Blog 1409: Why Berlin?

Berlin will not “make” you; it can distract and even destroy you. But in between is a laboratory for creativity that can be as rough as it can be coddling…

“This rap career ain’t work / It’s the life in between bedtimes / Til the next said time and date” – De La Soul, The Future

Q. Why Berlin?
A. The life in-between.

I wish my life was only about creating and touring. I moved to Berlin to make such a thing possible, in a real, sustainable way. So far this hasn’t happened, at least not to the degree that I was aiming for. And in the meantime, life in this city has thrown me all kinds of unexpected challenges that have all but sunk me. I question the sense or purpose of my life here every single day – which is an exhausting, relentless practice in itself, and a heavy burden under which to then be creative, to “play”.

And, for now at least, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

My reasons for moving to Berlin are not the reasons I’ve remained in Berlin.

I admit that I chased a dream all the way here: many years earlier, I visited a city that inspired me enough to plot my eventual return, and yet upon returning I discovered a very different city had taken its place. I didn’t find the things I thought I was looking for, and found other things I didn’t know I needed.

I found, for example, that Berlin is not a cultural capital in the way that, say, New York or London are. Berlin is not a breeding ground for artistic excellence, nor a world stage to be conquered. Berlin is not a gateway to a waiting European audience. As an artist, Berlin will not “make” you; and, sure enough, it can distract and even destroy you. But in between is a laboratory for creativity, in art and in life, that can be as rough as it can be coddling.

As a city, Berlin is a work-in-progress – and this is reflected as much in the ever-shifting architecture as it is in the attitudes of people you meet.

You feel it in the rapidly rising cost of living as much as in the focused attention an audience pays to a new, unknown performer. The same distractions – the partying, the non-stop cultural events, the scarcity of real income – can actually become the things your discipline is shaped within, or despite, if you choose to treat them that way. It’s a test of your resolve, where you and you alone must find your own motivation, create your own velocity, every single day – to stay on target while remaining open to unexpected possibilities.

One of the things I’ve only learned in Berlin, and something I was never able to master in Sydney, is how to sit still. For all the craziness that goes on in this town, there is also a lot of stillness…

(Forgive me if I perhaps sound like I’m speaking about an entire city in such broad terms. Let me be clear: I’m an expat artist, speaking specifically about my experience of only the aspects of the city that an expat artist is drawn to, aspects which do not encompass or reflect the city’s myriad cultures and experiences as a whole).

Berlin hosts chaos and quiet – and offers an easy commute between the two.

This dichotomy is what I enjoy most about this city (and which has likely obliterated my patience for anything slower than instant gratification). It’s a big city with little village quirks: it’s 24-hour madness, except on Sundays. There’s so much happening all the time, and yet you can strike up a conversation with a stranger in a café that lasts an hour or two, as though neither of you had anywhere else to be that day. For a place with a revolving-door population, people seem genuinely interested in learning about one another. That, to me, is pretty special.

So I haven’t become a jet-setting rock star; I’m not even a train-hopping troubadour (… yet). My moments on stage still constitute only a small fraction of my life. I work towards changing that ratio every day, and I keep myself as artistically fit as I can, like a reserve player waiting to be called up off the bench. In the timeline of my career, I’ve had the odd day here and there when I was invited to join the other players on the field – but the majority of my life is the in-between. And if I can live my meantime in a place where I feel I fit in, even if that’s merely because I’m amongst a bunch of other misfits and transplants, then that seems like as good a place to be as any.

Ray Mann plays live in Berlin this month – dates & details here.

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3 Replies to “Blog 1409: Why Berlin?”

  1. Lily, you did something huge that I will never truly appreciate: you became a mother in Berlin. The “stillness”, as much as anything else in this post, I write about is as someone who hasn’t felt the impact of such a responsibility upon their life… And meanwhile: you did, and continue to do, so. friggin. much… I’m glad that, amongst it all, you still had moments to notice “the trees snow in Spring” 🙂

    1. Tree snow, the dogs, the punks, the poo, the broken glass, the art – everywhere and everything being turned into art. But also the way the city is constantly changing – it is not the same from one season to the next, it is a very different place in the day that it is in the night. It’s very different to the place I first moved to at the very beginning of 2009 as it was when I left at the end of 2012. I am sure it would be completely different even now!


  2. Oh gosh, I hear you Ray.

    When I moved there, the reasons why I had moved were not the reasons why I stayed. I think that it can destroy you – I think in part it did for a while but it gave me all these things that I wasn’t expecting and I’m ever thankful.

    Unfortunately for me – I never found that stillness, I never reached that quite and I think that would be the reason why I left. I need silence and stillness. Berlin, to me, was never ever quite and never ever still.

    But here, on the other side of the goddamn globe I feel so fucking far away from everything. So many things made sense there that never will here.

    I always miss it, I always miss Berlin. Where my baby took her first steps and spoke her first words, where I could meet people who were generally interested in everything. Where the trees snow in Spring, where the history is implanted on the pavement and where the strawberries are so good.

    But I get it – if I wasn’t in such a bad way, I never would have left.


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