It is. In fact right now I’m sitting at a side walk café, watching people go by across the street at a fantastic outdoor market filled with beautiful charming things. Tonight I have a gig at my favourite bar, the one that welcomed me immediately when I moved here. But to be perfectly honest, I’m not really cool enough for Berlin. I don’t have the cultural capitol necessary to get what one gets out of it. Sure I want to walk into the vintage record shops and peruse old 45’s pretending I know what I’m looking for, or at, but I don’t. I was never a record geek. Everyone who is seems cooler than me. I just never could keep track of who it was that sang which song it was I liked that one time I heard it. (Let alone who the bass player was and why he was on that recording but not another….the year the producer wore the other jacket to symbolize his disdain for…. Etc). Facts I don’t remember. I like the vibe in the stores, though, knowing there’s all this music there, personal histories of heartache recorded in musical histories of studios, engineers, producers, pressed into vinyl – worlds of sounds in stacks of vinyl, and cool people dressed in cool vinyl-lover outfits, who know what’s what, perusing them. Not me, I like the colours and patterns of the jackets, the mysterious seeming cover photos, I like the physical feeling on my fingers of flipping through them but I can’t say I want this over that, I don’t own a record player, I don’t even have an apartment, I’m not going to listen, I just wonder which collection would be the coolest to have, think of the people who might be impressed. But if I was once the kind of woman to fall in love with a man because he could impress me with his record knowledge, I am now the kind of woman who knows there are plenty of record loving men with music encyclopaedia brains out there. So I hover for a mere moment and then move on. Why pretend?
I walk by the side walk bars and cafés, Cool people everywhere, I have no idea what they’re talking about, but they seem cool, engaged in conversation, smoking cigarettes, smiling. They have a reason to be out, and friends to be out with. . No, I never think of it the other way around, when I happen to be meeting someone at a café and others are passing by looking in. I have a default pang of envy sometimes, in my ‘floatier’ days, seeing the folks in the cafes so, trying to remember what its like to be part of some place, but even when I was part of someplace, I seldom went out in groups. I am usually on my solitary walk, catching glimpses of them.
Some are cooler looking than others. I judge by the outfits: punk, anarchists, anarcho-punks, hippies, bohemians, People who give the ‘I don’t give a fuck and I’ll punch you if you question me’ look its due. People who have interesting lines on their faces I once found (and still kinda do) attractive only to have come to realise these are usually the lines of addiction. People with lots of tattoos and wild piercings. Though, frankly, on first sight, people with too many tattoos and piercings, bewilder me . Not in the, “I think they’ll hurt me” way, but I don’t understand what kind of inner anger or need for expression makes them take in needle-fulls of ink, and what’s wrong with their god-given face anyway? And why don’t I want to chase physical pain the way they do, and why can’t I commit to an image I wanted burned into me the way they can? Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are full of tattoos. Sometimes I wish I had their courage, instead of turning my rage into quiet-turned-stomach ache. I’m just way too chicken. I’m just not that cool. Then there are the all-too-pretty people with too much make up and corporate fashion, and their trendy trendiness, and their successful successes, and them I find even scarier as if theirs is a freakishly repressed rage, nothing a few new purchases cant fix. Both of these extremes elicit an inner Charile Brown-esque feeling of, “I don’t think they’ll like me,” though it’s me who’s casting the first stone of judgment, not them.
Oh insecurity you pesky pesky thing.
So go to a club, a live-music bar.. c’mon.. you’re in Berlin You LOVE music!!! Go dancing? I love dancing… when I’m by myself. Go catch a show? Ummm…. I like the first two tunes and then I get the point and wanna split… Have a beer? Yeah.. well, I’ve given up beer due to a newly discovered allergy to brewer’s yeast. I’ve given up gluten (rage induced stomach aches still respond better to a gluten free diet). I’ve given up caffeine. I’ve given up smoking. I hit a crossroads of feeling ill and anxious and having hypochondria and it was easier to cut the vicious circle than churn it to death, (literally), and in having done so, I am SO NOT rock’n’roll. I’m just not that cool.
But who am I kidding? Sure I’d die for living on the road of song, but not for its long established accoutrements. Nope, not for me. I drank beer for years to fit in but it did nothing for me. The wine did but it wasn’t anything good. I just couldn’t take it anymore, and apparently neither could my pancreas. I’d love to get drunk with you all, but I’m just not that cool.
Oh but I’m here for the music. Tell us about your music. Oh let’s face it. I’m not on the cutting edge of anything avant-garde. I don’t have a loop station. I don’t have a Mac. I’m just not that cool. I write good simple songs, melody, chords, verse, chorus, bridge. I can write, and I can sing. I believe in them, but there’s nothing to shout about around them. There is no jumping up and down, there is no ‘down with the government’ sticker on my guitar case. My projects are self contained until they’re ready to see the light and then they see the light briefly and then I enter my little corner of darkness and write the next batch.. It’s all on-line and I’m sure you can figure out how to not pay for it. So you see, I’m just not cool enough for Berlin and all of its glorious chaos of hustle and bustle anarchist creative awesomeness. I’m shy. I don’t know where to start.
What do you want from Berlin, then? Well what does Berlin want from me? It’s not that hipsters and anarchists and rebels and business people don’t like me it’s that they just don’t notice. I’m a new kid at school all over again, and it’s not that I haven’t got a hundred impressive things to say, it’s that nobody’s asking, and I’m saying nothing for now. I’m watching. I’m listening. I’m picking up a vibe and even if it’s one that seems to have nothing to do with me, it does. It’s so damn human that it has everything to do with little ol’ me. You’ve got to be noisy - here, there and everywhere, and I like to stay quiet. The ones who hear me hear me. I hear them hearing me, and it usually forms actual friendships.
So forget modern Berlin, I’m no history buff, but here, of course, there is so much weight, plenty of significance, (enough to make me write an album about it in my darkness, bring it to light, and then go back into my darkness - "Sadder Music Live in Berlin, it's called...). You’ve got to be utterly immune to humanity to not know that, but no, thank you, I don’t want to go to the museums, the ruins, the galleries, the memorials, I’m just not really into that either.
So what in the hell am I doing here? It’s a good question. I came here with a boyfriend I loved very intensely a few years back when I was otherwise directionless as far as geographical and music-career plans were concerned. We fell apart, and not in the best of ways, and that has something to do with it for sure. I happened to have been here in a very significant chapter of my personal life. It happened to be a massive philosophical shift from knowing something to not knowing a thing. And all of this with the most bizarre backdrop of anarchist zombies and artsy hipsters, and gleeful new parents, and too cool for school welfare artists, and the whole damn thing near blew my mind. It brought to the forefront of my being, and fast, all of my insecurities, all of my clashing values. The stage was a place that still reeked of historical death and destruction and evil and suspicion and yet was teeming with cool people, and not just in the bad sense, there is a hell of a lot of genuine creativity here. It was, and remains, iconic to me.
But of what, exactly? Perhaps of my own sense of total weirdness and not belonging, and , and yet, existing. For someone primordially shy, I do alright here as far as being one of the creative ones creating. I’ve got my friendships and acquaintances, they respect what I do and how I do it. And as a friend pointed out to me on my last time through, there is no freer city than Berlin. It took me four times to get that. It is strikingly bondary-less. But I can’t stay here. I can’t seem to stay anywhere. I am a stranger in a stranger’s land. But the thing is, it may very well be that everybody else feels that way too. Maybe a few gluten-laden belegtes and five Berliner Pilsners later they’re a little less focused on it, but even so…
Population dense cities always freak me out – how a place can be swarming with people and each and every individual is just that – an individual – a whole back-story, a whole unfinished plot, a whole slew of memories, associations, and here I can’t jump to conclusions based on stereotypes. I haven’t the foggiest idea who these people are. There is a chaos of energies, dark and light forces, madmen pounding on bongos in the park, pssssts… from drug dealers sussing you out for interest, buskers spontaneously playing some terrific, some awful, the smells of food, twenty cafes per block, groups and groups of people, house parties, bars, artists squats, all making me curious when I zoom in, all making me feel like a micro-organism among micro-organisms when I zoom out. I always feel like I’m walking in somebody else’s dreamscape here, and I like it, because it reminds me that, actually, I feel that way everywhere.
And if the cool ones happen to cast a glance my way, I don’t think they can tell that I’m an alien. I am just a girl in plain clothes sipping a decaf coffee (that looks like a regular coffee, for what it’s worth), and writing quietly in a cafe. I look like a writer in Berlin. What could be cooler than that, after all? (she says, sardonically)..
Think I’ll stay awhile, and go again, and then come back, because I believe you’ve got to give the landscapes of your major insights their due. You’ve got to keep checking in with them and see where you stand now as opposed to the previous times. And you’ve got to give credit to the people who took you in and helped in all sorts of ways, especially during your philosophical crises. These specifically, are the specifically irreplaceable. I love Berlin, and the friends I’ve made here, because they make it alright for me here, even though I’m not nearly cool enough for it. And each time I come, I meet new people and each time I come, I have more to show for myself, so perhaps one day, I will be.