Thursday, 7 November 2019

In praise (and criticism) of the overflow bag

Today it's my mum's birthday. (And it doesn't factor into any of my PINs or passwords, so don't even try.) She is one of my favourite people in the world. On her recent visit to Berlin, she introduced the concept of the "overflow bag" to me:

If you have your usual handbag, shoulder bag, or rucksack, an overflow bag — often a tote bag — can easily be stuffed away inside. It serves as a way to catch the unforeseen things you might pick up or cast off over the course of the day, during spontaneous trips to the library or supermarket, or when admitting it is in fact too warm to wear a scarf or jumper but there's no room to stow it away in your primary bag.

This reminded me that last year, I workshopped a piece about tote bags with my writing group. I sent the pitch to a lot of places, but they rejected it. However, I still want to get it out there, and dedicate it to my wonderful mum who has always championed my writing practice. She has played a major role in making me the resourceful person I am today, in turn learning that from her own mother, who sadly passed away this summer. This is for you too, Grandma.

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Tote bags are the new slogan T-shirts: that is, an unshakeable symbol of identity that represents our throwaway society rather than counteracting it. Roomy and handy, I believe it was roughly 2013 when they started to appear everywhere, thereby becoming a vital part of the collective consciousness. For all their ubiquity, though, I'm a bit suspicious.

It’s an icon for the ages. There are the ones with sassy slogans or cult designs that seamlessly blend into an outfit; a fashion statement. There are also fancy ones, with slightly thicker, hardier straps, but most of the ones I own have been freebies when spending above a certain amount of money at a bookshop. Part of the appeal of the tote bag is its versatility. I’ve taken these better-quality ones to job interviews, when I want to show off a bit of my personality — or personal brand, if you will — and still be smart. I can show off how I have collected them from various cultural establishments in Quebec, Vermont, Austria, and Lithuania. I even have The New Yorker bag, despite the fact I do not own a subscription to the magazine, much less have I been to New York. That hardly matters, though; the point is, I can send out a message that I’m learned, that I’m bookish, that I’m even willing to make friends due to the fact that we both know. When I took this bag to the doctor's, she assumed I was American, not British, and I cannot help but feel that my choice of bag, which I saw her looking at, influenced this.

But then there are the bog-standard ones. Last year, I attended an educational event and among the countless freebies on offer was, of course, was a tote bag from one of the sponsors, a music production software company with its headquarters in my city. I looked inside and the label said Werbetasche (advertising bag), followed by a number you could call if you wanted to order more.
Within a mere moment, the illusion was shattered. I realised that before this moment, I'd considered the tote bag a purely benevolent item. It shouldn’t have really come as a surprise, though, seeing as these bags are literally emblazoned with names of organisations. You become a walking advert without even thinking twice about it. I’ve been known to google a name off someone’s bag that looks interesting, so it must work. But you can pledge allegiance to a brand just as easily as you can then discard it.

At a guess, I have accrued about 15 current tote bags, many of which are stuffed into — you guessed it — one giant one. With a couple of notable exceptions in my roster, I have never paid money for a tote bag. They tend to be handed out for free at educational and networking events, which, as everyone knows, are the ultimate freebie hubs. But this in itself leads me to question the path that has led to my life of totes. It’s no Oscars goodie bag, but privilege is afforded even to a complimentary item: you need to first be a student, and by extension, usually, then have access to these events. That’s not to mention the obstacles hindering certain demographic groups from getting a foot in the door in the start-up world, what with its "bro" reputation. The companies that peddle promotional tote bags are often start-ups or established companies now adopting a youth-oriented approach, recruiting youngsters for what would have been known as white-collar jobs before the tech boom.

