The Fiktionsbescheinigung: a Really Long Word for “Safe”

The Legendary Fiktionsbescheinigung

A short five hours ago my heart was filled with fear that “PORK AIR” would be the last words upon which I’d ever lay eyes.

9 a.m. Light without heat. Droves of strangers with hands jammed in pockets, backs hunched against the cold. The river of people, effectively dammed by chained-off aisles, leads to a closed glass door behind which my future awaits two floors up. It is 0 degrees celsius/32 Fahrenheit, with 22 kilometer per hour winds. After minute 40 or so I stop feeling my feet.

“Ohhh, I think I’m getting sick,” moans Niels piteously. I regard his sleepy eyes and red cheeked face topped off by the woolen hat I’d scored him at a Kreuzberg market two days before. It isn’t that I don’t hear him, but personal discomfort and mind-shattering cold obliterate any shred of empathy I might have been able to muster for my most patient of companions.
“I’m hungry!” I whine a non sequitur in return.
We are both speechless for a time, huddled together with coat collars turned maximally up. After a few more moments of quiet, I make a horrifying discovery.
“Niels?” I say. “Niels! Oh, God! It’s so cold I can’t feel my butt!”

I eye the graffitied wall just up the hill past the Ausländerbehörde. “PORK AIR,” it says in bright blue bubble letters.

This is no place to die.

And indeed I did not. In fact, one might even argue that I (or at the very least my visa for Germany) has been reborn. I am now the proud holder of a Fiktionsbescheinigung (literally a “Fictions Certificate”), a thing which allows me to stay legally in Germany until the 31st of March, 2012. Huddled in bed and gazing out my window at the torso of the craggy old tree that keeps sentry over the playground, I am finally, six hours later, warm. After two weeks of uncertainty and stress, I am also finally–for now–safe.

This is a thing of beauty.

After the initial elation of receiving my brightly colored permit wore off, tired took its place: in addition to safe I am also thoroughly exhausted. I hadn’t noticed ’til now how tightly I’ve been wound, and I’m sure Niels, for all his fortitude and toughness, was as well. My ankle is athrob–standing in the cold for 70 mins and grunting through the long hop-walk to Berlin’s unnecessarily remote Foreigner’s Office did it no favors–and my neck is stiff.

Niels and I started the day too early, we stood in the cold long enough for me to start considering the poisonous blue berries on the frosty shrubbery just outside the Ausländerbehörde an option, and the one pulse of human joy or pleasure I experienced before getting that sweet certificate in my hands came in helping an African stranger with a lilting accent to unzip his tangled hood. But at the very least I know that even if it all seems too good to be true–even if it’s German Certified Fiktion–I am here for a while to stay, and I can still call this my home.

More tomorrow. To whomever I owe an email: I’m sorry I’ve been so behind. To whomever I must telephone: it’s in the works. And to whomever I owe work? Please, please forgive me for how far the past week or so has gotten away from me. I’ll commence with operation catch up very soon. But now? Now is the time for a restorative, well blanketed snooze.

Thank you to all of you who’ve worked connections for me, to all of you who have inquired, to everyone who’s reached out with words of encouragement or invitations to hide out in your home countries. I like to think that it’s all of your collective goodness  that’s helped tip the scales in a decidedly prettier direction. I appreciate you, web community. Stick around. 🙂


Boxland, 2011, and Hope for a Brighter (or at least more legal) Tomorrow

The only thing to which I might justly compare this is Christmas at the Schiller household, circa ~ 1995. It’s not that it’s particularly festive in here–the wreath I purchased for our front door still rests swaddled in florists’ paper, ribbonless on the nearby bookshelf and awaiting some sort of German hanging solution to which Niels refers only as “Power Strips”–but the feeling of it, the barely-past-eventiness of it all, is the same. As are the scads of boxes with clothes spilling raggedly from their corrals, tired prisoners on the cusp of effecting an exhausted jail break but too knackered to make it all the way over the fence.

We are, more or less officially and as of 8:30 last night, moved in. This is what our home looks like at present. Withold judgments, please, thank you.

