Blog Archives

Berlin and beyond: From Russia with love

Time was, the closest I’d ever been to Russia was through the words of Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn and Dostoyevsky. But that was before I made Berlin my home. In the early days of my being here, back when the Wall, though five years gone, still visibly divided the city, I moved into a flat in the former East.

It was on a cobbled street across from a newsstand that sold Russian papers, and above a cafe whose modest menu gave pride of place to the meaty flavors of solyanka and borscht. I ate them enthusiastically and became accustomed, whenever questioned about where I came from, to hearing people tell me they spoke no English because they had Russian at school.

The cafe, cobbles and the newsstand have all been removed or replaced by the ever-shifting sands of time, but even now, those who grew up in the East sometimes reference their language classes as a means of giving context to their heritage. Which is not to say they unanimously embraced them. Far from it. Read on or listen

Category: Writing

Berlin and beyond: Sticks and the city

There’s an old market close to where I live that’s steeped in history and out of step with much of Berlin. From the beekeeper with an uneven number of fingers, to the flower seller so crooked with age that every step seems hard-won, to the crooning baker whose laughter lines run deep, it is a showcase for the passage of time.

I love it there. Not only for its unique collection of traders, but for its refreshingly unboutique approach that includes tables carefully laid out with slippers made for shuffling, ample-bosom bras and gleaming white hip-warming knickers geared towards the more mature woman.

And I love it for the customers who having paid their dues to the daily grind are now at liberty to move at a pace they dictate for themselves. People who’ve known this city for longer than I perhaps ever will, and whose lives have played out against the backdrops of World War II, the construction and fall of the Berlin Wall and more recently, German reunification. Read on or listen

Category: Writing

Berlin and beyond: Keep working, women

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Enlightened as Germany may seem, it clings to an archaic mentality that sees men shin the career ladder while their womenfolk stay down below holding the baby. It’s a system with familiar ramifications.

At the beginning of this year, I indulged in the first season of a historical drama about a team of young women at the News of the Week in New York in 1969. Fed up with being relegated to research positions while their male colleagues get the glory, bylines and thicker pay packets, they decide to mount an official inequality complaint.

But just as they’re poised to file said complaint, the season ends. And with it, the series, which wasn’t recommissioned. Whether Amazon, whose studio head Roy Price quit this week after sexual harassment allegations, felt the viewing public didn’t need to witness the on-seen emancipation of women in the newsroom, we’ll never know, but there’s a touch of irony in the equation. Read on… or listen…

Category: Writing

Berlin and beyond: Shalom Berlin

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When I flew back to Berlin this summer, I overheard a conversation between two girls from Tel Aviv. One, who had never been here before, was asking the other — a resident — if she ever felt unsafe wearing her Star of David necklace in the city. Naively perhaps, the question surprised me. But not as much as the answer — which was a depressing shade of grey.

I thought about those girls last week when I read an almost throwaway line about how Berlin has one of fastest-growing Jewish communities anywhere. That, in turn, stood in contrast to a recent report by the Körber Foundation that revealed just four in 10 German students  between the ages of 14 and 16 know that Auschwitz was a Nazi concentration camp. Read on… or listen…

Category: Writing

Berlin and beyond: Virgin voter

They say you never forget your first time. And they might be right. After weeks of looking around for the right person, checking their credentials, wondering whether everything would fall into place to make sure it really happened for me and imagining what it would feel like when it did… the big day finally arrived.

Crossing the threshold of the building where I was to become one among millions who had undergone this rite of passage before me, my mood was a mix of excitement and anticipation. Slipping into one of two purpose erected unceremonious wooden booths, I did what I was there to do. Read on… or listen…

Category: Writing
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