Tote bags aren’t just ersatz handbags, of course; their additional role of carrying groceries has opened up a new dialogue about sustainability. Whenever I go back and visit the rural English town I grew up in, where you have to travel many miles before you’ll encounter an office block, I rarely see people with the "cool" type of tote bag; however, I do see them with the large, cheerfully-branded supermarket totes that you can invest in for less than £1. The flimsier ones now cost a fraction of the price, starting at 5p. When I went to England the week this was implemented, a shop assistant apologised for it before I had even had a chance to complain. Last year (when I wrote this piece) after reading headlines about cases of physical violence and verbal abuse from customers towards shop staff when a fee was placed on carrier bags in certain Australian states, I now understand why. Service jobs are never a walk in the park, but the entitlement towards this particular item — as well as the misplaced rage — only highlights its perceived expendable nature, kowtowing to capitalism. No wonder it's something we can’t live without.

But maybe in the same way we’re all being coerced into eating “clean” and encouraged to say no to straws, we convince ourselves a slightly more expensive, environmentally sustainable one is worth the investment, allowing us to feel like we are telling the world we’re not filthy ocean-polluters.

Sadly, sustainability does not mean that mass production grinds to a halt. AUK Environment Agency study found that a polypropylene plastic was about the same global warming potential as a cotton one.
Moreover, these Werbetaschen straddle the line between fashion and practicality. We use them for our own mundane, personal purposes — to carry around our things — but the ones that we reach for in various situations are controlled by something outside ourselves. We become agents of these companies — and if it’s from a charity or other non-profit organisation, people may even question our intentions, assuming our intentions are not genuine but that we are virtue-signalling; that is, casting a message to those around us that we are Good People, rather than actually doing anything to effect change.

In my small, subletted flat, I’m acutely aware of the need to cut down on things in order to conserve both physical and mental space, and to clear mental space. It is easy to turf out threadbare clothes or disappointing books. Tote bags, though? Thanks to the fallacy of usefulness, I can’t part with them. Sometimes the thought crosses my mind, but I blow it away, choosing instead to focus on more pressing tasks like cleaning the kitchen or paying that dreaded bill.

When I was younger, I would snip motifs out from T-shirts I had grown out of and stitch them onto new ones so that they could live on forever (or at least until I felt too embarrassed to wear them). Recently, I cut up a bag in a similar way. Its straps were too thin, so I could hardly use it for all the things I generally need to carry around, of which the minimum is a water bottle, a book, my purse, keys. (Most of the time I’ll bring a notebook and pen, too, because I can hardly call myself a writer without one, can I?) I stitched it onto a top whose sleeves, in turn, I had cut off in an attempt to make a trendy cold-shoulder piece. Before that, I had dyed it black with drugstore machine dye, guzzling electricity and water, because the dirty-white hue had been ruined by an inscrutable stain on the front.

I can’t let go of these bags because I can’t help but think that they are part of my life, my story. I even keep the one from the company that fired me because I developed in more than one way while I was there; besides, who would actually take the bag if they didn’t have a connection to the company? The straps of the tote bag I have spent the most money on, Stay Home Club’s “Stay Home and Watch Buffy”, finally started to disintegrate last Christmas. It is still hanging up on a hook in my hallway, still safety-pinned from the day it broke. I can’t throw it away, yet I can’t think of a way to recycle the motif, either. Perhaps a bag is for life after all, Kondo-ing be damned.

In all the conversations at the moment about plastic and sustainability, the infallibility of the tote bag is seldom if ever addressed. It is made of cotton, and even though that’s often cited as an environmentally friendly material, nobody knows how to recycle it — especially since cotton items so often form part of our own stories. In that sense, they’d have a hard time fitting into anyone else’s.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

The future of this blog (and my career)

I've gone back to a bog-standard .blogspot.com domain. As you will have no doubt gathered if you've tried to access this blog from the old address, I have not given up the domain entirely. But the thing was about to expire and due to recent changes in my life, I didn't really fancy spending actual money on this. Here, I will delve a bit deeper into why.

