Berlin – My Muse of Wildness, Exploration, and How to Embrace my Independent Self

Berlin – My Muse of Wildness, Exploration, and How to Embrace my Independent Self

Independence is a great gift and a curse. Without it, I would never have accomplished what I have managed to do in this life.
Most women do not remember that until 1976, they could not have a checking account without having a husband.
I was sixteen at that time. And that moment passed by without my noticing it.
Then I went to New York City and was on scholarship, and finally, I was off to Berlin, Germany, in 1978.
In Germany, there were no such rules or laws, and so it just seemed normal that we all had our own bank accounts. I mostly operated on a cash basis for normal things, and even then, rent automatically came out of my account, and I did not have to think about it.
When I first got there, I was shocked to see that in Germany, they would serve small beers to young adults over the age of twelve.
The stigma that I had been raised with in Texas around drinking …  was not there, and that was very new because in Texas, there were “dry” areas and “wet” areas. Meaning that in the area I lived, you could not buy alcohol, but if you just passed into another county, you could. Each county voted on whether they were “dry” or “wet.”
As a young person, alcohol or drugs were never my things because my body was my temple, and I needed to put into it what it needed to work optimally. And stay thin, of course.
Belin was a land of extremes and permission. There were sex stores on many corners … which was stunning with my very Catholic upbringing. Berlin was the “Gay Mecca” of Europe. (That was their label, not mine!), with many transvestite clubs, and this was the only German city at that time that did not close down at 10 pm.
While the subways stopped at 10 pm, the nightclubs were open until the wee hours of the morning.
Even though we were surrounded by a wall and deep inside a communist country, it was clear that keeping things out of Berlin was not a problem. Drugs were readily available, and so it must have been a very easy way to bribe the East German guards to get things into Berlin, other than by air (as in the Berlin Blockade).
Berlin was a hodge-podge of new architecture, as so much was destroyed in the wars. It gives Berlin, to this day, its unique look and attracts those who seek a more diverse lifestyle as Berlin had many fringe groups.
The University in Berlin was called the Freie Universität Berlin, and it was basically free, with the exception of some graduate or post-graduate programs.
A Foreign Exchange student from my high school years was in school there for her massively complex degree to become the curator of a museum.
I got to connect with her a few times while in Berlin. But the communication style of such highly educated people was extremely difficult for me to understand in German … much less all the other languages that they were required to be fluent in.
It was one thing to be able to understand “theater” language in German, but the conversations that they were having around politics, archeology, and ancient history were very difficult to navigate with my limited language skills. In the space of University students, I was clearly not able to share much.
Berlin seemed to give me the freedom to discover my own edges while being in a very safe and structured German society.
After all, trains were always on time. No one was ever late for anything … ever! One has to love German punctuality and exactness for that.
Having Austrian bloodlines, I can easily fall into those places where rules are rules, and I understood the requirement to follow them to the letter.
Ballet is filled with lots of rules, and for me, those rules gave a sense of safety and security if one knew how to follow them.
But then there was this totally different side to Berlin. That was the part that some did not see or acknowledge while living there. Berlin has a wild nightlife, and part of Berlin came alive in the after-hours.
I got so used to it as the norm that when traveling to other German cities to perform, it was shocking to realize that there were no restaurants open after a show. Which was when dancers are starving and seeking food.
Everything at that time in regular German cities closed down at 10 pm.
Berlin was a contradiction and an exception to the strict German rules that still ran and kept the city going, while the underground in Berlin fed those that thrived in secret worlds and wanted to express those hidden predilections of their shadow self.
I look back and realize that I needed both of these sides of the city to grow.
I was never a “wild child,” and so my explorations were not much about going into the dark and seedy side of life but more about exploring places and spaces. Experiences were of the greatest interest to me. Being with those that were fellow artists and those that operated slightly outside the German social norms.
Only after going to the Berlin Reunion when I was in my 50s, did I realize that I had been quite brave and bold in my explorations.
I remembered how to go from one train … up and over to another train effortlessly, even surprising other dancers as to how I knew that.
It was completely normal to me … as I tended to wander around Berlin on my days off in an attempt to discover what was available, explore new places, look at architecture, and wander through the more natural areas such as parks and museums.
I must admit, it was spooky to go towards the areas where there were parks at the edges of East Germany or East Berlin and where the wall was.
It was disturbing to see the signs that said in German, “If you cross this point, the East German guards will be watching you!”
Then if you went further, the signs turn red in a warning and had a skull on them with the words, “If you cross this point, you will be shot by the East German Border Patrol!”
That was a constant clear reminder that we were living in a dangerous time and that there were restrictions to these freedoms, and that freedom here had come at a terrible cost.
I am grateful to have lived in Berlin, even though it was often scary at times, and the Cold War loomed over everyone living in Berlin.
One could never quite shake the feeling of being watched and being in a very large prison.
The mood at that time in Berlin was very serious, and life was tinged with the harsh reality of a divided country and the terrible sacrifices that the country had suffered.
But the resurrection of Berlin now is a testament to the people of German and Berlin to hold tight to their city and country.
It is a clear indicator that eventually, all walls will come tumbling down and that governments cannot control the desires of the people forever.
I learned a lot about myself in Berlin. I learned how to stand on my own two feet. I learned that many things are not what they seem. I learned that our own government does not tell us the truth and that the truth is relative to those touting it and their underlying intentions to control the people.
I learned about the dark sides of life and that to be whole, we have to be willing to explore those sides.
I learned that while my shadow is curious, she is not dangerous. While she is cautious, she does not intend to take from others. And while she requires a lot of freedom and independence, she will not tear down others to get it.
The truth is that I have learned to love the diverse parts of myself and work with them to give myself a life that is both beautiful and dramatic.
This life has been wonderfully wild, and I am finally at a place where fear does not control me, and the fears of others cannot influence me because I see them for what they are … a distortion of their own mind that needs to have certain things be so. But rarely are they true.
I have learned a lot by really listening to people. I listen to their words, but I also watch their body language, their eye-accessing clues, and their breathing, and I feel into the words they choose and seek to understand why they say things the way they do.
I recognize that what their ego needs to be true …  they say with conviction. But that never means that what they are saying is actually true.
In watching humanity, I have witnessed how many believe that they are independent when they are actually repeating the words, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of another.
True independent thought is a rare thing. And when it arises from a person, it feels like fresh air, it feels like freedom, it feels refreshingly authentic, and it feels honest.
I continue to be a seeker of authentic engagements with others. I love to feel the creative expressions and the hearts of those that have also been brave and bold in their discoveries in this life.
Such moments, while they are rare, have a quality that is transcendent and expand my heart, mind, and soul in new ways. And that is what I wanted from this life, to be constantly amazed and allowed to have a life filled with wonderful experiences and adventures.
I hope everyone will have such moments and connections because they are the gift that keeps on giving. They are the source of great magic and inspiration. And they exist always at the edges of our comfort, where they lure those with the courage to move past the signs of the mind that warn to stop because there is danger ahead.
Those signs do warn of danger. But the danger is to the ego, to the old identity, and to a self that knows that life is just beyond what we fear.

~Suzanne Wagner~



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