Dog Lady is our upstairs neighbor. We call her Dog Lady not because she looks like a dog, but because she has two yappy dogs without whom she never seems to leave her apartment. I’ve actually come to believe that Dog Lady’s dogs are not only an extension of Dog Lady herself, but that they are also an excuse for Dog Lady to come out of her apartment and wander about the property to make sure that everything in and around the apartment house meets with her approval.
Dog Lady has a husband whom I have seen maybe 10 times the whole time I’ve lived here. He is an archetypal grizzled German man with a balding head, a huge beer belly, and suspenders (um…that’s “braces” to any UK readers out there - he’s not a cross-dresser, he just needs something to hold up his pants…). He and Dog Lady have one of the garages in the back of the house, and Dog Lady’s husband keeps his crates of beer back there. The only time I’ve ever seen the husband is when he is going to or from the garage. I talked to him once. I met him on the stairs one day when he was carrying what appeared to be a 50 pound bag of potatoes; he said he was stocking up for winter, and I said that that was probably a good idea. He seemed really pleasant.
Dog Lady herself is the classic busybody. She is the self-appointed Keeper of Ordnung in our apartment house. When we moved into this apartment, Dog Lady was the first (and only) tenant to come and inform us of some the unwritten rules of the building (I now think that they’re actually just her rules and not house rules at all - but whatever). The main rule that we had to remember was this: every other month, it was our turn to clean the hallway and stairs outside of our apartment door.
As an aside - I’ve never quite understood why it’s our responsibility to do this. We pay A LOT of extra money every year to have people come and cut the grass, move the garbage cans around, shovel snow, and - yes - clean the stairwell. I’ve also never understood what Dog Lady has to do with us cleaning outside of our apartment, because Dog Lady lives on the third floor of the building and we live by ourselves in the basement, so it’s not like she hangs around in our hallway a lot (well, she probably does, but not because she has to). I’ve also never found it very fair that we’re required to clean up the mess from everyone who comes traipsing down to the basement with their garbage cans or bicycles or stuff for the cellar. But no matter - we told Dog Lady that we would clean the stairwell and that it wouldn’t be a problem.
It became a problem. It became a minor bone of contention - so to speak - between Dog Lady and ourselves.
It became a small problem because Jeremy and I would occasionally forget when it was our month to clean the hallway. We would forget, but Dog Lady never forgot - and she never let us forget for long. She personally reminded us of our duties the first and second time that we forgot. When we forgot again after that, she broke out the big guns and sent the landlord’s secretary down to chastise us for not keeping to the house rules (while she hovered secretly on the stairs down to our apartment to check out the proceedings - we saw her hiding there, however, and yelled hello to her just to freak her out).
After enlisting the help of the secretary, Dog Lady moved on to psychological warfare. When she felt that we had waited too long to clean, she would take matters into her own hands, and we would come home to find a little pile of swept-up dust and fuzz in front of our door. After a while, Jeremy and I managed to remember when it was our turn to clean, and we never saw the little piles of dust again.
More recently, we caught Dog Lady breaking some rules herself. After we brought our Sperrmüll out last week, we had dinner, and then Jeremy went back upstairs to bring the garbage out. It was dark outside, and when Jeremy went out he saw that somebody was secretly adding something to our Sperrmüll. This is most definitely verboten.
And who was it adding to our Sperrmüll but Dog Lady, the Keeper of Ordnung herself. She was quietly moving an old desk into position alongside our stuff. Jeremy told her that she wasn’t actually supposed to do that, but she insisted that it was fine and that they’d take the desk away. So she left the desk, and they did indeed take it away, and the whole thing still makes me laugh when I think about it. I can just imagine Dog Lady staring out her window to make sure there was no one around, and then creeping down to the cellar to get her desk, creeping back upstairs and out the front door, and hastily pushing the desk in with our stuff, worried all the time that we were going to peer out our window and see her there in the shadows. She was probably mortified at having been caught - though I’m sure her mortification would have been greater had she been caught taking something instead of leaving something.
Dog Lady isn’t mean in any way. She’s never been malicious. She’s just…well, a funny little German busybody. She’s a real character. She’ll use any excuse to be out and about monitoring things. Sometimes she pokes around in the front yard or messes with the plants that are right outside our living room window, and I just know that she’s listening to what’s going on in our apartment. Somehow her dogs always wind up running down the stairs to the hallway outside our apartment (one time one of them actually ran into our apartment because we had the door open for some reason), and she’ll have to come down and get them - and check out the situation while she’s there. And when I bring out the garbage or hang out my laundry, I’m convinced that she’s upstairs peeking through her curtains to see what’s going on.
All in all, I just find her hilarious. And in fact I think she’s come to kind of like us. Working on the “you catch more flies with honey”-principle, we managed to win her over a few years ago. Our tactic was to carry out Operation St. Nicholas.
The 6th of December is St. Nicholas’ Day, and it’s quite a little event in Germany. Traditionally, kids put their shoes outside the door on the night of the 5th, and on the 6th they wake up to find that St. Nicholas has left sweets in the shoes (if the kids were good) or coal (if they were bad). The first or second year that we lived here, Jeremy and I thought it would be nice if we played St. Nicholas for our neighbors. So we bought little sweets for the whole house and, on the night of December 5th, we ran around secretly putting piles of sweets in front of everyone’s door.
If I remember correctly, Dog Lady was the only one who approached us about Operation St. Nicholas. She asked us if we were the Nicholases (Nicholi?), and when we admitted that we were, she seemed to think that that was just adorable. That Christmas, she left a little box of chocolates and a card outside our apartment door. She’s been nice and friendly towards us ever since then, so I guess we passed the test or something. We’ve proven that we’re good neighbors and nice people, even if we do forget to clean the hallway sometimes.
And she’s proven that despite her funny little quirks - or perhaps because of them - she’s quite all right as well.
I’ll miss you, Dog Lady.