Cities. In order of first encounters.

von Alina Saha

Cities. In order of first encounters.



One. Nürnberg,

the town where I was born. Obviously I don’t remember it. But I know that it has a famous Christmas Market, accordingly famous Lebkuchen and Glühwein, its own sausages and Starkbier. But primarily, it’s world-renowned as the place where the Nazis were tried.

I was born on an especially hot summer day. And even before that, it seems I had an idea that the world was probably not going to be a particularly nice place. They had to literally yank and force me into it with specialised medical equipment. Stubborn babies, like me, who would have preferred to stay in the womb even if meant suffocation, are then kept away from their parents, locked into hospital wards. My first day alive I spend lying alone, looking at the rusty pipes outside the hospital that run next to a stinking canal. The air is orange and glimmers in the heat. Boredom. Never ending Boredom. Life on Earth.




Three. Unterhaching

In Unterhaching I found my first friend. She had a funny French name that sounds like the German word for pineapple. Anaïs.

From Monday to Friday my parents sent me to the forest to play with other kids. I would have preferred a normal kindergarten. Normality in this case being defined by the existence of a kitchen.

In Unterhaching my parents also got me the best thing they ever gave me: a sister. The day she was born, I learned that  there was an apparent  difference between sisters and friends.      Sisters don’t go home in the evening, they stay with you forever.




Four. Munich

is actually quite charming. At least if you’re a foreigner. Which most Germans are in that city. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t. As a kid I used to ride the merry-go-round in the English Garden and lick the gravel stones surrounding it. My mom still claims that’s the reason I have no allergies and rarely get sick. Alright with me, I just wish she’d stop telling the story to everyone I know.

The riddle of Munich, however, will forever be, why people with so much money and seemingly endless possibilities choose to all wear the exact same clouthes. Is it an attempt to recreate the feeling of uniforms at British private schools? At least those uniforms can be cute. But polo-shirts, chinos, boat shoes? They also, very obviously, must all be getting their hair cut at the same place where the same guy only knows how to do three haircuts. I’m afraid that if you’re a hairstylist in Munich, you’re either not very good at your job or the Schickeria has worn you out into a constant state of resignation and depression. Who needs a supreme leader to enforce a limitation on haircuts if the people already decide that individual expression should be limited to the three options they dictate?




Seven. Rheine

The town I have been visiting over and over again for more than 20 years is Rheine. Funny enough, there is a river that runs through the town but it’s not the Rhine. My grandmother still lives in the house her father had built there almost a hundred years ago. She lives there alone now, together with her old, fat and way too lovable always-begging-for-affection dog.

Ever since I can remember the house smelled like holidays. An endless mix of spices, sweet tea and incense sticks. When I was younger my grandmother used to wear saris and countless golden bracelets that made music every time she raised her arms.

After my grandfather had died, I adopted his way of walking through the house. Hands behind the back, the left hand holding the right slowly strolling through the house, looking down, hardly raising our feet while humming a Bengali lullaby he used to sing.




Ten. Essen

Going to school in Essenfor eight years taught me a lot of things, including:

1. Don’t ever let your parents put your Bengali name on your school papers. The name will not belong to you but your classmates who will mispronounce it as a “joke” and label you a “Pandi”. Which is a term they made up that could refer both to Indians and their English accent. Suppose I simply have to be glad they never called me a Pakki.

2. Make sure your English class does not discuss colonialism or what they call: the great Empire and Commonwealth. For a few weeks it turned me into a full fledged Pandi. I was spoken to only in an Indian accent with the favourite point of conversation being: “Which hotline do I have to call to speak to your cousins and tell them that you refuse to speak in Pandi with us?” Because that’s what Indians do, right. Answer privileged white people’s questions about their computers.

3. If you’re a girl, don’t wear clouthes that are too short, too long, too boring, too fun, too different, too weird, too black, too colourful, too girly, not girly enough, don’t be fat, but also don’t be skinny because that’s anorexic and that’s just as disgusting, don’t put on too much make-up but don’t be ugly without it, don’t have short hair you will look like a lesbian but don’t you dare lose your long hairs on the school desks. Just go hide in a corner, shut your mouth and hope no one notices you.

