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It was soon time to go home for an other internship. S. wrapped my bike, the bus driver of the Strasburger choir was a kind of worry to have to take that too. I went with a full bus of Alsacian singers and musicians to watch the midnight sun on the Rostock shore. Just after crossing the border back in France, I got a phone call that made me very angry.
Eight years later, as I am about to write this part, I realize that I am still, and probably for ever, very angry at what some people did to me. Just before I had left for Berlin, a friend of mine abused of my friendship to did something he should never have done, knowing perfectly I was not in the position to refuse. It took some weeks but he got what he wanted. As I was not so malleable as he thought, he changed his target and I found myself, two months later, drying the tears of someone else. From now on, Paris has lost some of its easiness and beauty.
We were getting older and the climate at school became thick and poisonous. I had to give lessons to pay my bills and was exhausted in advance of the long, long tunnel that was promised to us to get a job: internship, jobbing, mini-salary. It was soon clear that Berlin, after all, with people there who care of me, could be a good solution to grow up.
I looked for an internship in Berlin, and of course the positive answer came very, very late. Basically, the Friday before the Monday I was supposed to start. I asked A. where she had found her gorgeous flat two years before, and the website offered me two choices: a room at a old lady’s or by a photographer in Mitte.
I emailed the second woman to tell her I was arriving with the train on Sunday morning.
Life is a very strange thing. Sometimes, the decision you take in a rush in front of a public computer could change your life for ever.
As I arrived it was like I had never left. Tourists came to me to ask for her route, and I knew what to say. I arrived as slowly as I could to finally woke up my hosts who were certain I was arriving on the evening. First of all, they were a couple and not a single woman, as the website said. And when I left for lunch, she was crying her eyes out in the kitchen.
The internship went great, I was good at my job, it was easier for me than for my fellow intern. The European Championship offered us beautiful evenings on the streets drinking beer with R., who has decided to stay in Berlin. I learnt to know my great hosts, C. and S. She was crying so much because she desperately wanted to have a baby, and for three weeks, I became her substitute child. I discovered a city I had never dreamt of before: Berlin. Berlin of Berliners, Berlin of former East-German people, Berlin with an accent and jokes I was not supposed to understand. It rained so much but summer was joyous and happy. That’s how I met my Berliner Ersatz-parents.
It didn’t feel right to be there. Few days after the beginning, I was complaining about my choice at the birthday party of a very long time girl friend. “The first day of the 6ème, you already said you wanted to become a journalist”, another one said , “so shut up and just do it!” So I went back.
Love rarely resists family fight and long distance. When you add both, it ends badly. A very, very bad flu later and with many pounds lost in tears, I entered school again and no one recognized me. I was a new person, in a new shape, but I didn’t know it. I was not breathing properly, stuck in the train in the morning, I had grown up very fast the year before and I was struggling being back home again. Finally I found a room in Paris and the help to pay for it. Enjoying my new freedom but longing for the old times in Berlin (!), I jumped on the train and went to London.
At A’s flat we had the best party ever. What I didn’t manage to enjoy a year before in Berlin, I was able to get in London on a cold pre-Christmas night. The next day, I was slowly making my way to the kettle when I heard A.’s voice, suddenly wide awake, yelling: “Come back, they caught Saddam Hussein!” I rushed back to the room just in time to see Paul Bremer on the TV: “We got ‘im”. “I can’t believe this, it’s history, and the only thing they find to say it’s “We got him”, this fucking Americans”, A cried, jumping on her bed.
In the train back I met the perfect man, which was very funny. But perfection is sometimes boring as I found.
I finally became very happy doing what I liked. Everyday, coming back from the shops, I watched the Eiffel Tower glittering and felt an incredible joy being there. We helped the beer provider to make better sales, we disturbed my flatmates sometimes, criticized our teachers basically all the times. And life was good.
I had noticed the first day in class that I was the only one to speak German. When the moment arrived to make our choice for the summer, I decided to try to go back to Berlin to get a new experience to finally discover the city I had been so scared of.
