Despite ongoing and mostly blatantly misguided discourses about gentrification in Berlin and the responsibility of incomers (like ourselves), be they from other parts of (western) Germany or from abroad (read this), we still dearly hope that at least most of the city's residents that belong to our generation will be able to agree that there's absolutely nothing within the boundaries of The Ring that benefits the otherwise still stuffy and narrow-minded capital of Germany more than its ever-growing expat community. This very website certainly wouldn't be able to survive without it, and even if we felt we could, its absence alone would be reason enough to pack up and leave Berlin for good.
That being said, one of the more remarkable branches of this community, remarkable for various yet fairly obvious reasons that thus probably need not be spelled out in this forum (yet that are made express in virtually every other piece on the topic), is the presence and growth of the Israeli community in Berlin, which today is between 18.000 and 20.000 citizens strong, depending on the source, and that to a great extent is made up of students, musicians, artists, and other cultural entrepreneurs, just like the expats of any other nationality who now call this place home. Today, we're happy to welcome one ex-member of that community to write about his experiences, not mainly in regard to living in Berlin but about a process that all of us who were not born here can relate to at least to some degree, so I assume: the process of leaving and arriving, to live in a constant state of transition. The question of feeling at home, and of the definition of "home" as such in a globalised world, if you find yourself privileged enough to be in a position to actually travel or move. In this sense, the story Tel Aviv native Juval Haring is telling us below transcends his own experiences as someone leaving Berlin to return to the land and the city where he was born. But aside from that almost universal perspective, it is a deeply personal account, and we think for that alone well worth five minutes of your time.
Haring is singer and vocalist of Tel Aviv outfit Vaadat Charigim, whose full-length The World Is Well Lost is out now. Watch the video for lead single "Odisea" below (and read about it over on Self-Titled), and stream the whole album after the break. (ed.)
On a cold winter morning in January 2012, I took a last look into the dark interior of my Prenzlauer Berg ground floor apartment, locked the door, and proceeded down the street with a small travel bag which contained clothes and the demo recordings of The World Is Well Lost, on 1/4" tape. I remember thinking about windows, gas heaters, the fridge. Did I shut all the heaters? Did I lock all the windows? God knows when I'll be home again.
I suffer from a severe aerophobia. Getting on a plane is a task that requires me to be medicated, and at times, also intoxicated. When my parents called me and said my grandfather – who for years had come up with money for me when I was stranded on tour in the middle of nowhere in the USA, and who had always been the greatest supporter of my choice to be an artist – was dying of cancer, I had to go to Israel.
But I wasn't going to fly to Israel. I came up with the plan of going there by boat. This idea had come to me after reading a story in a magazine about a man who devoted his life to traveling the world by cargo vessel. I found it to be extremely romantic. A kind of self aware choice to live in a "slower" world. But freighters are complicated to get on as a private passanger (I know, because I checked). So I booked a spot on a cruise ship leaving Venice, going through Greece, and to Israel. The cruise continued from Israel back to Greece and then to Italy, but my plan was to get off in Israel.
First, I had to get to Venice from Berlin. Remember, I can't fly. So I headed from my apartment, which I had just left behind, all the while bothered by the thought that I hadn't locked it properly, to a car rental service near the Berlin Zoo. I rented the smallest, cheapest crappy car I could get, and drove it all the way to Vienna in one day. As the hours went by, the scenery changed, getting whiter, snowier towards the mountains of south Germany and Austria. It was the first time I had ever traveled alone by car in Europe. For years I had been a driver for my own bands, and had my wife Mickey next to me to navigate, and talk to. It was lonely driving to Vienna without her. I couldn't stop thinking how stupid I was, to not just say "fuck it" and take a plane like a normal person, instead of booking a car, a train, a bus and a boat, for a total of nine days on the road just to reach Israel, which is a four-hour flight away from Berlin.
From Vienna I took a train to south Austria, where I was supposed to switch to a bus to Venice. When I got on the train it was completely empty, but then right before it was about to leave, dozens of teenagers boarded it, and came on my car. They started unpacking their backpacks, taking out an astonishing amount of alcohol and juices, beers and so on. I was sort of sleepy and shocked at the same time. They explained to me that they were on their way to a skiing vacation and that they are all employees of the train company. They offered me booze and I went straight for it. I was lonely and kind of terrified of the thought of being on a boat for five days, so getting drunk seemed like a logical thing to do.
By the time we reached the small town in south Austria where I was supposed to switch to a bus, I was so drunk I couldn't walk straight. Somehow I managed to get off the train and onto the bus. I climbed up to the upper level of the bus and fell straight to sleep. A few hours later the bus had arrived in the central bus station in Venice. I reached Venice around afternoon, went to a cheap motel that I had booked online, unpacked, and hit the streets. It was my first time there. I walked towards the direction the signs were showing. I didn't really care about seeing everything, or "visiting" monuments. I was looking for pizza. All I had to eat for days had been alcohol and cigarettes.
