mardi 5 octobre 2010

Ich bin Berlinerin

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When I lived in Mulhouse a few years ago, I shared a large flat with four other people. The rooms were large and bright with beautiful wooden floors. Everything there was brand new but things fell apart unexpectedly. The kitchen sink developed a leak and despite calling the landlady repeatedly, no plumber ever came by while I was there which meant putting a plastic bowl underneath whenever we washed up to catch the water. The internet connection never worked either so I ended up using the unsecured one from the orthodontist opposite. My room had a tiny iron balcony and looked out onto the street. For most of the day and night, there was the constant sound of trams rattling by but somehow I got used to it over time and even came to enjoy looking out to see all the people down below waiting at the stop outside our door. The set up of the rooms was strange; to leave mine meant either going through someone else's next door or via the bathroom which involved checking carefully if anyone was using it first. Luckily, I never walked in on anyone taking a shower! Yet the atmosphere was nice and with one exception, so were the other flatmates. I got on best with A., a young German girl from a tiny village close to the border with Denmark. She had smooth skin, mid-length blonde hair in tight curls and laughing eyes. She had arrived in the flat first, taking the smallest room at the back overlooking a the back yard. Her boyfriend came from Africa but lived in Spain which meant her routine was punctuated by constant journeys to and from the airport and long weekends away. Unlike most Germans, she was incredibly messy; the floor was littered with piles of paper and saucepans remained unwashed in the sink for days but we shared a passion for homemade pizza, film evenings, especially with 5X2 by Francois Ozon, bowling evenings at the alley just down the road and chocolate cake. I remember her giving me her favourite recipe in her neat, little handwriting and most of all, her comment that as much as she loved living in France, she knew that this wasn't the place where she wanted to die.

I've often thought back what she said, particularly during those difficult days when I was trying to decide about my future. Wandering through the city, seeing all those familiar corners and imagining myself saying goodbye to them. I thought back to harsh winters where the sun never shines and darkness falls at 4pm and the sticky summers which I find truly unbearable. No matter how hard I tried though, I simply wasn't able to erase the sadness that filled my heart when I pictured the city without me, of packing everything into boxes. Most absurd was whenever I entered bookshops, seeing all those volumes of German books, all the authors I haven't read yet and thinking how I'd have to buy them all to take back.

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The charming interior of the C/O building - enjoy it while it lasts!

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I wish I was as confident as these postcards which say you look good and you feel good about things.

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The poster with the cat reads, you can give up everything in life, except cats and literature.

So it was then, slowly but surely, the realisation that I simply can't leave, there's too much here that has simply become part of my identity. The tremendous sense of freedom that I've never found anywhere else, to be able to go out wherever and whenever I liked without having to worry about money so much. But after telling my family of my decision, hearing the disappointment in their voices and putting the phone down, I felt like an absolute heel and just wanted to cry. If it's the right decision for me, why do I also feel so bad? I'm literally torn between two places. Most of all, I wish I had the guts simply to face my demons and return to the UK where so many of my compatriots live happily. Why can't I be the same? I find it terribly hard to stick by decisions, not willing to commit myself and longing for the option to rush out into the open the minute I get cold feet. The idea of saying out loud to myself that this is forever seems daunting; as Tom Stoppard once wrote, eternity is a terrible thought, you never know where it's going to end. What I have is much less than eternity but all the same, the thought is a little scary. I remember listening to Leonard Cohen singing "I've tried to leave you many times" and thinking how it defined my relationship to Berlin.

Walking around Sanssouci park a couple of days later on a golden October afternoon, Berlin suddenly seemed far away. I felt alone at last after escaping the crowds who remained near the palace. I just wanted to live for the moment right there and then; no commitments, no plans, no guilt. The only way to live is to try and accept myself for what I am, that I need this self-imposed exile, for better or for worse. I have the feeling I should stay, that good things will happen and perhaps that's all that matters.

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The Chinese tea house in Sanssouci park

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My sentiments exactly!

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Calling by for lunch at La Madeleine crêperie which so many friends had recommended. It felt wonderful to switch off and get my book out as I sipped my bolée de cidre and waited for my galette with Roquefort, walnuts and caramelised apples (see below).

