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The second one wasn’t any easier

February 6, 2015


How do I even begin to thank you for all you’ve given me? Six and a half years we spent together, can you believe it? It flew by, if you ask me. So many memories and moments from Fall 2008 seem like they happened just last week. Time is odd like that, I’ve realized. Maybe you have, too?

The last love letter I wrote to a city was one reflecting on a brief (but life-changing), four-month adventure in a world-historic city. How, then, do I approach this letter? This letter, to such a different place, with which I have such a different (at times, tortured) relationship? This letter to you, Houston, my true hometown, the place of my birth, the beloved (but perpetual) thorn in my side?

You’re not world-historic in most people’s eyes. You’re too young, they say. You’re not one of our founding cities, one of our great cities, ils accusent. Honestly, with the way you’ve handled questions of conservation and preservation (read: you tend toward commerce, opportunism, and markets), I can’t blame them.

Plus, you’re not that easy on the eyes, anyway, love. From spaghetti-bowl highways to red-hot blacktop parking lots of endless summer, neo-bourgeois ticky-tacky construction projects to our great ruse of a waterfront harbor, I can’t blame them.

And sometimes your denizens don’t do much for you in the way of reputation-building, either. Whether roiling in modern-day civil rights issues (on which history may show them to have been in the wrong) or swinging in the entirely opposite direction and exercising civic apathy on an embarrassing scale, I can’t blame those on the outside looking in.

But I know your secrets. I know the true colors of your soul and my goodness but they’re beautiful. I know your hidden oases, your incredible art and architecture, your generous and genuine residents, your boundless supply of incredible food. I had to work diligently, year after year, to uncover the majesty and greatness I had a hunch you were hiding somewhere.

But slowly you let me in. You became my confidante and catalyst, my ward and my world. I showed you off to others, made the case for you—how many rooftops did I shout from?—championed your causes, and soaked in all you had to offer. I’m a different me, a better me, because of you. Because of our time together.

What a gift you’ve shared with me. I can’t hope to repay you, or ever truly thank you, but I’ll never stop loving you. I’ve left a gaggle of almost-believers behind. I brought them fully 90 percent of the way; can you please, for me, bring them the last 10? They’ll do great work for and with you. I can tell.

Meanwhile I’ve got a big assignment cut out for me in Boston. I get to (once again) do the difficult but exhilarating work of changing hearts and minds in Massachusetts. Perhaps our goal shouldn’t be world-historicity (you’re probably better off as a myth, anyway), but you can bet your boots I’m going to try. For you. For us.

Houston, it’s been so worth it.

Yours forever,

June 14, 2012

I’ll need to tell you about Poland. Ask me sometime.

For now, I’m headed to Malmö, Sweden for three days, then Geneva, Switzerland for a quick, less-than-24-hour jaunt to see a friend who is in graduate school there. This is the “travel” portion of my trip, I suppose. Maybe I’ll leave the supposing up to you.

Regardless, there’s a post for you about a reading by three Turkish authors that I attended at Ballhaus Naunynstraße, and I heard back from Werkstatt der Kulturen, who responded positively to my request for a chat. Updates are forthcoming, I promise.

That, or, let me take you out for coffee when I get back, and I’ll tell you of my travels over bottomless mugs of my favorite drug .

Zweite Wohnung, dritte Wohnung

June 8, 2012

A bit belated, but reflections from my second apartment as I transition into the third are as follows:

Getting to know new neighborhoods never gets old. Hasenheide, Bergmannstraße, Gneisenaustraße, and everywhere in the Grafekiez were so varied and welcoming—despite the cloudy weather we’ve been having—I couldn’t help but daydream what it would be like to live off of the U7. From craft breweries to rooftop theaters, these streets gave me more than I could have imagined.

I’m not the only one doing research here. At a Canadian/German improv show, I met a guy who was leading a workshop on cultural empathy regarding the struggles people have when moving to Berlin. As we were getting to know each other, my history with Berlin began to unfold, and he asked me if I wouldn’t mind being contacted by some of the workshop participants the next day. I was a prime candidate, having moved to Berlin once two years ago, coupled with the fact that I didn’t speak any German, and here I was, back in the city that calls my name so frequently. I had a 20-minute phone conversation with two workshop participants who asked me questions about my experiences in Berlin, challenges I had faced, and successes I had achieved. It was nice to be on the other side of the table for a change.

Canadian improv is absolutely hilarious. Through the website I found my apartments on, I’ve been able to go to a few organized events, one of which was an improv show hosted by the German group die Gorillas, featuring the Canadian comedy duo, CRUMBS. CRUMBS took the house down during that show, and at the end, announced a bonus show they would be playing at a theater across town with their buds from Canada, the Suffrettes. Even funnier.

It’s (almost) always better when we’re together. A friend from NYU-Berlin—the good old days, if you will, when döner only cost 2.50 euro—was in town for a bit, so we got to spend some time catching up over coffee and craft beer. I love this city, and I love the solitude I am able to find here, but I also love sharing it with people. It was a nice rejuvenator, which has propelled me into the last three weeks (gasp!) of my trip.

I can read (in German)! Professor Caldwell gave me a fantastic graduation present, Große Reise ins Feuer, a narrative autobiography by Seyran Ates, talking about growing up in Berlin as a child of Turkish parents. Very appropriate. Though it took almost five times as long to read as my English-language books, I savored every moment. I loved learning new vocabulary, suddenly finding myself accustomed to the words Ates was using, getting a feel for her writing style. It was all so new and entertaining. Surprise bonus? When people see you reading on the subway in German, they speak to you in German. At long last, the key to, if not small talk, getting a total stranger to chat with me!

Garside (in narrative): My friend Tim

June 7, 2012

Grocery-shopping is always an interesting affair here in Berlin. Whether I choose to meander the stalls at the Turkish market, roam the aisles of Kaiser’s, or splurge a bit on organic and local food at Himmel & Erde, I find myself enchanted by my relationship to food in this city.

And apparently, by my relationship to Kleenex.

Last week, as I was filling my bag full of Muesli, mini-cucumbers, and (of course) onions, I was stopped by a guy puzzling over a box of Kleenex tissues. He asked me, in German, if I knew if these were “regular” tissues. I was a bit taken aback by his question—as you can imagine I might well have been—but I stumbled on in my best, most convincing German, to assure him that yes, they were regular tissues.

In his defense, the box was really weird.

It soon became obvious—as so often it does—that I was not a native German speaker, and we switched to English. This guy, Tim, asked about my time in Berlin and upon hearing of my Garside project, took great interest in it. Born and raised in Istanbul, but now living in Germany, Tim offered to meet up over coffee to discuss a subject that was, naturally, close to his heart.

We met at what has become my go-to spot for a cup of coffee, and Tim generously shared his life story. He was born and raised in Istanbul, though in an interesting twist, attended a German-language elementary school there. In his and his family’s opinion, he would receive a better education at that school. Fast-forward a decade or so, and trilingual Tim was faced with a decision: where to go to University? He chose a German university, excited by the chance to improve his German, and left his Heimat, Istanbul, behind. He went on to get a master’s from a German university, and currently lives in Berlin, working for a software company. He’s been in Germany consecutively for almost the past five years.

I asked Tim if he belonged to any “Turkish community organizations” and he said he is part of a “Turkish-German lunch club” that meets once a month to share food, drinks, and conversation—though usually avoiding parlance of a political hue. He joined the informal organization to meet new people in his new city, network, and see “what the dynamic” of the lunches would be like.


The last thing we discussed before draining the remains of our coffee was the peculiar place Tim finds himself in, having not been born or grown up here in Germany, but now living as a Turkish person in Germany. He said he finds it somewhat difficult to relate to Turkish people (or people of Turkish backgrounds) who were born, or spent the majority of their lives growing up, in Germany. The opportunities available to those people are much different than the opportunities he had as a Turkish person born and raised in Turkey. He said this realization was difficult for him.

I had never considered the difference a Turkish-born Turkish person living in Berlin would see in him- or herself, as compared to a German-born Turkish person living in Berlin. It’s a slightly uncomfortable notion, and I can sympathize with how Tim reacted to this experience in his life. Though entirely impromptu, my afternoon with Tim was probably one of the most enlightening I’ll have to reflect on when I think about how my Garside impacted me.

Garside: GLADT

June 7, 2012

Organization: GLADT (Gays and Lesbians aus der Türkei)
Location: Kluckstraße 11, Kreuzberg
Since: Meeting since the late 90s; a registered non-profit organization since 2003
Services & Community Engagement: GLADT is an organization for social, cultural, and political engagement, comprised of many (though not exclusively) LGBTIQ persons who have a relationship to a migration background (though not necessarily). GLADT’s services fall under three main umbrellas: psychosocial counseling, organized and ad hoc activities, and education programs. Throughout each of these areas, GLADT members and workers speak out against discrimination, homophobia, sexism, racism, violence, transphobia, and many other “-isms.” The organization often works with other groups in the city, ranging from LGBTIQ (but non-migrant) groups, to migrant (but non-LGBTIQ) groups, to groups which focus on both or neither. GLADT gets financial support from the state of Berlin, but also from various Bezirksamt (neighborhood administration, roughly).

credit //

My interaction with them? I sat down for tea and a chat with Arda, who has lived in Berlin for just over four years and has worked with GLADT for two. We discussed some of the more exciting and popular events GLADT hosts (namely, the Transgenialer Christopher Street Day Parade, but this year also a watching-party of the finale of the Eurovision Song Contest), the growing membership of GLADT (from just over 10 at its inception, to over 100 today), and some challenges GLADT faces, chief among them, working in an office that is not barrier-free.

There was an interesting, and a bit uncomfortable, moment when I asked Arda if organizations like GLADT exist in Turkey. Not knowing much about the current social climate in Turkey, I was curious if there were parallel organizations, perhaps which served as the impetus for founding GLADT in Berlin. Arda assured me that, indeed, there are many such organizations in Turkey, including in more rural areas, some of which have existed for over 20 years. It was a Garside-inspired lesson about not making assumptions about a country’s openness or level of acceptance.

Arda even had a few recommendations for other organizations I could contact, so the Garside(bury) Tales continue!

On second neighborhoods

May 29, 2012

I’m in my new Kiez—the Graefekiez, to be exact. I’m just northwest of the huge and wonderful Volkspark Hasenheide (and consequently, Freiluftkino Hasenheide), just southwest of the many trendy cafés, restaurants, and stores selling homemade wares near Dieffenbachstraße, and almost on top of the U7 Bahnhof (station, remember?) Südstern.

Here’s the church I can see when I look out my window. Allison, does this count for your Garside?

Hallo, Gott!

And here’s a pretty sweet apartment building I passed by as I was out exploring this afternoon. Carmel and Alex, do you think we could MacGyver our place into something more like this?

Beautiful balconies and strange little baroque fixtures on the facade.

Apartment #2 has afforded me the opportunity to have fajitas and margaritas for dinner one evening (store-bought tortillas aside, the fajitas were actually delightful), to dive into the best brewed coffee I’ve ever had at a really unique café, and to slowly, thoughtfully digest a book auf Deutsch. 

No rice and beans, but plenty of sauteed onions, peppers, and tomatoes to make up for it!

Every detail of this place was paid perfect attention.

This is what reading looks like these days.

Other items of note?
1. Apparently there’s a craft brewery just up the street from me. You’re well aware what this means.
2. I met a guy at the grocery store today who is Turkish and took interest in my Garside—which, yes, we were discussing in the toiletries aisle, thank you—and offered to meet me for a coffee to talk shop about Turkish organizations and how best to get in touch with them.
3. But it seems like even without the help of #2, I’m doing alright: One of my cold-emails responded, thereby leading to my Garside-date with GLADT e.V. this Friday at 2 p.m. Stay tuned for the full Garside post about this incredible organization for “Gays and Lesbians aus der Türkei.

Flexing my Garside muscles, one apartment, one neighborhood at a time.


Lines composed a few miles above … Wrangelstraße

May 29, 2012

In the style of two summers ago, I’d like to share with you one quote—not necessarily my favorite, though—from each of the books I read during my stay at my first apartment. Not only because I like this exercise, but also because the book I’m reading now, Große Reise ins Feuer, will likely not lend itself as readily to the activity, as it is in German. And chances are good you don’t speak German. I barely do, anyway.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “Watch it … and before long, as sure as you live, you’ll get a little nibble, a little fact asking in a timid, humble way if you’re interested in it. That’s the way the world keeps on happening. Be interested in it.”
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: “Every night he sleeps in the arms of his excellent wife, whose love for him is merited, requited, and appreciated by her husband, a steadfast man who never gives her any cause for sorrow or alarm.”
The Clown: “Perhaps I was realizing for the first time what this workaday world meant: having to do things which are no longer determined by the desire to do them.”
Crabwalk: “This raises the question, to which no answer can be hoped for: What does one life more or less count?”
Hocus Pocus: “…profanity and obscenity entitle people who don’t want unpleasant information to close their ears and eyes to you.”

And I suppose I didn’t write anything down from Fearlessness.