I first came to New York seven years ago, in may 2006. I had to use up airline miles that would have expired that year. Apart from a business trip to Las Vegas long ago I had never been to the United States . My first joice would have been San Francisco, but my amount of miles only allowed the east coast. So I chose New York City, without having a proper idea, what it would be like. I thought, a week should be enough time to see everything. I started with a cruise around Manhattan to get an overview. Then I began exploring neigborhoods. Greenwich Village, SoHo, the Upper West Side and the Lower East Side. I walked across Brooklyn Bridge and through Central Park. Stood on top of the Empire State Building and in front of the fence around Ground Zero. I watched “Chicago” on Broadway and joined a Gospel Tour in Harlem. I enjoyed Nathan’s Hot Dogs on Coney Island, Pastrami at Katz’s Deli and Dim Sum in Chinatown. Time was passing so quickly. After my last night’s dinner in Brooklyn Heights I walked to the waterfront to say goodbye. Across the East River Manhattan was illuminated. A spectacular view. I wished I could stand there forever. I didn’t want to fly home. I wanted to stay. I had fallen in love – with a city.
The year after I had planned a fall trip to New England, to see what we call Indian Summer. And I could not resist the temptation to add some days in New York before and after the trip. To see more. To immerge deeper. To discover ethnic neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, Midwood and Borough Park. To revisit known ones like Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Chinatown. To stroll through Union Square Farmers’ Market and take a boat trip to Ellis Island on former immigrants traces. Tons of impressions and experiences. I found my favourite bookstores and cafés. But when I had to leave again I knew I would have to stay much longer to get a real understanding of what makes the city so special, so unique to me.
Back home I started thinking about what I could do to be able to live in New York for some time. I collected ideas. Made big plans and dismissed them. Until finally a realistic plan started to grow and take forms. I decided to fight for a sabbatical.
I managed to stay away for three years. When in october 2010 I came back and stayed for two weeks it was not just a touristic visit. I tried to get a glimpse of daily life by staying with locals. I checked my ability to follow a class in travel writing, sucessfully. I started doing crazy things, projects. Like walking down Broadway from the very north to the very south. Or riding the International Express – the 7 train into Queens – to discover the various ethnic neighborhoods along the route, from Long Island City to Flushing. Like looking for the real Little Italy on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Or crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge which connects the very south of Brooklyn to Staten Island – a different world where people wear hats and live in country houses. I didn’t succeed in walking down Broadway because too many side streets caught my attention. I walked through Inwood, Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights and Morningside Heights instead. Places unknown to foreigners. Too soon the day was over. For the same reason I didn’t manage to explore all the neighborhoods along the 7 train. Days have an end and there is a time when it is getting dark. Experiences like this made me sure I would need more time to get it all – if I hadn’t already been sure about that – and when I left this time I knew I would do it.
My daily notes and my newly gained knowledge about travel writing produced a detailed travel memoir. But that’s the connection to the other question already. Writing.
People often ask me why I am so fascinated about New York. I think the main asset is that New York is like a bit of the whole world in just one city. People from so many cultures live together, brought their way of life, their culture, their food. They came to New York to start a new life, a better life, to make a fortune, to get famous or just to survive. Others came as refugees. Or simply to live their dream.
In addition New York has a great literary tradition. Lots of writers lived and worked there – and still do. You can meet Paul Auster in a Brooklyn café or Lily Brett in a SoHo deli. The city is the scene of so many stories and novels. There are myriads of bookstores and famous libraries.
Other people may come for arts or architecture – my New York is the multiethnic one and the literary one. And that’s what I am planning to immerge in.