The nearest grocery is about half an hour away, on foot. Gerlingen, a small town just on the other side of the forest surrounding Schloss Solitude, has a Lidl on one of its main streets, and a much larger Real, not much further (although I have yet to set foot in it). Because a trip into the city by bus usually sets you back by at least 5 euros, I usually opt for the long often idyllic but always dull trek into Gerlingen on days when I just need certain essentials.
I can safely say that one of the things that sets living in a country like Germany apart from, say, the Philippines is how healthy food is easily available at every market sector. This is easily contested in places like the US, which characterize some of their smaller, less wealthy areas as food deserts, but I have yet to come across a German town where this is the case (then again, I am in Baden-Wurttemberg, which [again] is one of the wealthiest regions in an already very wealthy country).
There is a little bit of shame in buying everything from a discount grocery, like Lidl–something that tells people you don’t take your diet seriously and are willing to subsist on substandard produce and possibly unethical supply chains. My inner snob sometimes causes me to spit the name out half-jokingly when responding to questions like “Where do you get your herbs?”
“Oh you know,” blink, apologetic smile, “Lidl.”
I don’t know yet if these feelings come from expecting more of myself or not wanting to disappoint my peers. Coming down from a space like the Akademie, which is supposedly housing forerunners in intellectual labor, only to acquire all the necessary provisions at…a discount store? What is wrong with me? Are we not supposed to be leading the way in terms of consumption practices and does this not begin with simple everyday acts, i.e. changing the way we eat and which producers we choose to support?
I wish it was as simple as making the wiser, kinder choice when one has the means, but is it even necessary to frame these decisions in such a complex manner when the truth of the matter is “I’m really just hungry, dammit.” Also, I’m too cheap to take the bus. What more with paying 3 euros for a bag of onions that could be had for 80 cents at the nearer grocery?
Take into account that other, not so kind aspect of acquiring provisions: the fact of having to hike through a forest just to get them. That means having to hike back, groceries in tow. I once had fantasies of living in Europe meaning wine in the cupboard and a consistent selection of fresh fruit and cheeses. The reality of this is when everything you acquire is packed not into the trunk or the backseat of a car, not even into a bike basket, but onto your shoulders, you not only choose to shop based on proximity, but based on weight.
This means, when choosing between wine and milk, milk wins. I’m anemic, so between eggs and fruit (if we are going for similarities in weight and care in handling), the eggs win. Same goes for choosing between leafy greens and starchy vegetables or root crops.
It’s boring, but coming to these decisions has made up a sizable chunk of my time in residency at the Schloss, most of which involves not just producing research, but producing a life in a foreign country. On my worst days, I will whine and complain endlessly about not having been productive, about having let another day pass without getting any work done.
“What about going to the grocery? What about feeding yourself?” several residents have asked. “Is that not work?”
It is, and throwing it under the lens of working in a setting as absurd as Solitude, under circumstances as exceptional as a fully-funded residency casts a harsh light on what gets credited or discredited under capitalism. Without exception, we all know what we’re doing here as artists. We all had a project or some form of research to propose, and we have been given space to practice it. The odd thing about the Akademie though is that we are not under any pressure to produce it – the pressure comes with having been given this much time and this kind of space, but there is also the pressure of coexisting with others in the same situation.
“Imagine if you had to ask me for food,” joked one fellow.
“I would wither into nothingness,” said another.
Knowing how to live without depending on others becomes magnified. On some days, I am the one asking a neighbor for cooking oil; on others, someone is knocking at my door for onions or tea. I have two months to go here, but the clearest takeaway about it is that regardless of the bizarre utopian idyll of this castle in the woods, there is no way we would survive without each other.