Berlin

Berlin’s expat timeline

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

Every election liberal Americans threaten to move to Europe or Canada if {insert tyrant} becomes president. Of course they never do change cities, but the comment illustrates a point. I’m furious about {insert tyrant}. I’m hearing the opposite from expats in Berlin. “Maybe it’s time to return home and work on something that needs me.”

Returning Home

I woke up in tears reading about the police officers in Dallas. It’s not that these particular lives lost moved me more than the other countless mass shootings in America this year. Each time we lose more lives to intolerance I hope this is the tipping point. I’m in pain because I’m afraid these murders will continue. The tipping point for me means we won’t rest until there is cultural and legal change to stop mass shootings. It’s an unbelievable horrible nightmare that makes me want to come home and do something with impact. I can’t sit in or speak up from so far away.

Last weekend I was chatting with a British party friend about all kinds of mindless things until Brexit came up. This friend enjoys his life in Berlin, good friends, good music, good home, making a living; no huge motive to change course. But amidst the decision, he did feel a call to return home. Whether or not he or I can make a meaningful difference at home is another question, but this attitude does show me a positive turn of perspective on my escapist generation. Instead of running away to a “better” life, thirty somethings are feeling called back home to do something that serves outside themselves.

Staying Home

I watched the Vice City Street tour of Halsted St in Chicago which reminded me of people who live their entire lives in one city. They make an impact on the city simply by creating a life and staying there, becoming an essential thread in the cities Fabric. If they went elsewhere part of Chicagos’ fabric would snag and unravel. The community barber shop would close, a gay bar in boystown would no longer be a safe haven, or a family run hot dog stand would end a staple of the city. Some cities like Berlin and San Francisco unravel and resew their cities every day and some like Chicago or Detroit stay strongly woven. The impact their locals have is slow but stays.

Making in Berlin

Foreigners in Berlin appear woven into the city’s fabric but I’m wondering how integrated we are, if at all. My conscious effort to make German friends, practice the language, and attempt to localize was huge for me but also quite small. I am learning Berlin gets used as a spacious, inexpensive canvas for many expats who will pay the cultural cost of moving somewhere new. We will spend in cash, learn enough language around, and fill out just enough paper work to stay here and make art. It’s changing Berlin into a transient place where so much of what’s exciting to outsiders is not coming from locals.

What gets missed in all the hype is what’s actually wonderful about the real fabric of Berlin’s city. The pace, the perspective, the beliefs. I want to further understand how (or if at all) active change in Berlin is possible with so many people coming and going who are invested in Berlin, but only just enough.

 

Nina Mehta is a writer and product design leader in Brooklyn, New York. She began her design career in journalism and has been writing online for 20+ years. Nina is from outside Chicago and has since lived and worked in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. Learn about her work at ninamehta.com.

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