The Theatre Detox

In the past 8 months, I have seen a total of 3 plays. 2 of which I only went to because friends invited me (and I wanted to see the friend, not the play). 1 of which could be more accurately described as a work-in-progress physical-theatre piece, but, hey, ‘play’, is easier.

At the end of the Edinburgh Fringe last year, I was so physically, mentally and emotionally wrung out by ‘The Theatre’ (big, booming English dramatic voice), that I vowed to give up on it entirely. It was a gut reaction and it shocked me in it’s intensity and also in it’s feeling of truth. People didn’t really take me seriously. I had been saying I wanted to be an actor since I was 12 years old. I had been doing amateur theatre since I was 8. My involvement in theatre seemed to be the defining aspect of my personality. But, I said it vehemently over and over, to anyone who would listen, at any time of the day: ‘I don’t think I want to do this anymore.’ On the night after opening, I told my brother, who had, of course, agreed to perform in my show, unpaid, and give up 6 weeks of his time rehearsing and performing. I think I was wearing a towel. I could have made that up. The main point is, it was awkward.

I hated the theatre with all the passion and vindictiveness of a scorned lover. I felt physically gouged by the utter indifference I had managed to elicit from ‘The Industry’ (sarcastic, drawling American voice). I ranted about the artificiality and superficiality of ‘The Business’ and about the trumped up charlatans who ran it or succeeded in it. I lectured about an industry obsessed with youth and beauty and gimmicks and the ‘next-big-thing'; an industry that wanted shock and awe and cheap outrage at the expense of things that were beautiful or delicate or intelligent. I stored up examples of an industry that was irrelevant and so far up it’s own arse it couldn’t see how little it mattered to the rest of humanity. An industry that thought it was dissecting philosophy and religion, but was actually peddling cheap entertainment, that was no longer all that cheap and certainly not that entertaining (hey, I have Netflix now). I rolled my eyes at artists who moaned on social media about not get a living wage. I fumed at my computer and did my best conservative voter imitation and demanded that these freeloaders get a real job and then see what the hell it was like. With a few notable exceptions for some truly decent friends, I hated on absolutely anyone and everyone that had a modicum of success in the ‘Theatre Industry’ over the past 8 months. And that includes your 12 year old niece who just played Dorothy in her primary school’s abridged version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, where Toto is played by one of the kids from the Infants School wearing a headband with two floppy socks for dog ears.

All in all, it felt safer to avoid theatre for a little while. I didn’t want to become part of a news story which included phrases like ‘unprovoked angry ranting at a mostly elderly matinee audience’, ‘escorted outside’ and ‘public disorder charge’. Besides, I had been hurt by theatre’s complete indifference to me. It felt good to prove to myself exactly how insignificant I was. It felt good to hurt myself more, the way it sometimes feels good to push a bruise and feel that old ache renew itself. I gave up, and nobody cared. Nobody even noticed. I was absolutely nothing.

Being nothing was harder than I expected. Giving up on the defining aspect of your personality (see above paragraph) turns out not to be that easy. What does one do with one’s time now that one doesn’t not need to read the latest script or see the latest director’s latest masterpiece for the good of your theatrical education? What does one think about if it’s not the crafting of your current production? What does one hope for if it’s not for the success of your next project? What does one dream about if it’s not eventually getting a fully-funded tour to actual audiences in actual venues of some kind of project that you’re somehow part of?

Old devils kept tempting me. Friends would tell me I should set something up, put on a show, apply for a thing. Being in Berlin was both a blessing and a curse. No-one in ‘The Industry’ knew me in Berlin and I didn’t know them, so it was easy to avoid everything. I went into hibernation. But, at the same time, theatre was how I made friends. Everywhere I went in the world, it was theatre where I felt most comfortable. Sitting in my lovely Berlin apartment feeling lonely I would want to do a thing with a person. But I wouldn’t know what that thing could be, if it wasn’t theatre, and I didn’t know who that person was, if it wasn’t a theatre person.

Visiting a friend in West Berlin a little while ago, I glimpsed the beautiful art deco facade of the Schaubühne Theatre, all lit up, and I felt (along side of the heavy helping of sour grapes), an older, warmer glow of excitement and anticipation. I went to the theatre’s website to see if they had plays with English subtitles. They did. I found a show about women and history, that was in German and English, not on for a couple of months. I thought I could probably calm myself down sufficiently over the course of a couple of months to see a play.

A. and I sent to see that play last week. I wish I could tell you it was a complete turn around and I’m once again a theatre convert (and OF COURSE artists should have living wages!) but, no, it’s more complicated than that. It was, in so many ways, the worst things about contemporary theatre. A hasty, cobbled together script with nothing to say; gimmicky direction hamstrung by it’s obsession with the latest theatre fad (live filming of the action on stage! Watch theatre through a screen – you’ll feel so much more comfortable!); and set and costume that completely upstaged the actors (the lead actress really did have a very nice hat on). I left the theatre shaking with rage and ranted the whole way home. Don’t feel sorry for A. – he seemed to enjoy it (the ranting, that is, not the play. Lucky for him, his opinion aligned with mine, though perhaps less vehemently).