First of all, I don't really care about blogging anymore. Blogging meant something entirely different 10 years ago to what it does today. I related very deeply to this piece in the New Statesman last month:
I created a secluded cove for myself on the internet, one that allowed me to cultivate selfhood at a comfortable pace. While the world moved dangerously fast, on Tumblr we nurtured our virtual spaces tenderly.
Sponsored content? Lifestyle envy? Facebook ads? Business account on Instagram? It's not for me.
Sure, I could "rebel" and create the kind of "genuine" content that cultivated a community of outsiders when I was in my teens and early twenties. The 2019 reality, though, is that life is expensive and my free time comes at a premium, so I simply cannot do this on a regular schedule. I still have a whole lot of half-finished drafts on here, which will probably take me years to publish. That's okay. If anything is going to make me feel under pressure, I definitely don't want it to be this entirely voluntary undertaking. My two books in progress hold that spot.

Secondly, this is not actually a professional website where I offer services in exchange for payment — if that's what you're after, head on over here! — so I actually don't want to keep paying the annual domain renewal fee when I'm not getting a ROI. (I have been very pleased with the service offered by iwantmyname, though, and can definitely recommend them. Incidentally, they didn't pay me to say that.)

The third and perhaps biggest reason: I don't want writing to be a job anymore. I want to be free to enjoy both high and low culture without thinking, "Hmm, is there a pitch in there?". I have had a lot of crappy experiences, including multiple rejections of pitches and even solicited drafts of pieces I poured my heart and soul into. Yes, of course this is part and parcel of being a writer, but I am fed up of the hustle. The normalisation of the exploitation you get in return for your efforts. The way that such sought-after yet low-regarded work is automatically going to privilege those who are well-off in the first place. The rejection aspect is just the tip of the iceberg; there are also the gigs that shave years off your life.

I will always be a writer, and it's always going to be a more significant part of my life than a mere hobby, but there are so many directions I haven't explored. It's a bit scary to publish this, because I can't shake the feeling that I'm burning bridges with the good clients I've had, or potential good clients.
I'll just say this: writing and translation are talents that I possess and they require a not-to-be-sniffed-at skillset. I might come back to it someday, but it's not my main focus at the moment. However, if you are considering offering me money to write or translate something for you, feel free to hit me up and let's see if it's a good fit!

No industry is perfect, but I've undergone an epiphany this summer that allowed me to see my full potential and gave me the courage to pursue it. I've had a challenging but great year working as a content manager at a web agency, and it's exposed me to parts of websites that I'd not given much thought to before (or considered to be "too hard"). I chatted with my boss, who gave me the go-ahead to do a bit of company-endorsed self-study. I work on the periphery of web development at that job, but now I'm pursuing it myself! It's not easy, but I am excited to be a student again, of sorts, and I have wonderful figures I can turn to when I'm stuck. I'm currently writing a dedicated blog post about my journey.

If you are a career-pivoter or career-changer — into dev/programming or otherwise — let's chat! ­čĄŚ

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

My Year in Books: First Half of 2019

Just as I did last year, here's a half-time breakdown of what I've read so far in 2019. I'd been hoping to finish a few more, to be honest, but we'll see. Quality not quantity.

EDIT: Absolutely lol at me originally posting this before the end of June... the change in weather must have got to me. BRB, changing my name. Have now added the books I read between 12th-30th June.

1. Roland Schimmelpfennig - An einem klaren, eiskalten Januarmorgen zu Beginn des 21. Jahrhunderts (3/5)
2. Jordan Ferguson - 33⅓: J Dilla's 'Donuts' (4/5)
3. Anna Lucy Scott - Mindful Thoughts for City Dwellers: The Joy of Urban Living (5/5)
4. Dani Couture - Algoma (5/5)
5. Sally Thorne - The Hating Game (4/5)
6. Sakaya Murata - Convenience Store Woman (4/5)
7. Bianca Jankovska - Das Millennial-Manifest (3/5)
8. Angela Garbes - Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy (3/5)
9. Jeffrey Eugenides - Fresh Complaint (2/5)
10. Kabi Nagata - My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (5/5)
11. Barry McDonagh - Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks (3/5)
12. Sophie Tanner - Reader, I Married Me! (3/5)
13. Bri Lee - Eggshell Skull (4/5)
14. Caroline Church - I Blame the Hormones: A Raw and Honest Account of One Woman's Fight Against Depression (1/5)
15. Patti Smith - Woolgathering (2/5)
16. W.G. Sebald - The Rings of Saturn (4/5)
17. Sally Rooney - Normal People (3/5)
18. Hattie C. Cooper - The Anxious Girl's Guide to Dating: How to Find Romance While Also Being Really, Really Nervous (4/5)
19. Armando Lucas Correa - The German Girl (4/5)
20. Lori Gottlieb - Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed (5/5)
21. Saskia Vogel - Permission (4/5)
22. Gabriella Goliger - Girl Unwrapped (3/5)

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Podcastin'

Hey hey, just a quick interim/recommendations post.

