New Neighborhoods, New Attitudes

The family homes kept vanishing as the car made its way through the Saturday traffic of Spandau district. Before I knew it, the landscape around me became green with the trees of the local forest.

As I carried my few suitcases up the stairs to the third floor, I decided that it was about time I became a minimalist if I planned to move apartments more often over the next couple of years. Isn’t it amazing how much stuff we own? Isn’t it astonishing how much of it we don’t even think about throwing away until we  have to pack it all up into boxes and suitcases?

I felt like ‘the new kid in school’ while I walked down the street, pulling a grocery bag on wheels behind me. This new neighborhood is unbelievably quiet. The maximum speed for vehicles on the road is 30 km/h and the only noise I have heard until now were birdsong accompanied by the rustling of tree leaves. Not even tourists, who probably make up a big part of Berlin’s population by now and are impossible to avoid in day-to-day life get to this part of town. Ten minutes down the road by bike and I can reach the state of Brandenburg (Germany is divided into federal states and Brandenburg is one of them). If I take the right path from here, I can simply bike all the way to Denmark, which is doable in about five days.

I am approaching the line at the supermarket as I am thinking about all of this. I wish the waiting would take a little longer so I don’t have to return into the baking sun but this area is so far outside, there are even hardly any people at the store on a Saturday afternoon. Until a week ago, in one of Spandau’s shopping malls, I had to stand in line for more than 15 minutes just to buy a bottle of water.

“How can a country like Germany, with all its technology, punctuality and the love of doing work have such trashy customer service?” I ask myself as it’s time for me to get my stuff on the conveyor belt. The annoying thing about doing a week’s worth of groceries on one’s own is that you have to pack all of it yourself. The longer it takes you to pack up, the more visibly annoyed the customers behind you will get.

With shaky knees I started to get the goods out of my cart as fast as I could when I noticed someone’s hand reaching for the little bag of dried pineapples I was just about to get. A middle aged man with white hair and a white mustache who was waiting ahead of me must have taken notice of my internal struggle with how fast things have to go in this world and decided to help. Silently he gave me a hand with my purchases and acknowledged my nearly inaudible ‘thank you’ with a smile. The kindest thing that happened to me in a German supermarket so far was that someone would let me skip the line because I had only one thing I had to pay for and even that was done with grinding teeth.

Getting to the shop from home was easy but as soon as I found myself on  the street again, I felt as if I have never seen any of my surroundings before. Alright, I will just walk on and see if I remember which turn I have to take, I concluded.

“Excuse me? Hello! Hey there!” I heard someone call behind me and turned around instinctively. “Are you looking for something?” asked a young man with a heavy Slavic accent. Totally startled I looked at him for a few seconds. I just made a few steps outside. When did I have the time to appear alone and helpless?

“Uhhm yes…I am looking for street so and so. Do you know where that is?”

“Yes, well you are on the wrong way. It’s back there. Just take the corner and walk until you see another turn”, said the man while gesturing wildly into a certain direction.

I just finished thanking him for showing me the way and started walking into the assigned direction when a silver car came to a stop next to me and the woman in the driver’s seat asked me whether I needed help.

So while I dragged my groceries all the way up to my apartment, cursing the architect who did not think of putting in an elevator, I concluded that I either make a very lost impression or that the people who live outside of the chaos of the big city are just naturally nicer in general. I would not be surprised by now if my neighbors  would knock on my door any time soon with a tray of cookies to welcome me to the neighborhood.

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