Monthly Archives: May 2011

Lofty Dreams of a Kitchen with a Fridge

And here begins my great kitchen debacle… Being an American, and maybe a foreigner, or maybe just being a person who has rented an apartment ever in my life, I am truly puzzled by the German tradition of excluding kitchens from rented apartments. While some owners have caught on that including a full kitchen ups their rental value, others still hold to the notion that people enjoy carrying their kitchens with them from one flat to another.

My dreams are not this grand!

As the educated adult that I am, when I hear the word “kitchen” I have lofty dreams of countertops and refrigerators that reach higher than my waist, maybe even a cabinet or two, but I have found I am often alone in my dreams. What used to be the legal minimum in Berlin, (but no longer is,) was the inclusion of a stove and a sink. Now it is up to you to fend for yourself in the world of IKEA or Media Markt to put in place the household items you once took for granted.

As I am on the brink of signing a contract on an apartment, (I have learned since arriving here that if I call it a lease everyone looks at me confused, so contract is a safer term.) I have learned that my definition of kitchen and my landlord’s definition of kitchen are quite different things. While we discussed him putting in a kitchen however I would like, with new countertops and all, apparently the simplest, “What does kitchen mean to you?” was lost in translation.

I have been walking around with my head held high, confident that a dishwasher and larger fridge would be placed perfectly next to my granite countertops and matching overhanging cabinets and shelves. Silly me. Apparently “kitchen” in this particular instance means putting countertops on top of the mini fridge, (in the U.S. this would be likened to what you may put in your dorm room freshman year at college) and surrounding the sink…What might fall beneath those countertops, you may ask? Well so did I, and I have yet to receive my answer.

Something's missing...or is it?

So after the great search for an apartment seems to almost have reached its end, another roadblock nudges its way in, taking the place in the form of, “Is a complete kitchen a dealbreaker, or no.” Sadly, I must admit that yes, yes it is – either that, or it’s another 1k Euros out of my pocket for cabinets and additionals that I would prefer to spend elsewhere, say, on flights…or food.

Definitions of kitchen are welcome commentary!

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The Dubious Yogi

So after a 4 year hiatus, I decided to take a leap of faith and try out Bikram Yoga once again. I happened to pass by a Bikram studio, Bikram Berlin, (easy to remember!) on my way home from work one evening, it’s only about 10-15 minute walk from the apartment I’m staying in, and they had a promotion of 10 days of yoga for only 10 Euros! I love promotions like these, (remembering fondly that my first Bikram experience was a similar promotion of 30 for 30,) so I mustered up the courage and took my dubious yogi self to class.

Memories of this pose, among others, brought me back! (No, I can't do that.)

I arrived 20 minutes before class and spoke directly with the instructor, Rachel, who is an English speaker hailing from Toronto. She assured me that “It will all come back.” and “I have complete confidence that you will do great!” With such reassuring words, the fear of a yoga studio heated to 100 degrees and filled with 30-40 strangers melted away, (no pun intended,) so I grabbed a mat and set up shop right by the windows. She had recommended I sit by the windows since it gives the best vantage point into the room so I could follow the lead of the other more experiences yogis, but I think also, secretly, she knew she’d be letting in small blasts of air from those little godsends and that I would be closest to it for a quick cool down!

I was worried about the heat, even though probably more than anyone else I know, I relish the thought of baking in intense heat and sunshine for hours at a time without moving. I guess this little bit of me proved that practice makes perfect. While it was hot in that studio for 90 minutes, I powered through and never felt like I was going to pass out. Okay, well at one point with my head tilted back while attempting a human bridge of sorts, I thought I might pass out, but that was fleeting!

You'd be surprised how challenging this position is!

People around me threatened to cave to their bodies’ impulse to shut the show down, one girl even tried to leave after only 15 minutes of practice, but the instructor told her it wasn’t allowed and to please sit back down on her mat. From then on, she meant business. The guy next to me was huffing and puffing and sweating profusely. If it hadn’t been so hot, and a little bit dark, I’d swear his black skin was turning a rare shade of green, but even he powered through, with only a few short breaks here and there to try and recompose himself.

