Starting a new blog has been on my to-do list for a while. A social media presence is helpful for writers, and as I am currently revising my novel in the hope of having it accepted for publication I need to start now.
However, in October 2018 I moved with my family to Berlin, my husband’s place of birth, to spend more time with his family and give our kids some idea of their origins (being a white Australian, mine are all over the shop – Aix-en-Provence, Aberdeen, Cornwall and an Irish great great grandmother who was sent to Australia for stealing a goat – so we’ll try and cover some of that while we’re here too). So while I start every day with lofty intentions about everything I will achieve it usually falls apart sometime around 9.30am when I finish my second cup of dusty supermarket coffee and get so overwhelmed by everything I have to do that I end up nervously scrolling Instagram instead.
So many different areas need attention right now. The kids, always. The dire shoe situation. House hunting. The need to feed four people, including two selective vegetarians. Overdue tax returns. Incomprehensible recycling. Tiptoeing past the shift worker on the second floor, whose wife guards his sleep like a lioness. Parental guilt at uprooting my kids from everything they know and love. Getting my head around German bureaucracy and avoiding the many official letters I receive in German from places unknown with long convoluted names. Dropping my son at Kita and not knowing if it will go smoothly or… not so smoothly. Thinking about doing some exercise. Keeping up with my copywriting work, which funnily enough involves ghostwriting a blog for someone else.
And then there are the curve balls. Mein gott, the curve balls. Last week, my son brought home a five-day virus from Kita thanks to a suite of high-functioning German germs we aren’t immune to. A virus that gives him a hacking cough and results in a chilling moment when I find him lying down in his bed, having voluntarily put himself there.
So I took him to the doctor and she approached him with her stethoscope. But as I started unpeeling him from his four layers of clothing she sighed, turned around, and left the room.
Why did she do that? I wondered, and started looking for a sign. There is always a sign, in some no-nonsense font with heavy use of the bold and underline functions. What does that sign say? I asked my husband, pointing at one over the baby change table. Children must be undressed before the doctor arrives to save time, he translated. But I think it just refers to the babies.
No, I said. No. We messed up. Again. Eventually she came back and told us it was a virus and to take him out in the cold air because it’s good for him. I carried him straight home and put him to bed in a small yet satisfying act of rebellion.
Sometimes I wake up and resolve to deal with the baffling bureaucracy – for example, health insurance. A phone conversation goes like this:
‘Oh, hello, do you speak English?”
‘Is there anyone there who speaks English?’
‘OK. Auf weidersen.’
The answer is, of course, German classes. This has also been a long-winded process – you must go in person, and fill in a form stating you have never studied German, and once you are accepted in writing you must go back to pay in person, within two days. I am late by a day, but by some small miracle she agrees to hold my place.
But my card doesn’t work, so I go in search of a bank, getting distracted along the way by a bookshop with a small English section where self-help classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is on display. I feel like I need this book. I wonder if it’s been re-released, or if it’s just in heavy demand in the English language section of German bookshops.
But I need to stay focussed on my to-do list. Cash in pocket, I return to the language school, steeling myself for some box unticked, some bureaucratic slammed door. But nein.
My money is taken. I receive a printed invoice with a second copy for the school. I sign both. She takes out a highlighter and highlights for me, exactly where and when I am to report for my first class. Both documents are date-stamped; she files one and hands me the other. I’m in. Respect the bureaucratic process and doors swing (efficiently) open.
The next day, I am walking in Moabit with my son, inflicting my terrible German on various shopkeepers. On the street is one of the many free little libraries that are scattered all over Berlin. There, among a few old German novels, is an English language copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. With its very own magnetised bookmark.
I’ve started reading and it did say something useful, which was: the best path to success is to do what has worked for others. Which is so obvious it’s almost insulting. But here I am, starting a blog.
I’ll write about Berlin, because it’s a fascinating city, beautiful in parts and a living breathing down your neck history lesson, and that might be helpful for anyone visiting. COME AND VISIT!!! Books, because the climate here is very reading-friendly. And hopefully some good news on the writing front.
Vielen Dank for reading