I had a very busy summer. I was working 5 days a week in the Yvelines countryside, trying to save some time to go to the German History Institute and, more than everything, caring for the balcony. For the ones who has forgotten, the summer of 2003 was incredibly warm, and I used to water hundred liters everyday. My boyfriend came back, preceded by an incredible smell of oil and unable to walk properly on a motionless pavement, for leaving few days later on a container ship. Cantat killed Marie Trintignant and, with no relation with the topic, I found myself making an interview in her parents’ building. September arrived, I passed the test, I hurried to finish my master, E. came over a Sunday afternoon and with my dad we reread it as quickly as we could two hours before giving it to my teacher: I absolutely needed to have my maîtrise for entering the journalism master and the car was kind enough to break only on the way back home.
I got the maîtrise and the master test and, being late one more time, rushing in these unknown corridors with a good humored and looking guy, I arrived in our very first journalism class.
I tried Sciences-Po again and failed another time. I didn’t really know what to do in Paris. My Japanese friend M. has visited us and found a special language to have fun with my mum about me. A. was turning 21 in Berlin and I decided to go.
We had spent so much time complaining together in her beautiful flat in Wilmersdorf. As I knew she was coming late at night from her boyfriend’s town on a Sunday eve, I waited for her once at the airport. Berlin has been hard on us, but we found each other. It was not much, three friends, but only the quality matters.
I took once again the overnight train and arrived in Berlin at the beginning of May. It was so hot, I couldn’t believe it was really the same city I have left two months ago. I spent the day in the park, visiting Charlottenburg and going from surprises to amazement.
I stayed at A’s., going to the library and finally working hard on my master I have started six month too late. It was fascinating to discover the Berlin French community of the late 18th century through an artist diary, and time flew in work, good company and sunny evenings.
You remember E., the annoying boy of the University? Well, between a class of military art history and of archaic Greece, we became very good friends. One day, as I was still in Berlin, he called: « What are you doing next year? », he asked like if he was my dad. « I thought of doing what you all do this year, preparing the journalism schools ». « No no no, you can’t stay a year at home, I find you something, do you have any idea? » « I heard about a master in Paris 1, if you could check and send me the details ».
He called back the next day: « I couldn’t find anything in Paris 1, but there is a journalism master in Paris 2 and you’re registered for the test ».
The newspaper I have applied for an internship called back too. I copied my manuscript, and hurried back home.
Entering the US as a French citizen in March 2003 was not such an easy job. I saw tourists taking their clothes off and walking literally naked under the control doors, and we almost missed our flight between Atlanta and Denver due to the several control imposed by a nice and huge blond woman at 4am -Paris time.
After skiing in Vail, we found ourselves taking breakfast in the desert of Moab, Utah. A man turned the TV on CNN and suddenly hypnotized by the small window on our very small world, the time stopped while thirties pair of eyes glazed at a statue being pulled off some ten thousand miles away. When the legs resisted the traction of a tank in a comical effect, I could hear the laugh of thirty people jumping with joy and congratulating each other for this very short and successful war for freedom. An old skinny and very chic woman sat next to us and said, in perfect French, how glad she was to see that we didn’t hate them, and that we were able to understand how much she suffered, eighteen months before, as she watched her beloved New York City burning.
In November 2002 I entered the Tv and wash-machines crowded shop of my neighbor in Eberswalderstrasse. Saadi shoke my hands and smiled painfully: « Thank you so much to your minister for talking such a speech at the Uno », said my Iraqi neighbor. « Well, if you like French politics, perhaps you could thank us by giving me a reduction on my Tv, it’s my birthday too! »
Journalists have no moral, it’s obvious. And I got 10 euros off my Tv.
We passed a German test the day of our arrival. In a big room, with 1000 other foreigners, I had to check my poor German to be able to start a new year. The 11th of September 2002, we got in our language class. The wall was touching the American embassy. To my happy surprise, I was in a middle leveled class with four Japanese, some Danish and Scandinavian students, a Hungarian guy, a weird Russian girl from Ninji Novogorod who needed three full days of travelling to reach Berlin and a tall, beautiful Asian girl. « I’m coming from China », she said, with an incredibly strong French accent. I asked – in German- if she luckily not was French, too? R. replied very firmly that she had nothing French in her.
The next day a new girl arrived from London wearing fantastic pink tennis shoes. With a similar French accent, she apologized for being one day late because of her summer job at the Eurostar. Convinced that she was some daughter of diplomatic French parents, I tried my luck for exactly the same answer. She was definitely no French citizen, and I start to think there was even something to be ashamed of of assuming being one.