With the exception of a few music- or movie-related ones, I came to podcasts pretty late. For reasons I find difficult to explain, I found them really pretentious. I mean, can barely get through the pilot episode of a TV show or the first 20 minutes of a film unless I really like it, so why the hell would I dedicate up to an hour listening to strangers who deemed themselves funny and interesting enough to broadcast themselves across the world in a thing that nobody asked for? I guess you could say the same about a blog, but I have reasons for keeping one that are independent of whether anybody actually regularly reads it.

Yes, podcasts have become a bit of a clich├ę, but there are some good ones out there. You will probably find them by accident. I think the best thing that can be said for them is that it feels like you're having social time but not actually having to go out or be social.

And the good thing about podcasts is that there is at least one for literally everything, for every mood; whether I need to be comforted and healed, informed or entertained.

So, here are five podcasts I've been into since the start of the year...


My Dad Wrote a Porno

'The following podcast contains adult themes, sexual content, and strong language; basically, all the good stuff.'

That's how each episode opens, but wow, how do I begin to explain it? Once upon a time, a retired man assumed the pseudonym Rocky Flintstone and wrote an erotic novel. He was gracious enough to let his son read it out on air in front of his best mates. I will just say that I started listening to this at a lonely time in my life and it got me through long days. Yes, I even began to feel like Alice, James, and Jamie were my friends.

Many fans will disadvise listening to MDWAP in public due to elevated risk of death by laughter, but I was bold enough to listen to it on my half-hour commutes (conveniently the same length as the average episode). Sometimes I sniggered so loudly that I then had to fake a coughing fit, but then again, there are enough weirdos on Berlin transport for it not to really matter. Otherwise, the content was sometimes so depraved, or Rocky Flintstone's knowledge of the location of the cervix was so misguided, that I was just doing this:



The podcast has gained popularity all around the world (the trio have done live shows across the Anglo-Saxon countries and Europe), but something about it feels really British to me, or at least nostalgic. If you live abroad, you tend not to take mundane references to stuff you grew up with for granted. For that reason, I probably wouldn't have felt this exact way if I wasn't living in a different country, dealing with a different language and humour and character every day of my life, thus making stuff like this a kind of reprieve. Listening to MDWAP felt like switching off the world around me and returning to a fantastical one... where breasts hang like pomegranates.


Why Won't You Date Me?

When I first heard about this podcast, I skipped straight to the episode with Rachel Bloom (star and co-creator of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, one of the best TV shows evaaah). It was a match made in heaven. At the time of writing this, I've only listened to about eight episodes, but I am hooked. It cheers me up without fail and just allows me to, like, not take myself too seriously. If I knew her IRL I would probably find her A Bit Much, but the outrageous, unapologetic way in which Nicole Byer talks about her comedy career, her body, and her sex life is radical and a total inspiration for self-love.

The other really great thing about this podcast is that since Nicole and the guest are dissecting her past hookups or relationships, I inevitably find myself analysing where things went "wrong" in my own situations... and finding comfort and validation in the high probability that, in retrospect, it wasn't me! It was the other person! So it ends up being an inadvertent therapy session with lots to chew on. Humans contain multitudes!


Ab 21

A highly accessible weekly German podcast dealing with pertinent millennial issues, like... I don't know... social anxiety, OCD, using du or Sie at work, FOMO, schadenfreude (obvs), and getting cosmetic surgery to look like the Instagram filter version of your face. They interview experts and civilians alike. The language tends to be pretty informal and straightforward, so if you want to improve your everyday German comprehension skills, I can wholeheartedly recommend it.


