In Europe, it is normal for young people to move throughout the European Union. School classes arrange trips at a young age going beyond the borders of their own nation, and it is widespread for students to visit the countries whose languages they learn at school.
Later, when they study in the universities, the students use the opportunities to travel to Europe, either in short trips or through a student exchange programme to spend one or more semesters outside their home country. Of course, political and financial unity contributes significantly to the mobility of EU residents, but a movement is also due to the short distances and the interconnected culture and history of different countries.
In Latin America, traveling is the privilege of a few, most middle-class youth who get to know something of the world. Especially in Chile, there has always been a certain mistrust towards traveling. I think this is due to the natural borders that the country has: on the one hand, the Pacific Ocean, which is a sheer insurmountable obstacle. On the other side, the Andes, which already presented itself to the Spanish conquerors as a border challenging to conquer. In the north the driest desert of the world, the Atacama Desert, in the south the ice desert of the Antarctic. Chile is practically an island. This is at least how the Chileans understand the geography of their own country. Besides, Chile itself has so many different landscapes to offer that it is difficult to travel the country entirely. Chileans, therefore, go north or south within the country’s borders, mostly in search of work, to study in the capital, or to visit a family living in regions other than their own. But only a few dare to cross the border. And if they do it for a longer time than for the duration of a small vacation, then they really go. The young students or employees do not necessarily go to spend a semester in Argentina, Peru or Mexico, no, they go to study for a master’s degree in the USA, apply for a scholarship in Canada, Australia or, the ones who are luckier, in Europe. The Old Continent continues to be the cradle of the dominant culture in South America, and many European style buildings are older than the modern independent states of South America exist. Entering history, getting to know European diversity and at the same time seeking one’s own identity seems to be a reliable motor to dare the adventure of living in Europe.
I met Nelson in Concón, near Valparaiso, Chile, on a beach known for its surfable waves. Black, curly hair, black beard, darker skin color and observing eyes. He didn’t want to fit right into the world of the illusion of surfers. When we talked, he told me that he worked as a psychologist and that surfing helped him clear his head.
A good year later I met him in Berlin, Germany.
PonderingTime: Why did you decide to leave Chile?
Nelson: Ever since I was little, I wanted to get out and get to know the world. I have always liked learning other languages, getting to know other people, that has ever moved me. I don’t think you can get to see another place during the holidays, you have to live there for a while to really know the location.
PonderingTime: When did you start planning this trip and the move?
Nelson: The plans to leave Chile became concrete when I traveled to the USA. I was in California, and I felt that I wanted to live in another culture for a longer time.
PonderingTime: This isn’t really your first move.
Nelson: No! I was born in Angol and lived in Collipulli; when I was 2 years old, we moved to Antofagasta.
PonderingTime: From the south of Chile to the extreme north…
Nelson: Yes, and then, when I was 7 years old, we moved to Los Andes, in the region of Valparaiso.
PonderingTime: You have already got to know most of Chile.
Nelson: I went back south to study law, I went to Temuco then. But I didn’t like the studies, and that’s why I changed the reviews and the university: I studied psychology in Valparaiso, and when I finished, I went to Santiago to work there. For work reasons, I returned to Valparaiso and lived there for two years with my mother and my youngest brother, and now I am in Berlin.
PonderingTime: Do you like being so mobile, or would you instead have a strong relationship with a specific place?
Nelson: It’s a privilege when you grow up in one place, but on the other hand, having that feeling that you’re “nowhere” at home also helps you to get away from one home or one Ruam, even a city or friends and people. Ever since I was little, I’ve got used to the changes, the moves. I don’t know anymore how many places, houses, and apartments I called home. Was it 16? 18? Or even 20? It is true that the moves with my family always took place within Chile, we are not across borders, but the Chilean culture is entirely different, and I have lived in very different regions. This has shaped my world of thoughts. Well, and besides, we moved around a lot when I did crucial stages in my life. When you’re little, and you go, you leave your friends, and then you start all over again. That’s why it’s not particularly difficult for me to begin anew today, on the contrary, it’s always a definite challenge to get to know myself better and to know better where I want to go in my life.