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In Potsdam

Plum crumble

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Lecia inspired me to make Molly's/Luisa's plum crumble when she published the photos on her stunning blog. It was perfect for that rainy afternoon when the combination of warm fruit and soft, whipped cream reassured me that all's right again in the world. You can find the recipe here. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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22 commentaires:

  1. Du bist wirklich Berlinerin! et je pense que c'est la bonne décision, voilà tout. Freedom is a gift we shouldn't waste. Berlin makes me feel free too, I absolutely understand what you mean. I would feel encaged in Paris. I cannnot explain why, but I feel you would do too if you went back to England. It's normal to cry, mature decisions hurt a lot more than the simple, small choices we have to make everyday.
    At theater school, when an actor cried during an exercise because he couldn't get the character or the scene, the professor always used to say : "go cry, cry as much as you can. Then come back. You'll see that the scene is there. You just need to cry to get it." And it always worked :)

  2. I'm sure you made the right decision! In any case, you still can change your mind later. Nothing is definitive.

    I'd really love to visit Germany and Berlin as I really love the way things are there. Maybe once...

    One of my favorite crumbles! Delicious looking.



  3. Perhaps you can just decide what you will do for the next year, or three, or five, but not commit to forever. Your crumble looks so so good. It must make decision making a little bit easier.

  4. "A clean house is the sign of a wasted life!" Classic.

    Seems like aside from being a disappointed by your folks reaction, your heart is really in Berlin. Your love for the city has always shown through in your writing.

    Many times our first gut instincts are the proper one. Best of luck to you either way!

  5. your choice is YOUR choice, enjoy it! and cheer up!


  6. No guilt, Vanessa! It's your life and really, your family is just a stone's throw away. Everything is so close in Europe.
    I know you love Berlin and your decision to stay is not writ in stone. You can change your mind anytime.
    Do what your heart wants.....

  7. Beautifully written. I do like the quote about the clean house, I will have to put that one up. If staying is what feels right now so be it. Is it really an exile? I was in Berlin for only two weeks, the weather was awful. I miss it every day, and wish I could go back.

  8. Même s'il est un peu douloureux, tu as fait ton choix et donc le bon choix pour toi pour l'instant ! Et puis ça ne te condamne pas à ne plus jamais changer d'avis... J'ai très envie de crêpes en ce moment aussi, et ça me fait toujours penser à une très bonne crêperie de Saint-Malo où on avait mangé il y a quelques années...

  9. There's no forever, Vanessa! You're just not done with Berlin yet, and that's a beautiful thing... When people ask me how long I'll be in Canada for, I just tell them "I'm here now", I don't know for how long (although I suspect it will be for a long time) and I'm fine with it. I wish I could read those German books with you! One day, I'll learn that language, for sure.

  10. I'm so touched by all your comments!
    @Magda - We're both real Berliners, I think. Somehow, Berlin offers us much more space and freedom and once you've tastedthat, it's difficult to return to other cities where all you can afford is a tiny flat. There's such a buzz here too. I love the theatre school story and will tell myself that whenever I feel frustrated.
    @Rosa - It's true, nothing has to be definitive. It'd be nice to meet you one day, either here in in Switzerland and share coffee and a big piece of cake.
    @Denise - Well, you should never make decisions on an empty stomach as I'm sure you know ;-) I just try to take each day as it comes, one step at a time. Who can plan for the next 10 years? Not me, certainly!
    @Mia - Ich kann das gut verstehen. When I left 4 yreas ago after a short visit here, I was so sad.
    @Lazaro - Thanks so much for the nice wishes. I'm extremely messy so can relate to that! It's a handy excuse in any case. I can understand why my family is disappointed because they'd like to see me more often but you only have one life and it's important to follow your instincts.
    @Pity - I feel better about things the more time goes on and am determined to make the most of my time here.
    @Barbara - You're right that the distances in Europe are small and not seeing each other every day means that the time I spend with my family seems really special.
    @P.K - I'm glad you like the quote! Well, it's kind of an exile, even if you make another place your home because you've left behind the places and things you grew up with which always stay part of you, even if you change and adopt things from another country. If you come back to Berlin to visit, let me know.
    @Rose - Oui, je sais que je peux toujours changer d'avis, ca me rassure. Pour le moment, c'est l'endroit où je me sens bien dans ma peau, ce qui m'arrive rarement. La crêperie à Potsdam était sûrement bon mais celles de Bretagne sont certainement mieux, surtout sur la côte.
    @Julie - It's true that nothing is forever. With places we fall in love with, I don't know if we'll ever be done with them, I hope my love for Berlin will go on and on and yours for Canada too, although it would be nice to meet one day. I love reading in different languages, you have a flair for learning them so I'm sure you could pick German up. They have lovely editions here, although I have to be strict about my budget for fear of bankrupting myself.

  11. Thank you for your kind comment. Happy you left a comment as I now found you;)

  12. Je pense un peu comme Rosa, il faut vivre au jour le jour. Pour l'instant tu es berlinoise, c'est ton chemin. Plus tard, tu verras bien. Certains d'entre nous sont de perpetuels expatries je crois.

