September 25th, 2010
Berlin, Germany

We’ve moved into our temporary apartment, which has been all ours this week. This is my bedroom, for now:

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Chris and I had a best two out of three chess tournament to see who gets it (because we’re so cool). Amazingly, I won, so I get the luxury of two big windows and chairs and high ceilings until the girls move in. We haven’t actually discussed who gets the better room, but we assume it’s them because they’ll be living here longer. Also because gallantry is back. Drink Boags. (I’m serving time in obscure reference hell for that one.)

It’s great to once again be living in a home rather than a hostel or a hotel or, very briefly, a ger camp. And as I mentioned before, it’s great to be back in Europe. You know, all the way through South-East Asia and China, while I was hunkered down above their bestial Oriental squat toilets with my pants off, robbed of all dignity, behaving like a common troll, I consoled myself by thinking, hey, at least Europe will have proper toilets NOPE!

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On the first day we were here, Chris emerged after taking a dump and said, “Dude, you have to come check this toilet out. It’s so badly designed.”

“Haha, you mean the angle it juts out from the wall? Yeah, I thought…”

“No. Go look at the bowl.”

As you can see in the image above, the German toilet has a shelf smack-bang in the middle of the bowl. Your turd drops about five centimetres and then just sits there, uncovered by water, uncomfortably close to your ass and cheerfully pumping its odour into the surrounding airspace.

We puzzled over this design for quite some time, as our regard for German engineering slowly slid down the ladder from first place. I mean, it’s obviously preferable to an Asian squat toilet, but I least I understood the squat toilet. This was just baffling. I could not for the life of me figure out why anyone would decide to put a platform in the middle of a toilet.

A few days later we were discussing this with Chris’ old friend Lara, a German girl whom we quite coincidentally bumped into in Bangkok and then again randomly met at a subway station in Berlin. Uncanny! She defended the toilet on the notion that you can see your shit, and therefore better determine your state of health, and said that her Dad would have died of bowel cancer had he not caught it in time thanks to the trusty poo shelf.

I did some research online and discovered that this is indeed the reason for it: Germans like to inspect their shit. There you have it. I thought they were cool, you know? After five months in Asia I was relieved to be among Westerners again. Now I’m sitting on the subway looking at their faces and knowing their terrible secret: they’re a nation of shit inspectors.

Outrigger defences of the poo shelf include the concept that it’s more water efficient and that toilets with proper bowls splash water on your ass. Regarding the first point, no it isn’t. Chris and I now flush twice, because you have to exile your shit ASAP before it stinks up the joint (since the shelf is not submerged in water). In any case, does Germany really have a problem with water supplies? Why aren’t these abominations installed across water-starved Australia, then? Regarding the second point – yeah, okay, that happens, but only like one out of every fifteen shits. And I’d much rather have water splashed on my ass than have my own faeces lurk dangerously close to it.

To sum up, German poo-shelf toilets are stupid, and destroying every one of them should have been a mandatory requirement for any nation joining the European Union, just like abolishing the death penalty. Certain practices are barbaric and have no place in a modern, civilised society.

Now, before we leave the bathroom, there’s another complaint I need to express: what in the world is the idea with having no shower curtain and no drain on the floor? The omission of one of those things is forgivable. The omission of both means that after every shower you have to spend ten minutes mopping up the floor. Honestly, what the fuck? It’s a water-oriented room. How did the architect not realise this would be a problem? I’ve come across more efficient bathrooms in Vietnam, and that’s saying something.

Apart from that, mind you, the apartment is fine. (Well, it also lacks a freezer and an oven, but I find that less irritating). I have this lovely, big, high-ceilinged, sunlit bedroom to myself for one more night before the girls arrive tomorrow and I have to bunk with Chris again.

Chris has his appointment with Worldbridge on Tuesday, and we’re crossing our fingers for that because there’s literally nothing else we can do. No phone numbers to call, no email address that sends anything other than a template, no physical office to visit unless you have an actual ($250) appointment. Just a thought, but maybe privatisation is a really fucking bad idea if it’s in an industry that is a natural monopoly. I never thought I would come across people who care about their jobs less than those who work in the visa section of any given nation’s consulate, but apparently by selling something to the private sector you can always make it worse.

The two hurdles are the fact that he doesn’t have a signed letter from his bank proving that he has enough funds to support himself (just a printed scan, since an actual letter would take too long to get here) and that he is applying in a country in which he is not a resident. Supposedly you need to be allowed to remain in the country for more than six months to be considered a resident (he just has the standard three month Schengen visa), but he was permitted to apply online anyway. It would be swell if we could maybe ring somebody up and ask them about that, but we can’t, because Worldbridge are a useless gaggle of incompetent wastrels.

What else is happening? Well, we went to the Berlin Zoo. I hadn’t been to a zoo in about ten years, and while it’s lost the magic it held for me when I was a child, it nonetheless delivered us to the glory of the MANBIRD:

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It also had quite a fascinating layout. At Perth Zoo, virtually all the enclosures are either on the other side of glass or in sunken pits. Berlin Zoo had quite a number of enclosures that were on the same level as the viewers, and which had nothing between us and the animals except a very shallow ditch filled with water.

“How do they stop them running away?” I wondered. “A donkey could jump over that easy.”

“Maybe they’re terrified of water,” Chris said. “Maybe the zookeepers drowned one of the donkeys in front of the rest of them.”

We also saw a REAL swan:

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Other than that we haven’t done much. Well, Chris bought a guitar. And we went to the movies. And I went to the laundromat, which was tedious. And we got caught by the Berlin transit guards (undercover, sneaky!) for riding without tickets, which is 40 euros each we shan’t see again. And Chris has started exercising and going for jogs. And we’re going food shopping basically every day since we don’t have a freezer and therefore can’t buy meals more than a few days in advance.

I did feel the need to get our of the house today, and wandered east awhile, towards an English-language bookshop and open-air weekend market. It was a very drizzly day, though, which I imagine the next six months will be like. Don’t Europeans get tired of being damp all the time?

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