It is early May 2013. I am in Berlin, Germany. I am here for the summer.
My boyfriend is working in another city. His friends pick me up from the airport. They are late. I am ready to cry when I finally see a familiar face. They are nice people and I am grateful that I must not carry my two suitcases, backpack and laptop bag to the other side of the city. I am tired and already homesick. There is a big part of me that thinks I have made a terrible decision.
They drive me to the apartment and carry my bags up the stairs. We go for a short walk and eat falafel. The woman is very pregnant. I know the father from before. The third friend is getting drunk at 3 in the afternoon. I remember the park where we sit from my previous summer’s travel. My boyfriend calls the woman to ask if they have found me. I talk to him only briefly. The expectant parents and I go home. The other man goes to the bar.
As I return to the apartment, I remember that I had asked him to leave me a little grass so that I could unwind. Unfortunately, his brother has already smoked it. I am annoyed. I slowly walk through the different rooms. The apartment is lonely. The walls are a sterile white. I do not know anyone in the pictures. All of the art reminds me of something from an 8th grade school show. It is not my taste.
I try to unpack my bags, but I do not know where to put anything. They are very full, but they do not seem like they have everything I need. I feel like I have not brought enough of myself on this journey.
I am alone for three days. I had already done the touristic things the last times I was in Berlin. I am not interested in doing them again. The anxiety I feel about coming here intensifies. I do not know what to do with myself. I try to patiently wait for him to return, but I am still upset that he had scheduled so much work so far away when he knew that I was coming.
Finally, it is Friday. He calls to tell me that he will be late. I am beginning to get angry. Part of me knows that I am overreacting and part of me doesn’t care how the other part feels. Irrationality wins. Regardless, he finally comes home.
I am so excited to see him. This is what we have been waiting a year for. We have been apart for so long. His arms feel warm and strong, his kisses intoxicating. My fears are alleviated. We go out, have fun, and enjoy each other. I am expecting that the next days will be spent together, making up for the long months apart. I am wrong.
It is explained that the next day is a holiday. The holiday is called Herren Tag. This means man’s day. It is like father’s day, but the goal is for the men to get as drunk as possible. He tells me that he will be going to celebrate at a friend’s garden. It is an hour’s drive out of the city. I am not allowed to go because this is a place for the men where they can piss, fart and do man stuff without worrying about whether the women will be mad. He tells me that it is a drinking day.
I see red.
He hugs me and tells me that I will go with the expectant mother and father and another woman to another place. I hate him in this moment. I do not want to go to with those people, but I do not want to be alone. He tells me that he will be back that night. I know this is a lie. These men, these German men, do not know when to stop drinking. I am already aware that he is a party animal; I just thought that I would be more important than another day drinking with his friends. Apparently I am wrong. I smile and hug him, pretending that I am unaware of his lie. I tell myself that my day will be fun. I am lying to myself as well.
He leaves early the next day. I am alone again.
I wait three hours for his friends. They ring the doorbell. It is raining. I hate rain. I climb into the back of the old VW bus with their dog. It is not a friendly dog. We drive for maybe 45 minutes. It feels much longer. They eat gummy bears and try to talk with me in English. I appreciate this. We stop in a small town. It looks very East German – plain white and tan buildings that are very square. There are no people in the streets.
We are unsure if we are in the right place. We walk through a tall stone entry-way. There are three people sitting inside. The two men drink some sort of alcohol from a bottle in very small cups. The woman drinks tea. They ask where the house we are looking for is. The people point to a large building with dozens of missing windows and a few large holes. I wonder what I have gotten myself into.
A figure emerges. It is the owner of the house and friend to my companions. I am relieved. He gives us a tour. They are rebuilding the house from the ground up. What they have completed so far looks very nice. I am impressed. A large doorway leads to the backyard. It is beautiful. There are fruit trees and wild herbs. A tall, dark brown barn houses chairs and tables for the guests. Wide open grasslands lie at the edge of their property. Small farms dot the landscape. I can see windmills in the distance.