(this image is larger because Niels demanded it so)

Never before snapping this photo had I considered the logistics of living on a ground floor apartment with all of its windows facing a reasonably popular pedestrian path. Sweet god, it’s all rushing in now. How might people avoid glimpsing me naked every day, all the damn time? What if I’m picking my nose, or eating an entire, giant paving-stone style bar of delicious, luxurious Milka chocolate enrobed in caramel and nuts and cookie in one sitting? (Don’t let that question’s detail lead you to believe I’d ever do such a gluttonous thing. *cough*). Does living on the ground floor demand that I become a perpetually clothed role model for the masses? Considering we live directly on a church playground, I fear this might be the case. And perhaps also a little for the neighborhood children’s innocence and hygiene habits.

Anyhow, we live here now. I have a real, fixed address at which I am findable by the German government. Ich bin (officially and statically) ein Berliner. With a declaration such as that, those of you who’re in the know about recent events–or have just read my post from a couple of weeks back–might be wondering now about how confident I can actually afford to be in staking my claim to this chilly, graceful old apartment. I’m not certain how to answer that, either, but here are the deets as I know them.

The question of legality in Germany and the issue of acquiring valid working papers is a tricky one, even for a crime-free, reasonably talented, well-educated American with cooking skill and a willingness to head bob and act affirmative about virtually any Deutsch garbled her way. So, at Olivia’s suggestion, Niels and I did the surefirest thing: explored the option of outfitting me with a Sprachkursvisum–basically, a temporary visa one can wangle on the premise of enrolling in at least 20 hours per week of German language classes (which certainly wouldn’t do me anything but good). I went for a level test last week and selected some courses I might take at the Volkshochschule (a community higher learning school), scraping me on up to a lean, probably questionable 15 hours/week. That was one option, and certainly one we’ll take should tomorrow at the Foreigner’s Office not go well. Right. When have encounters with bureaucracy–German or Spanish–ever gone well? Berlin, feel free to prove my cynicism groundless.

Tomorrow morning, roughly 9 a.m., will see Niels and me filed in a line of strangers to Germany, waiting outside of the Ausländerbehörde to submit yet another set of paperwork for a work permit. Two weeks ago, almost directly after hearing the sad news about my former prospective employer, Zalando’s, inability to help me (to Z’s credit, they petitioned for me and talked with the foreigner’s office, but sadly, the budget just isn’t there) I interviewed at the European answer to AirBnB.

Located in Kreuzberg, the heart of Berlin’s entrepreneurial scene (and across the street from a promising looking coffee shop), I found Wimdu. A sprawling physical site, it’s in an old, converted industrial building basically made for start ups. I limped up the stairs to the second floor office and was greeted by a blast of heat and an English-speaking office manager. Wimdu itself is aswarm in young internationals, and the Italian HR representative who interviewed me was one of the nicest people I’ve met in Deutschland. When at the end of the interview she asked me if I had working papers yet, I told her the entire truth about my recent rejection on the basis of too little salary, dangerous, because Wimdu offers the same. She looked briefly sad.

“Well, you’d have the job today if you had a permit,” she confided, looking off into the distance, pretty mouth turned down. “It can be hard to get the permission. We had a Romanian girl turned down last week for the same reason. I don’t know…”
She stared at me, searched my face, seemed to weigh her options and suddenly brightened.
“But, why don’t we try, anyway? We should try. We’ll draw you up a contract.”

And bless their souls, they did just that. Yesterday I picked up my contract and am in the process of assembling the masses of paperwork I’ll need for tomorrow’s trip to the Ausländerbehörde. Applying for a work permit again and simply hoping that the result is different this time may sound like a fruitless (and also dumb) plight, but after having consulted a lawyer and going ourselves to the Foreigner’s office on Monday to inquire whether or not applying again might be worth it, we were encouraged to give it a whirl. The relief comes in that this application gets me an immediate Fiktionsbescheinigung–a long word for what amounts to a temp visa that will allow me to stay legally in Germany for three months (or as long as it takes for the working papers to process). Should everything go off hitchless tomorrow, I would be, for at least a little while, safe. And I have the prospect of working with a bunch of young, upbeat people from around the world who are willing to take chances, even without ideal odds. I hope that this time it works; I think Wimdu might be a good place to get into the German labor force–and also a great environment in which to make some new friends.

