“Why are we here ladies?” Debra asks, confidently.
Ellie looks at Debra and says nothing. She’s not going to say anything if she isn’t called on. She isn’t sure what she thinks of Debra, she thinks she feels kind of skeptical, a bit wary, but maybe it’s just her natural and totally unfair dislike of Americans..
This Selbsthilfegruppe was all Debra’s idea. All the other mums in this tiny room in this Prenzlauer Berg Frauenzentrum had all been members of the Facebook group, Millionaire Single Moms in Berlin, since it had started a few years ago. Some had been more active than others, Ellie felt. The purpose of the group, the aim of the group, the idea behind it, was to promote the belief that even single mothers, even single mothers in Berlin, could become millionaires if they just set their minds to it. At first, in the early years, lots of get rich quick hypnosis videos and ted talks from millionaires got posted, but recently the group had just descended into pity partying. Bitching about Unterhalt, bitching about bad dads and bitching about bitchy married mums. Bitching about sanctimoms. Bitching about the Jugendamt. Ellie loves the group, she’s addicted to it, but it has become a kind of slightly depressing addiction.
Then Debra moved to Berlin, joined the group, and now she’s founded Millionaire Moms Meet-up 2020.
“Let’s make 2020 the year we climb out of poverty, let’s make this year count, not just on Facebook, but in real life!” She wrote the day she had the idea for this real life accountabilty buddy Selbsthilfegruppe,
“We can be millionaire single moms! Mommies can manifest! Let’s get rich in a year!”
And now here they are, five mums, plus Debra, December 2019, this is the Kennenlerntermin. She looks round the group and smiles.
She has this open, positive face, White teeth, flashy teeth, Americans always have these big teeth, Ellie thinks, like posh people in Britain, like poshos, like sloanes, but they’re not posh, they’re just American. But maybe it’s just the Americans who travel who have nice teeth, nice white teeth, maybe the Americans who stay home have bad teeth. People say the British have bad teeth, but Ellie thinks they’re not that bad, just a bit wonky.
The young German mum, Leyla, the one with, to put it delicately, Migrationshintergrund, puts her hand up.
“We want to be rich,” she says certainly. “We want to get rich.”
Her friend, the sleepy, sexy, black-haired Australian, giggles. Zandra. They both seem incredibly young to Ellie, she kind of thought, at first, that they must be teenie mommas.
“I don’t want to be rich,” Zandra says. “I just don’t want to be poor anymore.”
“We are here to manifest money,” the Russian girl, Anna, says. I shouldn’t call her girl, not even in my head, Ellie thinks. “I need more money. I am owed a lot of child support Unterhalt,” she says. “I will not see this child support Unterhalt. I will never see it. But I want to manifest the exact money this bastard owes me. I have worked it out with the Düsseldorfer Tabelle.” Ellie’s impressed. Russians, she thinks. They’re so organized, sometimes. No wonder they managed to rig Brexit and everything. “I deserve this money,” Anna says quietly, sadly. “My children deserve it.”
“I don’t see why single moms have to have a victim mindset,” Marlin, the German says. Thin eyebrows, like it’s still 2002, Ellie thinks, slightly bitchily. “I feel like being a single mom is such an important, empowering thing. I feel really empowered. I feel empowered every day. Every single time I take the trash down, I am like yo, wow, yo, this is so empowering, I feel so empowered right now, I don’t need a man, I will never need a man! This is my attitude. And yes, you know. Yes. I want to improve my money mindset. I want to burst through my money blocks. I want to manifest millions, possibly even billions of euros. I want to show the world that single moms are not destined to a life of poverty. Why should they be? Why would they be? All they need to do is improve their mindsets and the money will come rolling in.”
What a load of bollocks, Ellie thinks. If it’s true that all you need to do is be positive and you get rich, why are so many men rich and so many women poor? Men are far more negative than women, the grumpy arseholes, she thinks of her dad, half asleep on the sofa, swearing at the telly. And her mother, always hustling, always bustling, rushing around cleaning rich people’s houses, keeping the money secret from the taxman, from the dole office. Now her dad has a new wife and new kids and a new life and her mum’s stuck in a council flat in Dagenham. She doesn’t say anything out loud though. She thinks she doesn’t like Marlin. But she’s not sure yet.
Debra says: “And you’re here, Marlin, because….”
Marlin looks defiantly around the group, defiantly for a German. The Germans aren’t the best at defiance, historically speaking, and there’s a lot of times when their flashes of defiance get diluted with a bit of bitchiness, a bit of smugness, and this is one of the times.
“I am a single mom with a full-time job. I believe very much in being a good role-model for my children, that they see their mother working full-time. I would be ashamed to stay at home all day long.”
The group shifts uncomfortably, and Ellie looks round the group, trying to guess who’s on Hartz-IV, who lives off Unterhalt, who has a full-time job like Marlin or a part-time job, maybe freelance, and a bit of Wohngeld. If she had to guess, she’d say Anna the sad Russian was on Hartz-IV, the young mums on a mix of Hartz-IV and Unterhalt, and maybe the one other woman who hadn’t spoken yet, an Asian mum, working but maybe only part-time.
“I am an exception in this way,” Marlin says. When Ellie had first moved to Germany she would’ve disliked Marlin extremely for this statement but times have changed, she’s gotten used to the matter-of-fact way Germans will make these kind of bold, offensive statements, just because they’re true. It is true. Marlin is a bit of an exception.
“Yes,” Debra says. “Many, many single mothers in Germany live in poverty. Live on social welfare. Can’t afford holidays or to run a car. But you are here because you don’t want to live this way, am I right?”
“I want to live a life of abundance,” Marlin says, and Debra grins with delight. “I want to take my kids to Disneyland. I want to see them flourish.”
Awkward silence in the group. Ellie guesses she’ll be asked to speak next.
“Have you got anything to say, Jess?” Debra smiles at Jess , the British Asian woman supportively.
Jess has a thin face, sad eyes, she looks like that young socialist politician in the States, what was her name again, Ellie thinks, but a sad, slightly deflated version. Oh fuck, Ellie says to herself, you said girl in your head again, sort it out.
Her voice is a bit shaky, a bit worried. “My babyfather is German,” she says quietly. She gulps and then she says, determinedly, resolutely: “It wasn’t okay, how he was to me. None of it was okay. He was horrible. He was horrible every day.” Silence in the group once more. “One time we had to sleep in the bathtub, me and the baby, he wouldn’t let me sleep in the bed, because the baby was crying, and when he went to bed, he would’ve woken him up, and he needed his sleep for work, but I couldn’t sleep on the sofa, because he was watching football. He needed to relax, he said, his relaxation was incredibly important to him. So I had to sleep in the bathtub. He said sleep in the bathtub, for all I care. We were so unhappy together. He was just so German, he was just really German. He was German to me every day. He was so German, he said everything was versifft, look how versifft it is. Any mess I left was versifft, but the mess he left was quickly cleaned away.”
Ellie laughs bitterly. “By you, huh” she says. Men she thinks, why do we even bother with the cunts.
“He treated me like that because I had no money. I know this,” Jess says, and it sounds weird, like not really something an English person would say, but after a while in Germany people do start talking a bit like fucked-up Scandinavian sex robots. “I have to make enough money that he regrets what he did.”
“How much is enough?” Debra asks softly.
Jess’s head rises up, her shoulders square, her eyes stare at Debra angrily.
“Ten thousand euros a month,” she says calmly. “Then he’ll know. Then he’ll feel sorry.”
Debra laughs. “It’s all there. It’s all there, girls. The universe has all the money you need. Do you believe me? Are you ready to burst through those money blocks and live your best lives?”
I wonder why she didn’t ask me what I want, Ellie Goldman thought to herself morosely. Did this weird American finance hippy somehow sense that she didn’t really believe in any of this? She was like Mel B on Girl Power, she was going along for the ride, she wasn’t opposed to the idea of becoming a millionaire single mom – she pronounced it mom in her head sometimes now, she noticed – but she didn’t really believe it was about to happen. She remembered when her auntie had had cancer, and she did chemo and the crystals and the soup stuff. Might as well she’d said. Won’t hurt, she’d said. If she’d been German she would’ve said: kann nicht schaden.
So, this is the plan: they’re going to set out their financial goals, and this year is the year they achieve them. They’re going to meditate every day, as soon as they wake up, and then write out their positive affirmations for financial success – spending at least twenty minutes on this step, Debra says sternly. They they will write out their intentions for the day. Every day, every single day of 2020, they will be doing something – something – anything – ANY thing – to get richer. Not just richer. Rich. “People in Berlin are such socialists – but really there is no reason a socialist can’t be a billionaire.” Ellie cocks her head to the side, and Debra seems to notice. “Especially not a single mom,” she adds. “That is literally wealth being redistributed, right there, right in front of your eyes.” They’ll meet once a week, every Monday, 8 am, here at this Frauenzentrum, formulate new goals, and hold each other accountable. “This year is going to be the year we become rich,” Debra whispers, melodramatically. Ellie looks out of the window at the grey-blue January sky. The Prenzlauer Berg houses look so posh now, Prenzlauer Berg is so posh now, gentrified doesn’t even cover it, they need to invent a new word to describe when somewhere that was already a bit gentrified actually becomes actually posh, like Chelsea-posh, Islington-posh, she thinks.
