Abroadingly
Published in

Abroadingly

Claiming Abandoned Flannel

Nothing gets thrown out in Berlin.

In the summer of 2019, I struggled to pack my entire existence into two pieces of luggage: 23 kilograms each. I did what I had to in order to carry on; that’s additional. I’m a hoarder, and so my heart was more set on packing a souvenir ukulele than it cared for warm sweaters and jackets. Living in the heat of Chennai pierced through my skin leaving behind a thermal tattoo on my body. I hate the cold, but I don’t mind the winter clothes. They’re cute.

It was still summer and so, my tattoo lived on my skin cheekily. Then, I got to a point where I had to go winter shopping. I have a love/hate thing going on with shopping because 1) I’m insecure; 2) my anxiety makes it difficult; 3) I think I’ve said this before: I am a serial hoarder(er). So, the idea of replacing hand-curated pieces that were packed over a course of three weeks in my homeland, nonetheless, really got to me. I wasn’t ready to throw out the only things I owned in a foreign land in exchange for new swagger. But, that’s where I had it wrong. Nothing gets thrown out in Berlin. It’s simply passed down with a letter of promise that this thing holds another’s memories. You’d find this letter mostly encrypted into price tags at the vintage stores. The idea of owning something more memorable took me to Humana, a large chain of second-hand clothing stores across Berlin. All the major neighbourhoods had one. Humana makes you put in the effort and row through a sea of refurbished pieces of clothing to find one that sits comfortably with you. This didn’t help me with 1) or 2), but something about seeing my fellow hoarders break the habit and resell their clothes appealed to my psyche.

I didn’t feel like I was drowning in excess, the way that I do at retail stores. There’s lesser to choose from because these pieces are actually unique. I have never felt overwhelmed while pushing aside hangers thinking about the people who once partied in these outfits.

There was a time when East and West Germans, though united geographically, found differences in manner due to the striking contrast in their respective childhoods. Techno was one thing that they could agree on and thus became the thing that united them. A Jewish department store that was shut down during the war was reclaimed right after and turned into Tresor, the warehouse techno club that turned away nobody. So much of the city had to be rebuilt but apart from tearing down of oppressive structures, the city found a way to pass down pieces of land for people to make their own. An air-base that had changed hands more than a couple of times over the decades of war is now open to cyclists, skaters, runners, and even the lovers of BBQ. Berlin hoards but in a way that it gives back.

Now, as I move on to another city, I can assure you that packing up was a struggle but I have managed to leave Berlin with just one piece of 23 kg (again, carry-on is additional). Which for a hoarder like me, is quite the accomplishment. Of course, I’ll go back for my other 23 kg, but this time to repack and let go of the “things I own”. Not everything needs an “expiry” date. No, that sounds like death, but maybe a “use by” date. And if you don’t use it by then, you pass it on to someone who will. That’s what this city does. It takes something as simple as a used jacket from someone too tired of flannel and its bold colours and sends it back, say, to a woman in need of one, indecisively rejecting the sheer volume at retail stores, as she desperately attempts to attach meaning to everything around her.

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For all you brave, dissatisfied souls who started life afresh in another country, and all that that entails.

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Shruthi Subramanian

Shruthi Subramanian

I write and eat my feelings. Hi, I’m Shruthi.

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