A Berliner Memoir: Down And Out in Berlin

When it comes to searching for a job or hunting for a place to live, a lot of us in Berlin find ourselves, at some point, up against a wall. Usually it happens more than once.

I left a job for another at the end of summer 2013. Not surprisingly, it fell through. I was depleted cash-wise but felt sure that another job would come along. The autumn fell into winter, which as per-usual was long and dark. Christmas was coming; the realization that it was going to be another one missed was hard. I had to give up on my beloved pipe tabak (a habit which is hard to shake, even when wanting to), and started smoking rollies.. A bailout from the folks was pushed aside more than once. I said I would keep going.

A bit of luck came in the form of a 50 euro note, which in the arrogance of summer I had used as a bookmark in my copy of Catcher in the Rye. In typical fashion, food and other essentials got pushed aside in favour of a few pints on WeserStr. It led to a bleary morning leaving a strange apartment saying to myself, while slugging down a Mate, ‘I wont give up just yet’.

A month later I found myself working in a hotel frequented by many ‘creative types’. If you have read Orwell´s Down and Out in Paris and London, you´ll be familiar with ‘Hotel X’. This place was more or less the same, but with electric lighting and better health standards. My job, somewhat like Orwell´s, was to move things around and take abuse from addled managers. Not much has changed in the hotel business over the last one hundred years.

The promise to myself to hang on there for three months turned into six, then into a year. A contract job is great when you love what you do, but it can kill you if you believe that leaving will put you close to being on the street again. It also doesn't help psychologically if one Sunday you have to be on the U8 to be at work at 6AM and the next you´re on the U7 towards wherever will let you in. As the end of the contract loomed, fear once again set in. I followed the orders to ‘work harder!’, but I knew that it was not going to get any better. I could see the end in sight and knew that whatever happened next would be better than this.

After I was done I could see what the madness of that year brought me. I was able to sort out a flat (I´ll take coal heating over living in a WG ever again), met some of the best people I´ve ever known, and have become secure in the knowledge that something interesting will always follow the bad. This realisation has come to me not through money or lack of it, but from knowing that if we want to be here, no matter what, it takes work, time, and the ability to sometimes just say: fuck it all!!!

By Francis T. Spurling

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