Even though I have spent so much time here in Berlin that my humor may be considered German by now (it is nearly nonexistent or not understood by others), there are still some places in Berlin that I have never been to.
As I stood on the metro platform of Bundesplatz station on the U9 line, these first lines of my blog post crossed by mind. “It’s right by the train station”, my professor told me only a few hours back. The white “S” (standing for S-Bahn or ‘city train’) on a green circular background, printed on the sign with the station’s name looked down at me, waiting to be noticed along with the arrow to my right.
I walked down the poorly lit hallways beneath the city of Berlin, walked up the escalator steps and crossed another platform, before I was greeted by sunlight again in an empty street lined by trees and small shops.
The cyrillic script caught my eye immediately. Had I not seen it at the first glance, I would have known that I had reached my destination the moment I heard a very familiar melody coming from the speakers somewhere above the entrance.
“Здравствуйте”, I greeted the vendor who was sorting the new arrivals in a box on the ground. He acknowledged my presence quickly and went back to his work.
A Russian record echoed through the small shop as I approached the shelf selling alcoholic beverages in glass bottles. The song was not a new one and in his oriental accent, the singer’s words sometimes came out long, as if he was about to call to prayer. In the past few years, some Persian and Arabic speaking singers from Russia made a point of singing Russian romantic pop songs, giving them their own little exotic note.
My eyes scanned the contents of the shelf. It was a friend’s birthday that day and because I always had trouble figuring out what to get a man for his birthday, I decided that something consumable should be good enough. Myself being of eastern European origin, the idea of something from that region sounded good to me, despite my personal dislike of alcohol. At the height of my eyes there were several types of vodka. Vodka pure filtered ten times, vodka filtered with milk, vodka with honey and pepper, vodka with gold foil and everything else that the Russian and Polish industry has come up with recently. Keeping it decent, I reached for a bottle of our famous Crimean champagne at the very top.
I did not want to bother about what it would look like to show up to Arabic class with a bottle of champagne and a pack of zefir sweets. Having the choice between the academic institution called university and my weekly Arabic afternoon course, the last one seemed a less abnormal place to show up to with these purchases in hand.
On my way to the candy shelf, the vendor appeared next to me. Looking at me with the heavy dark green bottle of sparkling alcohol in my hand, he tilted his head and asked: “Excuse me young lady, are you even 18 yet?”
Taken by surprise, I managed, for a brief moment, to forget my actual age of twenty years. Blaming his impression on my bright flower-print dress and assuming that it would be rude to remind him that champagne can be legally bought by anyone of minimum 16 years of age in this country, I just nodded and offered to show my passport for proof. For the very first time someone thought of me younger than I actually am. I would have given the fellow a tip if that were common in shops.
“We are open 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year”, he told me proudly when I brought the items to the register outside by the fruits and vegetables, debating whether I should add a pack of smoked Georgian cheese to my pile.
“If you’re hungry, just drop by any time and get something to eat”, he added and wished me a nice day, as I set off to my Arabic class.
Age is such a relative thing really. You want to be 14 again, you’re actually 20, some people think you are 30 and others assume you are too young to buy champagne. Welcome to Berlin! 🙂