So, my hiatus has lasted long enough. I should have things to say. I’ve been to Berlin and to Copenhagen since last we met, both wonderful places that I now associate with wonderful memories – an incredibly generous conference/hotel/all-you-can-eat buffet every night provided by Fulbright, no shortage of good food and sightseeing and company, a handful of speeches given by important people including the mayor of Berlin herself, and for real, Copenhagen is the scientifically-proven most beautiful city in the world.
And most expensive. And home to the most incomprehensible language that closely resembles but is most definitely not German ever conceived by man.
But actual events overwhelm me, and I don’t ever know how to approach them when it comes time to blog about them, which is probably the single suckiest quality I could have as a blogger; that’s why I prefer to stick solely to non-events and non-happenings, like trips to the grocery store and comparing Europe to Harry Potter way too often. I think this aversion to the big topics stems from the boatload of English papers I’ve completed, the goal of which was always to narrow, narrow, narrow that topic down.
My English degree has made me a uninteresting writer. Wouldn’t it just.
Anyway, so rather than tackling the real Berlin (I saw museums; I heard speeches, I “networked”), I’m going to tackle something much more manageable: Baby Berlin.
You see, when I first got to Germany, I was a bit overwhelmed (or underwhelmed? Just plain old regular flavor whelmed?) by how, well, not difficult to navigate it was. Sure, there are trains you can ride; sure, you can ride a bike here without the crushing fear of being crushed by SUVs on the rampage; sure, there are bakeries on corners and pedestrians in city centers – but adjusting to life here did not demand that I reorient myself to my world. I didn’t need to change change, I just had to tweak here and there, when it comes down to it.
And so at first, I noticed mostly the funny Americanisms that Germany displayed. Ben and Jerry’s sold at the hot dog place; Lady Gaga on the radio. When you’re away, similarities jump out at you, while a lot of the differences are much more subtle, and so noticing them came later, and are still coming, in slow, cumulative waves – a sense of a different approach to politics, a different aesthetic, different ways of greeting and different circumferences of personal space bubbles. It’s a slightly altered normal, but it’s definitely a different normal.
That’s what struck me when I left my apartment yesterday. Two girls were playing in the driveway in front of my house. They had drawn “Berlin” on the pavement with sidewalk chalk, and were busy riding up and down what I can only assume to be Unter den Linden with their scooters.
It makes me smile every time I pass it (and by pass it, I mean stay on the right side of their chalked-on road, and adhere to the rules of their tiny roundabouts – I dare you to walk by this and not fight the urge to do the same) because I remember doing exactly the same thing with sidewalk chalk in the cul-de-sac outside my house growing up. The idea is the same – a miniature of our respective worlds – but not the execution: I drew, naturally, what was normal to me, just as these girls drew what’s normal for them. In other words, where they draw roundabouts, crosswalks, and bakeries, I drew drive-through Baskin Robbins.