What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #9

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #9.

Always ask for more money.

This one is tough. In fact, it’s something I’m still learning but trying to get better at. When you apply for a full-time job, or really any job at all, that pesky little moment comes around when you have to talk about money. Research shows that men are better at this than women, because women tend to second-guess themselves and their worth far more than men do. Unfortunately, if you’re a freelance writer, a mini version of this comes along about once every couple of weeks, or maybe several times a week if you’re really successful at pitching. You’ll pitch a story, an editor will get back to you intrigued, maybe with a few extra questions and directives, and then, before writing the story, you two will have to talk about money.

For most freelancers, sadly, this probably means one thing: the editor proposes a sum, and you say yes to it, too scared to lose the story and a potential client to try and argue for more. In 2014, after several successful attempts at raising my salary for corporate work, I decided I would ask for more money every chance I got. I had once been burned by a boss who practically laughed me out of the room when I tried to get more money from him, but that was six years ago and I was just beginning to understand my worth. If asked to name a price first, I’ll usually take whatever price I expect an editor to say yes to and add quite a bit on top of it, assuming that it may go down due to negotiating. If the editor names a price, I’ll outline how I got more from such-and-such an outlet for a similar piece, and see if he or she can negotiate.

Sometimes this is harder than it looks, as a lot of outlets, especially online ones, will have set-in-stone, low pricing you can either take or leave, along with that possible home for your story. Once in a while I’ll let myself down, panicking when I’m asked for a price and underselling myself, knowing that I’m doing it even as I hit the send button and wait for a reply. I’m trying to get better at this, but I’m encouraged by the fact that I already have. I just added up my finances for 2014 and I made more money than I ever have in a single year as a freelancer. I have to assume some of that came from my determination to always ask for more, and my resolve to give up this fear that doing so might mean losing a potential client. I hope to do even better in 2015.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #8

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #8.

If you are generous with your time, experience, and contacts, others will be too. But it probably won’t be a 1-to-1 transaction.

This has something to do with Rule 3, and certainly has a lot to do with forging meaningful relationships as a writer, but it is a bit more specific than that. If you had asked me in 2013 or earlier what frustrated me most about being a young and relatively inexperienced writer, I would have replied: the cliques. That was it: all the writing groups out there I wasn’t a part of; all the secret societies I hadn’t been invited to. I truly believed that there was a group of around 10 to 12 writers in Berlin who were getting every story in every major publication, and leaving the rest of us to roll around on the ground, looking for scraps. Why weren’t they giving freely of their help and contacts? How could I get them to? And most of all, how had they risen to that point in their lives where they had help and contacts to give? Who had seen fit, many years ago, to give freely to them? Why weren’t “they” me?

While it’s true that a fair number of very good writers live in Berlin (hey, Berlin still remains cheaper than New York, and even very good writers are hardly very well paid writers; we all need somewhere to live), many of them got to Berlin before it was !!!Berlin!!! and spent years gathering facts, reporting stories, and pitching articles on a city that few—or at least fewer—outlets were particularly interested in. They did their time before I arrived. I know many more of them now and you know what? They have been extremely kind and generous, giving freely of their time, expertise, and occasionally even contacts.

Meanwhile, I’ve stopped being afraid to ask for that help, and instead, have started to focus on my own sort of giving. You remember back in Rule 3, when I said that 2014 was the year I started thinking of myself as a legitimate writer, and stopped thinking of myself as a hopeless mooch who would never have anything to offer? 2014 was also the year I realized that giving generously could translate into receiving generously, but it would rarely be a one-to-one transaction. This means that you should answer questions when you can, direct other writers to editors if they’re looking for them, discuss and critique written work as you would wish others to discuss and critique your own, and be generous with your time if it means helping someone else take a step you once found daunting. It also means not expecting those exact people to repay you in those exact ways. It may be that someone you help will be hard to get in touch with when you need help in return, but someone else down the line will probably make up for it, popping up and giving you assistance at exactly the right time, astonishing you with his or her generosity.