I am left with two tentative conclusions from this so-called ‘Theatre Detox’ and it’s subsequent breaking:

1) I think I am over the blackest part of my rage at theatre ‘in general’ and am ready to save the worst of my vengeance for specific examples of heinous theatre crimes. That’s not to say I forgive theatre. No, I still find the majority of productions on offer these days boring, derivative and full of themselves. But, I seem to be able to hope again, that somewhere out there, is a production that is genuinely great and wonderful.

2) The living I earn will never be related to theatre. But, in all honesty, I don’t know if I can give it up entirely. I don’t want to do am-dram, and a person of my age doesn’t have the energy for fringe unless they’re getting at least some kind of funding, so I don’t know exactly what I am left with. Something small. The opposite of ambitious. But, I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know what the point of it is. I don’t know why I have this compulsion. I don’t like it. It feels self-obsessed and self-absorbed and attention-seeking. And, yet, I don’t seem to be able to kick the habit.

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“Alone” in Berlin

Over the course of my life, I’ve moved countries more times than seems sane. It’s gotten to the point now, that if I’m at a party and I start to list the places I’ve lived, people move beyond interested to slightly confused and into well-meaning concern. ‘What exactly is wrong with this girl,’ they seem to think, ‘that she can’t just choose a country and stay there?’

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the commonalities and differences between these experiences. Despite the places involved, a lot of the feelings are the same. Before you move there’s the jittery excitement, which occasionally intensifies into tiny moments of absolute terror.

Once you arrive, for a little while, everything seems wonderful. Everything is beautiful because everything is new, and everything is charming because everything is different. This could last several weeks. There are moments of terror, still, when things go wrong and you’ll be made aware of how completely alone and helpless you actually are. Or feel that you are. You don’t know where to go to for help, or who to go to for help, you don’t know how much money help could cost, you don’t know what the consequences might be. Usually these terrors come from bureaucratic nonsense, but it could also be something as simple as getting on the wrong bus, or getting on the right bus going in the wrong direction, or simply not writing out detailed enough directions that could leave you lost in the dark and dry-heaving by the side of the road in an unknown neighbourhood.

Still, though, it’s several weeks of rose-tinted glasses shook up by occasional moments of terror. So, everything is still exciting. Your adventure feels like a genuine adventure. You might not even be homesick yet (though jet lag can play havoc with emotions). You’ll feel completely justified in moving so far away for such a long time. This is a ‘Big Thing’ you are doing and it is ‘Important’ and it will ‘Teach You Things’. But this perceived ‘Significance’ will blind you to what is coming next: the weeks, or months, of abject boredom and loneliness. Where things cease to be lovely and charming and new, or even terrifying and confusing and new, and gradually become ordinary and dull and expected. You won’t remember why you came. You won’t remember why you want to stay. You’ll become hyper-aware of every moment of every day, feel them slipping through your fingers, aware that they will never come back, and what good have they done you? You’ll watch a lot of TV.

The way to avoid this feeling, of course, is to go out and make friends. Join activity groups, develop a meaningful routine, or at least a routine, which through its repetition somehow becomes meaningful. I know this. I know this from countless moves. I knew it, in theory, even before the first time I left.

And yet, and yet, and yet. I’ve lived here in Berlin continuously for 5 months, and for 7 months in total, but the number of friends I have in this city can be counted on one hand. Since finishing my German course in December and failing to sign up for the next one (I’m too lazy. German is so hard. It’s dark and cold at night now and I just want to be in bed), I only have one regular fortnightly activity.

I blame A. Well, no, I blame myself, but I blame myself for relying on A. so much. The fact is I’ve never moved to another country with someone else before, and it’s made me a little bit lazy this time around. It makes the beginning easier, for certain. The terrors are not quite so terrifying, or, at least, you can dump your terrors on someone else, which somehow makes them seem less horrible, if not less terrifying. When I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get a visa before I was kicked out of Germany, A. gamely agreed to get up at 3:30am take the train to way-out West Berlin, line up until 7am and help me with my application. I might still been terrified, but it was impossible to feel alone when A. was buying me fizzy water because I felt nauseous.