4. But actually, no don’t hide, because then your teachers will give you bad grades for not raising your hand often enough.

5. If you actually do raise your hand, don’t always give right answers, because then they’ll think you’re an annoying know-it-all. And that won’t make you popular. JK Rowling is wrong about so many things.

6. One more thing: If like my classmate you’re a girl and “well proportioned” it’s your fault     when the sports teacher is staring at your twelve year old tits for ninety minutes straight. Don’t be such a slut! Better go and hide them. What is wrong with you for going through puberty so early anyways.

7. Don’t be fat and smart. No, not true, it’s both okay. If you’er a guy at least. And as long as you’re not from the wrong neighbourhood and the first boy in your family who will go to university.

8. If one of your classmates calls the one black kid in school the n-word instead of his name, they expect you to laugh. Because:

9. what are you complaining about? It’s just a joke. It’s not bullying. Or racist. He thinks it’s funny, too. The teachers don’t seem to have a problem with it, either. They get the joke!

10. Conclusion: Essen sucked!




Fourteen. Düsseldorf

I know. I think it’s weird, too. But there really is a corner in Düsseldorf that is nice. It has all the Japanese restaurants, the Japanese supermarkets, the Japanese bakeries, the Japanese cafés, the Japanese book stores, the Japanese stationary stores, the Japanese tea shops and the same kinds of places again in Korean plus Taiwanese noodle houses. It’s also the area that WayV’s Yangyang recommended to visit if you ever go to Germany. Though he is from there so I suppose it’s safe to assume he’s a bit biased. Just in case you were wondering. Everything else is rich Germans with bad tastes in fashion. For a description of rich people and their terrible fashion, refer to point number Four. Munich.




Eighteen. Tokyo

In my entire life I have never been homesick. I have never really desperately missed a person. Not one of my exes. Not my family. Not my friends. With Tokyoit is different. It is so bad I cannot help but laugh about how pathetically comical it makes me.

Last spring I burst into tears when I scrolled through Instagram and found a video posted by one of my favourite cafés. Someone had filmed five seconds off the rain outside in Tomigaya      and then into the warm, 60s style café. To me it was like accidentally running into an ex who had mercilessly broken my heart and I was still terribly in love with. They recently opened a new store in Asakusa and my heart cracks when I think about how long it will take me to see it. Stroll through the Shoutengai. The Edo-jidai alleys. Tie an o-mikuji to the wires at Sensoji.

Expecting to be reminded of it doesn’t make it much easier either: Like watching Japanese movies where the protagonists get on trains with the typical sound of the announcements, the melodies on the platforms, wheels clicking through points the way only JR trains do. Or reading Murata Sayaka’s description of convenience stores. Too close to reality. I found a Tonkatsu store in Düsseldorf. My reaction to the smell was Proustian. I was hurled back to the Maisen-honten in Aoyama. Or eating Taiyaki at the Japanese bakery in Berlin with my one friend who studied at the same university in Tokyo and knows the traditional Taiyaki place close to its campus. The bakery in Berlin is lovely. But it’s not the same.




Twenty-one. London

My first time in London I spent exactly in this order: airport, tube, apartment, tube, Wembley arena, BigBang, beer after the concert, tube again, the parking lot where my friend had to emergency pee after crying in pain the entire trip back on the last train, apartment, tube, airport. That’s it. That was the trip and it was worth it.




Twenty-two. Berlin

Our Berlin flat is two stories above an “erotic massage salon.”
Of course we all play the game: A lone man is standing in front of the building door when you come back from the supermarket. You know that it will take a moment until the buzzer opens the door. So you slowly take out your key and kindly hold the door open for the man who, very hesitantly, follows you into the building. Walking at snail pace.

So, in order to enjoy yourself properly, you take your time to open the letter box and verify a few times that it actually is empty until you can hear the buzzer. The man will walk past you and you encouragingly smile at him. You can hear the door to the salon open and get a last good look at his embarrassed, red face before he disappears into the dimly lit apartment with its plush rugs.

Nothing is as disappointing as when the door that opens is the one opposite and the guy is actually there to see the dentist.