After having secured your apartment, the next task that must be undertaken is restocking it with all of the items that you essentially gave away in the garage sales that were necessary just so you could move here. Sure you could have paid someone thousands of dollars to ruin your furniture and then deliver the pieces to you here, but then you wouldn’t have that $12 to put down on your new furniture. Plus, you would have to actually pay someone else to dispose of the splinters and shards that were once your grandmother’s heirloom dresser. Since you have little money, your best bet is to take a trip to the great and wallet-friendly European furniture store – that is also now the benchmark of American decorating; IKEA.
If you have ever lived near a large U.S. city, you have undoubtedly already visited an IKEA where you bought at least one cleverly-designed and modern-looking item, as well as a small mountain of Swedish meatballs. The portions of IKEA Köttbullar are just as large here in Europe, but unlike in America, the IKEA stores here also sell their own beer. The portions of meatballs alone would be reason enough for the stores in the States to lay out invitingly-styled and dimly-lit bedrooms so that one can take a nap and digest the five pounds of Fleischebälle they just ate. Combine that with the few beers that one can knock back with them here, and the plethora of nap-spots in Germany have less to do with the concern for their patrons comfort and more to do with sales.
To get to IKEA’s checkout areas, one must first navigate well-marked but one-way aisles which meander through the displays. If you have ever been to an IKEA during peak hours and have found yourself being pushed along the people-current like spawning salmon, you know what I mean. Now imagine what it would be like if there were no available beds tucked away: Those same choked pathways would become completely blocked when everyone, with no other options, simply fell onto them face-first when their meatball and beer-induced comas kicked in. It would be like Jamestown, but caused by Swedish lager instead of poisoned Kool-Aid, and no one would be able to get to the registers.
The first item that you will need, unless you like sleeping on the floor, is a bed. The beds in Germany are available in the same sizes as in the States (full, queen, king, etc.) but that is where the similarities end. Instead of box-springs, here they have Lattenroste which are wooden frames that have convex wooden slats going across that tension as weight is placed upon them, thereby providing support. The fun part is that they do not fit all bed frames the right way and the frame must be adjusted. You will, unfortunately, only find this out when one of the two required for your king size bed slips out of place at three in the morning, hits the floor with a resounding crash, and catapults you headfirst into the face of your no longer sleeping partner. Tired and blackened eyes are not uncommon after first moving to Germany.
After having selected your bed, you will now need to buy bedding. Once again, this seemingly normal and mundane task may throw you in a couple of ways.
“Wait”, you might stammer. “What could be so challenging about buying bedding? All I have to do is buy one that fits my bed“. My level-headed and measured response to this would be, “MUAHAHAHA! Foolish American! There are no queen or king-sized comforters here!; You will need to buy two smaller ones”.
Like the unfortunate messenger in the movie 300, you too may think this madness, but it is not: This. Is. EUROPE!!! Now, no one is likely to kick you Leonidas-style into a bottomless pit for your insistence that everyone swear allegiance to the god-king “Hugeblanketes”, but that doesn’t change the fact that one comforter will not suffice. (I am going to get big points for that reference as Eve is a huge Gerard Butler fan). Like an NBA player clothes shopping at Gymboree, IKEA, or any other Bettenlager, probably won’t sell any that are large enough. Sure, you can find them here, but they are not common. I can only assume that the Europeans, wanting to be as fair with sleeping habits as they are with healthcare (or as a parent with only one cookie but two children), have decided that instead of fighting over one large one, that it’s better to cut it in half so that each person has their own, albeit smaller, duvet.
There are, of course, some benefits to smaller sleep covers. The first is that one person will not wake up uncovered and freezing in the middle of the night as their greedy partner has grabbed and cocooned themselves in it. Another advantage is that should you and your beloved ever have a quarrel (like over stealing the covers for example), the leaver can grab their comforter and go sulk on the couch without leaving the leavee without one. Where imperially taking an American single blanket would leave the remaining person unprotected and pissed off, the German solution of having two is both democratic and civilized. To put it another way, gentlemen, rather than the “take your ball and go home” approach, it is always better to have two balls that you can share. You know what I mean.
The only drawback of having two smaller ones (covers, not balls) is that during times of…errr, intimacy, someone is going to be exposed and cold. These things were simply not made to cover the bulk of two writhing bodies. Should you ever find yourself in the precarious situation of wanting to have sex, especially in winter, I suggest that you do it with your clothes on. As an American, you are probably used to a little prudence anyway, right? I knew one particularly shy guy in high school who showered in his swim suit after gym class. That guy may have been me.
A brief anecdote about bedrooms and sex: I’m going to buy a top hat, shove Eve’s old stuffed rabbit inside of it, and keep it in on our bedroom dresser so that when I’m giving tours of the house and get to the bedroom door, I can open it while proudly saying, “And this is where the magic happens”! …before grabbing the hat, pulling the rabbit out, and saying “Ta-DAAAAA”! Luckily, I am an American and already have a top hat which I wear proudly around town every year on Lincoln’s Birthday while reciting my version of the Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven beers ago…(hiccup)”. Doubly lucky is that since Eve is such an avid Gerard Butler fan, I also have a fake Spartan beard..that I sometimes wear underneath our tiny bed covers. “This. Is. ROLE PLAY”!
