Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Home Body

 Already, after just one week, it all feels like a dream. 

The many mixed and patchwork impressions of my recent trip to the other side of the world, are beginning to merge into an intense collage of memory.

 So much was packed into the time, thanks to my son C. and his partner J. for putting me up (putting up with me?) for six weeks and for making sure I made the most of my time in Berlin. 





... trying to find my place in a foreign environment

Home again now, I am allowing a sense of triumph to gradually seep in: I travelled halfway around the world for the first time by myself and learned how to manage German supermarket checkouts!


Intending to draw a cat (katze) for my granddaughter, I end up (accidentally or otherwise) painting a country mouse feeling all at sea in the city.


"You're such a home-body", a friend recently said to me. And she is right,



... crows became emblematic for me - like spirit animals. At pivotal moments, I'd hear one cawing above noisy Berlin city. Whenever she also heard a crow, my granddaughter would say the German word for 'crow' (krahe - pronounced krau) just as whenever she heard a child crying, she'd repeat, 'wein' (pronounced something like 'vine') the German word for crying ...

Being such a 'home body', I shouldn't have been surprised to find that very soon after arriving in Berlin, I experienced what I can only describe as a form of cultural shock, which quickly transformed into homesickness. I hadn't expected that. Immediate and intense homesickness - after just two days? What was wrong with me?


... right on cue, just at the end of my son's tours that I'd joined that day, a rainbow. I know it's a cliche, damn it, but rainbows do comfort me ...



as do God clouds ... like this one above buildings near to the old water tower, a Prenzlauerberg landmark ...

To gain insight into why I do not cope well with displacement, I read up on my personality type: ' You want to be safe and secure, to fit in and belong. More importantly, you want to have certainty and security. ... A bundle of contradictions, you can be wary and cautious one minute and / or rebellious and courageous the next. Depending on the situation, you can be friendly and outgoing, or reserved and sceptical.' 

How true.


... when I first arrived in Berlin, early autumn temperatures were summer-high. Here I am feeling the humidity (rather than the humility?) standing in front of a church designed, more so than most, to make a statement ...

Meaningful time spent taking my granddaughter on walks, making 'ice-creams' with her in the large sandpits found in the many playgrounds in this area, plus several outings to museums and tree-filled parks with my son, were just some of the experiences that helped restore some of my usual equilibrium.




I found there were lots of quaint little places on the tree-lined cobble-stoned strasses of Prenzlauerberg; cafes where I could spend a couple of hours drinking tea and writing down my impressions of Berlin.



... while in Germany I was able to watch the leaves of the many chestnut and linden trees that line the strasses, change colour ... 

I booked myself on a boat trip down the river Spree where I enjoyed a glass of wine while watching historical buildings slide by. I purposefully clutched the stem of the wine-glass in my fist in exactly the same manner as my mother used to hold a glass of wine. How we'd laugh at her. (Now I do it to comfort myself that her mannerisms still live on).




... the yellow trains are bright and cheerful-looking as they rumble through - and there's never a long wait between ...



Prenzlauerbrg is located in former East Germany and after the Wall came down in 1989, attracted artists' squats full of edgy, creative people doing edgy, avant garde stuff.

In the last few decades it has become more gentrified, rents forcing the artists on to other areas. Prenzlauerberg is now a popular district for young families; fairly evident by the large number of buggy-pushing parents, or parents on bikes with kid (or kids) on board, or in tow.

So many bikes in Berlin!



... spot the blue sheep on a balcony right-hand corner ... it was a marker for me whenever I became a little disorientated (another word for lost). I'd look for the blue sheep and when I found it, I knew where I was. Was the blue sheep possibly feeling homesick, I wondered ...

J's family live in rural northern Germany. Re-visiting them was a high point of my visit, involving two trips to the Baltic Coast and sitting before groaning tables laden with hearty German fare.





... stacked ready for winter ...


... the back part of this house is over 600 years old. We were lucky enough to be invited inside to see where the animals used to sleep. Incredible to reach out and touch centuries old wooden beams rubbed smooth. I could smell time in that house.



