Live from Lothringer

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Lothringer str., Cologne, Germany

One month ago I bid a tearful adieu to Prague, my home since 2007.

August 1, 2011 was not only my last night in Prague, it was also the day my novel American Monsters was re-released in its second edition, illustrated by Rose Deniz, under the umbrella of Ghostwoods Books.

The week before, a piece I wrote for my friend Lidia-Anain’s SexLoveJoy site about writer’s schizophrenia was published.

The week after my special edition installment for Salome Jones’s Red Phone Box collaborative project went live.

I was also offered a gig doing a regular column for Anything Horror, my favourite horror blog, so stay tuned for that news.

Generally exciting times, no?

Four years in a place is a long time for a Third Culture Kid like me, making Prague the fourth longest I’ve ever lived anywhere, coming in after California, India and Pakistan. Four years is also a really long time to spend in such a cold and inhospitable place, both emotionally and physically. I had no idea how much I’d acclimated to the daily cruelty around me.

An expat+HAREM piece I wrote begged the question, “Do cold places make for cold people?” In Prague the answer is a resounding yes. But here in Cologne, Germany the response is the polar opposite. The last time I’ve been surrounded by such nice, kind and genuine people was in Asia. I walk down the street and if I pass someone, they smile at me. Sometimes they even greet me. Wow! I feel so much community pride and loyalty already. Going to the bank or the shop doesn’t result in a feeling of humanity lost – the Koelners greet me with sunny faces and are helpful even as I muddle my way though their language, a far cry from the frowns, the irritation etched across the faces of Praguers on a regular basis.

I used to have such anxiety trying to accomplish simple things in Prague like paying rent or renewing my tram pass because the people were just flat-out mean. I’ve had anxiety here before doing new things too, but I get more and more comfortable each time a Koelner treats me with dignity and respect, from the man in the corner shop to the lady in the immigration office.

The supermarket blows my mind. The cheap products here are the equivalent of the luxury goods in Prague and still in Prague we were paying sometimes twice as much for them. My last ten days in Prague were spent sans fridge and my stomach was a mess from restaurant food. In Koeln it took us a week to find a flat but my stomach settled, such is the higher quality of the food in general here. What a pleasure. Even fast food, like a Turkish kebab, enacted no tummy troubles. Amazing.

Prague and Cologne are only an hour flight away, but they are worlds apart.

My first few days here I walked around with my mouth hanging open, so used to I was the emanating hostility from Praguers, having to always put a protective air around myself, hiding my smile to avoid dirty looks from people thinking I was a tourist. I had forgotten there are places in the world where people are nice just because. This was the best culture shock I have ever experienced.

Finding a flat was a far more daunting enterprise. Nothing we had read online or heard from friends prepared us for how competitive and how expensive it would be to move in here. Most apartments were unfurnished, and by unfurnished I mean absolutely gutted. Not even light fixtures or kitchens, just walls and floors. Yikes. Not only that, these flats required three months deposits in order to move in AND the landlord would review all the applications to see which person they want to live in their flat. My husband and I had some scary moments as we were shown flats and the reality of our situation began to sink in.

Ultimately, we found a furnished flat that is usually rented out short-term and it didn’t come a moment too soon. We will not be leaving this space for as long as humanly possible. 🙂

Lothringer strasse, my new home, is in the southern part of Cologne; the neighborhood used to be the artist’s quarter but has long since mellowed out. It’s filled with cafes and international restaurants. There is a huge park replete with lake, ducks and a waterfall five minutes away. I have a view of trees from the window and I can even see the spires of the Cologne Cathedral “Dom”.

Just the name Lothringer reminds me of a lost faery land, now discovered, brimming with enchanted waters and blue skies.

In my previous post I asked Prague, “Who will I be without you?” It’s only been a month out of the Mother Claws and already I know the answer: I can finally be myself again. Smiling, friendly, happy, drama-free (or at least aspiring to).

Prague was like an abusive partner: Hostile, emotionally crippled, aggressive. Cologne is like a best friend: kind, sympathetic, loving.

As Annie sings, “I think I’m gonna like it here.”

Has a painful and unexpected change ever worked out for the best in your life?

14 Responses to Live from Lothringer

  1. Hi, Sezin. I’m glad your move to Köln has gone well! Folks here in this part of the Rhein are different, as different as they’re likely going to be from folks in the lower- or upper-Rhein, or from Bavaria, or from the north. The people in Köln like to party, and Karneval festivities/season begins every year on November 11th. Once the new year comes around, get ready to party hard – Lent has a whole new meaning. 🙂 Kölle Alaaf!

