The Little Things

When you move, it’s always the little things that catch you by surprise.

I was thinking about my first Berlin apartment earlier. Not the one in Kreuzberg I shared with 2 roommates, the one in Prenzlauer Berg that was the first apartment here that I rented all to myself. It was in a semi-renovated Altbau. I say “semi-renovated” because it had electricity and gas heating, but otherwise it was pretty worn down. It had a certain charm to it; despite the gas heat, it still had large coal heaters in the corners of the living room and bedroom. The kitchen still had its coal-powered stove, which had been topped off with linoleum that matched the floor sometime in the ’70s. The floors in the living room and bedroom were hardwood, and painted oxblood red, with flecks of paint from former wall colours scattered around the edges. I don’t think the wiring had been updated since the ’60s, and the power in half the apartment blew out once when I tried to run two space heaters and a laptop at the same time. In the two years I lived there, it never really felt like home. It was a transition apartment, and I always knew I would leave to live somewhere else. It kind of sucked and nothing really worked properly, but I feel like living there was part of the “Berlin experience”. You’re not a real Berliner unless you’ve lived in a strange apartment where things break and your landlord is slow to fix them. Bonus points if you have coal heating or your shower was in the former kitchen pantry (mine wasn’t).

I’d lived on my own before I moved into this apartment. I spent two years in my own place when I lived in Nanaimo. I’d also been in Berlin for a year at that point, and while I was still figuring out how things worked, I had somewhat of a handle on them. Still, I was caught off guard. On my first night in the apartment, I switched on the living room light as it started to get dark out. Nothing happened. I looked at the ceiling to see wires hanging down, with no light fixtures attached to them. I wandered around the apartment to find these and no lights. Now, I knew that Berlin apartments were usually “bring your own everything”. The apartment didn’t come with a kitchen or any cabinets, and I didn’t expect it to. I considered myself lucky that I got a sink and an oven (which didn’t work, by the way, and I spent the next two years trying to bake things in a microwave/grill). Somehow, I didn’t even think about lights. I had exactly one lamp, and a small Christmas tree with lights built into it. For a week or so (until I could get to Ikea to buy fixtures and find a friend who knew how to install them) I lit my apartment with these and several candles that I picked up at the supermarket.

It seemed uncomfortable and kind of irritating at the time, but now I think about this incident and laugh. It’s such a Berlin “hiccup” story.

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