I get asked this question more often than any other. I’m still constantly meeting new people, and inevitably they ask why I am here. On Thursday I had a job interview to be an English Instructor, and before I was asked any questions about how I’d handle an unruly class or motivate an unmotivated student, Hans asked me, “So, why did you chose to move to Germany?”
It’s a hard question to answer, because I don’t have a solid thing to cling to. No job brought me here, no Mädchen lured me into a pit of Haribo and Helles. So I talk about quality of life, I talk about ease of transportation, I talk about the bicycle infrastructure, I talk about the culture, I talk about the beer, I talk about the weather, I talk about the people, I talk about the opportunity. And all of these are part of it, but none of it quite ads up.
I’ve seen a few big Hollywood movies since I moved here, but three have something interesting in common. The Man from UNCLE, Spectre, and Bridge of Spies. Each movie has a slimy Germany character, and Bridge of Spies even completely changes the color and weather palette of the film when Tom Hanks arrives in Berlin. New York is golden and warm and autumnal, but he hits Berlin and all is grey and blue grey and snowy and he’s menaced by a street gang. I guess Germans must be used to seeing themselves this way in Hollywood movies, but I felt defensive. This isn’t the country I know. But, to be fair, I did walk out into a cold dark night that had a little snow in the air. However, no slimy Germans attempted to torture, swindle, or murder me on my way home.
But the defensiveness I felt wouldn’t go away, but it’s not my country, it’s not really my place to be a guardian of the image of Germany. I thought about this a lot, and I really got a chance to chew on it one night when I went walking around the city with my camera, taking photos and really just looking at this city and thinking about it and why I am here.
It is simple, it is stupid, it is embarrassing, but it’s true. Romance. I was fortunate enough to visit Germany the first time in the summer of 2001, way out in the country near Dresden, and I remember sleeping better there than I ever had before, I remember riding a bike from one town into another, and just feeling the pulse of an entirely different way of life. On that trip I was filled up with this romance. And it didn’t go away. It still hasn’t. I hope it doesn’t, but I’m testing it to it’s limit now. The bureaucracy has me over a barrel still, my apartment reminds me of so many things that are decidedly un-romantic, and I’m here alone most of the time, walking, thinking, gazing into my own belly button.
So while I was walking around shooting in the pitch-black night of 6 pm here, I kept thinking that I should make the photos Black and White. Now this is a choice I see other people making in their photos, and there’s always something strongly implied by it now that we are in all digital photography world. Black and White is a choice, not so much a necessity anymore. Black and White is inherently romantic to us, and that means that when you make a photograph Black and White you are usually, intentionally or not, choosing to generate a more romantic representation for the viewer, right? You are choosing not to see something in color as it is, but in Black and White, in the romantic contrasting greys that can remove an image from a specific time.
So I’ve come to Germany to live in Black and White I suppose. This country, despite how it’s portrayed, despite the difficulties I’ve had here, despite all of the downsides, I still am living in my own romantic fantasy. That may seem silly or dangerous, but if you’ve ever seen a film or read a book or listened to an album and thought “I want to live inside that world.” Then maybe that’s what I’m doing here. In the theme park of life there’s an area called Deutschland, where everything is perfectly themed, no detail is left to betray the environment, every person has their role and plays it out perfectly, and I’m convinced I’m in another world. Maybe that’s why it bothers me so much that all I hear in bars and restaurants in music in English. It's off theme.