Unfuck Your Brain

I'm a smart feminist woman who struggles with anxiety and insecurity, therefore I fall into the exact target audience for Kara Loewentheil's podcast. Through the lens of being a women's rights lawyer, with genuine psychology thrown in for good measure, she gives us advice about getting over professional self-doubt, dealing with intrusive emotions and thoughts, and generally being your best self. Again, this is pretty much as good as a therapy sesh.


Recovering Workaholics

This is another career-related podcast that is what I've needed the past few years. I do a few different things to make my living, so I often get really angsty and overwhelmed wondering: What is a good work/life balance if I want to succeed but also not lose my mind? Do I really need to specialise in one thing? It can be really hard finding people who truly get it — basically everyone I know has a full-time job, I can count my freelance friends on one hand — so this is reassuring, gives good advice, etc.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

The last frontier of Kreuzberg

We're in February and I'm making my first proper post of 2019. If you've been checking back every so often in the hopes of a new post: sorry! I'm not going to let this blog die, but I do need to prioritise other things at the moment. Here's a reminder that you can keep up with more regular snippets from my life on Last.fm (I'm determined to keep fanning its flame!!), Goodreads, and Twitter.

I'm writing this from my old bedroom at my parents' place, with a view of the sunset. God, I love being out in the country every so often. I've come to stay here for a few days to weather the transition between January and February, two particularly gloomy months. Before long, it will be March, and then Br*x*t will kick in (a news segment on the U-Bahn TV last week optimistically said that it was "planned" for the end of March). This will be my last visit to the UK before life changes — I'm not prepared to run the risk of not being let back into Germany once I technically have no official status there.

Two-and-a-half years ago, I was freaking out. But now, even though things are still uncertain this late in game, and I'm still furious at the circumstances that led to this referendum even coming about, I've taken stock of my blessings and I'm really just taking every day as it comes. In a strange way, it's made me appreciate everything I have a lot more, especially when I consider the hardships along the way and how close I came to giving up.

So far in this new year, I'm feeling invigorated in ways I've never been before. I attribute this to several things, like setting boundaries, taking the right medication, pursuing freelance work leads more relentlessly and reaping the results, eating better, establishing a regular sleep routine, and spending extra time with people who nourish me.

Anyway, this preamble is beginning to resemble a food blogger's life story before they get to the actual recipe. Here's a post I've actually had sitting in my drafts for more than a year, and I've gone back every so often to edit it. It's about a part of Mitte and Kreuzberg that I rarely see talked about.

Construction site status June 2018 (the rest of the photos in this post are from March 2018)

I've written about the strangeness of the Mitte-Kreuzberg border before, but I've become more and more intrigued by a section of it that is apparently off the radar to most people.

It all started when I got lost on my bike on a spring evening sometime in 2016, on my way to Friedrichstra├če via Moritzplatz. I decided to try a different route and ended up on some dead-end street, presumably somewhere behind Oranienstra├če. There were some white, uniformly small-windowed residential buildings next to a Kita (daycare centre). I checked my phone's GPS, and was taken aback at how central my location in fact was — yet why had I never heard of Stallschreiberstra├če?

The area spread out between these five U-Bahn stations, more or less, is so intriguing to me. (Image: OpenStreetMap & Mitwirkende)

What lies to the west of Heinrich-Heine-Stra├če and to the north of Oranienstra├če, the perfect right angle of streets on the map above? Whatever it is, it's tucked away out of sight and out of mind. Heinrich-Heine-Stra├če, which is in the former East, is lined with tall, blue-and-grey post-war residential buildings. The part of Oranienstra├če west of Moritzplatz, on the other hand, has trees, a park, and post-war flats that still look just different enough to their Soviet counterparts.

