Friday, October 20, 2017

"Apartments in Berlin are incredibly cheap," a friend of a friend tells me. "It doesn't make sense. Europe has three main capital cities: London, Paris, and Berlin. And for some reason, real estate prices in the first two are five times the prices in the third."

I start looking at apartments online and discover he's absolutely right. In Berlin there are apartments in great neighborhoods, as big as my Brooklyn place, selling for $250,000. All of a sudden it makes that $2,500 monthly rent look awfully stupid. The place would pay for itself in 10 years, and then for the rest of my life there's just the maintenance fee of $250 a month.

I tell my German boyfriend I want to buy an apartment and he doesn't need convincing. In fact, he suggests sharing it. I'm wary: we are officially a couple, but we've only been together a year. Is it smart to buy real estate this early in the relationship? I agree to split the place, but not because of some starry-eyed optimism. No, because he works out of town, which means he'll only be there on weekends. It's hard for me to get sick of somebody when I only see them two days a week.

Plus there's that little voice in my head screaming: "If we share the place, it'll cost nothing at all."

Seemingly within minutes we find an apartment we love for an unbelievable price. What seemed like a silly daydream just a short time ago has become reality. I'm getting a home in Berlin.

I know I'll have bills to pay so I open a German bank account and link my American account to it. Right away I need $1,000 to reserve the apartment, so I go online to make the first transfer.

"Sorry," comes the error message, "that exceeds the maximum allowed."

Okay, I think. That's annoying. That's a pretty low maximum. But I'll call, I'll get it raised, and that will be that. I wait until American banking hours and telephone the bank.

I express a bit of minor irritation -- it's my money! It's not that much! Why does everything have to be so difficult? -- before a perfectly nice, reasonable clerk replies. "We're just trying to protect you, Mr. Hans. There are a lot of bad guys out there trying to do terrible things to older people."

Instantly I recognize this voice. It's the voice I use to say things like, "Grandma, I'm pretty sure Pierce Brosnan hasn't been looking at you through the kitchen window," and "That looks delicious. But you know you've baked an oven mitt into that pie?"

It hits me: this is how you talk to old people. They've checked my date of birth and decided I'm one of those clueless old people in need of help. Is this how I'm going to be treated every time I pull money out of the bank? "Now, Roman, you say you need some money to go to Spain. Are you planning on buying a plane ticket, or just walking there?"

My nieces and nephews will chime in next. "Remember, Uncle Roman -- you have to turn the water off every time you've turned it on." And "Promise me you'll never give money to a psychic, even if she breaks open an egg with a blood-red yolk."

Is this is how it's going to be for the rest of my life? Am I going to be saddled with people "helping" me?

I assure the clerk that I know what I'm doing and she makes a note allowing the transfer to go through. The next day the money moves across the ocean and I transfer the funds to the escrow account. I congratulate myself. That's one major milestone met.

But then bills come from the translator and the real estate agent, and I have to go online to move more cash. "Sorry," reads the error message again, "that exceeds the maximum allowed."

I know banking has simplified our lives incredibly since it's gone online, but it doesn't actually help if I have to call America every time I need cash. My heart is pounding in my chest but I try to stay calm as I call the bank again.

A guy gives me the same speech about my "protection" but this time I'm not feeling it. "I'm sorry, but I do not appreciate your 'help,'" I say. "I need the money right away and I don't appreciate having a simple procedure take days. I can't keep calling America to move money so I can buy an apartment."

"You're buying an apartment?"

"Yes," I reply. "This is for some of the fees."

"Oh," he says. "Okay. Before I authorize this though, tell me: have you actually seen the apartment?"

I assure him that I have. I'm tempted to run off onto random tangents, you know, like old people do. Maybe mention it's got a chair lift so I don't have to climb those awful stairs, and that I've got a cuddly red Tickle Me Elmo to keep me company. "Hello?" I'll say. "HELLO? Oh. I get confused sometimes. I spent eight hours yesterday talking into the vacuum cleaner." Instead I just ask him if the problem is fixed, he says yes, and I hang up.

And then the big day arrives. My German boyfriend and I sign the contracts and make it official. We are now the proud, joint owners of a small apartment in Berlin. Now a big pile of money has to go into the escrow account, and I go back online.

"Sorry," reads the error message, "that exceeds the maximum allowed."

I know the number by heart. "WRITE THIS DOWN," I scream red-faced into the phone. "I AM NOT AN OLD PERSON. I CAN TAKE CARE OF MYSELF. I AM BUYING AN APARTMENT WITH MY BOYFRIEND AND I WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF YOU WOULD LET ME TAKE MY GODDAMNED MONEY OUT OF MY GODDAMNED BANK ACCOUNT."

"I'm so sorry," comes a chastened voice out of the phone. "Believe me, no one here thinks you're an old person. We're just trying to help you hold on to your hard-earned cash. I'll see to this right away." She disappears for a minute, and then the voice comes back. "Just tell me one thing: have you actually met your boyfriend?"

2 comments:

jeesau said...

haha!! Well done. I shudder to imagine what the next line of questioning would be.

Yet Another Steve said...

Damn, you're the new Isherwood, with a whole raft of new Berlin Stories. Keep 'em coming!

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