Tag Archives: life in Berlin

How to move to Berlin in 2016, Part 2: Things I hate about Germany.

Original drawing by Suzanne Forbes March 2016You might think, if you read my twitter or saw me in person, that my love affair with Berlin is blinding.

That I accept and adore every facet of the culture here, and have no complaints about my new life. Nah. I’m still a miserable, paranoid, hypervigilant grouch from New York, and there are plenty of things I HATE about Germany.

1. The fucking timers on the lights.

Lights in most public places that are occupied intermittently- apartment building lobbies and stairwells, public bathrooms and the hallways leading to them, etc.- are on timers. Their default status is OFF; you have to push the light button (no switches here) to turn them on, and they turn off automatically after some short, always too short, amount of time.

This seems insane to me, and it terrifies and enrages me. Don’t they care about women’s safety? Is the precious nectar of electricity more valuable than preventing muggings and rapes? Well, of course, there’s a lot less mugging and rape here than in a big city in the US. But still. And apparently this bullshit is now Europe-wide.

2. The fucking locks.

For some reason, apartment door locks in Germany (and presumably business locks as well) have a weird system where you have to turn the key in the lock counter-clockwise twice to lock the deadbolt, and you can’t unlock the deadbolt without a key. That means if you’re in your apartment and you deadbolt the door, you can’t get out without inserting the key. But if you leave the key in the door in case of fire, your husband can’t use his key to get in. If you leave the key in overnight in case of fire, your husband will have to take it out when he leaves for work, and may accidentally pocket your keys as he locks the door, locking you in the apartment for the day.

3. The fucking front door locks.

Also, it’s customary to deadbolt the front door of your building from the inside after 8pm or 10pm. That means:

A. if there’s a fire, only people with keys can get out. Of course, you’ll be carrying your keys, since you had to use them to turn the lock twice to get out of your apartment.

B. You can’t buzz your friends in after 8pm. You can try leaving the door un-deadbolted, but a helpful neighbor will lock it and remind you how important it is to keep it locked. Because twenty years ago junkies used to shoot up in the lobby.

4. The fucking doors.

Doors to businesses in Germany open in, not out. You push- drücken– to get in, rather than pull, ziehen. The doors are clearly marked with this information, but because doors that open in and trap you in case of fire are stupid, I am constantly forgetting. All-glass modern doors frequently open both ways, at least.

5. The fear of air-conditioning.

Germans think air-conditioning makes you sick, because of the shock to your system of changing temperature suddenly. Even though every single indoor space in the entire country is deliciously warm in winter, while it’s freezing cold outside.

6. The fear of harsh cleaners.

Germans don’t believe in using cleaning chemicals, like bleach. The whole country is like one of those Bay Area cleaning services that only uses natural stuff like vinegar and elbow grease to “clean”. I, however, believe absolutely in bleach and ammonia and Lysol and Comet,  and I habitually sterilize my home. I don’t clean much, but I do sterilize the dirty places!

I have a devil of a time finding bleach spray and the like here. So our sinks develop a grubby patina when I run out, composed of calcification from the hard water and other mysterious mineral residues. A bottle of SoftScrub would fix it in a heartbeat, but that’s like trying to find skirt hangers or Epsom salts or….

7. The preciousness of Ibuprofen.

You can’t casually buy ibuprofen, or a lot of other things you can just buy in any drugstore in the US, here. You have to go to the Apoteke, and request it politely at the counter. The pharmacist will ask if you if you’ve used this drug before, and go over the dosages, and then consent to let you have a box of eight blister-packed tabs, for like eight fucking Euros.

8. Last but not least, and worst of all: The fucking mail failure.

Wow, you’ve never seen anything like how bad mail and delivery services are in Germany. It is a seriously third world situation. It appears to be deeply corrupt, involving kickbacks to neighborhood holding stations and drivers who are paid by the unverified attempt, not the delivery.

I would rather be waiting for a packet of letters on a whaler rounding the Horn than be waiting for cat litter from Amazon.

Your odds go like this: one out of three times you’ll get your package, if you live in a good neighborhood near businesses and on the ground or first floor. One out of three times you will never hear about your package at all- no delivery notice, no doorbell ring, no tracking email. If you follow up with the sender, they’ll tell you that the package was delivered to the PaketShop affiliate or Post Office in the neighborhood since you weren’t home, and you never picked it up, so it was returned to sender or just lost. Then you can pay for shipping again to have your package redelivered.

And one out of three times, you’ll get a notice saying your packet was taken to the PaketShop, since you weren’t home (you were home, actually). Then you have to go to the PaketShop and claim it. But guess what? The notice or email only tells you which PaketShop or Post Office your package is at about half the time. If you call and ask, if they speak English, they have no idea which PaketShop, it should be on the notice. So you walk or take the bus around to the different PaketShops, asking about your package. Usually you don’t have a tracking number or know which service the sender used, so you just have to tell them your street and give them your passport, and then they hunt around. It’s astonishing.

And let’s not even get into what happens if you get a package from outside the EU. Which I do not ever intend to do if I can possible avoid it. Please, please don’t mail me anything bigger than a letter. And not anything important- the regular letter mail was on strike all of last summer.

9. Oh and one more: the fucking cat litter.

HygienePlusFor some reason, Germans use only clay and this CatSan clumpenstreu crap. Catsan is made of quartz sand and chalk. It not only doesn’t work, it makes the odors worse. Luckily, you can order pine and other effective modern litter options from online pet stores, and they actually do generally deliver it.


Of course, these few things do not deter me from being blissfully happy here. They are merely the grit in the oyster.