Tuesday, October 26, 2010


"I have become comfortably numb."  - Pink Floyd

No, I am not loaded as I write this (for a change); but I DID have a donut this morning (go figure).  It's coming up on my 2nd anniversary in Berlin (January) and the process of habituation is nearly complete:  I no longer see Berlin as 'Ooh! Wow! Neato! Lookit!' and have become just another expat specimen consuming and excreting with Berlin as a fuzzy backdrop.

This affects my blogging; I was just talking with Lady Snooker about how I used to blog once a week--which slowly faded down to once a month.  Has my creative mojo gone?  Has my donut filling finally dried up?  No, I suspect that Old Rascal Habituation has done its thang on my eyes and ears.  It's happened to me before in other exotic locales:  London, Dublin and Prague.  Right about the time the traveler settled in to the routine; the study program (London), the jobs (Dublin and Prague) and the rent payments, the Buzz decreases, the new becomes familiar, then routine, then Old Hat.

I have noticed my best photographs of a location are generally taken within the first few months of living in a new place.  After that, things that were extraordinary become, well, ordinary.  This is a psychological process which allows us to protect our senses from the onslaught of new experience, disregard the mundane, and keep a lookout for new stimuli.   The wiki article on habituation mentions that soon after a human wears clothing, the sensations wear off.  Can you imagine if you could constantly FEEL the cloth chaffing you as you moved around?  I believe we would be batshit in about 72 hours.  Or city traffic and street sounds would make a New Yorker insane (scratch that; New Yorkers are NUTS) in weeks.

But what is basically psychological protection is damned inconvenient if you are a writer or photographer.  The details we pick out as unique and noteworthy start fading into the background.  So this is when we need to focus more.  Berlin is pegged as an ever-changing city; a city evolving before our eyes. Fortunately, if you look hard enough, you can see the paint drying:  the constantly shifting street art, the ever-changing rotation of festivals, events and goings on.  I now have more time on my hands than usual (my slow season for work), so my lack of money coupled with my excess of time gives me the perfect opportunity to slow down and observe.

I would like to also point out that many of the things I mention on this blog are cheap or free: Karaoke in Mauerpark (see: Return of Melvis) only requires a bit of nerve and/or liquid courage (and in Berlin, liquid courage is 60 cents per bottle).  Taking snaps of local street art is free if you shoot digital.  I have been following certain Berliner street artists and noticing their styles.  So when the background just starts to get a bit fuzzy, sometimes a new stencil, poster, or art piece will appear in the cacophony of color that is Berlin.

So let me throw out some ideas and we can all be comfortably numb in Berlin--with or without the chemicals.

If you have any ideas for free/cheap things to do in Berlin that Google doesn't know about, please comment.

Festival of Lights photo by Craig Robinson Photography



  1. Ah yeah - I know what you mean. Berlin ain't as good as it used to be, but anyone will tell you that, except those who haven't been here yet. It's a problem though, that phenomenon you describe. Just consider the initial euphoria as a present from the city to you, a sort of headstart. Then you're on your own and you have to work harder to find the wonder and excitement. It's still there though - just waiting to be found.

  2. Hi-

    I'm the editor of Expat Arrivals.com (http://www.expatarrivals.com), a site devoted to developing comprehensive destination guides aimed at easing expat transitions abroad. I came across your blog while doing some preliminary research for Berlin and was hoping I could convince you share some of your expat insight, especially in lieu of the - as you say, slow season. Would you be interested in contributing to Expat Arrivals? If so, you can contact me direct at stephanie@expatarrivals.com.

    Thanks for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.