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I am Lina Ever (LinaNeverbickiene).
I was born in 1970 in the Lithuanian town of Panevezys. After finishing school, I moved to Vilnius, where I studied journalism. Soon I began to work in the national daily newspaper Respublika, where I covered cultural topics and later foreign politics. I eventually took jobs as a public relations consultant and even the chief the of the Protocol and Communications Departament of the Ministry of the Economy. But no matter how important the people I met or the meetings I participated in or the speeches I wrote for VIPs were, deep inside I always felt the need to be alone with myself and write fiction. So one brilliant autumn day six years ago I decided to leave my comfortable bourgeois life and move to Berlin with my husband and youngest son, to the city that always inspired me and where I always felt at home.
Since moving here, I have published four novels and one non-fiction book about my piligrimage with a priest in German Saxony. This latter attracted the attention of German publishers. I am very interested in Berlin cultural life and write articles for Lithuanian media outlets.

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Graphic Novels

Berlin photos by Renatas Neverbickas

 

By Lina Ever

 

I don’t know who or what I am.

I used to think I was a plant. Not the kind that burrows its roots into the soil of an old farmstead and feeds off the lifeblood of its ancestors, but a plant in a flower pot that a fickle housewife constantly moves from the window sill to the corner, from the kitchen out onto the balcony, from the bedroom to the children’s room—a plant that doesn’t have to meet anyone’s expectations. All it must do is survive and know how to forgive when it’s overwatered or left dry. But plants have limited mobility, and the casting of the same shadow at the same time every day begins to irritate after a while.

I used to think I was a bird, perhaps even an eagle. I am fascinated by the brilliance of mountain peaks and the greenness of valleys, and to soar in the heavens is a state of bliss that humans are only meant to know in their dreams. But the life of birds is confined to a strictly defined seasonality, to precise autumn and springtime migration routes, and a manifest attraction to their native home, which I lack.

I used to think I was a mermaid. I love to dive through an imagined world and run away from the present—away from my problems, from the noise, from people, from temptation, from conversation. I’m less afraid of becoming ensnared in actual nets under the water than I am of the imperceptible traps of virtual life that entangle our daily lives. But with time I understood that I love the heavens more than the depths, and a reflection is not enough for me.

I used to think I was a ladybird, not particularly useful but not taking up much space, able to bring joy to others, happy to be drawn by children and not be crushed by angry women like other bugs. Free to fly where I wish, but never too far away from my own field. But with time I began missing longer wings and the self-confidence I needed to venture beyond the horizon.

I used to think I was a feather, light and inobtrusive, floating wherever the wind carried me, and when the wind changed, after resting from the brief dance, I would rise again and be eternally grateful for the merciful gusts of fortune. But there came a day when I understood that I am much heavier and that I have more to say to the world than through only a beautiful flutter.

Now, I no longer try to paint a picture of myself. I simply enjoy the fact that I don’t know what I am. Not tossing about declarative slogans about my homeland, but also not trying to pretend to be what I am not. Not forgetting the home of my parents, but feeling much more at home in foreign lands.

“I don’t belong to any country,” said Jonas Mekas, a prominent Lithuanian émigré artist, to the magazine Exberliner one year ago. I wrote down those words in bold letters on the first page of my diary and I stopped feeling guilty for having chosen the life of a nomad.

The Polish poet and essayist Adam Zagajewski divides people into the sedentary, the emigrants, and the homeless. I count myself among the latter: “The homeless person is the one who, because of chance, the whims of fate, or due to his own fault or temperament, didn’t want or wasn’t able to develop close and sincere ties with the surroundings in which he grew up and matured […] Such a person is unable to name a street, city or settlement to call home.”

For those like Jonas, like Adam, like me and thousands of others, there is Berlin. A city for the voluntarily uprooted, the exiled, the rejected, the disobedient, unable to adapt to their own fields and longing for the company of others just like them. A city that defies definition, statistics, the whims of fashion or technological development. A city that waits for no one but accepts everyone. A city that blurs the boundaries between nationality, sex, age, occupation or salary. A city that demands no allegiance but which induces a dependency for each of the “homeless.”

I first tasted this city when I was young. It was 1989 and in Vilnius we were demonstrating, publishing free newspapers and singing forbidden songs, while in Berlin the Wall still stood and soot still spewed from coal-fed fires, but punks gathered in pubs, loud music resonated and people celebrated life without a care for tomorrow. Back then, it was the freest and most Western city in our closed world.

