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Brückenschläge und Schlagworte

Tag: identity

Date a Girl Who Writes

Date a girl who writes. Date a girl whose hands are smeared with ink from the pen that she loves to write with, but that keeps leaking. She may not have a perfect French manicure because those long nails would always splinter when she spends nights on her computer typing. But with these hands of hers, she has created whole worlds in her writing that she will take you to if you want her to.

Find a girl who writes. You will spot her by her big eyes looking eagerly at the world, and you will see her stopping and staring at something beautiful, mouth wide open, lost to the world, in awe of something she just experienced. You will feel like you can see cogs turning in her head. That is her thinking about how she could phrase what she just saw so that everyone would be able to feel what she just felt. Maybe she will take out a little dodgy looking notebook with lots of dog-ears and scribble something into it. Maybe she will look up, think, and then sit down in sight of the thing that caught her attention, and repeatedly note down stuff in her book, smiling absent-mindedly.

CIMG9695Date a girl who writes. She will always find beauty in the things around her because she will always look for something that she can shape in the amazingness that is language. She knows that things are of a greater truth when she can share them with her words. She knows that phrasing her encounters will add a depth to the experience. She knows humility because she has met the boundaries of language and felt the gigantic silence that occurs when the world is too big for an expression, when words can never suffice. Date a girl who writes because she will know exactly when to speak and when to keep silent.

A girl who writes will be a girl who reads. She will see storylines in her life and in the lives of others around her, because she has come to know them from her favourite books and wants to put them in writing herself more often than not. Date a girl who wants to see Kafka’s Prague, Joyce’s Dublin and Dickens’ London. She’s the girl who is longing to go to Russia because she wants to see the wide landscapes she holds dear to her heart ever since reading Doktor Zhivago. She’s also the girl who wants to see Colombia because she cried when she read One Hundred Years of Solitude and wants to live the magic that the novel foretold. She even wants to travel to Afghanistan, enchanted by the beauty that the country must once have held and that she’s read about in The Kite Runner.

Date a girl who writes. She has been through struggles with herself and knows that conflict is an important part of life both inside of yourself and with others. She has fought her own wars inside her mind, battling “impressed” versus “in awe”, battling “ecstatic” versus “elated”, battling all shades of colours and all tones of sound that language can express. Date a girl who writes because she will touch all of your senses with language and with her entire being.

Don’t just tell her that she’s beautiful, funny, or smart. Tell her instead that her beauty is that of a red leaf on a golden autumn day being carried by the wind through the streets of a big city. Tell her that she makes you laugh until your tummy hurts. Tell her that her wits make her a female version of Odysseus. Allow her to be part of a creative metaphor. Baffle her with your eloquence. Understand her need for precise vocabulary. Write letters to her. Read her novels and poems. Point out song lyrics that you liked.

Date a girl who writes. She will always share with you what she thinks it is that makes life worthwhile. She will bring beauty, laughter and depth to your life. She strives for a life that is never boring, and with her, yours won’t be either. Listen to what she has to tell you and I promise, it will be worth your time, if only for the sound of the words that she will carefully choose to make you understand exactly what she is trying to say.

Know that you will never have her for yourself. You will always have to share her with her love for the world, with her passion for life, and with her need to be by herself so that she can form words and stories in her mind without being distracted. She and you will never be exclusive – she will always be in love with places, because they make the setting; with people, because they make characters; and with feelings, because they are what makes everything come alive.

One day you will say something to her, and she will startle, look you in the eye, smile and say “That is beautiful.” If you find what you said scribbled on a post-it note and pinned to the wall above her desk the next day, next to quotes by Hemmingway and Mark Twain, you will know you’ve won her heart.

This post, as many will have guessed, is inspired by Date a Girl Who Reads by Rosemarie Urquico and Date a Girl Who Travels by Solitary Wanderer. Maybe all three kinds of girls are really the same thing.

Being German and the Issue of Patriotism

Last week I wrote a post on cultural identity in this globalized world and in my own travel-filled life. The reactions were immediate and plentiful, and it seems that this is a subject that interests a lot of us. I am sure that this is because in travel, we always try to find ourselves. We confront ourselves with the other, the great unknown, the „cudne manowce“, as I like to call it, which is Polish for „the magical astray“. And we enjoy this because we perceive it as different only by comparison with what we are, and in this process we notice and understand our own inner workings better than before.

Along these lines, I have a few stories to tell about being German when you travel. I never noticed that I was German until I left Germany – that makes a lot of sense, because obviously most people I had known until then were German too, and this trait didn’t serve as a distinguishing attribute that would shape anyone’s individual personality. But then I went to other places. And I noticed that I was ridiculously punctual (by comparison with Mexican Americans). And well organized (by comparison with the French). And much more used to beer than vodka (by comparison with the Polish). And uptight (by comparison with Serbians). Even prude (I am SO looking at Sweden here!!). So there were moments when I felt very German, and I couldn’t believe I had never seen it before.

Having Rakija, Ferry to Hvar, Croatia

What I said about vodka goes for rakija as well – man, those Croatians can drink…

In becoming aware of my Germanness, I lost some of it, and that is what I wrote about last week. Other things I will most likely never get rid of, and the one thing that comes to mind fastest and that I have most been confronted with when travelling is the awareness of history and its direct link to patriotism. Let me explain with a little help of German singer-songwriter Reinhard Mey. The quotes below are translations of the lyrics to this song called Mein Land, „My Country“:

My dark country of victims and perpetrators,
I carry part of your guilt.
Country of betrayed ones and of traitors,
With you I practice humility and patience.

It all started when I was 16 and lived in Texas for a year. Kids would come up to me on the school bus and ask me questions such as: „So, are your parents Nazis?“ or „So, is Hitler still alive?“ or „So, have your family killed any Jews back then?“ Being 16 and a foreigner, I found it difficult to deal with this at first.

There was one particularly hard situation: We were talking about Auschwitz in my Sociology class. The  guy behind me muttered to his friend: „What’s the big deal, it’s just a couple of people that died.“ I gasped, turned around, and gave him a huge speech after which I left the classroom in tears. Quite the drama queen, eh? But I don’t think he ever forgot it. In time, I learned that these things didn’t happen out of cruelty, but out of ignorance and I resorted to teaching people about the Third Reich instead of starting to cry.

I can’t sing to you hand to heart,
With eyes on the flag, and a word such as „pride“
won’t cross my lips even with an effort –
stupidity and pride are cut from the same cloth!

This is where patriotism comes in. I learned that while I may not identify with what happened in my country throughout history, other people will identify me with it. Whether I want it to be or not, Germany is part of me – and that includes its dark past. But with this dark past being such a dominant association with Germany, being proud of being German is something that doesn’t feel quite right. Add in the very important factor that an extremist form of patriotism is exactly what national socialism was all about, and you may understand why Germans are usually very very careful to express pride in their national identity.

I cling to you and even through your disruptions,
I am your kin in sickness and in health,
I am your child through all your contradictions,
my motherland, my fatherland, my country.

The more I have travelled, the more people I have met who never brought up the topic of collective German guilt. In fact it is often the other way around: People tell me how much they love Germany and I get all flustered and weird because it sounds strange and wonderful to me when someone has such love for the country I am from and no fear of expressing it. And then I have to explain that I am not used to that. Of course there was the soccer World Cup in 2006 that changed things for a lot of us and allowed us to wave Germany’s flag proudly for once. Things have relaxed since then, and I am happy about that. But at the same time I am not entirely sure about it. What if we forget? What if we lose awareness of the responsibility we have? What if things got out of hand?

World Cup Public Viewing, Greifswald, Germany

This was me at a public viewing for the World Cup in 2006. Over the top, you think? You should have seen some of the other people…

I have learned not to think of patriotism as an innocent emotion. I have learned that it has led to evil, and I have learned that there are no grounds to be proud of something you have no power over, such as your nationality. You can be grateful for it, happy about it, and identify with it, but as long as it is not your accomplishment, „pride“ is not the appropriate emotion to me. I think that feeling so strongly about this is very German. And it is something that I really want to hang on to.

I love Germany. But being proud to be German is something I don’t even want to feel. I would be scared that it might mean that I had forgotten my country’s past.

[EDIT JULY 2014] I recently closed comments on this post because I felt its time had come. It is important to me to stress once more that all my observations are highly subjective and personal. People in the comments have largely taken offense to the fact that I generalized a German attitude. I do think that I am not an exception in my views, but I am well aware that there are many other perspectives on the issue. In fact, patriotism is not at all problematic for many people anymore, especially for younger generations. I stand by this post and its importance because this one individual perspective I have, my very own approach to the topic, still holds valid and may grant some insights to the whole interplay of nationalism, patriotism, pride and history.

What’s one more Identity?

A couple of weeks back I was having drinks in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district with Adam of Travels of Adam – if you haven’t yet stumbled upon his great blog you should make up this oversight as quickly as you can. We had a great evening of drinking wine and chatting about travel, life in Berlin and blogging. We finally left the bar to walk to the tram stop together, and when we had just one more pedestrians’ traffic light to cross, we saw the tram get in to the stop. The traffic light was red. It was obvious that we’d miss the tram if we waited for it to turn green. Adam asked: “Wait or run?” I said: “Run!”, and so we did. As we got on the tram, Adam said: “You are so unlike any other German I know, I love it!”

This got me thinking back on all the times my German identity has been questioned – even if in jest.

In Bristol, England, I walked into a coffee shop to buy a latte. After taking my order, the barista asked: “So how are you today?” I replied: “Really grand! Enjoying being away from home for a bit.” He asked: “Where’s home?” I said: “Germany.” He looked up puzzled: “I thought you were Canadian! You don’t have a foreign accent in your English!”

In Mostar, Bosnia, hostel owner Bata gave me advice on how to get into one of my favorite sights, Blagaj’s Tekkija, without having to pay an entrance fee. He said: “You’re almost local, you just tell them ‘Gdje si, legendo!’ [which roughly translated to ‘What’s up, my man!’] and pass right through.”

Tekija, Blagaj, Blagaj, Bosnia and Hercegovina

The Tekija of Blagaj, one of my favorite places in the world

In Rijeka, Croatia, we were having a lovely night in someone’s back yard singing, dancing and, again, drinking the night away. I sang songs in Croatian and was totally in my happy place. My friend Nina said: “You have strange hobbies for a German girl, Maki. Shouldn’t you be working in a Hypo Bank and have a boyfriend that you see just once a week?”

In Nis, Serbia, I was hanging with hostel people in the smokers’ lounge when the phone rang. The hostel owner, Vlad, ran to get it, leaving his cigarette in the ashtray. When he didn’t come back after a while, I took it and said: “Vlad won’t finish this, eh, I might as well.” His co-worker by the same name looked at me in awe and said: “When you try to get back into Germany, they won’t let you. They will think you’re Serbian.

Hanging out in Maribor, SloveniaIn Novi Sad, Serbia, we were singing, drinking and eating Ajvar in my friend Lazar’s kitchen well into the night. Ajvar is a delicious paste made from egg plant, tomatoes and peppers. There was a large jar of it and one spoon, and it circled. When the jar was almost empty and Lazar was scratching remains from the ground, I advised him to do it with the spoon’s narrow end to get even the last bits out. His face split into a grin. “You blend in very well here.”

In Gdansk, Poland, I was visiting a conference, but hanging out nights with my friends who use a lot of swear words, especially the infamous “kurwa”, an approximate equivalent to the English f-word. Finally one night I told them: “Guys, you gotta stop it with the swearing. I almost said ‘kurwa’ at the conference today!” They all broke into laughter, and my friend Karol said: “Marielka, I think you may have deserved the right to Polish citizenship now.

Sejm, Warsaw, Poland

This is me at the Sejm, Polish parliament, in 2007. I wouldn’t have thought back then that anyone would ever attest me a Polish identity…

It looks like I’m not your prototype German. I’m not sure what that would be, but apparently not someone who crosses red traffic lights, speaks foreign languages, tries not to let food go to waste, sings Balkan songs, finishes a stranger’s cigarette, or swears (in Polish at that!). When writing about this, I noticed how many of these stories involve people in foreign countries that I consider friends. It also brought to mind that I have a Croatian nickname, Maki, and a Polish one, Marielka. I realized how integrated, how much at home I feel in so many different places.

Lake Skadar, Montenegro

When I posted this photo of my Australian friend Steve and I, taken at Lake Shkodra in Montenegro, on facebook, my German friend Stefan (who speaks approximately every language in Europe) commented it in Bosnian by the words: “Ti ces nam vratit kao prava Bosanka” – “You will come back to us like a true Bosnian girl”.

When someone attests me a new cultural identity, it is the ultimate step from being a traveller to being a part of the culture in some small way. It makes me very happy to think that I am a little Canadian, a little Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian and Polish, and of course also a little German. I like to think that I have been drawn to Middle Eastern and Eastern Europe because part of my soul has always been there, because there is something inside of me that has always been Slavic – while that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate and identify with my German heritage. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never want to get rid of that! I throw on black, red, gold colors when we play international soccer tournaments just like any other German, and I am ready to sell Germany as a lovely travel destination to anyone who wants to hear it. I am most certainly German, and as difficult as it sometimes feels to say this: I love my country.

The beauty of all these little anecdotes, however, is that I don’t have to be exclusive on this one. This isn’t a monogamous relationship. In a globalized, fast paced, cosmopolitan world that asks of young people to be flexible, variable, willing to adapt and open to new things, I seem to have taken on multiple identities already – and with every new one that is added to that, the only question that comes to mind is: “What’s one more?” I have a beautiful summer love affair with Croatia. I have a strange fascination, an infatuation if you will, with Serbia. I have a difficult, but serious relationship with Bosnia. The US are like an ex-boyfriend who I still think very fondly of – in other words, yes, we’re still friends. Poland is something like the love of my life. I well think I could get married to Poland. And Germany – Germany is my parent and my sibling. Germany is family.

What do you think? How many identities do you have? How do they show? And do you strive for more?