Deluge - A Soap Opera
Episode 1
by Richard Neal

What follows is an edited and rewritten version of a thread from an online community for English-speaking expats, where any topic under the sun is discussed and advice is frequently sought. The thread was titled “Psychologically unbalanced neighbour”, and appeared in the “Life in Germany” section. Names and dates have been altered. Although much has been rephrased, I would certainly hesitate to call it fictionalised. The green and red numbers are positive or negative ratings given by other users. 

pgsm posted 9 November 2011, 10:38pm                          post 1 
In: Berlin, Joined: 1 May 2005                                               +39   

First, please excuse yet another neighbour thread. Aspects of this have been dealt with here before, many times in some cases, but the particularities warrant a new story, I feel (if the moderators disagree and wish to merge it elsewhere, fine). And, second, apologies right now for a long post, but it’s a long tale.
I’ve been living in the 3rd floor of an old building in Berlin for almost 4 years. My neighbour directly above me, a woman probably in her forties, first really announced herself a couple of years ago when I was cooking some pasta sauce at around 9.30 one evening. It was summer, and she explained that she was ill with cancer and how hot her flat was all day, and

how early the sun woke her and that she couldn’t bear the smell of my garlic and tomatoes when she aired her apartment before going to bed. Also that all the Germans in the house cooked at 6, definitely over by 8, and if she were abroad, she “would adjust”. And why did I eat warm food in the evening so often anyway? She only had a warm meal one night a week. How about getting a microwave? So much more practical. Returning to her inability to sleep whilst ill because of the garlic aromas, she intimated that I would be legally liable should she end up in hospital on my (cooking’s) account. There was a lot in this vein, and the thing of the cancer made me listen to it rather more than I would otherwise have done (out of sympathy rather than the legal threat). I said I’d cook a little earlier sometimes, if I could, but I worked late and often came home at 9pm hungry, and wouldn’t compromise the whole time.
Further complaints came, each more full-throated than the last, until one evening she was screaming outside my door at 1am (I had just arrived home – I hadn’t been cooking then, but had made a Spanish bean stew in the afternoon before heading out. It did contain a bulb of garlic). Another neighbour from across my landing came out in my support, loudly informing the other that “he’s not the only one who cooks with garlic in this building. I cook with garlic too!” From her I also learned that the one above had driven out the two previous tenants in my flat over the last year. I wrote to my landlords, who were supportive of me, and they must have spoke to her, as all trouble ceased.

For two years nothing happened, then last summer my caretaker asked if I’d heard or seen of the neighbour recently, as the name on the door had changed and she had stopped taking the rubbish down, instead just leaving it on her doorstep. The other tennants on her landing, taking pity, were taking it down for her. She wasn’t picking up her post. It was still the same woman, though. Soon after, I started hearing noises from her apartment: loud bangs, some stomping, some crying or shouting, or a painful combination of the two. Only ever one voice, and usually just snippets, like an outtake of a violent argument, often in the small hours.
One day, she turned her music on at absolute full volume for a few hours. In contrast to the usual full shutout of the world, all windows were wide open. It felt like a rage and protest against everything and everyone outside. At first, I just let her get on with it. A week later, the same. I could hear the words spoken on the radio clearly, or the bassline in bed even though I had earplugs in. It started to get more frequent, sometimes at night, 3 or 4am. I knew from her character that there would be no use in talking to her, that it might make things worse, even, but if I were to complain to landlords or police, it would only be credible if I had tried face to face.
With the music on full one Wednesday night at 11.30, I knocked on her door. She took a long time to answer, but eventually did. She stood in her hallway in an old blue dressing gown and her round glasses filling her mousy brown hair-framed face. Her hallway was packed with canvases leaning against the wall. The light that emanated was orange, the smell stale. I asked

