I wake up at three in the morning, Maxime is crying. I prepare his milk bottle, hand him over to his mum and lie on the sofa in his room to get back to sleep quickly. But it doesn’t happen and I lie half awake until four. At five thirty the alarm rings and I get up, shave, take a shower, put on my suit and hop into a taxi to the airport. I meet my colleagues at Tegel and we fly to London together.
At Heathrow, we share a taxi to get to the City. Rush hour in London. It takes us ages to get near Liverpool Street Station (why didn’t we take the express train?) and on our way our driver nearly gets into a fight with a van driver who happened to bump into us. The van driver knocks off our taxi’s left side mirror on purpose a few minutes later. A pro obviously. Fairly exhausted, we arrive at our partners‘ place one hour late after having paid our driver a hundred quid.
The company sits in a massive building, which looks like it belongs to Citizen Kane, bless his poor soul. We have already been filmed by security cameras at the airport, then in the taxi, and now Big Brother is watching us in here, too. The security measures applied in this building are simply plain paranoid. No wonder secret services are spying on us online, too. They are scared but I don’t really understand of why or of what. In here, I feel like I’ve entered a very elegant neocon Ford Knox. As we are late, our hosts have to rush us through the agenda and I leave in the afternoon without having had lunch to catch my plane back to big B. I also haven’t found the time to go see my sister in Camden who will have her baby in two weeks. There’s something wrong with the tube signaling system and I have to read the direction of the trains off their front face. I squint because if forgot to put in my contacts in the morning.
The City’s people look exhausted. Everywhere you go, people seem to be dead tired and walk, stand and sit around numbly, nodding off whenever they can, i.e. on the tube. Their anonymous gazing, as if they were looking into some void, reminds me of tired visages of the people of Paris. Especially the folks who don’t seem to be too well off look worn out. Capitalism taking its toll.
I arrive just in time at Heathrow and fly back to Berlin tired and utterly bored. I take another taxi and get one of those younger drivers who just don’t give a shit and speed you home guaranteeing you a few near-death visions on your ride. I would like to pipe up and tell the man to take it easy but I’m just too tired and can’t be bothered.
So how was your day.
Eleven years ago in November, I took part in my university’s Erasmus exchange programme with Warwick University. During nine months, I lived in a small semi-detached redbrick house on Sir Thomas White’s Road in Coventry. One day, I woke up with a dizzy head. I got up and dressed and went straight to the bus stop to catch a ride to the campus. I had a job as a steward at Warwick’s Art Centre and was going to work an evening shift punching cinema tickets. Sitting on the bus, I looked down at my feet and couldn’t believe what I saw: I was wearing a black Adidas Samba trainer on my left foot and a blue/white Gola one on my right. I started sweating like someone who had consumed way too many beers, spirits and weed the night before. I was already late for the ticketing gig so I couldn’t go back and change shoes. I realized there was only one way to get through this frightening situation safe and sound: Just pretend it’s normal. So once on campus, I got off the bus and walked briskly but with a spring in my step towards the Arts Centre. It worked. Nobody noticed. Or perhaps they thought I was just another awkward continental weirdo.
After work, I took the bus back to Coventry and went straight to an Erasmus house party. I walked into the carpeted living room where everyone was sitting and talking in a semi-circle on chairs sipping cheap beers and red wine. I still had my two different shoes on and was holding a Döner Kebab in my right hand. I saw Catherine right away. We looked at each other for a couple of seconds. I walked into the kitchen with my heart racing, said hello to my mates, got rid of the Kebab and took a Carling beer from the fridge. Then I went back into the room and talked to Jeff, another mate, who sat next to Catherine. Eventually, Jeff went to get another beer or something and I sat down next to C. I introduced myself and we had a nice chat. She studied mathematics back then and we discussed the relationship of maths to literature and vice versa. At that time, I was reading plays like “Arcadia” and “Copenhagen” and was seriously interested in abstract connections of science and literature. And so was Catherine.
But then she suddenly got up and said goodnight and went to bed (she lived upstairs). I sat there feeling shell-shocked, irritated and a bit disappointed. She had left so early.
I looked at my shoes. And then I realized that I was falling in love.
„They are destroying their own communities.“ This is a sentence I came across again and again reading the latest updates and comments on the riots in England last week. There is one question I would like to ask: Can the neighbourhoods those youngsters terrorized be actually called their communities? Obviously, the rioters didn’t give fuck all about them. But why didn’t they and why don’t they? Does the origin of their discontent and ignorance rather lie in the phenomenon that they have been given up on by their communities?
I have found some answers to these questions in the brilliant articles by Zoe Williams on Guardian online and Penny Laurie on „Penny Red“. If you haven’t read them – read them now. They put things into perspective for me. Especially now that almost everyone in the UK seems to be full of hate with regards to the rioters, it seems vital to keep a clear head and think about the origins of deprivation and subsequent violence. Of course there is no excuse for what the rioters did (as everybody keeps explaining) and they have to account for their crimes and be punished accordingly (this is common sense). But I believe that the right-wing reaction / heavy penalties are scary. It certainly won’t improve the situation of those lost communities. It will probably make things worse as i.e. this editorial in the New York Times points out (via Penny Red).