As nice as it is, the absence of this feeling of loneliness has been detrimental in becoming settled in Berlin. If I’ve wanted to see something, or do something, or go somewhere, I’ve just dragged A. along. Yeah, yeah, it’s really sweet (I’m sure you’re throwing up in your teas by now) and it certainly put off the boredom and loneliness and existential worries for a few months, but I’ve now been here for half a year and I still feel like I’m living lightly on this place. Being here, but not actually being here. It became all the more obvious this past weekend, when A. returned to the UK without me and I had to fill 4 entire days (a weekend, no less), with… I don’t know… stuff. I saw a couple of people, which was lovely, but the rest of the time I just watched Miss Marple on youtube and bought a lot of second-hand clothes. It appears that, outside of A, all that is left of my life is old lady crime fighters and shopping. Sigh

It doesn’t help that I’m quite picky about the people I hang out with. Or that I can be quite awkward in new social situations. At a picnic in October, I asked a girl here, ‘so what do you do?’ and the look of confusion on her face spoke such volumes to me: this is not what you ask of people in Berlin. Berlin ex-pats are temporary people. They live here temporarily, they do jobs temporarily. The experience of being in Berlin is what you do in Berlin, and it is Great and Important. But it also made me so aware of what a terribly boring, horrible question that it is to ask anyone, anywhere – and yet I always ask it. I always, always ask it. I can’t help it. My mind goes blank. I either completely clam up, revert to clichéd questions and trot out dull stock phrases like, ‘how interesting’ and ‘I know what you mean,’ or I completely lose my head and confess all my deepest darkest secrets immediately and scare them away.

You’ll be pleased to know, however, that I am attempting to do better. I’ve even tried leaving A. at home on his own once and a while. I’ve been joining a few social groups through Meet-Up.com, like writing groups (hence a new blog post), painting groups, book clubs, walking groups, social groups etc. etc. etc. I’ve joined a few on Facebook as well. Finding social interaction via the internet does sometimes feel like standing in the middle of a crowded square and screaming desperately, ‘DOES ANYBODY WANT TO BE MY FRIEND??’ at strangers, but, hey ho, you do what you have to do, I suppose, to keep the existential paranoia at bay.

Last week was my first attempt at a social week. I attempted to go to a writing group and ended up on a street with the right name on the wrong side of Berlin (ALWAYS put the postcode into Google maps, ALWAYS, ALWAYS). I then attempted to go to a painting group and, due to my old granny ways of not checking Facebook during the day, ended up waiting outside someone’s apartment block for 15 minutes not able to get in because I didn’t know which apartment she was in.

But I will not be beaten! This week I have gotten to the writing group, and this week I will get into the apartment and paint. I don’t know if I’ll make any firm friends in any of these places, as that would require me to invite people out to drinks/dinner/my house/a museum/Potsdam and I’ve never been good at asking people out, even in the non-romantic sense.

(I used to go to the movies on my own as a teenager because 1) I didn’t think films were a social activity and I disliked anybody who thought they were – DON’T TALK THROUGH MY MOVIE 2) the anxiety of someone possibly saying no for some reason 3) the MAJOR RESPONSIBILITY of choosing a film and convincing someone to go with you and then WHAT IF THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT?? That would be ALL MY FAULT and who knows what dreadful things would be in store for a person who wasted $8-10 of their friend’s money. You would probably at least be expected to pay the $8-10 back and the friendship would be put on hold, if not ended entirely. You might also be put on some kind of friendship blacklist so everyone would know you were the kind of person who would waste $8-10 of a friend’s money. I’m not saying I still think this way entirely… but, well, old habits die hard.)

Nevertheless, getting out of the house this evening has already been remarkably refreshing. Even if I’m just sitting here, tapping away, in silence, surrounded by new people. Even this is enough to restore my enthusiasm for Berlin, at this point. As much as I love the apartment (and Miss Marple. Oh, and A., of course), seeing the same 50sq metres of Schöneberg and the same 100 sq metres of Steglitz every single day is enough to drive anyone bonkers. So, onwards, to the next 7 social months!

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10 Things Miss Marple Has Taught Me

1. Just because you didn’t get married or have children doesn’t mean you have to have a boring spinsterhood. Miss Marple is a bad-ass feminist and also, she is alive. See, falling in love usually ends in murder. DON’T GET MARRIED OR HAVE CHILDREN, ONE OF THEM WILL END UP MURDERING YOU.

2. If someone mysteriously invites you to a retreat in a mansion with a bunch of other people you don’t know, don’t go. This also goes for package tours. Inevitably, you’ll all end up being strangely and dramatically connected and one of you will end up dead or accused of murder, or both. It’s not worth it. Buy your own holidays and sleep soundly at night.

3. Don’t trust the nanny. Or the charming man. Or the prettiest woman. Definitely don’t trust the nun. DON’T TRUST THE PEOPLE YOU WANT TO TRUST, THEY’RE ALWAYS THE MURDERER.

