Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Happy to Help

So I was at Kaiser's (one of the bigger grocery store chains in Berlin) this afternoon to pick up a few things, and I walked up to the meat counter looking for some hähnchenbrust (chicken breast). A woman in a powered wheelchair rolled up to my left, just a second ahead of me. She was probably around 60 years old, white-haired, and quite heavyset. The butcher behind the counter hadn't seen who came up first, and she asked who was next, so of course I politely gestured to the woman and encouraged her to order before me. She did so, and the butcher disappeared into the back to go get whatever it was.

Image © mfi management für immobilien AG
The woman then turned to me and asked me a question in German. I have begun to be able to pick out a few words here and there, but frankly - my German is awful. I told her as much, in a broken mix of German and English, and asked Sprechen Sie Englisch? She shook her head No, but gestured to a shopping bag hanging from her chair down between her feet. The bag had a few cans and other groceries in it, but it had collapsed and partially fallen through the foot rests of the wheelchair, and I realized that she was asking for help in picking it back up. Her mobility was very obviously impaired - she could not bend forward to pick the bag up herself.

I quickly gathered the bag up and got it unstuck from the bottom of the wheelchair, and handed it up to her with a smile. She was quite appreciative and did manage an English "Thank you!", to which I replied (properly) "Bitte Schôn!". The butcher returned with the woman's ground rindfleisch (beef) - or maybe it was schweinefleisch (pork) - and the woman went on her way.

Five minutes later, though, I came upon her again in the candy aisle. She was looking up at the top row of candies, far out of reach. No one was bothering to help her. She didn't see me, but I thought she probably wouldn't mind a helping hand again, so I walked up beside her and smiled once more. I don't know how to say "Can I help you with that?" in German, but she got the message. After I grabbed her "Tic Tacs, zwei" (two boxes of Tic Tacs) and deposited them in her shopping bag, she asked another question which I couldn't understand, and sort of pulled her bag up and gestured towards the back of her chair. Even though I couldn't make out the words, somehow I understood that she was asking me to hang the shopping bag over the back of the chair, most likely because it had become too heavy to hold between her feet. And it was full anyway, so she must have been preparing to go through the checkout. I put the bag up, she said "Thank you" again a few times, I smiled, and we parted ways.

I grabbed my last few items, paid, and headed out into the hallway of the shopping center. I was happy to have had a friendly interaction with a type of person - that is, a non-English speaking German senior - that I rarely have a chance to speak with. I liked that the two of us, from completely different worlds in more ways than one, managed to communicate and share a simple experience together. It was gratifying.


As I walked down the long hall leading to the street, I saw the woman ahead of me again, rolling quickly towards the automatic doors, her bulging shopping bag slung from the back of the chair exactly where I'd left it.

That's odd, I thought. I don't remember seeing her in the checkout line, and I think I would have been there ahead of her anyway. I only remember seeing one checker - all the other lines were closed. Was there another checker that I didn't notice? Could she have paid somewhere without me seeing?

Did I just help an old woman shoplift her groceries?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

An October Sunday's Triumph

Exhausted after two late nights out in a row, I woke up this Sunday at half past noon, and spent the next two hours warming up my mind, joints, and muscles. We haven't been leaving the house much, for many reasons. Agoraphobia, fatigue, nausea, an ill pet, loads of work, and needed relaxation after many vet visits and doctors appointments.

Today there were many things to do at home. Many projects that need to be completed. But as the sun crawled onto the bed and grew only more alluring, Rahsan suggested we go out to the cafe, and I jumped on board. Every little piece of me needed what happened today.

First there was a sort of compromise. We were going to just pop across the street and work on some of our various projects, so we grabbed the laptop and headed out. But first, we decided to take our first trip to the city's glass recycling bins a couple of blocks away. This was one of those small tasks with a much larger significance. See, we moved into this apartment in March. Our building does not have glass recycling. We are able to recycle things like our beer bottles at the grocery store (8 cents a bottle - woohoo!) but wine bottles and most other glass needs to be taken to our neighborhood recycling bins. We've never done this. These bottles have been stacking up inside of our huge blue ikea bag since March, carefully placed so that we use up every square centimeter. It's been one of the thousands of goals that weighs on me. Every day I would look at that bag and think of all of the things I have yet to complete, all of the dreams I have yet to set free to the physical world. Well, today, we recycled our glass.

Today's magical fall afternoon was the perfect setting for this seemingly monumental feat. The sun was out and the temperature was around 21 C (70 F), as if Berlin's summer had come back for one last goodbye. It was so warm that we took off our sweaters after only a block. The streets were golden with a carpet of fallen leaves. The recycling bins are beside a little square with trees, benches, a playground, and one of the city's free outdoor public gyms. We first saw this gym - comprised of stationary recumbent bikes, sit-up benches, and some kind of elliptical-type thing - on one of our walks around the area a few months ago. It was the middle of a weekday back then, and there were a handful of older ladies lazily moving about on their piece of equipment. I giggled and thought, "Who would do this?" while also thinking, "Okay, that's a pretty cool use of public space". Well, today there were no ladies occupying the exercise machines, and Rahsan and I thought that meant we should keep the equipment company. That was a damn good decision. The sun shone on our faces as we laughed and took photos to commemorate our silly half hour. And thirty minutes is really the maximum amount of time needed to play on six pieces of equipment.

Instead of heading to our original destination, the cafe - which was also the way home - Rahsan suggested we walk in the opposite direction. Off we went, exploring the streets, forging a path into the depths of Neukölln, a path that we will surely use in the future. We walked by Ban Ban Kitchen, a Korean street food restaurant that Rahsan had heard of, which wasn't yet open (we returned later and it was delicious). We passed street after street and then agreed to cross over Hermannstrasse and wander the Tempelhof side of our neighborhood. Our tummies began to rumble, which was perfect timing because we were near Zio Felix, which makes the yummiest pizza I've had here in Berlin. There was a small crowd when we arrived; everyone joined in a sort of chorus of relaxed contentment. We sat at the window counter and expressed for the twentieth time that it was such a lovely day.

When we finished our margherita pizza and apfelschorle (sparkling mineral water mixed with apple juice) the place was full. We walked out and looked to the left, toward Tempelhof. The sun was a bindingly bright orange, and it drew us in. We walked like zombies past the various cafes, stopping only for a brief moment to take a picture and to buy a bottle of beer at the Spätkauf (corner store). The air was still warm and we hurried to the park.

Wow. The scene took my breath away. We have yet to visit Tempelhofer Feld for sunset, and it was everything we thought it would be. The huge abandoned airfield, now an undeveloped and fiercely protected sanctuary in the middle of Berlin, was filled with people watching the sun sink toward the horizon. Groups had gathered all along the ridge of the hill, and each minute that passed, everyone seemed to get quieter and quieter. We all stared at the sun as it disappeared, and stayed entranced by the changing colors of the sky.

Immediately upon sitting down, I began to cry a soft cry. Just watery eyes from a sense of great joy and amazement at the moment. Rahsan and I said what we say quite often to each other: "I can't believe we live here". We both felt overpoweringly lucky and affirmed in our great effort to move here. We worked really hard to get to this point, in the last year and in the last few hours.

I'm so glad I got out of bed today.

More photos!