In August I will have been in Germany for nine years now.
Nine years. Nine years! Niiiiine! Years!
Seriously, though. Nine years. What the hell.
I did not come to Germany intending to stay. It was the easiest place to go, since I couldn’t remain in Greece (because the Greek state does not recognize my Abitur; punishment for going to the German School of Thessaloniki) and I had relatives here. I ended up in Frankfurt more or less by accident, though the universities I applied to were all in Hessen, the state my mother is from. I obviously don’t regret that, since it is here that I met my wife. And I did want to leave home. I’ve always wanted to be independent, to live life my own way. My one recurring nightmare is about being forced to go back to school.
I didn’t mind coming here. But I also didn’t want to stay. I always thought of Frankfurt as an intermediate stop; I imagined I would end up in Britain, or perhaps America. English, after all, is my primary creative language and my general language of choice (though I deeply love Greek). German, on the other hand, despite being one of my native languages, doesn’t do much for me. German culture doesn’t particularly appeal to me. My favourite piece of German culture is Gothic II. I’ll leave my analysis of German cultural issues for another day – the point is that I don’t feel personally connected to any of it. Tennyson can make me weep, but Goethe puts me to sleep, and let’s not even talk about Schiller. There is no German equivalent of William Blake. I am very impressed by Gothic II, but it doesn’t quite make up for everything that is lacking. I think what bothers me most is the lack of passion, healthy revolutionary tradition-defying passion.
Anyway. Given all that, I did not expect to be here after nine years. I don’t blame anyone – at least not any individuals. The increasingly bad economic conditions are making things much harder, though. It’s much harder these days to get published. The fiction market has changed radically. The takeover of all creative industries by manager types is also a big part of that, with the focus having shifted completely to profit and finding the next megahit. (There was a time when the great publishers and studio bosses, while definitely being capitalists, were also proud of their cultural contributions and invested in projects that they knew wouldn’t make millions.)
In the arrogance and optimism of youth, I thought that by now I would be a published writer and a working filmmaker, even if only on a very small scale. I did not think that after nine years I would still be in Frankfurt, struggling to keep a roof over my head, only just now starting to make some real headway. I knew that it could happen, I just didn’t think that it would happen. And I guess that though I fully expected the economic changes that we are now witnessing, I had not anticipated how much it would affect my creativity. The reason that I haven’t finished my novel, that I haven’t sent my screenplay out to any agents, though the feedback for both has been tremendously positive… is time. If the cost of living hadn’t risen by such absurd amounts, I could have had the time to work on all these things. As it is, I have to make games pretty much 24/7. I always thought I could accomplish a lot because I’m a really hard worker and I can spend every day working on my creative projects. I did not anticipate that I wouldn’t have any time left to spend.
I also, of course, made a lot of wrong decisions. I spent either too much or too little time at university. I should either have focused all my energy on getting a degree or just immediately focused only on making art for a living, instead of spending years and years in seminars until I realized I couldn’t bear to spend another day there, until the very idea of another insipid exam set by some idiot with no qualifications and no contact with the real world would make me sick to my stomach. I regret my choices but I don’t blame myself too much; after all, I couldn’t have known. And I couldn’t have anticipated the many strange bad things that happened to me – or the many strange good things. It’s life. I may have failed in some ways, but at least I’m fighting for my dreams. And I did make all those games.
Still, yesterday was a strange day. You see, yesterday I finally got the confirmation that the Greek military now considers me a permanent resident of Germany. The Greek military would like to draft me, you see, so I can waste a year of my life playing soldier for our glorious leaders. Like all young Greek men, I’ve had that hanging over my head since I was a child. I’ve never considered actually going; I won’t give a minute of my life to fascism. But how to get away and still be allowed to return home, at least briefly? How to avoid paying the massive fee for not showing up when you’re supposed to? How to avoid being arrested the moment you enter Greece? For years my parents and I worried about this. Now it has been solved: because I have dual citizenship and work in Germany (I am officially self-employed now), I can be declared a “citizen permanently living abroad.” I can’t live in Greece, but I can visit for six months a year. One of my biggest worries of the last ten years has suddenly evaporated.
It was a peculiar feeling. Relief, but also sadness. I had never, until now, acknowledged to myself that I would be in Germany for a while longer. I always thought the current year would be the last year, that I would sell my book, or Verena hers, or we’d find some form of success that would allow us to go somewhere else – not Greece, but maybe somewhere with sunshine. Or at least somewhere where they speak English. I don’t think I’ve fully admitted it to myself even now, to be honest. To say “yes, we’ll definitely still be living here a year from” seems like admitting defeat. But I’ve been here for nine years. Permanent resident.
And I can’t go back, not to stay. Not until I’m 35 or something like that, anyway (whatever the law says by then – who knows?). When I left, I was fine with that. I loved Greece and wanted to return for the holidays and all that, but not to live. I was going to be a writer and filmmaker after all, so I would go where that would take me. Maybe even Hollywood! They could use someone with my talents there. Except of course that I’m still here, and that I never anticipated how much I would miss the sea and the landscape of my youth. I never anticipated how much I would feel the need to become involved in Greek politics, to do something, to fight. And I can’t. I’m stuck here.
I don’t mean to complain. I’m glad I don’t spend my days in an office or a supermarket. I’m glad I’m not a cog in the machine of exploitation. I’ve made games that have reached people, that have made them laugh or cry or both. I’ve entertained, I’ve pissed off. It’s all good. And I’m making progress, slowly but surely. I’m climbing out of the hole of misery that’s been the last few years.
But man, nine years. Nine years! That’s a long time.