3 weeks in Berlin: 15 little things I’ve learned

We’ve spent 3 weeks in Berlin, exploring and relaxing and imagining what it would be like to live here. Inevitably, my initial impressions have changed so dramatically that I can hardly remember what I was thinking two weeks ago, when I was a little uneasy. Here is some of the essential information I’ve picked up.

1) You cannot set your watch to a Berlin train, nor can you count on the buses following their assigned route.

2) Bicycles own the road, the sidewalk, and anything else they want. Do not try to defy a bicycle: they will run you over with a chirpy bell and a “danke shoen!”

3) You can get pretty far here speaking English and Spanish. Some say even farther if you speak German!

4) Eis is the word for ice cream. Beyond that, you’re on your own at the ice-cream store. With only color as my flavor guide, I’ve ended up trying some unusual ones: yogurt-currantberry, cardamom-passionfruit, apricot-something and blueberry marshmallow, to name a few. All were delish.

5) Despite the profusion of ice-cream, Berlin is a vegan paradise.

6) There is too much delicious food here to try in a few weeks. For non-vegans, I recommend focusing on bread, döner and ice cream. Currywurst is overrated as far as I’m concerned.

7) German-style breakfast is…amazing.

8) Wasps like sugar, they really like honey, but they go absolutely crazy for mortadella. A crazy wasp is not a pretty sight.

9) If you want to chance a ride on public transportation without a ticket, do so at your own risk: the transportation police don’t always wear uniforms.

10) Not all Riesling is too sweet.

11) The little neighborhoods of shacks that take up blocks here and there are not German shanty-towns. They are little garden communities, or Kleingarten, where city people can rent or buy a remote backyard for growing flowers and food.

12) Sometimes, though, the shacks are part of a squatting community. These communities are loudly visible in many of the Berlin neighborhoods I’ve visited, announcing their anti-capitalist presence in the middle of a city that, by all accounts, is rapidly changing.

13) Wear your ugliest outfit to the club for a good chance of getting in.

14) Contrary to all of my instincts, dimly-lit parks are totally safe in the middle of the night, especially when they are full of strangers drinking and smoking in all of the darkest corners.

15) Surfaces are meant to be covered with spray-paint. The graffiti here is magnificent.

Berlin has taken my calcifying brain and twisted it like a sponge, revealing some challenging ways to live in and share a city. It is confusing to my suspicious mind, but I am impressed by what seems to me a deliberate absence of judgement. Berlin seems to be truly a city of independents, co-existing with a level of harmony that isn’t perfect but really seems to have worked.

Self Portrait

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This is a self portrait I have been working on. It is oil on a medium-sized canvas. I like painting self portraits because it’s interesting to look at myself this way, with such intensity but also without judgement.

Looking at the painting, though, I can see that there’s a lot of work to do, especially on the nose!

(Self)Soothing Airport Drawings

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I really like the different patterns of lines on the asphalt.

When I was a little kid, back before airport security intensified, my babysitter used to bring me to Logan airport in Boston, just to hang out. There they had a children’s play area, complete with a climbable airplane, and a Rube Goldberg machine. I loved watching the pool balls roll around this musical sculpture. I never knew which path they would take, and which of the percussive instruments they would hit. The abstract arrangement of bells, chimes, and drums was soothing to my young ears.

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling these past few months, mostly by air, and that calm feeling is gone. Despite the really impressive improvements of airports like Atlanta’s and San Francisco’s, that 2-hour wait in the terminal is never an enjoyable one for me. My childhood excitement of air travel is replaced with the frustration of incomprehensibly long security lines at New York’s JFK.

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Classic terminal view. (Logan airport, Boston)

As much as I like my iPad, I don’t think they make good waiters, nor do they make lovely table decorations. Unfortunately, most airport restaurants now feature tablets on every table. So instead of eating something that will inevitably make my stomach inflate against the airplane safety belt, I’ve found a new airport pastime: I didn’t realize I’d come up with this solution until I tried organizing my digital drawings. It turns out I have an interest in drawing airplanes and airports!

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An abstraction of all of the interesting lines of the airport ground. (JFK, New York)

Desert selfie

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Selfie: We stayed in a camper in the middle of Death Valley, with access to a private mineral spring. The precious water left our skins slippery with magnesium, as though we had lathered up with soap. Outside, the salted sand stretched towards dry mountains in the distance.

Oil painting on canvas, June 2018

Love Flash Art

self portrait circa 1991 #beforeselfies 🤣#barbedwire #crosscolor #blackphotographer #soloshow #portraiture #queerphotographer #queerwomen 💕👊🏽💕#reclaimingmytime ✅
Lola Flash, self portrait circa 1991. (Retrieved from Lola Flash’s Instagram account Flash9)

 

Last night I heard the photographer Lola Flash speak with the founders of Women Picturing Revolution. Flash is enjoying a new found, well-deserved success at 59 years old, 40 years into her career. Flash is also a public school teacher, and this career has run parallel to her work as an artist. I say parallel because it doesn’t seem that the photography she creates is directly related to her teaching, though she does describe many ways in which the things she’s learned as a teacher have driven her methods as an artist.

I asked her how she did this. She is so dedicated to teaching, She is such a thorough, meticulous, careful artist. How can one person be both, without letting the two careers overlap? (I would be less incredulous if she were, say, a photographer of issues pertaining to education). She said it is hard. She said that she is very careful about planning and using her transition time: for example, she went to the gym and swam after school yesterday, before coming to the talk, and “left the kids in the pool.” She also said that she is single.

I am a teacher. I want to be an artist. I am also in love, and this love is my great work of the moment: growing the love, deepening it, cultivating it to stand on its own, to breathe without our constant attention. We want our love to be joyful and liberating, not archaic, heavy, not suffocating. Light love is work. It is luck and work. It is health and luck and work, like art. Is love art?

Is love necessary? Is art necessary? Teaching is necessary, I have no question about that. Nor do I have any questions about the necessity of love. And I know that Lola Flash has lots of love because to see her is to love her, and she is so committed to her work, her art, which is love.