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Bicultural Urbanite Luke
Wings of Desire, Still Beating in Berlin

Milly James
©Milly James

It’s an age-old predicament: everyone wants a bite of the juiciest fruit. Of course, the more the word gets around about where to find the fruit, the more people flock there to get a taste for themselves. The question right now on everyone’s lips in Berlin—one of the world’s juiciest fruits over the past few decades in terms of living costs and cultural vibrancy—seems to be is there enough of the sweet stuff left to go around? Is Berlin still a viable low-budget option for the artistically inclined?

For Milly James, a UK-born musician and performer who spent twenty years living in Western Australia, the answer is yes: Berlin is still one of the most rewarding locations for working in the arts and remains a hotbed of creativity. Despite the changing face of the city, Milly and her partner Patrick are two hard-working creatives whose wings of desire continue to beat in the German capital.

Berlin Street Art Berlin Street Art | ©Milly James It’s no big secret: Berlin is currently experiencing a period of accelerated gentrification. Business is booming. And as the Berlin startup scene thrives and new money and more tech jobs roll in, the rise in rent and living costs speeds up ever more furiously. According to a study by online housing portal immowelt.de, rent prices have doubled in Berlin since 2008; and even in the past two years since I started writing for this series, I’ve felt a palpable shift around town.
The much-prophesied arrival of a corporate nucleus in Berlin has picked up a notch. Consequently, many are left wondering just how serious the collateral damage to the longstanding economic and cultural lynchpin’s of the city will be—those which have consistently kept Berlin a sustainable and attractive home for all kinds of artists and students.
Interestingly for Milly, who’s now in the midst of her second Berlin stint, she’s actually finding it easier to get artistic jobs this time around than when she first moved here back in 2014, a period during which she found herself “doing various forms of customer service jobs in startups” instead of the museum, gallery, and theatre work she loves. “This time around, I’m happy to be back doing something arts-related”, she explains, “I take tours in contemporary galleries and also work in movies and TV as a bit player and an extra”.
Milly Soundcheck at Auster Club Milly Soundcheck at Auster Club | ©Milly James In fact, Milly and her partner Patrick Nadoll, a Berlin DJ who goes by the moniker Raw Sugar, continue to feel immersed in an inspiring and supportive scene of likeminded people and harbour no plans of uprooting their Berlin lives any time soon. Together, Milly and Patrick create a unique brand of future soul music and Patrick runs an independent label called Love Sexy Records, collaborating with various DJs and producers around town. “There are so many creative people in this city from so many different disciplines”, Milly reflects. “We’ve also performed at so many venues in Berlin where our music has a place and is accepted”.
DJ Raw Sugar at Love Sexy Records Phono Club DJ Raw Sugar at Love Sexy Records Phono Club | ©Milly James Milly compares this kind of warm reception and creative freedom to the time she spent living in Nuremberg—or rather the time she endured there “kicking and screaming”. She adamantly contends that in contrast to Berlin, Nuremberg felt small and conservative and exhibited “very little of Berlin’s diversity and creative culture”, elements she’s come to appreciate and believes are still very much prevalent here. “I see progress with my projects, I’m inspired to keep going and do more, I’m even writing a web series set here and inspired by my time in Berlin”.
Milly’s outlook is a refreshing antidote to the escalating meta-narrative of Berlin being ‘over’. The musician recalls that her initial reason for moving to Berlin was to “stretch (her) creative wings”, and five years down the track she’s confident it was the right decision. “I’ve always told myself that whilst I’m here I’m taking time out of life to value and focus on my creativity, even if that means a financial struggle… If I hadn’t have come here I may not have allowed myself that pause to focus on my aspirations”.
Despite often missing the “easygoingness” of the Aussies in Perth and experiencing regular pangs of nostalgia for “quintessential Britishness”, Berlin still feels like the right fit for Milly’s musical endeavours and for keeping those wings of desire beating away. True, Berlin may be a different beast to what it was ten years ago and might be feeling the pinch of the global housing crisis, but there are still very few cities in the world that offer a comparable standard of living for those trying to do things their own way. For Milly, there’s also something special about the city that she felt embrace her on her first Berlin holiday that’s still very much alive and keeps it feeling like home for now.