Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Borders in Berlin
September 30th 2009
My story of Berlin has no beginning nor does it really have an end. Before I even stepped foot off the plane in Germany my mind was bubbling with excitement and theories that I thought would be reconfirmed by this country and it’s people. But when I left I was no longer looking for answers because I had begun to feel as if it was my country that I was leaving, that it was just as much my city as it was the native born shopkeeper’s down the road.
When I landed in Berlin the culture was so abundantly visible, it was the most noticeable change that would be constant throughout my experience in Berlin. I was lost; languages were dancing around my ears without my understanding and acknowledgment. I floated through the airport only comforted by the familiar stressful feeling rising inside of me. Sally and her incredible ability to speak the words that I longed so badly to understand, German, helped me along. The taxi driver barely interested, yelled and groaned at her attempts to explain our destination and when she finally felt satisfied with his gentle nod and relaxed eyes I drifted into the yellow painted Mercedes and tried to calm the nerves that were bursting inside my stomach. This is my first memory of Berlin and while it may appear to be a negative memory, it was by no standards bad. It was something that I could have only felt in that moment, it was Berlin, and it was a new culture, a new country, and a new experience that had just begun.
My Berlin was only mine. It was my experience that no one would understand or be able to relive without my input. It started with stress and ended with a heartbreaking sadness, I was leaving my new home to only return to my old one. I had become, in my eyes, an essential piece to the city in which I lived. Every morning I would no longer contribute a euro forty to the bakery down the street for a coffee and croissant. I would no longer be buying a bottle of white wine to keep in my fridge every other night from the grocery store a few blocks to the left. I was a piece of the puzzle that was Berlin.
About four blocks from the apartments that we lived in was a small restaurant that was so crunched for space, the only area to sit and eat was under a canopy outside where the food would be handed to you warm through the window. It was called “King Burger,” and rightfully so considering the food was fit for a king. Large, cheaply priced hamburgers with an abundant side of heavily seasoned fries were less then most bottled waters cost. The seasoning that graced the fries is something that I still dream about, a bit of a kick without the annoying spiciness included and plenty of salt without the necessity of water nearby.
Yani, the fifteen-year-old boy that often worked the hours that I visited, between 11pm and 2am, was a bit meek and soft spoken but as a kind as a person can be. He was Turkish, caramel colored skin with big, honey brown eyes. It was always pleasant talking with him and he often-made Lauren and I laugh until our stomachs were sore the next day. Yani’s older brother sometimes joined us in our late night cravings and the four of us would share buckets of free fries together. They told us about how their family moved to Berlin to open a King Burger and planned to open 2 more in the next 3-4 years. They only worked during the summer time though, their father was adamant about them attending college in the future. I would look forward to those cool nights when Lauren and I would jog down to visit them knowing that we would stay for an hour even if we only had twenty minutes to spare in our night.
One time we thought it would be funny to write Yani fake love letters about how much we were in love with him and would wait until he was older then run away with him. He always flushed red from the undesired attention and would pretend to run to the back to get new ingredients for our burgers. It broke his heart when he knew we were leaving soon and he begged us to come back once more each time until we ran out of meals to make excuses with. Yani was Berlin; he was part of my Berlin.
As the weeks continued on without my knowledge it came time for Istanbul and the impact that it would have on me was something that I never could have predicted, it changed me.
“I never thought that I would call Berlin home or that I would crave the bed in my apartment and the purple love seats so much. Istanbul is an incredible city and a city full of imagery and sadness. I loved much of what I saw but I also saw things that broke my heart.
Last year around December I went to the Dominican Republic. There, there is a very specific point where one city turns into two cities; this point is the line between rich and poor. I saw this same line, or border, behind Kenyon mall. Behind this brilliantly beautiful retail heaven lays the lives of families that have no shoes and live in under constructed homes. In the Dominican the same image was brought to the forefront of my eyes when I saw young boys running around on dirt roads into homes made of aluminum and cardboard yet the happiest people on earth. Istanbul with its bright lights, large night life and extravagant hotels screams rich and new, but around the corner is the sad, forgotten majority of their country forced to look out their window into a world that is out of reach, it torn me apart. How can people become so ignorant to the truths all around them, to the black and white of their worlds? I see now the melancholy that Orhan was seeing. I may not see it as a collapse of an empire but I see it in the minds and eyes of the people that remain in that fallen empire. In the ignorance about which they live their lives, in the lack of change that I saw people striving for.
