The email looked just like all the rest: “Günther, your prize is waiting for you” – delete! – “Test Nivea products for free” – delete! – “You have won the Russian lottery” – delete! Residency in Christchurch – delete! – “New iPhone giveway” – delete! Hang on a minute… I will never know why I took a quick look back into the recycling bin. But when I did, I rescued the most amazing email of the entire year, which was to rescue me from the cold, grey Berlin winter.
Under the subject heading “Residency in Christchurch”, Goethe-Institut in New Zealand and “The Physics Room” art gallery in Christchurch were inquiring whether I “would consider” spending two or three months at the end of the year as an artist-in-residence in Christchurch. Would I consider it??!!
After a moment of sheer jubilation, I started looking for the catch. Was I being asked to forward 500 euro in order to be sent the required documents? Was my bank account PIN supposedly needed for the visa application? I couldn’t find anything, and the sender’s address looked completely above board. Also the email was written in impeccable German. But then I realised that a spam email would have been far less cruel. Because if I was really being invited to fly halfway around the world to visit New Zealand, the country of every German’s dreams, to live there for three months, I was going to have to write one of the saddest and most painful emails of my life: “Thank you for your kind offer – happy – greatly honoured – unfortunately – I hope you will quickly find a suitable replacement, tearfully yours”, etc.
Because how could I possibly take off for 10 or 11 weeks, leaving behind my partner and little daughter, who would have her first birthday and take her first steps while I was away. I definitely didn’t want her very first words to be “Where’s Papa?”
Happily there was another alternative – to take the family with me. So on 16 November 2017, the three of us will be starting our flight to the southern hemisphere, halfway around the world, where summer is about to begin. I have now signed on the dotted line, received the reimbursement of my airfare (my wife and daughter are paying their own way), and our apartment is looking like an (immaculately clean) rubbish tip, that is gradually shrinking as we pack our gigantic suitcases – but I still can’t help feeling it’s all somebody’s mistake, some kind of complex practical joke that I just don’t get. But in three days’ time we’ll be off …
(Soaked up the autumn in Berlin today. And a load of fresh Berlin style Pampigkeit at my local supermarket and in the Subway. If you don’t know, what Pampigkeit is, ask a bus driver in Berlin. It’s a very special kind of unkindness.)
I have no idea what lies in store: lots of exciting new experiences, for sure, encounters with artists and “ordinary” people (whatever “ordinary” might mean in New Zealand), experiencing life in a city that after a horrendous earthquake in 2011 is now looking for the right mix of reconstruction and redevelopment, travelling around the country they say you never want to return home from – and all sorts of surprises.
What bothers me now, after retrieving that email from the recycling bin, is this – how many Hollywood opportunities, invitations to the Antarctic or the international space station, free iPhones and prizes in the Russian lottery have I ignored or simply deleted over the years?