Sitting in an Adirondack chair in an abandoned parking lot behind a car dealership and a warehouse, I find myself sipping a Bloody Mary, looking across muddy brown water to a dilapidated shack hosting a giant, naked baby on the roof and gaggle of grungely attired people, all but the young man in metallic sliver leggings that is, dancing in the mid-day gray. The Kiki Blofeld, singularly German, singularly Berlin. Surrounded by a language I don’t understand amidst a culture that, for all its being Western, may as well be Martian, I quietly try to assimilate, trying not to let my American-ness show too much. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t work. I could be head to toe blue and not stand out more than I do now.
Ten months gone and still I am jolted daily out of my expat reverie and reminded that I don’t belong, that I will never belong, that I don’t want to belong. It doesn’t look so different here. Coming from New York City I am used to maybe a little more cultural diversity in the minority populations but still, Berlin has all the colors, shapes and sizes I’m used to. The food is recognizable, if not quite the same. The music is mostly that of my own country and is a grounding factor. But never the less, even during conversations in which I understand every word, a rarity, I am confounded by behavior and social practices that make so little sense as to be yellow rather than purple. I am Fremd, literally translated, Strange. Actual use, Foreign. Either way it amounts to the same thing. I am a stranger in a strange land.
So what is an alien to do then to adjust, to assimilate? We are told to make German friends. Find people of the culture willing to guide us through our day to day. And yet we cling together as those on a life raft occasionally dipping a toe in the water but rarely seriously unless sex is involved. That universal language seems to be the same at least. Most of the people I call friend here are Fremd. We’re not all Americans. We are also Russian, Spanish, Armenian, Scottish, Irish, Mexican, Italian, African, Iraqi, Persian, Indian, Korean, French, Japanese. And while each of our own countries is just as foreign to the others in our group as this one, we are joined together by the experience of being other. It is a special alienation one feels, unrelatable except to other Fremd and by this we are joined like the Goths in high school or the Medieval Associations in college. Set apart and drawn together by our strangeness.
So welcome to our Berlin. It is not Berlin as it exists for Berliners or even for Germans, it is as it exists for Aliens only, no matter which planet they hail from. It is other and it is strange and no matter how long we remain, it is how it will be for us. Welcome. We invite you. You can’t be stranger than us.