I have this memory of being in Berlin during my last few days there . . . it was early February, and it was cold and rainy and I had left the house to get some aspirin. In Germany, you can only get medications, even something like aspirin or ibuprofen, at pharmacies called Apothekes. They’re basically on every street and they all have this red “A” symbol on the side of the building. Problem is, they’re only open for a few hours every day, and like everything else in Germany, they’re closed on Sundays. I like going to them and the pharmacists are friendly and speak English. You have to literally go up to the counter and ask them for ibuprofen or whatever, which is almost quaint in a way. And then the pharmacist goes to the back, and returns with a box of whatever your favorite analgesic is, and they ask if you want ten tablets or twenty. Ten will run you like €5, which is pretty expensive. In the US, we’re used to buying a bottle of 500 for the same price. I reckon the reasoning is that don’t want you popping this stuff like candy. For instance when I saw a doctor there, he was very hesitant to prescribe me anything. It’s just how it is. They’re more careful about things like that over there.
Anyway: I lived on this beautiful street in Kreuzberg that was essentially a self-contained universe. Everything I could ever need was in a five-block radius. I had a nice coffeeshop and a pizza place and some good dive bars. My bedroom was above a cute little grocery store, for god’s sake! And right down the street from me, visible from my window, was an Apotheke. I usually dipped in there once a week and picked up a pack of Fisherman’s Friend. I liked the older woman who worked there. She was sweet. She was my German aunt only she didn’t know it.
And I was on my way to see her that rainy day when I saw a small dog leashed to a bike rack across the street from a print shop. He was scared and shaking because of the rain and the cold. I looked around and didn’t see anyone, but I assumed his owner was in the copy shop. I knelt down and put my arm around him and pulled him close to me to warm him up. I figured I’d just stay with him until his owner came back. After a few minutes, an old woman looked out the window and squinted at us. She smiled and waved. I saw another woman who was leaving pass by her, and the old woman said something, and the other woman nodded and came outside. She walked over and started unlocking her bicycle which was next to me. She said something in German and I guess my pause to answer her was just long enough for her to realize I hadn’t fully understood what she had said. The dog was still shivering in my arms.
She switched to English: “This is your new friend? The owner says she will be out in just a moment.”
I said, “Oh, right on.”
It kept raining. The dog would look into the store and make that sad little dog noise. I talked to him to try to calm him down, and I rubbed his fur to shake the rain off of him. I opened my jacket and pulled him inside and we sat there in silence for some time. Eventually the old woman came outside. She thanked me in German and patted me on the shoulder and she and the dog turned a corner and were gone. I stood up and walked the other way.