Westalgie in the qi gong changing room

There were three of us, in various states of undress. I was the youngest. Hardly surprising, given that we were getting ready for qi gong, the slowest form of exercise imaginable.

“You’re not from here?” one of the women said.

“No,” I said, “I’m Irish.”

She wasn’t German either, though she sounded it, having moved here from Greece as a young child. Her name gave it away though: Evangelina.

The other woman was from Bavaria. Her name was Heike.

“Some friends of mine were moving to Berlin,” she said. “So I went with them on a whim, planning to stay for a few months. That was 50 years ago.”

We chuckled.

“But oh, how West Berlin has changed,” said Evangelina, who came here long before the wall came down.

“Oh yes,” said Heike. “It used to be quite something.”

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“West Berlin used to sparkle,” she said. “It was a very special place.”

Evangelina nodded enthusiastically. “Yes,” she said. “It positively glowed.”

Everyone knew each other, they told me. Walled off and with a constant perceived threat of Russian invasion, it was an unconventional type of person who chose to come to West Berlin.

“It was full of pacifists,” Heike said, referring to the young men who came to West Berlin specifically to avoid conscription. A quirk of the city’s division was that the West was technically under the rule of the Allied occupiers, allowing residents to legally bypass the draft that applied elsewhere.

There was a schizophrenic aspect to the city too. It wasn’t just conscientious objectors smoking cigarettes while they mused about changing the world.

Wealth mattered. And flaunting it was a conscious choice.

No building typified it more than KaDeWe on Kudamm. These days, it looks like a regular fancy department store.

But back then, it was an icon of capitalism and the freedom many asso

1280px-berlin_schoeneberg_tauentzienstrasse_21-24_kadewe

KaDeWe – source: Wikipedia Creative Commons

ciated with it.

“There used to be a cafe nearby,” said Heike. “You couldn’t go there without meeting someone you knew. There was this one wealthy man who would pay for everyone …  they were good times.”

The concept of Ostalgie – nostalgia for the former East Germany – is in common parlance in German.

It evokes the sense of a simpler time, far from the Ellenbogengesellschaft (literally ‘elbow society’) of today, characterized by citizens nudging each other in the race to get to the top.

(Before you get too warm and fuzzy, it’s worth remembering that it was also a time of totalitarianism, operated by a network of tyrannical officials and served by tens of thousands of informers masquerading as friends and lovers.)

But the idea of Westalgie – the yearning for the walled-off West – was new to me. Proof it existed could be found in the qi gong changing room in Schöneberg.

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My eureka moment among a herd of Kerry bulls

“Everyone here is so nice!” I said to LSB.

We were in Kerry for a friend’s wedding and I was rekindling my love for the island.

“That cashier was lovely!” I exclaimed after buying éclairs in a newsagent in Killarney.

“I can’t believe they made us pancakes!” I said after the staff in our B&B allowed us to customize our breakfast order.

“Oh, and the milk is excellent too!” I added after taking a gulp to wash my pancake down.

It wasn’t just the food and people I was waxing lyrical about either.

“Just look at this Landschaft!” I said, as we strolled through Killarney National Park.20160514_135004

It was breathtakingly beautiful, with the mountains looming ahead of us and swathes of green all around.

As we continued along the path, we passed some bulls.

They were grazing lethargically, indifferent to their paradisal surroundings.

“Don’t you know how lucky you are?” I asked them. “Don’t you realise that you counterparts in factory farms would kill  for this kind of outdoor, paleo lifestyle?”20160513_194023

But there was no reasoning with them.

They looked up briefly, before returning to their edible vegan carpet. One bull even rolled his eyes at me.

I recognized the display of disdain immediately. The kind reserved for outsiders with excessive enthusiasm for your native land.

I was taken aback.

After four years in Germany, had I really developed the unbridled exuberance of a foreigner? Had I become an Ausländer in my own country?

Desperate to stop the resurgence of an  identity crisis, I decided to fight back.

“You’re the ones with notions!” I said to the offending animals. “You’ve no idea what the real world is like. When was the last time you filled out a tax return? Or worried about your pension? Or wondered about your heritage?”

They shuffled awkwardly. Then one by one, they turned away to face the mountains, their tails lolling easily in the breeze.

“Nuala put on the spuds:” I’m home!!

The first words I heard when I landed back on Irish soil came from a lady sitting behind me on the plane. “I’ve told Nuala to put on the spuds,” she said.

If the impossibly green landscape I’d just flown over hadn’t been enough to convince me that I was finally back home, Nuala making spuds was. I was delighted.

Terminal 2 makes Berlin Schoenefeld look like it’s stuck in the dark ages. Although a new airport is due to open in Berlin soon, an unexpected delay of several months was announced to much controversy just a week in advance of its proposed opening. The new date is amusingly, St Patrick’s Day 2013.

Terminal 2 features walls of photographs of Irish people, some prominent figures, some not. I noticed Enda beaming at me to my left and a chiselled, greying Pierce Brosnan to my right.

Some of you will have noticed my appalling attendance in the Blogosphere in the past while. Rest assured that I have been collecting Blog Fodder along the way. LSB and I spent the last two weeks in my mother’s hometown of Regensburg. I blogged about it before, when we visited my grandmother and the Christmas markets two years ago.

Regensburg

This time, my whole family was together, which is sadly a very rare occasion since my sister and I emigrated. Familienfest 2012 was a momentous occasion, which deserves (but might not get) a whole series of posts to itself. It was my mother’s and two aunt’s 60th birthday, my Great Uncle’s 90th and an uncle’s 50th. The combined age was 320, so the celebration was suitably large.

The Ferguson sisters pulled together from Philadelphia, Vienna and Dublin in an attempt to entertain the scores of guests with a presentation about our mother’s life. It featured cameo roles from my cousins, who re-enacted scenes from my mother and father’s courtship and a special appearance of the “Christkind” (the German version of Santa Claus), who lavished my mother with gifts.

The last while has also seen a return of my Quarter Life Crisis, so those of you nostalgic for more uncertain days will be relieved to know that they are not behind me yet. After much indecision and emotional turmoil, I decided to move back to Berlin. More on that when it happens, in two weeks’ time.

For now, I’m sitting in my suitably messy room under three quilts and a heavy blanket, delighted to be home. I found a little spider in my wardrobe and wondered how long he’d been there. Last night I had to turn on the immersion before I showered. The fridge is empty so I’m off to buy milk and organic eggs and Dairy Milk chocolate and potatoes and soda bread. There’s no place like home.