About Poetry

It was a small gathering and to be brutally honest, it was only a matter of coincidence and good luck that I remembered the little note in my calendar.

In school they used to tell us that if it didn’t rhyme, it wasn’t poetry so when she told me that in her writing, there was no such thing as a metrical pattern, I was yet again convinced that my whole school life was a lie.

It was an interesting realisation that in a city like Berlin, at almost any hour of the day, there is always something taking place. Somewhere people gather  to watch a play, hear a speech or listen to a piece of classical music. This is a city of events and the smaller, the less known it is, the more interesting, more intimate and unique it appears to be.

Poetry doesn’t always make sense to people who did not write it themselves. But since yesterday I figured that maybe the beauty of poetry doesn’t lie in the sense of its words. If you ever watch young poets in the making sharing their work with an audience in a tiny location on the grounds of an old german brewery, you may come to realise that a poem gets its beauty from its poet.

It was not just about words and meaning. It was also all about voices, about emotions and passion. Have you ever noticed how a personal poem can sound like a rap song if the tone of voice is right? When it gets louder with each line, fueled by rising emotions and memories?  Not only is it all about how one writes something but also about how the written is presented.

I sat there and listened to people pour their hearts out on stage. A famous german poet once said that in every piece of writing the author gives away something about himself. So if you want to get to know people, look at what they write about and how they write it. It can say a lot.

I sat there watching them and felt admiration for these people who stayed true to what drives them, regardless who gets to hear their results. They write poetry because they love it. Their love of what they do makes them beautiful.

“I should have kept writing, too”, I said to myself. So now back here I am.

 

What Actually Happens When I Try to “Study”

 

A tribute to what my mind and I are going through when I am at home, trying to get things done and study.

1. Alright, international relations theory it is today. Let’s start reading this 30 page text. (reads one paragraph)

 

2. Wait a minute…I am still supposed to download all the readings from BlackBoard before they are taken down for good. (downloads all the readings for classes, curses the German copyright system)

 

3. Okay, too much text to read. Let’s see if YouTube can explain this any better and faster. (goes on YouTube)

 

4. Finally found a well explaining video. (watches the first few seconds)

 

5. Oh, the guy tries to explain Constructivism with a Matrix reference. Have I ever seen The Matrix from start to finish? Let’s see if it is on Netflix. (pauses video, goes on Netflix)

 

6. New arrivals? Let’s have a look at that. Don’t forget to finish watching House of Cards btw. What does this say? Season 2 of Fuller House coming December 9th? YAY! Wait…what was I on here for again…? Yeah right, The Matrix. (looks up The Matrix)

 

7. Wow there’s like 3 versions of this on here. Let’s add one to the endless list of movies and shows I still want to watch and forget it even exists.

 

8. Back to YouTube…I wonder whether there is a book called International Relations for Dummies because I really need that right now. (searches for International Relations for Dummies, doesn’t find anything)

 

9. Well, I guess this summary text does it, too. (reads)

 

10. I am hungry. Time to make lunch. (eats lunch, looks at newly bought pasta maker)

 

11. Hell, I love pasta! Now, how do I best get beetroot and feta cheese stuffed into tortellini?? (starts thinking about making tortellini but goes back to studying)

 

12.  (watches another video) “A realist walks into a bar and orders a half empty glass of water”? Politics makes so much sense now.

 

13. Wasn’t Carlos Ruiz Zafón going to publish a new book soon? When does that come out again? (looks up publishing date)

 

14. (while finishing notes on IR) I have some chocolate cream cheese left but I am out of grissini sticks. How do I make grissini sticks? (looks up recipe).

 

15. (watches last video on international relations theory) Look! A video on Game Theory

16. It’s already December. Time to start designing the photo calendars. (searches for typography Photoshop tutorials for the cover page of calendar)

The vicious cycle is cruel and endless. Pretty much explains why studying takes so much time. At least I am still an A student. 🙂

 

 

Happy Halloween

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Photo by: Toa Heftiba

For the last couple of days, on the news feeds of my social media accounts, Halloween jokes have been shared and costumes and make-up presented with a pinch of pride.

Growing up in Berlin and never having been anywhere near the United States or Canada, this holiday had always appeared to me as something…let’s just say “rather American”.

Even though one can find tons of decorations for this theme, I have never seen carved pumpkins lightening up the porches of houses or the windows of apartments in Berlin. Just like there are tons of Halloween decorations for one’s home, there are probably as many parties around here, where it’s all about looking spooky (or at least being dressed up as something) and having fun to ear-shattering music and expensive booze.

The only children dress ups I have ever known and been part of, were the ones we had in elementary school every once in a while but I have never, not even when I used to live in a house, come across groups of excited children roaming the streets in search of candy.

