Confessions of a Desperate Housewife

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Dear Diva Readers,

top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>As I sit to write my first blog since moving from Amsterdam to Berlin, I must confess I am feeling anything but like a diva! Last week as I interrupted “my nesting in Berlin routine” with a 3 day dash back to Holland for a public speaking engagement at the IWC in Eindhoven, it occurred to me that I had no clean clothes to wear (as our new German washing machine had not yet arrived) and that I was desperately in need of a manicure!

When one hears of an international move, they think of the glamour and excitement involved. But in reality, if any move by default is difficult, then an international move might just very well be hell. Add to a typical move scenario the following ingredients:
– not yet speaking the local language
– not being able to read the copious quantities of bills the Deutsch Post delivers daily
– combine with the reality of the German penchant for not putting closets in their abodes
and voila – you have a recipe for domestic disaster!

How Does One Move Into A House Without Any Closets or Cupboards?

The last few weeks have found me wavering from euphoria to despair. Euphoria when discovering that German is shockingly similar to Dutch – a language I spent nearly 4 years struggling to acquire, followed by despair when I realized the only phrase I could think to respond in German to a German government official speaking to me about my “resident permit” was Wo ist die Toilette, bitte? Joy returned again when I walked into my new home – a classically proportioned apartment in the heart of the Mitte with high ceilings and large German windows and rooms. But despair reared its ugly head when the moving company, which had thoughtfully unpacked all my boxes, departed and I discovered the floor of our family room was entirely filled with items which typically would have been stored away in closets or cupboards had they existed.
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Friends have called and Diva Readers have emailed inquiring, “How’s the move? Have you done much sightseeing?” While I tell them how I live in a historically-listed building only steps away from Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, what I really have to say is something of a letdown. Not for me, mind you, for I’m overjoyed about my recent daily accomplishments – but rather for those yearning to hear details of my “exciting life”. No one finds it nearly as exciting as I do when I joyfully exclaim, “My kitchen is finally organized! And I’ve found a storage unit for the bathroom!”
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People expect more from me than simple excitement over finding the nearest u-bahn, post office, or the 3-week-long-awaited-arrival of my new combo washing machine/dryer. Telling friends that your big accomplishment of the day was deciphering the Kaiser website and ordering home grocery delivery is met with a yawn while I’m exclaiming, “Friend – This is significant!!! Don’t you realize that I ran around the house in stocking foot singing “I am the Champion” after successfully completing my transaction?”

Speaking of stocking foot, we’re trying desperately to get along with our new neighbors by not annoying them with loud noises and sounds. Quiet hours in our German apartment building are all day Sunday and daily from 1-3pm and after 8pm until 7am. During this time, we’re to keep things to a quiet hum on the home front. We’ve been advised that drilling should be kept to weekly daylight hours which means little work can be done after my husband arrives home from work. Thus, as we successfully pass the three week anniversary of moving into our new German apartment, we finally have curtains hung in only half our rooms while the other half waits for respectful time to be installed.

Speaking of respectful, one of my best friends commented, “Good Curtains make good neighbors” after learning that our gorgeous master bath had a French window perpendicular to the toilet!

Meanwhile, throwing trash away practically takes a PHD in sanitation engineering as the Germans recycle in 10 ways. Sorting garbage (and figuring out how to store containers for the various sorts) has led to endless discussions about the inconvenient truth. When the day is done, we can at least feel good that we’re doing our part – assuming, that is, we haven’t contaminated the glass bin with the metallic wrapping from the mouth of the wine bottle or forgotten to remove packing tape from the cardboard box we’d deconstructed into perfect petit fours.

Over the last decade living abroad I’ve commented to my husband, “Wouldn’t we feel that something was missing from our life if it weren’t for the daily struggles of buying bread in a foreign language?” but I must confess, right now, I’m kind of longing for that! If boring is a walk-in-closet and an ability to read my mail, then SIGN ME UP BABY! Don’t get me wrong, in another week or even a month, once the chandeliers we’ve ordered come in from back order and we have overhead l
ighting and can read without unplugging the space heater to plug in a lamp, I’ll get my groove back – but, in the meantime I’m in for a heck of a ride as I get settled in my new home! I fantasize about the day when I might start to look like myself again once the wardrobe unit we’ve bought is finally installed and my clothes are not folded on a makeshift utilitarian rack but instead hanging inside a gorgeous armoire.

The good news is that as I wonder “What have we done – moving yet again?!” I’ve discovered that my favorite French department store Galleries Lafayette is only a 7 minute walk from my front door. If I can’t find something to wear, I can always head to the comforts of a familiar store. It’s this latter point that gives me hope.

When I started a decade of expatriation by moving overseas from Ohio to Paris, nothing French felt like home. I had never heard of Galleries Lafayette, I had never tasted Laduree’s famous macaroons and had no idea who Lionel Poilâne was. Coincidentally, last week I was delighted to discover that both Laduree and Poilâne are sold in the basement of Berlin’s Galleries Lafayette and bought both in a burst of nostalgia. A decade ago these things were even more foreign to me than tourismus/sehenswuerdigkeiten.en/28953.html” target=”_blank”>KaDeWe, Schnitzel, Berliner Landsbrot and toffelsalat-mit-wrstchen-potato.html” target=”_blank”>Kartoffelsalate is now! When I first moved to Paris I’d only travelled there once while in university, while Berlin I’ve visited dozens of times! So though I don’t speak German yet, I know there’s hope for me… if I conquered daily French conversation and wrestled Dutch into submission (if not actually acquired an ability to speak it well), I have faith that German and Germany won’t get the best of me!