Well, finally I was not so wrong, as they both have been raised in Geneva and Beauvais. We had a lunch with R., A. and two Japanese girls on an Indian restaurant in Prenzlauer Berg, and it start to feel nice to be there.
A week later, as I had finally understood that I needed a contract to be protected in the flat I was living, my crazy landlady shouted at me so loudly and ridiculously that the only proper solution was to leave as soon as I can. In the middle of the night, R. came to help me and I arrived crying with my thousands luggage in her flat where I was about to spent two weeks.
Some days later, we went to sleep with a new chancellor to wake up the next day with Schröder again. I moved into my flat, and head off to Ostfriesland.
My boyfriend was unfortunately the single heir of a very rich Parisian family, and the only child of a divorced widow. What should happen always happens, and they had a terrible fight over me. Ostfriesland was far away, I hated Berlin and my boyfriend’s mum hated me. In the university, I got kicked out some courses because they didn’t want any foreigners there. In our flat, the cat felt from the balcony on the very first night and died miserably between the recycling and the compost bins. Bush decided to invade Iraq, I tried to invade the AOK going through the horrible tunnels under Alexanderplatz and felt so depressed as I were so sure that some Stasi agents were spying us.
I was terrorized, depressed and lonely. I couldn’t get in touch with my teacher who was never available, I didn’t know what I was supposed to work on, reaching my friends was almost impossible, the university looked like a kind of a labyrinth constantly under work which walls and stairs were changing places every time you got there. There was no internet, not flatrate to call abroad, it started to snow, it get very cold, the new year started, my boyfriend went to sea on a Belgian oil-tanker and in March, I still hadn’t nothing to write my master on.
The day I was leaving I packed my boxes and, having cleaned my room and prepared my departure, I went out. It was sunny, the very first day of sunshine since I have arrived six months ago. I walked 50 meters away from my flat and discovered a green park where people played and lied under the sun. I couldn’t believe I was actually leaving that day, when the city started to totally change. It was anyway too late. I got in the overnight train, M. and A. crying and waving goodbye as this train on strike where no bed has been prepared was taking me away. I left, certain I was never to go back.
The next day I randomly opened some boxes, put some T-shirts in a bag, found the passport I had so much trouble to get made in Berlin and, hurrying like I was not supposed to settle anywhere now, we got in the taxi to the airport and flew to the US. It was March 2003.
The moment we arrived it was obvious something was wrong. The big, front room has changed in an ugly, small, corridor-ending room. The landlady appeared to be really crazy and there was only solution: leaving. We spent the week visiting flats and trying to find a room somewhere, but it didn’t know the unwritten Berlin flatmate search code and failed miserably.
The evening after my friend left, I was having a drink on the terrace of a Lebanese restaurant on the corner. I asked the smiling waitress if she knows how I could find a room around there ?
« Well, I’m looking too! I found a great fully furnished flat for six months, the deposit is a bit high, but it’s just around the corner and very great ».
And so it was done: It was all decided I’ll move three week later with Z., Stambouliote and German-raised in a well-known Austrian school on the Bosphore.
The next day I was entering the university.
We drove from Paris to Berlin at the end of August. After Magdebourg, the plain, flat landscape of East Germany welcomed us. The road was still lined with watchtowers, the pine-trees about to flamb on this incredible hot summer. We saw the stands before the Olympic stadium, where in 36 the audience was sitting, waiting for the marathon runners to arrive.
We finally arrived on the Ku’damm.
Looking for a room was an exhausting job by 38°C. In the east part of the city, we found something in a huge barock decorated flat. I was not sure the landlady was perfectly normal, but we were so convinced Berlin was a crazy city that we didn’t pay so much attention to a place I should stay only a month.
Back home I had two days to organized a party. 20 people came to say goodbye in the very small flat of a father’s friend in my old beloved hometown.
Few days later, I took the over-night train with my best friend and arrived in Zoologischer Garten at 8am, on the 1st September of 2002.
As we were in the taxi driving through the sunny city, I thought that I hated this place where I has felt so uneasy. Exactly at the same second, a small voice in my head babbled « Perhaps you will actually still be there in 10 years from now? ». I was 20 and far away for the very first time.
