jump to navigation

Knock knock June 27, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

…except not even on the door. No. On the wall. At a guess with two fists in harmonious and sonorous synchronicity. Naturally I turned the music down because I thought it might be a call for help. Perhaps the thump would be accompanied by muffled screams. Perhaps the neighbour was being brutally and mercilessly attacked by a wicked criminal. I stopped myself drifting off into a happy daydream with swirling dervishes and the beat of celebratory drums and strained my ears. Silence. Even the baby was quiet. No. The knock had been meant for me. When all I’d been doing was listening to Amy at a volume which can only have been the most faintly audible hum through the admittedly paper-thin walls. It was 6pm.

These are our second shitty neighbours. Part of the reason for moving from our first Berlin pad, apart from thinking we’d die of carbon monoxide poisoning every time we took 40 winks, was to escape the woman underneath who would come to complain that we walked too audibly. But her hair was purple which meant I could never take her complaints seriously. Any hatred for her was prevented from attaining its natural and speedy magnificent proportions because she had a nice husband called Mario. (East(ern) Germans like(d) names ending in o.) And when water trickled from our bathroom and sent the stalactites of swirly paint on their bedroom ceiling a shade of grey, Mario was forbearing and forgiving. We had a confusing goodbye, the Russian and I alternating to say, “Thanks, Mario, you were great,” to Mario and hissing at his purple-haired wife. Our other neighbour from the same house, a quite nice whoopsy whom we would occasionally bump into as he was setting off to the West to go to a bar which reeks of shit, regaled us with stories of the people who replaced us in the flat having such loud parties that the police would come. The Russian and I high-fived and smiled like Cheshire cats.

But it’s all much more unsatisfying here. At least the old house was a ramshackle hovel that made you want to commit crime as soon as you walked into the entrance. I would sometimes wait there in the dark and mug the Russian. Yet this house is categorised as respectable. Rather than your thoughts turning to crime as you walk in, your senses are ambushed by an all-pervasive abstract image of furniture polish and mopped floors. If you’re lucky, you can get up the stairs without bumping into any of the neighbours. The stairwell is like the room in a house used only on special occasions. Dreary and lifeless. Apart from, of course, when there is some other neighbour trudging indignantly in or out, doing their best not to say hello to you or catch your eye.

And so it is with the immediate next door neighbours. A young couple with a sanctifying child. Russian in some way we can’t work out. Or at least Russian-speaking, though their surnames are as German as could be. Her face is cast in unpainted plaster, its expression fixed – presumably since the moment she met her other half – in a permanent cocktail of misery and disdain. Non-stop unhappy hour. His is the face of the young moralising idealist. It combines, with the misery and disdain he and his beloved have perfected in each other, conceit and reproof. The face, which, by wonderful chance happens to be quite stunningly plain, is bound by the ugliest and most motionless hair this side of a waxwork museum.

Berlin houses are made of tracing paper. Berliners are famed for their rudeness. So it is not surprising that the neighbourly experience can be a less than pleasant one. But these neighbours, livid, perhaps, having thought they’d moved somewhere ennobling and respectable-making, at ending up next door to a pair of life-noise-emitting, Russian-speaking poofs, make the Russian and me have wicked thoughts. We say a cheerless and steely hello when geography has made it necessary. They answer with silence. Perhaps I’d unendeared myself to the man of the house when, before I’d realised he was in some way Russian, I would say to the Russian, in Russian, “Why doesn’t that twat say hello?”

Still, he should let it pass. There’s no need for us to be friends, true, but a cheerless and steely hello in the corridor is one of the few things keeping us apart from the animal kingdom. They may wish, nerves frayed after another sleepless and bawl-filled night, that we didn’t exist, or at least existed in silence. But that’s not what compact urban living is about. It’s compromise. While we have to settle for living cheek by jowl with our fellow cretins, we must make the experience as tolerable as possible.

