Maybe everybody in the whole damn world is scared of each other.

At twenty-one years old it feels strange to admit my woeful lack of romantic escapades. Politely putting it I’m a late bloomer, accurately termed I’m socially awkward and emotionally distant, not two qualities the male populace are falling over themselves to find in a girl. I imagine dating me would be like dating a chubby, less-fashionable Annie Hall crossed with Enid from Ghost World. Awkward, occasionally amusing, distrustful of humanity and a shameless product of years of exposure to popular culture. But since I never have dated, we can’t ask anyone. Whenever people ask why I’ve never had a boyfriend they’re probably well meaning (I imagine they mean ‘But you’re not ugly! But you’re nice! You’re not a complete sociopath!’), but it’s a really horrible question that there isn’t an answer to. What am I supposed to say- that my relationship with pizza is too serious for any man to come between us? That my impossible standards brought on by the first time I saw a Paul Rudd film mean I’m going to be single forever? There are probably a thousand reasons I have a more intense relationship with my cats than I do any actual human.

One might be my crippling lack of self-confidence with men, possibly brought on by having a really shitty Dad, possibly a result of being a fat kid who got called a lesbian just about every day by a group of boys in her first two years of high school. I don’t approach boys because I’m absolutely terrified of rejection. I’ve said countless times that I think flirting is a conspiracy that Cosmopolitan magazine started to make me feel even more socially inept. I have spent months pining after guys I have one conversation with because I can’t bear the thought of actually trying to initiate some form of further contact. On the few occasions that a boy has come up to me and started a conversation, my first instinct is to get embarrassed and run and hide and try to forget the whole thing. Of course, the fact that it isn’t charming young gents approaching me, it’s grabby pilled-up weirdoes, probably doesn’t help matters.

For someone with so little experience in the field, I am a hopeless romantic. I know deep down life can’t be like When Harry Met Sally, as wonderful as that would be. So many people say you don’t enter a relationship because you’re in love with someone, that it’s not like a Hollywood romcom, that it’s sort of secondary. If that is true it’s even harder for me to work out how the hell people get into a relationship in the first place. I’m not exaggerating when I say I just don’t understand how the process works. Even though I’m pretty sure I’m overthinking it, hearing the phrases ‘You’ll know when you know’ or ‘You’ll meet someone eventually’ does nothing to alleviate the sad reality of being alone and – not always, but often – lonely.

My year abroad has highlighted to me how little comprehension I have of the matter. I guess in Leeds I spent so much time either in my bedroom or at work I didn’t have much time to process how I felt about the subject of relationships, or maybe I just ignored it, because I’m really good at doing that too. But Berlin is the kind of place where you think anything might be possible, and whilst I’ve been here I have realised a few ambitions and generally feel a thousand times more positive about the future than I did this time last year. I should be grateful for an amazing year in which I’ve made friends who mean the world to me and experienced things I never would have back at home, and I truly am, but perhaps the naïve romantic who’s seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s too many times just thought moving to a foreign country would also mean meeting the love of my life. Or at least one of them. I think I’d even settle for a fling with a forgettable but ultimately well-meaning German boy.

Whatever happened to Kate Nash? She spoke to me on such a spiritual level…

It’s not easy for me to talk about my love life, or its non-existence, and when people ask me about it in person I get cagey and will have to try not to burst into tears. I’m incredibly conscious of the fact by my age most girls have some sort of romantic history. Writing these things down, venting about them on my garish green blog, is cathartic and a lot healthier than eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream and watching every episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

I suppose like all things, self-confidence requires practice, and if I can practice writing an objective review of a Nicolas Cage film until I’ve got it down to a fine art, it’s probably not beyond my grasp to try and put myself out there more. I don’t fear rejection in many other places. I’ve faced more ‘Thanks but no thanks’ from employers more times than I can count and I was only mildly embarrassed when I went bowling and asked for the gutters to be put up only for the manager to scowl and inform me “Those are only for kids” but there’s something about asking a boy out, admitting that you like them and that you hope they like you too, that is altogether more frightening to me.

But until they invent a cure for Bitchy Resting Face (BRF, a very real affliction affecting me and thousands of other young women) and I learn that starting conversations with facts about wildlife probably doesn’t impress other people as much as it impresses me, I can’t really see a light at the end of the terminal singledom tunnel.  Occasionally I’ll open up Tinder and half-heartedly swipe at the screen and feel my heart lift a little when there’s a match, but nothing comes of it. It’s like eating sherbet. You feel great for about five minutes then really flat and sorry for yourself.

For the time being I can live vicariously through Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal and try to think of other things. The holy trinity (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling) probably didn’t get where they are by worrying about being weird and single, and at least there’s the chance that my lack of romantic prowess could make for an amusing sitcom premise someday. 

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waiting for the gift of sound and vision

I’ve been thinking about David Bowie a lot this week, which is undoubtedly since his face is everywhere you turn in Berlin at the moment due to the launch of the ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition here in the city. I didn’t get a chance to catch it last year at the V&A in London and was rather miserable about that, so when I found out it was heading here I did everything I could to ensure I was there on opening day (sometimes being an unpaid media intern has its perks).

In the midst of immersing myself in a celebration of all things Bowie, I did however get to some deeper philosophical musing. I’ve loved David Bowie pretty much for as long as I can remember. I went as Aladdin Sane for Halloween when I was fifteen. Few songs mean as much to me as ‘Five Years’. My mum made sure I was raised on a plethora of good music, and I think Bowie might be the one I’m most grateful for. I associate such strong memories and emotions with his music, it’s really weird to think how much I invest in a person I’ve never met and am never likely to.

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I was an exceptionally cool teenager, clearly.

Bowie was about thirty years old when he moved to Berlin and subsequently created what is arguably his most famous album, Heroes. He saw Berlin as a chance to get clean of his drug addiction and immerse himself in Germany’s up and coming music scene. He shared an apartment with Iggy Pop in what was possibly the coolest flat share ever, and wrote music about the city that has moved people all around the world.

I share a flat with two cats and write blog posts about the city that don’t do anything except maybe feed my ego.  If I was going to be a musician things would probably turn out like that ‘Needs More Cowbell’ sketch from Saturday Night Live. I tried playing guitar for a month when I was fourteen and my tiny hands proved ill-suited to it. I’m not very good at singing either, but if you dangle a copy of SingStar in front of me suddenly I turn into Barbara Streisand.  The similarities between me and Bowie aren’t exactly compelling.

People have asked a lot why I moved to Berlin, and I’m not any closer to having an answer nine months later. Maybe it was because it seemed like nowhere else on Earth. Maybe it was because I desperately needed to get away from everything and everyone in England. Maybe because it seemed like a cheaper version of Paris and I naively thought my GCSE German would enable me to assimilate seamlessly into life on the continent. It’s entirely possible that it’s a combination of all these reasons and more. Whatever the reasoning, it’s not something that I can easily put into words.

The Berlin of today isn’t the famous Berlin of Christopher Isherwood and Cabaret. It’s not even the Berlin of David Bowie. It’s a gentrified, hipster Mecca where every second person you meet is apparently a DJ and you can’t walk more than ten metres without seeing a bratwurst for sale. Technically small but with every nook and cranny home to some experimental art space or inexplicably well-preserved woodland, it’s one of the most chaotic, confusing places I’ve ever been, let alone lived. There’s no way that Sheffield or Leeds could even compete with somewhere like Berlin.

And I’m not being overly sentimental when I say I’ve had the best year of my life here, even if that might not be much of a victory considering how shitty the last two were. I moved out with the expectation that I would spend a year in solitude, consoled only by my cats, enjoying cultural outings solo and cooking lonely meals for one every evening. Perhaps I was being pessimistic, which is something I tend to excel at, but I do think I’ve also had remarkable luck in meeting the right people at the right time in the right place. And I think maybe that was true of Bowie too.

I never expected to call Berlin ‘my’ city. Berlin doesn’t belong to anyone, rather people belong to it, misfits and waifs and strays from around the world who come and go as they please, attracted by its perceived liberalism, comparative cheapness, and of course, the wealth of culture.  I think some of is a false economy. Berlin is liberal in some respects, positively old-fashioned in others, its ‘poor but sexy’ vibe has less of an emphasis on poor nowadays, and whilst culture is something that Berlin has in troves, sometimes you get the impression everyone is recycling rather than innovating.

David Bowie said of moving from Berlin to New York after three years, ‘I had not intended to leave Berlin, I just drifted away. Maybe I was getting better.’ Of course I know my days in the city are numbered, and there’s only eight weeks of them left. I’m anxious about leaving, anxious about finishing my degree, anxious about most things in life (but that’s nothing new). Yet I couldn’t live in this city forever where nothing feels quite real. I’m comfortable here, I love Berlin, but it’s not home, although I’m not entirely what that means anymore. This is a city that is intense beyond all belief, and nowhere calls into question your identity more.

But maybe I’m getting better.

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May-be This Time

(I’m finding it increasingly hard to come up with titles for this blog. I apologise for the terrible pun on an excellent Cabaret song this month, it really is the best I could do.)

The fact I only have two months left in Berlin before I head back to England is beginning to weigh on my mind. I honestly have no idea how I’ll get used to life either back in Leeds or at my family’s house (a small place between a village and town on the outskirts of Sheffield) as Berlin really does feel like home after spending half a year here. My German skills are still dubious at best, but I love everything about the city, from the efficient transport system and plethora of museums and galleries to the strange folk you only meet on the train platform at five in the morning and Germany’s frustrating bottle recycling system.

My Grandpa and Great Uncle visited for Easter which resulted in a lovely five days of dining out and finally getting around to some sight-seeing. At long last I ate some German ‘Apfel Strudel’ and a schnitzel, though I definitely preferred the former. We also dined at what is believed by many to be Berlin’s best burger joint- The Bird. With a sarcastic menu and décor that makes you feel like you’re dining in Brooklyn rather than Berlin, it’s a little more pricey than the likes of Burgermeister or Berlin Burger International (Berlin loves its burgers) it’s bloody brilliant. Also, their cheesecake is unforgettable. Equally important is the fact my Grandpa arrived with a suitcase containing such British staples as Cadbury’s Crème Eggs, Maltesers, and HP Sauce. My life has improved drastically since his visit.

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The 1st of May is celebrated in Germany as Labour Day, and whilst the date has and long and somewhat dark history due to its past appropriation by the Nazi Party, nowadays there is an annual street party in Kreuzberg where seemingly everyone in the city descends on Gorlitzer Park with beverages and food for a day of music, dancing, and general fun. There are still some demonstrations, but in recent years the mood has become decidedly less political, possibly due to the violent clashes between police and demonstrators in previous years. The rain held off until the late afternoon and it was by far one of the most fun days I’ve had in the city so far- next up is June’s annual carnival, which I am even more excited for largely due to my love for an excuse to dress up.

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Between dissertation proposals and trying to figure out module choices for final year back in Leeds, I’ve also made headway on my long list of ‘Things to See in Berlin’, starting with the Technology Museum (not as exciting as it sounds, which is some feat) and the Ai Weiwei exhibition currently running in Berlin, which was great. I think one of things I’m going to miss most about Berlin is the sheer volume of things to do and see less than half an hour from my front door. Whilst Yorkshire has its fair share of excitement, what my year abroad has really taught me is that I’m never going to be happy living anywhere but a big city.

Thus concludes another month and what I think is probably the most dull of my blogs so far. Hopefully next month will be more exciting- with the promise of carnival, karaoke, swimming on a barge and hopefully forgetting how little time is left.