    • Hi Henry!

      It was quite poetic to meet you here in Koeln after knowing you online for all this time! You are absolutely right and each day I find further proof that the people here are so lovely, genuine, human in a way that I will never take for granted again. A pure delight. Like meeting you, I might add!

      Safe travels, my friend. I hope the stars guide you well and true.

      All my best,

      Sezin

  2. Dear Zuzu Faery Wonder Woman! How fantastic is it that you get to be Yourself in hard, cold, rainy Germany! In general the classic Prague image is: warm and romantic and the classic idea of Germany is cold and uninviting. (I’m being very narrow here for sake of brevety)

    It is so interesting to follow your travels and experiences in both places all this while. I’ve been thinking lately that there is so much about ‘classic’ images (Prague is romantic, Germany is cold) and how meraviglioso it is to slip into the rabbit’s hole and find something completely different than what was expected or presented. I’m exploring that in some of my writing lately.

    I’m terribly happy that you love Lothringer Strasse, it sounds idylic and that goth Dom in your sights….I envision some moon/monster stories coming out of that.
    LOVE S
    btw, I love Koln, it’s such a beautiful (can be) city. I hope you get to travel Germany, especially in the South, very rich and luscious (if a tad conservative:)

    • Hi Silvana Silver Star,

      It is ironic, isn’t it? Who ever would have thought. I also like the rabbit hole analogy — I never would have imagined that things would be so lovely here myself. Prague is indeed romantic, but only for a visit, I think. The beauty fades quickly as the reality of life there settles in. Then again, by the time of final days there I knew the beauty would really be the only thing I would miss.

      I also hope to get to travel! Fingers crossed that the economy will be as good as we had hoped!

      Lots of love,

      Zuzu xoxo

  3. So happy to read this, my dear Sezin – there is a profound change to your voice already. Abit and I had the same metamorphosis when we moved from Selcuk to Istanbul. Same country, yet different world. The giddiness in welcoming our true personalities back is priceless, so I’m thrilled to see the same happen for you. No one should live where they are not themselves, though so many do. Counting ourselves very lucky indeed. Wishing you and Steve – the Koehlers now living with Koelners – the best of everything in Cologne. xoxo!

    • Thank you, sweet Catherine! I agree that nobody should ever live where they can’t be themselves and it’s a shame that things like economics, etc., take precedence to our true happiness. That’s the world we live in though and yes, feeling very lucky about it. Although, not so lucky about still not having a proper Internet connection. Met my first horrible Koelner yesterday and I felt like I was back in Prague. 😉

      The Koehlers living with Koelners — yes! I thought of that, too! So cool!

      xoxxoo Z

  4. What a great article….full of optimism and joy. I hope that the positive energy energizes you….to finish the books underway and to start new creative endeavors. Hugs,

    • Thanks, Marty! I hope so too, but lots to do in the meantime…boring but important things like getting visas and insurance, etc. Hugs!

  5. Hi Sezin,
    What a beautiful post, and I love the name of your new street and that you’re living in what used to be the artists’ quarter of the city! That seems to me to fit you very well, for the artist you are!

    It’s great to hear you’re already feeling so happy and accepted there. I completely understand what you say about Prague–it’s very true. I usually feel like I’m living in a can…my true self comes out with our close friends here (Czech and expat), and when I’m home visiting family. Otherwise, my “self” is canned up behind the not-smiling face, and wearing the wrap of protection and disengagement.

    I sure wish you and your husband all the best in your new life! And I’m looking forward to more posts from you in your new home!

    Have a great day,
    Love and hugs,
    Sher :0)

    • Hi Sher!

      You’re very sweet!

      Yes, that “wrap of protection and disengagement” is such a horrible aspect of Prague. One of my Prague colleagues also moved to Cologne and she was saying what a hard time she’s having remembering not to frown and glare at people on her commute. You just know a place is toxic when it has that kind of effect on your daily life.

      Enjoy your time with your friends and husband and try not to let the horrible people bring you down. Looking forward to hearing from you as well what’s new in Prague and what adventures you having in my old stomping ground!

      Big hugs and lots of love,

      Sezin xoxo

  6. I am so, so delighted that Cologne has been such a positive change for you. I think this is exactly what you need now, a welcoming place to care for yourself and help your art to grow.
    I hope you and Steve have many happy times in your new home.
    Love to you, my sister!

    • Thanks, Sis! I hope the positive trend continues because this would be a great place to make something of a permanent home. Now to learn the language! Andale!

      Love you, Cathy xoxo

Thoughts?