I helped three different friends move apartments last week.  The first two were French friends, moving to Pankow together, in the north of the city, from Neukoelln and Kreuzberg, respectively, both southside. Three of us hauled huge wheelie-suitcases and IKEA bags across town, two trips on the U-bahn, and up 10 flights of stairs (5th floor) to settle them in.  Then I went directly to help another friend who was moving only a short distance, and had managed to wangle a car and driver.  However, there was another 6 flights of stairs (3rd floor), but since there was 6 of us, it was a fairly swift operation.  Helping people move is an interesting experience.  The French friends have moved a few times already, and are only moving in to this apartment for the next 3 months, as a sublet. My other friend is making the move from a shared apartment to living alone.  What amazed me was the amount of stuff people hang on to. One girl had a huge lightweight box, that was really awkward to carry, and when we tried to re-pack, we discovered it was full of used plastic bags, which of course could be squished down to nothing. I know I arrived here with a suitcase and if I had to move, it would probably be more than that, but I always saw moving house as an opportunity to clear out and get rid of stuff that I no longer needed. I guess people nest each time they move in to a new place, and bring their feathers and twigs with them for a sense of home. People move a lot here, it’s regarded as quite normal to live in zwischenmiete (sublets) if you are here for less than a year, and people who are permanently here often move a few times until they find where they are most comfortable.

On this very subject, I finally heard from my flatmates that I can stay until the end of my academic year, which is a big relief.  We celebrated with beer, crisps and nuts.  I had re-cycled all the empties that were cluttering up the hall (8c per bottle for beer, 25c per bot for plastics) and had bought beer. I dreaded having to go through the business of WG-Gesucht again, which is the agency for renting, and have to present myself for inspection by prospective roommates.  Not only is it disheartening (even for young and beautiful flat-seekers), but it is incredibly time-consuming to search, find, contact, view, cross fingers, and then, usually, be rejected. Of course, this time, I know the city, and perhaps, if I had to move, I’d find something even more amazing and possibly cheaper.  However, moving is always a roulette wheel, and the last friend who I helped move on Saturday only moved in there last September, and waxed lyrical about flatmates, building and location, at the time. By the time she was leaving, she hadn’t a good word to say about it.  I am still in love with Neukoelln and my lovely flatmates, and am enjoying the changing seasons outside my bedroom window. We are on the third floor, so right up in the trees, which are planted everywhere in Berlin (500,000 at the last count).  I arrived when the trees were still in full summer costume, watched an amazing Autumn colour change, and then the bareness of Winter, and snow on the branches. Now the first buds are pushing through, even though it feels like the shortest Winter I ever experienced. We didn’t turn the heating on until it snowed on January 20th.  I realised why shortly before Christmas – the heating pipes for the whole building run through people’s apartments, so if the people upstairs have the heating on, you have the benefit of a heated pipe en route (mine is beside my desk). Because we had very low temperatures during the snow, the heating was on until Jan 30th, when it melted. When I helped my friends move last week, I realised that we are probably unusual here – my friends’ apartments were like ovens.  I guess is suits everyone to have three thrifty people, who wear more than tee-shirts at home, who like to cook and drink beer together (albeit alcohol-free for me), who share the same taste in music, who value their space, living together. This is the experience I missed before I got married, almost 39 years ago, and it feels all the better for having to have waited for it.