There was a time when I got self-righteously annoyed with how helpful I was being; pissed off that this person or that person seemed to have taken my advice, run with it, and not bothered to thank me. Then I remembered that I once did that as an inexperienced writer and was rightfully called out on it. I also remembered the numerous people I barely knew at the time, who have since become good friends and reliable confidantes, who proved their goodness early on by giving me direction without my even asking for it. Their advice resulted in paid articles or good clips, in an unforgettable experience or a much-need confidence boost. Keep these people close; their generosity was and is advance payment for your own future generosity.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #7

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #7.

Learn how to make yourself take time off.

This one, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, was the hardest for me. In a way, I think it’s the hardest for all freelancers—one of the things we may actually envy our full-time office job friends for; friends who go out to the movies in the evenings, have brunch on weekends, and take two-week vacations that are actually vacations. To put it simply, we freelance writers don’t know how to take a day off, because our job depends on finding story ideas, sources, and outlets everywhere we turn.

The fact that we can work from anywhere turns into a curse instead of a blessing. Maybe we’re in Lisbon as I was last February, looking for undiscovered hole-in-the-wall restaurants as fodder for a “Top Ten” list rather than for our own culinary enjoyment. Maybe we’re in Taiwan as I was last March, or minds racing with possible outlets that would be interested in a story about a fascinating but comparatively little-known country. Maybe we’re just at home, trolling the Internet for interesting current events stories we could write responses to. Whatever our goals, whatever our reasons, we can’t sit still, because choosing to sit still now might mean that a month from now we’ll be sitting still not by choice, but because we don’t have any work at all.

What’s more, if we want to take a planned vacation, we have to estimate when to stop pitching and when to close the office, so that the assignments stop coming in at exactly the week we want them to. The way magazine publishing works, you can easily be writing a story in January that you won’t see in print until June. In much the same way, you can easily be pitching stories this month only to have editors get back to you in two months’ time—exactly when you had hoped to take a weeklong vacation.

Around November of this year, however, just as I was flying home from a two-week vacation in New York that was hardly a vacation at all (I worked all the way through it), I realized that if I was going to maintain my sanity, I was going to have to take a break. Luckily, Germany was about to take a two-week break as well, and I noticed that most of my regular clients were winding down for the end of the year. I also realized, with some relief, that I didn’t have to send out any new pitches if I didn’t want to. That might mean I would awake on January 1 and I find I had no writing gigs ahead of me, but that would free me up to do other work: take a 30-day online course on querying like I’m doing now, rethink my website, which I plan to do in the next week, and reorganize my desktop for the new year.

I’m writing this after a two-week break during which I did almost no work at all, and by the end of it (we’re talking January 1st, exactly) I couldn’t wait to start gearing up for another year full of freelance writing surprises and accomplishments.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #6

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #6.

There is no big break – just hard work

I used to think every successful writer I knew of had gotten some big break. I fantasized about how he or she had probably once been exactly as I was, laboring over small, trivial articles for little pay before – bingo! – he or she met the right person, slept with the right person, unknowingly did a favor for the right person, and was instantly propelled to a higher plane of existence; one I could not fathom, but just had to believe existed. This could also work, I reasoned, if a Very Important Editor of a Very Important Magazine™ just happened to be slumming it in the primordial ooze of popular websites and low-brow inflight magazines, saw your article, thought for some reason you were brilliant, and invited you to write for Very Important Magazine™. Suddenly everyone recognized your great talent, and you were inundated with invitations to write for: The New York Times! The New Yorker! Vanity Fair! Vogue!

Now, mostly thanks to the aforementioned online writing groups I am privileged to be a part of, I’ve realized that even the most successful writers still have to do the grunt work of finding new clients, going out into the world and making connections, pitching stories, worrying about deadlines and payment. Big breaks do come for the lucky few, but the rest of us, regardless of how talented, driven, and connected we are, have to learn to slog on through as well.

Realizing that success and my perceived lack of it had less to do with luck and much more to do with hard work was somehow liberating. Now I no longer had to sit there, stewing in my own resentment of the things that Other Writers were getting that I was not. There was a reason for it, and it was entirely under my control: the more pitches I sent out, the more networking I did, the more actual writing I did, the more likely I would be to get another kind of big break—one based entirely on my own goals and entirely of my own making.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #5

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #5.

Have something else you love to do that does not involve sitting in front of the computer.