Anyhow, my tasks for today include finding a copy shop in our new ‘hood, perhaps trying to make some sense of the wreckage that is our kitchen (though without any cabinets of which to speak, that might be more of a challenge than I’m fit to surmount) and shaking the the hangover accrued by Niels’ and my festivities of last night. A bottle of wine with dinner, beers, and a delectable flask of champagne will take down even the strongest of souls, as much as they might line their stomachs with fresh pumpkin and almond ravioli and spinach and fish. Advil, thanks for always being there for me.

Oooh! Another inanimate friend with which I was yesterday bequeathed? A new ankle brace! There’s a reason that the craptastic AirCast I scooped two weeks ago hadn’t really helped at all: it was the wrong item, given me due to a miscommunication between the shop at which I acquired it and the doc’s office. I was back at Doctor Neisser’s yesterday, crutches and all, and he’s prescribed a course of physical therapy and a new, more supportive cast. Let’s hope this one works out and the physical therapy does its thing. After a month of being stationary and  last night’s celebratory booze and junk food binge, I am not the sveltest version of myself. Plus, I’m sick of stabbing pain when I walk. And ohmygod. Crutches. I hate them. I am far too clumsy a person for crutches to be a viable long-term option.

And now I’m off! To assemble a metal dish rack and enjoy the feeling of freshly moving in! And maybe find a way to deck my halls with boughs of holly somewhat, too. Bis gleich, y’all.

I owe last week’s hair stylist–Maria I think she was called–an apology.

When I wrote about my recent coiffure disaster, I decried this German-made calamity  as basically the ugliest bowl cut known to man. When I wrote that, not only did I believe it, but I felt it in the deepest tidepool of my sometimes shallow, hair-preoccupied heart. I was saddened by my own reflection–deeply so–and only a hat could make it something near to right.

In the past 24 hours or so, however, a miraculous thing has occurred. In very typical German style (read subtle, easy-to-overlook, late-blooming, if you will) the cut has revealed itself to be, actually, sort of… good? In fact, it’s almost cute. And the most beautiful discovery of all has been that the key to making it look good is the following: do nothing. Really. I get out of the shower, apply a small bit of my trustiest and most beloved of hair products (shameless plug for Ojon hair care here) and that’s it. I must do nothing at all, save for a few dozen non-obligatory-but-texture-enhancing finger-rakes through its length. I  feel timidly confident in announcing that it almost looks kind of (from some angles) rad.

Deutsche Haar

Tentative thumbs up? Oh, and that unsavory thing on my hand is not a wart; it’s a clear Band-Aid blister bandage thingie covering a nasty burn I inflicted upon myself last week whilst experimenting with Cinnamon Sugar Radish Chips. :/ Pretty.

One small aesthetic triumph for the past week? Maybe. Just maybe.

Of Foot Gear, Sugar Casts and Flying Squirrels

I’ve never liked these boots.

Black, relatively shapeless and entirely without support, I’m not sure what it was that ever attracted me to them in the first place. An unbeatable footwear sale hovers somewhere in the distant, shadowy crevices of my mind, but I can’t with any certainty confirm it as their origin. These boots sat unloved and unworn in my closet in Madrid for virtually all of last year—maybe even for the past two—and there even came a time when I was close to jettisoning them altogether. Something, however, told me to hold on, that someday, somewhy I’d need them more than I could know. That someday has arrived.

This past Monday saw me at the offices of Doctor Neisser, braced to hear the worst about my ankle. The Friday before I’d gone to the Bundeswehrkrankenhaus to be shuttled into yet another clicky, flesh-toned, and vaguely vaginal MRI tube with the goal of determining just what the fuck is up with my troublesome joint. While waiting to be admitted I’d marveled at the sheer number of security guards, joking, laughing, striding to and fro and seeming anything but security guardy. They were so damn casual! Casual German security guards! Fascinated, I scribbled in my notebook, “Either the hospital is a far more dangerous place than I’d previously believed, or there’s something that I’m missing.” Later, when Niels got home from work he made a comment about my having spent the afternoon at the army hospital. Sheepishly, I then understood why the droves of security guards had seemed so very atypical. “Bundeswehrkrankenhaus” (Roughly translated to Army Hospital) was a six-syllable word that I hadn’t until that moment bothered to unpack.