The remaining oddity of purchasing bedding here in Germany are the pillows. Here they are called “kissen”, presumably named by some awkward teenage boy, or “Junge”, as he was probably using it to practice his smooches on before he let his lips loose on all of the fair Mädchen in his village. I too used this strategy, and not only did it not help, my childhood pillow now has a restraining order against me.
Back to buying a pillow here in Germany, we Americans are used to our pillows being rectangles with varying degrees of firmness. Now, the pillows here also have different amounts and types of stuffing, but they are not rectangles; they are square. Meaning they are huge. I still haven’t solved the riddle of square pillows, but I can only surmise that they are this large so that they can accommodate the size of German heads as they swell nightly with dreams of engineering, hedonistic vacations in Mallorca, or, in Eve’s case, Gerard Butler.
As a man living with a woman, there are several items inside your dwelling that we, as men, do not understand, let alone have the ability to pronounce. Like curtains (pronouced ‘Kur-tens’). Here they are called “Vorhänge” which translates literally to “before hanging”. This makes sense as these nifty little €500 strips of designer cloth are evidently hung inside, before your windows, to prevent your neighbors from watching you squirm around under a napkin-sized duvet. I am only kidding, of course. I know what curtains are; They make great capes when I am pretending to be king as I stand on our balcony and make loud proclamations to my loyal subjects, i.e.; our irritated – and slightly nervous – neighbors. I am, however, a just king. So I didn’t have to forfeit my regal attire, but since we do need some measure of privacy, I selflessly propped up my life size cardboard cut-out of the Incredible Hulk in the window. Not only does his sheer bulk block the entire window, his ferocious snarl and huge, green muscles ensure that you are also never burglarized. Or visited. By anyone. Ever.
Another item that we men do not understand, but may have found their way into your IKEA cart, are throw pillows. This one should be easy, or so I thought. Gentlemen, be warned: Contrary to their name, throw pillows are almost certainly not meant to be thrown, as evidenced by Eve’s reaction. Okay, reactions. Plural. You’d think that I’d learn. Or that she would.
The bed and bedding issue resolved, the remaining items that you will need (sofa, chairs, microwave, etc.) are ultimately up to you and can be purchased at your leisure. That is unless your spouse, like Eve, loves to bake. It is at this point that you may find yourself in the market for what Eve would consider even more necessary than a bed or even oxygen, the item that proclaims that I am living in a domesticated household; the Kitchen-Aid. Yes, they have these in that U.S. as well, but I have never used one and so it’s purpose was a mystery to me. That is, until I was left alone…
Eve shouldn’t leave for work seminars anymore. Simply put, I am a man and am therefore not equipped to live on my own inside an apartment or house. Sure, if I was camping or lost in the wilderness, I could easily make a shelter out of pitch-sealed pine boughs and eat freshly caught fish roasted over an open fire. But I’m not Grizzly Adams. First of all, I don’t have a beard (except the fake one I’ve already mentioned). Second, I don’t live in the forest. Wait…I do. But I do not have a trusty bear companion! …though one could argue that Wilson is as big as a bear, and that he definitely eats like one. Okay, I am Grizzly Adams.
For those men out there who don’t know what a Kitchen-Aid is, but think that it might be a large Band-Aid that you can apply over the wound your kitchen suffered while attempting to construct a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you would be only partially wrong. They are so heavy that, if your destruction is limited to an area small enough which the device can cover, your wife will never be able to move it by herself and will therefore never discover the burned patch/blood stain underneath.
As a man, you might look at a Kitchen-Aid and think that it is a power tool. It’s made of metal, has movable parts and a power cord, but those are where the likenesses end. Because I was alone, and because they weigh approximately 10,000 pounds and cost roughly €100,000.00, I must say that my curiosity was piqued. If you just thought to yourself, “Why not simply read the instruction manual?”, you are obviously female and therefore lack the Y chromosome to understand that manuals of any kind are simply secret plots to undermine a man’s ability to do something quickly or correctly.
After countless attempts to decipher its use, I was fairly certain that it neither sawed nor drilled and can say unequivocally that it is useless as a sander. What it does do quite well, however, is mix paint. In this respect it is actually quite versatile. It can mix latex, acrylic-based enamels, oil stain… Anything, really. Upon a phone call to Eve, however, I quickly learned that it is definitely not a paint mixer. I’ll spare you the details of my lesson, but let’s just say that when she got home, I would have been lucky if it were only pillows that were thrown at me.
Okay, story time is over. As I have mentioned, Eve loves to bake (which is apparently the intended use for a Kitchen-Aid) and I just finished the side table I was working on. If anyone wants to come over for some white paint-flavored cake, please feel free. The best part for you is that you will get a free teeth-whitening. The best part for me is that the pillow fusillade will be briefly interrupted by your mere presence as no wife wants any witnesses to them pillow-murdering their husband. All the better, if you are actually thoughtless enough to criticize the cake, I will be spared completely as she will have found a new target/victim.
Please be here by 4:00 PM. Eve should be home by 3:00 which should be enough time for the cake to be ready.
(To be continued…)