Residency is a two-part journal entry brought to you by one of our favorite creatives.
This week, the Berlin via Eau Claire artist Yohuna talks about her time in Germany and her friend and collaborator who will soon join her there.
I wrote it on a post-it and stuck it to the wall in front of my desk: “I am exactly where I want to be.” It’s for remembering three times a day, once for failures like taking the U-Bahn in the wrong direction and twice for victories like having a conversation in broken German or giving a tourist directions. The note sticks in the middle of two others: the first, “Express gratitude. Appreciation becomes happiness.” The last, “Access trauma. Revisit past. Trust is courageous. Love is brave.” I read them to Addie over video chat and watch her laugh into her coffee cup (the sun is streaming into her window in Eau Claire; it is setting in Berlin). She reads me her own reminders pinned to a corkboard. They are nearly identical.
That’s why we’re bandmates, best friends. She just bought a one-way ticket to Berlin, and we spend the rest of the chat planning what hasn’t happened yet: waking up and making breakfast in the same place, conjugating German verbs together, drinking beer next to the canal, sharing clothes, and most of all, playing music. Our friendship features heavy geographical difference; we’ve only written one song together and it was over Skype. Still, she plays on my live set when we’re in the same place, and we’re always sending demos back and forth, giving feedback or recording parts. I should mention that not only are the songs she writes herself entirely devastating, but also, in coming to Germany, she’s foregoing her positioning in one of the hardest working and most notable bands from our pocket of the Midwest. She’ll arrive off the tail end of a month-long North American tour in mid-September.
A lot has been written about Berlin, which makes anything on the subject hard to write. This will parallel the romanticized trope: History feels alive in Germany’s capital city, the second largest in the EU, which is filled with war memorials and a still palpable difference walking between East and West districts since the fall of The Wall. Considering its deep and reactive underground, from cabaret to techno and everything in between, it’s a city that people dream of moving to—“ever since I was a little girl,” the British mother of a girl I babysit for told me. This place knows that art is a social practice.
I never gave Berlin a thought, due to oblivion more than anything, which might make it funny that I ended up here. It’s my fifth month, the second since being granted a two-year artist’s visa. Building a portfolio to defend and legitimize writing very personal songs coupled with the notorious German bureaucracy was a process. Another paradox, too, is that I had no reason for moving to Berlin aside from a handful of inviting experiences traveling through, and yet it’s been the most intentional decision I’ve made. There is power in knowing that nothing brought me here but me.
So Berlin could have been anywhere, but walking around a city with a language I don’t understand is at least immediately helpful for really listening to personal desire. I was post-grad, post-breakup (read: confused) and threw myself into the hustle that is finding work, an apartment, an instrument, and a supportive community. It is hustle, luck, and something else—I acknowledge that a lot of privilege comes with performing; I met my first friends, and then opportunities, because they had written about my music on their blog.
And for performers, it seems this place gives and keeps giving. The resources are vast for a couple of reasons. There are simply a lot of artists that move to Berlin and work to grow its infrastructure. Case in point, there’s always cheap gear for sale online, more so than any city I’ve lived in, and whenever I tell someone I’m learning Ableton they eagerly offer to show me around the program like I’m joining their cult. Likewise, the state recognizes culture, and the tourism along with it, as a valuable revenue source. Musicboard Berlin sponsors independent artists’ projects as well as team development endeavors, one of which manifested Music Pool Berlin, an organization that gives artists free consultation and hosts workshops and panels. Much more so than in the US, these spheres, the “artists” and the “professionals,” are not mutually exclusive dichotomies, but blurry and leaking categories. Creative worlds are professional and vice versa. DIY is less of a phenomenon because it’s just not as necessary of a tactic for psychic survival. It is not positive or negative.
I’ve grown to care for Berlin and the ways I’ve continued learning how to care for myself here. Addie will come to Berlin next month. We will make breakfast together, study German, drink beer, share clothes, and write songs in this city. Instead of notes at our desks, we can each remind the other that love is not passive, we are active participants in history, and that self-care is preservation.
Week 1 | Week 2