PonderingTime: Since when are you in Berlin, how long do you want to stay?
Nelson: I’ve been in Berlin for a month and a week, and I plan to stay for about a year, but well, I’m not a good planner, I think if you think more than 4 months ahead, it’s going to be confusing. But the idea is to stay here for a year, and then I don’t know what will be.
PonderingTime: What do you do, what do you live on?
Nelson: I have saved a lot of money in Chile, through a lot of work, and that has helped me to make ends meet and gives me peace of mind. But here in Germany I also worked as a cleaner and painter. Really everything is different for me, I used to be a recognized psychologist with a stable income. And today it’s not important, it doesn’t matter at all.
PonderingTime: What do you notice the most?
Nelson: Uffffff. (Nelson sighs) This is so hard to answer, everything is new, and I feel like a curious child in a country so different from mine and Latin America. I like the diverse nature of the language, I ask like a child all people “What is that?” and ask them to explain each word individually (laughter), and so far, the Berliners have been very good to me.
PonderingTime: And your first impressions from Berlin and Germany were…
Nelson: Very good! In the beginning, I was mainly interested in how well the public transport network is developed and works and how cheap it is to buy food in a supermarket. Also, the income and the minimum income is really much higher than in South America. And I also like the interculturality and make myself more attentive. So, I sit in an S-Bahn and look around and see that we are all different, an African, an Asian, a German, a US-American and me, that’s wonderful!
PonderingTime: Which sentence or which word do you like most in German or which word do you think is particularly important?
Nelson: One of the first essential words I learned was “möglich (possible)” and then I learned to use it. And if the days are a little more difficult, then I repeat in my head “alles ist möglich fur mich” (laughter).
PonderingTime: “Alles ist möglich für mich.”
Nelson: One umlaut per sentence is enough! (laughter) Well, and one brilliant word is “cheers” (more laughter). I drank a lot of beer, and different kinds: IPA, APA, wheat, Stout, well, all of them!
PonderingTime: You experienced a sweltering summer in Germany, there were not many possibilities to cool down…
Nelson: Above all, my girlfriend is a beer fanatic and shows me the different tastes, and I enjoy it. This beer culture seems very interesting to me, it is very similar to the wine culture of Chile. There’s an awful lot of choice, flavor, aromas, intensities, hops, styles, it’s so great to go into any late night and have a vast selection of beers. Unthinkable in Chile. My girlfriend then shows me a good IPA beer or a strong Stout beer. And it’s great that you can enjoy a good beer wherever you are.
PonderingTime: In Chile, it is forbidden to drink alcohol in public places.
Nelson: Yeah. Well, in Berlin we really enjoyed sitting in a park, enjoying the sun, looking at the parks and accompanying this experience with good beer. But on the other hand, I also notice how normal it is to see drunk people in public at any time of the day or night. Sometimes you see drunk people with their beer bottles on public transport at seven or eight in the morning. Recently I was at the Oktoberfest on Alexander Platz, and at night there were an awful lot of drunks who were yelling and staggering around, and I was surprised: is this really the first world? The saleability of alcohol has created a society that consumes much and often this drug. Well, in the end, there are not so many differences. In some respects, you have similar scenes in the USA, Latin America and elsewhere.
PonderingTime: What have you eaten in Berlin?
Nelson: What I really like the most is the falafel, I’ve decided to eat vegetarian, and I’ve been there for a few months, so I didn’t eat meat in Berlin, I can say that much.
PonderingTime: And what do you recommend doing in Berlin?
