Monday, January 05, 2009

To All the Friends I've Loved Before

I've received an out-pouring of love from friends and family who are sad to hear of my plans to move to Berlin.  I am touched.

My plans to move to Berlin are rooted in many places.  First, four years in my adopted hometown, Brooklyn, have been some of the happiest and most interesting in my life.  I will always regard Brooklyn as my home.  Despite all the love I have for Brooklyn, living in New York City has been like running a race.  The short, two-block from the subway to my Manhattan office would often sour mood before I arrived at my office.  In fact, yesterday walking in Soho left me speechless, lifeless, battered.  And all of this frustration led to misdirected tensions. Did I really need to pick an argument with the rude stranger in the subway who was taking up two seats?  For the sake of my safety, I probably should have ridden the 20 minutes in silent indignation.

In sum, I need a break.  I need to eat stinky cheese and divine chocolates.  I need beer and sausages, which I will ask for in my childlike German.  I need mouthwatering Turkish and Greek food dished up by servers who are as excited about me sampling their food as I am about eating it.

But I'm also looking forward to living in a place where environmental conservation is imbedded in much of the daily life.  In Berlin, dark hallways burst with light only upon motion detected by motion detectors that turned the lights off when all was still, saving energy.  The escalators in the subways don't move unless someone stands on them.  Recycling is easy and walking and cycling are more popular than the automobile.

Finally, I can't wait to take winter vacations.  In the U.S., if I fly for two hours I'm in sunny Florida.  Not such a bad fate sweetened by the fact that my sister lives in Florida.  But two hours from Berlin is Rome or Spain (I'm guessing), and deeply discounted airfares that make such exotic trips as reasonable as a trip to Florida.  Indeed, I am seduced by the thought of flying for two hours and exiting the jetway into a different language, culture, history, and cuisine.  I am about to embark on a dreamy adventure I may not want to awaken from.

Of course the Holocaust and World War II live in the daily fabric of Berlin.  Walking down a street in a former Jewish neighborhood like Mitte can easily draw unfettered emotion.  But somehow, wallowinig in contrititon, Germans are trying to turn this grotesque history painted with genocide, war, and domination into the mirror image -- freedom and tolerance.  I love my country of birth, but I feel that some of the labels formerly attached to Germany more rightly belong here in present day.  Give me a moment to explain.

I face American racism virtually every day.  At times the racism is conspicuous and intentional. Usually it is almost imperceptible.  I readily recognize it; but many others are comfortably unaware and do not realize that racism can be silent or latent (also known as "dog whistle racism") and that this sort of racism is every bit as offensive and pernicious to people of color and society as a whole. I have tolerated it all my life, as have many of us of all races.   Though racism, anti-semitism, and all the ugly hatred that lives in the U.S. also resides in Germany, I find the European brand of racism to be quite different and something to be explored.

In any event, I am as buoyed by the ascension of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency as I am saddened by the barrage of racist statements, jokes, and death threats his campaign and election has generated.  It chagrins me deeply that many of them have been made by or facilitated by prominent people who are public role models.  For example, the website, sponsored by a group of conservative Republican women, including actress Janine Turner who starred in one of my favorite shows of the 1990's, Northern Exposure, has permitted a string of racist comments about Barack Obama to be posted.  Barack Obama will be our president in a few days.  Would we show such disrespect to a white president?  (I suppose there was a good deal of disrespect shown for President Bush (43) concerning his intellect, but I do not recall any death threats.)  

My fellow Americans have shown the cold, hateful underbelly of our society, and I am hurt.

So what about Germany? I'm not sure.  But while I am there enjoying my stinky cheese and affordable vacations, I trust that I am leaving my country in good, capable hands under Barack Obama.  I leave with the hope that we can hold in our hearts the vision Barack Obama offered in his election-night speech of the country we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy 100 years from now.  It is only ours for but a minute.  We should save some clean air and natural resources for those to come and build for them an unwavering foundation of respect and tolerance.