When you think of yoga, you think of stretching your body to it’s limits, literally and figuratively, but I think people always assume it is easy and maybe even a lazy way to get exercise. While I find it hard to consider regular Hatha yoga as intense, (purely because the level of sweat is so much less,) I know that my body benefits from testing out different muscles’ capabilities. For anyone who thinks hot yoga will be a piece of cake, you might want to prepare yourself a little better before jumping in!

There's none of this in Bikram...but it looks peaceful!

90 minutes later the teacher was congratulating us on a job well done, and reminded us to thank ourselves for going in today (propoganda? or simply the truth?) In all seriousness, I was thanking myself for going in! I was so impressed I’d be able to make it through, and did not seem too much worse for the wear. I guess the running and walking have helped keep my body active and more capable of doing 90 minutes of intense stretching, (as compared to in college when I was pretty damn lazy!) So I left feeling invigorated, had pretty much the deepest sleep of my life last night, and packed a bag of clothes to try it all again tonight. Let’s just hope yesterday’s experiment wasn’t just beginner’s luck!

The Berlin Running Experiment

And it’s back!! The new city running experiment!

After a 3 month running hiatus, (the last time being around the Tree Streets in my very own Briarcliff Manor,) I decided it was time to kick my ass back into gear. As per usual, the fear of failure and anxiety surrounding running in a new place chained me to my bed, (for the last 2 months) but this morning after hitting snooze I realized I would a) never fall back asleep now that I was up and b) never forgive myself for even attempting to fall back asleep, knowing I wouldn’t, and missing out on the chance to get moving again!

So I turned off my alarm, put on my thermal running tights and top and struggled to find a hair tie (where they all are, I have no idea, but I settled with a headband wrapped around 20 times.) Then at exactly 7:30 I opened the front door and walked through the courtyard to the street. I waited until my watch struck 7:32 and hit the pavement at an even pace of about 1 mile every 10 minutes.

I didn’t have the usual 10 minute marker of difficult breathing and debates about shutting the whole operation down and returning home. I made it to 14 minutes before I needed a breather, and had to turn around so I wasn’t late for my first day of German class! I have to say, it was quite a beautiful run, even though it was mostly on a very main street through Berlin, (Torstrasse to Mollstrasse to Landsberger Allee.) I had the option to turn into Volkspark Friedrichshain (which happens to be my favorite park in Berlin) but decided it was best to stick to the clear path since I was on a convenient 30-minute time constraint.

After 28 minutes and 2.7 miles, (not bad for my first run in so long,) I made it back to my door feeling elated at how much I had already accomplished for the day! As I always do when I get off my ass after putting it off and putting it off, (biking accident, looking at apartments, traveling, yadda yadda,) I feel great and wonder why the hell I didn’t try this sooner?

So for now I’d say the Berlin Running Experiment is off to a good start and I’ve finally taken the first step in the right direction of feeling healthy again.

Out and Back Running - will need to get more creative next time!

Getting to know the world

Living in Berlin is a fantastic jumping off point to the rest of Europe. Flights are (relatively) cheap to travel around and almost everything is within 2.5 hours. Berlin even has its own airline hub in Tegel Airport, AirBerlin, which has direct flights to NYC, so in case this whole Euro trip ever gets to be too much, I’ve got an escape route!

In the two months I’ve been here, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get settled in my new city, exploring different cafes, different parks, walking down new roads, taking the S-Bahn or U-Bahn (basically, the subway) to down familiar routes but getting off at new stops to see what I find. The city never stops amazing me in its diversity and beauty. Just yesterday I ventured to Tiergarten which I have long heard of, but never had the chance to explore. I walked through an antique market along the S-Bahn stop and then made my way through the gigantic park finding my way to the Avon Women’s 10k that was (unbeknownst to me) taking place that day. People were out on the street cheering and chanting and musicians were playing along the route to motivate the runners, (many of whom were not yet 10 years old.)

