I spent four years studying German and passed my GCSE with an A grade, but can estimate the number of times I’ve used the language during the last decade (side note: sob – can’t believe I’m that old!) using the fingers of one hand. That’s all about to change: I’m going to Berlin next week.
I was still in the US when I received a few fractured messages from my mother regarding Berlin, and it wasn’t until I got hold of her via Skype that I got any kind of sense out of her. “I’ve got some money, your sister hasn’t been away this year and Dad’s taken some time off work. Would you like to come to Berlin in October?” I think I was in the middle of Vermont at the time, and couldn’t formulate a response other than, “Erm, sure.”
We haven’t been on a family holiday together since that very year in which I took my GCSE German exams. In May 2003, the four of us spent a week together in Cape Cod: “It’ll be lovely,” Mum insisted, “the weather will be much nicer than it is at home.”
“You’re taking me out of the country during the week’s break in the middle of the first set of important exams I’ve ever sat?” I was incredulous. Surely this wasn’t my mother talking, but some alien who’s taken over her body.
“Yes!” she insisted. “It’ll be great.”
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Their weather’s the same as ours. Look, it’s pretty much level with us!” I didn’t take GCSE Geography – can you tell?
“It’ll be lovely!” Mum repeated. It wasn’t. It pissed with rain all week, the beaches were windy and quiet, many of the towns hadn’t yet opened for the summer season. As my Dad put it, my revision books went for a nice trip (they didn’t make it out of my backpack the entire week, even though the weather was awful).
After that trip, I refused to go on any family holidays. I was far too grown up to spend two weeks in the same hotel room as my parents and sister, plus they’d decided to go to increasingly wetter and colder destinations which I had no interest in (I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d made that decision intentionally). As a consequence, I didn’t go on holiday for three years, when my parents’ generosity funded a trip for myself and my Dad to go to Florida the spring after I had my scoliosis surgery as a, “well done for surviving that, sorry you had a shit summer” present.
So it’s not two weeks in Florida (sadly), but it’s also not a week in wet and windy Cape Cod (also kind of sadly, because it is a lovely place). Instead, it’s three nights in Berlin as a foursome. But I am an adult, so I’m far from bound to my family. Here are the other problems: I hate art, I have a limited attention span when it comes to architecture and history, and I don’t drink beer. So what, dear readers, do I do for three days in a city where my favourite and most comfortable phrase is, “I suck with the dust-sucker”?
Clearly, there are things in Berlin which appeal to me: I have already insisted that we will pay a visit to what is reportedly one of the world’s greatest chocolate shops (doesn’t it look like Harrods?!); Mum has sourced a coffee and cake tour, which sounds divine; Berlin loves Christmas almost as much as I do, so there should be plenty of Christmas decoration shops to plunder. But that will still leave me with a lot of time. Much as I’d love to, I can’t spend three days eating chocolate (it’s my job anyway, worse luck, but we all know I can’t afford to inflate my girth to house-like proportions).
Art, an abundance of history and Oktoberfest are out. Don’t go there. Anybody else got any other ideas? Other than dragging a bunch of my gay friends with me and dancing our socks off in Berlin’s variety of clubs – believe me, I’ve already considered that option.