Berlin - It's now been a year since the first case of coronavirus was registered in Germany - yet our lives are still punctuated by the necessary yet still somehow threatening mantra of "stay at home". If, like me, you're able to work from home, then with little to do outside to offer any distraction, the space where you live can end up becoming a little too familiar. A tribute to some of the minutiae of my flat in southwest Berlin.
1. Christmas blessings
Why observe the tradition of chalking your door on the Epiphany every year if you could just do it once in 2010 and then leave it there all year round, for every year to come? That’s clearly what the previous tenant of my flat decided to do, as a result of which I’ve got a Yuletide blessing evoking the Magi permanently hanging over my front door.
I’m too short to take it down and don’t have a ladder, but I might have to resort to drastic action if the tax man comes knocking – I can’t have them thinking they ought to be charging me Kirchensteuer.
2. Insulation on a budget
I can only applaud my neighbours’ Teutonic commitment to recycling – but it would be great if they could leave off the paper for a bit. Furnishing a new flat has meant a lot of cardboard, which means I’ve now had a small cardboard mountain languishing in my living room for several months, because there’s never any room in our blue bin (nicknamed the Papierhamster) to get rid of it.
At least it makes the acoustics less echoey whenever I have a Zoom call.
3. Secrets of the basement
This one does actually make sense – everyone in my building has their own basement compartment for extra storage. Handy!
Only as well as a year round Christmas blessing, the previous tenant has also left a fun array of items down there for me, including a double sink and rusty stove that just scream 1980s West Germany, and a pile of bricks. I could maybe get a decent price for them at a hipster flea market, if the family of spiders that also live down there are OK with it.
4. The looming dread of Schattenmiete
I’m lucky to be among the Berliners currently benefiting from the Mietendeckel, the city’s rent cap meant to slow years of climbing rent costs. If there’s a downside to that, it’s the Schattenmiete, or shadow rent clause in my contract. This means that if Germany’s supreme court rules the rent cap unconstitutional later this year, I’ll not just have to start paying more rent, but also have to pay back the difference from my current rent over the time I’ve lived in the flat.
The financial burden, as well as the victory for landlords, would be annoying, but I’d still be paying less than I did for a room in the tiny London flat share with no communal spaces that I used to live in.
5. The map that adds insult to injury
Once upon a time, I decided that as soon as I was living in my own home where I’d be allowed to drill things in the wall, I’d put up a cork board and world map combo that I could put pins in to track all the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit. Settled in at my place in Berlin, I’ve finally been able to make it happen this January – which is cool.
The problem is that I don’t think I ever thought the world would be in the midst of a global pandemic making international travel almost impossible by the time I got to put the board up. Now, some days it feels like a nice reminder of happy memories, and some days it feels like the most taunting wall fixture I’ll ever own.
6. Easy being green?
I’m a millennial, which means I share my flat with an increasing number of houseplants. The first one I bought was a monstera: perhaps a classic/basic choice, but looking after my new green flatmates has brought an enjoyable pastime to grey lockdown days.
The monstera has rewarded my efforts with a new leaf, which has been gradually unfolding while I’ve been writing this list. When it feels like everything else has ground to a halt, it’s nice to see life carrying on, even if just on a small scale.