Lina Ever 03Berlin photos by Renatas Neverbickas

 

One dose was not enough. I returned one year later. Everything was different. We could slip through the Wall into the West of our dreams with no need to travel any further. The city encompassed all of Europe, from the impoverished East to the slumbering West to those celebrating the changes. Two different Berlins made contact, like plus meeting minus, sparking constant surges of energy so powerful that they changed something inside, perhaps even altering the DNA chain, liberating the genes of freedom. As I watched that tumult of history, that frightening beauty, I held my breath, my words and my emotions. Everything here was real: no feigned gallantry or politeness, no false beauty, no cultivated German flower gardens. Even then, Berlin, like a man who knows how to seduce a woman, understood that you don’t have to show your most beautiful side—that a woman can only be won through complete openness. That’s the Berlin I fell in love with: chaotic, hesitant, unstable, ugly, but real, open, laid bare and vulnerable, partying through the night, reading poetry in bed at dawn, and by lunchtime once again promising to become more serious. Even then I understood that life with Berlin would not be easy, but it would be very interesting.

I heard the phrase somewhere that we don’t love the men who are the most beautiful or who earn the most money, but the men who help us to be ourselves, to reveal who we are and liberate our talents and push us along the path we might never have the courage to pursue alone. We may also choose where we live guided by that inaudible, quivering voice deep in our bellies: Come, we’re meant for each other, we can do so much more together than apart.

Once you find your person, your poet, your mountain, or your city, it’s very hard to forget them. They return to you in dreams, in small details, in wishes, in memories. They become our ideals and, without even knowing it, we compare all others who come after to our person, our poet, our mountain, and our city.

Berlin wanted me to return. It found the most unexpected ways to arouse my memory cells and remind me nostalgically about the sycamore leaves that fall softly on clear autumn mornings, the rustling of a newspaper in a small cafe, the rumble of a tram down a wide avenue, people wasting their lives sitting at overflowing tables behind large windows, delicate cherry blossoms opening along the dwindling remains of the Wall, a DJ playing in some inner courtyard, and about the people, those free people, who care for neither you nor themselves nor the world around them, those people who live as if tomorrow will never come.

And I’d return. Briefly. I’d skim the surface, awaken my senses and each time I had to leave I‘’ be overcome by a strange melancholy sadness, my own Weltschmerz, like after a passionate weekend with a lover. It was lovely and sad at the same time, to understand the world’s transience and, despite that, to experience some pleasure within it.

Lithuania is the land of my birth—the place recorded in my documents, the place where my childhood friends live and the place I will probably want to return to after I’m dead. Lithuania is the home of my parents, but there comes a time when you grow up and it’s time to leave that home. Berlin accepted me like it does everyone else, granting my temporary existence a temporary shelter. It allowed me to finally become what I am. It forced me to pause, relax, stop being perfect, to mind others, and to find the courage to be the person I had dreamed, but never dared, of being. Here I am nobody, but I am myself.

“Ich bin ein Berliner,” said John Kennedy in 1963 while visiting West Berlin, two years after the appearance of the Wall. He wanted to emphasize his solidarity with the inhabitants of that enclosed city, to say that every person who loves and defends freedom can boldly call themselves a Berliner— that it was not a question of where one was born or lived, but a state of mind.

If freedom becomes the most cherished value, if tolerance is not merely a concept but a way of life, if otherness is not a diagnosis but one more color in the palette, if you believe that art—even the kind you don’t understand—can heal the soul, if you don’t force your own beliefs on others, and if you feel fine without any beliefs at all, if you don’t build walls between people and continents and celebrate the world’s diversity, then you, too, are a Berliner. And your home could be here, too.

It’s customary at parties to ask someone you don’t know where they’re from because Berlin is a city of newcomers from all over Germany, Europe, and the world. Each of them brings with them their own culture, colors, and sound to create that unique Berliner multikulti atmosphere. There’s another term that was born in this city. Wahlberliner, or “Berliner by choice,” is a term used by people who have freely chosen to live in this city. They are people who haven’t rejected their own nationality or former lives. They have no shame about their roots, they don’t even try to assimilate or adapt, and they thereby emphasize that they are free to choose where to live. The city doesn’t pressure you, it doesn’t dictate its own rules or seek to dominate you. The city wants you to be who you are, so you can blend into its rhythm with your own voice, your own songs, and the poetry written in your own language. The city wants me to effortlessly remain a Lithuanian who has chosen to live in Berlin—a city that encompasses more than all of Lithuania.

Aretha Franklin would sing: “I'm climbing higher mountains, trying to get home.”

I often think that my road home leads through Berlin. When I get back, I’ll find out who I am.

Lina Ever 04Berlin photos by Renatas Neverbickas

 

 Translated by Darius Sužiedėlis

 

 

 

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