Infuriated by the injustice of their uncivilised ways, I waited till 3am, put on Amy at full blast and knocked, my fists thumping in reciprocal harmony, on this side of the wall. I heard kerfuffle. Their front door opening. A ring at our bell. I braced myself to see him. It’s always him. She is presumably busy applying fresh layers of plaster to her face. Opened the door. Sure enough, there, in all its non-glory, was his charmless visage, sporting a withering expression.

“Sorry, I remembered your hair and how much it annoyed me,” I said by way of explanation and closed the door in his face.



1. narrowback - June 27, 2008

ah, neighbors…the contemporary equivilent of body lice in the context of urban living

remind me to tell you of my experiences in my current abode…the nieghbor who scattered straw on the common halway (she accused me of “killing” her husabd as a consequence of the brew up over that), the one with the pyschotic poodle who barked incessantly (I plainly stated that the dog would die if the distrubance didn’t cease) and then my current issue of the student who thinks a wednesday night is the perfect time to party until you drop…say 4 am or so.

2. annie - June 27, 2008

You didn’t really? I wish you did though.

3. bowleserised - June 27, 2008

At least you don’t live nextdoor to Amy Winehouse. Although then you and the Russian could take her under your wing and feed her blinis.

4. sylvia - June 27, 2008

Mercifully we live in a detached property so no-one car hear our screams or saxophone practice. Alas the noise in the street is a hassle, especially since the bar around the corner has a late licence. Last Friday and Saturday night at about 3am we were woken up by people revving their cars, hooting horns, shouting, and playing loud music. Any suggestions, apart from throwing bricks at them, would be very much appreciated.

5. BiB - June 27, 2008

Sylvia, put it down to the joys of living in London. I heard a man with no hair – I dashed to the window to check, and he was accompanied by two men with an equal lack of hair and a lady with that female skinhead haircut of not much hair on top and a wispy long bit at the back – singing, “Deutschland Deutschland über alles,” after one of Germany’s victories the other day but that’s as noisy as it gets. I suppose what I had at the back of my mind as I wrote this was that I can understand the point of living English-style with a bit more space between neighbours. I am sometimes scared to type when I’m doing a translation at 3am lest the tosser next door come(s? – do I need a subjunctive after lest?) to complain.

B., I discussed exactly that yesterday. Honest guv. The Russian and I are both currently so in love with Amy Winehouse that it’s not unknown for us both to play the same song at the same time in different rooms, which, here’s hoping, annoys the neighbour a tiny bit more if he can hear the discordant hum of different bits of the song simultaneously. But, yes, I said I needed to save Amy. The Russian scoffed at my chances.

Annie, I have to confess the last two paragraphs are pure fabrication. Though I have imagined with relish that it has really happened or one day will. But I’d be much too scared of confrontation, though at least this little runt is not imposing. When the previous neighbours in the same flat drilled a hole right through to our side of the wall, we didn’t even bother to go and complain as he, by great misfortune, was also slightly too abhorrent-looking to have truck with. They moved out in shame minutes later.

Narrowback, I’d secretly love to live in a noisy house so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about anything ever. So, if I can’t have a house like Sylvia’s, I’d at least like to be in a slightly groovier bit of town, not for the sake of the grooviness but for the guilt-free late-night typing. We’ve got neighbours with 100 yappy dogs but they’re a fantastically nice family and the only neighbours who give us resounding hellos when we come and go. They’re sort of the… oh no, I can’t type this word without thinking I’m in an episode of Hong Kong Phooey… janitors so are obliged to be nice, perhaps.

6. bowleserised - June 27, 2008

She was just interviewed for Rolling Stone, and basically she doesn’t even think she has a problem – just that she likes to get a bit wasted. Which is really rather ominous. Start making blinis now. You can always freeze them.

7. BiB - June 27, 2008

Oh no. I’ve just been listening to Rehab to see if there was any hint of deep understanding of her predicament but I could only catch about three words. (No, no, no.) I’d better book myself a one-way ticket to Camden Town this instant.