Nelson: Wow, I’ve gotten to know so many beautiful parks, it’s incredibly beautiful in Berlin, the green spaces are gigantic, and you switch off from reality and from the big city. I also visited several lakes for swimming, I arrived in the summer, and that was nice and refreshing. But I also recommend taking the tram, suburban train or subway, and merely losing you and always finding a new exciting corner. Berlin has many districts, and there is a lot of street art to see. I was lucky enough to pass through different parts of Berlin, so I saw both sides of Berlin, which used to be separated by the Wall. You know, I saw the movie “Goodbye, Lenin” and at school, I was always interested in history, so I learned a lot about the Second World War, and the German bombed cities, about the division of the country. And the reunification was, in Chile, an important symbol for those who took peaceful action against the dictator Pinochet. So, to walk through these same streets is crazy, the story suddenly becomes tangible, it does not hide, it is not veiled. The memorials, the memories, the images, and the audiovisual presentations are all on the street, accessible to everyone. That seems really great to me, but clearly, there is also this tacit censorship that somehow prevents people from talking about war, Hitler and racism in general.
PonderingTime: At least you can say that it gives the Germans a particular shame, it is a hard and black spot in German history.
Nelson: I haven’t been here very long, and I have to be here much longer to penetrate the German world a little. I believe that Berlin is a place where multiculturalism is much more accepted, there is not so much room for hatred and racism in today’s world. One always hears comments against Turks, but nevertheless, it is an entirely open and quite tolerant society. On the other hand, this somewhat hushed history of extreme nationalism and discrimination then becomes visible, as was the case recently in Chemnitz (referring to the demonstrations of the extreme right on 26 August 2018, the author).
PonderingTime: Another black spot in the current history of Germany. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt discriminated against?
Nelson: No, not as a Latin American in Germany. But I do feel that there is an absolute difference in status. All the Germans I have met so far think that I intend to stay here forever. I am somewhat amused that they are pursuing this illusion that Germany is the big thing. Look, I like the country, and I am very grateful that I can get to know it and I am absolutely thrilled to be able to live this new perspective. But for me it is essential to live near the seashore, the vast Pacific Ocean is worth more to me than high-quality public transport. For me, human closeness and warmth are worth more than a society that hides its feelings. I have other priorities. I make good experiences, but I also have the impression that the Germans think that every non-European comes here to find a way to stay here forever. And in my case, it’s just not like that. I enjoy my stay, I learn some German, I walk through the streets of Berlin, I get excited about so much history to experience, about street art and museums.
PonderingTime: Speaking of art, you like rap, and for a long time you’ve been into music.
Nelson: I like music, and since I was ten years old, I have always been actively connected to it. When I was 14, I got my first electric guitar, and then followed a search for many different instruments, I searched, stumbled, lost my way, was right, there were encounters, hate, and love. Today I dedicate myself to Hip-hop, for 3 years already with some friends and relatives, and work together with some bands from Valparaiso and Santiago, among others with the nomad from Valparaiso and the Astropoetas from Santiago. The music I make, I make with a lot of passion and great devotion, and thanks to my brother, the nomad, and Mati, who masters the magic of the beats.
PonderingTime: Did you have the opportunity to meet musicians in Berlin, especially Hip Hoppers?
Nelson: Yes, I got to know some musicians in Berlin. For example, Nicolas Miquea, a Chilean musician who welcomed me and gave me one of his guitars to react and process the emotions here in Berlin. I remember a unique situation, I worked for a few hours in a restaurant, and they pulled me down, I walked with tears in my eyes, I had no words, I wanted to sing, and I had no guitar, that was really frustrating. Well, the guitar gives me relief and energy to keep everything in balance and process it.
Nelson B. López / Benour
PonderingTime: And have you had a gig yet?
Nelson: Yes, I had my first appearance at the Brandenburg Gate, with Nicolas Miquea, Manolo Pez and Evelyn Cornejo, where we commemorated 11 September to celebrate the injustices and violations of human rights and to raise a voice against the dictatorships of Latin America.
PonderingTime: While in Chile September 11 is associated with the 1973 coup d’état, this date is now often associated internationally with the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
That means you met Latin Americans in Berlin. What is it like to meet someone from your home country or culture in a foreign country?
Nelson: Yes, I’ve met many Latin Americans, especially Chileans, and I’ve also made friends, for example, one with whom I share making music. It’s excellent, and every now and then I miss speaking like a Chilean or a Latino. But you also realize what you don’t like about your fellow countrymen, well, everything is also a learning experience for me.
