Walk south across the tram lines that swing out of Bahnhofplatz, and you’re on Schillerstrasse. It’s a cramped, busy street full of kebab shops, internet cafes and barbers. I came for the third.
I have the kind of hair that makes people suggest I grow an afro when it gets to be about three or four centimetres long and, after a month here, it was time to give it a shear. A little bit of asking around, and a little bit of internet research threw up Friseur Paradiso on Schillerstrasse.
Now, when I told people at home that I’d be spending a semester in Germany, and that I didn’t speak German, they said in typical Irish style, “You’ll be grand! Sure they all speak English there anyway.”
Friseur Paradiso is a typical eight euro scalp merchant, barring the scale of the place. I can honestly say it’s the busiest barber’s shop or hairdresser’s I’ve ever seen. At least a dozen barbers swarm around heads up and down the small room and in its alcoves. Club music throbs amidst the buzz of razors. A barber uses a hairdryer like a leafblower, blasting out clumps of hair and bits of tissue from between the chairs. And nobody there speaks English.
For a person with limited German, it’s a little bit like a nightclub. It’s loud and busy, and nobody understands what you’re saying, but you don’t need them to anyway. They know what you’re here for. Sort of.
There’s no obvious order to the queueing. Balding men stride straight in from the street and occupy chairs as they free up. The men on the benches simply sit there. In my long experience of getting haircuts, this would be the logical place for a person to wait. Were they ignoring me? Passing me over for their friends?
“To hell with this,” I say to myself, “if they don’t want my business, they can shove it!” I was about to storm out when I decided to give them one last chance.
“Bist du frei?” I asked the nearest scalper.
He said he had one more in line, and then he could serve me. By the time he was finished with the German teenager ahead of me, my internal rage had subsided. I hop into the chair and he wraps the little paper collar around my neck, drapes me with the cape and folds the collar down. I’ve only seen the little collar used in fairly upmarket barbers in Dublin, so that’s a good sign. He says something in German. I hope it wasn’t anything to the effect of “nice weather we’re having” and go straight for the instructions.
“Em… rasiert kurz an der Veck und an den Seiten bitte. Und schnitt mit di Schere oben.”
German razors are numbered in increments of three millimetres. This is crucial, because for about sixty seconds before I told the guy “ein Rasierer drei millimeter bitte” I had instructed him to cut my hair “short.” I suppose that’s like going into a bar and saying this:
“Give me beers”
“How many beers?”
“Give me beers.”
Eventually, between my pidgin German and a lot of pointing we got going. I was swaddled in the cape at this stage, so all I could do was let my barber paw my head and say “ja,” “nein,” and “genau” when he asked for clarification.
“Bist du Englisch?” he asked as he shaved the back of my neck with a straight razor. A1 level small talk, I could do that.
“Nein. Ich bin Ire.”
“I loff Ireland. They have good heart,” he said, touching his chest with his fist.
Finally, we get to sideburns. “Normal oder spitze?” I think having a Turkish man draw the outline of a pointy sideburn on the side of your head is a great way to learn a new word, but seriously, do I look like the kind of person who wears pointy sideburns?
Hair cut, I paid and tipped, and left in a good mood.
Stephen Bourke blogs at shlockdoctrine.wordpress.com, and wrote this sentence all by himself.
Another offering to the blog gods of LMU’s Institut für Kommunikationswissenschaft und Medienforschung! This time I have a close shave in Munich’s back streets in…