If you’re a writer of any sort, no doubt most of your time is spend hunched over something. In the olden days it was a piece of parchment with ink and quill, a candle stub quietly burning out next to you, a pot on the floor to catch the drips in your unrepaired ceiling. Then it was a typewriter. Thank goodness we have computers now, and most of us don’t live in Dickensian conditions. Still, if you’re like me, you probably have constant back, neck, and shoulder pain from sitting in chairs that are not meant to support hours of typing, lying in bed propped up on three or four pillows, or sitting on a living room sofa with my feet up on a chair. I should really get one of those ergonomic chairs, but I hate the way they look.

So it’s a good thing I’ve cultivated a number of hobbies that give my back a rest along with my eyes. If whatever I’m working on gets to be too much for me, there’s a good chance you’ll find me putting on my running shoes, downloading a new episode of Radiolab, This American Life, or lately, Serial, and going on a 30-minute run. What’s more, I usually have my best ideas when I’m in the shower afterwards.

If it’s around lunch or dinnertime, I’m just as thrilled to get my mind off my writing by going food shopping, planning a meal, or simply baking something frivolous. I’ve found that working with my hands is a thrill I can always afford: when writing down my list of ingredients for a new roast chicken recipe or stirring together a batch of granola, I can give my brain the kind of rest it simply does not get from anything else. Perhaps it’s the combination of hand-eye coordination with another level of planning and timing that gets my mind entirely out of writing and onto another task at hand, but it’s crucial mental time off that makes me twice as ready to go back to my ideas when I have to sit down at the computer again.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #4

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #4.

You don’t have to publish a certain amount of articles per week/month/year to call yourself a writer.

I used to think writers had to publish a certain number of times per week or month or year to be considered legitimate. I would look at writers’ personal websites, a long list of glowing publication credentials in their portfolios, and I would wonder what I was doing wrong. After all, even if I got an editor to take notice of me long enough to write one article, I could hardly ever get him or her to care enough again. How did I become a repeat contributor to certain publications? What’s more, how did they?

This year I realized that writing doesn’t have to be a numbers game, and indeed probably shouldn’t be. If a writer has written dozens of articles in a very short amount of time, take a closer look: those articles probably consist of clickbait, top ten lists, and lots of topics that will win the website a lot of hits but probably didn’t earn the writer a lot of money. I write for some of those now, and I’m fine with them because they’re fun, easy, offer an outlet for my playful side without involving lots of time and multiple rounds of edits, and pay just enough that they seem worth it.

The key to being a writer—and indeed any kind of freelancer—is having a steady flow of work, sure, but equally crucial is being discerning, picky, and above all else, patient. If you have steady gigs that pay the bills, whether they are at all creative or journalistic or just plain corporate, you can afford to focus more on your ideas and the publications that might take them, regardless of how well those pay (and let’s face it: most of them pay pretty badly). You can also afford to take some time off once in a while, and as you’ll see further ahead, that’s also on our list.

I know that not everyone can operate this way, and I’m very lucky that I can. Over the past two years I’ve built up relationships and very often self-made positions with local clients here in Berlin that pay me enough to sustain a lifestyle some would consider luxurious in what remains one of Europe’s cheapest cities. I couldn’t afford New York on the money I make, but I can afford to live nicely here in the German Hauptstadt.

I also know that not every writer can thrive in these exact parameters: some writers really are spewing out new ideas a mile a minute; enough to pitch fifty new outlets a month and get positive responses from ten of them, enough to keep churning out the clickbait and watching those small amounts of money trickle in to add up to larger ones. For me, and I suspect for a lot of writers, the smart decision is not to rely on open-ended pitches to faceless editors with slow response times on the other side of a computer screen to pay the bills. You should spend as much time building up the boring work that will finance the work you really want to be doing.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #3

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #3.

Making friends with writers is important, but not for the reason you might have thought

A very short time ago, I was of the firm mindset that the only way to become a successful writer was to make friends with other writers, and to be lucky enough that they’d be the right ones with all the right contacts, eager to help you even if you were too much of a beginner to do anything for them in return. While I still think surrounding yourself with a network of writers is extremely important, it turns out it’s not at all for the self-interested, self-promotional reasons I once had in mind.