PonderingTime: A few days ago, the national holiday “Fiestas Patrias” was celebrated in Chile. Did you miss something in particular, from your country or your home?
Nelson: Honestly, I don’t care about Fiestas Patrias, I’ve never been very interested in this process, and it’s the fifth year in a row that I’m not in Chile on this date. It’s just too excessive, you lose the focus of the supposed festival, the time doesn’t really mark independence, and everything ends in an alcoholic excess, and I don’t feel comfortable with that.
PonderingTime: But there must be something you miss at home…
Nelson: Yeah, sure, I really miss the sea, mainly because in the South American summer I traveled to Peru, Ecuador and Brazil looking for waves, and that was wonderful.
PonderingTime: And now, do you want to visit a surf spot in Europe?
Nelson: I’m still looking where I could go surfing a good right wave, I was thinking about the north of France and also Portugal or San Sebastian in Spain. I do not have a concrete plan yet, but it is likely that I will fly to Portugal, to Lisbon, in October or November.
PonderingTime: You’ve traveled a lot through South America. What are the differences between travel in Europe and travel in South America?
Nelson: I really traveled through South America a lot. There are many differences, especially the financial burden is considerably higher in Latin America than in Europe. Here you can fly for 20 Euro from Berlin to Rome, which is unthinkable on the route Santiago-Lima or Santiago-Quito. And well, culturally we are quite similar in Latin America, and we are connected by the universal language. Here you move a few kilometers and everything changes, language, culture, food, although of course there are similarities which dominate Europe as a whole.
PonderingTime: Were you in Europe before? And what have you met now?
Nelson: No, I’ve never been to Europe before, this is my first time, but so far, I’ve traveled in Germany, of course, and I’ve been to London (GB), Rome (Italy) and Greece, where I was in Mykonos and Athens. I really liked everything. They have so many exciting places. So much history in the streets, and since I was always a history nerd, I look at everything like a child and wonder about the magic of history.
PonderingTime: Did you notice anything negative?
Nelson: Apart from the beautiful things, the English really are very often very drunk (like the Chileans, or even more) and I just don’t like drunks. On the other hand, Rome is so terribly full of people that it is stressful. And Greece, I have nothing to say, it was utterly enchanting, especially the sea, of course, there were no waves, but the sea is just essential for me to, and to be in the sea is very meaningful.
PonderingTime: And the Germans? Do you think they’re very structured?
Nelson: Honestly, for some things yes, the bureaucracy and things at Postbank for example, but all in all – even though I know that I can’t deduce from Berlin the whole country – they’re not so terribly “square,” structured and closed.
PonderingTime: Can you explain that in more detail?
Nelson: I think they’re not closed because they’re quite open and cultured, they speak a lot of languages, wanting to help. But somehow, they are also extremely structured regarding work morale, and they are terribly direct concerning their emotions and thoughts.
PonderingTime: What do you think you will miss most during your stay in Berlin?
Nelson: What I miss the most so far are the waves of the Pacific. But honestly, I can’t answer that yet, I’m here too short. The family is always missed, but I remember it through the music, so far it hasn’t been a big obstacle.
PonderingTime: And what personal changes do you expect? How do you think this experience will shape you?
Nelson: I hope to get to know myself a little and to break out of the so-called comfort zone that I have in Chile. It is difficult to recognize in Chile when you live a privileged life, you get used to an “easy” experience where you are well paid, you have everything, and you forget how hard it is for others to achieve just a little bit of what you have. That’s why I wanted to get rid of my material things, and I wanted to start from scratch, face everything: Discrimination, having nothing, not understanding the language, etc. I do not compare myself to a migrant who emigrates out of financial need, I migrated out of emotional necessity.
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Soledad Marquez is German and Chilean; born in Germany, she grew up in Chile and Brazil, studied in Germany and lives now in her homeland of heart, in Chile, at the sea. She studied Spanish, French and Portuguese Literature and loves books. She also likes to go surfing and to collect seashells while walking at the beach with her husband and her daughter.