Of course, this relatively modern difference is exactly what constitutes the strange allure of this area, which is historically known as Luisenstadt. It was a workers' neighbourhood generally understood to be framed by the River Spree, the Landwehr Canal and former Luisenstadt Canal, and then Lindenstra├če. The ghostliness factor is pumped up by the fact that this name probably wouldn't ring any bells today with your average Wahlberliner, as opposed to, say, Neuk├Âlln or Bergmannkiez. What's more, certain Luisenstadt streets have since been absorbed into the folds of history forever; see if you can spot the obsolete streets of K├╝rassierstra├če and Mathieustra├če here, for example.

As it stands, I consider Moritzplatz, the point where H.-H.-Stra├če and Oranienstra├če meet, to be a mysterious entity. The eponymous U-Bahn station is located right under the roundabout, and you walk down to a disorienting mezzanine before continuing to the rather dank platform. Behind at least one of the doors in this mezzanine, there's a hidden bunker. Finally, the station wasn't even going to be located there originally, but at Oranienplatz; the empty, unused station there was filled in a couple of years ago (go to the part of Dresdener Stra├če between Oranienplatz and Alfred-D├Âblin-Platz, and you can see where the tarmac was opened). Due to the change of plan, you'll feel the train screech as it hugs a 90° curve when you travel southwards, before chugging along the straight line of Ritterstra├če and Reichenberger Stra├če towards Kottbusser Tor. Spooky.

As we all know by now, the Wall has now been down for longer than it was up. And "Wall" is a bit of a misnomer; rather than one singular wall running through Berlin, there were in fact two, running more or less parallel, with a death strip in between. That means there was a lot of empty space and wasteland once German reunification rolled around.

Yet until recently, there were still areas that carried the legacy of the Wall era that hadn't yet been covered up or put to use. They are becoming more and more scarce. Just north of Moritzplatz, Prinzenstra├če confusingly folds into Heinrich-Heine-Stra├če with no fanfare. In fact, it is like this because it marked one of the biggest East/West checkpoints in the city. The border crossing from Kreuzberg into Mitte took up a lot of space.
This is also a part of Berlin where very often, a single street could be trimmed through its middle into East and West: Sebastianstra├če, Stallschreiberstra├če, Waldemarstra├če, Alexandrinenstra├če, Dresdener Stra├če, to name a few.
(Speaking of which, Dresdener has got to be the most extra street in Berlin... it doesn't follow anything resembling a straight line, yet it insists on stretching from Kottbusser Tor all the way to Annenstra├če.)

Image: Edmund Kasperski / Stiftung Berliner Mauer

A photo of this corner from the early 2000s would depict a LIDL, a car park, and some West German residential buildings dating from the Wall era — these can be seen from the Mitte side of Sebastianstra├če in this footage. More recent developments in this ex-death strip space include the construction of luxury apartments.

Going back towards Moritzplatz, the Otto-Suhr-Siedlung is located on the northern edge of Oranienstra├če. Named after the mayor of West Berlin at the time of its construction in 1957, this housing estate is counted among the poorest in Berlin — but is also considered a key component of the city's post-war rebuilding initiative.

Kreuzberg's huge Turkish population is no exception on the Otto Suhr housing estate.

Originally a laundry room, this is now a sports centre and a place for Otto Suhr residents to socialise.

The Kreuzberg stretch of Kommandantenstra├če. Regular flats on the right, and if you look right at the end of the street, you can see the shiny new buildings in Mitte.

Gentrification and rent hikes have been a bone of contention for Kreuzberg for a long time now, to the point where your eyes might glaze over whenever you glimpse a certain combination of words in news articles, on demo posters, and so on. In fact, sometimes it feels like you can't even mention Kreuzberg without immediately following it with the concession that it's "not how it used to be". And despite being a rent-controlled area, even Otto Suhr is being threatened by investors.

Keep walking to the end of Alexandrinenstra├če and you'll meet the intersection with Stallschreiberstra├če — and this is where the dissonance is quite astounding. On the one side are West Berlin-style flats, many of which are reserved for low-income residents or pensioners. Looking out onto the other side of the street, what a year ago was a complete wasteland next to a school is now a building site.