Anyhow, Doctor Neisser took a look at the army-approved images of my left ankle and declared me happily free of fractures of both bone and tendon, concluding that what I needed was a good Air Cast and a reasonable amount of rest. For a temporary fix, his charming support crew set me up with an eerie cooling bandage and a compression one firmly over the top, and I was free to toddle off with nothing more than a prescription and orders to go pick up my sexy shank support the following day.

Here’s where the boots come in.

The Air Cast: its name is suggestive of high technology, that it might perhaps be sleek, aerodynamic, light. While at least the last of these descriptors is true, it has a profile that’s anything but slim, and clad in lowtop neon Tigers and my day-old compression bandage to go and pick it up, I had no idea how I’d ever make it out of the shop with the new medical device strapped to my calf.

“How in the world am I going to ever leave the house?” I wondered, “And what could I possibly wear on my feet that will accommodate this behemoth?”

It was then that, just like the tiniest, seemingly most obsolete of gravy ladles on Thanksgiving (Amber Hall, this one is for you) it became apparent that it was the forgotten footwear’s moment to shine: shapeless black boots to the rescue! While previously unloved and set aside for years, they’ve been cleaved to my feet for the past week, faithfully cupping the XXL sized limb that’s been swaddled in bandage and Air Cast both. The most wonderful part? Without any alterations or special tweaking, they already look like they’re made out of bandages themselves. So very matchy. Happily, when I wear them no one can even tell that I’m gimpy and outfitted in what amounts to a contraption crafted of a set of Floaties and some velcroed shin guards. I’ve been reasonably happy with the situation—and especially that the Air Cast holds a mysterious (but very pleasant) aroma of vanilla—for the last week. Too bad it doesn’t seem to actually be helping; my pain is worse, and come Tuesday or so, once I’ve taken care of more critical visa and Deutsch legality business, I’ll be visiting Doctor Neisser once more. I’m fearful that a diagnosis of a Subluxated Peroneal Tendon and a suggestion of surgery could be in my future. Let’s all cross our fingers and hold our thumbs, okay?

Despite limpiness, the ugly black boots and my sugary air cast have taken me many places in the week that’s now behind us. Tuesday, Niels and I headed to a concert at C-Club Berlin. The headliner was Bombay Bicycle Club, whom I’ve always liked but never enough to actually cop an album. After Tuesday’s performance, though, I’m reconsidering. Those boys can seriously rock out live. The real reason we went to the concert was to soothe my craving for the balmy tones of their opening act, Lucy Rose. After having discovered her a few weeks ago on a forage through the undergrowth of the many music blogs I frequent, I’d fallen in love with the misty, pealing tones of this elven UK act. Lucy Rose’s songs—all lovely, shiny little gossamer capsules of longing and earnestness—tell (mostly) prettily sad stories set over a rich, resounding backdrop of strings. Lifted upon the wings of one of the truest, most effortless and pop-ready sopranos I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing, her songs are totally worth trying. Start, perhaps, here, with “Scar.”

Over the course of the past week, the unloved boots have also clomphopped me to our new digs in Prenzlauer Berg many times, on various tramps to area boutiques to scope singular and special homeware, to Seth for sadly unremarkable Indian food, and to a two-hour wait at the Wedding area Bürger office to declare myself a citizen of Berlin. They’ve taken me also to the Volkshochschule, where I’m hoping I can weasel into three or so German courses and get myself a short-notice Sprachkursvisum that’ll keep me by Niels’ side, if not gainfully employed.

This blog post finds us on a return trip from the most recent place the ugly footwear’s accompanied me: Niels’ parents house in Bad Pyrmont. This weekend’s was a rather whirlwind trip, planned mostly in order for us to dash through, relieve Niels’ ‘rents of any unwanted but still serviceable kitchen gadgets and haul them off to Berlin in my enormous silver suitcase. We got in yesterday at noon, Niels’ mother waiting to greet us in the train station parking lot. Clad in a gray woolen cape with her arms spread wide and an ear-to-ear grin, she had the look of a good natured, bipedal flying squirrel. I was instantly charmed. It was nice this time to be able to chat with Niels’ family in German, even if I do terribly bungle it, and even if I only manage to understand 70-75% of the time (and almost not at all in the morning). Filled with food (including two slices of German cake in one sitting, abendbrot I never should have nommed and amazing Indian food that Niels’ dad, Kanwar, made from scratch), and reasonably relaxed, we were lucky to nab a seat on this intercity train from Hannover to Berlin. Somehow the tracks got switched around and we found ourselves quite providentially on the other train that’s bound tonight for our home city, realizing the mishap far too late. Thankfully there was space enough left on this Bahn for us and we’ll make it back to a penultimate night in the temporary Wohnung in Mitte.