This ignorance made me feel even further from home then Berlin had. While I have always had an ocean between my family and I upon coming on this trip, it wasn’t until Istanbul that I noticed this distance. I saw parts of my life in Istanbul, I saw the colorful speech that my mother uses when she gets excited, I saw the protective nature of my father in the eyes of the other men in our group as they watched with careful eyes over us. I saw the playfulness of my sister when bartering for jewelry in the Grand Bazaar and I saw the curiousness of my brother in each of us as we explored a city that was so unlike any other place. While all of these things reminded me of home I also found that what out-weighted my culture was, simply enough, their true culture. A lack of respect was very evident and while the freeness of the country was refreshing at first I seemed to miss the structure of Germany and many other more “westernized” (if that even works) nations.”
My impression of Istanbul is described best in this blog entry when we returned. I loved Turkey but the realization that came to me during my visit also changed me forever. It was beautiful but the beauty was far overshadowed by the ignorance of the natives and the poverty that was bursting at the seams but still trying to hide. My Istanbul was a group of young boys giggling in their naïve tongue as they mocked us for visiting their slum. The pure curiosity that was pouring out of their eyes, the sheer laughter that spilled from their lips at the idea of our presence was all a part of MY Istanbul.
In regards to my project, both countries are present in the research. This project was a piece of my experience; it was a part of My Istanbul and My Berlin. I asked the question, “Who is an iconic figure in Berlin fashion? How would you describe Berlin’s style and what are the essential items in the closet of a Berliner?” I wanted to address the people of Berlin specifically. I was interested in the designers, some department stores but mostly I wanted to know who the people thought defined their fashion, who was iconic in the public’s eyes, not necessarily designers. The issue was not something that needed to be answered in order to save mankind or answer any questions that have been around since the world began. It was a question that to me meant something. It was a topic that I was curious about and wanted to research. I wanted to know if people in Berlin saw fashion the same way that Americans did. My research here in Seattle showed me that often what people thought to be iconic or ‘in-style’ were based off of what a celebrity was wearing or what the media (the almighty controller) wanted the public to think was popular.
Fashion is something that everyone whether on purpose or not is involved with. You can try and not be fashionable, you can try to be in-style or you can even try to look as if you don’t care at all, but everyone is still influenced and an essential piece. The core issues behind my questions are people’s ability to pinpoint or recognize something that they may think they have no connection to. For example I questioned women who were involved in the fashion world but I also interviewed men who appeared to not care about their appearance at all and who also claimed to have no idea how to answer my questions. In the end everyone had an answer, a very large variety of answers but answers nonetheless.
It is relevant for that reason, we are all tied together on this topic, we are all connected as one race of humans by this, among other, factors. The debate that is also often brought up in association with European fashion and American fashion is whose ahead? Or is there a difference; is there an underlying difference that will never cross over cultures? I don’t know the answer to all of these questions but I was determined to seek it out.
Personally, fashion is a piece of everything I do. I love it. I love a pair of red suede, black embroidered, 5-inch pumps that are labeled Christian Louboutin for the sole reason that to me its like looking at a work of art. The workmanship in a pair of satin, bronze Jimmy Choos embellished by a massive fabric flower on the toe makes my knees weak. You may not understand that and you most likely are reading this and think I’m crazy, but fashion speaks to me the way music effects other people or the way a good meal can change your mood. This topic was something that I knew if I researched I would truly dedicate myself to the project, I would care about the answers that people gave me and I would push until I heard what I felt I needed to hear. I worked harder on this project because I was asking questions that I truly wanted to know the answers to.
