Berlin summer is in full swing again, but this year, everything feels quite different. This summer, Berlin has come alive.
Everyone is eager to get out and about, the rats especially. The furry and plump renegade that he is, Hermann has committed himself to several break out attempts, his most devious being enlisting Kotti in a misdirection plot that had me chasing both around our odd little vampire-inspired apartment in a nightgown like a lunatic straight out of a gothic novel.
Hermann has found a hole under the kitchen counter that he’ll retreat to, victorious, for several days, until hunger humbles him enough to return to his plush cage where the usual choice selection of mascarpone and seasonal vegetables awaits.
Sometimes, if he’s feeling especially rebellious, he’ll pull apart a roll of toilet paper and carry its shreds into his man cave with him, and I’ll leave a bowl of water out to show that we’re still friends despite his endless mutiny. I worry what will become of him if he carries on like this, though.
Beyond the confines of our testosterone-addled apartment, which has for various reasons been overrun by Irishmen alongside male rats for the last couple of months, I’ve noticed a number of graffiti tags across the district with the single word: “rat”. I am assuming he has found a gang of fellow miscreants and I wonder whether I should start saving up bail money should he get into real trouble.
Still, I have taken a leaf out of Hermann’s book and resolved to plot my own Berlin adventures to offset the years of confinement that came with pandemic life. I am trying to be a “yes” (wo)man. That is, finding excuses to say yes to the outside world and all its invitations.
That has meant: yes to: improvisational jazz concerts helmed by a friend who’s a wizard on the synth. Yes to trekking to an abandoned factory in Steglitz to help build an enormous perspect eyeball headed for Burning Man and dreamed up by a neuroscientist. Yes to boozy dates that descend into drunken bench pressing or fussball tournaments in which, I’ll admit, I perform pretty well.
And yes to being wide awake, and excited to meet the world in all its technicolor wonder with the downside that saying yes to somethings ultimately means saying no to other things. Like good sleep, and happy, tobacco-free lungs.
When my mentor, Joyce, coaxed me into taking that newspaper job in Hong Kong all those years ago, she did so with the line “life is about choices”. One area of my life that I’m experimenting with saying “no” to is the world of conflict.
Let’s not overcomplicate this or politicise it. Having initially resolved to commit myself to a summer of martial arts practice, I did a 180, and decided to see what happened if I avoided conflict altogether. As in, point blank, didn’t register it even when it was glaring at me in the face and taunting.
This was inspired by how my training buddy, a gorgeous, statuesque German with a fascination for the bodybuilding world handles small annoyances like having plates rudely claimed without our consent at our gym’s squat rack.
“If someone is rude to me, I just *blows them a kiss*. See, if I get angry at them, it shows that I care what they think. It’s better not to care about what they think.”
She’s honestly my hero.
In the absence of martial arts, I’ve -- physicality nerd that I am -- now, doubled down on the other training modalities that have helped manage my moods and energies for the last four years. I temporarily took a break from CrossFit and tried out simpler HIIT formulas. Some of these involved heart rate monitors that proved something I probably already knew:
I have a strong and resilient heart which I’ve learnt to control with my breathing so as to manage a severe anxiety disorder. The strong and resilient heart is genetic, I think. The last time my VACCINATED 67-year-old mother caught COVID, she still went skiing (even though I told her not to…) and got in about 12 k without much fuss.
The funny thing about HIIT and heart rate monitors, is that the name of the game is actively raising your heart rate, which is the opposite of what you want to do if you’re trying to circumvent a panic attack. So it feels counterintuitive if you’re used to using sports to manage anxiety.
However, through trial and error, I found that deep and intense -- but still controlled -- belly breathing mid-sprinting does raise your heart rate such that you can “win” the heart rate monitor game you play during HIIT, while maintaining a state of calm.
Anyway, with that specific problem solved, I’ve returned to CrossFit, which, to its credit, poses slightly more complex fitness problem solving games without having to get punched in the face.
The real problem that lies in front of me, now, is, how do I say yes to optimal movement, without having saying no to optimal other things?
A Berlin-based writer engages in the study of belonging and in-between places after years spent faraway from 'home'.