|Posted by Egonne Roth on August 10, 2017 at 4:10 PM|
Today a week ago, we awoke for the first time in our apartment here in Berlin. Around us was total chaos. After a seventeen hour drive from Mama’s house in south Germany and a lunch break close to the Dutch border to collect some wonderful things from our friends in Kleve, we had arrived and unpacked into the night. As we could not lock the trailer filled to capacity with furniture and lots of small parcels, we had had no choice but to unpack. Once everything was safely inside, we opened the bottle of Metaxa, we had wisely brought from Greece, and drank a toast to a safe and pleasant journey. Another moment to say the Shechiano as expression of thankfulness for having been brought safely to this place.
On Thursday, we immediately went to IKEA to buy some essentials for our new home including a lovely bright sofa and a mini-kitchen just so that we can have a place to wash dishes. The IKEA delivery man built/ assembled our beautiful sofa and then left us to cope with building the mini-kitchen. The new chest of drawers we immediately knew was beyond us but then our dear friends from Holland promised to come next weekend to build it for us and whatever else we need done. O the privilege of friends who can do things!
Saturday afternoon, Yehudit’s sister Maria and her partner, Joseph, arrived with the furniture from Mama’s cellar, which while seriously in need of renovation, is going to be stunning in our living room. As soon as everything was in the safety of our apartment and cellar store room, we walked across the street where some Lebanese run a Mexican restaurant. They’re already getting to know us as without a kitchen a hot meal is not so easy to present and their beer from the tap is cold. At present wild forest pfifferlinge is the seasonal speciality so we all had one of the special dishes where the pfifferlinge is served according to traditional German recipes – a German dish served in a Mexican restaurant by Lebanese speaking Arabic to each other. This is the world we now live in and I love it.
Sunday afternoon Yehudit left with her family to spend time with her mom in south Germany and suddenly I was alone in my home. Yehudit had left me a newspaper-type magazine that she had found at America House, which is virtually next door to where I will be teaching EAP in the coming academic year. As I flipped through this paper filled with articles on the various exhibitions that they are planning or have had, I found a piece written by Carolin Emcke titled “Home” a subject I have written about before in my blogs.
Emcke open her piece with a quote by poet T.S. Eliot found in “Four Quartets” “Home is where one starts from. As we grow older / The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated / Of dead and living.” I was still living in South Africa when I first read these lines and they seemed to me self-evident at the time. Today, I certainly agree that the patterns of our lives become more complicated, death and life more and more entwined – a greater reality than ever before. Yet is home really where I started from? Or is it possibly where I have ended up? And for how long is this home? Is it, in fact, a place? In my previous blog on this subject I equated home to a sense of rootedness, which I felt “I did not have … in my land of birth and I do not have … in my land of adoption,” i.e. Israel. Will I have it here in Berlin? I cannot answer for sure or with absolute certainty but I certainly feel comfortable. My father’s family have had such a long history in this city and my biggest regret is that I never visited it while papa was alive – but more about this later.
However, I also have to admit that there are things that are absolutely strange to me. The more traditional settled part of the community here is so “square”: things are done in a fixed manner, each one knows their place and what is expected of them. This is a massive adjustment for a South African Israeli used to the idea, “’n Boer maak ‘n plan!” No, each one does his bit and there is no overflow. Let me give you a practical example. We have an excellent builder doing our renovations and, on the average, I am impressed by his professional efficient work and how pleasant and reliable his team is. If they say they will arrive at 7am, the car stops at 6.58am and at exactly 7am the bell rings. But, the downside of this I am experiencing silly small problems. My kitchen window hooks ever so slightly but I want it sorted out. So I show the problem to the painter – there is a tiny wood splinter roughly 3cm long no more than 2mm thick is half chipped off the frame and catches the window as it opens. I recommend that we carefully remove it, sand the place and then paint it. No one would notice the slight unevenness in the window frame. “NO!” says my shocked painter, “the boss must call in the carpenter!” That implies a call out fee etc etc. When the boss arrives, I show him the problem and make the same suggestion as before. He’s look of shock is even greater. “We must have the carpenter come. Don’t worry, I have to pay him not you!” he says as though money would be my main concern. Of course it is a concern but their solution is so time consuming and unnecessarily complicated, so cumbersome and slow.
I miss Moshe, the man who solved our plumbing problems in Israel. He also fixed some shelves that the carpenter had not had the time to fixing completely; sorted out a problem with the tiles that the builder had left; he repaired the pipe of the air-conditioner; set the temperature of the fridge; replaced the front door lock which in the Israeli security doors is no easy matter; re-plastered and painted the ceiling of our downstairs neighbour, where our plumbing problems had caused water damage and he gave Yehudit advice re a funny sound our car was making. Now, that’s what I call efficient – but I can assure you not what is considered efficiency in the German capital.
No doubt I will get used to it and it certainly will not prevent me from calling this place home as long as I am here. As I look around my living-room, not nearly ready, I have a sense that I will be happy here. My older son’s wife asked me the day I was supposed to sign the sale contract, “Ma, look carefully – can you see yourself living here.” After walking quietly through the flat again on my own, I came back to her and said, “Yes, I can.” Now I am and I am happy, even as I wait for the carpenter to come and fix the tiny chip of wood on my kitchen window frame.