Playing house

card houseI 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.


29 thoughts on “Playing house

  1. Bebe Magee

    Has Halloween made it to Berlin? If not, have a party for your new friends. We did this years ago in Paris. The best part was stealing a pumpkin from a farmer’s field. Our guests didn’t get the point of bobbing for apples but it was fun.

    1. neasha1

      I had never really thought about Halloween in other countries until I read your reply. No telling what other countries think of our ‘holidays’ and no telling what kind of holidays they have. 🙂

  2. Heidi

    Does your contract require you to work certain hours? Could you go for a wander straight after the kids have gone to school? Sabbatical sounds exciting and Berlin is a beautiful city to do it in.

    1. Jill M. Post author

      No set hours; it’s just me holding myself back. I worry I’ll fritter away my working hours and then not get anything done later. But you make a good point. Thanks, Heidi.

    1. Jill M. Post author

      Thanks! The pictures rotate, so I’m not sure which one you saw. If it was abstract, it’s from the inside of the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz, and my daughter pointed the camera straight up to capture it.

  3. neasha1

    I enjoyed reading this. You said you can hardly remember whats in your three story home you left behind– I often wonder if we downsized if we would miss the ‘stuff’ we have accumulated over the last 19 years.

    1. Jill M. Post author

      We have neighbors who say they packed up their stuff when they went on sabbatical, and even after they came back they didn’t unpack the boxes for several years. I suspect we all could get rid of a lot and not miss it.

  4. envviousmommy

    Wow, this seems like its going to be one heck of a trip. The pictures and memories that you are going to create are going to be awesome. It is kind of bad that your children don’t want to go running around exploring with you but I am sure that they just have to get used to being where they are and hopefully they will join you one of the next times you get around to going out. Hope it all goes well in Berlin, exploring new cities is an awesome adventure.

    A Suburban Mommy

    1. Jill M. Post author

      Thanks for your comment. I do wish my kids wanted to go out exploring with me, but I’m learning to do it on my own. Good luck in your own blogging and adventures.


    Jill, I remember the slow, steady process of turning a furnished flat in Berlin into a home. Living with other people’s tiny cups … and realizing that I liked it. Beautiful description of temporarily settling into a new country. My husband and I refer to the feeling as “time out of time.” Congrats on the FP – richly deserved. All the best, Terri

  6. outback7

    The story playing house was enjoyable to read. Makes me think how much we actually use in our houses and when we travel and visit elsewhere only the minimum is needed. Last year my husband and I travelled overseas with limited suitcases and I recall someone saying is that all you’ve got. We had enough clothes, It would be good to go to France in future and maybe teach English. I am doing a children’s stories challenge 8 in all with activities to finish and self publish in 1 year and blog the progress. The inspiration was from the movie Julie and Julia (Meryl Streep). My husband has just got work closer to home. Moving gets tiring after a while as have done so many times. Hope to be at home and not have to completely move we have a house in OUtback Queensland in Australia in Morven. We have lived in a big bus in the past and me in a caravan. Living short time in other places fine. All the best with your move soon. Regards Madonna

  7. debra colby

    When I moved out my home after a divorce, my home was a camper for three months. I quickly learned what was a necessity and what was just “stuff.” I got rid of the stuff and found that I liked my life much better when it was so simple. I have since moved into a small mobile home and even though I have space now for “stuff” I still choose not to have any. To me, it’s clutter…and I’m finding I much prefer a “clutter-free” life.

    Good luck keeping the “stuff” at bay. 😀

  8. lydiasilver

    Hi, I just wanted to say that I loved this post. I’ve just moved abroad too, to france for a year, and your post really summed up the strange way I feel about my new flat. I can’t quite call it a home yet, it’ll take some getting used to! Good luck for all your time in Berlin, Lydia

    1. Jill M. Post author

      Thanks, Lydia. I just saw your blog and I can tell that you’re approaching the blog in a similar way as me — what you’re doing in your new country, and how it makes you feel. I wish you luck in your stay in France. Writing about it helps me process it all. I hope it’s the same for you. Best wishes.


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