In German, ‘Bezirk’ means neighborhood. Given that I often find myself a bit berserk as I try to navigate my new world here in Berlin, I thought this would be a suitable title.

Here’s my first edition. Feel free to share with your friends, but please respect the copyright. Thanks!!
Bezirk in Berlin© #1: August 17, 2010

Most of us made it from Vienna, Virginia, to Berlin, German without mishap. That would be Jaton’ (me), Harvey (my doting husband), and Electra (Harvey’s spoiled cat). Alas, Jaton’s unfortunate cat encountered severe trauma, inflicted by none other than her dear Poppa. Yes, it’s sad but true – Harvey tried to kill my dearest Tsali! Here’s the story—

Making every effort to comply with every TSA reg regarding transporting animals—one of which is that at no time should an animal (other than an assistance animal) be let out of the carrying cage—I assumed that as we went through security, I could walk through the sacred portal carrying a cat in a cat carrier. WRONG!! As fate would have it, I happened to have Electra, so when the TSA guy told me I had to take her out of the carrier and run the carrier through the X‑ray empty, I dutifully put her carrier on the conveyer belt and carried her through the portal with me. Behind me were Harvey, the computers, and my precious Tsali, still in his cat carrier (Tsali, that is – not Harvey). I told Harvey that he had to take Tsali out of the carrier. In all the busy-ness of taking 2 laptops out of their cases and putting the rest of the stuff on the conveyer belt, Harvey forgot to retrieve the unfortunate Tsali. Just as Tsali’s cat carrier was entering the X-ray machine, I noticed that Harvey’s arms were NOT holding Tsali. There ensued great panic and furor among ourselves, the TSA folks, and other passengers in line as the TSA guy stopped the conveyer belt. Alas, poor Tsali was beyond the half-way point so the best thing was to let him go all the way through, so God only knows how much radiation he got from that horrid experience (although undoubtedly HIS major panic came from the experience of riding the conveyer belt and going through those flaps rather than any worries about radiation).

Rather than be worried about Tsali’s health, Harvey is more worried that Tsali might go to the Great Catnip Field in the Sky a tad earlier than he would have otherwise, and that he’ll never hear the end of it! Silly man! He’ll never hear the end of it anyway. Even if Tsali lives another 10 years, which is unlikely (as the divine Mr. T will be 17 in October – the equivalent of 85 in human years), I’ll still assert that he would have lived longer without the radiation exposure.

In all fairness, I must note that Harvey has more than redeemed himself. We’ve been in the flat since 7/27; by 8/12, he’d built almost every piece of furniture carried by IKEA, to include: 2 computer tables; 1 dressing table; 3 bedside tables; 1 HUGE MOTHER kitchen island; 2 huge wardrobes; 1 bed; 1 dining table; 4 chairs; 1 under-the-lavatory cabinet; 12 bookcases (one of which has doors); 2 chest-of-drawers (or should that be ‘chests-of-drawers’?); one set of storage shelves for the storeroom in the basement; 2 under-the-bed drawers; and 2 china closets. We have no closets at all in the flat (although one of our friends mistook the 2nd bedroom as a ‘really huge closet’), nor do we have a pantry or any storage area within the apartment itself. The only storage area the flat itself offers consists of the 3 cabinets in the kitchen, each with 3 shelves about 20 inches wide. But IKEA has lots and lots of solutions for these deficiencies. I think I’m going to enter Harvey in the 2012 Olympics in the ‘Building IKEA Furniture’ event. I have every confidence he could win it hands down!!

Despite the trauma of living in a hotel room for 10 days, going through security, riding in a plane for 8 hours (followed by a 7-hour car trip from Munich to Berlin), and a change of food, water, and litter, both Tsali and Electra are handing the transition well.

