Like Tony in the post before me, I am sitting in a cafe on this, my last day in Berlin. I write to pass the time: an old friend and graduate of Michigan lives by a stroke of luck right here in Berlin, and we're going to have a little lunch date. This evening I hope to cap off the day with a final beer with the remaining folks from the program, making this a day as pleasant, slow, and relaxed as I could ask for. Then 6am tomorrow morning and I'm out the door. One day to process, and then a return to the real world.
My feelings are bittersweet. I love Ann Arbor, and I have been anticipating my return, to be in a space that is small enough to really know and grow familiar with, a place with boundaries. One thing one can say about Berlin (--maybe any large city--) is that it is boundless. You can't see it all, you can't know it all, you can't exhaust the place. At least it feels this way after a months' stay. Every corner continues to pour forth new things as yet unnoticed and unobserved. The boroughs remain so distinct from one another, worlds in themselves. I have been struck in particular with how conscious people around here seem to be about the diverse history of the city. Maybe it is because the city underwent such a great transformation following World War II, I can imagine it being difficult not to notice the change.
But it is the energy of the people themselves, their daly lives, and not just the sheer quantity of "history" that has happened here, that also takes on this boundless quality. Yesterday I did a lot of walking around by myself, and I stumbled across a few parks (of which there is really an absurd sum: you hit them all the time when you wander around). In every park, stretches of lawn were completely covered by sunbathers, by smoking grills, by little kids running around and playing, sometimes clothed and sometimes not so much. And almost as many dogs as people, dogs I think *never* kept on the leash. And I truly mean every park. On a Sunday afternoon, when the weather is nice, I challenge anyone to find a spot of green in private. It simply does not exist. Just from these observations it seems pretty clear that Berliners love their public leisure-spaces. And this brings me to another point: the people here are clearly active, and they are clearly healthy. Perhaps the most surprising for me is the sheer amount of young parents I have seen walking or riding with their kids, with babies strapped to their waste. Young good healthy looking parents.
(---I pause to share with you what's happening in the cafe as I write: A woman walks in casually with maybe an 80 pound dog. No leash, of course. She walks to the bathroom, motions the dog to sit, and enters while the dog waits patiently outside. She emerges again and walks away, the dog silently follows. Dogs are everywhere here--outside and inside--I've even seen some sitting silently in the bars!)
But back to the theme of boundlessness. This applies also to the theatre: energy you don't know where it comes from. In the last weekend I have seen 2 pieces at a theater called the Gorki. The acting was intense and spirited, the plays were not audience friendly, more than a little indulgent on the part of the artists, and sometimes downright difficult to stomach. Both times I felt bad vibes from the audience. Reviews from others sounded lukewarm to negative. And yet in spite of it all, insofar as I am able to make generalizations from just 2 shows, I get the impression that this kind of reception doesn't stop the theater from doing what it does. And I have to say, I was deeply moved by their energy and their (at least apparent) conviction. I never actually came to the Gorki until late in the trip, and I am deeply regretful that I could not see more from them.
But too much boundlessness can be exhausting. At least for me. I am ready to return to Ann Arbor. There is something to be said for the familiar, for surroundings that do not distract if you don't want them to, that can sink away into quiet ambience and, if you want, you can put aside for awhile. A place perhaps not so vibrant. Which is not always a bad thing.