Last week I tried to explain why I decided to call this blog “Lost” in Berlin, but I haven’t explained why we’re in Berlin in the first place. Some days I’m not even sure I can trace the path that led us here. But I’ll try.
Neither M nor I are German. We don’t have any German relatives. We’re not here to find our family roots. That’s what people often assume, but that’s not what drew us here.
It all started with a music history class M taught when E was about four. To prepare for the class, he watched a lot of opera videos. A LOT. He had just discovered Met Player (the Metropolitan Opera’s online trove of video recordings of recent and historic operas they’ve produced), and he was getting his money’s worth. When our older girls would hear a plug for Met Player on public radio, they would tease him, “And we’d like to thank our one subscriber, M Mazullo…”
M was watching a ton of Wagner, especially the Ring cycle. And E was right there next to him, glued to the TV. She loved it. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t understand a word of it, and couldn’t read the subtitles either. M told her about every character, major and minor, every plot twist, and what the different musical motives were that related to the characters, and soon it became as exciting to her as The Lord of the Rings. Quizzing her about the arcane details of the four-opera cycle became our family party trick and we shared this game with many dinner guests.
One day she said to us, “I want to know what Brunhilde is saying.”
As luck would have it, that very weekend a friend came for dinner and mentioned that the German immersion school in St. Paul has an excellent reputation. The following week I visited it and fell in love. The next fall, she started kindergarten there, at what she called her “opera immersion school.”
The school hosts Amity interns in all of the classrooms, and so they need about 14 families to host every semester. The school’s emails seeking volunteer host families got increasingly desperate as school was about to start, and I ended up writing to say that we could host. Soon we were paired up with an intern, our first of four so far.
Meanwhile, M was teaching more opera, more German music, more European history. He started auditing German classes his college offered, alongside some of his own students.
Separate from all of these developments was M’s brother’s long-standing relationship with Berlin. He had been returning to the city several times a year for decades, considering the city his second home. Friends from his college years and beyond are scattered throughout the city; one of them, by chance, lives just two doors down from us now. Some of these friends have traveled to the United States to visit him; many had met M’s parents in Berlin or in the US, and one had even made the trip out to Minnesota to meet us.
Coming to Berlin for M’s sabbatical began to make sense. It is said to be the most affordable European capital city. Our oldest daughter studied German her freshman year in high school to prepare. Other than C and me, the family spoke German. And our little E was becoming rather proficient in it after two years in an immersion classroom. We can let her lead the way, we joked, though I was never really joking, because I hadn’t been brushing up on my Deutsch.
To top it all off, 2013 is the 200th birthday of both Verdi and Wagner. For our resident opera aficionado, the draw of three Berlin opera houses was not to be resisted. We were heading to Berlin, with or without subtitles.