Political Bubbles Abroad

In Berlin, The Art of Travel, 9. Bubbles by Gillian1 Comment

I’ve found myself in several bubbles here in Berlin, but does awareness of bubbles alone really transform them? Only if you do something about it.

The largest and strongest bubble, the one to which I’ve become most attuned since being here, shields me from the political happenings back in the United States. As many of my fellow travel writers abroad have found, it has become shockingly and unsettlingly easy to distance ourselves from U.S. politics. News notifications about Trump, Kavanaugh, Khashoggi, any of the other truly terrifying developments which manifest themselves on my phone can be swiped away if I so choose. Living an ocean away, it’s easy to pretend or act as though I’ll be completely unaffected, as though these happenings will not be able to touch my life. Reading a headline from a distance tricks me into thinking I no longer have live its consequences. If I really didn’t want to read anything about U.S. politics while here, chances are that I wouldn’t get caught up until I got back home in December, and even then. The more I feel like a Berliner and the stronger my desire to be here long-term, the less inclined I become to read U.S. news. Out of sight, out of mind. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

This bubble is the most dangerous of all.

Especially with crucial midterm elections–ones that very seriously have the potential to carve out the fate of our country for decades if not centuries to come–less than a week away, I have been forcing myself to step out of this bubble as often as I can, and pop it for others. The more I study German history, the more I fear for my country. The other day as I perused the panels at the Topographie des Terrors, a Nazi museum, one sentence on the final panel sent chills through my spine: “It is important to remember Hitler did not ‘seize’ power. It was handed to him.” I love Berlin, and it is obviously easier to enjoy living here (as anywhere) anxiety-free, easier to live in ignorance. Yet if any country stands as living testimony to the dangers of sleeping morality, of political inactivity, of choosing what is easy over what is right, it’s Germany.

I’ve recently begun to seek out conversations with my peer and professors about events in the U.S., including but not limited to the invitation extended to Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at our very own NYU. It is harder to ignore tense political happenings when they affect you directly, when an antisemite is invited to speak at the institution that will (hopefully) give you a bachelor’s degree after four years of hard work and ungodly amounts of money. When an antisemite is invited to speak four days after a hate crime against Jews stole the lives of 11 people. While I do disagree with aspects of NYU’s undeniably intensely leftist attitude, NYU has reminded me again of why I need to pop my bubbles. As the New York Times loves to say in its taglines, “democracy dies in darkness.” I have found here in Berlin, though, that the saying really does ring with truth. Especially since our current president thrives on the spread of misinformation, there is no greater political weapon, no greater power, than being well-informed. I cannot be in the U.S. to protest, or easily lobby my congresspeople for change, but I can stay informed.
I can stay out of this bubble.

(Image: Unteilbar protests in Potsdamer Platz; Source: gillian)


  1. I loved your take on the bubble post, especially linking it to the distance yet simultaneous connection to US politics. Balancing US politics while being abroad seems like balancing multiple different bubbles. It is so easy to gain news about the US as American news dominate the international media but at the same time it is so easy to simply disconnect and pretend for a few months. So much has gone on back in the US and while I feel deeply connected to it and stay informed there is a difference sense when being an ocean apart. These political bubbles transverse oceans but seem to cloud experiences.

Leave a Comment