if it would be possible to have the music a little quieter.
“Nein, das geht gar nicht,” she replied, vehemently. Out of frustration, curiosity and some attempt at dialogue, I enquired as to why not. Most of her rambling rant, between the speed, the mumbling, the background deafening music and my not perfect (though not bad) German, I couldn’t quite catch. Some lines, however, stuck out:
“The lord God is not on your side, the lord god is on my side.”
“You don’t help the sick.” (presumably a reference to my position on the cooking episode).
And: “You just don’t understand. I’ve simply died, you know. I’m not here, I’m dead.”
To which there was no reply. I walked back down to my flat. As I had half-expected, this was taken as a provocation and the music was left on for the next 36hrs. I realise I should have called the police myself at that point.
However, when I came home on the Friday afternoon, the music was off, I could hear voices and footsteps upstairs (good, I thought, some contact – she had no contact with anybody). There was a litre tub of yoghurt splatted in the yard below. Then I saw my kitchen window. It is double glazed, and the outside pane had been smashed. Her balcony overlooks my kitchen, and she had hurled the yoghurt, and plates, a saucer and a few empty wine bottles at the window. Luckily, I had been in the park at the time - 
apparently she did it about an hour before I got home. The neighbour below called the police, who were the voices I’d heard.
The police asked if I thought it was meant personally. They themsalves didn’t seem to think it was, took a couple of notes, told me it was clear she was “psychisch krank”, and that they had taken her to hospital. Next day, however, she was home. I got the police report no., and wrote to the landlords again. They repaired the window. This time, they told me they were starting legal proceedings against her, and that they also had received many complaints from the caretaker. They did also stress that evicting a tenant who had apparent mental health issues only made things more difficult. 
The music stopped, and hasn’t come back (the window episode was almost a year ago). For a time, the other noises stopped too. I thought I’d stick it out, see what happened, as I have a lovely apartment. Over the summer, though, the banging on the floor, and the shouting/crying combo has returned, with ever greater frequency. It is often in the middle of the night. I use earplugs, but then think I shouldn’t have to, really. Sometimes I feel it’s directed at me – the consensus I have with other neighbours is that she just cannot abide other people’s existence or signs of life at times. Cooking a piece of meat one Sunday late afternoon caused an inordinate amount of stamping and wailing. More often, it just seems a desperate, inward battle that you’re made privy to. 
The result is a complex dilemma:
1. in the first instance, she needs help. Is it ever incumbent upon outsiders like myself to call someone like social services, especially when you hear someone suffering by themselves? I’m always sure it’s one person upstairs, but were I to be wrong, sometimes (tonight, which has prompted this post) it sounds downright violent, and worries me. Who is the first port of call, and can it be done without getting involved oneself? – given what has happened, I hope it’s understandable that I want no real involvement. 
2. the other side is how, or whether, to continue living here. I have read the other threads, my basic policy is to inform the landlords if things boil over again, to call the police if there’s a serious disturbance, otherwise to counter it with patience, earplugs and the hope I might outlast her. I’m not sure it’s the right way.
Leaveroomfordessert posted 9 November 2011, 10.42pm         post 2
Joined: 2005                                                                            +3  
You have my sympathy in such a situation, and re your questions: 
1. Don’t go anywhere near her. She is nuts and could really do something bad. If it looks like it’s getting out of control, don’t think twice about calling the police. 
2. I’ve got through living next to a couple of really tricky people, made peace with one, fronted up to the other and he quietened down. But yours genuinely is nuts.  However, I would say stay where you are if the flat and area is so good. 
Good luck. 
pgsm posted 9 November 2011, 10:48pm                                post 3 
In: Berlin, Joined: 1 May 2005                                                           

Thanks. Yes, knocking on her door is a definite no-no, that’s for sure.
SusanA posted 9 November 2011, 10:59pm                              post 4 
In: USA, Joined: 2009                                                                +19  

Someone really close to our family died of an organically caused brain tumour and I’ve encountered many other cases of brain disease involving loss of cognitive abilities. You have to act on the basis that she is seriously sick. You cold get the authorities to assess her and see what help she needs. Another apartment for her is not really an option, she would have to go into a home. Without relatives near her, options are limited and she will probably carry on deteriorating above you, going crazier and crazier. This could be dangerous or it might not, and her life may be at risk.