One aspect I found particularly disturbing about Zoe William’s and Penny Laurie’s articles were their descriptions of the creepy experience of following the riots on TV while actually hearing the rioting going on live outside. Imagine the apocalypse happening in front of your home and you watch it on TV. (This reminded me of Don DeLillo’s novel „White Noise“ in which the main characters sort of try to behave completely normal and go on with their family lives in the face of local Armageddon after some kind of catastrophe in a chemical plant.) Others organised themselves and went out on the streets to protect their homes and businesses like Dalston’s Turkish and Kurdish community. This was a very brave thing to do and this kind of active involvement sort of (clumsily) brings me to what this post is about:
I believe that a community troubled by poverty, unemployment, drugs and general deprivation can only hope to somehow function if people who live there and are better off get actively involved and do something for it. If young people don’t understand anymore what living peacefully together in a dense urban setting means, then you have to go out there and defend your principles first and then try to figure out together with them what a community is all about. It’s not enough to write about these issues on blogs like this or on Guardian online. Let’s face it – those kids are not interested at all in the stuff we write anyway. And don’t hope for the Conservatives to make things better. They won’t.
Personally, I have come to the conclusion that although this isn’t England and although I have been following the riots from a save distance (and I know it is easy to judge when far away) I want to do something for my community in Kreuzberg, Berlin. I don’t know what this will look like exactly but I have been thinking about this for quite a while now (for quite a long time now to be honest). I’m fed up with being passive (and with just passively gentrifying this place). I need to get active – I want to get involved. People have massive problems here too and they are my neighbours. Just think of poverty, drugs, unemployment, Nazis, property sharks, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go out there and tell people how to live their lives and how Mr. Kennedy will save their souls. And I know that I can’t make a big difference. And it’s not about making me feel good / better either. It’s just that this passive / anonymous / egocentric / cynical thing doesn’t work for me anymore.
The Guardian: Deprivation in Britain mapped
I’m in the car with my uncle and my cousin. The Staffordshire countryside is passing in the winter sun before our eyes. The trees in the distance are white and beautiful. We’re listening to The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs. What an amazing album. We’re not speaking, the music and the road let our thoughts wander.
We’re on our way back from Tamworth where John and Ben made a list of the furniture left at Grandma’s house. She died in February. It felt awkward to be back in the now nearly empty house. Childhood memories. Ben and I had a smoke in the garden and we remembered the big family barbecue in the garden back in the 80ies. I took a framed wedding picture of my parents off a wall and a photo of my mother when she was about my age. John also gave me Grandad’s Bible, which I will take back to my parent’s place and give to my father. It’s a heavy book, bound in back leather, printed in 1953.
After the house we went to St. John’s pub, the place were Uncle Michael always goes to. It’s run by the Tamworth Catholic community. They are nice people and they take care good care of their community members. I’ve met the priest at Nan’s funeral back in February. He asked me if I was Joe’s son and I said yes, and we had a nice talk – considering the circumstances. He cared.
As we enter St. John’s, Uncle Michael comes up and says hello. He doesn’t seem surprised to see me and so we just sit down for a pint and talk about football and cricket and the new flat he moved into. He will be alright. He’s one of those old-timer stoics. They just get on with it. I really do admire that.
Now in the car it feels so good to be in England. To be close. A proper Sunday dinner awaits us in Birmingham and then Ben and I will go and see Belle & Sebastian and the Symphony Hall. Life’s good.
I’m in my sister’s flat in London waiting for my flight back to Berlin tonight. I came over to England for my Grandmother’s funeral. The last couple of weeks were tough – especially for Mum and Dad. Both of my Grandmothers died, Maria in Friedrichshafen and Margaret in Tamworth.
When I think of them I think of my childhood. My sisters and I sit in my Mum and Dad’s car on the way to either Friedrichshafen or Tamworth. Holidays. Bliss. We always loved seeing our Grandmothers, and those long journeys from Moehringen to Lake Constance or to the UK were great adventures. My sisters and I were full of happiness and expectation when we finally saw Lake Constance and the Alps in Germany or the coast of England, the white cliffs of Devon.
I loved both of my Grandmothers. I still do. They were very different to one another although they both grew up in hard times and both experienced WWII from their respective home fronts. Both my Grandfathers fought in the War and brought back a heavy load of awful experiences, which shaped them for the rest of their lives. I imagine my Grandmothers being very much in love with them. The two families had four children each and it must have been difficult to raise them after the war, although both Germany and England profited from the economic boom starting in the mid 50ies. Both my Grandmothers were tough women dealing with everything in the best way they could. They were very modest and always there for the family.
I know it’s 2010 now and that both Maria and Margaret were fairly old and died in a natural way. But I feel nevertheless there is a gap now. A generation is on its way out and so is a part of my younger self.
In Tamworth, three days ago, my Father, my Uncle Nigel, and my Cousin Tom carried my Grandmother Margaret Frances Kennedy out of St. John’s church in Tamworh and lifted her into the hearse that brought her to the town’s cemetery. It was a very intense and true moment in my life. I will never forget it. I feel that it has put a lot of things into perspective.
Farewell Oma. Farewell Grandma. I miss you.