4. Knitting is an excellent activity that stimulates ideas. It’s not boring women’s work, it’s CRIME-SOLVING work.

5. There’s nothing stopping a poor orphaned girl from becoming a success in life. All the girl need do is to spend some time as a maid in Miss Marple’s household and learn that it isn’t done to read other people’s letters or to break the china whilst dusting. Also, she must learn that one shouldn’t gossip too loudly in public about THINGS ONE KNOWS in case a murderer is listening and gets anxious. An anxious murderer is an active murderer. The girl who gossips too loudly is the one who gets her neck snapped. DON’T GOSSIP, IT WILL KILL YOU.

Miss Marple. The awesomest old lady in the whole wide world.

Miss Marple. The awesomest old lady in the whole wide world.

6. On the other hand, gossip is, confusingly, essential to solving all murder cases. As is eavesdropping. As is forcing yourself on to people that don’t really want to hang out with you.

7. Circumstantial evidence is pretty much always faked. The only satisfying ending is one that involves a full and emotional confession from the murderer in the company of everyone still lucky enough to be alive.

8. Policemen are universally doofuses. It’s because they’re men and they don’t knit. One must help them through their inconvenient idiocy, and only listen to them when they are saying the same thing as you.

9. Things might seem supernatural to begin with, but that’s just because you’re an emotional hysteric and not a clear-eyed, steady-handed logic like Miss Marple. Alive humans are ALWAYS the murderer. (Unless they’ve been killed since they committed the murder, which is usually not the case, because it would interfere with the full & emotional confession demanded by No. 7)

10. If someone’s reading/listening/watching ‘Macbeth’, someone connected to them is going to be murdered. Or, maybe has already been murdered. Also applies to other classic tragedies, such as ‘The Duchess of Malfi’. DON’T WATCH TRAGIC VERSE DRAMAS, IT LEADS TO MURDER.

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Incurring the Wrath of the Gods (or a Visit to Potsdam)

We’ve been pretty dreadful at getting out of Berlin since moving here. There are many reasons for this. Money. Time. Weather. The land outside of Berlin is pretty assuredly German, and whilst we are getting better (no-one switches to English in restaurants anymore! I don’t flap my arms quite so much when attempting to construct a sentence!), it is certainly comforting to know that, whilst in Berlin, at least, most people, could, if necessary, switch to English if things got too complicated.

But the fact is, we’ve gotten a little bored of Berlin. Well, not bored exactly, there’s obviously still plenty to see, but, bored of ourselves in Berlin, maybe? Bored of our routines? Waking up late on a Saturday for a big breakfast, some BBC radio online and then a potter around the immediate area, usually involving some kind of delicious German cake. Last weekend we decided it was time to shake things and we were finally going to go to… Potsdam.

Whilst technically it’s own city and capital of the state of Brandenburg no less (Berlin is it’s own city-state), Potsdam sits on the very end of the Berlin Metro transport zone. It takes an hour on public transport maximum to get there. Despite this, and despite the fact that it is the home to an entire PARK of palaces (not just one, not just two, a whole PARK of them), and despite the fact that most of our weeks since arriving had started with a discussion of the fact that maybe we should visit Potsdam this weekend; we still, 4 and a half months later, had not visited the place. It had gotten to the point of being a joke between us. Maybe we would never visit Potsdam. Maybe we would leave in two years time having never gotten to the end of the Metro line. Maybe we weren’t MEANT to visit Potsdam. Maybe it was, for us, verboten. It had been written, in the times before, that we should never see Potsdam together in this life.

Saturday morning wasn’t the most inviting. The skies were grey and my trusty kindle weather app predicted rain, rain and more rain. But we were determined. If not now, when? We told ourselves that it was at least a warmer day: a whole 11 degrees maximum predicted. We rugged ourselves up and headed out. Sure it was raining, but, we could buy an umbrella, we said. Sure, it was blowing a gale-force wind and an umbrella wouldn’t last the day, but we could wrap our heads in our scarves and wear our hats and we would hardly notice the difference.

Potsdam is an odd town. Yes, it has a park of pretty palaces, but it also spent 40 years in East Germany, so it inevitably got lumped with some fairly standard Communist ‘pretty-architecture-is-for-capitalist-pigs’ box buildings (side note: there are some excellent Communist buildings out there that I like very much. But if they exist in Potsdam I did not see them). It’s remarkable the palaces survived communism at all, really, as they were just left there rotting in their pretty park for 40 years. It wasn’t until the glorious return of glorious capitalism in the ’90s that we were allowed to gloriously worship their gloriousness once more. We wandered around the pretty Dutch quarter, managed to order some German cheesecake (and eat it too) at the oddly named ‘Cafe Guam’ and then headed off to find the palaces.

The real headliner of the park is the palace Sanssouci (it is, after all, called Park Sanssouci). Sanssouci was a summer palace built by Frederick the Great, that was meant to ‘die with him’ (so he probably wouldn’t have minded the fact that the the Communists abandoned it and would have resented the glorious capitalists coming back and minutely repairing it so that people could walk around it reverentially in soft shoes and talking in hushed voices). ‘Sanssouci’ translates to ‘No Regrets’, which I think makes Frederick the Great the originator of the ‘sorrynotsorry’ hashtag.