Kewell posted 9 November 2011, 11.08pm                                  post 5
In: NRW, Joined: 2009                                                               +16 
The difficulty is that when they are not “a threat to themselves or to others”, it’s tough to get someone sectioned, especcialy with little family involvement or other carers.
The grounds for going in, from the official point of view, are self-harm/suicide, and putting others at risk.
You could try the Social Psychiatric Service, they should be present across Berlin. They deal with those who:  

    • die an einer psychischen Erkrankung leiden
    • (z.B. Depressionen, Psychosen, Ängste, Zwänge).
    • die sich in einer krisenhaften Situation befinden.
    • die verwirrte, ältere Menschen kennen, die ohne Hilfe allein nicht mehr zurecht kommen.
    • die geistig behindert sind.
    • die Probleme mit Alkohol, Drogen, Medikamenten oder anderen Süchten haben.
    • die als Angehörige, Nachbarn oder Bekannte von psychisch kranken, älteren verwirrten, geistig behinderten oder suchtkranken Menschen Hilfe suchen.


pgsm posted 9 November 2011, 11:25pm                                  post 6 
In: Berlin, Joined: 1 May 2005                                                       +3 

Thanks for that, Jewel, looks like just the people I’m looking for.
mtma posted 9 November 2011, 11:26pm                                 post 7 
Joined: 2006                                                                               -27 
The way I see it, you’re perfectly entitled to call the cops on the (*) mad bitch when she makes a disturbance of any kind, especially at night or early morning. 
Note down all times/dates/details of whatever occurs. This will help you to move on and will give you back up to use should you need it in court, God forbid (recording stuff on camera is also good. Make an archive).
If you want to leave, leave, but its your decision. Only do it if you’ve absolutely had it with the situation and/or got something better to go to. View any move positively if possible, to better things, and if you can’t, at least you’ll be resolving things. 
But for now I’d be seriously tempted to get some serious meat on the grill as payback for her behaviour so far.  :lol:
* don’t matter how ill she may be, screw her, she isn’t entitled to carry on torturing everyone like this. If she aint capable of being round others, she should piss off to the sticks and do her crazy shit all alone out there.

SusanA posted 9 November 2011,                                            post 8 
In: USA, Joined: 2009                                                                  +7 
@mtma, You do realise that brain disease means that doesn’t really have control over their actions, right? It’s tough to blame someone when it’s a disease eating at them that’s causing it. Have you never had a loved-one become abusive with senility? And there are plenty people living independent lives out there who are well past the point of having become a risk to those around them. I’ve seen people go straight from a condo to a padded cell.
Ill Capo Nero posted 10 November 2011, 8:45am                      post 9 
In: Stuttgart, Joined: 2003                                                              +1 
I gotta say, sounds horrible. I reckon I’d have upped sticks ages ago myself. 
I used to live next to this bloke who was, let’s say, of generous and purposeful proportions. You wouldn’t cross him, just from looking at him. To go with his rusty red-facial hair and rough white skin, he had a red and white Harley with plates marked simply “81″, and rumours abounded of the various pies in which he had fingers: pimping, drugs and gun-running. At
least part of that was probably true. Not the most easy-going guy to get along with, you would think, certainly in comparison with a lonely single woman. But he never caused one iota of trouble, was polite (if understandably a tad reserved) with everyone on the street, mowed the lawn regular as clockwork, and whenever there was a line of bikes parked up outside, they were simply sparkling.
It is indeed a funny old world. 
MissWhite posted 10 November 2011, 9:20am                        post 10 
In: Munich, Joined: 2011                                                              +9 
Hang in there, you’re doing a great job I can perfectly understand wanting to stay where you are, and it sounds like you are aware and sensitive to what is happening and might happen. I realise SusanA is well-meaning and speaking from experience, but honestly, calm down, take stock, it will be alright. 
Best of luck with it all. 

Beatrice  posted 10 November 2011, 9:28am                           post 11 
In: Stuttgart, Joined: 2011                                                                  
@Original Poster: “I realise I should have called the police myself at that point.”

