This is Part 10 of the Wir Gehen Nach Deutschland series, which is, apparently, a series now, because I just called it a series, just now, and there are eleven of them, which is bonkers.
After Sweden (and an afternoon at the scariest, randomest, most awesome museum of nearly all time, which I will gladly go back to every chance I have to just hop on over to Sweden) we took a short, cramped little jaunt to Berlin, where Gyna and Patrick picked us up from the airport and took us to the hippest hotel of all time.
We arrived late Friday night and hung out at Hotel Michelberger, which is pretty much too cool for me, and the DJ played some chill remix of Nina Simone singing "Funkier than a Mosquito's Tweeter" (which kills me, because Tina Turner's version of that song is one of my favorite songs to sing in the shower) and all the lampshades were made out of pages of savvy magazines and all of the furniture doubled as book cages. The lobby slash bar slash totally radster hangout area was full of these low, deep divans blessed with squashy pillows, but my legs are just a little too short to sit on them properly without looking severely uncomfortable while my friends lounged like a small herd of languid antelope, crossing their long legs and leaning back lazily, as if they were purposed for casual divan lounging. It was shockingly stressful.
After a few drinks we relaxed, and Patrick and I played catch up and astonishingly talked politics, the most peevishly dull conversational topic ever fashioned by humans, and I told him that we could solve everything in the world if US Presidents only served one term for six years, the reasoning of which is currently lost on me, but through the fogginess at the time it was, I promise, a stroke of brilliance.
The problem with talking about politics is that I don't really give a fuck what people's opinions are, what I give a fuck is how someone arrived at that particular opinion, because that's far more interesting to look at and listen to. Unfortunately, most people aren't me, and most people just like telling shit instead of talking about it, and not only that: most people don't know the difference, which is probably something so subtle that it arguably only exists in my head. Still, I can tell the difference anyway. I blame my dad for this.
I can't believe I'm still writing about this trip, by the way, four, five months after the fact. But I started writing one post describing each individual city and how I felt when I was there, and then each description lengthened and digressed and lengthened and digressed, and now I have a short novel about my trip with no plot and hundreds of stories about my childhood and how it affected my perception of traveling and the places I'm drawn toward, and they really all just repeat themselves and are very, very boring to anyone who is not me.
In December I went to New York City for the first time, and I basically thought everything (and everyone) felt smug and contemptuous (fucking coast-huggers and their anti-Midwest bullshit). When I was younger I imagined it as this thrilling place full of marvel and thunder and excitement. I was disappointed.
Berlin is how I envisioned New York City.
It's reckless and constantly on the verge of climax - it's coming, it's coming, it's coming - each turn is another exhausting crescendo that pauses in discord and plummets without release. The entire city fluctuates from massive concrete intimidation to solace and introspection to the vigilantly hip to classically cogent to garish exploitation, to...to...fucking ten. Ten. Ten. Ten. Ten. EVERYTHING EVERYTHING EVERYTHING EVERYTHING.
There are so many more words that I could look up in a thesaurus to list here so I could try to capture the range and conflicting forces shaping this city. Just being there is exciting and I never goddamn saw that shit coming, it just crashed into me. The Berlin of 2012 is a very different place than the cool, distant Berlin of 2003. I am so, so, so glad Gyna convinced us to go there for the weekend.
In my head there was nothing to do in Berlin that really separated it from other places other than your typical, you know...see some landmarks, go to a bar, maybe, probably, which of course is exactly what we did. But for some reason everything felt heightened and connected, as if everything around me was...supposed to, and I was supposed to, and it was fucking energizing as all get out.
I must go back there for more lazy wandering, and soon before it bursts. East Berlin feels like the dying breath of individuality. It's like...
Now, there are many, many ways we can go into this, I'm just speaking in generalities here:
I have this theory about gentrification: decade and decades ago certain places were deemed unsafe, for whatever logical or illogical reason. Communist dictatorships, for example. Black people moved next door. Whatever. People avoid these places because they were forced to, because of crime and drugs and violence, or because they were afraid of hypothetical crime and drugs and violence, or hundreds of other reasons.
And then the eighties happened.
This is important for many reasons, but the most ridiculous thing that the eighties gave us was the glorious, royal treatment of the underdog in the mainstream instead of the sidelines, this celebration of that which we fear. Children raised in the eighties were spoon-fed stories of the poor kids whooping the rich kids' asses, black slaves rising up against a plantation, ragtag teams of freedom fighters rebel against the communist overlords. So now (again, generalities) we aren't afraid of poor people or adversity anymore. At least not within our own cultures. We are "understanding" of their "differences," whatever that means.
In the past gentrification took years and years. We all know how it works.
But now people just aren't afraid of poor people anymore. Not like they used to be. I'm sure, faced with severe, crippling poverty these people would be lost and have no idea whether to run for help or run for their lives, but just poor people? Or black people? We (as white middle-class citizens) aren't scared of stupid shit anymore, at least not as much as we used to be, or we're scared of different things (like the gays).
We all know the results of gentrification and change: There is a froyo place down the street from me. No joke. And people actually say, out loud, "froyo!" as if it's something real that exists instead of an idea we trick ourselves into enjoying. The main street by me is littered with giant, high-ceiling sports bars that all have the same menu and 1,000 televisions and $5 "domestics" plus a modest smattering of "craft beers."
East Berlin is currently caught in the upswing of gentrification. Poor people who moved in after the destruction of the wall are being displaced, and just like everywhere else, they are pissed.
So I have a certain amount of guilt going on the entire time I'm in Berlin. Do these people hate me because I am a tourist and I'm capitalizing on their...individuality? Am I taking this away from people by spreading the word about how awesome I found Berlin? Will my accounts of this city cause an influx of trust-funders to move to Berlin and change everything, when really, I should have paid more attention to Berlin in 2003? When I eventually go back is it going to look just like all of the other upper crusty neighborhoods of first world countries, am I a poser for being here?
Am I noticing the changes in this city because of changes in myself, or were they always there and I discovered them now because I am different?
Will I ever be a part of a celebration of eccentricity as much as the people who struggled in this city for the past twenty years?
Sometimes I feel like I am, myself, a celebration of eccentricity but no one can see it because it's internal, and humans are only trained to pay attention to the things that they see with their eyes. Is that why I'm so drawn to writing? People see words with their eyes and they know that it's me?
So yes, like I said: everything, everything, everything, everything.
Berlin was the first time we really crammed.