When researching this topic there was more then one obstacle that slowed my process. I found that the people I wanted to hear from often didn’t want to be heard. No one allowed me to videotape them, only two allowed their voice to be recorded and a majority just said no to being interviewed. With the small amount of access I had to interviews I tried other forms of research. I went to department stores and asked what were the most shopped items, I went to flee markets and took photos of what was commonly displayed I even pretended to be interested in items to get hints on “what inspired” the design. These methods offered a lot of information and everything else was obtained from watching, listening, a few books and even Berlin Fashion week online.
I worked tirelessly the last few weeks searching for valid information that would help with my performance at the end of the program. But what I found to be the most helpful, was putting together my performance. Some of the answers that I didn’t have came to me as I tried to describe an action I wanted to add to my character, or a line I thought was important to say. I came to find that my most important question, what is Berlin’s style, was answered by simply say the word “me.” Every person was a part of what Berlin’s style is. Everyone was diverse, everyone had a different look and a different opinion. So many cultures had come together in this city to create this unified chaotic image, and that style was represented in each and every person walking the streets.
Besides the performance I didn’t find much help in the creative writing assignments nor any of the workshops. Although they were interesting and I was glad I was able to be apart of them, they didn’t touch on my personal topic at all.
The future question that I would like to explore is the topic that Cassie studied. I think that globalization is a very interesting topic and has great influence on the world and if I had the opportunity again I would love to pursue that. Having gotten to know both Molly and Cassie better I had a great time learning about their topics and their specific questions through them. Each of us had such a strong passion for what we were studying that it was thrilling to see those topics unfold and the different answers each of us found together through our final performance. We helped each other find answers to our questions, we helped each other understanding the answers more clearly and we each gave a more rounded perspective to our overall project.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
When I first began posting my postcards, I started late and therefore did not post them in order. For assignment number four I will give descriptions of the two postcards in which I am discussing before talking about what happened in between them.
Feet standing on the remains of Berlin wall and standing in front of the graffiti at YAM
I found a small haven below some trees that was painted with the most brilliant colors, a man walked behind me smoking a joint and I remember the sickly-sweet smell as I stared at the art on the wall. The sun was burning the skin on our necks and the beach was near water. Toby suggested walking into the YAM and explained the significance of it. It was a placeholder until something better came along. It was a place for the youth to express themselves through art, but it wasn’t something that would last forever. As we explored this little world to the right of civilization I saw there were lovers consumed with one another on the beach side and children playfully running with an innocent joy.
Standing in front of graffiti at YAM and the “Stay Free” on the Berlin wall.
There was a short time in between these two postcards because I found them both really powerful. I remember a small asthma attack. I remember walking behind Toby, Adam and Lauren as they all decided to light up together. I remember being angry, but also desperate for my inhaler. My lungs were slowly closing and I could feel my deep gasp for breathe barely entering my lungs at all. It was like drowning when you are swimming perfectly well. With each stroke of your arm you fall deeper in the water. I found my inhaler, i eventually recovered to no ones knowledge but stayed away from the next situation.
“Stay Free” to long multicolored wall art
From the time I saw the “Stay Free” art and then got to the store for this postcard a long day had passed. I specifically remember lying on the grass outside of the postcard shop to the left of the end of the wall. It was near water and I could hear the slight waves and the sound of the water splashing against the side of the river walls and the breeze hitting my face as I took a deep breathe. It was a perfect moment I wanted to freeze time. To lie in the sun all day as it slowly baked my skin and the breeze helped me survive its heat. In the slight shadow of the O2 building, it was a thrilling place to be, free, American, and relaxed along the wall.
Multicolored wall art and the two politicians kissing postcard
When I was looking at the politician postcard I remember a few of the conversations around me. I remember talking to Trang about which piece was her favorite and she asked likewise. After lying in the summer and forcing ourselves to get up and look at postcards, Trang and I reminisced about the different pieces we had witnessed. She mentioned the same piece that I enjoyed most. The large, intricately painted multicolored piece that I just previously been looking at was her favorite as well. She had noticed the same things that I had, the Eiffel Tower, the Twin Towers, Big Ben etc. all painted on the head of one of the figures in the painting.
