Berlin Speed

12 11 2008



Photo: Walkscreen

Reflections by Vanini Belarmino

Autumn is making a quick way for the winter. I originally planned to be in Asia by this time but since I work independently, my life is pretty much dependent on the fate of the series of grants applications that I am preparing day in, day out.  
I have been based in Berlin for 22 months, which may be a considerable timeframe in Asia – to say “I’ve been here for quite sometime and it’s time to move.”  In the days that I lived in BangkokSingapore and even in Manila, this was a common topic over weekend parties amongst expatriates.  But here, in this relatively “new cultural capital” – things work rather differently.  Daily life is not as fast phased as in the East.  Things take time, more time and more time.  In the beginning, the complacency and slowness of the city sort of freaked me out. And now, even if my surroundings has calmed me down a little bit, a number of my Berliner friends still consider me as “fast” mover. Whatever this means…
In the past months, parallel to writing grants applications, I’ve had really interesting experiences of lobbying and discovering Germany in another way.  For instance, in certain events where big politicians are present, they don’t seem to have much body guards or security check is not as strict as it would be in Asia.  Generally, the people are quite reserved and are the ones defining the boundaries if they can approach someone or not.  Well, as myself being me – having the advantage of being a foreigner (yes, it can work both ways)- I can waltz myself shamelessly and say hello to the likes of Mr. Steinmeyer (Social Democratic Party’s upcoming candidate as Chancellor) and Mr. Schoeder (former Chancellor of Germany).  Normally, in such events where the big wigs are present, I seem to have the luck of being the lone Asian in room so I can easily maneuver my way around. Yes, this is what you call lobbying.  Lobbying in a sense that I do not have to say – listen, I have a project – blah-blah-blah –  but more, look here, I am around and later on tell everyone about it. These are just among the things that one has to go through as an independent producer in Berlin.  
I just appreciate the “luck” that I have with my friends here. I would perhaps have frozen over a year ago if not for the energy given by the people around me.  I live in an environment of guest list: people being labeled as important and not so important (and this is not defined by how much money you make – but a rather cryptic calculator that I have yet to discover); known and not known ; cool and uncool.  This is Berlin for me and it is my home for the time being.
I have to say that it is a very challenging phase in my life and career.  Coming from Singapore where things are pretty much in place having a salaried job with a high-profile organisation, having a fresh start can be refreshing but can at times can be daunting.  I often ask myself why I decided to stay here- especially that I have to keep a job that will enable me to continue producing and curating.  Last week, after receiving the unfortunate result of a grant application, I cried for two days and as I result, I thought that I had a terrible ear and tooth ache.  When my friends sent me to the doctor and the dentist for check-up, X-ray, etc – nothing was actually wrong.  Whew.  It was just me obsessing over work.
So that’s all about my life here in Berlin.  Writing proposals everyday, writing some articles, watching performances and going to exhibitions, hanging out with my friends, then working again, lobbying hard from one funding agency to the next, chasing influential people, going to specific parties or events… It is all about work and learning about life.