The First AirBnB in Berlin
When I speak German I take control of the conversation as fast as possible to slow the pace down. My German is basic; I function, I communicate. I agree with Mark Twain who lived in Germany and attempted to learn the language that: ‘Life is not long enough to learn German.’ Therefore, I have developed my version of the German language consisting of a medium level of vocabulary and poor grammar. People understand me, and I understand them, if we all speak slowly.
We began our indefinite stay in Berlin by renting an Airbnb flat for a month. I don’t think anyone had ever rented this flat before. There were no reviews, and all dates were available. Normally I only consider rentals with five stars, excellent reviews, and a super host. It makes me feel safe. But I couldn’t find anything available in the neighborhood I wanted to stay in, Charlottenberg, at the price I wanted. I had been looking for days and needed the task to be completed. Wise woman Jill disappeared, and fed-up Jill took charge and booked the place. Patience has never been one of my stronger characteristics.
The woman we communicated with was named Anika. Unlike most Germans who speak excellent English, Anika only used one syllable words and one word for every response when I emailed questions:
What floor is the flat on?
Is there an elevator?
All the way to the 5th?
Which floor does the elevator stop at?
We will book.
That was the extent of our communication until she sent a one-sentence instruction about how to obtain the key. ‘Buzz the name Kaditz for the key.’
We arrived in Berlin and took a taxi over to the Airbnb. We stood at the building’s door with our two large suitcases and small backpacks and rang the bell. A woman answered the intercom and asked us three times who we were. I flashed back to the fact that this place had no reviews. Finally, she gave out a deep sigh and mumbled: “Yes, yes I will be down.”
An elder woman in her eighties appeared and opened the building door. “I speak no English,” she commented.
I pointed at my husband. “He speaks German.” She pointed to the elevator and took out a mass of keys. The type of keys I imagined belonging to Victor Frankenstein. A heavy wooden door that had to be unlocked in front of the elevator door. After unlocking that door, the elevator door had to be unlocked and then the heavy gate unlocked. The gate had to be pulled aside before you could enter. The elevator was large enough for one person with the suitcases. If a thief broke in and managed to work out the key system, they would have to be thin and not steal any large items. Peter got into the elevator with the suitcases. He closed all the doors and the elevator slowly moved up, clanging loudly. I felt safer following the elderly lady up the staircase. Her legs were lean, and she climbed effortlessly. My heart was racing after the third floor where we met Peter coming out of the elevator.
“Why are you coming out? We are on the fifth floor?” I asked him.
“The elevator only goes until the third floor, remember the email?” He growled as he looked up at the final two flights of narrow stairs. Together we dragged the suitcases up.
An elderly man waited at the door. We smiled and greeted each other and then he opened the door to the flat. They lived in the flat across the hallway and had once lived in both. The connection between the two flats was a French door with a poster of him on the front of the glass. He appeared to be an actor in a movie in the poster. The poster blocked us from being able to see into their flat and their ability to look into our flat. The décor of the flat reminded me of the apartment I had lived in San Francisco in the early 60s. Bright orange pillows, old worn cloth couch and plastic black and white woven tub chairs. Plastic flowers of many colors filled vases around the living room. The elder man had apparently been a famous actor in Germany and the walls, like the French doors, were covered with posters of him in movies and pictures of him hugging Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe. Everything was worn and faded. I felt as if I was on the set of an Agatha Christie play that had been performed for years in London. Just keeps fading. Exhausted, we took the two massive bunches of keys and said goodbye. The elderly couple exited through the French doors. That was strange, I would have preferred that they had exited through the front door.