Politicians Kissing postcard and the car breaking through postcard
I had decided to take a break from looking at postcards and jogged inside to grab bottled water, after becoming desperately dehydrated from our walk and the sun. I grabbed one of the cooled bottles from a large refrigerated door. After about 1 and a half minutes trying to figure out which bottle was regular water and which was carbonated I found what I wanted and took it to the counter, the woman, who was strikingly beautiful (deep green eyes, olive skin and incredibly thick black hair that came past her shoulders, I wouldn’t forget because I have always wanted hair like that) spoke in a broken English and asked if I needed anything else, I ran back grabbed some postcards and paid. After saying “donka” she replied, “cheers!”
Car breaking through postcard and the soviet army memorial
There was a long walk in between these two images. Yet the one thing that cannot be erased from my memory in this time lapse was the image of a house we passed on the way to the memorial. It was a house that was so distinctively like my house in Seattle it made me almost freeze. It was a white washed house made of clean lined wood, big black shudders that rimmed every window in the front of the home. A deep, blood red door that had a gold handle and carving along the top. The house was fenced in by black wrought iron. A small garden in the front lawn and hand-laid stone walkway…I was more homesick then I may have thought.
Soviet Union memorial and the endless room in the Parliament
The noise rang in my ear, over and over rolling around the tin bowl until I thought my head would explode. I ran away as fast as I could. Before meeting our group at the American embassy I ran to my favorite restaurant Vapianos, ate far to swiftly and within 15 minutes my body let me know, vomit was on the way. I jogged to the nearest bathroom at a local restaurant close to the embassy and after quietly doing my busy as fast as my body would allow, I walked out of the stall to find a German woman, yelling at me. He hair was cropped close to her head and the curls wound around her ear. Thankfully a younger British woman explained that I needed to pay a euro to use the bathroom. I wont forget the angry that ran through my veins as I dropped the euro into her tin can.
The Endless room in the parliament and the mirrored town in the Parliament
In between these two photos was a moment that I will always appreciate, our tour guide for the parliament was talking and we were being a bit inconsiderate and loud, she was really annoyed. I remember her rolling her eyes, speaking monotone and looking at us like we couldn’t have been college students. As annoyed as I was I held my tongue until I heard John try and joke “stupid Americans” and that infuriated me. Shawn calmly leaned over and said to him “NO. Nooo” and I just about died with happiness.
The mirrored tower in the Parliament and the Stassi Museum sign
I think everyone in our program can agree Anna is probably the cutest human being of all time. One moment that is represented in this time between is on the way to the Stassi Museum. Anna was on the subway bobbing her long, perfectly wavy (can you tell I’m jealous?) hair to the beat of whatever was playing her i-pod. She had her eyes closed and a silly grin pulling at the corners of her mouth. I saw her foot tapping and she seemed so content in her moment, I wish I had a camera and could have stolen that moment for her so she could have seen how pure her happiness was. She was adorable. I can’t even imagine what was running through her mind. And by the way, the song was “5000 miles.”
The Stassi Museum sign and the painting of Adam and Eve
It had the consistency of what I remember to be chicken but the flavor of a more rich tasting meat. The bread was thick and perfectly toasted, the lettuce was right out of the garden fresh and crispy! The garlic sauce was thick and flavorful, and it didn’t hurt that garlic is my all time favorite flavor. I also opted to have the yogurt sauce and nothing else, but it was a perfect combination. I had tried my first doner. But beyond the fact that I had simply tried this multi-flavored dish, in the process of consuming it I was also consuming lamb for the very first time in my life. Considering how I cannot eat about 75% of all meat I was thrilled to find a new one that I enjoyed and wasn’t allergic to. It was like a caesar salad in bread that had a sweeter and meaty feel. In the end I can say, “I love doners.”
