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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Posted 12. February 2013 by Giulia Pines in Personal
Three and a half years ago, I wrote this:
“Every time I go into the west, I’m seized by the dual feelings of strangeness and familiarity. More strangeness, actually. The people here are still speaking German, and the same newspapers are on the newsstands, virtually the same ads on bus and subway kiosks, but there’s something that just feels a bit off. It’s like I can’t decide whether I’ve traveled back in time or merely to Paris.”
Looking back on it now, and reading the full entry it came from, I can’t help but marvel at how things have changed. Maybe I know the city better, or maybe I’m older and inclined to gravitate more towards stability, far less towards novelty, but taking a walk through the good old west last week, getting off the U9 at Spichernstrasse and wandering past the grand old UdK building to Ludwigkirchplatz, up past Ku’damm and over to Mommsenstrasse, gazing at the gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings, their facades bedecked with flowers, tendrils, smooth and flawless faces and figures, gold inlay and colored tile, wondering which one of them might have once belonged to my grandmother as a child, up Bleibtreu and over on Pestalozzi all the way to Suarez, finally getting on the U-bahn again at Sophie-Charlotte-Platz, I felt no trace of the alien and the new, none of the fear that gripped me before. I simply felt home.
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Posted 30. December 2012 by Giulia Pines in Personal
The other day, while I was on the treadmill at the gym, I had an epiphany. While I often get epiphanies at times like these (the two other most likely locations for the occurrence of a brilliant thought is in the shower or in bed when I first wake up and am too groggy to consider it a enough good idea to get up and actually write it down—yeah, I lose most of those) this one was special, if only for its simplicity. I may be paraphrasing here, but the thought was basically, “This is my life.” I know it doesn’t seem like much, and in fact it might be depressing for someone who is in that state of mind already. But for me, it was simply a surprise. It was a surprise because I realized, in an instant, how long it’s taken me to get here.
“I live here. This is my life.”
There’s a lot to be said about Berlin as an escapist fantasy (and a lot of people have been saying it lately), but actually, sometimes after a very long while, it ceases to be that long-hoped-for European paradise where you go until you figure out how to be an adult and just becomes real life. A couple of people have hinted at this over the years, the most memorable being my somewhat manic-depressive boss at the ad agency I first worked at, who once told me, “simply living in a place does not make you cool.” At that point, about six months into my time in Berlin and working twelve-hour days, very often including weekends, at an ill-paid and abusive internship, I had basically come to suspect as much. But he really made it clear: here was this guy, well-educated, ambitious, had founded his own company in his early thirties, and now owned a flat on the canal in Neukölln, a district where I had first started out and desperately wanted to return to. Wasn’t all that pretty damn cool? The New York Times article I link to above that caused such an uproar in the Berlin expat community the week we returned from New York at the end of November expresses a similar sentiment, only this time it’s “creativity: It’s not something you will find in a place.” Well, it turns out, neither is coolness.
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Posted 1. December 2012 by Giulia Pines in Rants
In elementary school one year, my best friend and I started a cooking show at the cafeteria lunch table. We called the show “Poppyseed Bagel,” it was about a chef of the same name, and each installment featured a recipe so absurdly easy, it usually only had three or four steps. Our first, of course, was a recipe for a poppyseed bagel that consisted of the following steps: 1) Cut the poppyseed bagel in half 2) Toast the poppyseed bagel 3) Spread butter on the poppyseed bagel 4) Eat the poppyseed bagel. At the beginning and end of each show, we would sing a little ditty that basically repeated the words “poppyseed bagel” over and over again. We can’t have been more than eight years old. It was a satire, but we can’t have known what that was at the time. We just knew we were really funny, even if no one else did.
I look back on that and see it as unwittingly brilliant. We were sending up a phenomenon that hadn’t even hit the top of the pop culture radar: the reality TV cooking show, or really any show at all about chefs. What’s more, our title for the show was such a perfect encapsulation of that blissful ethnic and cultural milieu that is New York City for children even when they can’t yet appreciate it: here we were, two little girls, one Jewish and one Christian, naming our show after, we thought, the most obvious, most American of breakfast foods. We could not have even imagined that, somewhere out there in the world, there were people who didn’t eat poppyseed bagels every day, and might in fact need to know what to do with them.
I’m not quite sure what brought this up. Maybe it’s because I just spent the last three weeks in New York eating a bagel with lox practically every morning for breakfast, really packing them in as if I could somehow save them for later, draw out the twenty or so bagels I had since November 5th so that they last at least through the New Year. Maybe it’s because my last day in town saw me meeting with that old and dear friend, now a full-blown lawyer just graduated from NYU. Maybe it’s because I’m sitting in my apartment back in Berlin again, with a whole lot of things about to change, yearning for that sense of comfort and familiarity that only food can bring.
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Posted 24. October 2012 by Giulia Pines in Germany
I’ve been thinking a lot about vacation lately (and not just because I’m about to go on one HA!). Earlier this year, we had resolved to drive to southern France. My spontaneous birthday trip to Paris from Trier had once again enlightened me to the closeness of just about everything (Germans and Europeans reading, fear not: this disease only seems to afflict the American expat), and I wondered, as I do every so often, why I hadn’t used my car-owning years here more wisely. The plan, in any case, was to drive to Trier at the end of the summer to see the in-laws, and then drive on through Alsace (that weird little area you only had to learn about for your ninth grade European history quiz? No? Okay maybe that was just me), through the Alps, and finally end in the south of France; that magical, lavender-drenched place I had only seen at the age of two, and yet was still expected by my parents to vaguely remember.
That trip didn’t happen. We did manage to make it to Trier, but we drove back to Berlin at the end of the week so J could take a last-minute gig on Saturday night. So instead, we decided to head even farther north. Now, that might not seem like a winning bet during the cold weather months (all nine of them in Berlin), but we had a plan. Ever since we’d met, J had been talking up the Ostsee (for non-German speakers, that’s the Baltic Sea), and we’d been trying to go there. We once made it as far as Stralsund, that impressive and quite lovely Hanseatic League city often overlooked in favor of Hamburg, and we even crossed a bridge to the island of Rügen, which held a certain romantic fascination for me if only because it at first reminded me of the six-fingered man from The Princess Bride. All I know is, we parked the car somewhere near water, skirted a few fences designed to keep us out, and were soon at a private beach with only a few other people (nakedly frolicking as those in the former east do) and the skyline of Stralsund (cathedrals instead of skyscrapers, in case you’re wondering) as our backdrop. Afterwards, I excitedly told people I had finally swum in the famed Ostsee, only to be corrected by real Germans: no, in fact I had only swum in something called the Bodden.
So this time, we pressed onwards, to what might truly be the last port of call on the German coast before…Denmark. An island so remote, it actually has the word “hidden” in its name, the quietly beautiful, windswept Hiddensee.
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