My delay in sending you this first e-mail was inflicted by Deutsche Telekom. We could have had connectivity 3 days after we arrived IF we had known the name of the person who had service to our flat before us. We did manage to find this out (as he simply moved downstairs) but apparently the service wasn’t in his name or else he only had a cell phone (known here as a ‘Handy’). Consequently, instead of the folks at DT literally flipping a switch, initiating service required having a tech make an appearance. The earliest this could be arranged was Monday (Aug 9). We waited and waited and finally had to ask Steve to call and find out what happened. Turns out that there was an area-wide outage and it would have been pointless for the tech to come until the network was back up. Would have been kinda nice if DT had called us on our cells to let us know not to expect him, though. So, the next available appointment was Wednesday. The DT guy comes and (thank God!) speaks English. We show him where the landlord had told us the demarc was. Alas, that wasn’t the demarc for the whole building! [The downside of living in a building that was built in the late 1700’s is that there’s no central telco connection. There’s one for the flats in the front of the house, where we are; another for the flats in the back of the house on the right side; and a third for the flats on the back of the house on the left side.] Naturally, the guy who could give us access to the other part of the building wasn’t around at the moment. So, DT was supposed to call us on Thursday at 10 a.m. to find out if we had arranged for the guy to be there when the tech came back. DT didn’t call. Harvey tried to call DT. Guess what? DT, of course, has a menu-driven customer service system, which, naturally is in German – none of this ‘Press 1 for German, Press 2 for English’ nonsense. So the best way to actually talk with a human was to hop on the dependable U-Bahn and go to the DT shop and get it all straightened out. Our next appointment was for Monday (Aug 15) at 5 pm. It only took the poor guy 2 hours to install the phone. First, some nimrod had actually cut the phone lines in the apt – most likely the electrician who installed the new overhead lights. Who knows why he would have done that. Then, the phone lines weren’t connected following the standard. The phone guy finally checked out something that absolutely made no sense and it turned out to be what actually worked.

The kids (big ‘uns and little ‘uns) are doing great. Upon our arrival, Noe greeted us with his good news, and I quote: I can wipe my own butt. [No doubt there will come a time in my life when I would wish I had the same capability. In the nursing home, these types of things are called ADLs – Activities of Daily Living.] We have a standing date to pick Noe and Milla up from the Kita (aka, nursery school) at 3:00 every Friday and entertain them until Steve gets home from work, after which we have a family dinner. They get cuter by the minute!

Our stuff got here on Friday, Aug 20, a little earlier than promised. That’s a mixed blessing – I was hoping for some down time before I had to start unpacking boxes. So, after 23 frenzied days getting settled in, we had 90 boxes to go through—in some cases rejoicing that we’ve been re-united with some treasure, and in others wondering why we paid good money to have the useless thing shipped instead of selling it in the estate sale.

We already feel quite at home here; no doubt we’ll feel even more at home when our stuff gets here and we have a better command of the language (which will be a while coming ). We truly love our flat and our neighborhood. Our flat is on a 1-block long street. Except for a church, with a school, and an Internet café, it’s all residential. It’s very quiet, which is important when you have no AC and have the windows open most of the time (at least in the spring, summer, and fall). Our street is a block or two from where Kreuzberg gets a little ‘lively’—it’s a lot like Georgetown, with shops and restaurants—so we have the advantages of being within a short walk of lots of amusement without the disadvantages of the noise and traffic. We hope you can visit us so we can show you around.

Here are a few ways you can tell you’re in Berlin—

• You’re over 6 feet tall, and you’re one of the shorter people in the crowd (no doubt a result of Adolf’s human breeding program). I am just NOT used to craning my neck UP to look folks in the eye! I actually saw a woman the other day who was at least 6’2” and she had on jeans with the legs rolled up at least 3 inches! I’m a mere 5’8” and have problems finding jeans long enough for me in the States!
• 90% of the bare skin you see is tattooed (and who knows how much skin you DON’T see is also tattooed). Well, maybe not 90%, but LOTS of people have LOTS of ink – entire arms covered.
• Lots of really, really old ‘behindert’ folks are out and about. Some old guy may have 2 canes and it may take him 30 minutes to climb one flight of stairs to the U-bahn, but he just keeps on keepin’ on until he gets there. After all, what else does he have to do? Besides, there are small grocery stores, drug stores, pharmacies, and all kinds of doctors all within a few blocks of virtually anywhere. And there aren’t a lot of accommodations for the handicapped. Some U‑bahn stations have elevators and escalators, but even when they do, they may not go all the way to the street. To access our nearest U‑bahn station, you have to manage 2 flights of stairs; there’s an elevator to avoid 1 flight of stairs, but it only goes up 1 flight, so you still have at least 1 flight of stairs to climb. Today in a department store I saw a lady in one of those motorized chairs. She must have been 102 years old at least. She was on her way to the elevator and there were some folks ahead of her who were just dawdling. Hell, she whipped around them like she was Mario Andretti and zoomed on to the elevator. She didn’t have time to wait for those people to get out of her way! She’s old, dammit!!
• A few notes on hair color:
o If you see a blond, it’s most likely a natural blond.
o If you see someone who has dyed hair, it most likely NOT a hair color found in nature.
• As far as the remarkably well-behaved dogs, you can expect to see versions of virtually every breed imaginable, most of whom clearly have some dachshund in their lineage – a lot of dogs with very short legs but otherwise true to their breeds. For example, a poodle with short legs. You’ve gotta hand it to the dachshunds, especially when you see a dog that may have had a standard poodle for a mom and a dachshund for a dad. Ponder the logistics of that for a moment!

That’s all for now — still sorting things out!