Another old relic of centuries gone. In Bad Doberman, a spa town where members of the German royal family once stayed. C. and I one early morning, wandered around the old part of this place, soaking in the atmosphere of times past ... crumbling brick, mole mounds, crows, church bells ... the mist that morning only adding to the sense of everything being doused in the 'mists of time' ... 

As noted earlier, by travelling to a foreign country all my normal settings had switched to 'haywire'. I needed copious cups of black tea. Interesting that in Germany tea is always served in a tall glass.


... another outing with C. to see the illuminations that happen every autumn in Berlin ...





... graffiti is Berlin, or maybe Berlin is graffiti ...  




... I was fortunate to be able to go on two tours with my son. Highly recommend him as a tour guide if you are ever in Berlin ...

In the apartment block where C. J. and their wee daughter, A. live, the young families (from many different countries) all know each other; largely because of the shared backyard playground where they and their kids congregate in summer, and where they have barbecues and get-togethers. They have formed a friendly, supportive community and while I was there, their friendliness helped me feel a part of the place


... C. and I visited the Reichstag one cold windy morning, the German flag flying its bold bands in the grey. It felt historical to be there. On more than one level. (And I'm not just talking structurally). 
After taking in the view, we waited for the cafe to open, where we ordered tea (for me) and coffee (for him) and cake (for both of us). 
I have brought home with me very fond memories of exploring Berlin with my tall son - who never showed a hint of embarrassment at being in the company of his silver-haired, much shorter Ma ...

Any shaky moments due to homesickness (and missing my husband) were offset by the little things - my granddaughter's sweet "Goodnight Grandma", as she ran to give me a goodnight hug, the time spent drawing cats for her ("Noch mere katzen"; "More cats") reading her books (hearing her recite, 'We're Going on A Bear Hunt' pretty much verbatim with her papa).

By J. bringing home flowers and presents of soap and tea and lighting candles and leaving the bubble bath solution out for me to enjoy a bubble bath ... meeting me for coffee or lunch ... helping me to buy boots. Booking me in for a shoulder-neck-and-head massage.

And by C. accompanying me on outings and always making sure his mother was ok.



Those moments I am missing now that I'm back home on the other side, busy being a home body.



P.S. Will write about my UK experience in my next post.

6 comments:

Di said...

I'm so glad to read this :-) It's funny, I'm up this morning, aware of not having a home for this 'body' at the moment. I'm almost in transition, and will move to a winter space soon but like you, I do enjoy having a home. Mmm, a little bit 'homesick' this morning, very aware of not having a home. xx

Kay Cooke said...

Thanks Di. I'm a bit nervous about having been so frank. I'm feeling a little vulnerable after having bared my soul.

Florence McMillan said...

Loved reading your memoirs Kay, Not easy wondering around by yourself in a foreign city. Especially with those very long German street names. Thanks for sharing. X. You did very well to travel on your lonesome.

Claire Beynon said...

Thanks for sharing your explorations - and your vulnerability - with us, Kay. Much tenderness and caring between you and your Berlin-based family. Looking forward to seeing you (and hearing more!) at the Croc this afternoon. xoxo

Avus said...

Like you, Kay, I have always felt "out of gear" and homesick in mainland Europe. Yet on 6 week long visits to OZ/NZ I have always settled in immediately (and longed to live on the South Island of NZ)

Perhaps it's a language/culture thing?

Kay Cooke said...

Florence - Thanks! I do keep reminding myself that I did well and I give myself an encoraging pat on the back. It wasn't easy, but I did it! I'm proud of myself.

Claire - It was an important trip (if hard) to make on many levels - family ties were strengthened! and I got to experience daily family life in a foreign country. Always a privilege.

Avus - The language barrier is a real thing. Often it is the subtlties that cannot be understood when communication is by necessity, basic. I didn't realise how much I was missing that extra layer of understanding until I got to Britain and the immediate contrast made it apparent.

Harbour

Harbour
'how this all harbours light'