I remember very well the day when, sitting under the warm sun on the stairs in the Sorbonne courtyard, my old friend told me so excited on the phone that she had met the man of her dreams in a vineyard. And could I believe that E., the annoying guy we knew in common, was just going to exactly the same courses than I was going to go? I sighed as much as I could. Not this one, too. Few days later, he was sitting next to me when I was just trying to avoid him as much as I could.
Paris was sunny, we stayed in the coffees spending our last francs on lemonade and sandwiches.
One day in October, exhausted and grumpy, I took the train to go to a birthday party under a roof in Chartres. There was the strange people I’ve met the summer before, who believed in strange things and drank whisky between two cigars while I was coughing and cooking to avoid eating ashes. And there was their old friend I didn’t know who was supposed to show up after an 11-hours journey by train.
Then, He climbed the stairs but just after he saw me, he felt down and ended up in the hospital. When he was released the next day, I cooked pasta for him, being for ever the nice caring little and grumpy girl. And that’s how I unexpectedly became a seaman’s girlfriend. A French seaman, who have decided to go as far as North Germany to study complicated fluid thermodynamic and maritime rules.
Letters followed postcards, trains followed trains, holiday long week end and phone bills remind me how was the time before Skype. When the year was about to finish, my German history professor didn’t have to do much to convince me to go to Germany to write my master. A holiday, an intership and a weird meeting on a container ship in Le Havre later, I packed my things and cast off for Berlin.
(to be continued)
It is perhaps time to tell my story. For many years I let indications slip, but I never tell the entire movement of my life in Berlin. I didn’t close the blog because I knew it was one day coming to an end, and that I should want to close this chapter properly.
I always hated German class. From the first one, I knew I couldn’t understand a word. My teacher had said, the year before, that I should never enter this class. And so started 13 years of suffering.
In the 2nde, the very first day, I’ve been pointed out by our vulgar, fish-seller voiced horrible teacher. She said, after the first 5-minutes test, that I should never have been allowed to sit in this class of high-intellectual students. That just my presence was a devaluation of the all class.
For a year, she humiliated me publicly every day. Every single day, I arrived with my stomach torn, my hands shaking and the feeling of an immense injustice. One day, I couldn’t get any more pain, as she called me at the black-board. Me, the little, round, four-eyed girl, I told her to give me a zero right now, so we can spared ten minutes of torture. She cancelled the test. An other day, I came with a knife in order to burst her tires open. But that day, she was in charge of bringing home a class-mate who was living far away. The knife went back into the drawer.
Two years later, as I read the marks I’ve won in German on the boards of my school, she kissed me on both cheeks. I ran as quick as I could to the toilets to clean this horrible mark upon me. But it was too late: I had been bewitched.
I was foolish to believe that my torture was coming to an end. A preparatory teacher loves torture. The only good thing about it was that, instead of being the only one, there was 20 of me in my class. At the end of the year, a lot of us had to leave the lycée because having 2 on 20 does no good to your yearly average mark. Despite the help of the other professors, I was kicked out.
I loved German so much.
Well, to be perfectly honest, I already had realized, many years before that time, that I actually enjoyed speaking German. My best friend was called Birgit, lived in Duisburg and showed me that life is very different than school.
In the second year after the bac, I found myself in an other lycée, in an other German-class. And what the teacher said actually saved me: « You could never been good at translation, it won’t avoid you to be able to speak the language ».
I don’t remember his name, but thank you a lot Mister Professor.
The year after, I started in the University. There was a class of German History. I went there, mischievously thinking that it would be easier, because obviously no one was willing to learn anything about Germany in the modern times.
It was in October 2001. My world was changing very fast, but I couldn’t see it yet.
(To be continued, sorry for the mistakes)
Writing is a kind of therapy, isn’t it? If it’s not by the writing itself, it is through the attention you catch by complaining with a keyboard under your fingers and a plateform you share. Thank you so much for the comments I haven’t published, because I keep your dear words for myself.
Don’t ask me why I’m writing in English too -it’s just the way it feels right now. Perhaps a way to keep a certain distance between the people and the city, being an outsider in the place you live in. To beg for forgiveness for the mistakes and open new routes for the future.
And to keep smiling too, the proof that the 21st Century of Lady Gaga has not invented anything, but that the 80’s were as well much more fun: