The Weekend Garden

Posted 21. July 2014 by Giulia Pines in Personal

The inspiring Katrin of the blog Taking Notes posts frequent, envy-inducing photos of the things she grows out at her “big old house in the country.” Conveniently for the rest of us, she always separates her posts into indoors and outdoors, and then into areas like the deck, the walled garden (almost entirely flowers) and the kitchen garden (entirely things to eat). Maintaining a house and garden like hers, and making it look so effortless, she is quick to point out, is in fact very hard work. When I met up with her for lunch in Berlin a while ago (back when she was still working in the city and needed to make the commute of over an hour each way), I asked her what her secret was. My plan had been to commiserate over the trials and tribulations of owning such a property, and the relative difficulty of finding time and energy in one’s day to renovate the house while growing a real live, usable garden. I had been mistaken, it seemed, because Katrin did not appear the least bit stressed about the work that was surely ahead of her when she got home. “I do a little bit every day,” she explained. “My husband and I are the kind of people who have to.”

Indeed when asked, the inimitable Karin, partner of our local farmer Bauer Krause, whom I’ve no doubt made famous with my Berlin Stories recording, had much the same to say: “Ein Garten muss jeden Tag seinen Gärtner sehen” – “A garden must see its gardener every day.” In short, that means stepping out into the green at least once a day, even if only for a few minutes, trimming here, weeding there, squashing the inevitable slug, bug or harmful beetle. The only way to keep a garden in good shape is to make sure it sees you every day. The alternative is to leave it until the weekends, by which point there is so much to do you, don’t know where to start, eventually get discouraged, and very often don’t accomplish any of the tasks you set out for yourself. And yet, some people simply have to wait until the weekend.

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I moved. Then I went to Taiwan.

Posted 21. April 2014 by Giulia Pines in Events

No joke. But it’s not the Taiwan part I want to focus on (I’ll get to that later). Rather, it’s the process of moving I wanted to take some time to explore, and all the complicated emotions that can arise from it.

I’ve never really been one for moving. I’m not the type. I lived in the same apartment throughout my childhood (the one my parents brought me home to from the hospital) and they still live there. I don’t think they’ll ever move. Every once in a while in school, you’d hear of a classmate whose parents were moving (and it was always the parents moving, not the family; the children were far from complicit in this act that seemed so brutal to me). “How could you move from one home to another, just like that?” I thought. “How could one apartment mean so little to you that you could leave it behind?” And most of all, “How could you ever bear the idea of someone else living in a home that used to be yours?” I never had much of a chance to ask kids my age about this. Even when my cousins moved from one house to another up in Riverdale, it didn’t occur to me to simply ask them how they felt about it.

I can’t even really liken this move to the ones I went through previously, as all my previous apartments in Berlin seemed like temporary solutions. The first place to really feel like a home was the home J and I shared on Lehrter Strasse, across from Hauptbahnhof. About three and a half years ago, I wrote about this area and the specialness of it—feeling like you were in no man’s land, not really in any of the neighborhoods surrounding it, but rather in some bizarre hybrid that needed a new name all its own. I christened it “WeMiTiMo” (Wedding, Mitte, Tiergarten, Moabit), but then someone else came along and named it, “EuropaCity,” and that’s when the horror—and I do call it horror—began. The empty space just north of Hauptbahnhof is to be filled with high-rise office buildings and hotels, the industrial structures along the canal running from Mitte up to Wedding were cleared out to make room for luxury waterside condos. And worst of all, they started digging a new S-Bahn tunnel, connecting Hauptbahnhof to the ring, literally outside our front door, beneath our bedroom window.

It was obvious we needed to move, and finally, after three years of searching, we did.

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Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Posted 26. January 2014 by Giulia Pines in Art and Culture

As in, if you read this and learn how bad the third season of Sherlock truly is, it may spoil your appreciation of the show forever.

I finally watched the long awaited first episode of the third season of Sherlock. I know Benedict Cumberbatch is a superstar now, but seriously, when did he become a superstar? I mean, I remember watching this show two years ago because it was a whip smart, modern take on a character that I thought had been done to death, and I loved the intersection with modern technology, the one-liners and asides to true, long-time Holmes fans, and the fact that they finally, after a century of trying to make Sherlock a romantic and tragic hero on the screen, admitted that he was just an asshole…and most definitely a sociopath.

But suddenly it has gone from “Benedict…who?” to “Benedict Cumberbatch, the most British man ever whose name sounds like a cross between a pudding and a sex act!” And you know what? Now, suddenly, people are watching not because they are long-time fans of Sherlock Holmes, but because they think Benedict Cumberbatch is hot. And it shows. “The Empty Hearse” was the weakest episode of the series to date. I know they had to explain how Sherlock faked his own death, and I appreciate the clever nods to fan fiction and all the outrageous theories that have been going on since then, but really, there was too much explication and not enough storyline. And when they did get down to old-fashioned detective work, it was a dud. Come ON. A bomb under Parliament? An on-off switch? Sherlock didn’t even figure out the whole thing this time (for the first time). Instead, it was the guy with the smelly hat who worked for the London Underground. He was the one who told them about the “secret station that was built but never opened DIRECTLY UNDER Houses of Parliament.” And you have to be kidding me with “secret station that was built but never opened DIRECTLY UNDER Houses of Parliament”! Really? That’s the best you could do?

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Jewish in Germany: A Response to Yascha Mounk

Posted 20. January 2014 by Giulia Pines in Open Questions

Two weeks ago – the day I landed back in Germany after six weeks in New York – the New York Times published an article by Yascha Mounk, entitled German, Jewish and Neither, which quickly made the rounds. (Well at least from my perspective, it made the rounds, as I am a New Yorker by birth and a Jew, and therefore know many other Jews.) Around that time I promised to write a blog post about my personal experience as a Jew living in Germany. At first, it was easy enough to throw the link up on Facebook along with the comment, “my experience, in reverse,” but what exactly was my experience? What did I mean that it was the reverse of Mr. Mounk’s?

Well, as it turns out, I wrote something trite and linked to the article because I simply didn’t want to consider it any further than that. I’ve tried to start this post numerous times and been stymied by my own lack of passion on the matter. Even a general interest in it. The truth is, I’ve been trying to write about being a Jew in Germany, but I’ve been much too busy trying to be an American in Germany, and a writer in Germany, and a non-native German speaker in Germany, to find the time. Of course, being Jewish adds more spice to the pot—and, by all means, yet another level of awkwardness when your secret comes out in conversation with a German, another level of closeness when you run into another Jew like you—but it’s also something you have to get used to if you suddenly go from being one of more than a million to one of a handful.

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Hinter den Kulissen

Posted 2. March 2013 by Giulia Pines in Rants

It’s like clockwork. Here we are, all living out our lives in this little bubble we call Berlin—actually a bubble inside a bubble since we are not just Berliners but expat Berliners—and then, perhaps once or twice a month, someone publishes an article, a blog post, or a rant that shatters this illusion we all hold about our lives, silencing that little voice telling us, however faintly, that we are special. That our decision to move here was more than just following a trend. That we aren’t just living out a cliché that has been lived out before our parents were even born, as old as Paul Auster, Paul Theroux, or even Hemingway before them.

A couple of months ago it was that article in the New York Times. Remember the one? If you don’t you must have been living in a cave—or maybe just not in Berlin. It detailed the legal, illegal, and definitely stupid exploits of an Australian who moved here to be a rock star, and got what he wanted—minus the music. It set off a cascade of responses, angry tweets and Facebook messages and blog posts that went unabated for a good week or two. How dare he suggest that expats are uncreative leaches? How dare he put into words that everything isn’t perfect here? Having seen it all, having gone through the highs and lows of being unemployed because I wanted it and then being unemployed even though I didn’t, of taking abuse and exploitation and low-paid jobs and the feeling that everyone was getting ahead except me, and finally, finally feeling like I’d reached the point where I could demand a certain amount of money for my time, certain expectations for myself, I remained silent. (No, this isn’t going to be like the classic quote about how they came for the Jews and the Communists and everybody, and I remained silent.) There have been articles about how gentrification is killing Berlin, and I agreed but remained silent. There have been online hate-filled screeds about hipsters and expats by hipsters and expats, in the end, the authors revealing only their own self-doubt and self-loathing. Perhaps I’ve even written something like that in the past and didn’t realize it. Never mind. I largely remained silent.

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