A perhaps too-dramatic take on departing Berlin - but I'm not leaving for good.
I’ve been putting off writing this blog entry for a while now. Part of it is because I’m here until the end of May – I mean, I only just got here in February! But a larger part of it is because I don’t want to say goodbye. Firstly, I don’t want to leave. But, even further, I want to be able to come back. “Goodbye” feels so permanent. Maybe “Auf Wiedersehen” is more appropriate – “until we meet again”.
Still, saying farewell is overwhelming for me. I’m still writing essays, still meeting with friends, still trying to cram this city into my experience. And, of course, I’m denying that I have to leave on May 29th. I feel a compulsion to purchase house plants, food staples, tea cups, the things you purchase at the beginning of the semester when the nesting urge kicks in. But, obviously, I can’t. I can still run around Berlin like I’ll never leave, still go out to Hisar near the S-Bahn for döner or to that thrift store on Potsdamer Strasse to complete my second-hand Dirndl ensemble, but reality will always follow.
Oh, Berlin, the things I have learned from you. Yes, I could opine about German history, identity, and society, but I won’t. I have to write about these things for all of my other classes. But, honestly, there are things I’ve gained from this city. First and foremost is the ability to love a place and still be highly critical of it. I recognize that I have idealized my home in Oregon, but being in Berlin has put me in a position in which I cannot idealize where I am. This city wears its shame on its sleeve, for it has to. I’ve had to look Berlin’s imperfections in the face, and hopefully I’ll be able to bring that back with me to Portland.
And I have really begun to see, to feel, to understand the privilege of being an American, an undeserved privilege one gets for no reason other than one’s country of origin. I remember the predominance of the English language at the Berlin International Film Festival (catering not to British film professionals but largely to Americans). I’ve seen how English has become the lingua franca for cross-cultural interactions due to American cultural and economic imperialism. Even though I speak German, I could very easily get around without it, save for “danke” and “entschuldigung”. It’s as if the rest of the world, especially in these metropolitan cultural capitals, has to learn how we communicate, while we can just sit back and enjoy the privilege of keeping inside our little American boxes. We export our culture, but are not expected to import that of anyone else. Our movies reach millions of eyes worldwide, our songs millions of ears, pushing out other, non-American possibilities. And, honestly, I think this is wrong, disturbing, and lacking the beauty that cross-cultural interactions ought to have. But I also don’t know how to change it. Maybe it’s in the little things, like learning the language and using it, challenging the need for others to bend to our needs. Us Americans have it far too good in this world.
But it is this understanding, combined with all of the other wonderful things I’ve experienced here, that I really and truly love about being in Berlin. Still, I think back on what I’ve done, and my first reaction is to say that it isn’t enough. That it could never be enough. The other night, some friends and I had a conversation about leaving. We talked about how long we could imagine ourselves in certain cities: a friend who studied in Prague last semester said she could spend maybe almost a year there; I said I could deal with a few years in New York. However, we decided that we could stay in Berlin indefinitely. Indefinitely. Whenever I think about the trip home, that word echoes in my mind.
At the same time, though, I’ve done quite a bit. I danced to drums next to people spinning fire poi; I participated in a renowned film festival; I waltzed to German polka at a burlesque show; I took walks to nowhere just because I could; I faced some of the ugliest facets of humanity at Sachsenhausen and the Haus der Wansee Konferenz; I picnicked with good friends, homemade bread, and sunshine in Berlin’s parks; I danced to ska at a (very Berlin) goth bar; I laughed and talked and cried on the U-Bahn, breaking the unspoken “transit quiet time” rule; I lived here. And, for the next couple weeks, I will still live here.
So, Auf Wiedersehen, dear Berlin. I truly ache when I write that. But I cling to that little linguistic shred of hope – the possibly of actually being here again.
Dear fellow bloggers and Professor Hutkins, thank you for coming on this journey with me. Your thoughts have been wonderful, and it has been fantastic to see what all of you are doing and how you react to each other. See you back in New York!
The picture above is, quite honestly, nothing fancy. It's just a lovely little park near my apartment in which I've spent some time. While the Brandenburg Gate and the Fernsehturm are fine landmarks, my heart clings closer to places like this park.