I found a cheap, probably not so great pizza place and got a slice, then proceeded down the route all the way to the Piazza San Marco. It was getting darker. I could see massive cruise ships docked on the other side of the water. Suddenly my heart became heavy, and I couldn't swallow. I felt like I was totally alone in the world, and that the world is happening around me in such a way that it is making my head spin. That I will always be alone, because I am a coward, because I never let anyone help me, because I never listen. I stood on the waterline and looked at the people around me, there on vacation. They must be looking at me, all sweaty and holding a half eaten pizza like a bum, thinking I must be homeless. And maybe they weren't so far off from the truth.
Since I had left Israel to live in Berlin I had always been, in some way, "homeless". An Ausländer. I went to bars, ate out, went to galleries, went to shows, had friends in the music scene, but it always felt to me like we were a bunch of kids, from a bunch of different countries, waiting for the grown-ups to come back, spending time in the best way we could together, till they get back to take us home. I had always felt baseless, my family far away somewhere in the Middle East, and me, in an old Berlin building, looking out of a window at a grey north European sky. Sure, there are a lot of Israelis in Berlin, but most of us are there for the same reason: we were tired of trying so hard to live in Israel. Being a Berliner solved some of my problems, but It couldn't reach as deep inside me as the river of my childhood flows. I was very happy to stand there on the waterline knowing I would be going back home. But at the same time I was filled with fear, both a phobic fear, of the boat, of how it would feel just like being on a plane in the end, and a fear of coming back, of the losing the unfinished quality, the rough around the edges way of life I was used to living in Berlin.
Dreams of Greece
If I could I would leave everything behind and move to Greece. Maybe I could. I don't know. It's a big move. But it's something I think about ever since reading My Family and Other Animals. When the cruiser, which turned out to be just like a plane, only longer, and weirder, passed between the islands of Greece, I remember looking out at them for hours. I had a balcony in my room, which was just like a hotel room, only on water, and I would sit there for hours, looking back at the white foam line formed in swirls as the ship pushed forward, and at the horizon where pale white and grey montains rose off rocky islands.
I had never traveled between countries by boat before, except between France and the UK on tour. It was so weird. Most nights I spent in the bathtub hugging a bottle of vodka. The ship would go out to sea, and you would have nothing but endless blue around you, or black if it was night time, and then after a day or so it would reach a port, dock, and you could peek from your high balcony into the lives of the tiny people living in the port city where you happened to stop. Most people, who were on vacation – unlike myself, who was on a mission – got off at each port with money and cameras and walked around for half a day. I was trying to save money so I just stayed on board and stared into the town. We stopped in Bari, Rhodes, and then finally after five days, in Haifa, the port town of Israel, north of Tel Aviv.
I remember getting off in Haifa and boarding a train to Tel Aviv, feeling like an alien again, even though I was home. My Berlin apartment still silent and dark, same as I left it. Only I was here, in Israel, again. But I was neither here nor there in my mind. It was a different travel experience. I didn't just "hop" over to Tel Aviv. I had glided there, slowly, by foot, car, bus, train, boat. I had walked in between. Stopped to look. On the train I was looking out of the window at Highway 2 going from north to south in Israel, along the shoreline, thinking: I probably seem weird to everyone. I was surrounded this time by young, 18 to 19 year old soldiers in uniform, all looking at my skinny jeans, buttoned shirt and snow cap, ironic moustache and large sideburns, probably thinking I am some tourist. And perhaps they were not so far from the truth.
Like I said, I wasn't supposed to stay in Israel. I came to see my grandfather. But since I had been away from the Tel Aviv music scene for so long I felt the urge to start a project while I was there. Vaadat Charigim's demos were in my suitcase and I joined two old friends, Dan Bloch and Yuval Guttman, around early 2012 to work on them. We worked on the songs during weekends, first in a school's bomb shelter/rehearsal space, where Dan's children were going to school, and later in Guttman's apartment (where we also recorded the album). After two rehearsals we felt a great "click". We had a lot in common, were all kind of older, kind of weirder than other people, kind of outsiders, kind of homeless, kind of tourists.
I can't say exactly why I stayed here, in Tel Aviv. Maybe it's because the band was doing so well. Maybe my new job doing PR and booking. Maybe I'm just still afraid of traveling again and feeling or seeing so much. Maybe I am tired of being homeless. But I have been here since I got off that ship in Haifa, and I have thought a million times about the dark room I had locked and left behind.
The World Is Well Lost is an album I wrote before, during and around this journey. It is infused with my inability to let the past be, my fears, my hopes. It turns out that even though I wrote big parts of it in Berlin, that it has a lot to do with the contemporary Tel Aviv state of mind: trying to make things last while war and injustice make everything seem fleeting and not worth it, wanting to be together, but at the end always feeling alone, loving the city and its people, but hating the way it somehow keeps you down and controlled, your dreams never too wild, never really outside the box. Today, I am happy to be here, but at the same time I am haunted with the thought that I have no real reason to be here but my fear. Fear not only of planes, but of everything I cannot control, of life, of death, of everything with wings, of the pain that twists and turns in your chest facing the vastness of the ocean and the abstract notion of change which it represents. Today, from here, Berlin in my mind is like a lighthouse. Stable. Solid. But then again, when I was in Berlin, Tel Aviv seemed like a sort of lighthouse. So maybe in life, you are always stranded out at sea, and every shore seems like the place you ought to be.