from necessary purchases, but at last I took the thing to the salesman who'd sold me the machine and asked him if this was right. "Sure," he said, and went over to a display model of just the machine I'd bought. I was, it developed, trying to install the thing backwards. Never even occurred to me. How embarrassing, I said. "Ah, we can't know everything in this world," he said. Back home, it worked out just fine. Well, almost. I finally had a moment to do a load of wash yesterday and the thing leaks. I'm told there's some sort of string Germans use as a sealant, and so I'm off in search of some of that, although I'm not exactly certain how it works. But boy, it's a great washing machine.

And, also in the kitchen, say hello to a real live gas stove! Yes, folks, no more guessing how much heat is going into the pot, because you can see. No more burning the hell out of stuff because the plate on the electric stove doesn't cool off fast enough because you just turn down the heat and the effect is instantaneous. It's only got three burners, but they all work. So does the oven, although instead of registering temperatures, it's just got numbers from 1 to 5. Gotta figure that one out.

The bedroom? Spacious, and with another couch from the foreign correspondent. Kind of a weird place for it, I know, but I just couldn't turn down two comfortable couches after years of one uncomfortable one. And although there are bags of stuff all over the bedroom, I just haven't gotten around to unpacking them. There'll be a whole wall for bookshelves or whatever.

Between the kitchen and the bedroom is a very narrow little room which is one of the building's downsides. It contains a shower and a sink. The sink is so small that I can barely stand facing its mirror, and shaving involves contortion. The shower, too, isn't so big, the shower-head droops at a weird angle, and the water only lasts a couple of minutes because it's stored in an electrically-heated boiler above. Better than the 180-second shower I had to use in Wedding, but not much.

Next down the hall is the Little Room. The last guy who lived here, a single father with a son, built a loft-bed for his kid here, and that's gotta go. Ben has graciously offered to rip it out, as well as to help me get some light in the kitchen, which is painted dark red for some reason. But getting rid of the loft is now complicated by the fact that there are dozens of boxes -- heavy boxes -- of books everywhere. Another thing about the Little Room is the Tiny Room, which is through a small door at its end, and has a window, an electrical outlet, and about enough room to walk three paces. I have no idea what I'll do with this.

Then there's the long, narrow room with the toilet at one end. There's no heat in here, and no light. There is, however, a much better-situated sink, and room to put some shelves up, so I'm going to get some light installed and a mirror and make this the shaving and toothbrushing room, too. But boy, is it cold; there's a ventilator and a window at the edge of a ledge behind the toilet, and there's no closing that off. Ah, well, spring is just around the corner, right?

Finally, there's the living-room/dining-room/office, a huge room with two windows looking out on a cheerless courtyard and the brown cement this DDR-era building's make of. I had to call in a gas-heating technician to fix the heaters in the kitchen and bedroom and here, and he couldn't figure out why this one didn't work. He said he'd come back, but he hasn't. So there's no heat, although that doesn't seem to matter much. I'll get a rug and a table to eat at, and eventually figure out how the jigsaw puzzle all fits together. And, one very bizarre upside, Deutsche Telekom called to say my number had been transferred to the outlet here. It didn't work. The dancer called them on Friday to report this, and they sent a technician out on Saturday to fix it! She futzed around, plugged some stuff into the socket, and left for a few minutes. When she came back, she plugged a gizmo into the wall and pushed some buttons worked! So now I'm still plowing through a week of e-mails, catching up with blogs and (oh, yes) working again. And in the evening, I sit on the cloud-like couch and read and am very, very glad I'm here.

There are reasons for this. One, the rent is much lower than at my last place. Two, I discovered when the electric company transferred my account that my monthly bill was now one-quarter of what it had been, which means that someone was piggybacking my electricity in the old place for 11 years. This pisses me off, but I doubt there's anything I can do about it at this point. Three, although this neighborhood (which will be the subject of another post later) isn't as hip! and edgy! as my last one, it does have a well-stocked Asian grocery, a regular supermarket within a short walk and another within a slightly longer walk, a shopping mall, an astonishing Korean-Japanese restaurant (which I'll soon post about over at Hungry In Berlin), a bar called The Bird, which is run by two Americans with a vision of serving completely authentic American hamburgers and steaks (succeeding almost completely), and access to a wide variety of public transportation which can get me all over town easily and quickly.

It's also unavoidable that this place is something of a slum. The hall light went out this weekend and hasn't been repaired. The plumbing makes alarming noises (the neighbors flush their toilets all night and day), and the cement walls are old and not in such great repair. The Hausmeister (what New Yorkers would call the super), the landlord's brother, doesn't appear to be overworked, shall we say. There's an overwhelming funkiness to the place, and that's not all good.

But now I've got to unpack, finish up with the old place, and settle in. And I'm never moving again. Ever. If I do, I'll do it as a Franciscan monk, with no possessions.

Oh, hell, that's not true. As soon as I've got the money, I'm going to France. I talked to the students about it and they're game. The price is less than I thought. And, since the washing machine was part of the calculations for the moving price, that's been crossed off. I may very well be able to do this in the not too distant future, like this summer, if the work keeps coming in.

And, as I speculated earlier, I do feel liberated a bit from the ghosts of the past. Time to make some new ones. It's a new year, a new place, and the same old me. That feels good. It really does.


Anonymous said...

Congrats Ed!
glad to hear you made it over the hardest part of the move and seem to be feeling almost... gasp!...optimistic.

Sean said...

well if you're living close to The Bird that's the biggest plus you could possibly have in this town... ain't nothin' in Berlin so pleasin' as The Bird..

Anonymous said...

Yes, Ed, congratulations. It sounds like it's all been worth it. The hassles of the old place sound as if they are truly a weight off your shoulders.

It's taking me for ever to come over. Tell me a specific time and I'll be there. (I'm rubbish without a deadline. Can't cope with freedom.)

(PS. I think I know that wiry stuff that clamps one tube to another. Will see if we have any lying around.)

Arabella said...

Much happiness in your new place, Ed.
I moved and then left the country for two weeks. So now have vacation laundry and unpacking to do as well as an entire house. Seemed a good idea at the time!

Karl-Marx-Straße said...

It sounds like a nice place to me, though moving *is* always hell. Hope you settle in well.

(The new electric bill Vorauszahlung could just mean that the previous tenant used much less electricity than you did in your old place - not having an electric cooker (and did you have electric heating and hot water before?), that is surely quite plausible, no?)

Anonymous said...

Ah, in that corner are you? The other side of the tracks from Penguin HQ. Hope it meets your approval!

The string you mention might be hemp, which combined with a special paste works as a sealant (I think I have some of the latter somewhere, but it must be 10 years old).

Karl-Marx-Straße said...

I have a nice large roll of the former, should you want to combine my Hanf and MP's Abdichtungsmittel...

Ed Ward said...
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Ed Ward said...
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Ed Ward said...

Thanks, all. I'm just back from what was to be my final clean-up -- the kitchen stuff -- to find the lock already changed, and the Hausmeister scrubbing away. He'd put my glasses in a couple of boxes, reserving my best beer-glasses for himself, and thrown away all the plates. Fortunately, a friend was with me and made it sound like a nice ritual cleansing, an opportunity to start anew. But I've only got three damn plates in this new place, and no half-liter beer mugs. Guess I'll have to steal some of the latter from a bar somewhere.

As for the Hanf, I bought some, and the directions and pictures totally baffle me. I also need desperately to hang a light in the kitchen because cooking in the dark by the light of an anglepoise lamp insecurely screwed to the doorframe seriously sucks.

Much, much to be done. And lots of work with deadlines lining up over the next few days. Gulp.

Anonymous said...

Might be able to help you out with some IKEA plates (nothing special; all very dark grey or possibly black) which have been sitting unused in a cupboard for years. Shall have to consult with Mrs. Penguin about whether and how many; half-a-dinner-set we could certainly spare).

Anonymous said...

I would say the tiny room is an Abstellraum, although with such a badly designed layout it could be anything, really.

Tunnel bathrooms and electric water tanks suck big time; you have my sympathy.

Karl-Marx-Straße said...

I actually *do* like the sound of the place, and if you do get to France, Ed, and you're looking for a Nachmieter, and this point in time coincides when I have to get out of my more-slumlike place, please think of me!

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Penguin would also be happy to see the back of the plates. That would be 4 x large plate, small plate and bowl (with a possible option on the remaining two sets of same). Let me know if you're interested. Can also deliver as you're round the corner.

Ed Ward said...

KMS and Herr Penguin, you're both on!

Marie said...

I was sad to read that you would never move to Montpellier (never moving again).

Meilleurs voeux, Ed!

Anonymous said...

Marie, he takes it back at the end!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a big improvement, the last place you will move to until this summer. Enjoy it, see you in March, and go buy yourself an oven thermometer.

Cyn said...

I'm so happy for you and so envious of a gas cooker! I know it will be wonderful and I know that you'll be in France soon! XOC