Introductions begin after the tour. I am uncomfortable with German greetings. Everyone shakes hands and says something or hugs and gives cheek kisses. Not wanting to sound American, I say very little. This makes me look awkward and uncomfortable. My outward appearance is accurate.
There is a table for the men’s drinks and a table for the women’s drinks. The drinks for the men are alcoholic. The women’s are not. Realizing that my annoyance with this segregation makes me feel like an alcoholic, I quell my urge to ask if we were visiting last century. Shortly after, I realize we are. The women are expected to sit with the children and drink apple juice while the men play games and drink beer. I hate my life.
It stops raining. We sit in lawn chairs in the East German “sun”. Another girlfriend from the pregnant woman comes. From what I can understand, they joke about the cold sore on the new woman’s lip. I learn too much about their sex lives. I go for a walk with the woman from the car. It is the best part of the day. The woman from the car shows me edible plants and we entice a herd of cows to run with us. She speaks English very well. She teaches in an international kindergarten. The sky turns black. We can see the impending storm in the distance. We have to run back to the house. We barely make it. The rain is strong and the wind is bone chilling.
It is time to eat. When I heard that there was going to be a barbecue, I had something completely different in mind. I am too nervous and my German is too weak to feel comfortable asking for the grilled food. My hunger is worsened by my feelings of inadequacy. I try the salads and the cakes. My mouth is angry with me for this. The hours are long.
Finally, we leave. It takes all of my willpower to not look as excited as I feel on the inside. There is still a part of me that believes I will see my guy this evening. It would be perfect after “celebrating” this medieval holiday. The pregnant woman tells me that she needs to take a shit. I do not want to know this. I wonder if this is a German thing or a pregnant woman thing – to share so much personal information. Either way, it makes me uncomfortable to hear.
We climb into the car. The dog is still angry that I am sitting in his spot. My mind wanders to thoughts of the evening. We drive back to the city. I see a man so drunk he falls into the bushes. His friends douse him in beer. It is only 5 pm. They drop me off. I say good-bye and go upstairs. There is no one there. I am unsure what to do with myself because all of the shops and most of the activities are closed.
The phone rings. It is him. He tells me that he has been drinking too much to drive back to Berlin. For some unknown reason, I am surprised. Then I am disappointed. Finally I am sad. I tell myself that I knew what kind of guy he was before I decided to come here. I climb into bed and try to watch Netflix. Streaming is not allowed in Germany. Instead I sleep. It is restless, uncomfortable sleep. I am not rested in the morning.
The sun is out. I walk the streets of Friedrichshain and plan my enrollment in German school. I eat pizza – arugula, tomato, red pepper and feta cheese at my favorite shop. The crust is perfectly chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside. It comforts not only my stomach, but my mind. I remember that I can take care of myself, that I do not need him to be here. Still, I want him.
I go back to the apartment. It is already mid-afternoon. He is still not home. I write a few postcards and try to watch German television. I am not interested in sitting around the apartment anymore. I go back outside and try to find something to do, but I am too shy to talk with anyone so I don’t do much more than walk around.
By the time I return to the apartment he has returned. The drunken friend from the first day is there. They are both drinking beers. I am invited to join them. As a drink a beer with them, I wonder if this is what my life is going to be like if I am to live in Germany. We go to a bar. It is a dive bar and it is filled with smoke. The beer is cheap. It pleases me that there are tables outside for sitting. After the second beer, I begin to relax. A few people try to speak with me in English. I am so grateful for this. My thoughts are monopolized by Germany and whether it is someplace I could really live or if I am living in a fantasy. I decide it is a little bit of both.
The summer of 2013 has come and gone and I am in Berlin, Germany. I have come to the realization that I was shown the true dynamics of German culture the first days I was here. The men and their drinking rituals take precedent over everything else, except work. Here there is a holiday honoring these customs, but truth be told every day in Germany is man’s day.