8. Mr D - June 27, 2008

Are they Vulgar Germans? ;-) Oops, I mean Volga, of course. Or one of those types.

9. Arabella - June 27, 2008

I can’t get over how rude that is – not returning your “hello” on the stairs.
I, too, hoped that your greeting at the door was true. How can they snub and then expect to be taken seriously?

10. BiB - June 28, 2008

Arabella, it’s the height of scummery, isn’t it? Not answering a greeting. As if they have a real grievance. Tossers. I’ve got a feeling their child might be the type you’d like to take out without its parents one day and stuff full of chocolate and fizzy drinks. And he still dared, after all that silence, and with that hair, to one day come and borrow butter. Mind you, to his credit, he then gave us a packet of organic butter whereas we, naturally, had given him an already started pack of the no-frills variety, probably with the odd dollop of jam and crumbs of burnt toast in it.

Mr D, yes, I’m sure you’re right. Most of the what Russians call Russian Germans (русские немцы – russkie nemtsy) that I’ve come across have come from Kazakhstan. Jewish would be the other option, though that’s not my hunch. Or he’s an excellent linguist and is insisting on bringing up his child bilingually, though that seems unlikely. The first time he came to complain at the noise of four people conversing round the dinner table, he spoke to the Russian in English. He englished (sorry, I know it’s the wrong context) the Russian! Tosser. Again.

11. Mr D - June 28, 2008

They just sound warped.

One of the professors from the German Dept at work, whose office is but two doors down from mine, never says hello to me. She doesn’t even smile. But she does look at me. She gives me a dirty look, as if I’ve just eaten her children. Apparently I’m not alone, though. So maybe she’s just a very unhappy person. God, I hope so!

12. Marsha Klein - June 29, 2008

Clearly, you must take Amy under your wing immediately. This would have the twin benefits of saving her from herself and providing you with an arsenal with which to fight your neighbour – I’m sure that hair of hers could take his in a fight any day.

13. ThePenguin - June 29, 2008

Spent the last two months wondering what my neighbours here actually look like, or if I indeed have any, then in the last three days I encounter three of them. I do know whoever lives directly above me is female because I opened her door in an embarrassing episode of elevator amnesia and couldn’t help noticing all the shoes.

14. narrowback - June 30, 2008

most of the ethnic germans were deported by stalin in ’41 to Kazahkstan…hence the origin of those you’ve met. those who didn’t get deported – mostly from Ukraine – went west with the retreating germans in ’43 & ’44.

I don’t mind an active building and mine’s soundproof enough to spare me the incidential daily neighborly noises. it’s the noise that penetrates the soundproofing – at ungodly hours – that works my nerves

15. hel - July 1, 2008

i enjoyed reading this blog post because you’ve put it so well, plus i’ve had neighbour problems too – i’ve spent all year trying to be friendly but they don’t even say “hello” back to me – why do people like that bother living in close proximity to other humans if they hate talking to them so much?

16. BiB - July 2, 2008

Hel, hello, and thank you for popping in. People are ghastly, aren’t they? Except they’re probably mostly not, and we become experts, hopefully, at sniffing out some fellow humans that we like. When I compare the neighbourly spirit of Berlin now and London when I was growing up, London wins hands down, but perhaps that was because life was a tad less compact. But I was CONSTANTLY in the neighbours’ houses and, to my parents’ credit, they never discouraged me from going and sitting with the schizophrenic woman next door, who fed me ice-cream and told me about schizophrenia.

Narrowback, this building feels very shoddy, even if it looks perfectly solid, and I don’t think soundproofing comes into it. I’ve got a feeling everyone must wander round their apartments on tip-toes and with one finger over their lips at all times. Apart from when the Russian and I liven things up a bit, the house is relentlessly silent.

