There's none of your fancy anti-bacterial hand sanitising hand gel at frequent stop-off points here. They make you lick your fingers once you've touched a penguin.
So, we're half way through our first week in the new flat. I thought I liked it, but now as of tonight, I love it. I have met quite a few of my neighbours over the past few days, and they are all pretty friendly. One is taking me to the market tomorrow morning at 8:15 (she expects that I will be up anyway with the kids. I didn't tell her that they keep me so occupied with their incessant demands that I generally can't get out before 10:30.). I may have to go in my pyjamas...
We have been invited to meet a selection of neighbours for tea and coffee on Sunday which I am really looking forward to. I plan on quizzing them on all sorts of topics, and it'll be a relief to have a conversation with someone who speaks good english rather than attempting to have conversations with my poor German. We had thought that there were quite a few British people in the building (or 'the house' as they call it). There is an element of snobbery here too that I have picked up, There is the 'Vorderhaus' which is the front building and then there are side houses which you access via the main front door. Ours, the Vorderhaus, has double security, an extra set of locked doors, and that seems to be what sets us a little peg above our scabby side-house neighbours.
My neighbour upstairs that is taking me to the market talked about the others in the house as though everyone is a Diplomat. Whether they are or not I am not sure yet. But I guess we'll find out on Sunday. Our landlord is the German Ambassador for (well I won't tell you, or you'll Google him and then find his German address and all of a sudden I'll have all 15 of you on my doorstep looking for some Bratwurst and Robinson's Finest Apple & Blackcurrant).
Anyway, I just headed out to get some milk and I met my downstairs neighbours. They are Canadian and they were really nice. I could get to like them a lot and already I am sad that they are leaving in September. They were really friendly and gave me lots of top tips on where to locate things locally, and when I commented on their fine Kettle Chips (SALT & VINEGAR!!!!!) they gave me one of their bags as a housewarming gift. Then they went on to give me their details for their hidden broadband network, and I swear, my happiness levels hit the roof. So I sped throught the streets to get the milk while chanting their network name and password to myself until I got home and here I am! Lovely, lovely, internet access.
So as for the apartment itself, well it's great though Stevie has complained that it is "too big". I don't believe that it could ever be too big: I just haven't bought enough stuff yet. Stevie has always wanted to live life as a minimalist, and now that he has this feeling of empty space, he doesn't like it. Maybe he has gradually become a clutter-lover over the years of me quietly, furtively furnishing houses piece by piece with things he 'might not notice if I don't say anything'.
Anyway, the removal men decided they would finish on Tuesday without doing any unpacking. They were German and spoke no English and hadn't been told that they were meant to unpack the boxes taking everything out on to the floor. So they came back the next day and it was really hectic. It would have been easier if I had just done it myself, box by box, but as I would have had to get rid of the boxes myself this way then we just got on with it. Orla and Hamish were really excited about seeing their toys, and I caught Hamish trailing round behind one of the men holding his Wonderpets book aloft asking him to read it. It would have been much easier to do the unpacking without the kids, but Stevie sensibly chose to go to work leaving it to me.
So the place is a mess but I am slowly working my way through the various piles that are many and varied in all the rooms. We have spoken to our Relocation Service Provider (Heidi) about the fact that we have no hot water at all in the en-suite and only get a centimetre of hot water in the kitchen sink before it runs cold. Heidi, I have noticed can't be bothered to really help us or suffers from a strong strain of such negativity that were she to be psychometrically tested, there's no chance she'd be a match for this job.
I told her about the water in the kitchen and she told me that it might be just a 5 litre tank. I doubt whether we are getting 3 litres, and if that is the case then it's not even enough to wash the dishes, so how is that acceptable? Then she told us that there would be no chance of getting a parking permit because we still have the rental car, and that the local council would want us to wait and pay for parking for the next 8 weeks until our normal car gets delivered. I thought that was a load of rubbish, and Stevie ended up phoning work and asking them how they felt about paying for parking as we are ineligble for a permit, and all of a sudden, today we have a permit. Next on the list was the Kindergeld. It's like your child benefit, or family allowance if you like. Stevie will be paying German tax, but according to Heidi we would not be eligible for this as we are only here for 2 years on a temporary contract. Well, today we met some Americans in the swing park who have been here 3 weeks and are over doing fellowships. They won't be paying German tax - but yet they are entitled to both reduced Kita (nursery) fees and KinderGeld.
Finally, Heidi was round this morning and we had a disturbing chat about the tv. Part of the package is that we get a basic Sky package allowing us some British channels. I don't know, maybe in amongst me harping on about Robinson's juice, I may have mentioned, how much I am missing tv, and BBC World News is just not rocking my world that much. Anyway, she asked whether we were able to receive BBC World News through the tv. I said yes, but not even with a signal that you could describe as acceptable to watch or listen to. We then got on to the subject of when we might be getting the tv sorted out. To which she looked a bit surprised, so I explained that this was part of the deal (hey, that was the bit that had me sold on this whole idea). So she tells me that this is not possible, that we can't get this in Berlin. What? What rubbish more like. I reminded her that there are satellites which beam CBeebies all around the globe for people like me. So the next argument was that we would not be allowed a satellite dish on this building. I think we could get one behind the balcony at the front without it being seen by anyone. And if not, my new Canadian friends told me of a company that'll do you cable with British channels, plus phone and broadband. Sadly I have forgotten the name of this vital company as I was busy trying to remember the more important broadband login details.
So I am getting a bit fed up with Heidi. The tv was the thing that made me realise she just wants to do as little as possible for us. I'll wait and see what happens at the beginning of next week, and then maybe we'll nudge Rolls-Royce into making a 'MAKE IT HAPPEN!' phone call.
I've added a quick 'Let's touch the penguins' photo for you.