Went back to the post office yesterday with the repacked books for my niece in England, suitable for sending as Büchersendungen, only to be told that the guy who handles packages was out from four to eight. Now how's that for a good news story. In the USA, at least my part of it, I would stand in line for an hour to get to the counter, then I'd be told the package wasn't right somehow and I should go home and never come back again. Here you can mail packages between eight and ten p.m.
Here, there is no longer a post office at Wilmersdorferstraße 100-whatever it was. There is a liquor store that will take your packages. I waited while the nice Turkish young man fought off the drunks and finally got round to me. He seemed to know considerably more about bottle opening than about post officing, but he had a little book to look things up in. When ten minutes of page shuffling didn't answer his questions, he got on the phone, identified himself as Mr. Gayat (not his real name) from Wilmersdorferstraße, zip code (censored) and how do I send books to England. Luckily, the person at the other end of the line had the answers.
Actually, I'm not telling the story right. That's what happened the first time I visited with Mr. Gayatnothisrealname. I sent off two books, but had to come home and repack the other two because they were sealed. I decided not to wait any longer for the fifth, which was very long in coming. Her nieceliness having ordered five books from around the Bundesrepublik for her uncle to forward to her in Royal England because the booksellers wouldn't. Being ever the cheerful optimist, I saw this as an opportunity to consolidate, since I was sure her fifth and last book would come in the mail this morning.
It did, of course. And already properly packaged (i.e., held together by two little pins and not sealed). Hurrah, says I, and off to the p.o.
Friend Marty told me there was a stationery store on the Kudamm where I could get a tube for mailing posters, so Taku could get his Nefertiti, and there was a post office in the store. Well, there wasn't a post office, but I got the tube, and it was just a short walk back to the Turkish liquor store on Wilmersdorferstraße, so back I went.
"Do you mail books often?" Mustafa (name changed for all the usual reasons) asks me.
"No, but I was here the day before yesterday," positively crushed that he didn't remember our intimate conversation.
This time he knew right what to do with the books. Well, no, not really. He couldn't remember how much to charge. I then reminded him that he had written down what the woman on the telephone had told him, and he says, "Ach, ja!" and flips to the right page.
Just then a man came in the store wearing a black, red and yellow pullover and black shorts. I assumed it was a drunk leftover from the victory over England the other day, but it turned out to be a man in a post office uniform. "Do you want to send your books to England now?" Mustafa asks. He had already stamped them and since I couldn't come up with a reason for not sending the books right then and there, I decided to answer one of the more superfluous questions I've heard in my time with a simple nod of the head, and off they went.
The poster was another story. "Hmmmm," says Mustafa. "Not sure we can mail this."
"Of course you can mail this," I say. "It's a mailing package and people mail posters all the time."
"What's in the package?"
"A poster," I tell him.
"Ah, a poster."
I think he didn't know the word poster. Trust me, Poster (capital p) is the German word for poster (small p). OK, so maybe he would have known the word Plakat. But half the time people use Plakat they put it together with Poster and say Plakat Poster. In any case, the problem was he had just never been asked to mail one before.
Turns out book post (Büchersendung) doesn't work to the United States. Or maybe it does, he said, but "I'll have to call 'Meine Kollegin' again, he said.
Would he be so kind, I asked him.
Kollegin tells him only rectangular things of a specific size can be sent Büchersendung, and she gives him the measurements. Which he writes down in his book on what appears to be a random page, even though the long tubular thing I'm asking him to mail is hardly going to meet the requirements.
As this is going on, drunks are coming in and out, buying single bottles of beer and asking him to open them for him. He complies and the beer bottle caps are piling up on the counter. Little kids come in and buy single popsicles and asks him to throw away the wrapper for them. He complies. Time marches on.
"What's in that package again?" Mustafa asks. I open it up and roll out the face of Nefertiti. It crosses my mind he might possibly be one of those people who resent Germany's plundering of his part of the world, but the voice from the other side of my head jumps in and tells me to cut the damn Orientalism. So I do.
"Ach, ja," he says. Repeating himself.
"It's got to be sent as a package. Not as a book." I thought we had already clearly established that, but reminding him of that that didn't seem wise, somehow.
"Fine," I say.
"It will come to 13 euros 90,"
"That's a whole lot of money to send a poster that cost me 4 euros," I observe.
"Plus 1 euro 80" postage.
"Plus 3 euros for the damn tube to send it in," I respond, as if we are composing a fugue on the spot.
"Fine," I say. It's a nice poster. We'll spend a bunch on a good frame and it will be lovely to look at. What's a few extra coins here and there?
"You know, don't you, that there's no way to track its progress once it goes in the mail. Do you want to send it registered?"
"Oh, by the way, will it go airmail at that rate?" I ask, keeping the fuguelike dialogue going.
"No, not airmail." And he starts flipping pages again to see what airmail would cost.
"We're over twenty euros already, I think to myself. We can certainly wait, what, three to six months, to save airmail postage.
He gives me a form to fill out. "Make sure you say it's a - what's that word, 'poster'?" I fill out the form.
More beer bottle opening. A short conversation with pops in Turkish about whether to put more vodka on the shelves. (Don't ask me. I grogged it.)
"You know what?" I say. Inspired.
That package is going to take six months if it takes a day. It's open and somebody could steal Nefertiti right out from under us. Who knows if some mail truck is going to run over it and squash it flat?
"Never mind. I'll take it with me in my suitcase."
"Your're going to America?"
"In two weeks."
"Ever been there?"
"No, but papa and I would love to go." Papa nods enthusiastically.
"So you're not put out with me for putting you through all the trouble about the poster?"
"No, no. Not at all. Have a wonderful trip!"
Ah, but would Mustafa remember the day we made music together?