The weird thing about moving to a new country is how certain things, which you’d expect to be easy, can become quite complicated. It’s all part of the experience, but it’s one of those things that can really lead to culture shock. I still remember how excited I was when I finally found a mall in Cambridge, because I could finally find stores to purchase the things I needed. I was so used to the big box store takeover in Canada, coupled with living in big cities like Toronto & Edmonton where I could almost always find exactly what I needed, that the first few months in Cambridge were a bit of a shopping shock.
We’ve had interesting experiences in Berlin with the following:
A Lamp: I would’ve thought that finding a lamp in our neighbourhood would be easy. Most of the grocery stores sell household items and there is a store in the mall called Real, which appears to be like a German Walmart (clothing, household items, groceries, etc). Apparently this was assuming too much. Every store we went into sold lightbulbs, toasters, kettles, and CD players but no lamps.
In a fit of desperation we decided to walk to what appeared to be a string of box stores. When we got there we found out that it was an yet another mall, just across from ours, but it was a very strange one. It was mostly deserted and it was really difficult to get into. There was one discount grocery on the outside, but you couldn’t access the rest of the stores through it. You needed to walk into the underground parking and find the sole entrance. Inside were more discount stores and another grocery store. It was eerily quiet inside, as most people choose to do their shopping at Gesundbrunnen Centre across the street. David and I are both convinced that it is a Commie Ghost Mall (it is really close to where the wall was) filled with the ghosts of old East Berliners. We got stuck in the grocery store, because a lot of them have a stupid anti-shoplifting barrier that means once you're in it's not easy to leave unless you pass through a checkout till, so that was mildly terrifying. And then we bought some food there, but ensured Walter didn't eat anything on the premises, because we knew from Spirited Away that he might be our only ticket out of the haunted shopping center.
We did end up finding a lamp in the end, in the Saturn store. David and I were pleased, since it had taken about two hours to locate one, but Walter seemed rather disappointed. I think with his general hatred of lamps he’d been hoping that we’d never locate one.
Blank Cards: I really like having nice stationary and try to keep a supply of pretty blank cards on hand. I also have a fair number of thank-you cards that still need to be written for various gifts that Walter’s received, so I thought it would be a simple task of buying another box of blank cards to write in. It may just be my neighbourhood, or it may be that I’m looking in the wrong stores, but I’ve been unable to locate nice blank cards anywhere. The stationary sections in all the stores I’ve been in, including paper & card stores, simply holds journals, place cards and single cards. Eventually I ended up at “Preis Pirat” where, in the kid’s arts & crafts section, I located some stickers and metallic cards for decorating. This was a full day’s quest.
Can Openers: I thought that the can-opener was fairly universal, at least in the West, but apparently I was wrong. Our flat came with a really archaic “lever can-opener” which neither David nor myself could figure out how to use on our can of sweetcorn, even after watching an instructional video on Youtube. I figured that this was just a leftover from times gone by, since as we’ve taken a holiday sublet it’s unlikely that our landlord wants to furnish it with the best and newest equipment. Well, I was wrong. When I went to the grocery store to get a new can opener they had a whole rack of lever can openers. To get a proper can opener cost €3 more...
These are the biggest three oddities that I can think of, although on a daily basis we come across many more. Shopping in a foreign country is always an adventure. Celery seems to be a specialty item in my neighbourhood, and the only barley I could find for the soup I was making was ground up. It's really difficult to get fresh white bread from the neighbourhood bakeries, and bacon also seems to be in low demand as I've only been able to find one brand of it (and it's paper thin). David has been craving an English fry-up, so we're going to try to figure out how to make that German-style. I really miss Canadian breakfasts tho, and think I need to go out for a breakfast skillet when I'm home.