Therefore I have always assumed that Halloween was just another reason for us Germans to throw a party when (or because) there is no time to invade Mallorca on a short notice. I didn’t think much when I spotted a little girl dressed up as a witch, waiting in line at the supermarket next to her father today. But a few minutes ago, I heard someone ring my doorbell three times. After a few seconds of confusion I realized that the whole “trick or treat” thing was actually happening. In my apartment building, in a far, far away part of Berlin that even some locals  know from legends only without ever having been here. Who else would be standing at my door at this hour and weather?

I had no choice but to remain silent until I heard the muttering of children’s voices and tiny steps becoming more and more silent with the increasing amount of stairs walked. I have never felt so bad about not having any child- appropriate candy in the house. I really hope they had more luck elsewhere.

So even if Halloween is not such a big deal here, no matter where you are from,  I guess it is always good to have candy at hand. You never know.

Germans and Small Talk

I started watching a vlog by a charming American woman who lives in Munich with her German husband. In her cheerful voice full of positive energy, she talks about living in Germany, explaining different aspects of the daily life here to those from abroad while also addressing habits and the lifestyle in the United States.

In one of her  videos she talked about how small talk is not really a thing here in Germany compared to the U.S. and that got me thinking.

I thought to have noticed that difference, too especially after having met some Americans and Canadians during my time at international schools but until now I somehow thought that maybe this had something to do with my own attitude untl I heard other Americans share the same thoughts with me.

I don’t want to generalize. Berlin is such a multicultural place that it is often impossible for me to tell if someone is German or maybe has foreign roots just by plain first sight. What I did notice by living here is that strangers don’t talk to each other very much, especially not spontaneously, unless the situation requires it; with some exceptions of course.

I used to have the urge to have random conversations just to be nice and maybe make new friends but as time passed I noticed that whenever I approached someone spontaneously to have small talk, people wondered what I actually needed from them. In Germany, so I felt, you talk to people with a particular purpose, at least most of the time. If you talk just for the hell of it, the other person might feel like you are wasting their time or be generally surprised about why you are talking to them.

I have also noticed that over the past years, if I actually ever had engaged in small talk, then it was with middle-aged or elderly people. It is more likely that you will spontaneously be discussing the surprisingly low price of strawberries at the Turkish store with a middle-aged customer who just happens to be standing near you, than with someone in their 20s.

I remember how I stood in an immense crowd on the 25 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall a few years back, watching as the balloon barrier was released into the night sky. There was an older lady next to me and somehow we started talking and she told me all about where she was on that historical date 25 years ago. How her family and her were sitting in front of the TV, not able to believe what was happening. Of course she was obviously able to relate to the historical situation but I guess that if I were to chat up a person my age at lets say the yearly gay pride parade, my chances of engaging in a conversation would be lower in Germany than maybe somewhere else.

And somehow that anti small talk attitude got me, too. Not that I don’t like it but the few times it did actually happen to me with people my own age, I was very much taken by surprise.

I was doing groceries one night and got in line behind a group of young people who were definitely travelers. One of them turned around, looked at me and smiled. He asked me something. I don’t exactly know what he said. Maybe something like how I was doing and what I was up to. Whatever it was,  I felt as if the situation was just like I would imagine it in a grocery store in America after all that I have heard. I was so surprised. I was standing there thinking: “Are you talking to me? Just like that?Out of nowhere?  Why?” I needed too long to say anything back and just smiled. He didn’t expect that response I guess and asked me if I did not understand English. 🙂

It does not stop at travellers though. I have met an exception to the rule only a few months ago. I was reading a book by a bus stop when a young woman with blonde hair sat next to me. She looked at the cover of the book I was reading (Fabian- The Story of a Moralist by Erich Kästner) and asked whether it was a war book. I looked up in surprise. Was she talking to me? Just like that? Without knowing me or wanting anything specific like asking what time it was or when the next bus was coming? Why was that? I told her it was a historical novel set shortly before WWII. She asked if it was okay if she smoked, lighted a cigarette and started talking about this one book she was reading, too and how this actor who played Walter White in Breaking Bad was playing in a new movie based on some other book (maybe even the one she was reading. I can’t remember today).

So maybe attitudes are slowly coming to a change but in general small talk is not such a big thing here in Germany. People like to mind their own business but who knows when you will meet an exception to the rule?

Being a Local in Berlin

A while ago, I wrote about why traveling to other places can be so much more exciting than one’s own hometown.

Today’s subject of my random thinking session after I had finally finished my French revision was what makes the difference between living in a country compared to just visiting it for a few days.

