Any guidebook will tell you that the Kurfürstendamm is Berlin’s most legendary shopping street. They may even compare it to the Champs-Elysées. Sure, I guess, if the Champs-Elysées were basically an outdoor shopping mall with all the chains you can find on any high street in Europe and a few extra sex shops. To me, on a Saturday morning as I lugged my ailing Macbook to the Apple Store, the Kurfürstendamm just exemplified all the reasons why never leaving your house is such a good idea. Nothing about this made sense, I thought, wandering past Karstadt (advertising this fantastic new service where you can order things online and go pick them up in the shop, because…why? Why would you voluntarily go into a department store and interact with people when DHL could bring it to your house for free?), the Scientologists at their long table with the shiny, metallic, sooper sciencey personality testing devices, and a huge poster of The Dude advertising for an overpriced, wannabe-preppy German clothing chain.
The Apple Store didn’t make it better. Oh, the employees were lovely. Sprightly 19 year olds with a corporate mandate to use the informal “du” with everyone – only they kept forgetting. Conversations started with a hearty, can-do tone and a smile, before lapsing into the occasional “Sie”, i.e. “you” for old people. They would catch their mistake that split-second too late, clear their throats, carry on with “du”, with less and less eye contact as the conversation progressed and it became clear how awkward it was for them to not be all formal with someone as haggard and clueless as me. I waited for the repair, browsing on my cracked, scratched-up Windows Phone as, all around me, makeup-adept twentysomethings tapped their 600 euro iphones with perfectly manicured nails.
Something had to change, and as the estimated repair time dragged from 30 minutes to 60 to 90 to “maybe in another hour?” it became clear that the Apple Store and its well-groomed clientele were not going to be the ones to budge. It got hotter and louder and fuller of screaming children and I finally stuffed my phone in my bag and elbowed my way to the front door and onto the Kudamm.
Now what? That way are the scientologists. This way lie the boutiques with the 400-euro Versace baby clothes. H&M, Zara, just the thought is giving me hives…there’s a drugstore. I’ll just pop in and buy a 10-liter bag of cat litter. Ok, and now? Coffee? Sure, why not. Coffee. Over here is a Starbucks, but the line is out the door. Over there is another Starbucks and another line out to the street. A few hundred meters down another Starbucks with a flash mob inside. Oh man, and I could be running right now…oh hey, look, McCafé. Sure, it’s McDonald’s and I haven’t entered one of those since 1997, but: coffee. And cheap. I went in. Stood in line for two minutes, ordered a small, sadly not as cheap as I expected coffee, and took it over to a seat by the window.
The McCafé moved into a space left by a different restaurant, and didn’t bother redoing it. The walls are dark, fake wood panels with brass sconces and shelves of fake-antique fake books. There is a chandelier. The table was only a little bit sticky.
I sat there blowing on my coffee and looking around at who the hell else had chosen to sit in this dark place on a perfectly fine Saturday morning for a run in the woods. It was just me and two immaculately dressed, gold-accessorised, and coiffed blonde women in their 40′s sipping lattes and looking at something on an iPhone. One had shiny, straight hair and was apparently scrolling through photos while the other, who had a mass of curls held back from her face with huge sunglasses, oohed and aahed. They looked like they would have been more at home in one of the brasserie-type places with the 5-euro filter coffee, or maybe on the rooftop terrace at the über-upscale KaDeWe down the street.
I picked at my cuticles and tried to look more interested in my phone than in their conversation or outfits (seriously, it can’t be that hard to put on makeup and jewelry, can it? Why do I not accomplish this on a regular basis?)
The photos, I surmised, were of a yachting vacation, or maybe a Tuscan getaway. “Ooh, lovely,” said curly hair, shaking her head with envy. Then straight-hair said something about a trail and a mountain. I sat up, leaning in and trying to give the impression that my phone had just done something particularly absorbing.
“…and then we ran here…” straight-hair was saying, swiping the iPhone screen.
Wait, what? You ran? Suddenly her cheekbones looked like more than the result of an air-and-vodka-based diet.
“Oh, those trails look amazing,” said curly, taking the phone and swiping with thumb and forefinger to zoom in.
Wait, on trails? Better dressed AND more badass? I had to resort to actually sipping my coffee I hadn’t ever wanted in the first place in order to process this information.
Then curly sat up straight, touched her friend’s arm and said, “OH! I meant to tell you! There’s running clothes next week at Tchibo!”*
And I almost jumped up from my chair and said “Oh yeah I KNOW! I’m all over the fleece tights! Starting Wednesday!”
Then I remembered I don’t actually know her and wedged my butt more firmly in the hard plastic seat. Then straight hair said “Oh yeah, I know! I meant to tell you too! Starting Wednesday, right?”
They started talking about what they were going to buy (fleece jacket or windbreaker? Socks?) and the relative merits of 7/8th vs 3/4 length running capris, something I myself have internally debated recently as so many women seem to be gravitating to the 7/8th length these days. Personally, I think it looks like your full-length tights shrank in the wash, but I didn’t share this opinion. Curly said she’d probably pick up a pair of full-length tights for winter. I gave her a mental thumbs up.
Runners. They’re everywhere! This felt like a good thing. I finished my coffee and gathered up my purse and my huge bag of cat litter, stood up and made eye contact with a grey-haired man in glasses who’d just sat down with a cappuccino and appeared to be watching me with amusement, or maybe it was pity. The U-bahn whisked me, my cat litter, and my newly repaired MacBook back to Cheekland. I ran 15km, sweated out any remaining anomie, and look forward to a shopping-district-free future for at least the next six months. Oh, and I totally bought those fleece tights yesterday.
*Tchibo is this German chain that has a different “theme” and sells different items every week. It’s cheap and the quality is decent, but it is not the place for name-brand snobs at all.