Sunday morning. I lay in until 9:45am. No real plans for the day ahead. I would see what happened.
I got up and went into the kitchen to see Anders. I felt chirpy and could hear him boiling the kettle (a permanent state of being where Anders is concerned: he is always boiling the kettle and always drinking tea). He had already started making breakfast. We were having a fry up. Cati, Claudia, Slvae, and Mel were all coming over to join us from the other apartments in the building. Claudia brought coffee for everyone, Slvae and Mel brought juice, Cati brought porridge (a tasty but odd addition to a fry up).
We sat round and food was served.
Pans of bacon and eggs were passed round. A tray of fried potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions were divvied up. A basket of bread. Butter. Jam. We feasted and talked.
Claudia told Mel and Slvae about mine and Sion’s wedding. She and Cati had asked to see the photos the night before and they were over the moon with our outfits and all the festival trimmings. Cati asked Mel and Slvae if they’d ever thought about getting married. “Shall we tell them?” said Slvae. Mel nodded. “We actually got engaged the other day.” The room erupted with laughter and cheers. Mel and Slvae laughed and looked at each other gleefully. Their news finally shared.
I felt honoured to be witness to such a lovely announcement. “A wedding!” squealed Claudia. “A real WEDDING!”
I sat and watched the happiness and excitement. It was beautiful to see such a display of affection and to be able to watch the love between all of these people. There was so much heart in this home. It had felt like a home to me from the moment I had walked in. But it was also not home. It lacked that familiarity that I was starting to recognise as the essence of a home. A home that belongs to you, as opposed to one that makes you feel at ease.
When I was stuck at Checkpoint Charlie the day before and desperately searching for a toilet, I came across a Body Shop. I never go in Body Shop when I’m in the UK. I haven’t been in there since I was thirteen. But it is a shop that I know. I associate it with Hereford, England, where I grew up, being a teenager and going shopping in there to buy White Musk. It brought a sense of familiarity that I needed in that moment that made me feel, even if only for a second, a sort of ease and comfort. It was fleeting. Of course it was. It was Body Shop. But it was familiar enough that in a situation and environment so alien from home, it gave me something that I needed.
I have always thought that what made home home was heart and love, but now I also see that it is familiarity. An understanding for your surroundings. An association. Home is belonging somewhere. Being a part of something.
After breakfast we each went our separate ways to shower and dress. An hour later and Claudia, Anders and I were off into town. They took me to a flea market where I tried German mulled wine (much stronger than the stuff we make in the UK!) and wandered the stalls, looking at all the curiosities. “This used to be a real flea market where you could buy stolen bikes and people sold their junk,” Anders said, “now it sells artisanal peanut butter and authentic popcorn.”
We left the flea market, Anders went to do a food saving pick up, and Claudia continued to show me around the town. She took me to a place called Spooning. A newly opened cookie dough bar. She was so excited about going, she’d never been before. We went in and like an ice cream counter, there sat tubs of roughly twelve different types of cookie dough. “I will pay,” she said. I tried to protest, but I was fast learning that German people are much better at saying no than British people are. They don’t hesitate to be affirmative and direct. Their nos are absolute in a way that in Britain we lack.
Afterwards we walked to a cafe called Anna Blume. We ordered espresso and white wine. The espresso came served with a shot of carbonated water to clear the palate after drinking before moving on to the wine. After finishing, I tried to be affirmative in paying. “I will pay,” I declared. But Claudia was having none of it. To say she fought me, is not an overstatement. I was physically pinned to my seat by her while she and Anders raced to see which one of them would pay, while I tried to fumble for money in my purse as Claudia forced my arms down. I was not paying. That was clear. But I tried.
That evening we ate leftovers, and I planned my journey to Prague for the next day.
I was sad to be leaving Anders and his commune of friends and family, but I was also glad to be moving on to the next part of my adventure.
Berlin had brought me some great moments, but it was not a city that I felt at ease in. I mentioned this to Anders and Claudia one evening, telling them about two occasions in Neukölln and again near Alexanderplatz where I’d ordered food and simply been shouted at and told off. They laughed hysterically, “That’s nothing to do with you! Everyone in Berlin is just grumpy. They’re like that to us too!” Claudia did loud impressions of aggressive German speakers, and we all sat there with tears rolling down our cheeks in laughter.