It is always astonishing how often we merely need to search within ourselves to find the right way forward. The long and arduous path to deliverance starts here. Call the cops, man.
TheRighteousWalker posted 10 November, 10:34pm,              post 13 
In: UK, Joined 2007                                                                          
You can’t bear a cross for everyone you come across who is troubled, it’s too much to ask for anyone. We each have enough to weigh on our shoulders on this earth. 
Looking out for number one has a bad name but sometimes it is not only desirable but necessary and just. 
When I am losing my faculties, I hope not not to be a burden on whomsoever happens to be in the vicinity. If I am alone and helpless, so be it, such is life. We should not expect more. 
SusanA posted 10 November 2011, 10:59                              post 14 
In: USA, Joined: 2009                                                                +3 
Well, RighteousWalker, I hope I don’t live in a society (yes, there is such a thing) where you’re in charge. Personally I appreciate a little more fellow-feeling.
Noting everything down, as mtma suggessted, is useful in other ways too. The problem here is no-one has a record, not the family (absent), not the OP (till now, anyway), not the police (apart from one incident, unconnected to others), and who knows about the doctors. A diary of some kind might help fill a gap here. 

There was once a very troubled young man living in my stairwell. He was also isolated socially, due to probably being on the autism spectrum. He had an accident one day, and wouldn’t seek help. It troubled me a lot, and it took some effort to get involved and give him a little support and get others in to. I couldn’t have lived with myelf knowing that he may have come to harm. You can’t just walk on by. And I hope if ever find myself in the same boat, there will be someone out there. 
pgsm posted 10 November 2014, 11:23am                              post 14 
In: Berlin, Joined: 1 May 2005,                                                           

One aspect of this is her utter refusal of help from anyone before, so far as I am aware. I have no idea about what, if any, treatment she receives for her physical condition, but I strongly suspect she will have a very “anti-” attitude to any initial approach, wherever it comes from. She has over the years cut off all contact from any neighbour who tried to befriend and help her in the years gone by, I hear.

Mariner Bill posted 10 November 1011, 2:21pm                       post 15 
In: Warsaw, Joined 2000                                                                 +1 
SusanA knows what she’s talking about. Maybe it’s hereditary, but in our family we’ve lost generations of folk to various types of dementia, and it rarely ended pleasantly. Many caused all kinds of trouble, not least of which is quite extreme violence. Aunt Jean was hit with it in her early 50s, Bobby, a distant cousin, had the onset come on from his late 30s on, and was spitting with rage at all strangers, which by meant everybody, family included, by the time he turned 45. 
I was talking about this thread to a workmate over lunch, in his building is a young man with a tentative manic depressive diagnosis who sees demons in all newspaper photos, as if it were a Bosch painting. It is all one can do to get him off the topic wherever and whenever you run into the guy. He’s not exactly dangerous, we guess but who really knows. 
One individual with a screw loose can surely cause all kinds of havoc, especially when they live closely cooped up in the same building as dozens of others. 

Teacher of Atticus posted 10 November 2011, 11,42pm            post 16
In: Ireland, Joined; 26 February, 2010                                             -14 
Honestly, mate, just get out. Just get the fuck out. What do you think you are playing at? You say you’re flat is oh-so-beautuful and it’s such a lovely area, but I see from your other posts that you live in Neukoelln and, really, is it all that?
Don’t give me this crap about caring for this person. Let’s face it, this is only covering up your reluctance to confront her and is masking the fact that you simply haven’t faced up to facts and got your shit together to get out of there and get somewhere better. How hard can it be? Jeez, you can smell the complacency from here. 
You’re being disingenuous to us if not yourself and also her in thinking that you can somehow save her. The last thing she wants is help from you. I believe she has made that more that plain already? Or are you the type who doen’t know that “no” means no? Leave her alone, ffs.  
The best that could happen now is she will simply go on as she is, and you’ll wake up and smell the coffee before anyone goes through too much torture. The worst doesn’t bear thinking about. Listen to SusanA and the sailor guy. Move. Now. 

Schere Vergangenheit 
by Christian Bär
Episode 2