Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Life in Berlin

We've just got back from a few days in Berlin. Like Passepartout I left the gas fire on all the time we were away!

Comparing Culebrón to Berlin would be a little unfair. One is the capital city of of one of the most powerful nations of the last two centuries with a population of three and a half million and the other has a postbox. I wouldn't presume to compare two countries either. I have around a hundred hours recent experience of Germany, glimpsed through the distorting mirror of a capital city, against eleven years in Spain. So these are no more than personal impressions of limited interactions in a strange language at an odd time of year.

People in Germany don't like serving other people. We've had some very abrupt service indeed and, with two notable exceptions, very little helpful, friendly or even indifferent service. Indifference would be how I would pigeon hole Spanish service. The waiter, the person in the shop, the doctor says hello, asks what you want and gives you it. Not effusive, gushing, subservient, friendly or hostile. A transaction. In Berlin the reaction seems to be slightly antagonistic bordering on confrontational. As though we are a nuisance asking for things on the menu or wanting to spend money. I suppose I must be misinterpreting the body language or something. This is quite at odds with the general treatment we have received - mostly people have been very pleasant and helpful. One Syrian family connected to Google maps to help us out, a young man gave up his seat to Maggie on the bus and everybody seems able and willing to speak to us in English
Berlin feels much more modern than Spain. Now this is a difficult comparison. We live in a rural Spanish backwater but Murcia and Alicante are biggish places and it's not as though we've never been to Madrid or Barcelona. Just your average coffee shop or shopping centre or cinema seems a bit more with it there. I can't really justify the feeling. The ticketing system on the trams in Murcia is very similar to the system on the tram in Berlin, the cars are similar, half the shops have the same name but, nonetheless, that's my impression.

One of the big things we tourists do, other than get footsore, is to eat and drink. This place is like the UK. "foreign" food is everywhere. There are the inevitable burger chains of course and all the other US foodie stuff like fried chicken, doughnut and ice cream places. After the Americans, almost as inevitably, come the Italians with pasta and pizza. Not much of a difference so far then but there is Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and Indian on every corner. If I'd recorded them I would remember more but I have seen French, Turkish (not just kebabs), Lebanese, Mexican, Greek, Korean, Arabic, British (well a chip shop) and stacks more. Very little German food in the sense of German cuisine except currywurst and schnitzel which I think is German, though it may be Austrian. So it's much more like the UK with food from everywhere. In Spain it's still very much Spanish cuisine as the principal offer. It's like the UK too in that the food has been plentiful but very, very ordinary. Best by far as a meal was the Vietnamese though the home grown pastries, sandwiches and sweets have been good.

Far too many times in Spain, following someone on foot down the street or in the car, they will hurl rubbish to the floor. I have seen exasperated parents snatch packaging from children's hands and toss it on the floor. I suspect that such behaviour would be unconscionable here. The place may be a bit grey but it certainly isn't dirty. People throw rubbish into rubbish bins and clear tables in places without waiter service. Oh, and for the record it isn't cold either. I saw Bridge of Spies a few weeks ago where Berlin looked very cold so I brought layers of coats, gloves, scarves and hats. It's been a bit chilly but nothing worthy of remark and I keep thinking that maybe Spaniards were wearing more wintery clothes in Alicante than the Germans are in Berlin.

I know we're poor. We're pretty poor even in Madrid with our provincial wages. We are paupers in Paris and we're poor in the UK too though there we're a bit more clued up there about the potential bargains to be had. We're relatively poor in Berlin as well. Four or five Euros for a beer and another three or four for the sandwich isn't exactly bank breaking but the same deal in Murcia would cost me half the amount. My money is disappearing at an alarming rate. About twice as expensive seems to be the norm on transport, food drink, entry fees. All things we tourists do. There is a definite difference too in prices in the tourist haunts as against more ordinary bits of town.

I was going to say that it seems pretty multicultural too but I think the World is now. If there are 42 rationalities in Pinoso how many more in any big town particularly the capital city of an economic superpower? So it is but that's not really remarkable.

Bit disappointing on the car side. I've only seen six Porsches in three days and one was a seventies classic. One Lambo, one Bentley, one of those fast Mercedes (is it an SLR?) and one Maserati. Hardly capital city stuff in the Chief I Spy mould. Lots of nice modern buildings, lots of rebuilt older stuff too. Nothing of note about the Berlin fashion sense. Maggie pointed out though that there were very few fat people, in comparison to the UK or Spain, which seems at odds with the potato eating and beer drinking reputation. The steadfast way in which people stay on the kerb at traffic light controlled crossings until the green figure shows fits in with my idea of German discipline though.

At Alicante airport as we waited in the afternoon sun for the car park bus and I listened in on peple around me talking in a language I can just about understand I felt very pleased to be home.

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