This weekend I also found myself feeling indescribably lucky that the man now sitting to my right and maybe or maybe not reading this is mine. As boyfriends go, I think Niels is the best there is, and I’m not sure what my world—or my heart—would’ve been without his arrival on the scene. Accepting, understanding and endlessly giving of love, Niels has done everything imaginable to make my transition here to be with him a comfortable one. His good heart and good head have seen me through many a tiny (and not so tiny) stressy meltdown, and it’s his willingness to shoulder the heavier burdens that have kept my back so miraculously low-pain for the past three months. He is always, even when exhausted, even when stretched thin, willing to put in the extra effort. He is always fair, always considerate, always loving and willing to help. He is nothing short of a miracle, and I mean that in the least cheesy of ways possible. I admire him, which is something I knew I couldn’t ever really compromise on when choosing a partner. It’s easy to respect Niels, and by his side, it’s impossible for me not to feel proud. I don’t know why he loves me, but I’m so glad he does. Also, he’s at present very sleepy and the picture I’ve included below is probably a bit unfair. If he weren’t too sleepy to read, though, he’d be blushing, so really it’s all for the best.

Another point in Niels’ favor? He’s never said anything mean about my cloddish black boots.

Anyhow, with dwindling battery power and a German book calling my name, I’ll be signing off for now. I suspect this week will provide some remedy to my German legal/labor limbic state, so I’ll update with more information when I have it. Everybody hope, and never, ever take your ugly shoes for granted.

Deutschland: Caring for The Pony of Tomorrow

For three and a half years I have managed to survive in the land of unprecedentedly bad haircuts. To any of you who may have between mouthfuls of tortilla and sun-drenched parkscapes overlooked this element of Spanish culture, hear me out: hair on the Iberian peninsula is bad.

Now I don’t mean to unfairly accuse all Spanish hair of being a force ten hot mess, especially given that I’m loathe to cut my own hair anywhere but the Spanish capitol city. For two years I have been the most satisfied customer, devotee, and champion of Corto y Cambio in Madrid’s Malasaña. Its proprietor, Igor, is not just my go-to stylist, he’s a friend. A friend who happens to be uniquely capable of frisking my tresses into a whirl of expertly winnowed layers and angles that grows out beautifully and rarely (save for when humidity or serious bed head intervenes) looks like total scheiße. I repeat: good hair in Spain does exist,  it’s just that the bad is so much more memorable, simply for its extremity.

I give you first the classic mullet. Commonly coveted by Spain’s “anti” youth set, the mullet is alive and in vigor across Southern Spain and in the country’s Castizo heart. The Basques wear a variation of the mullet that identifies them to the expat insider and the peninsular denizen as hailing from the radical North; for those not in-the-know, it’s simply a bad haircut. There is also this awkwardly tiered, freakishly glossy and universally unflattering layercake, most frequently spotted in and around the environs of Madrid’s Barrio de Salamanca on rail-thin, expensively shod madrileñas yipping on cell phones and toting shopping bags from Tous.

And then, dear reader, there is this, this most offensive of creations that represents the collision point of personal coiffure and sealife. It is best classified as the Octomulllet. Especially prevalent in Barcelona, it ruthlessly prowls shorelines and promenades alike,  striking revulsion and shame into the hearts of tourists and the cultural epicenter’s classiest Catalanes.

 Brace yourself: what you are about to behold is a thing of legend.

After nearly four years acclimatizing my eyes to these travesties of tresses, I thought I’d seen it all. Getting my hair cut in Germany, I told myself, would be far less fearsome a thing. Perennially organized, self-contained and reasonably well groomed, the Deutsche are cool customers when it comes to personal appearance. How terribly could it end? It wouldn’t be until later that I’d understand how drastically I had underestimated the gravity of that question. I wept a tiny bit yesterday for Igor, and I hope that he knows that despite my traitorous Thursday activities that he remains, in my eyes, king.

Here’s where it all started. On Wednesday I Skyped with my family. In Hartford with my parents for Thursday’s festivities, my Grandmother, ever a neat, matchy-matchy sort of broad with close-cropped hair and an eagle’s eye for unkemptness, she took one look at me and instead of saying hello, enjoying the novelty of beholding her only grandbaby’s visage transported to my parents’ living room via the magic of the interwebs,  she demanded a nasal, indignant, “What is that? You got a hood on? What’s that on your head, Cait? You wearin’ a hat?”

I was not, I am sorry to report, sporting a hat. That “hood,” that solid mass of brown shadow arcing in a full-length helment around my head was my own hair.

Since my last encounter with Igor when I flew to Madrid about five weeks before, I hadn’t really needed a hair cut. Some time in the past ten days, however, the whole situation had gone abruptly to hell. Long, curving nearly to my collar bones, and heavy as a white trash toddler nourished on a diet of Wonderbread, chicken wings and beer, it weighed upon me, obscuring almost my entire right eye from the light of day and causing grievous strings of skin trauma on my forehead. Something had to give, and my grandmother’s comment about my wearing a “hood” set me into action. I spent nearly two hours on Wednesday night seeking a stylist.

As it turns out, cutting one’s hair in Berlin is no cheap endeavor, and there are a frightening number of Friseuse out there who hawk their locales as spa sites more than hair cutteries (I wasn’t looking for a spa. I wanted a trim). By 10 p.m. Wednesday night I’d narrowed my salon choices down to three, and on Monday morn, based almost purely upon the owner’s sweet sleeve tattoos, earnest face and glasses, I’d made my decision as well as a phone call. Thursday at 12:00, it was on: my hair would be shorn.

The two hours between making the appointment and arriving on the salon’s doorstep were devoted to constructing an elaborate “Mane” board on Pinterest (my other addiction after chocolate and wine). I wanted no flubs, no room for confusion when I endeavored to explain my wants to the German stylist. I loaded the “Mane” board up onto the Android before leaving the apartment, and, armed with my gallery of hairspiration, I felt confident, I felt hopeful. I was set.

For reference, this is the photo I presented to my stylist–admittedly a very sweet, patient and understanding soul who was good enough to listen to me bumble through my laundry list of hair needs auf Deutsch–and I find it rather comely.

Whether or not I actually have the face for such a drastic change is a question that remains unanswered, because what I got was decidedly not a thing resembling this cut. I realized the next morning, regarding my dark-circled visage in the mirror, that there was certainly something of which this hair cut reminded me and it wasn’t my inspiration photo. The approximate year is 1960, the model, my mother. She is six years old and clad in a jumper and what people back then referred to as a “Dickie.” She is chubby-cheeked, round, and grinning.

She also, God help her, has a prime example of a mid-century bowl cut.

With layers thicker than the Berlin wall and a pert, curvy hem-line that drops just to my jaw, I might make a very good dowdy Hausfrau. Since my cut, I feel years older and leagues less cool. But because it can’t be useful in terms of image elevation, I’ve decided that this style’s utility will be a lesson in patience–and a ticket to Madrid for whenever it grows out.

For better or for worse, my hair is shorn. My generous and understanding boyfriend tells me that it looks cute, but I can hardly take him at his word. He is, after all, forced to find me adorable, or at the very least claim so should he desire any affection. Igor would be disappointed were he ever to catch me in this state, and I? I can only hope that that moment never, ever comes.

As dark as all of that may sound, there are two reasonably good things that have come out of this German hair experience and they are as follows:
1) my mop is now light years quicker to blow dry. Lazy when it comes to actual styling and intensely impatient about dawdling in the bathroom, I can’t complain. Schön.
2) Upon being handed a card by my stylist with the salon’s name emblazoned across its horizon and a blurry picture of a quadruped photoshopped into the background, I learned that the Germans refer to what we Americans call “bangs” as a “Pony.” A pony, people, O_O. The coupon I received entitles me to one free “Pony” cut, whenever I want–ostensibly in a few weeks when this whole bowlcut mess works its way up in the tabletop hierearchy from deep salad plate to soup vessel–with the presentation of this card. The afternoon might have been depressing if not for this small lexical gem. I have a Pony, just like I’d dared as a youngling to dream.

And I’ll give them this: the Germans are planners, which I appreciate, and in a few weeks I will at the very least enjoy a thorough Pony shearing, entirely free of charge.

When All Else Fails, Get on The Tram

I’ve been meaning to mention it before today–after all, we’ve been here just over three weeks now and in that time I’ve had many the occasion to be reminded and many occasion to report it–but so as to not add any more drag to the wings of this particular lovesong: I’m completely, verifiably smitten with the Berlin S-Bahn.

I just noticed my beloved M12 looks a little like a possessed Homer Simpson. :/

Before any lesser means of transportation get indignant or jealous here, hear me out: Madrid public transport is great. I’ve long recognized that the metro may be the only thing in Madrid that is consistently efficient and on time (except for line 6–that particular ring of hell is patently excluded from this conversation), but the sad fact of the matter is that the Berlin S-Bahn for many reasons just has it beat. From the moment it hums up to me in the way of a quiet, obedient animal ’til the moment I’m ensconced in a snuggly upholstered seat that miraculously doesn’t reek of human fluids or have the ratty appearance of a hard-used motel room rug, the experience is a cozy one. Above ground, I gaze out the window and devour my new city’s contours, learn the craggy steeples of unexpectedly placed churches, and scout out cute cafés that I’ll add to my must-visit list. Most of all, though, on the S-Bahn I feel secure, a thing I rarely experienced on the Madrid metro where there is always a leering old coot grinningly stripping you with his eyes or an overweight, grocery-saddled woman crowding to take over your seat. A longtime automobile sleeper, I’m actually warm and relaxed enough on the Berlin S-Bahn to rock into a nap if you give me a seat by the wall and at least three stops to ride. The tram is a wonderful, wonderful invention that makes loving public transport a cinch. I could, however, do with less pitching to and fro. Berlin’s S-Bahn conductors have a thing or two to learn about the concept of soft braking.

This weekend’s been a good one. I’ve been shrinking from the unpalatable reality introduced last week by the Agenteur für Arbeit and choosing to live in today-land, simply enjoying being in Berlin (easy to do since one can’t get much in the way of bureaucratic thrashing done on the weekend). I’ve also been lucky in that the past three days have been stuffed with pleasant distractions, most of them ringmastered by the lovely Frau Wagner. Friday night saw us at her place in Prenzlauer Berg cooking up homemade pies at a pizza party. Ten multi-culti guests with chopping talent and high spirits gathered to drink sekt and Berliner Pilsner (and a Jever, if you’re Martin), eat, laugh and play Cranium. In case you were curious, playing Cranium in one’s third foreign language IS approaching impossible, especially when one’s a few sheet’s to the wind and full of grub.

Saturday saw a sleepy Niels and myself back in last weekend’s brunch discovery, Butter, stuffing ourselves with warm bread, herby cheese and what Niels has dubbed the best coffee in the city (so far). On the walk/crutch to the apartment from brunch (when I was thankfully far more reasonable a human being, post feed) we passed a gem of an antique furniture store. Holz Gut refinishes and reclaims its own stuff and has so much great, solid wood Möbel to choose from that it’s sort of hard to. Though we weren’t expecting it, Niels and I came out of there with a new kitchen table. Weathered white and lacquered to a glassy, clickety finish, it can seat up to eight with the leaves spread wide. It’s got sass, it’s got style, and I expect to serve and share many good meals around its gracious perimeter. Who wants to come for dinner?

Other weekend highlights include discovering what might be the best ice cream I have ever had at our local Kaiser’s (chocolate and mango for me, cookie for Niels, and later, a  little taste of Almond Marzipan for us both. Ohgodsofatwtfwhyyoudothat,caitlin?) meeting up with Babsie and Martin for brunch at Butter again today and having the waiter inquire after the health of my foot (it’s fair: he’s seen me go from two crutches to one in the past week), and watching my talented and intrepid boyfriend install lights in our new apartment. I tapped out two job applications and rested my gimp limb while the boy worked. Glugging cherry flavored water, I clumped around the house, exploring its newly lighted contours and listening to the children on the spielplatz that is our yard squee in excitement from behind the double panes. I love it there on Gethsemanestraße. Now, it’s a matter of staying.