So what is actually being built around the corner, across the road? A bunch of apartments, destined, if the banners are to be believed, to form a new estate called Luisenpark. The apartments are fancy. They are for People With Money, never mind the fact that Berlin's problem is not just affordable housing, but available housing. Each week, it feels like I see a new incidence of residential buildings getting bought up by wealthy yet morally bankrupt developers and people being threatened with eviction.
Building new houses under the poor's noses, yet making them economically them out of reach, displays a sickening greed and lack of empathy

Poignantly, the border between the old and new apartments is also the former border between West and East (indicated by the cobbles on the road)

Some of the new apartment buildings already exist and even have a few names on the doorbells. I could smell their newness as I went up close, a synthetic smell, somewhere between wood and plastic — a far cry from the mustiness of the Altbauten I'm used to frequenting. I felt a pang of jealousy, wondering what it was like to live with that kind of blitheness and trust; your apartment not yet even being ready for habitation, yet still dropping a couple hundred thousand on the deposit. That's a status I can't ever imagine myself achieving, frankly. Should I just make peace with that?

An old map of the area, found in the Luisenstadt Church Park. The dark bits are the death strip between the Berlin Walls.

I do think there's acknowledgement, locally, that this is a twilight zone. Not to be confused with the Luisenpark project, the Luisenstadt Church Park commemorates the church that once stood there. Bombed during WW2 (killing 60 people who'd sought shelter in its basement), the church was fully demolished in 1964 due to lack of funds for reconstruction and its inconvenient location on the Mitte-Kreuzberg border, which was now the East-West border. Like the Luisenstadt Canal, the church another local ghost. It's hard to even find any likeness of it on Google Images, which instead yields various Kreuzberg churches, like St Thomas, St Michael and St Jacobi.

While it's fitting, then, that new life is germinating on this former wasteland, what it actually means is saddening and also rather frightening. New houses that none of us plebs can actually inhabit is wasteland, indeed. The investor attitude towards Berlin seems to be this compulsive sort of "Why are there still areas that haven't been covered over? Quick, MUST COVER OVER!!!" and it's getting real old, real quick.

By this point, it is a clich├ę that Berlin's a city consigned to becoming, not being. Only we're far past that romantic stage — which had its heyday in the 1990s and maybe the early 2000s — of building up grassroots communities and spaces that make the place interesting. Now it's more like people come here to throw money at attaining a perceived lifestyle, rather than actually thriving off it. Yet if the flipside of having a high-paying job is doing lots of overtime and travelling a lot (as I know it is wont to be), when are you going to have time to actually enjoy the great things Berlin has to offer?

I don't understand, but I'm going to keep exploring these places until there's nothing left of them.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

My Year in Books: 2018

I'd say it's been a pretty good reading year. I read a lot of "light" books because there were many times when that was all I could manage. Some of them I really enjoyed, some of them not so much, and it kind of showed what a lot of chick lit and thriller writers think they can get away with. Anyway, I'm still gonna continue to read these sorts of books, but now I know what I like and what I don't.

I decided not to set an actual reading target, but I'm pretty proud of myself for managing 61! This is to say nothing of the many books I started and eventually gave up on because I just couldn't get into them or found them excruciating to read (Call Me By Your Name and Fates & Furies being respective examples). I simply have too many on my to-read list, so if I'm truly not feeling it, I will not continue. My threshold depends on the book, though; sometimes I am curious how things turn out even if my first impressions are negative, so I'll keep reading. That mostly accounts for the low ratings you see here.

By the way, does anyone else find it harder to give up on e-books than print books? I think it's because if I don't like a print book I can just fob it off on someone else, but with e-books I sort of feel it's my duty to give it a good go, seeing as I paid money for it and it's no use to anyone apart from me.

As always, links lead to my Goodreads review/comment. My bookshelf and Kindle are both literally and figuratively groaning with the weight of books I've yet to read. Hyped for 2019! Maybe more non-fiction? As always, you can keep up with what I'm reading here.