The painting of Adam and Eve and the Outside of the Concentration camp
After a pretty decent amount of time in Berlin the one comfort I was thrilled to meet at was Starbucks. I ordered a quick drink and asked for a “Venti ice water as well” the barista looked at me like I was a fool. She stared at me then grinned a snow-white smile, and repeated the order. I thought for a minute, that maybe it just took a moment to register but now he got it. Needless to say I was wrong, he began to laugh hysterically repeating it over and over. He walked away from the counter to retrieve my drink. He never brought my water.
The outside of the concentration camp and the holocaust memorial
Cracks everywhere, I can only imagine what fell into those cracks, I’d rather not imagine though. Our tour guide talked about the loud music that was played in one room to drown out the sound of death in the nearby room. I saw the distance between the rooms though, it was no more then 15 feet, and the walls may have been thick but we can’t be naïve to the truth. Station Z. This was one of the times in your life that you are grateful for having experienced but the moment that you actually experience it, its almost too much to handle and you consider leaving. I’m happy I didn’t leave but the image of the actual rooms, small but thickly built. There is no way they didn’t hear anything. I can see their eyes in my mind and whether it was by an invisible gun or a gun to the face, the fear never left and never changed what happened.
The holocaust memorial and the Pergammon Museum entrance
I walked into a room the size of our apartments and it felt like walking into a cloud made of tobacco. The groups of people stuck together like glue were segregated like junior high children. No one was open to the public but rather turned into the circle and down into their conversation. The bartender was there definitely as a job and not for the social aspect as he ignored my comments and me in any attempt to befriend him. I went to a bar that night and I will forget because I learned the difference between an American bar and Berlin bar. You can smoke everywhere, bartenders aren’t being nice for an extra tip and there aren’t people looking to meet people. I never returned to that bar.
The Pergammon Museum entrance and the inside of the Pergammon Museum
After a long evening the night before hand I was very tired when we had arrived at the museum. The tour guide in my eyes didn’t seem to know how to really captivate an audience and I was off in my own mind quickly. His voice didn’t seem to have any pitch to it but a mere flat tone like a piano stuck on one key. I found a seat on the stairs that lead up to what seemed to be the ceiling of the immensely large room. I saw and stared at the remarkable craftsmanship that was before me. It was so delicately carved and so much detail that it was almost like someone stood there frozen and painted beige. I could have stayed there all day, but instead the security barked at me to move.
The inside of the Pergammon Museum and the Hagia Sofia Church
The long, twisting, never-ending security line. All the people sweating, breathing heavily and waiting, just waiting. In front of me was a young woman crying with her head covered in a lace, light blue scarf. She was staring at her husband who was standing behind the ropes about 20ft away. They were waving, crying and I could feel her heart inside of my own chest aching. For that moment I froze and watched them. I began to cry with them remembering when I had left my family at the airport. The husband then lifted his hand to his ear and made the symbol for a telephone. Almost 5 seconds later her phone began to ring and she answered as they stood now 30ft away talking but so remorsefully it broke my heart. I cried with them as they parted and watched her wipe her face as she entered into the terminal.
The Hagia Sofia church and the gold dome
I came across a stand that was filled with grilled corn, sweet bread loaves and twisted, seeded pretzels. I missed breakfast that morning and as we walked past Hagia Sofia I was ready for some serious nutrition. I was soon to learn that these are pretty common stands all around the city. I couldn’t decide at first but eventually chose the sweet bread. It was wonderful! It was warmed by the bright Turkish sun and tasted as if it was sweetened by honey rather then sugar. The first bit was fluffy and thick, easy to swallow and nearly melted in my mouth. I want one right now as a matter of fact.
The gold dome and the Istanbul hilltop
As we were sitting in our Mercedes, white leather tour bus we drove past some homes that were nearly hanging off of a cliff in the hills of Istanbul. It each window I saw faces of women and children with the largest, teeth filled smiles I had ever seen. The littler girls sitting barefoot on their stoop stood and waved and even tried to chase the bus as we continued our drive down the hill. The young girl began to gather a small group as she chased us, her smile began widening and her steps quickening. I couldn’t believe the joy she got from this momentary encounter.