When you become a local somewhere you notice that the carefree days of being an explorer of the world slowly come to an end. Your daily life consists of many single fragments that usually don’t appear as such in the life of someone who only drops by for a visit.

For me, being a local here in Berlin is made up of living in a part of town that tour guides probably leave out on purpose because there is really not much to see here and the only travellers who ever get here are a couple of Canadian au pairs from Ontario who accidentally took the absolutely wrong bus.

My neighbors and I don’t know each other but living in the same building makes for some (weird) encounters. It includes me leaving my flat with a puzzled look at the box of bio-vegetables delivered to my neighbor in the early morning and left standing there at the door all day until she gets home. I find it a bit strange because as a student on a government scholarship I cannot yet understand how someone has the spare money to have bio food delivered (!). My neighbor in turn must think of me as a weirdo for not yet having grasped the importance of ecologically friendly food. Neighbor etiquette in Germany includes taking the mail for the others in the building if they are not at home. On the other hand, I also get to pick up my mail from the others, having it handed over to me by people in a fluffy bathrobe or no clothes at all above the waist in the case of men.

Having lived here for so long now, part of my daily routine consists of sorting my trash into plastic, paper, glass, bio remains and “other waste”. Shall I dare to throw a bag into the wrong container while one of the elderly neighbors is around, I am in for an angry lecture on the importance of recycling. Last time the lady was so serious about it, she actually made me get the bag out of the wrong container again and throw it into the right one. I am not even sure how many travellers to Germany know we have a recycling system and if they do, how many of them actually care about sticking to it.

Me feeling like a local includes not making a noise on Sunday so that no one’s peace is disturbed. With the newly gained energy, I can then dedicate myself to handling bureaucratic matters, a process I probably wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. The bad mood and hopelessness of the employees is contagious but with time one learns to give a non-sarcastic answer to the question: “And your relatives let you live with them for free or what?”, when applying for government-funded housing. After that I can finish my day by buying groceries at the Turkish store near me, realizing that I have been on a  halal diet for months now without being Muslim because I am too tired to make it to the next hypermarket. Eating out is sinfully expensive and unlike tourists, most Germans do it for special occasions only.

And finally there is customer service! The longer you live here, the more likely you are to realize that the only person who can help you is yourself in about 50% of the cases. Being a local sometimes means getting a customer service where an electrician comes to your house who will tell you that you have no hot water because the fuses burned out. He will tell you that he does not have any of the fuses you need with him and that he does not know where to buy them because they are so outdated so you better go search yourself. At the end of the day he will still charge you 150€ for the visit because you called him after all.

This is not to say that everything is bad here. There are always good days and bad days, good people and not so good people. It seems to be all about the little details of life that a regular visitor probably doesn’t even think of. I can’t help but smile whenever people who are visiting tell me in excitement how much they would like to live here. 🙂

 

Torn Between Home and Elsewhere

When I walked the narrow, nostalgic streets of Lisbon, listening to the sounds of Portuguese TV programmes escaping through open windows and watching the yellow streetcars pass by, I thought to myself: “This would be a great place for a honeymoon”. When I visited Madrid two summers ago, I started thinking about what a nice idea it would be to come back  for an ERASMUS semester.

How come I rarely experience such fascination with my own hometown? Many other travelers get just as excited about Berlin, as I can get about Vienna, Valletta or Havana but many other travelers surely have made the experience that foreign soil is much more fascinating than the one you have walked on all your life.

It is during my last few hours in Vienna, in front of the state opera that I see the answer in front of my inner eye as clear as day.

Elsewhere gives me a break from everyday life. In Berlin I have responsibilities. I have to keep my flat clean, my fridge full and my table set for meals. I have to be available to other people on the phone and through E-Mail. I have to tend to the content of my mailbox and listen to tired employees of our bureaucratic system complain about how much they have to do.

When I am away from home, I am away from all these things and there is nothing I can do about not being available. I can spend my days getting lost in the streets of a new place, writing about anything that comes to mind and read one book after the other without feeling in the least unproductive.

Maybe the reason why foreign places are so attractive is the way they set us free from our routine like obligations. Saying something like: “I couldn’t answer your E-Mail because I was travelling”, sounds more legitimate than saying “I just didn’t feel like it”.

On the other hand, in the context of travel, everyday-life things can reveal their charming sides like they have never before. While at home, I don’t take meals very seriously. Although I mostly prepare them myself, I try to finish them quickly, using as little cutlery and plates as possible so I can move on to my next task and turn on the dishwasher once a week only to save water and electricity. One morning in Vienna however, I finally discovered how beautiful it is to have breakfast in the early morning with nowhere to be at a certain time and with nothing important to think about other than the sound of ringing churchbells. I had no idea how delicious a sandwich made with butter, some jam, a slice of cheese and a handful of grapes on the side can be until that morning.