1. Paul Scraton - Ghosts on the Shore: Travels Along Germany's Baltic Coast (4/5)
2. Maude Veilleux - Prague (3/5)
3. Kate Tempest - The Bricks That Built the Houses (4/5)
4. Han Kang - The Vegetarian (3/5)
5. Kerry Hudson - Thirst (4/5)
6. Guillaume Morissette - The Original Face (3/5)
7. Alex Manley - We Are All Just Animals and Plants (4/5)
8. Simone Lappert - Wurfschatten (3/5)
9. Elif Shafak - Three Daughters of Eve (2/5)
11. Colm To├şb├şn - Brooklyn (3/5)
12. Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen - The Wife Between Us (1/5)
13. Maggie Nelson - Bluets (4/5)
14. Kelly Quindlen - Her Name in the Sky (4/5)
15. Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland (3/5)
16. Jonathan Dimbleby - Russia: A Journey to the Heart of a Land and Its People (3/5)
17. Cason Sharpe - Our Lady of Perpetual Realness and Other Stories (3/5)
18. Vea Kaiser - Makarionissi oder die Insel der Seligen (4/5)
19. A. Light Zachary - The End, By Anna (4/5)
20. Marianne Jungmaier - Sommernomaden (1/5)
21. Elif Batuman - The Idiot (3/5)
22. Patti Smith - Devotion (3/5)
23. Sally Rooney - Conversations with Friends (4/5)
24. Roxanne Bouchard - We Were the Salt of the Sea (2/5)
25. Eley Williams - Attrib. and Other Stories (2/5)
26. A.M. Homes - May We Be Forgiven (4/5)
27. Thomas Harding - The House by the Lake: A Story of Germany (4/5)
28. Rosemary Harris - Summers of the Wild Rose (2/5)
29. Jana Seelig - Minusgef├╝hle: Mein Leben zwischen Hell und Dunkel (4/5)
30. Marian Keyes - The Break (2/5)
31. Ruby Tandoh - Eat Up!: Food, Appetite, and Eating What You Want (4/5)
32. Chloe Caldwell - Women (4/5)
33. Rosie Walsh - The Man Who Didn't Call (2/5)
34. Melissa Broder - The Pisces (4/5)
35. Timothy Snyder - On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (5/5)
36. Mascha Kal├ęko - Sei klug und halte dich an Wunder (4/5)
37. Rachel Kelly - Black Rainbow: How Words Healed Me — My Journey Through Depression (3/5)
38. Hera Lindsay Bird - Hera Lindsay Bird (3/5)
39. Greg Hickey - The Friar's Lantern (3/5)
40. Julia Jarman - Peace Weavers (3/5) (re-read)
41. Angie Thomas - The Hate U Give (4/5)
42. Ashleigh Young - Can You Tolerate This? (3/5)
43. Genevi├Ęve Pettersen - La D├ęesse des mouches ├á feu (2/5)
44. Sigal Samuel - The Mystics of Mile End (3/5)
45. Cat Clarke - Girlhood (4/5)
46. Maya Angelou - I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (3/5)
47. Helen Hoang - The Kiss Quotient (3/5)
48. Olivia Laing - Crudo (2/5)
49. Maggy van Eijk - Remember This When You're Sad: A Book for Mad, Sad and Glad Days (From Someone Who's Right There) (3/5)
50. Durga Chew-Bose - Too Much and Not the Mood (4/5)
51. John Darnielle - 33⅓: Black Sabbath's 'Master of Reality' (4/5)
52. Kim Cooper - 33⅓: Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea' (3/5)
53. Nora Ephron - Heartburn (2/5)
54. Jessica J. Lee - Turning: Lessons from Swimming Berlin's Lakes (3/5)
55. Deniz Utlu - Die Ungehaltenen (2/5)
56. Mark Oliver Everett - Things the Grandchildren Should Know (4/5) (re-read)
57. Ayisha Malik - Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (2/5)
58. Curtis Sittenfeld - American Wife (4/5)
59. Jane Gardam - A Long Way from Verona (3/5)
60. Sarah Stovell - Exquisite (4/5)
61. Malachy Tallack - 60 Degrees North: Around the World in Search of Home (3/5)