1. It is 8:30 am on a Tuesday. I turn off the shower head and crank open the bathroom window to let out the steam. I habitually step out of the shower, right foot first, and reach for the towel bar without looking. I grab nothing but tile.
I have two options. I can reapply all of the germs I just removed by drying myself off with the tiny, communal hand towel that hangs next to the sink, hold said towel daintily across my nether-regions, and walk briskly to my bedroom at the other end of the apartment. Or, I can make a brazen, sopping wet dash and pray to all available deities that no one else is home. Less than a second after I have committed to the second option, I hear the unmistakeable scratch-click of a key going into the front door. I skid to a stop with windmilling, Scooby-Doo arms, pivot, and leap straight back into the bathroom. I slip on the tile, land squarely on my right elbow, and yelp in pain. My well-meaning roommate rushes to my aid. He flings open the door and is greeted by my pasty, naked ass sticking straight up in the air.
2. It is 1:30 pm on a Monday, and the marijuana smell makes its way into our apartment with clockwork punctuality. Each time, it is slightly different, coupled with something else: weed and laundry detergent; weed and ammonia; weed and tire-fire.
The doorbell rings, and my roommate Pete and I both go to answer it. We open the door to two police detectives who casually flash their badges and ask to come inside. On this particular morning, in a very successful attempt to avoid working on a term paper, I have been binge-watching vintage episodes of Tatort, Germany’s long-running crime show. So, their appearance is particularly amusing to me. The detectives say that a number of residents in our building have called to complain about a strong marijuana smell coming from the ground- and first-floor. I exclaim that no one in this apartment smokes weed, and Pete explains that some of those phone calls have been from us. The problem is that we both speak up at the same time in a loud and confusing garble. We are both wearing pajamas and have unwashed hair. Also, I am holding half a sandwich. This does our credibility no favors.
The cops laugh and say that this is the last independent confirmation they need in order to break into the abandoned convenient store downstairs. Pete and I gather some snacks, sit in his window, and watch as a SWAT team hauls out a FOREST of marijuana plants, hastily wrapped in blue plastic evidence bags. The plants are followed by an impressive hydroponic growing setup, and finally, a small, elderly man with a combover walks out with his hands on his head.
Our apartment is located directly across from a prison, the JVA Moabit. Accordingly, a number of our neighbors are in the police force. I still haven’t decided whether this weed farm location is absolutely genius or unforgivably stupid.
Exactly one week later, at 1:30 pm, we are greeted by an overwhelming, unmistakeable cloud of garlic. We have new neighbors downstairs who will eventually be arrested for money laundering.
3. I’m searching for a new apartment: a small one, just for myself. On my way up to this particular, nondescript flat, I share the elevator with a GIANT TURD that I pray is canine. The previous tenant, a friendly, quirky Irishman, explains to me that “this is what keeps the rent down.” I ask him whether the neighbors would mind me practicing the mandolin during reasonable hours. He gives me a confused smile and his eyes dart back and forth. He says, “Well, I’ve lived here for several years, and they’ve never had an issue with my harpsichord.”
I was so distracted by the thought of the elevator turd that I did not notice:
He is standing next to a GIANT HARPSICHORD.
4. I wake up and immediately check my email. There are several replies from real estate agents and property managers confirming appointments to view apartments. One message stands out, and I realize that I’ve accidentally sent an application to a scam ad.
The scammer’s reply is inevitably a variation of the following:
A long-winded email in unmistakeably Google-translated German, explaining that the sender is a neurosurgeon/engineer/attorney based in London/Dublin/South Africa. The apartment was purchased for a son or daughter studying in Berlin and is now being rented out to others. As the owner is not currently in Berlin to show you the property, he or she requests an absurd amount of personal information in order to “mail you the keys” so that you can “view the property yourself”- which is a ludicrously implausible proposition.
I decide to test the extent of the scam by sending the following reply:
“Thank you for your email. I have been searching for an apartment for a very long time. You see, my situation is rather unique- I make my living training and showing horses and one of them, a miniature Shetland pony named Pumpkin, has to live with me in the apartment because of the high level of care he requires. Since you aren’t currently living in Berlin, you probably haven’t seen the press bits in Zitty, TIP, and Berliner Morgenpost- we have become a big attraction in the Mauerpark and the Tiergarten and at children’s events throughout the city. Pumpkin has been trained as a therapy horse for autistic children and has extensive, up-to-date paperwork regarding his pedigree, immunizations, and health.