But aside from all the great exploring in my new city, I am so excited to have a chance to really get to know Europe. Sure, I have explored quite a bit of it in my 25 years, but there is still so much I haven’t seen. And even of the places I have, sometimes big cities don’t tell you all that much about what the rest of the country is like, so I can’t wait to take time to really get to know what surrounds me.

As soon as I see the flight prices drop below 100 dollars roundtrip, you can expect to be seeing blog posts about a new city (and maybe a crappy hotel, ha).

The Universal People

Traveling has taught me one of the most basic life lessons. A lesson that you think you’ve learned in kindergarten, and then again in college, and then again in life, but really it never ceases to amaze you. People are just people.

The more I travel. The more people I meet. The more I interact (thank god for English, body language, and an open mind!) and the more I realize that humor crosses international boundaries, as does kindness and a pleasant smile. I have come across so many different kinds of people over the last year, (and of course earlier in my life,) but never before moving to Berlin has the point really hit home that people all over the world are just that, people.

I find it easy to relate to people with different cultures, religions, backgrounds, sexual orientations, races, and languages. The list goes on. I am still amazed that I, as an American, can sit in a group of people mixed from the UK, Indonesia, Germany, Australia, Finland, and Sweden and find common ground. We tell stories, we all laugh when something’s funny, we all understand the aggravation of falling off a bike, (your truly told the story, everyone else both sympathized and laughed!)

As long as you have patience and willingness to learn, I think it’s amazing how much you can get out of these relationships you form when away from home. Away from the comforts of your own childhood friends, or those who know you best. Traveling is an opportunity to relate to new people in such different ways and living in a new world shows you that despite minor frustrations and setbacks, you really can acclimate anywhere. As long as I’m not being naïve in thinking it’s as easy for everyone as it is for me! But honestly, I think once you get over the fear of the unknown, you easily learn how simple it is to relate to others, even when you might think you have nothing in common.

When WiFi goes bad

Traveling means not always knowing when you will have a connection to the Internet or not. The lucky thing about having a permanent office or home is that you always know the next time you’ll be able to jump online to check a few things out, or to talk to your friends. The problem with staying in someone else’s apartment (particularly when their Internet contract has run out for the year and if you want to stay connected it’s up to you to let the cable guy in to re-boot the system,) is that you just never know if the connection will be good or not.

When I first arrived in Berlin, I was lucky enough to have negotiated free WiFi with my hotel and had 2 weeks of great service. Of course, every night at about 10 pm I had to restart the connection for a 24-hour period, but it was reliable enough to keep me connected. The next apartment I went to had said there was WiFi in the apartment, but I later learned it was really stolen from the café downstairs, or the language school across the street. Not only was the connection shaky, but every time a tram passed by (every 5-10 minutes) the connection cut out. So much for long Skype calls, downloading music, or reading my e-mails.

I was grateful to have found a sublet for May where WiFi was included in the rent, only this time it was included in the apartment…meaning the person who I am subletting from actually pays for their connection. At last I would have a reliable connection to talk to my loved ones on my own time, and not just on office time, (which at 6 hours ahead is challenging enough to do.) Only when I arrived at the apartment did I discover that in fact the Internet was not working, and a service man would not be able to come fix it for a week and a half.

Needless to say I have been feeling out of touch with friends and family, as I no longer have those key hours between work and sleep to catch up on anything and everything…not that so much has happened and I’m missing out beyond reason, but keep in mind a stable Internet connection gives me TV (thanks to SlingBox), a free phone (Gtalk), the ability to blog about life (see current posting), and endless hours of messaging back and forth with the people I miss most!

It’s a bit sad to admit that I am so dependent on the Internet, but ever since I first logged on to CrazyKat28 on AOL back in 1995, I’ve been hooked and there is simply no turning back! So for now, I will subsist on the limited hours of connectivity I can take advantage of for personal use until a more stable connection comes my way.

Stay Connected.