Berlin is the perfect place for wanderers like Chinese artist Xiaolu Guo, finds Berlin 24/7 columnist Gero Schliess. The city is on its way to becoming Europe's go-to address.
Nowadays, Xiaolu Guo calls the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin her home, and she seems to fit right in there. As the mother of a three-year-old she is among many young families that have flooded the area. Known for being helicopter parents, they are sometimes dubbed "Prenzelschwäbinnen" because many of the young mothers have moved to Berlin from rural Swabia in southern Germany.
An oasis for artists like Xiaolu Guo
But parenting style aside, the difference between Xiaolu Guo and other locals couldn't be any greater. Guo hails from southern China, and not southern Germany. She made her way to Berlin via Beijing, Paris and London. As much as she loves her daughter Moon, going to the playground is not her passion in life.
A driven artist, she tirelessly works on her books and films. Instead of playground gossip, Xiaolu Guo follows a more intellectual brand of discourse - ideally held at one of her legendary dinner parties where she engages in fervid debates with a wildly disparate group of guests.
This is Berlin, I say to myself, and I'm glad I came here after spending a few great years in Washington, DC. This city is like an oasis that attracts nomads from around the globe. But they are a new kind nomad. They coming with manuscripts and easels, visions and dreams. These are the kind of creative vibes I also pick up around Xiaolu Guo.
Berlin as Europe's go-to address
We had originally met at a spontaneous dinner party in New York. Even then, I found that Xiaolu Guo came across as strong and inspiring. She spoke of China, her books, her films, and she also mentioned what a great experience she had had in collaborating with German director Fatih Akin in Hamburg. Who would have thought that our paths would cross again - in Berlin.
Over coffee she tells me that Berlin suits her, paying the city a big compliment: "It brings harmony into my life." That sounds like a piece of Buddhist wisdom. She still spends a bit of time in London. But just before Britain voted in favor of Brexit, Guo bought an apartment in Prenzlauer Berg for herself, her daughter and her Australian boyfriend.
She says that since Brexit, the Brits have fallen into a depression. She finds more delight in Berlin's intellectual climate, stressing that Berlin is about to retire both Paris and London from their respective statuses as Europe's go-to address.
Many Americans agree. Even creative minds in New York look at artists in Berlin with a sense of curiosity - and perhaps even some envy.
Berlin, Beijing, freedom
I can see why she feels that way. This city is international, experimental and unfinished. You can see that in the many spaces between building as more and more luxury abodes are popping up.
Xiaolu Guo relishes in this. Her book "I Am China" shows how much her life has changed since her days in Beijing. She tells of a life under oppression as a student soon after the massacre on Tiananmen Square while portraying a love story between a student and punk musician.
Xiaolu Guo knows oppression first-hand. Her father, a renowned painter, spent 15 years in a labor camp. I ask her whether she is drawn to Berlin because it is known as the city of freedom. She tells me that would be too simplistic of an answer; after all, there is plenty to feel shameful of in Berlin's history.
Next stop: Berlin Alexanderplatz
At the same time, Guo is fascinated by the fact that the city oozes history wherever you go. Her take on Berlin is also a bit of an eye-opener for me. One of her favorite screen productions, Rainer-Werner Fassbinder's "Berlin Alexanderplatz," takes place not far from her home in Prenzlauer Berg. This is not sheer coincidence.
"Whether Alexanderplatz has become touristy or not, I don't care. I feel a connection to its history and to Fassbinder," she says.
Xiaolu Guo's passion for Fassbinder and Berlin's cultural scene is rather moving for me. At the same time there's a certain sense of melancholy I feel, as I know that one day it will be time to say goodbye.
Xiaolu Guo's enthusiasm for the city doesn't mean that she will call Berlin her home for good. The city is simply the best place for her to live and work at the moment. But she is and remains a nomad. It is just a question of time before my dear friend decides to turn her back to Berlin and move on.