Monday, September 29, 2014

Inside Allied Housing

Written around May 11th, 2013.

I've never flown with United Airlines before. Up until checking in, I wasn't even sure I would be on a United plane, since I booked through Lufthansa.

Check in was where my stress began. It escalated when I sat with my family, who were able to consume food more easily than I at this point, and took an impromptu photo with my brother and a celebrity while his wife juggled both our camera and their baby. If this wasn't the first sign that I was already living in the between-world that airports are, I don't know how it could have been more obvious.

Security was redundant, checking in at the boarding gate and eavesdropping on German conversations was exhilarating in the same way sky-diving alone is.

I was leaving a lot behind in America. Taxes, friends, security despite flaws, knowing what days would be like and what people would be like, while many Germans would argue that the way we live in America is fraught with the unknown, and is like sky-diving without the parachute. I've caved, of course, as I hate being looked at with such horror, and I'll be getting insurance. Depending on what kind of distractions I can find, life seems to be much the same on this continent as on the other. But my goal for leaving was to find the joie de vivre I'd once had, to know myself and to cause less stress to myself and others--but leaving has, as I've discovered, it's own stresses.

Sleeping on the plane was nigh impossible. I've never been afraid of flying, but with the uneasiness I brought with me, the muted movie Mama playing on another passenger's screen and the turbulence with the thin upholstery on the seats only made me more restless.

Despite all, I arrived in one piece and relatively well rested. I survived jet lag by following Daisann Mclane's advice: drink only water on the plane, and once you arrive, drink coffee until you hit the mattress at nine at night. I set about making myself casually at home immediately, not stepping on anyone's toes--in my great aunt's case, literally--and tried to please while not seeming uptight about it. This failed almost immediately.

In the week that I've been here, I've become familiar with many things about German life, and specifically the way my family here lives, which I would never had stood for in America. I don't begrudge a loss of freedom, life in post-war Germany had many concessions, still does, but I do miss little things once in a while.

The housing development I am living in for instance - which probably never housed soldiers - all the blocks and blocks of two story apartments look the same. Ten in a unit, with some variations to the front, seldom an over-grown garden (thoroughly bad and un-german), and all with hedges, gates and bicycles. Apartment living is the same everywhere, but there is nothing carefree about anything here. I miss that Italian style, and the English cottage gardens. I miss being a country bumpkin, wearing Birkenstocks and natural curls. I remember a remark from a class mate in 6th grade where she envied my attitude, how things just rolled off me. And while I won't maliciously break a law, I've never liked rules. Is there a loose hem in your pants, or a stray thread in your sweater, well that just means you aren't uptight or haven't had time to fix it. In contrast, not being uptight about many things here makes you the weirdest one of all. But if I apologize too often, I'm seen as a pushover; if I thank someone too often for a basic kindness, I'm... well that's actually the same anywhere. Perhaps this is just the city, and once I'm allowed out of the house - I think getting a cat used to a home is a month, or is it six weeks? - and can be as unfamiliar and foreign as I am, I'll feel more at home.

But for every concession I make, there are things here I'm really glad for. My family, first and foremost, even if they wished I was different, that I had been raised differently and that I was easier to make heads or tails of; if I complied, and thought the same way and disliked the same things they did. My freedom, my youth, my health, even if it could be better, and for the understanding which every person I encounter extends to me in some small way or another. It never seems like enough, though.

Leaving wasn't the way to get rid of my stress, but it is was the way to examine, better see and understand the reality I had taken for granted, by substituting it for another. And I really do like Germany, it's order and security, it's necessitated humility, strength and control, but all that can seem stifling. Perhaps in all my years as a foreigner, I've become too American. Despite obscuring my history, sometimes impossible when you've been introduced ahead of time, I'm fiercely defensive of those characteristics which might be deemed 'American.' Those good parts of the United States which do still exist. Although I probably as easily have deep within me those same racist and warmongering traits which I disdain. The goal is to make the conscious decision to be these better parts of your whole, your control, your strength, your passion, your adaptability. To be in a constant state of revolution within while always seeing the world with the eyes of a child.

Sometimes the between-world of the airport isn't shaken off until you consciously remember to do so. You could carry that divided, that international part with you for years. Identity is self-prescribed, putting it off can be forever, but do you continue to live at the airport until you settle for one or many labels? I'm going to get off the plane now, and do that which is most important: living in the moment.