So finally, I came to Berlin. For years I was longing to experience the city; from the beautiful Wings of desire, scenes with Nick Cave playing in the underground club and surreal aesthetics close to me; to the numerous stories that I heard from friends, and inevitable sentence: the city is JUST for you, you would love it! I felt like EVERYBODY has already been there except me! As with the majority of mortals, my mind is also prone to cognitive distortions – in this case, exaggeration:).
I was so excited. The whole experience has been so precious to me, from the moment when the journey started. That is why I decided to write about it, to capture scenes and thoughts and save them from vanishing. First sentences started coming out in English – so be it. I know my English is not perfect, but who cares – it is good enough for this purpose.
LET THE JOURNEY BEGIN!
Five minutes after I found my place in a train and immersed with satisfaction into my seat, 3 guys appeared asking: Is it free? Well, it is… I was not delighted cause didn’t want anybody to bother me. One sat beside me and two others opposite of me. It was at my first station in Novi Sad. They were young Serbian guys, tall, muscular, in a gym suits:), already drinking beer (it was early in the morning), they were carrying Serbian national flag and a bag full of beer cans. Ouou, first screening was alarming on caution.
They told me that they travel to Berlin as supporters of the national team (navijači in Serbian) – ajajaj. Gosh, I didn’t like this – my first association was football supporters, often hooligans, who don’t have a good reputation here.
However, soon after I found out that they are going to basketball championship and that they are not hooligans – quite opposite – very polite people, two of them personal coaches in the sport.
OK, hooligans could be quite of adventure to travel with, too, I was just not in the mood for the adventure like this. Actually, I don’t have a problem with hooligans, but with heavy nationalists (and these 2 are often connected in Serbia).
So, although I started a journey alone, suddenly I had fellow travelers and I was quite satisfied with this. They were „looking after“ me, helping me with the luggage (even when my suitcase fell apart in Budapest, they helped me repair it). And I was like a teacher (when you as psychologist say to new people what is your profession, usually they ask you for different kinds of opinion:). After all, we had plenty of time. I was also like a spokesman especially when we entered foreign territories. I noticed their insecurity related to communicating in English (or with foreigners?). Not bad. As with the majority of mortals, my ego is satisfied when I have important roles.
To me, it was interesting to catch a glimpse of their attitudes as they represent different generation and style of living. Attitudes related to a nation, women (opposite sex), relationships, political situation, friendships or entertainment. I believe that curiosity was mutual. They were great fellow travelers and funny, too! I couldn’t believe that for the whole day of traveling – Novi Sad – Budapest; and whole night Budapest – Berlin (before they fainted into the dream), they drank no water – only beer – without any manifestation of drunkenness. Haha, amazing! It was their first time traveling to Berlin, too.
This is what I love with traveling – opportunity to meet people from a different background than your own and opportunity to challenge your perception.
This train experience gave me some insights related to my national identity. These young people were so proud of their national identity (ethnic as well) – without underestimating other nations, I must add. This is what I have noticed in contacts with other young people from Serbia (younger at least 5 years from me, and more). Did I mention that the Serbian flag was exposed all along our journey on the windows beside our seats? I felt a bit strange with this, but guys were totally OK and I thought that they have a right to do that – if their need to show where they come from in this moment is so strong.
I felt strange because I am aware of the confusion and ambivalent feelings related to my national identity – as well as a lot of my friends born in ninety seventies. Is there anything strange with this? I don’t think so. I was born in a country where brotherhood and unity were essential values. We were so proud to be Yugoslavs, but in the nineties, we ended up in a bloody war when notions of territory, ethnic and religious identities divided us. Isn’t this enough? Or the fact that the state I live in has changed the name and borders several times so far? Should I mention that the very notion of Serbia or Serbian had been associated with atrocities related to foreign policy and with heavy crimes and injustice towards its own citizens within internal politics? Having all these in mind, it has been extremely difficult to keep unambiguously positive picture about what Serbia represents to me.
Although I am slowly integrating all of these elements – after all, I cannot run away from the fact where I come from in ethnic and national sense – still, it is not easy to comprehend totally. I don’t like the fact that manifestations of a group identity such as belonging to a certain nation, religion or ethnicity are still so important to people worldwide in spite of the misery they are bringing in. However, this is reality and we, as humans, should do our best to transcendent current state of affairs towards a better world. I hope that in the future people will find other support for their (imaginary) security that won’t cause divisions and anguish. After all, strong need to belong to a group has this function – to make you feel more secure, no?
Speaking of which… these times are still far away. My trip happened to be in the beginning of September – period with the peak of the crisis with refugees from Syria. Several days before my departure all direct trains from Budapest towards Western Europe were canceled. I took the cheapest way, of course, so I had scheduled train ticket Budapest – Berlin. I was anxious about what will happen. At the last moment, a situation with the rail traffic was back to normal, so here I was, in the train heading to Berlin. However, normal is not the best word to point out newly emerged situation. I will skip the description of sad scenes of refugees I saw on my way – while waiting for the train in Novi Sad, before the border with Hungary when policemen were taking out a smaller group of refugees from our train or scenes near Keleti station in Budapest. My focus will be on the frequent checking in train by heavily armed police units in each country we passed through. During these checking, usually people of different skin color than white were the targets and in several occasion they had to leave the train with the police. Is this normal? Crazy, crazy times.
As the train would continue its path, I would feel sorrow for the people left outside. Ni krivi ni dužni, as we would say in Serbian. At the same time, a thought was present: Thank God we are not a treat anymore! Not so long ago, being a Serb outside Serbia was not a pleasant experience at all. We were perceived as invaders, butchers, guilty for this, guilty for that, bad guys, even evil. It made me feel unfair, frightened and ashamed for something I didn’t do. Did I mention that I have issues with national identity? Did I mention what I think about dividing people on the basis of their skin color, name, citizenship, ethnic origin, social status, sexual orientation – whatever happened to be their characteristic given by birth or life circumstances – and labeling them based on that? Well, I think it is stupid.
EPISODE 2: AT MOE’S PLACE
My priority during Berlin journey was my workshop within Emergent Berlin festival. I named it REconnect, symbolically. Emergent Berlin, a two-day festival initiated by social center Baumhaus, included series of events and activities related to urban sustainable culture in Wedding neighborhood.
To be continued… Read more about my impressions and thoughts related to Berlin journey soon!