Obviously I have a very sophisticated system for managing Pumpkin’s feed, and of course, his excretions. My current landlords will be happy to provide you with a reference. Our building is being renovated, and the small yard that Pumpkin uses while I am at the university is being paved over. Since he is no bigger than a large dog, some property managers have been willing to consider me as a tenant, but many have balked at the idea. Since we are scheduled to appear regularly as part of a science and sustainability curriculum at an elementary school in (Borough), the apartment on (Street) would be absolutely ideal for us. Please let me know how you feel about this matter. I am currently commuting into (Borough) from Kladow, near Wannsee, which is both expensive for me and distressing for Pumpkin.
Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to your reply.”
Thirty minutes later, a reply comes, asking for Pumpkin’s credit report.
5. I am standing in my dream apartment: a bright, cozy flat in the mercilessly gentrified but very charming Bergmannkiez. It is early in my apartment search, and I naively believe that my chances of getting the place lie in my ability to charm and woo the current tenant. In reality, this depends upon my ability to convince an anonymous property manager to select me over twenty competing applicants with German passports and better credit histories. There is one other person viewing the apartment with me: a rich, unsympathetic Swedish boy who speaks no German and already lives around the corner where it is, supposedly, “a little bit too loud.” Boo fucking hoo, I think, but my bitterness subsides when I get the idea that I can use him to make myself look better. I humbly mention that I live across from the prison on Alt Moabit, so don’t I ever sympathize with just how annoying that noise problem is! The prison on Alt Moabit, you ask? Yes, the area is bleak and isolated, and I sure am excited to move to a friendlier, more exciting neighborhood!
“What, really? That’s where I’m moving.” Our hostess says, stonily.
My face locks into a smile and I emit a wheezy laugh. Then I realize that she wasn’t kidding.
I hand my application over with both hands, give a small, awkward bow, and quietly leave.
6. After snoozing my alarm for roughly six hours, I wake up on a mattress on the floor. I gag when I taste the fuzzy beer carpet that microflora have laid down upon my tongue. As I navigate my way to the bathroom between the small, indecisive piles of garbage and random Ikea bits that litter the floor, I notice that I’m asymmetrically sore: my left calf, my right butt cheek, small muscles in my shoulders and torso that I never knew belonged to the human body. The day before, a half dozen patient and generous friends helped me schlep the contents of my entire life out of my old apartment and into this one.
Our incredible luck (good parking spaces, no back injuries, no dropped personal items cartwheeling loudly down the stairs) ran out in the evening. We were nearly finished building the bed frame when we realized that the center beam which holds the slats in place is sold separately. This, of course, after two friends got inside the giant paper and cardboard dumpster to see if there were any way it could have been pitched along with all of the packaging we discarded. (I will eventually go back to Ikea and buy the beam, only to realize later that the slats are the wrong size.)
Somehow, a fat bumblebee has made its way into the apartment and is forlornly buzzing around my single, flowerless houseplant. I open the refrigerator to find several unopened beers and a sad, dusty, single cookie: all that remains from a box so large, it would have lasted the Duggar family about a week… if they ate only cookies. I’m so sick of the cookies, I can’t even look at it. I feel overwhelming sympathy for the bumblebee.
I sit back down on the mattress and just grin like an idiot. It’s an obnoxiously beautiful day: the sky is Pantone 638 with Super Mario clouds. I don’t care about the mess. I’m here in my own, affordable place, in my favorite part of my favorite city.
I love my roommates, and I will be in touch, but I am excited to live alone, where I can use ALL THE MUGS and clean ONLY MY HAIR out of the shower. Assuming that I’ve put the shades down, the location of my towels is now more or less irrelevant. There will be no more passive-aggressive notes about how the silverware must go prongs-up in the dishwasher. No more gaggles of strangers watching Germany’s Next Top Model on full volume in the living room while I’m racing a deadline to turn badly written German text into mediocre English text. I can fill the entire refrigerator with my new-agey rabbit food and weird fermentation experiments. I can practice the mandolin in peace.