Are you a well-paid tech worker who is sick of barely getting by in SF, New York or DC? Do you have a spouse who has health problems and doesn’t earn much money?
Are you exhausted from working 70-hour weeks and being constantly on call? Is your spouse sick of doing battle with the health insurance company over enormous copays and treatments they refuse to pay for? Do you feel like you can’t afford to have kids, even though you’d like to?
If that sounds like you, Berlin is your best shot at a decent life, maybe the kind of life your parents had. You might still have a chance at the American dream, in Germany.
Next, ask yourself some important questions.
Do you care about owning a house? Most Berliners rent for their entire lives.
Do you like public transport? You can certainly have a car in Berlin, but it is very difficult and expensive to get a driver’s license if your license is from a state that doesn’t have the wonderful reciprocity deal. Plus, the superb transit is really one of the defining characteristics of life here.
Are you ok with a life of modest expectations? This isn’t really a culture about getting rich or having huge successes. It’s about security, stability, and straightforwardness.
Speaking of that, are you ok with people telling you exactly what they think? Occasionally very rudely? A total stranger told me I was “doing it wrong” today, because of the way I was pulling my little shopping trolley.
Can you follow rules without losing a lot of energy over “why” and “that’s stupid”? There are a lot of rules in Germany. Most of them boil down to, “Be responsible for your own actions and don’t make life harder for your fellow humans”, but you still have to know them all.
Are you a good recycler? The recycling here is CRAY. I only recycle because my friends have kids, but 18 years in California, and especially Berkeley, trained me to separate and sort. Good thing, cause they are SO serious about it here.
We’ll close Part 1 with the most useful thing you can do if you are planning a move here.
Step 1: Learn some fucking German.
I had never been to Germany and did not know a single word of German except zeitgeist and schadenfreude. All the blog posts I read said that it was no worries, everyone speaks English in Berlin. This may be true if you spend all your time talking to expats in expat neighborhoods like Prenzlauerberg and work for a tech company whose HR department will manage every detail of your move.
But if you are moving yourself on a shoestring or limited resources, you will be well served to learn a bunch of basic words, like the word for apartment. Because trust, MOST people you will encounter in the process of setting up a life here do not speak English.
Some followers of my work may be surprised that I can draw a horse. A horse is an extremely difficult thing to draw; the famous British equine painter George Stubbs once said that if you can draw a horse, you can draw anything.
Actually, from age seven to age 13, I didn’t draw a single human. All I drew were horses.
I was one of those little girls who both loved horses and was lucky enough to be around them. We had a ramshackle country house in Maine with a barn where we spent every August, and I spent July at riding camp for several years. In Maine we rented a horse for the month, and I took care of it.
I wanted to be a champion rider, at first, maybe on the USET, and then I discovered that I really preferred to ride my pony bareback, with a hackamore, rambling in the woods and fields and beaches. I didn’t actually ever want to learn any kind of rigorous discipline besides drawing.
During this period, I figured my commercial art career would be as horse book illustrator.
Because my father wrote books and knew tons of people in publishing, I actually got to go to Mr. Savitt’s farm and meet him.
This was akin to the time I got to meet Jack Kirby at San Diego just a year before his death.
Studying Sam Savitt’s books was the beginning of my process of obsessive study and learning around drawing.
Rich Rudish, who did several books with wildly popular horse book author Marguerite Henry, was an idol of mine as well. He was a superb draughtsman with a particularly wonderful talent for the dished faces of Arabians.
Looking him up for this article I learned he created Rainbow Brite for Hallmark in 1986!
He sculpted the famous model of Henry’s Sham for Breyer. It is still one of the most beautiful Breyers ever made, I think. (I hope to build a stable for my dollhouse next year and house some of my Classic Breyers in it, so my action figures can go riding!)
I also liked Henry’s longtime collaborator, Wesley Dennis, though I felt his drawing skills weren’t as solid as Savitt’s. I dreamed of having a working relationship with an author like Henry. I didn’t want to write my own stories; I just wanted to draw the pictures.
A great role model was Rosa Bonheur, the most famous female painter of the nineteenth century, who dressed à la garçonne (in men’s clothing), and kept lions for pets. I felt her brio and power like a lifeline.
She was proof that women could make art that was as bold and fearless as men’s. I didn’t want to draw anything fragile or weak- I wanted my work to be a true draughtsman’s, absolutely grounded in anatomy and technical knowledge.
Here is her masterpiece, The Horse Fair.
By seventeen my career plans had changed, and all I wanted in the world was to draw comics.
But you keep the skills learned as a child forever. I remember sitting on the hallway floor in the old Marvel offices with my friend Chris Claremont in ’86. We were talking with Bill Sienkiewicz, who was at the height of his stardom, and the subject of horses came up. So I taught Bill Sam Savitt’s technique for drawing the horse, there in the hallway at 387.
This Moon Knight page is from before he met me! Look at where the browband of the bridle is! Absolutely shocking 😉
Knowing how to draw a horse gave me the understanding to draw cats and dogs and goats and deer as well. And I do love to draw a goat. Especially baby goats.
I don’t have cause to draw horses very often anymore, and that’s too bad.
Maybe I’ll find a portrait client here in Berlin who wants a picture with their horse, or their goat!
Who knew a work party could be fun?!?
The food was scrumptious and there was amazing music.
The hubby wore the Lip Service Step In Time steampunk suit I got him last winter, pants and tailcoat of copper with black plaid and a waistcoat of black and bronze plaid, with a black silk Pierre Cardin tie I got him at Ross and a black-on-black pinstripe shirt. He looked amazing. I wore a purple lace 50s style dress from eShakti, a teal burnout velvet kimono with a huge blue fur collar, masses of blue and violet hair flowers and jewelry, and turquoise fishnet stockings. Cause I’m so subtle.
I had a wonderful time drawing our tablemates and the musicians. We just had such a good time. It’s so ridiculously good living here, I feel like we won the lottery, and I’m so, so grateful. I think how happy I am shows in my work. There’s been some talk recently about the whole starving/suffering artist thing and what a crock of shit it is. I can’t say strongly enough that I believe artists work best when they have health insurance, medical care and affordable housing.
“I got into therapy and I got on a pill, and what I discovered was getting help didn’t make me less creative. What was making me less creative was being a depressed crazy person. Figuring out how to be happy and have fun with the kids again, how to have fun with my life and work, actually made me a better writer, not a worse writer.” – Joe HIll
The couple in the picture is very dear to me; they gave me sanctuary when I was homeless during the Great Recession and cared for me during my own post-horrible-divorce Great Depression.
They came up with the pose, which they sat for in their library; they’re wearing their wedding clothes. There are all kinds of meaningful and special objects, with many funny stories, on the shelves behind them.
I once jumped out of an airplane with these two!
I went to Neil Girling‘s house for one last cocktail hour to varnish them and he was kind enough to photograph them for me.
They are both paintings of extremely good, smart, talented and ridiculously beautiful people who I love deeply, and I had a glorious time painting them. They are two of my four final finished works from my last month in the Bay Area and I am very proud of them; I hope you like them!