Afterwards, the mums mill around on the stairwell for a bit, making small talk. Everyone half-knows each other from the Facebook group, Millionaire Single Moms in Berlin, but Zandra and Leyla already know each other, quite well obviously, and Jess and Marlin seem to be hitting it off. Everyone’s talking about babysitting exchanges and how much better life is without a man in it, bringing you down, and they see married women at the supermarket and they feel so sorry for them. Ellie wishes this was true for her. She sees married women she feels sorry for at the supermarket sometimes, of course, how could you not. You see the woman putting Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes in – or maybe Frosties – and the man demonstrably taking it out and replacing it with White Flakies. And you look at her and think, you poor bastard, that sick cunt. Ellie never thinks: maybe it is too expensive, Kellogg’s, maybe she should listen to him, maybe the own brand does taste the same, she knows he is probably spending half his income on prostitutes, secretly. But. She often feels jealous at the supermarket. A woman says something to her husband, he laughs, the baby in the trolley gurgles, they look at different jars of pesto together, literally deciding which one is best. Ellie feels jealous, she sometimes imagines a voiceover in her head, like she’s in a scifi film, and single mums have got into power and now all the married women are sent off to camps to be punished as gender traitors. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, her scifi film voiceover voice says inside her head, while she sidles past the happy couple, arguing over red or green pesto, but the government decided it was better for everyone if these women were removed from society.
Suddenly she notices the sad Russian woman is standing next to her.
“I am not from Russia,” Anna says, as if it’s an introduction. “I am from Kazakhstan.”
“English people always get it wrong,” she says, accusingly. “You are worse than Germans, even.”
Ellie nods again, she knows it’s true. In fact, even though Anna has just told her she is from Kazakhstan, she still thinks of her, in her head, as Russian. Ellie realizes she doesn’t even know the adjective for Kazakhstan. Kazakhstani? This is bad, Ellie, she says to herself. You’re a Tefl teacher and a part-time journalist, you should seriously know this.
“It’s much harder for me than for other single mothers,” Anna says.
“Oh?” Ellie asks.
“My children are too beautiful.”
“And that’s hard for you?”
“Well, I cannot kill myself. Ever. They would be raped. In the children’s home. When I am dead, and the Jugendamt comes, and put them in the children’s home, they will be raped. On the first night. Even if the children’s home they go to is not Catholic, the mitarbeiter will not be able to control themselves. I mean, it’s entirely certain. So I must never ever kill myself, it’s a hard burden to bear. Look, I show you a picture.”
Anna gets a phone out and shows Ellie a picture of two totally normal-looking twin babies, about a year old perhaps. They look nice enough. They could, maybe do nappies ads. But so amazingly beautiful that their rape in even a non-Catholic children’s home is a done deal, she’s not sure about that.
“They’re very beautiful,” Ellie agrees. “But I kind of think you should try not to think about suicide for, I dunno, like maybe more positive reasons? Like not just the rape thing?”
“Show me your child,” Anna says and Ellie gets her phone out.
Anna appraises the photo critically.
“A good-looking enough child but I think you could still kill yourself,” she says sternly. “If you wanted to, I mean.”
Zandra gets a picture of her boy out, thin, blonde, weedy, how could such a beautiful black-haired beauty have produced such a skinny, weedy, puny blonde boy, Ellie thinks.
“Look at mine,” Zandra says cheerfully.
Anna looks at the picture and sighs mournfully. “You could definitely kill yourself if you wanted to,” she says. Russians and small talk, Ellie thinks to herself, and then corrects the word Russian to “Person from Kazakhstan.”
Everyone starts drifting down the stairs, Marlin announcing loudly how she has to go to work because she has a full-time job and receives absolutely no social benefits from the German state except Kindergeld.
“It’s so nice of them to give us Kindergeld,” Zandra the Australian says, vaguely.
“They take it off the Hartz-IV, Zandra!” Leyla says, exasperated.
“Do they?” Zandra says. “I find those Bescheid things so hard to understand,” she adds vaguely. I knew those two were Hartz-IV, Ellie thinks to herself triumphantly. Maybe they don’t need a millionaire mom manifestation Selbsthilfegruppe. Maybe they need social workers and a Familienhilfe or something. Maybe this is a total waste of time. Oh come on, Ellie says to herself, as she steps out of the Frauenzentrum building into the cold December street outside, it’s been a surprisingly mild December, but when the cold air hits her, it’s surprisingly cold, in fact it’s so cold it feels like it is actually hurting her lungs, come on. Ellie breathes in deeper so that her lungs get used to the air. Come on, she says to herself. What have I got to lose. Es kann nicht schaden.