I have the distinct impression we’re just playing house. Our “flat,” as people insist on calling it here, is spacious and fully furnished with another family’s things. Though the ceilings are high and the room proportions generous, everything in the place is smaller than at home. The teaspoons are tiny but seem to suit the dainty coffee cups. The refrigerator is underneath the counter, more like a dorm fridge, and anything tall, like a bottle, has to lay flat. Even when it’s full it feels empty. A glass here fills up as soon as you begin to pour juice from the small boxes they sell. The lone ice cube tray, half the size of a tray back home, has 15 slots to make 15 tiny cubes.
We left behind a three-story house full of stuff. I can no longer recall what it all is or why we need it. Here we have the clothes we brought, three decks of cards, Scrabble, and a couple of laptops. I have a year’s worth of books downloaded on my Kindle, plus a few paperbacks. The girls brought three stuffed animals. Three handmade quilts, one brought by each child without discussion, are a warm reminder of home.
Straightening up the flat takes no real effort, as there is little to disturb in the first place. Our husky did not join us for this trip, and neither did the hair that she manages to shed on every surface.
For fun the kids build forts with the tablecloths and bedcovers. They make card houses and card villages that stretch across the living room rug. I’ve taught them every variation of Solitaire I know.
The kids could use a big box of Legos. My next outing will be to second-hand children’s stores in search of toys and games. Berlin is the land of second-hand goods, we’re told, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find some things they’ll like.
We’re here to experience the city, so there’s no point in making the flat so comfortable that we never want to go out. It should be a resting place only, a place to sleep and get recharged, to head out into the vast city waiting for us outside our windows. But it’s also a school year, and the girls come home tired and hungry, wanting nothing more than to curl up on their beds and chat with their friends back home, or get their homework out of the way. They want dinner, a story, and sleep.
Meanwhile I spend my days working from this flat, this temporary space that begins to feel comfortable, and by the time my girls return from school I am eager for their company, glad to have them around me, ready to go out and explore. But no one has energy then. They want downtime. They want to be alone.
This is the hard part for me, the dual pull of my work and my urge to explore. At any point I could head off and take the subway anywhere across the city; I could wander the halls of the city’s museums, walk its bridges, wander through its cathedrals. But I have contracts; I have work to do. M is on his own schedule; he has books to read, music to learn, articles to write.
Each day I do head out somewhere. Yesterday I took my Kindle and went to a Middle Eastern place in our neighborhood for lunch and had an incredible falafel sandwich and apple cider for all of 4 Euros.
I invent errands that take me on multiple subway lines and require me to walk past great sights, always resulting in some small purchase, whatever someone has decided they can’t live without back at the flat. And so the accumulation begins again, the padding of the flat, the slow but steady shift from the impression of playing house to the act of making it a home.