Sanssouci #sorrynotsorry

Sanssouci #sorrynotsorry

In the summer time, Sanssouci is all luscious greenery and overflowing fountains of abundance with fireworks displays and orchestras and everything else the glorious capitalists can think of. But when we went on Saturday, everything was discreetly tucked away. There were hardly any people about. I kept thinking the park had a distinctly seaside feel, which I couldn’t quite figure out until I acknowledged all the small, grey wooden houses, standing about, looking like drab versions of the charming changing rooms on some British beaches. A. thought they were guards houses but we couldn’t figure out why the palace needed *quite* so many guards, and in particular, a whole circle of guards facing into a pond. That’s when we figured out that they were protective huts for all the statues, that had been shut up for the winter months. Because, if you visit Potsdam when you’re not supposed to you do not get to see statues.

When we got up to the palace, we discovered it all shut up. We hadn’t really thought we’d go in, but I was disappointed not to get a chance to look in the palace shop (it’s the glorious capitalist in me). That’s when we noticed the sign on the window. I started struggling bravely along with the German, translating painfully slowly, word by word, when A. blurts out, ‘it’s closed because of the bad weather.’ Of course. This is a tourist place and everything has an English translation printed underneath. However, checking the German against the English we noticed that whilst the English were being told of ‘adverse weather conditions’, the Germans were being advised of the ‘STURMWARNUNG’, which even with my limited German seemed not to be the same thing. Sure, maybe in overly polite England, ‘adverse weather conditions’ means ‘MASSIVE HORRIBLE STORM COMING FOR YOU’, but I felt it was still an inappropriate cultural translation in this particular incidence. Suddenly, the amusingly empty palace of parks, where none of the gates seemed to be open anymore, where the trees were really very tall and being whipped about in a most alarming way, didn’t seem quite so fun. And it also seemed to be getting quite dark, quite quickly.

Quite dark, quite quickly.  Ok, so maybe I cheated a little.

Quite dark, quite quickly.
(0k, so maybe I cheated a little)

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So, we high-tailed it out of the park, past the mini Brandenburg Gate and into a bar, just before the heavens opened and spewed forth their rage on Potsdam and all that dared to visit it. A glass of red and a beer later, it had calmed down enough for us to continue back to the train station, ready for home and planning our dinner. It had been an excellent day, we thought, and we had been lucky. We missed all the bad weather and still got to see the sights. Perhaps not the inside-of-the-palace sights, but at the very least, the outside-of-the-palace sights, which was definitely worth the 4 euro or so our train tickets cost us.

We bought our tickets and went to our platform, not really paying attention to the long lines of people in front of the transport information desk, the large crowds staring despondently at the information screens. We had planned to get an express train back into Berlin, but it was then that we noticed the train we were planning to take, was running at least 20 minutes late. It was, in fact, just sitting on the platform. We changed out plans and decided to get the metro line. An S-bahn was sitting at the platform, apparently just waiting for us and we jumped in gratefully, trying to ignore the people looking concerned milling about on the platform and the fact that the information screen on our platform showed no departure information, but just a lot of intimidating and capitalised German. However, once on board the train, we couldn’t ignore the insistent, and slightly too soft message being played over and over. Our German’s not great, as I’ve mentioned before, so the most we could get out was ‘train not travelling to Berlin’. Over and over and over again: train not travelling to Berlin. A. checked his phone and tried to get information from the German transport’s website, where it became clear that the Gods had taken their revenge: the ‘adverse weather conditions’ (read: F***ING MASSIVE STORM) had knocked over numerous trees onto the train lines and there were little to no trains returning to Berlin from the Potsdam area anytime soon. This resulted in a 3 hour long journey via many buses and bus stops S-bahns and S-bahn stations, and all the wonderful places in between before we finally got home and had dinner around 10:30pm.

So, finally, the lesson is, when it’s taken you 4 and a half months to get to a place, maybe there’s a REASON you’re not getting there and maybe you should just STAY THE FUCK AWAY.

NB. The Gods are still not finished wreaking their terrible revenge: I got a terrible stomach bug on Thursday, which resulted in me throwing up 9 times in one night. NINE TIMES. This obviously has nothing to do with the walking, talking petri dishes I look after every day and everything to do with the fact that A. and I visited Potsdam against the wishes of the Gods.

NINE TIMES, people.

Stay out of Potsdam. You have been warned.

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London Lover

We’ve just returned from 2 weeks back in the UK and, as dorky as it is and I was unnerved by how much I had missed London; and furthermore, how much I was still hopelessly and foolishly in love with it.