Penguin, explain. Do you mean Tokyo is still a leaving-the-front-door-unlocked kind of society? Or do you live in the type of apartment that Joan Collins lived in in Dynasty where you step out of the lift straight into the apartment itself, which I always thought was a security problem waiting to happen. Still, lifts and Japan make me think of the only Murakami book I’ve ever read, and that one led to terrifying places.

Marsha, we now have yet more post-Glastonbury evidence that, in spite of the lifestyle, the young lady is more than capable of looking after herself. While, at the same time, being utterly incapable of looking after herself. I’d happily take her in tomorrow, as long as she’d take about 20,000 words of bollocks to translate off my hands by next Monday. Have been youtubing her like mad this evening. She almost moved me to tears.

Oh, Mr D, you have my sympathies. Perhaps she is nuts, in which case I think it’s best to sympathise, as it must be horrible being nuts. A nuts friend of my ex’s – sorry, don’t know where this anecdote has come from, though I have had quite an oodle of wine this evening, to make me forget the oodle of work I have to do – told him, in a lucid moment shortly before throwing herself off that building in Camden Town where people kill themselves, “Don’t ever go mad. It’s horrible being mad.”

17. ThePenguin - July 2, 2008

Japan is a culture where apartment doors have a handle on the outside, so if you forget to lock it from either side, anyone can open it.

“Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” or something?

18. BiB - July 2, 2008

Penguin, exactly that book. Are you a fan? I was preparing to hate it but accidentally got caught up in it. Mr. Cultural Snow has encouraged me to read more by him and I will, as long as I don’t die before I finish this bout of work, which might easily happen, if one can die from hating one’s job so much, which seems as valid a reason to croak as any old disease in my book.

19. IsarSteve - July 2, 2008

Many moons ago I told you Pankow is Tottenham…**

You always going on about Pankow is Ruislip…. Ruislip it certainly ain’t

The solution to the problem is I think, quite simple… in fact, just one word

S C H ö N E B E R G !!

do it.. you’ll be much happier

BTW: Schöneberg is Pimlico / Victoria…. **

**Geographically speaking of course

20. BiB - July 2, 2008

Isar, I dunno. I’ve had reason – homosexual reason – to be in that neck of the woods of late and it always feels a bit like being in England to me. Whereas the East still holds a hint of the exotic. Feels more abroad-like.

Dunno, dunno, dunno.

I find it a task of enormous proportion just to go to the loo or to get dressed so don’t know if I’ll ever manage to move my whole life again. Perhaps, one day…

21. IsarSteve - July 2, 2008

That’s what so strange in Berlin.. In actual fact.. in statistics given out todays newspapers.. show something diffrent.

Schöneberg has a population, 31,5% of which are of foreign descent. Pankow, if I remember correctly has on about a 15% foreigner population.
In my house** 2/3rds are German, plus a Türkish family, a christian family from Lebanon, an ex Yugoslavian family, an American and me..
The Germans always say hello on passing, the Lebanese and the Turks generally tend to look at their feet.
Schöneberg isn’t at all like England and isn’t full of the “Strebers” Pankow is noted for.
BUT, that said.. I know what you mean about moving.. In my opinion, the worst thing, apart from death, that can ever happen to anyone..

**Apartment House in English.

22. BiB - July 3, 2008

I’m surprised to read that Pankow has even 15% foreigners, unless, by Pankow, they mean that new definition of it which covers Weißensee and Prenzlauer Berg too, though I do certainly see more foreigners now than I did a couple of years ago. Still, judging by us and the miserable neighbours, there are plenty of stealth Russian-speakers around. Otherwise, at a guess, I’d say everyone else in the house is German.

Haven’t got the West Berlin bug yet, and guess it isn’t about to bite. I like taking the S-Bahn there, but enjoy taking it back even more.

23. IsarSteve - July 4, 2008

Achsooo.. problem is, carrying the ‘East Berlin’ label is a bit like wearing ‘Prada Stilettos’; it can be very tiring at times and cause blisters! :o)

Icke, I prefer sensible Schöneberg ‘Birkenstock’ way of doing things.

