Lately I’ve been feeling so accustomed to my life in Berlin that I sometimes forget I’m in a foreign country. The city is so easy to navigate, everything is running smoothly for the most part at work and at home, and I’ve gotten used to using German for everyday interactions.
But then sometimes I have an “Oh yeah, I’m in Berlin” moment. For example: I get on a bus at one o’clock in the morning. I walk past the mulleted bus driver, who waits until I sit down all the way at the back and then announces over the intercom that she needs to see my ticket again. I return to the till and she informs me that I must pay a surcharge for not having the right ticket. I dutifully hand over a 5-euro bill, but she refuses to take it and demands smaller change (there’s a change box at the till). When I explain that I have no change, she simply dismisses me back to my seat, satisfied with having reprimanded me like a bad child. I just can’t picture that interaction happening on a bus back home.
Last weekend I had one of these moments. It involves a little story so bear with me. First, I locked myself out of my apartment. My door locks automatically and I’m very prone to forgetting keys, so it was bound to happen eventually. Normally, I would just go see Monika, the woman who stands in as landlady while the owner is out of the country. Monika had lost her spare keys that week, however, and had called me to ask if I could let her in for her bi-weekly apartment cleaning. I tried calling her anyway and got no answer. I sent a text and received no response. I then went to the key-making service down the street to see if they could help me. Closed on weekends. Still no word from Monika.
Panic was beginning to set in, so I thought that I could see if one of my neighbors knew the number of the Hausmeister. I still don’t know what this person actually does, but he exists, and one of his powers is to give permission for residents to copy keys – yes, sometimes you need a written permission to copy keys in Berlin – so I thought he might have a skeleton key or know about keys, or something.
So, I knocked on my next-door neighbor’s door. I’ve only seen the guy once or twice, mind you. I heard some shuffling around and then the door opened. There was my next-door neighbor at the door, with no pants.
Let me qualify this: my neighbor (a guy about my age) was wearing a long t-shirt that went down to upper thigh where it gave way to bare legs. I don’t know if underwear was part of the equation.
Now, I know that we Americans are a rather uptight and even puritanical bunch when it comes to nudity. Yes, I know that Europe is home to nude beaches and nude saunas, and that occasionally one sees Berliners sunbathing in parks with nothing but a towel to lie on. But it still seemed strange to answer the door with no pants, so nonchalantly. It’s not that hard to say “just a minute” and to go throw on a pair of sweats before opening your home to the wide world, right? I didn’t really know how to react, so I pretended to be cool with it and asked about the Hausmeister. He didn’t know the number. He wished he could help me but just didn’t know anything about locks. I said thank you and goodbye a little too quickly and proceeded up the stairs to try the next neighbor. I wonder if the look on my face gave away my mild shock.
I eventually did get back into my apartment. Monika had found her spare keys and saved the day, not to mention the seventy euro charge I would have had to pay to the locksmith to make a house call. Over the next week, I asked several friends, German and non-German, about the no-pants door answering thing and there’s been zero consensus on the matter. Some people think it sounds normal, and others think it’s definitely strange. I don’t know whether to think that I have a creepy neighbor or to be ashamed for being a prude.
Berlin’s an easy city for an American 20-something to live in, there’s no question about that. It’s about as easy as it gets I think. But occasionally something happens that reminds me that I’m a foreigner, and this was one of those times. It’s nice actually, to have your comfort zone tested every now and then. Otherwise, what’s the point of travel? The whole locking-myself-out thing was exhausting though, and I was in need of a drink by the end of it. That’s what the following recipe is for, and I hope you enjoy it. Cheers to my pantsless next-door neighbor.
Blood Orange Mimosa
Notes: This isn’t much of a recipe, but I wanted to record the way I did this because I liked the proportion of juice to wine – not much of the former. The local Turkish weekend market down the street from me sells blood oranges dirt cheap, and they are a bit too ripe to eat, which makes them perfect for juice. I find them a bit too sweet on their own, so I like to add a dash of lemon juice to the mix.
Ingredients (for 3-4 drinks):
1 cup blood orange juice (about 4 small, very ripe blood oranges)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Sparkling wine (e.g. Cava or Prosecco)
Put 3-4 tablespoons of the juice mixture into a champagne flute. Top off with chilled sparking wine and garnish with a slice of orange if you’re feeling fancy.