Life in a Berlin string quartet: ‘We’ve registered with the police’

Our diarist, the American violinist Anthea Kreston, continues her hectic adjustment to the Artemis Quartet. It looks like this week’s episode was written on a flight to Chicago.


My list of mistakes

I have made so many mistakes since moving to Berlin – it is just a huge and integral part of my new life’s fabric. As if someone would look at my pants and ask – “do you need to wash those – I can clearly see spaghetti sauce, coffee, and a piece of gum stuck to your pants?”, and I cheerfully reply “oh – thanks for noticing!  That is just a regular part of this new exciting style of pants, it’s supposed to look like that”, and I skip away, happily waiving as I step into a fresh pile of dog do-do.

On the list are things small and big – none of which (so far!) have been at all serious. For example, at the museum restaurant, ordering lunch for my daughters, I ask for “nudeln ohne sauce”, quietly proud of my ability to order in German, and as the pasta comes, smothered in sauce, the waitress just says in English – “oh – I couldn’t understand what you said, I’ll be back in a moment”.

Or – yesterday, when I was running late to a very important meeting with the University President. There is something here which is reminiscent of the video game “Grand Theft Auto” – you know the way you can just jump in any car you want and drive off? (Yes I have been known to play video games – I always play on the “veteran” level because I want to have the hardest level, and Jason passes by, wondering why I have been replaying the same scene for 3 hours, it is 2 AM and I am swearing softly while eating miniature carrots).  Of course, video games are quite in the past for me – but who knows – maybe I will have time again in a couple of years.

Well, here they have something called “Drive Now” (and a couple of other companies too) in which, with your yearly membership, you can jump into any nice BMW or Mini with the logo on the side, and drive it where you need, and leave it wherever you want to. Gas, insurance and parking all included. You pull up the app, and all cars show up on the map by your location, and you can choose which one you want and reserve it. Then follow the map, unlock the car with your phone, plug in your pin, and press the start button. Voilà. The main difference between “Grand Theft Auto” and “Drive Now” is that you don’t steal the car from someone, it is not in motion as you jump in, and if you crash it or drive it into the river you have to explain yourself to someone (story to follow).

So, yesterday – last day before we leave for our 11 day, 10 concert tour of North America. We have had two days together at home after Wigmore, in which time we have registered with the police for our new address, got the last “emergency” spot available for our 6 year old at the public school down the block, and moved to our new apartment. I am running late for the quartet meeting with the president – this is a critical meeting for us, where we discuss my transition into the University and all of the complications and delicate balance needed to make this possible. I have already packed all of my things, which are at the new apartment, and so I unfortunately only have my jeans (I tried to dress this up with a vintage crushed velvet jacket and brocade scarf).

I am running to my “Drive Now” car, which is farther away than I anticipated. At certain times of the day, all the cars migrate as people commute to work, and sometimes it is a 15 minute jog to the nearest car. I find the car, and it is my first electric car. The display is totally different and it takes me forever to start it – I feel like I am in a one-man moon shuttle with no training video.

Then – traffic – a bunch of police cars with different colored mini triangle flags hanging off – reminds me of Oregon on a Ducks/Beavers day. I can see my maps program as the estimated time of arrival continues to get later. Finally – I make it to the university, now 3 minutes past the meeting time. I circle the block and no parking is available. I have to get creative – there is one spot with about a salami’s-width of space on each side. Not a full salami – I mean a slice. With all warnings of imminent danger of collision beeping at me from the dashboard, I gently but very quickly back up into the spot. And stop the rental.

My door opens about one inch, and I reach for the passenger side – same story. Time to vault over to the back seat where I manage to barely squeeze out of the back door, one limb at a time. I sprint to the front of the university, where a member of the quartet is on look-out for me and we run upstairs. Just in time!  I noticed after the meeting that no-one has rented that car (go figure) and so I re-rent it to get back home.

I have one more car story before I put my head back to rest. I am on the flight to Chicago from Berlin now. Our taxi picked us up today at 4:45 AM – Jason and the girls head directly to Oregon to be with grandma and grandpa, Jason has a concert in Texas in a couple of days, and then I meet them all in Oregon after Montreal – before we head back to Berlin together.

I picked up the girls from the Pergamon Museum last week in my “Drive Now” car – Jason stayed with his brother and nephew. I was following the directions home on my maps app, and all of a sudden I realize I am not on a regular road anymore – I mis-read my map and am clearly now on a tram track. There is a yellow tram directly in front of me, and the sides of my “street” are now knee-high and hugging both sides of the car in a warm, but ominous embrace. Pedestrians outside are frantically waving at me as I calmly think “well, after this curve, I am sure the tramway will reconnect with a regular road!”.  The tram stops and I see that in 5 feet, the asphalt gives way to a more traditional gravel with raised track-type road, and the tracks are too wide for my little car to balance on. I unroll the windows to hear a barrage of languages – all frantically waving and pointing.  I just put my hands up and say “I know, I know!  What should I do?”.

A person runs over and says – quickly – the trams come every minute – you have to back all the way up!  I throw it in reverse as the girls ask – “mom – is everything ok?” And I answer “sure – luckily I am a fantastic driver and going backwards is really fun!  Hold on!”.  I jam my foot on the gas and back up, as I see the next tram coming my way in the rearview window. There is a small triangular island behind me – I aim for it and just make it (it is roughly the exact dimension of my Mini) as the tram speeds by me. I catch my breath as I notice the same woman as before running down the street. She says “now again – quickly – that way before the next tram comes!”. And I do a quick 3-point turn and race up the road, as I see the next tram coming towards me – this time facing me. I am able to veer off onto the regular road just in time, as the girls exclaim from the back seat “mom – can you teach us to drive like this when we are older?”.  Absolutely.

I knew we were not in any danger – the trams would have stopped – but the kerfuffle of having to back up a tram and disrupt the schedule would have been gargantuan. Now – on to my next mistakes!  I am sure there will be plenty.

I have a friend who gave me some great advice before leaving Oregon. She said, “pretend that you are on a camping trip for the next year, that way, if anything goes right you will be pleasantly surprised”. This is certainly the case, and something that came to mind as I was sitting on the floor of our new kitchen last night at midnight (here, an unfurnished apartment means an absolutely empty kitchen – just hookups and a perfectly empty square room), plastic knife digging into the peanut butter as I am making emergency PBJ’s for Jason and the girls for their plane trip today.

This sure is a deluxe camping trip so far!!

artemis quartet2


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