The Istanbul hilltop and the Kenyon Mall
Before we made it to the Kenyon Mall I made a quick stop at a Subway because I had unfortunately forgot breakfast that morning. On my way out of the store with my sandwich in hand I was waiting at a crosswalk for the light to change and a young girl, barefoot and tanned from the sun all day approached me. She was wearing what almost looked like a dirtied canvas bag around her with holes for her arms to go through. Despite her attire, she had to largest brown eyes I have ever witnessed. A deep chocolate brown that almost melted into a hazelnut color in the center. I nearly stared at her for a moment as she tried to sell me some bracelets hanging from a stick she was holding. I didn’t buy anything from her at the moment, but I can’t forget her eyes when stop to think about that moment. I wish had bought something.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I never thought that I would call Berlin home or that I would crave the bed in my apartment and the purple love seats so much. Istanbul is an incredible city and city full of imagery and sadness. I loved much of what I saw but I also saw things that broke my heart.
Last year around December I went to the Dominican Republic. There, there is a very specific point where one city turns into two cities; this point is the line between rich and poor. I saw this same line, or border, behind Kanyon mall. Behind this brilliantly beautiful retail heaven lays the lives of families that have no shoes and live in under constructed homes. In the Dominican the same image was brought to the forefront of my eyes when I saw young boys running around on dirt roads into homes made of aluminum and cardboard yet the happiest people on earth. Istanbul with its bright lights, large night life and extravagant hotels screams rich and new, but around the corner it the sad, forgotten majority of their country forced to look out their window into a world that is out of reach, it torn me apart. How can people become so ignorant to the truths all around them, to the black and white of their worlds? I see now the melancholy that Orhan was seeing. I may not see it as a collapse of an empire but I see it in the minds and eyes of the people that remain in that fallen empire. In the ignorance about which they live their lives, in the lack of change that I saw people striving for.
This ignorance made me feel even further from home then Berlin had. While I have always had an ocean between me and my family upon coming on this trip, it wasn’t until Istanbul that I noticed this distance. I saw parts of my life in Istanbul, I saw the colorful speech that my mother uses when she gets excited, I saw the protective nature of my father in the eyes of the other men in our group as they watched with careful eyes over us. I saw the playfulness of my sister when bartering for jewelry in the Grand Baazar and I saw the curiousness of my brother in each of us as we explored a city that was so unlike any other place. While all of these things reminded me of home I also found that would out-weighted my culture was, simply enough, their true culture. A lack of respect was very evident and while the freeness of the country was refreshing at first I seemed to miss the structure of Germany and many other more “westernized” (if that even really works) nations.
After trying a “humom” for the first time I can literally say that a part of me is still in Istanbul but more then anything I found out about a piece of me that I had not known yet. I found my ability to be uncomfortable. I consider myself to be a fairly confident person, I rarely find a place or person that can make me feel uneasy or lacking, I pride myself on this ability to adapt well in many different places with many different types of people. Yet in this humom, completely out of element, with utterly no control over the situation I was in was terrify. Istanbul had put me in my place and showed me that it is ok to feel as if you are the one person who forgot to wear clothes to school or who didn’t have the “cool” lunch box in elementary school. It was OK! I survived to tell about the unique experience, and while it was not something I would most likely do again, I did do it and I was painfully uncomfortable the entire time. But it was OK!! And who would have guessed that a 200lb naked Turkish women would need to bath me in order to learn that simply lesson…I needed Turkey to break that border that was unknown in my life.
After all of the hills that define Turkey and all of the people that support the culture I was ready to return “home.” I was ready to return to a language that now to me sounded more familiar to my ears, noises that brought back memories from the prior weeks. Turkey was truly a place of color and flavor, of chiseled mountains that were dotted by the homes of both rich and poor, Mosques that not only added to the skyline but created a majority of it. I wanted Berlin with every cell of my body by the time the plane had finally arrived in “my” city. The noises I recognized and the people smiled and the buses were the right colors in my mind. I was back where I wanted to be, where I somehow thought I belonged.