Tomorrow, liebe leute, I have another job interview in Kreuzberg and after that an appointment for my bum foot with the Orthopedic Doc (Orthopedician? Orthopediatrician? Ortho–fuck. Whatever). I’ll check in after that, in between applying to more jobs and doing zillions of situps as penance for all of the brunch, ice cream and booze I’ve crammed into these 179 centimeters in a short 72 hours. Bis morgen, y’all.

A Message from Above, or Gravity Does Its Thing

At around 8 o’clock yesterday morning the other shoe completed its freefall.

The news first dropped via telephone–“Unfortunately, her permit has been denied,” said the functionary on the other end of the line. I could tell something hadn’t gone as planned when Niels’ face registered shock and disbelief, an indignant, “Wieso?” bursting unchecked from his mouth.

Later, the decision nudged its way in via post.  An unassuming white envelope contained the ignominious message, its signoff, “Mit freundlichen Grüßen” and an obliquely threatening reminder that the German government remains aware of my September 3rd entry.

My work permit–my ticket to stability, to a future with Niels–has been denied.

Oddly enough, the basis is monetary. According to the German Office of Labor, the proposed rate of pay by my future employer is too meager. Refusing to clear such a job is the Arbeitsamt’s attempt to discourage businesses from offering posts that pay a pittance in order to attract foreign labor. This mission sounds noble on the surface, though I can’t help but wonder if slightly less altruistic undercurrents run beneath. I refuse at this point to pursue such a tangly web. Righteousness really isn’t at issue now, because regardless of the ground or unspoken motivations, the German government has chosen not to grant me a permit, and this means that my options are slim:

1) Find a new, full-time-paying job. This feat seems unlikely given I’ve only two weeks to swing it. Has this stopped me from scouring job boards and finding two to which I’ll begin applying after I write this post? Nein.

2) Pray that my theoretical future employer, denied for their too-tiny offer, will heave a lot of faith behind me and offer me the higher salary that would allow me to start immediately. I like fairy tales such as these, but I’ve found that reality doesn’t much care to adhere to their tenets.

3) Cobble together a plan for acquiring a language learning visa, though I fear it’s too late even for that. Hell. It’s too late even to get married (Yes, mom, I’m sorry, but I did check).

4) Or there’s number four: do what they ask, simply refrain from fussing and by December third…leave. Leave the new home Niels and I have found. Leave the life we’ve been trying to root in German soil. Leave the person I love the most. Leave. I don’t like the sound of number four, but it might be the way.

With leaving comes the question I hate to ask: where do I go? I still have a renewable Spanish identity card and, thanks to a frenzied email shot into cyberspace during last night’s fit of despair, a job I could return to in Madrid. I’d have a home. I’d have a salary. Ostensibly, I’d have health care, but I still wouldn’t have Niels. Alternatively, I could return to the US. My parents would be glad to have me for Christmas, my grandmother delighted to see me once more. I can’t say this option is altogether unappealing to me, but I can’t say it feels right, either.

I never stop feeling grateful that there are friends, colleagues, and family who love me and want me back with them to work or to live. The problem is this: over the past two years, all the moves, all the languages, the many communities filled with affection, have thoroughly addled my homing device. The dial crazily spins on its axis instead of pointing me back to a place I can clearly define as “home.” Where is it, then? Is it here in Berlin, amongst a people I’m still figuring out how to know, a language that confounds me every time I open my mouth? Is it back in Madrid with Amber and Fernando and good friends who’ve constituted family for the past three years? Or is it in Hartford, in an apartment that’s never been home base to me, tucked away in a back room off the kitchen only a few feet away from my slumbering parents? I don’t know. I’m not sure where to go now, or what makes the most sense given that in December the forbearance I requested on my Middlebury loans will expire and I am a person who needs consistent health coverage. Joblessness is no fun, even if I’ll never be lacking for locales when I try to choose a place to hang my hat.

It strikes me that the person with whom I’d pledged to make a home is here, but it’s possible that without some sort of swift intervention, I can’t be.

What’s the next step, dear reader? I can’t tell you that. For now I hang in suspended animation, waiting on my maybe-future-employer’s decision, waiting on the Ausländerbüro, waiting on my instincts to tell me in which direction the Ruby Slippers should whisk me. For now, I’m stuck watching the other shoe from above, wishing gravity’d never dragged it down to earth, or that it at least plans to fling a bone along after it sometime soon.

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