My Own Berlin

I’d never been to Berlin until I arrived a little over a week ago, yet somehow I felt like I had. I have three friends who just moved to here, another is looking for an apartment now. Before leaving home my parents gave me a list of names of friends of theirs who I HAD to look up, people who’d either lived here forever or moved here recently, but would show me the city nonetheless. Most people Iknow who have some relation to Berlin are people like me, friends who decided some time ago to study here for a semester purely based on the stories they’d heard, their intrigue in a place with such a complex history, and Berlin’s reputation of innovation, creativity, and vibrancy. Before coming here all of these people had something to say about how certain they were that I would love Berlin, that it was the perfect city for me, that I “didn’t even understand” how much I had to look forward to. This was incredibly comforting. It was exciting to hear about music and art and nightlife that was clearly so memorable, and more importantly, that I would soon be a part of it all. I did not care whether or not it was an exaggeration that Berlin was the city of sex, drugs, and techno, I just wanted to see for myself.

I’ve only been here a little over a week, but I’ve already found myself acting out, replicating, impersonating, some of  the stories I’d been told. I’ve found myself hearing the music my friends played when they came back from abroad, found myself standing in front of a bouncer asking if we knew who the dj was that night, found myself running to catch the train late at night, early in the morning. But every once in a while over the past week, I became aware of my own experiences, and how they don’t feel like my own quite yet. Hausdorf writes that “Of course Berlin’s imaginary is stronger and more peculiar to the visor than for the resident, and so the tourist produces Berlin as the drug fueled party paradise she has come to expect.” And perhaps this is true, but I feel stuck somewhere between the visitor and the resident. In being here such a short amount of time, I feel that I have not yet seen Berlin; that I have only seen replications of stories I’ve been told. Even reading Berlin: It’s Not All Sex, All The Time I am being told once more what real Berlin is like. So for now, I look forward to accumulating enough if my own Berlin moments. Derbyshire points out that the world’s view of Berlin centers around hedonism and cheap beer and distraction. Perhaps that this impression is a false one, or maybe it is only false to her.

A few days ago I went into the city on my own for the first time to an interview. When I go out with other people I often don’t pay attention to my surroundings, focusing more on who I am with, what we want to do, where we will end up. But this time I had no choice but to be present: where do I get on, switch trains, how long on this one, which office is number 9? As the day went on I felt more comfortable navigating this small part of Kreuzberg. For a moment, I felt more like a resident than a visitor, but still the distinction is a convoluted one. On the trip home a man sang to himself loudly in german in the seat in front of me, a couple kissed each other before they got off the tram, I missed my transfer, I corrected myself, and so on… the day was beginning to feel more my own than it had at the start and slowly but surely I will no longer have to know Berlin “through the rest of the world’s image.”

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