Last night was cray. Good news – the police in Germany are courteous, prompt, and super chill.
It started with a note, scrawled with orange and black marker in all-caps, determinedly scotch-taped to our box by the cellar door. We’d finished moving all our stuff up the stairs at midnight and had left a giant Ikea box leaning unobtrusively against the wall to be cut up and thrown away in the morning. We weren’t planning on leaving it there that long, but were helping the people who helped us move to move, so we’d left it there while we were moving furniture and boxes into another apartment uptown.
We returned at 3am. We read the note as best we could and took the offending box upstairs. It said something like:
YOU CAN’T JUST LEAVE BOXES HERE!! THE GARBAGE MAN WILL NOT TAKE IT UNTIL IT IS CUT INTO LITTLE PIECES AND PUT IN THE PAPER GARBAGE CAN!!! THAT’S THE BLUE ONE!!
Whoever had written the note had emerged from their apartment some time between midnight and 3am and looked around long enough to find the relatively-hidden box by the cellar door. We had tried to be as quiet as possible, but there was a chance we had awakened them, so them being awake at all wasn’t notable – what disturbed me was the determination with which they set out to discover as much as they could about the source of the noise after the noise had ceased. I imagined them lying awake in bed, waiting until the distant hum of our van’s motor had disappeared, then getting up from bed, finding some sort of clothing and shoes, wandering around the empty stairwell, finding the box, returning to their apartment, finding not just a black marker but also an orange one, writing the note with enough force to wrinkle the paper with ink, finding tape, going back out into the stairwell to tape the note onto the box, then going back to bed — all sometime between 1am and 3am!
I began to imagine who our friendly neighbor downstairs could be. We live on the second floor – the first floor apartment is home to a sweet 90 year-old German woman, and the apartment above us was empty at the time. I couldn’t imagine either of them writing such a note. We’d never seen the person who lived in the ground floor apartment, but we walked passed their windows every day and we’d never seen the heavy metal shutters Germans roll down over their windows at night open. The shutters were also covered in a century worth of dirt, so it was unlikely they were often opened when we weren’t looking.
We faintly heard the distant bark of a dog emanating from the ground floor apartment. It wasn’t annoying and what we could see of the dog itself from our balcony seemed friendly in a hyper way.
Then the next note appeared.
It was a note perhaps for the garbage man, perhaps for whoever else it was who was taking out their garbage incorrectly. It basically says:
Apparently it doesn’t work without a note. So PLEASE LOOK AT THIS NOTE!!! The door to the garbage must be closed properly! You have to make sure it is LATCHED. Otherwise there is COLD AND VERMIN AND BURGLARS! The LATCH must be turned this direction!
The tone and general vehemence was perhaps a little much, but maybe they were particularly paranoid about burglars despite the extremely low crime rate in the city, and maybe they’d already asked the garbage man to please shut the door all the way multiple times and they’d just had enough at that point. Still – odd enough to take a picture and carefully Google translate every word.
I decided the person in the ground floor apartment was male, old, and full of hate for the world. He loved his dog (so he had that going for him), but he never left his apartment and lived in a musty world without sunlight. He hated everyone who made noise, or smiled, or took out their trash.
Then the music began.
It had actually been going on for some time, but it took a few weeks for the boyfriend and I to realize there was a pattern. A couple times a week bass with enough force and ferocity to rattle us out of our deepest dreams would boom at us from the walls and floor. It was hard to identify the source of the sound. It played most often (and loudest) on Tuesdays, starting after midnight and ending around 8am.
Strangest of all – we became sure it was the same song played over and over for eight hours. The repetition of the bass line was too clear to ignore. We started humming to it and dancing to it in an effort to make it our own, and thus rid it of its power.
One night we passed a party in an apartment a building away from ours. We were shocked their bass could reach us in our apartment, but they must’ve had almighty subwoofers and were probably some sort of fraternity with a very odd and specific party-schedule. We closed the case on the loud music.
Then the third note appeared. It had replaced the first and the thickness and orange-ness of the letters clearly showed the growing ferocity.
It was accompanied by a second note, this one taped directly to the garbage can.
They’re super upset that the garbage man (or whoever) isn’t closing the door to the tiny garbage-courtyard thing properly. They’re also unhappy about the distribution of garbage per-can.
Aaaaaand another one:
In this one they’re still upset about all the usual things, but they also ask if the offending garbage-handlers are retarded or not, and if the retarded garbage handlers had any further questions that they should contact the landlord.
Then we contacted the landlord.
He came over to help us with a small mold problem. We asked, as nonchalantly as possible, about the other tenants in the building. He was immediately alert. We told him we were asking because of a slew of aggressive, exclamation-mark-filled letters. Our landlord might possibly be the best landlord of all time. He is super excited about everything and immediately answers our questions regardless of the time of day – as in, we’ll send him an email, and four minutes later our phone rings. His English is great, but in trying to describe the ground floor tenant he was reduced to gestures.
“It is a woman. She can be nice. But she’s sick. She has…” Here he made his hand flat and ridged and placed it along the bridge of his nose. “… zwei Gesichtsstörung.”