Oh, sure, attempting to drag my heavy sports bag through Trafalgar Square on the Saturday before Christmas was hideous; and, oh, yes, drunk Chelsea fans screaming at each other across the carriage of an otherwise peaceful afternoon Victoria line tube was beyond parody; and, oh, yes, I pretty much hemorrhaged money every time I turned around; but, oh, still, isn’t London just wonderful?

There’s really nothing specific in London that explains such strong feelings. A few years ago I might have blamed it on London’s ‘theatre scene’. Certainly I still have lots of friends in London.

But, it’s something more than that. Despite all the terrible things you can say about London (and there are some terrible things you can say about London. See this video and article for further evidence of London’s terrible modern character: http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/this-advert-for-luxury-london-flats-is-bordering-on-the-apocalyptic–e11dUJmBqe), I can’t help but constantly glimpse of the London I fell in love with in the first place. The watery mirror image of St. Paul’s and London Bridge in the old Thames TV logo. Long rows of grey-brown terraced houses that shared one long roof like in C. S. Lewis’ ‘The Magician’s Nephew’. 50 pence pieces that may just turn out to be magic and grant me 7 wishes just like Melody in ‘The Queen’s Nose’.

There is the reality of London; and then there is my imaginary London, crafted out of books and TV shows and movies and photos and paintings and scraps of anecdotes and biographies and histories that I have collected over the years, and rather than the former superseding and destroying the latter, they exist side by side and feed off each other and make each other more wonderful. A skeleton of Chaucer’s House sits in a modern roundabout. Old tube lines are now overgrown, green pathways, leading you through abandoned tube stations, not on the platform like a person, but on the tracks like a train. You go for a drink at the backstage NT bar and who is drinking with you, but Dr. Who, of course, and as long as you don’t talk to him and force yourself to ruin the illusion and realise that it’s only an actor, it’s only Peter Capaldi, you can pretend the Tardis is probably parked just around the corner and you’ll see it on your way out.

My brain is not entirely comfortable with this level of rose-tinted whimsy, but apparently my emotions are in no way interested in being reigned in. I love London, hopelessly, irrationally, irrevocably

.

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I will write, I will write, I will write….

I’m forcing myself to write today. There are lots of reasons not to write. I’ve been at work all day. I’ve just finished my German course. I’m writing in a café with a new person who I hardly know and it seems strange to sit here, ignoring her and instead delving ever deeper into what I think and how I feel.

Part of me wants to know why I have to write, exactly. I don’t really have a reason, except that I’d gotten into the habit. A. thinks it is good for me. I think there’s part of me that believes that too. It’s like eating your greens. You know there are good general reasons for eating vegetables, but if you were challenged to explain them you’d be at a bit of a loss (they keep regular? Stop you going blind? Make your hair curly? I can’t remember). At the moment, though, writing feels kind of torturous. And slightly embarrassing. It is slightly embarrassing that I keep a blog. If only I kept a diary. Diaries are honest. Diaries are sincere. Diaries are so much more serious for the fact that they contain mysterious unknowns. That people writing them don’t want you to see them – that must mean they’re good! Blogs are inherently performative. The minute you publish something online you are, on some level, begging for people’s interest and approval. Your writing changes according to the online audience you envision for yourself. I don’t know why I haven’t started a diary. I keep telling A. I’m only writing for myself from now on, no expectations, no unobtainable dreams, no pressure. But it’s a lie, because here I am, forcibly choking down my embarrassment, and not writing, but blogging. Clearly there’s still something of the performer about me that I can’t shake.

I don’t really have a set topic. I was going to write about homesickness. I was going to write about the strange way I feel homesick for the UK (desperately, desperately) but not for Australia. A. and I have started discussing the possibility of staying longer in Germany (more than a year) and whilst some days this is exciting (maybe we’ll build a mezzanine level guest bed in the living room! Maybe we’ll get a cat!) on other days I start to think of myself as some kind of sad economic exile on the level of the Irish during the potato famine (my self-pity really knows no bounds sometimes). ‘Even if I could get back to London, I could never afford to live there permanently. I could never afford a house where I would want to live. I could never afford to raise a family.’ Australia isn’t much better, I think, while mentally filling the gaps between my thoughts with sad fiddle music and Irish pipes. ‘Berlin is cheap,’ I tell myself, ‘you could make a life here.’ And that’s when the panic grips and I can’t sleep and even when I eventually do fall sleep all of my sleep is anxiety sleep featuring anxiety dreams in which I spend my time attempting to cover up murders committed by my close friends and family.

