I’m so old, when I arrived in this country, we didn’t even have euros yet. It was just DMs – Deutschmarks, baby. Officially one DM was worth 3 British pounds – but honestly, you could buy as much with one mark as you could with a quid – sometimes, more even.
It was a glorious time, we’d go out to eat in expensive restaurants in Savignyplatz and tip the waiters like we were in a hip-hop video. We’d go out for the night with, like, ten marks in our pocket. Everything was cheap. Life was good. Also, it used to be really easy to schwarzfahren. You just bought yourself a ticket but didn’t ‘entwerten’ it and when the Kontrolleure got on – they used to be nice white German people, kind of old, with uniforms on – you’d pretend you couldn’t speak German. They’d make you get off the train, show you how to entwerten your ticket and you’d be on your way. It was heaven. Berlin was a wonderful, wonderful place to live.
We’d go out to eat in expensive restaurants in Savignyplatz and tip the waiters like we were in a hip-hop video.
After the euro came, things got a bit more expensive, but it was still bearable. In 2008, my friend from East London came to stay with me, a friend called Diana. I told her I earned €900 a month and she couldn’t stop laughing.
“Do you think I should get a job that pays more money?” I asked her.
“I think you should get a job that PAYS money!” She chortled. “How do you even pay your rent on that?”
In those days I was living in a two-room apartment on Rigaer Straße for €279.
“Well, my rent’s less than 300,” I said. “So I still have €600 left after paying my rent.”
Her face grew serious.
“Your rent’s less than 300?” She asked. “So you earn nothing, but you pay nothing? Is that the system?”
Later on, we went out with our kids for dinner. The pizza restaurant I took her to had a happy hour, it was €3 a pizza or €4,50 a pizza. You got a glass of wine for €2 – the wine tasted shit but the pizzas were great. She chose a €4,50 pizza. “You chose the wrong pizza, Diana,” I told her anxiously. “That’s one of the expensive ones.”
She looked at me pityingly.
“Jacinta, less than €5 for a whole pizza is not my idea of expensive!” She said.
Over pizza I told her that my Kita costs were €100 a month – super expensive in my eyes. She stared at me like I was telling her something she’d never considered possible.
“So that’s really how things are in Berlin?” She asked. “Back home, nursery’s so expensive, you can’t work. Rent’s so expensive, so you have to work. Life’s so hard, because you’re always working. And here, everyone is just chilling out, having a nice life, eating cheap pizza.”
When I arrived in Germany, there was always a GDR granny at the till in Penny, weeping despairingly or screaming abusively about the price of cherries.
But oh, how the tables have turned. Now loads of people in Berlin are as poor as ever, while Döner is €6, Pommes are €8, and our rent’s so expensive I can’t even parody it. Whatever price I write now, in a hilariously satirical way, for a two-room apartment in Friedrichshain, will, by the time you guys read this, seem ridiculously reasonable. That’s how quickly rents are rising. It’s depressing!
When I arrived in Germany, there was always a GDR granny at the till in Penny, weeping despairingly or screaming abusively about the price of cherries. I am now that GDR granny. “EIGHT EUROS FOR POMMES AND YOU DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER TO PEEL THEM?” I scream outraged at waiters who must, surely, secretly agree with me. Sometimes I’m even polite about it. In Hugendubel I asked a worker where the normally-priced colouring books were kept and I think she felt sorry for me, because she touched my arm and just whispered sympathetically: I know.
Unlike a GDR granny, I don’t have any money-saving tips, though. It feels like things have got SO expensive lately, it’s not even worth trying to reuse tea bags or grow your own vegetables anymore. Even if you managed to save a couple of euros… you can’t buy anything at Aldi for less than a fiver now, so what’s the point? To be honest, the only solutions I can think of are shoplifting and socialism. And doesn’t that sound like something an ostdeutsche Oma would say.
Jacinta Nandi’s survival guide Wtf Berlin: Expatsplaining the German Capital is out now from Satyr.