No, we do not travel to other places because we don’t like home. We travel so we can remember the simple pleasures of life. We travel so that we can let go just for a little bit and allow ourselves to find fulfillment in doing nothing in particular.

More travel stories here. Thanks for stopping by!

Have a Problem With the ‘Burqa’? Then Read This!

I have been living in Berlin for most of my life now and as I got older, I heard more and more from those around me about how they were bothered by Muslim women. By that they mostly referred to those who choose to wear a face veil additionally to their black coats and headscarves.

Before I proceed with today’s post, there is one thing that I would like to point out about the dress code for women in Islam, for the sake of information.

Burqa and abaya in Berlin

I think it is time to point out that a burqa is, based on my research and my own awkward confusion of the two while living in Riyadh, a cover for women that is made of one single piece and covers a woman from head to toe, with a net in the eyes area. It is mostly worn in Afghanistan. The abaya on the other hand, is a coat or dress like garment that is usually black. The headscarf (hijab) and the face veil (niqab) that has a slit for the eyes are two separate pieces that are worn with it. In my 16 years of living in Berlin I have never seen an Afghan burqa. Those women that you see here, wearing a black coat and a black face cover, are wearing an abaya, not a burqa.

—————- end of info section—————

Although there can be as many different reasons as there are people for why some are against the full cover, most people have pointed out to me that “they were simply bothered by the sight of women wearing all black with no face to be seen. They did not like to look at something like that.”

I have spent many months thinking about this and now that the conservative AfD party has become a member of the Landtag in three states recently , I would like, with this post, to address those people who are bothered by the sight of women in full cover.

I would like to point out to you all the things that for example I  (and maybe some others) “don’t like the sight of” in Germany although for some reason the majority of people doesn’t care. Oh, and before you start criticizing me, which you are welcome to do in the comments, keep in mind that I am NOT Muslim myself so please go find another argument.

I don’t like to see men walking around shirtless in the summer with their enormous beer guts showing. They don’t just walk around here. They also take the train and the bus and sometimes other people have to sit next to them. I think shirtless people belong to the beach, not the city. I think having to look at a shirtless man who is not even in good shape, in a public place is somewhat disgusting and yet no one else seems bothered and I see it every year again.

I don’t like it when I have to watch  (young) people showing off how much they like each other in public. Here, if you look closely, young people kiss and hug passionately on trains, in busses, parks, in the corners of supermarkets, public swimming pools and not to mention saunas.

In fact, I have come across and article today which gives suggestions for the best places where one can have undisturbed sex in public. I am still trying to figure out if maybe this was just a joke.

It bothers me to see how some 12 year olds dress today. Nowadays they show off more than is good for the human eye. I am bothered by how in the middle of the night some guys like to get drunk around Alexanderplatz, turn on the music and get (all) their pants down. People just keep walking. No one says anything. No one calls the police or tells them to stop. Like nothing ever happened.

Yes, I know that in theory indecent public behavior is against the law in Germany and yet I have never seen that law being enforced. While growing up, I was never made to believe by society that doing the things mentioned above is not okay. I have never seen any political or other discussions about how such behavior should be stopped like I see discussions on banning conservative Islamic clothing because people consider it “indecent”. Instead, it has constantly come to my attention how unacceptable it is if a woman decides to dress according to her religious believes.

I like the freedom I have here. I like my short skirts and my strapless dresses. I like to go out with my friends no matter what gender they are. I appreciate the fact that I can write this post and many others without having to fear for the police to come and get me at any moment for what I have just said. Yet I think that before we start criticizing other people from other cultures, we should get some order into our own. I don’t see why we should tolerate indecency and punish modesty.

Yes, I  believe that in a democratic country everyone should be able to do whatever the hell he or she wants to do as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone but if we want to play this card of freedom and tolerance, then this concept should work both ways.

If we consider it okay to be half-naked in public, we should then (even more) consider it okay if someone chooses to dress modestly. Those people who are demanding an actual ban on the face veil should demand an equally strong ban on indecent behavior.

Those women walking around all in black do so because it matters to them. It makes them feel like they are doing the right thing. It makes them feel closer to God and comfortable about themselves (among other things I presume) and as long as they don’t make other people follow their example (which I have never seen happening), we should absolutely leave them alone and mind our own business!

In comparison to that, there is NOTHING fulfilling, meaningful or right about making out in public or showing off your muscles which aren’t even there. Learn the difference before you decide what bothers your eye-sight and why.

————- ——end of rant—————–