In some ways I feel like I’m currently in hibernation. Or, maybe it’s more like I’m in hiding. I feel like I’m still in recovery from some massive punches this year has landed. First, I got kicked out of the UK (so I knew that was coming from the moment I started on my 2-year-no-extension-visa, but that doesn’t mean it still didn’t hurt). Second, I suffered through… whatever the Edinburgh Fringe was this year. I’m still not entirely certain what that breakdown was. I do know that most of the stress and unhappiness I experienced was of my own devising. It’s not like the theatre industry collectively voted me off the island. I’m not well-known enough to even get on the ballot. I turned their collective indifference into a multi-spiked emotional torture ball and proceeded to beat myself with it day and night for not being good enough to warrant being noticed. The fact that I will willingly, obsessively, and compulsively persecute myself so enthusiastically because of particular dreams or goals worries me. That I would so completely believe in my own worthlessness because of other people’s indifference worries me. Which is why I am currently backing away slowly and quietly and going into hibernation for a while. Being in Berlin is good for this. I can completely wipe the slate clean. I can reinvent myself without anyone asking me what the hell I think I’m doing or who the hell do I think I am (‘I don’t know, I don’t know, can’t you tell me?’). It’s like being a recovering junkie – moving to some remote area so I don’t have to be around the people that will tempt me back into my old destructive ways. No bad fringe theatre! No workshops or ‘unmissable opportunities’ or competitions or auditions or commissions or whatever over crap. Just quietness.

I don’t know what I’ll do from here, or what I’ll do when I ‘come out of hiding’. I don’t know if I’ll ever come out of hiding. It feels safe here, in the quiet. Maybe I would like a cat. Maybe I would like a mezzanine level guest bed. To be honest, I’m beginning to think that the only interesting way to live your life these days is to be completely normal and everyday. You don’t travel around Ireland with a fridge and blog about it and then get a book deal and TV series. You get an ordinary job that involves filing and numbers. You have an ordinary family and you call your kids Mary and John. You have a completely expected life and you don’t tell anybody anything about ever, not even in Facebook status updates. That’s how to be special these days. Oh, imagine the things they’d imagine about you.

But, that’s just not possible for me, is it? Because, look at me here, blogging, and thinking I’m special.

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Balloon Border

Last weekend was pretty special for Berlin. It was the 25th anniversary of the wall coming down. To celebrate/commemorate, the city organised for over 8000 balloons to be placed along a 10 mile stretch of the old wall’s border. As night fell, the balloons were lit up from underneath, creating a beautiful and educative display.

Balloon Border by day

Balloon Border by day

Balloon Border by night

Balloon Border by night

Because A. and I are history nerds and walking nerds and (now) Berlin nerds, we decided to walk the entire 10 mile route. The balloons were up from Friday to Sunday the 9th of November (being the exact day the wall ‘came down’). We spent a good part of Saturday afternoon and evening walking from Prenzlauer Berg in the north to Freidrichshain in the (more) south-east.

The balloon route went from Bornholmer Strasse to Oberbaumbrücke

The balloon route went from Bornholmer Strasse to Oberbaumbrücke

Along the way, there were information points telling you about an aspect of the wall’s history in the surrounding area – how someone had escaped here, or how an important building had been destroyed. Large screens were set up at various points playing the same, almost wordless documentary and these constantly changing images provided a stream-of-consciousness memories of life under the wall.

I find a lot of the stories of the Berlin Wall very difficult to deal with and spent much of the early part of the walk crying in the street. Documentary footage detailing people’s desperation, their misery, their confusion at this sudden change of events was extremely distressing. For example, this old woman trying to jump out of her East Berlin apartment into the street below, which was West Berlin.

Woman escapes on Bernauer Strasse. From: www.guardian.co.uk

Woman escapes on Bernauer Strasse. From: http://www.guardian.co.uk

You can see East Berlin border guards attempting to pull her back into her apartment, and West Berliners attempting to pull her down by her legs. She is crooked and curled up in the middle, desperately trying to protect her fragile body from the onslaught from both sides (she was pulled into West Berlin and she survived, in case you were wondering).

Footage of a young West Berlin couple receiving blessings & gifts from the bride’s parents, confined to their East Berlin apartment 4 floors above them, destroys me every time.

Fairly certain this is a restaged shot - the original footage I've seen doesn't have the woman in her bridal gown and the couple looks a lot less happy. Anyway, this was all I could find. From: http://www.csimpson80.com/new_page_769.htm

Fairly certain this is a restaged shot – the original footage I’ve seen doesn’t have the woman in her bridal gown and the couple looks a lot less happy. Anyway, this was all I could find. From: http://www.csimpson80.com/new_page_769.htm

It’s not just the sad stories of the wall being built that affect me, but also the incredible footage of the wall coming down – the optimism and hope seeping out of those images always chokes me up. An East German woman kissing a border guard on the cheek before jumping up and down like an excited 5 year old and running through the border. The East Berlin men joking with the border guards in front of them, ‘Come on, let us out, we’ll all come back, we promise. Just half an hour, we just want to have a look,’ happy and confident because they know that they have the power: with hundreds of other East Berliners behind them and only a few, elderly border guards in front, the joking men can tell it’s a matter of minutes before these guards capitulate and the border will be opened. Some incredible footage (which I CANNOT find on the internet ANYWHERE) of a huge group of East Germans running towards a country border (Hungary?), their cars abandoned on the roads behind, their children gripped in the middle, bags flying, aiming for an open strip of grassland free of walls and barbed wire. The guards from the road border simply walk out slowly from their posts stand on the road and stare. They are made weak by the sheer number of people, the overwhelming force of their emotion and determination. The border guard credited with ‘opening’ the Berlin Wall, Harald Jäger, said he had never seen such euphoria before or since.