“She has… two faces? She’s two-faced?”
“Yes. It is a disease. She is two people, different sides. But she can be nice.”
Then the boyfriend met her.
He was coming home one day the same time she was. And she wasn’t old or miserly or obviously full of malice. She was extremely nice. Offered to help us out if there was anything we needed. He offered the same back. They introduced themselves and shook hands. She was young, early thirties at the latest, with tightly curled red hair and an open face.
We were both excited and terrified. What did having a disease that made you two-faced, two people, mean exactly? Did she actually have split personality disorder? Did she know she had split personality disorder? Had the boyfriend met the nice one, and did the mean one only come out when garbage or sunlight was involved? Should we talk to her? Should we avoid her? Should we try to find out more things about her?
Then one sunny Wednesday morning the usual Tuesday night bass continued a bit longer, and as we headed down the stairs and out the front door to work, we realized:
It was her. The music had been her’s the whole time.
Now that we were closer, we could clearly understand the words that had only been hinted at in the groggy dark of 4am. It was rap, hard and full of pop-capping violence, and was playing so loudly the perpetually closed shutters rattled with each measured pound of the bass.
Now, last night.
The boyfriend and I arrived late after our trip from Belgium. Because of the Christmas holiday and a broken train it’d taken us five hours to travel a distance that usually took one and a half, and we were exhausted. We got home, threw our luggage all over the floor, and crawled into bed.
At 12:20, the music started.
We realized it was Tuesday night and thus in for a long one.
Unlike most nights, we were not awakened from a very deep sleep. We’d only just gone to bed. Also unlike most nights, we were simultaneously exhausted and oddly wired. Our cheeks were still cold from the wind outside. We could not fall asleep with that music.
I got dressed and went downstairs, determined to solve this like an adult but terrified her Mr. Hyde, violent gangsta rapper personality would be in control and she would pop a cap in my ass. I rang the doorbell over and over and knocked on the door, becoming more confident the longer there was no response. After a few minutes I went back upstairs.
We then texted our landlord a lengthy message about how we didn’t want to disturb him so late, but there was some really loud music coming from the bottom apartment and we weren’t sure what to do about it.
Forty seconds later, he called back.
“Call the police. I’ve texted you the number.” He said. “Let me know how it goes – don’t worry about waking me up.”
So I called the police. I was now imagining the consequences of the police showing up. What if she turned off the music before they arrived? What if she got angry and blew open our door and murdered us in our sleep? What if she started posting angry notes all over the place?
The police dispatcher was the single most cheerful person I have ever heard, minus the man who sold me ham this afternoon. She let out a chiming, “Good morning!” and asked what I needed and what my address was, then transferred me to the noise-complaint office.
(I’ve since learned 1 in 2 Germans have called the police at some point with a noise complaint. The police department may have actually had a noise-complaint office.)
The guy I talked to was super chill. He couldn’t speak English and my German was sloppy at best but he charged on like poor communication wasn’t ain’t nothin’ but a thang. He got my name and address and told me an officer should arrive soon to go up to our apartment, listen to the music, determine whether or not it was loud enough to justify a complaint, then deal with it accordingly. He didn’t make me feel like I was wasting his time, like I had something to hide, or like my complaint was a stupid one. At the end he said, “Yo! Ciao!” which only super hip trendy Germans do.
I hung up and waited. I was nervous but feeling like I’d done the right thing.
I woke up two hours later to the most almighty terrifying racket of my life.
Someone was screaming at the top of their lungs, not with fear, but with rage. The music was still blasting and I could easily distinguish her words above it, the shrieking was so loud.
She was screaming noooooooo noooooo and a bunch of curse words in English. She was also slamming her door open and shut as hard as she could.
It was this crazy crashing that startled me out of sleep with such force.
The lights were on and I was fully dressed. The police had never come, or if they had, they hadn’t tried to ring our doorbell or come up to our apartment.
The banging started again, echoing across the whole block – the whole damn city. The boyfriend locked the front door and we prepared for war. BAM BAM BAM BAM.
I called the police again. Was greeted with another glorious, “Good morning! Köln police!” Announced I was the one with bad German who had a loud neighbor. Was transferred. The super chill guy answered and recognized me immediately. I asked him if the police had come and he was surprised. Said not only had the police come, but they had determined the music was loud enough to justify a complaint from the street and had already spoken to the tenant at length. I said the music was going again loud and strong and now there was also screaming and terrifyingly aggressive door-slamming. He said he would send them again right away.
“Yo! Night! Ciao!”
I didn’t hear the police come, but I’m guessing they must’ve because when I woke up around 6am, confused as to why I had so many clothes on and why all the lights were on, the apartment was silent.
I have no idea what might happen next. It could be nothing – it could be anything. I’m a little relieved we’ll be in Berlin next Tuesday. But the Tuesday after that and all Tuesdays thereafter? Who knows.
The garbage man came this morning. When I went downstairs, I saw that he had not only left the door open, but had drug the stinkiest of the many garbage cans into the hallway and left it there, just a few feet from the ground floor apartment’s front door.