2014 was the first year I truly started thinking of myself as a writer. I’d just done the Fodor’s guidebooks for the second year running, I’d co-written, -edited, and –published Slow Travel Berlin’s 100 Favourite Places by the end of 2013, and I had completed the first draft of what would later become Finding Your Feet in Berlin: A Guide to Making a Home in the Hauptstadt. Suddenly I felt I might have some advice to offer, and that’s when friendships with other writers started getting easier. I realized that I had been holding back, approaching potential friends awkwardly, all in fear that they’d find out what I was really looking for: that I needed help and advice and had none to give. I started asking questions about other people’s projects, and scanning my brain to think of anyone else I knew who might be able to help.

To my surprise, the connections I was able to make with other people who were struggling the exact same way I was—even people who seemed wildly successful on the outside—were more relaxed, more genuine, and much more helpful and supportive than any I had made before. I met a fellow Berlin-based writer who had also worked on the Fodors guidebooks, and she and I became fast friends. I was happily surprised by how much support she was willing to give me and how many contacts she was willing to share without my even asking her. I tried to do the same for her. A married couple who are successful and well-known bloggers became a great sounding board on the full-time freelance writing life, how to find the right outlets for your work, and avoiding certain outlets that make big promises and pay badly, and a general inspiration. My co-editor on the Slow Travel Berlin book also became a source of knowledge and support as we traded ideas, contacts, tips, and pitching horror stories.

Finally, although I may have been skeptical at the beginning, considering the general timewaster Facebook seems to have become, joining several secret groups of writers online was the best decision I could have made towards finding a community in a profession that can be pretty lonely. Much more than giving freely and generously of advice, contacts, and job leads, the people in these groups have given me suggestions on fine-tuning pitches, ideas of where to pitch stories in the first place, support when something annoying or disappointing happens, and inspiration with their own success stories.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #2

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #2.

Never take rejection personally (and learn how to actually do that)

This is sort of an addendum to the previous rule, but important enough to get its own slot. Part of learning how to play the game is understanding that the rules have nothing to do with you, that the people who make those rules (editors) have nothing against you, and that those rules are just intended to make their lives easier. That’s why you should approach every pitch you write from that perspective too. How do those alien creatures with full-time jobs get those full-time jobs, you ask? They find the person who is looking to fill a position and present themselves as absolutely indispensible to that person; the only credible fit for that position. If you want to get the attention of an editor who has never heard of you before, the best thing to realize and accept is that that editor is just a person, and probably a stressed out, overworked one at that. Don’t expect a response, especially if it’s a rejection; be kind, patient, and quick to thank if a personal rejection comes.

Back in mid-November, just after I’d flown to New York for Thanksgiving but before Thanksgiving week, I had an idea I’d been kicking around in my head for a few days. Thanksgiving preparations were in full swing, and diatribes against the unholy matrimony of retail and holiday known as “Black Friday” were already being penned. I thought I could add to the conversation by writing something about Black Friday from the perspective of an American living in Germany—a country with a very different retail environment and an almost puritanical devotion to closing shops and businesses on holidays. I reached out to a Facebook friend of mine who was an editor at a high-profile New York publication, and asked if she might be interested in the story. She forwarded it to her boss, who said he was intrigued but confused by what I was trying to say, and she asked me to call her. After a friendly and helpful conversation during which she gave me some direction, encouraged me to write the piece on spec, and told me she would do her best to get it in before Thanksgiving day (it was Tuesday by this point), I dove in. One long night of writing and two edits later, the piece was in the system and ready for approval. The day after Thanksgiving she forwarded me her boss’s apology that he had never gotten the chance to approve the article so it couldn’t go up in time.

In the world of “Giulia, pre-2014,” I would have exploded with anger, mostly at myself, for having wasted time on writing the piece only to see it rejected, for having waited to pitch until time was that tight, for many other things my brain would have cooked up in the vengeful stew that would probably be boiling in there. In this case, I thanked her kindly for all her work trying to get the piece published in time, told her it was no big deal, and immediately put it back in a file with a note to start pitching it again in early October 2015.

The moral of the story? Rage against the editorial machine will blind you to future possibilities. Staying calm and thankful for the learning experience you’ve had keeps your mind and vision clear, and allows you to see solutions instead of beating yourself up about your problems.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #1

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over the next ten days, I’m going to share some of my tips. Here is Tip #1.