What was incredible on the day was connecting these emotions, these huge, world-changing emotions with the ordinary streets of Berlin that I have been living on for the past few months. A lot of the route I had walked before whilst just going about my everyday Berlin life- unconsciously popping across the wall here and there, going to an event, viewing an apartment, visiting a park, a museum, a landmark. Walking the route altogether made me feel like I was seeing the streets in a new way, peeling back the surface image and finding something completely different underneath. I saw many elderly Germans on the route, in wheelchairs, with walkers, being helped along by younger relatives or friends. Of course I’d passed plenty of people of this generation in the street before, but they took on new significance now – I felt an almost irresistible urge to grab each one and ask them where they were from, how did they grow up, where were they when the wall fell, how did they feel then, how did they feel now and whatever else they cared to tell me. I wanted to extend this experience of living history, of the past and present and future suddenly crashing together in front of my very eyes.

This experience becoming suddenly, bodily aware of the past in the present, incidentally, something that one becomes used to in Berlin – places that seem innocuous turn out to be hiding actual physical remnants of modern 20th century history. A. and I took a walk in Grunewald in October and climbed a hill that looked out over all of Berlin. Intrigued by the landscape (Berlin is mainly swamp – there aren’t many high points) and wanting to know more, we did some research and discovered that this was a man-made hill, built over Albert Speer’s Nazi architecture and engineering institute with all the post-WWII rubble of West Berlin. Perched on top of this mid-20th century hill is a decaying NSA listening post from the Cold War era that no-one can decided what to do with: museum? Ski resort? Apartments? Remembrance or Capitalism? Looking forwards or backwards? And if it’s forward, where exactly does 21st century Berlin go from here?

And furthermore where exactly DOES the 21st century go from here? Or, more accurately for my mindset last weekend, where does my 21st century go from the fall of the Berlin Wall? Over the course of our 10 mile walk, A. and I were given the opportunity for a lot of reflection. The triumphal celebration we were witnessing was not big on nuance. Whilst the city was peeling back it’s facade and showing us something new, in many ways what were being shown was a simple, emotional and inspiring story of tragic oppression and glorious freedom. I’m not arguing that isn’t part of the story of the wall. But the consequences of that glorious story arc for the here and now is a silencing of any alternatives to liberalism and capitalism – within this specific, Western, capitalist bubble, the fall of the Berlin Wall really was the ‘End of History’. Certainly the Left in the West has never really recovered its bite since communism failed so spectacularly. The 21st century is glorious, capitalist freedom, with no need to ask any further questions or fight any other fights and certainly no need for any more revolutions on the scale of the Fall of the Wall. With this lack of alternatives comes a coinciding loss of passion and the world-changing emotions that choked me up in the street at the start of this post. We’ve slid into a historical period with all the excitement of a middle-aged, middle-class life in suburbia. Sure, it’s super-comfortable, but, really, what’s the point? And as any film about the dark side of suburbia is keen to point out – the comfort and the contentment only hides an underbelly that no-one’s willing to talk about.

I’m not suggesting that the wall should go back up just so I can get some emotional jollies out of politics again. I’m pretty against walls, unless they’re the walls of your house and they’re keeping in the heat, keeping out the rain and keeping up your ceiling. What was interesting about the 10 mile walk, however, was that whilst I felt like I was becoming hyper-aware of the past, I was also aware of not getting a complete story. The border guard who I quoted up above? His world collapsed along with the wall – he lost his (admittedly, shitty job) and struggled to make ends meet in the new capitalist paradise before having to retire. The wall coming down wasn’t all sweetness and light, just as it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally question our slavish devotion to economic liberalism. Just because there was a wall and it was bad doesn’t mean that everything since there wasn’t a wall is automatically good.

All in all, the night was thought-provoking, educative and beautiful. I will admit that by the 5 and a half hour mark I was sick of being hyper-aware of history and only wanted to be hyper-aware of a vegetarian burger, a comfy seat and some glühwein. I spoke to a few people afterwards who said they thought it was ‘disappointing’ because the balloons weren’t lit up when they flew into the sky (after the balloons had made the border for the weekend, they were released into the sky and most people assumed they had a light attached so they could be seen far off into the distance). I couldn’t have disagreed more. For me, the event was about the coming together, the remembering and the consideration, not the spectacle.

But, hey, I suppose there’s a different side to every story, isn’t there.

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