“Maybe if I pretend that I’ve just gotten out of prison and this is my first steady job it’ll be okay,” I would tell myself sometimes as I waited for the bus to work in the cold, dark snowy pre-dawn of a Berlin winter. As an out-of-work cocktail bartender grappling with a lockdown that, like good television, kept getting renewed, I was happy to have some job, any job, this job.
It was right around Christmas when I saw the posting on one of the many Expat facebook groups that I frequently scrolled through. The company, which we’ll call (for the sake of anonymity) Slop Corp, was a laboratory out just over the Berlin border in Brandenburg near beautiful Wannsee and the Grunewald forest. This lab, whose clients were mainly big name retail grocers, processed and analyzed fruits and vegetables for toxins.
The department I worked in “Homogenization,” was in charge of the processing part. This meant chopping up food samples, blending them into a fine paste, weighing very precise measurements of this paste into tubes and then bringing them to actual chemists who, unlike me, went to school for the kinds of things they were doing on the job. Many of my co-workers referred to the department we worked in as “Homo.” When I was training I was “shown everything about Homo” and I “learned Homo from top to bottom.”
It dawned on me that no one I worked with was from a place that had “No Homo” in their culture’s homophobic vernacular and any attempt I might make to subvert this prejudiced slur and utilize double entendre by proclaiming “Yes, homo!” when say, arriving at work at 7:30 in the morning, would be met with silence.
This kind of work was not what was described in the job posting, which read “My company out in Brandenburg is looking for people to make smoothies all day.” It sounded vague and flaky, but I was new in Deutschland, needed another job and could anything involving “smoothies” be really that bad?
A two-hour commute, an interview, a contract signing and a few training sessions later, I found myself in white scrubs slicing and dicing every manner of Obst und Gemüse. It’s a weird feeling, staring out the window at a snowy hill in the middle of a forest suburb, blending food paste and wondering if and how you will describe this to your parents, who have always believed in you as an artist.
To get to work on time, I’d have to get up at 4 a.m.. As I was on a student visa, I could only work 20 hours per week, or 2.5 shifts. For the first month, my mind would be filled with thoughts like “What the f*ck are you doing out here?” or “Did you move to Europe to do this?” or “Shut the f*ck up brain, I need a job, any job. Suck it up, Loar!” or “Thank you, universe, for this opportunity. It might not be what I had imagined, but I will make the best of it and learn and grow from it” or “Yes, Homo!”
It was around this time I started having some requisite bouts of intense homesickness and “dark nights of the soul,” the kind of nights where I’d find myself just staring at the floor, too tired to find something to stream on my laptop and too tired to actually go to bed. I’d get pretty down sometimes.
And then I got paid.
I had worked three shifts in December and a whole month in January, so my check at the end of the month was nice and fat. I rose one morning to gleefully discover that yes, the agreed salary had indeed been successfully transferred to my German bank account. And yes, this was enough for me to live off of.
Having arrived from the Land of Infinite Rent Gouging and Rapidly Decreasing Cultural Utility (aka New York City), the idea that I could, I dunno, like, work a regular type, work-type sorta job and not be drowning in poverty was still completely unbelievable to me.
I got by in NYC with high-end cocktail bartending, one of the last great hustles and one of the only actual decent ways to make money and still have a life.
Having again felt the familiar rush of income, I was elated on my next commute to work. Joyous thoughts of relief rang out in my mind: “It’s okay to be a working person!” “I love this dirty job!” “I can’t wait to make all kinds of more slop!”
I had made it.
Everyone at Slop Corp I worked with seemed okay in their lives and reasonably happy. Many perhaps had thoughts of not wanting to be in the slop game forever, but no one seemed beaten down, trapped and poisoned by the job. They had enough to live on, they had health care and if they wanted to go back to college, there were ways for them to do that.
As my contract was temporary (I was brought on to help them work through their slop backlog), after about three months, my time at Slop Corp drew to close. I had a nice exit interview, and the bosses said they’d call me back later in the year when the slop game picked up steam again (Fall-Winter is the busy time for slop.)
I was sad to leave but grateful for the experience and the much needed winter income. I was back on the streets where all bars were still closed and looking for another gig. I didn’t know what would come next, but I felt immense pride to have taken part in the European food chain.
About the author:
Chris Loar is a comedian and artist living in Berlin. He was born in Torrance, California and called Brooklyn, New York home for 16 years before moving to Germany in 2020. A multi-hyphenate creator, Chris is also a passionate Yoga teacher and cocktail bartender.
Read more on Dispatches’ Berlin archive here.