Pitching is like a game: once you treat it as something you can win, you’ll get better at it

About year ago, I was already hard at work doing the things I thought I needed to do to become a writer. One of those things had quickly become the bane of my existence: pitching. I seemed to labor hours or even days over a pitch, waiting to send it out until I knew it couldn’t possibly be improved anymore, rereading it for grammatical errors and typos so often I barely saw it anymore, hyperventilating as I hit the Send button, and then: nothing. I would wait in vain for a couple of days, biting my fingernails, chewing off my cuticles, stewing in self-doubt until this prolonged process would reach its inevitable conclusion: I would have some kind of breakdown in which I ranted and raved about my uselessness, half mad with frustration at myself and hatred for the editor who couldn’t even bother to answer my long-labored-over email. Then I would inevitably cry, rage at the world, and promise myself to stop writing for good and go on to more useful, lucrative pursuits. (Or so I thought.)

As you may have guessed, this had to stop, or I’d probably be in some kind of rehab center along with burnt out Hollywood starlets instead of writing this to you now. The change came when I went to visit an old and dear friend, a radio journalist who has been around the world in the last few years, collecting fascinating stories, people, and experiences that all add up to her doing her job well. I came upon her the morning after my arrival bent in front of the computer with a recorder on one side, a notebook on the other, and a phone in her hand. She was trying to make what must have been her tenth call of the week to a policeman in a nearby town who refused to answer her questions about racism against Hispanics in the police force. I decided to ask her about pitching. After all, she had been assigned these stories; there must have been an editor at the other end, ready and willing to take her on as a reporter, and that meant there must have been a pitch somewhere in between.

“Oh, I love pitching!” she exclaimed. “It’s my favorite part!” I probably looked at her like she had just grown a second head. She went on to explain that she enjoys the back and forth of figuring out a story, then rooting out a media outlet that would be a good fit for it or finding a radio station she would love to work with, then looking through her back burner to figure out what idea might make their ears perk up. I wasn’t sure I agreed with all of it, but I had to admit one thing: thinking of pitching as a game you have to learn the rules to—and then begin to win at—was far preferable to the way I’d been handling things.

Ossi, Wessi, Amerikanerin

This weekend, when it seemed the entire world was celebrating one of the 20th century’s most important events, J and I got out of town. Having both been blessed with the same opinion that we generally dislike large holidays and events promising crowds of people in a small space, we decided there would be nothing better for us than to remove ourselves from the premises.

For me, there was something more at work too. I had celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall in Berlin five years ago (J and I had just met, and having felt the exact same way about the commemorative events – “I was there for the real thing, why do I have to be here for this?” – as he does now, he had escaped to our house in Brandenburg, and I had stayed behind, wanting to capture something of those heady days 20 years ago for myself, even though I had only been a toddler at the time). So I was more than familiar with the mixed feelings one can have when participating in an act of mass commemoration when one has no real memory of the event that is being commemorated. I felt, somehow, that it was not my due.

A few days earlier, I had posted an article about the Lichtballon installation that would be used to commemorate the Wall along with the question, “Am I the only one who just doesn’t get this?” and was met with a range of responses that ran from agreement to polite confusion to near hostility. Why didn’t I understand how beautiful and right this rendering of the Berlin Wall was? Did I not appreciate the magnitude of the event it was honoring? Did I not see how it was the perfectly attuned response to that historical moment, eschewing what could have been a day of overblown kitsch and embarrassing bombast? Well, I hardly needed to point out that it was not the importance of the anniversary I was disparaging, but rather the flimsiness of the way—basically the only way—the city had chosen to mark that anniversary (not to mention the potential environmental hazards of releasing thousands of balloons into the air—even ones that are supposedly made of biodegradable material that will only choke some animals, but not all—but that’s another story for another time).

We passed Potsdamer Platz on the way out of town, and drove through the opening in the line of balloons that had been left for traffic—the significance was not lost on us. The balloons were there, waving on their stands; a few of the stands had no balloons, leading us to wonder whether they had not been put up yet, or had already been stolen or popped or released before the officially sanctioned time.