  13. @Nina - Thanks for stopping by here. I'm looking forward to reading you again soon.
    @Gracienne - Ces mots me rassurent car je crois je suis une de ces perpétuelles expatriées qui n'arrive pas trop à faire des projets à long terme.

  14. Reading this I felt like you knew exactly how I have felt in my life... Such eerie echoes.

    And I love making and eating crumbles!

  15. Parfois, les choix s'imposent a nous comme une evidence. Partir, rester, rentrer... On reflechit longtemps et tout a coup, c'est l'evidence: il faut partir... ou rester.
    Parfois, planifier le reste de sa vie ne sert a rien, car au detour d'un chemin nous attend une autre decision, un autre pays, une autre vie. C'est a la fois la douleur et la beaute de nos vies d'expatries. C'est le fruit d'une curiosite et d'un caractere, inutile d'essayer de se changer soi meme, on y perdrait une sorte de bonheur.

    Quand on a vecu en plusieurs endroits, on a laisse un peu de soi dans ces divers endroits. Des amis, des parents, des habitudes, magasins et cafes preferes, etc... Il reste sans doute une certaine nostalgie, mais ces vies multiples donnent aussi, finalement, plusieurs "chez soi".
    Vous en avez maintenant deux, l'Angleterre et Berlin, et c'est aussi une tres grande richesse.

    A bientot et, comme toujours, merci de ce joli billet et de vos belles photos,

  16. Vanessa, I am sorry you are feeling so torn. It's a good sign, however, because it shows how much you deeply care about your decision. Your family will understand and so will your friends. Getting older, (as we both experienced similar birthdays!) feels strange, like we need to make these forever-decisions now, before it's too late. But I have a suspicion that no matter where we are, we are right where we're supposed to be at this moment in time.
    Have fun building your life in Berlin. It's right where you need to be.

  17. Vanessa

    I just spent a weekend with some friends here in Lebanon and we were talking about real estate prices; here they have skyrocketed; so these friends who have all lived in Europe at one time or another, and go there frequently had one unanimous thing to say" Berlin is the place to be"; one friend told me "even Tcheques are coming to Berlin to buy properties" "it is the cheapest city in Europe to buy a place" "it is a great city". Just to make a point that you have made the right decision.

  18. @Mary-Laure - It's nice to know that others can relate to this kind of situation; you don't feel so alone then. I've always longed for a place where I really belong but have disovered there are advantages and disadvantages of every decision. I'm glad we share a love of crumlbes too!
    @Laurence - Merci de vos commentaires toujours si perspicaces! En essayant de faire cette décision, je me suis rendue compte que l'avenir est encore ouvert, que des choses inattendues pourraient m'arriver pour changer la direction que j'ai prise et que c'était impossible de tout prévoir. Je ne suis même pas certaine que cette façon planifiée de vivre m'aurait plu. Je pense que vous comprenez la difficulté de telles décision si bien; que parfois il faut prendre le risque, suivre son intuition. Habiter dans de pays différents est une expérience si riche, mais douloureuse aussi comme vous dîtes. On a besoin de cet "ailleurs" accompagné de nostalgie. Je me sens mieux maintenant, plus sûre de moi-même. Berlin est une ville à laquelle je tiens énormément.
    @Nicolette - Thanks so much! Well, I'm feeling less torn than last week, especially whenever I go out into the city and realise how much I love being here, how much there is to explore. It's true that when you enter a new age group you feel the need to decide fast while you're still young, as if all possibilities will be closed soon but I realise that I simply can't make this kind of decision fast. Life isn't a closed book already written and I feel like there's still so muc here I want to do while always remaining open to new possibilities.
    @Joumana - Everyone says what a special place it is here and they're right. I'd just like to keep it secret for a little longer so it doesn't change too much in the next few years. Thanks for reassuring me about my decision; it's true that the city really means a lot to me.

  19. Profite ! Berlin semble être une tellement jolie ville ! Que c'est joli comme nom, le parc sanssouci ...
    Bisous et bonne continuation ;o)

  20. Berlin... rêve...
    C'est agréable, une promenade en automne dans la ville et la plus belle saison pour apprécier un thé bien chaud !

  21. @Hélène - Les nom s français sont assez populaire en Allemagne; le Président habite au château Bellevue, il y a le parc Montbijou et près de Stuttgart, Mon repos. Berlin n'est pas joli comme Paris mais plutôt charmant et ouvert. Bises.
    @Tatleva - C'est ce que j'aime le plus, faire un promenade au temps ensoleillée et un peu froid et puis entrer dans un café pour boire un thé ou un chocolat.