Bicultural Urbanite Luke ‘Better Times’ in Berlin

Bella at Templehof
Bella at Templehof | @Bella Peacock

There seems to be something about the Australia-to-Berlin pilgrimage that ignites something in people. Every second Aussie you meet here has a tale of awakening to tell: the escape from some humdrum or otherwise unsatisfying existence Down Under to discover a new life in Berlin and realise their full potential.

For Bella Peacock, however, it hasn’t really been a case of leaving behind a displeasing life or even changing directions drastically. Moving to Berlin for an English Masters’s programme in 2014 was more about deliberately sidestepping the exorbitant fees of the same kind of degree in Australia. For all intents and purposes, the 25 year old’s working life here is much the same as it was in Sydney. She’s doing what she calls the “classic student/barista combo”, with some freelance writing on the side.
Bella’s own Berlin eureka moment has perhaps had more to do with her latest project, Better Times, an online platform for women’s stories of empowering dating and sexual experiences. She’s adamant that with the right education and attitude, men and women everywhere can “successfully traverse the fraught realm of sex with tenderness and consideration”—a belief emboldened by her experience of what she considers to be Berlin’s unique sexual freedom. “Many of the people in this city treat sexuality with a great deal of openness”, she reflects. “The taboo around sex is simply not as present as it is in many other countries, like Australia, for instance”.

Filling a crucial gap

Better Times was born from a conversation between Bella and the site’s co-founder, Simon Hüsken, and its point is a simple yet vital one: filling a crucial gap in the dialogue about male-female sexual relationships—namely, the positive side of the story from a female perspective. In recent times, movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo have brought to light a dishearteningly relentless stream of public accounts of sexual misconduct—stories of coercion, assault, and rape. Bella and Simon’s intention is not to discount the narrative that arises from these stories, which they recognise as highly important in continuing to develop a widespread understanding of the sexual violence that is sadly still a common thread in many women’s lives today.
Their hope is rather to cultivate a complementary, uplifting narrative of the way things can be, a possibility that Bella sees as already nascent in Germany’s notoriously open-minded capital. “Because sexuality is engaged with more freely in Berlin”, she explains, “I think that people in this city are a lot more apt at talking about things like consent. I think simply being in Berlin has developed my engagement with sexuality, and ultimately helped me move into a space where these are the kinds of projects I feel comfortable working on”. While the duo certainly don’t want to limit the project’s focus to male-female relations, they expect the conversation will tend this way naturally, simply because “gender roles have injured so many heterosexual encounters”.

Bella and her friends enjoying Berlin nightlife with the classic photobooth snap Bella and her friends enjoying Berlin nightlife with the classic photobooth snap | © Bella Peacock Another important factor in the conception of Better Times as a Berlin creation is one of practicality. Because work-life balance is often a reality in Berlin—Bella calls out the concept as being merely a buzzword in most other major cities—this ultimately leaves a lot more time for non-commercial or community projects. She also gives a nod to her many fellow creatives around town, a community she sees as providing fertile ground for the fruition of these kinds of initiatives. “Creativity breeds creativity, so being in this space, and among other people who are working and creating projects, is in itself inspiring”.
Although her Berlin experience has been a positive and productive one, Bella will likely eventually return to Australia and to a location she feels is more conducive to her desired career progression. She’s also acutely aware of a growing yearning for her homeland’s countryside, an element decidedly absent from Berlin’s stark, grey cityscape: “I miss the beauty of the country. I miss its smell. I miss the ocean. I miss the sun. I feel the absence of these things in my body in a way that somehow gets worse with time, rather than better”.

Another chapter of Bella’s story

During these moments, reflecting on the pivotal role that nature plays in her happiness, it seems evident that Berlin will soon become just an early chapter of Bella’s full story. But in reality, actually leaving is much harder. While she’s currently booked to return to Australia at the end of the year, she’s already postponed the departure twice before and finds herself feeling increasingly unsure if moving back is the right decision after all. Like so many others who came for a temporary stay, Berlin has gotten its hooks into her: “I love the sheer plethora of things happening in the city and all the different subcultures. I have my friends and a happy life here”.

Bella enjoying the Australian beach at Wombarra Bella enjoying the Australian beach at Wombarra | ©Bella Peacock Whether Bella stays or goes, and whether you subscribe to the whole Berlin illumination trope or feel more inclined to believe in hindsight’s shrewd endorsement of narrative serendipity, there’s no denying Better Times is an inspired and valuable project. The idea of building an online, borderless space to help young women and men understand what a respectful and caring intimate encounter can look like is a laudable one. Bella and Simon will officially launch Better Times, with readings and discussions, on the 20th of October 2018 at Ex-Girlfriend Gallery.