As the weekend wore on, I watched all social networks flooded with photographs of the balloons—some of them blurry and dark and completely unnecessary, some of them bright and clear with a graphic appeal I hadn’t expected. A few even made me wish I had stayed in town—momentarily. But then the criticisms started coming in, letting me know that I hadn’t been entirely alone in the first place. A photographer I know with a top floor flat in Mitte looked down over the city and could see no sign of the balloons being released, a gentle wall of light slowly rising into the sky, and found this compounded her general sense of disappointment. Someone posted a video of the balloon “ambassadors” releasing their balloons, but the effort was not coordinated, and each went off into the ether at a different time, instantly losing their light as soon as they were disconnected from its source. Today, Tagesspiegel also chimed in.

We chose to mark this anniversary a bit differently. At 8 o’clock in the morning on Sunday, we woke up, got dressed, ate breakfast, and made the half hour drive to the town of Schwedt—a depressing eyesore of a place that was just profiled in the Telegraph pretty darn accurately, replete with Socialist Plattenbau buildings falling apart or just standing there waiting to, empty storefronts and parking lots, concrete and broken glass. For the past two years or so, J has been playing a church service there several Sundays a month, hired by a community that is actually getting funding from a church in Switzerland, and quite a lot of it at that. Now, I’m an atheist Jew, and I certainly have my problems with organized religion, but no one can doubt that these people are doing quite a lot of good. As the Telegraph stated, the average age of the population of Schwedt hovers at around 50, but this building on this particular day of the week is always full of families with kids, teenagers who come to service alone because it’s the only thing to do on weekends, and quite a few Wessis who, for whatever private reasons of their own, decided to take a chance on Schwedt and see what they could build there.

After the service, we drove another 30 minutes north to the town of Gartz, where a forester we had befriended had invited us over to share a leg of wild boar he had shot himself along with his wife, daughter, and elderly parents. This is someone who is employed by the state to keep the boar and deer population in check; his house is replete with stag horns and boar tusks on wooden plackets, hanging on the walls in rows like gold medals to his hunting prowess. He is also an unexpectedly gentle, soft-spoken man who writes and records his own music. That’s how J and I met him. As we sat down to this generous, Thanksgiving-like meal on this distinctly extraordinary Sunday, J and I got into a conversation with the forester’s parents, who lived in a town 60km farther north: his father had worked for the LPG before those three letters became known as a very expensive organic supermarket in Prenzlauer Berg, back when it was merely the “Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaft” of the former GDR. He had taken care of cows for the collective farms, and now he bred and raised doves in his retirement. I wanted to ask them how they had experienced the fall of the Wall but simply couldn’t bring myself to do so, wary of how annoying it can get to be quizzed continuously, by everyone you meet, on what it was like to be in New York City on 9/11. They seemed quite content just to sit with us, leaving the outwards shows of celebration to the rest of the world while their granddaughter played at their feet.

Afterwards, we walked down to the end of the road with the little girl skipping ahead and a gigantic Weimeraner hunting dog named Inca, clearly bred to carry entire wild boar carcasses, on a leash, happily stalking and sniffing ahead of us. We opened a creaky, rusted gate and stepped onto a plot of ground sheltered by still-green fir trees while yellow, brown, and red leaves from other bare branches rustled and then disintegrated underfoot. Ahead of us was a small collection of 25 gravestones, some of them cracked down the center, others half covered in glowing green, soft moss, still others standing straight up, as if to say to the world, “we are still here.” This was the Jewish cemetery of Gartz, first used as a burial place in 1850, its last headstone laid in 1935, only three years before it was partially destroyed. The wife of the forester explained that she had tried to do some research, and had found that there was a sizable Jewish community in this area prior to the 1940s, including quite a few going by the name of Guggenheim. The children, at least, had mostly survived, brought to London by Kindertransport. The rest must not have been so lucky, and this cemetery, this tiny collection of chipped, worn stones in between two residential streets, is the only tangible proof we will ever have that the Jews of Gartz existed.

This is the other side of 9/11, which to the Europeans already signifies Nov 9, since in Europe the day is written first and then the month. Nov 9 was the day the Berlin Wall fell, and the night of Kristallnacht, and an important date in so many other ways. I am grateful that I, an Amerikanerin who really has no personal connection to the events of either day, could celebrate it in my own special, non-light-balloon-filled way with a couple of Ossis and Wessis, in a decimated city called Schwedt, and a tiny old town called Gartz, in a region called Brandenburg, in a country that used to be called East Germany.