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the world outside

Updated: May 6, 2023

I took two melatonins last night and still woke up several times to the sound of traffic right outside my window, if I even slept at all. I'm right on the main thoroughfare of Spandau, so there are buses and ambulances and racing cars all times of night, and my new bedroom faces the street. Across the street, lucky me, is a preschool, so more screaming kids, but only at select times.


The AirBnB, besides the noise, is beautiful and ornate with real wooden furniture that must have been here for decades, because no one wants to carry any of this up three flights of winding stairs (no elevator). The living room couch and chair are deep vintage red, the ceilings tall and palatial with an iron chandelier. It's the perfect place for me to sip my first cup of tea in weeks and listen to jazz. Last night, I even heard one of the neighbors practicing the sax. It's one of my favorite things in life, stumbling upon inspired sound. On the subway yesterday, a man behind me played the accordion and most people averted their eyes; I wished I was facing him. When he opened an envelope for money, I dumped in a bunch of coins and felt my face turn red.

 

I wore myself out yesterday, something I've been trying not to do since I have a habit of getting sick: I know this feeling of exhaustion mixed with insomnia, this heaviness of head and limbs. Monday morning I went hard at the gym, bulgarian-split-squatting 30-pounders again, and then finished packing and cleaning everything spotless, brushing lint off the velvet blue couch and vacuuming it up, patting dry the bathroom sink, wiping away water stains on stainless steel. Stuffing plastic jugs in the yellow bin outside, then trash in the overflowing black.


I bought a 49-Euro/month Germany-wide travel pass (the country's summer special to get more cars off the road), booked a hotel in Munich for end of June for when I meet Doug, and then close to 2 pm trekked my first load of stuff to the new AirBnB, which, according to whatever God-forsaken map I had, was supposed to be right around the corner, by Bauhaus. I kept walking back and forth with all my bags at the GPS point and then finally called the AirBnB hostess, something that is very bottom on my list of comforts, if you know how much I hate speaking on the phone, let alone in German. She then proceeded to tell me the actual address, first in German and then very accented English, which was not quite half a mile in the other direction but sort of. Actually, it's in a much better place than I expected, nearly right across from Kaufhaus and a few minutes from the gym: about 10 minutes closer to the Arcaden and train station.


The actual finding of the place was fine once I had the street number, but then I had to go back for my second load, which for some reason was heavier than the first. I don't know how possible it is for me to carry less, when each AirBnb lacks something else, and I don't want to keep re-buying paper towels, dish soap, laundry detergent, all the things that weigh me down. I don't want to dump out a jug of water just because I haven't used it all, or throw away leftovers that can feed me the next day. I've worn every single outfit I've packed, except for two pairs of pants that I'd reserved for salsa, back when I imagined doing salsa the second week of March. My bathroom stuff is always a brick, dry shampoo I haven't quite used, a hair straightener I will, soaps and facial stuff that seem even more imperative in the harsh Berlin cold. And that's all in my small suitcase. At Oma's apartment I have my bigger suitcase, the one with all my summer clothes, extra shoes, Mom's leather backpack that I think of all the time but still haven't needed or used. My Camelbak and bathing suits for my fantasies of hiking and warmth.

Around 4 pm on Monday I put the first bit of makeup on that I have in weeks and then left for the bus and train. The journey from here to Schönefeld was supposed to take about 50 minutes but with all the waiting on the bus in the breezy cold, I arrived at my 6 pm Ladies Styling Bachata class just with 10-15 minutes to spare. The business was hard to find, through random doors that showed signs of salsa dancing but didn't list the name of the school, but once inside it was so easy to relax. It was warm, there was a bathroom, there was plenty of space to spread out; it sort of reminded me of Phat Bytes in Donelson, lots to look around at and see, darker corners and changes in elevation, a front desk that doubled as a bar, random plants and hues of light. Eclectic and cozy. When I strapped on my shoes, I felt a kind of happy and hopeful I haven't in a while.

 

I sat next to a young woman who seemed approachable but whom I didn't approach, until another woman walked in and they both started speaking English to each other. At first, I thought they were British because I heard the phrase "you were on holiday?" or something similar, but when I asked where they were from, the first girl said Bremen (near Hamburg, in Germany) and the other one said I don't know what, but I nodded and smiled and said cool and we chatted, the first girl (Leonie) said she normally dances hip-hop. When I told her I don't do well with lots of choreography, she said she's been taking this styling class since January and the teacher repeats a lot of the moves, so it's easy to really learn them.

I took a spot in the middle row when the class began; the teacher was a slender smiley soft-spoken woman; she looked around and asked if we could all understand German. I learned words like oberkörper, which is self-explanatory, and also heard plenty of English words like "snake" and "shake shake". She taught us a couple moves that I'd also learned (more like attempted) at the styling class in Memphis back in January and let us record a video of the lesson afterward, so I'll need to practice!

I said goodbye to Leonie and the other woman and said I'd be back for another lesson, but then there was a traffic jam in the front hallway because the Beginner Bachata people were filing in, and I ended up walking out with Leonie. She asked me if Tennessee is really everything Miley Cyrus paints it out to be, and then I blurted out that I liked Berlin so far, which I think is me convincing myself, more than anything. She gave me her number and said she's not a party girl, more of a restaurant goer, if I ever want to get together, which OBVIOUSLY I DO. She messaged me this morning saying it was great to meet me yesterday and that I should dress warm today ;) and I wrote back that I hope her boyfriend managed the solo grocery store trip okay ;) carrot emoji, lettuce emoji, and that we should get coffee sometime.

 

Do I like Berlin? It's a complicated answer. I hate the cold, the noise, the trash that piles up outside apartments, but that's like any major city, and I've only really hung out in Spandau, as a hermit, which is like someone going to Nashville and only hanging out in Antioch or Old Hickory, as a hermit. I do love spending time with my grandparents, I love how accessible everything is by public transit, I love hearing German everywhere, and I loved the bachata class and walking around the Shönefeld District afterward--it was bustling with a different crowd than what I'm used to here in Spandau, well-dressed people who looked around my age, thriving Doner places and thrift shops and, there in the middle of the main street with its own big entrance, HAVANA, the legendary salsa and bachata club that I've been researching since December. I don't know yet when I'll go, but I'm going to!

For dinner I admit I jumped into the first restaurant I saw, but I was hungry and I saw currywurst on the menu, and there was only one person inside. So I ordered currywurst and pommes to eat-in, and I relaxed and indulged in N.Y State of Mind and other 90s hip hop while I waited for my food. Finally it came: two giant plates of fries: curly fries, and regular fries. I mentally applauded the man for not making a snide remark, considered telling him I said CURRY (wurst) and not CURLY (fries), wanted to text all my friends but didn't because is it that funny or only funny to me, and then obligingly ate almost a plateful of the fried mélange. When I paid, the man smiled and asked if he'd like me to pack up my leftovers, which I found charming considering the circumstance.


I nibbled on just the curly fries at the bus stop and then threw the rest away and rode the long subway home, stopping at Edeka in the Arcaden for some water, pudding and bread. Back in the apartment, I redeemed myself with a cute porcelain teacup full of banana apple sauce that Oma pawned off on me, and then around midnight I attempted to sleep. First with triple-layer comforter and then progressively fewer layers as the night went on and the room heated and still I laid there, my body buzzing from all the excitement of the day, the particular whoosh of cars out on the street not quite serenading but startling me again and again, well past midnight, and into dawn.

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