BTW, I did of course, mean Boroughs and not districts:

Bezirk Mitte: 44,5% has the most
Bezirk Tempelhof : 31,5%
Bezirk Pankow : 15%

Bezirk Treptow-Köpenick: 9,9% the least

24. d.z. bodenberg - July 4, 2008

I’ve got some nasty-detailed statistics on foreigners in (Bezirk) Pankow here somewhere. There’s, for example, 3 Syrians, 2 Egyptians, and 13 North Koreans. And 4 Zillion French, Spanish, Americans, and a few thousand Brits. Almost all of them live in Prenzaluer Berg, of course. The (non)-foreigners in Pankow proper are right at the northern end, in Französisch-Buchholz, which should soon be named Sowjetisch-Buchholz (like that part of Paris called Stalingrad). I once spent a lovely afternoon in a nasty port-1990 Neubaugebiet with 3 old “Russian” women telling me about their Kazachstan showpiece “German” village. Apparently the Soviet authorities would show foreign and UN dignatries how lovely it was. Of course, it’s all collapsed now, they told me – the entire village lives in North-East Berlin. Those Kazaks live like animals and can’t repair anything, they said. I suspect it used to look like Neuschwanstein. No wonder the remaining/new residents are letting it fall to bits.

(Of course: those statistics above are about “foreigners”; so “Mitte” includes lots of people with Turkish passports, whereas Pankow, Köpenick, Lichtenberg…etc.’s figures ignore a significant percentage of their populations who have German passports, yet were born east of the Urals).

25. BiB - July 5, 2008

d.z., my boss in St. Petersburg, a German Catholic priest, who upped and died of Russia one day – just couldn’t bear it any more and upped and died – told me with great pride about those German villages in Kazakhstan. He used to go there and say mass for them in the old days. So much cleaner than the non-German villages, didn’t I know! … And I need to get down and see some of those fairy-tale castles one day, though think it is about as likely as me getting a job or paying off my debts. My sister-in-law-who’s-from-New-Zealand’s very first trip to Europe was to that bit of Germany and she said it was so perfect for a New Zealander, the oldest structure in whose country was actually finished twenty minutes ago, to see Europe in all its fairy-tale madness.

Steve, my bit of the East feels more like a pair of odd shoes from Oxfam than Prada stilettos. Is it especially berlinny, because of the place sort of not having a centre, to become very localised here? In a way, the divide in London between north and south or east and west seems just as huge. Perhaps if my last experience of London hadn’t been going to university in the centre I would have had a more localised life there too. Anyway, working at home and doing things very locally does make me wonder if I might not be quite well cut out for life in a much smaller town. Not that there’s any need to move to one either, really. But if someone offered me a job in, say, Magdeburg, at least I could mull it over on geographical grounds for 14 seconds before dismissing it out of hand. (“No, no, nothing against moving to Magdeburg,” I’d say. “It’s the job-bit I can’t bear.”) (Is Magdeburg nice, does anyone know?)

26. d.z. bodenberg - July 5, 2008

Magdeburg. Capital of Sachsen-Anhalt (and, so they say – in Halle – only because it can easily be reached by (Wessi bureaucrat) car from Hannover, where as Halle, larger and more significant, with more history, can’t).

Need one say more. I lived vaguely close by for a while. I never did discover a remotely redeeming feature.

27. BiB - July 6, 2008

I snogged someone from Magdeburg once. Twice, actually. 400 years ago. The snog suggested no obvious diversion from the norm. But not so much qualitatively better, either, that I wanted to move there. I lived in Paris at the time.

28. redneckarts - July 7, 2008

Good for you. Good good good good good.

29. BiB - July 7, 2008

Redneck, the Russian and I very toughly leered at them out the window as they were getting into their car familially at the weekend. That’ll show ’em. The terrible thing was, though, that his hair didn’t look all that horrible. Hope he’s not about to bloom into beauty.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: