Another Pleasure Victim Falls in Love with Berlin
When I was around 10 years of age, the band Berlins ‘Pleasure Victim’ album was released. I quickly became obsessed with it. The album was sexy, mysterious, and for me marked the beginning of a kind of fantasy around Berlin, which I carried like a torch from there on out. (The fact that the band formed in Los Angeles, which I found out many years later, well it only made me chuckle.)
Since leaving my hometown of Dallas, Texas at the age of 18, I’ve done a lot of moving. Five years in NYC/Brooklyn, six up in the mountains of Colorado, a couple quick forgettable years in Florida and a regain sanity year in Austin, TX, and finally Los Angeles, where I spent my final eight years in the states. I recall falling deeply in love with NYC, the way the city excited me, how inspired I felt when I first arrived. Los Angeles was also a fall fast and hard romance, although it turned into a very bumpy road, I still remember driving around the city thinking just how much I loved it, even at the very end. However, ultimately I always moved away. I've considered that I’m just addicted to the new. But the truth is that I didn't ever feel totally at ease in any of these places. I suppose a good question to ask is what drove me away? It was the basic complexity of day to day life, simply doing the laundry, getting around, affording a meal out or a taxi when the trains shut off which pushed me away from NYC. In LA, the driving eventually overwhelmed me. Although at the root of these initial easy complaints is something much more complex, which has to do more with the system I was living in, America’s capitalistic culture.
When I arrived to Berlin in the summer of 2011, it wasn't what I expected it to be. In my fantasy world, I had envisioned a kind of Tokyo influenced Blade Runner setting. Alas the lack of a skyline was shocking. The consistency of the building height was so strange to me. But then I went out on a summer weekend and the free beer bottles in the ‘metro’ were a revelation. I decided to make Berlin home base, always returning here between travels until I became legal in late 2013. My Mom began to realize this might be serious, but I’m sure in the back of her mind was the knowledge that I love the new & eventually I would likely get bored and return home or closer to home after the honeymoon phase ended. But the truth is, I've found a kind of personal heaven here and I plan to stay.
This city is easy to love, but still the question is: What is it about Berlin that makes me think the romance won’t wear out after a few more years? I hear the same question when I return to the states over and over, people want to know what it is, why do I like it so much, so much that I left my home country, family & friends. The short answer has been that I feel a freedom I have never felt anywhere else before, a true freedom. Still, much of my personal attractions to Berlin also exist in other European cities. I suppose the truth is that I am escaping a system I don’t believe in and I've found a system that is much better, likely the best society has in this current moment on Earth.
But then again, there are a number of simple joys in my attraction to living here. I really appreciate being able to jump on my bike and get anywhere, stumbling into parks, picking up vegetable at the little farmers market stands, drinking casually - never feeling rushed because I have to finish the drink before the bars are closing or I am walking outside, the fact that tax is included on the pricing labels, tipping only when I really truly want to, no air conditioning, watching TV is a rare occurrence, getting exercise naturally, being able to buy enough groceries for the week with €30, going dancing anytime I want, watching the sunrise with 1,000’s of other people around the city because we stayed up all night and it’s totally normal. I love the lake culture in Germany, where you can swim nude while smoking a joint, drinking a beer amongst dogs and children on the loose. In the states if you go to a lake or even the beach, you will have a list of rules that follow you, no smoking, no alcohol, no dogs off leash, no nudity. On a deeper level there is the relaxed nature of the city. The lack of violence, guns, crime…something Americans can only dream of, yet wouldn't dare to, because that would mean giving up their right to bear arms. Even more profound is the lack of pressure to have a ‘real’ job, whatever that means, as if being a DJ or an Artist isn't good enough. This city draws to it people that want to live life according to their personal desires. It’s quite rare to meet someone that moved to Berlin for a job, people move here because they love the city. Back home everything seems centered on work, peoples lives are dictated by their need to earn an income.
Almost everyone I meet in Berlin has done quite a bit of traveling and the cities central location on the European continent makes it easy to explore different cultures. But beyond that, Europeans in general are encouraged to travel and see the world, while 36% of Americans now have passports, I would venture to guess that most of them are not actively encouraged to see the world.
In Berlin, people seem much more focused on exploring life…I get the feeling we are all pleasure victims here and frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with that. In the states there seems to be a constant paranoia and on top of this a guilt surrounding pleasure. Life is way too short to think that you can live the life you want at a later date. Berliners seem quite aware of the fragility of life, I get the feeling that we all want to embrace the here and now, right now. I've read quite a few un-nuanced articles about this city. People seem anxious to define Berlin, this city of the moment. Many will point out how the inevitable gentrification will kill the city, the abundance of hipsters, the rising rent. But for me, there is a deeper appreciation for these integral things, things that won’t change with the arrival of more people, or more investment money.
So one might wonder about the longevity of my current romance with Berlin? It's a deep one that's taken me about 4 years to fully realize. I was tired of swimming in place in the states and fighting to stay afloat. In Berlin I am living a much simpler life. To be nuanced is to give people more reasons to come here. Yet, Berlin is not for everyone & never will be. Berlin won't have a song written about it by Jay Z. The fact is that Berlin is the kind of city that an electro-pop eighties band would name themselves after and I guess what I’m trying to say is – that’s my kind of city!
Photographs and text by Linka A Odom
You can find Linka on IG, EyeEm, Twitter, & FB @themissinglinka