Ossi, Wessi, Amerikanerin

Posted 10. November 2014 by Giulia Pines in Germany

This weekend, when it seemed the entire world was celebrating one of the 20th century’s most important events, J and I got out of town. Having both been blessed with the same opinion that we generally dislike large holidays and events promising crowds of people in a small space, we decided there would be nothing better for us than to remove ourselves from the premises.

For me, there was something more at work too. I had celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall in Berlin five years ago (J and I had just met, and having felt the exact same way about the commemorative events – “I was there for the real thing, why do I have to be here for this?” – as he does now, he had escaped to our house in Brandenburg, and I had stayed behind, wanting to capture something of those heady days 20 years ago for myself, even though I had only been a toddler at the time). So I was more than familiar with the mixed feelings one can have when participating in an act of mass commemoration when one has no real memory of the event that is being commemorated. I felt, somehow, that it was not my due.

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Bilingual Babysitter: The Story of Hedda and Smilla

Posted 27. October 2014 by Giulia Pines in Friends and Family

About two years after I first moved to Berlin, I began babysitting two little German girls with ambitious parents. Their names were Smilla and Hedda. Like I said, ambitious parents. Unlike newly minted Berliners, who might have picked up a bit of part-time childcare to pay for the necessities, I was doing this to prove a point. I had never been good with children—had never really been around children in fact—and more than just trying it out and earning a little cash, I wanted to reassure myself that those in the single-digits didn’t necessary hate me. I didn’t happen upon these kids by chance: a friend of mine had stealthily introduced me to them as her charges one afternoon, no doubt hoping I would fall in love with them as quickly as she had and agree to take them when she went back to school in the fall. Their mother was happy enough to have found someone new for them without even looking that she didn’t even ask if I had had any previous babysitting experience. That was good—because I hadn’t.

The first afternoon I was supposed to pick them up from their Kita – two colorful, boxy structures on a corner near Mauerpark—I was hyperventilating as I got off the S-Bahn, sweating profusely. I actually had to go find a quiet spot in the grass, cross my legs, and try to meditate—something that, much like taking care of children, I had never in my life done, and didn’t really know how to do. What had I been thinking? I said to myself, cursing as I crossed the street at last to where I was to fetch them. The truth of that sentiment was only underscored by the greeting I was given by the younger one, who saw me and promptly broke into tears at the sheer travesty of my not being her mother. Where was the little girl who had happily balanced along the edge of the sandbox with both hands up in the air after I painted her nails pink, her “real” babysitter (my friend) calmly looking on? And more importantly, why had I ever thought I could handle children? I didn’t even want any of my own.

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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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