Someday I will sit writing my Diva blog, lingering over a strudel in a torei” target=”_blank”>Konditorei, with a copy of the Berliner Zeitung tucked under my laptop and on that day, German and Germany will feel fondly familiar. Of course, if Murphy’s Law has its way, once that finally happens the time will have come for another move to another country with another language to acquire…. And when it does I’ll think longingly of my time spent in Berlin – Trautes Heim, Glück allein!

Until then, join me on my journey as I learn to become a torical/a/jfk_berliner.htm” target=”_blank”>Berliner!

Good Bye, Au Revoir, Tot Ziens and auf Wiedersehen!

The Antiques Diva™

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Author: Toma Clark Haines

Toma Clark Haines is a Global Tastemaker, Speaker, Writer & Entrepreneur; and founder and CEO The Antiques Diva® & Co, Europe, Asia and America's largest Antiques Sourcing & Touring Company.

  • Hi there,

    This is a great blog of yours, Your site is very informative and I can relate to your posts. I’m also a housewife. I have just started my own blog: TheShanghaiExpat. Please feel free to visit and let me know what you think for a link exchange.


  • A belated welcome to Berlin, Antiques Diva! Have you happened across Friedrichslust? Your blog reminded me of it, a shop in an inner courtyard off Schonhauser Allee stocked with stuffed foxes, antlered figures carved out of birch trunks, exquisite hyacinth glasses. One of the antique drawers is full of sprouting potatoes.

  • I think you just described my life! The good thing, as you know from other experiences, is how much easier things get as the months go on. The little victories make it worth it, as embarrassing as it is to say “my big accomplishment was ordering half a loaf of bread at the bakery or mailing a letter today.”

  • Dear Toma, I was sorry to hear that they still do that “having-to-be-oh-so-quiet”-kinda-thing! When I lived in Berlin, I never put up with this kind of cr.., to be honest, even though my co-author tried to tease me by claiming that the not-so-sweet-old-lady next door probably had died because of all the noise that our babies had made… but seriously, what are they gonna do??? Call the police every day?!

    But it is true, I just checked with her son; this sort of one-on-one-surveillance-thing is still going on today – probably as the remains from Stasi- and Nazi-times, where really almost everybody spied and reported on everybody else. But even back then, with a good chance of being put into prison for simply smuggling a music tape over to the other (communist)side, and that sort of thing…, you had to decide how much you really wanted to let it bother you. We were blacklisted anyway, so whenever we entered the russian sector, I naturally was always nervous and eventually I had enough of it all and moved away from Germany.

    As for the language: I don’t think, that it will be all too difficult for you, having knowledge of both French and Dutch. Because of the Hugenottes, the Berlin-people do still use a few french words and even though I never learned Dutch/Flamisk, I find I can still pick up a magazine and get what they are talking about. So the easy way in for you will be by reading German, rather than listening to it, I would guess.

    Anyway, something to smile about (especially because you have been living in Paris):
    have fun!
    Sarah Sofia

  • I so understand the joys of moving. Really, I do. We like to add to the confusion and adopt children 1 to 3 months after a move. It’s great. It keeps your blood pressure at certain stroke level. We did that twice. Anyway, congratulations on getting your Kitchen organized. It seems that after the battle is won, the rest seem to fall into place.

    Looking forword to hearing all about the other battles won.

  • Kelli –

    You echoed the advice of my husband “No Pressure!” – if there is one thing I’ve learned living overseas it’s that settling into a new country never happens over night! While I’m obsessed with making our new house a home as quickly as possible, I have to remember “Who cares if we have overhead lights? Dining by candle light is romantic!”

    Thanks for the vote of confidence!!!! I’m confident about “the Germans” – a little less so about “the language”! Language lessons start next month! Wish me luck!

    Thanks for your kind words and encouragement!!! I haven’t been on your blog site in a while… I’m off to go scavenge your site!!

    Anonymous –
    I’ll be in Holland for a private engagement end March, and again in April at the IGC in Amsterdam for an event. Email me at and I’ll give you the coordinates for the April speaking engagement! Would love for you to attend!

    Jen –
    What a delight to hear from you! I think we might have eaten at Laduree together when we were both living in Paris! Next time I have a macroon I’ll eat an extra for you!

    Victorian Cobweb –
    Thanks for the words! I think given a new country/new language it’s going as smoothly as possible!!! And I couldn’t agree more – it’s the difficulties in life which make the greatest stories years later once the hurdles have been crossed! In the words of Nietzsche, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”!

    Much Love to All!
    The Antiques Diva

  • I so hoped this move would flow smoothly and you would transition to your new life in Berlin with no difficulties but alas life is never smooth. That would be too easy, the difficulties are what make life interesting!
    Much love & huggs,

  • I am so happy you have a Galleries Lafayette And Laduree (my favorite) and Poilane. It’s the little things like this that make you feel “at home”.

    Press on. You will be a German speaker in no time! 🙂

  • Good luck with your move! Is there anyway that you can tell us (those in Holland) when you will be speaking here again? If possible, I would like the opportunity to attend and hear you speak.

  • I can sympathize–moving is never easy and yes with a language barrier it can become even more difficult. You seem like you overcome the hurdles life sets up for you and rise to the challenge. I know settling in will be successful for you. You are in my thoughts.

  • Oh my darling Toma……I am confident that if anyone can conquer German and Germany, it is you. Go get ’em Tiger!

    The Contessa