Ricarda Messner // Interview by Paulina Czienskowski
Editor's Note: This interview was originally published in Where About Now? on 05.10.2017 and reproduced here with permission.
Ricarda Messner, 27, who, among other activities, is the publisher of “Flaneur Magazine,” which focuses on narratives dealing with a selected street in a chosen city. Each issue captures a unique image, but never raises an ultimate claim—instead says only: this could be the character, the feeling, the vibe of this street. The last time it was the Boulevard Ring in Moscow, up next, a walk along a street in Sao Paulo. In her second magazine, “Sofa,” each issue is dedicated to a single theme from pop-culture. Due to her profession as a publicist, the Berliner is often out and about in the world—also digitally. Here she shares her perspective on travel.
Travel, what does that mean for you?
Doing things now and then I don’t do at home, because, theoretically, I won’t see the people from that place again.
What kind of things?
Trivial ones, but intense. For example, recently I was in Athens in Rebound, a Goth club. I love to dance, but wouldn’t ordinarily get up in the middle of a nearly empty dance floor. However, there, that’s what I felt like doing. It felt right.
That sounds like a good film scene: a tall, blonde woman on a stage between a pair of darkly clad Goths.
At that moment, I felt like I was a part of an artistic performance in a very intimate space. With each new song, someone left, and a new character took their place. Each person was absorbed in him or herself, yet, at the same time engaged with everyone else.
What do you get from experiences, like this one, so far away from your everyday reality?
I create another, a momentary world for myself. Because it’s possible. In unknown realms, I'm able to take on an entirely different role, if I want to. No one can make the comparison to my everyday self.
Was Athens your last trip?
Yes. It was 110° F (43° C). And I felt delirious. Have very little recollection of it. (laughs)
How was it to be traveling without work responsibilities?
Great. I was offline a lot. In the future, I’m going to set an automatic out-of-office note, to be able to completely let go during my next trip—without emails—which always pull me back under the spell of workday life.
Your longest time somewhere else?
Two months in a row in Montreal, that was in 2014, when we were there to produce the third edition of Flaneur.
Do you set goals when you travel?
My trips for Flaneur are much more goal oriented because we work on a project-specific basis on location. Meetings determine the daily routine. But otherwise, I never travel as a typical tourist with a tour guide.
To tell the truth, most of the time, I only visit cities where I have personal connections in some way or another. My good friend Antonakis lives in Athens, in my early twenties I spent a lot of time New York, in Riga I have a family history. These connections offer a shortcut to feeling native; to living a local life in a different place without having to do a lot of filtering or dig for the truth.
Does this have anything to do with our world of digital networking?
Yes, I think so. You’re always in some form of exchange with these people from all over the world. You get to know strangers who can become friends through constant contact, who you can visit where ever they are.
Apropos digital affinity: What does travel mean today, now when everything can be experienced from a distance—everywhere the uploads to social media channels—videos and photos from other countries?
By absorbing these you do get an instant feeling of having been, say for example, in this year, to Iceland, Sri Lanka, Mallorca and the Costa Brava. Crazy. But at the same time, the effects it can have are very exciting.
Because person X obviously had the time of her/his life in place X, do you feel the itch to go there?
Yes, maybe. But maybe not. By the way, I love to “travel” with Google Images, with those pictures that often look like postcards—completely unrealistic. So, a little “head-trip,” now and then, is also nice, when you want to go on a quick quest. I believe that traveling doesn’t always have to be physical.
Do you struggle with wanderlust?
I don’t have a sense of wanderlust. And if I do feel restless, I only feel a yearning for places that I already know, for the people there and the feeling that’s grown inside me for the respective life world there.
And you can do this, also briefly, through let’s call it, “theoretical traveling?”
Even a Skype conversation with friends who are somewhere else can elicit this. Typical sights and sounds in the background of our conversation are often enough. The familiar design of New York kitchenette, those sash windows, noises from the street. Visual and auditory cues alone bring so much to life. I don't always need to travel great distances.
You live in Berlin, a big city. Can you “journey” there too?
Recently, I spent a weekend with my boyfriend in Neukölln—a district that’s in utter contrast to Charlottenburg, where I live. Afterwards, on Sunday afternoon eating pizza with my best friend on Ku’damm, it was as if I’d come home from a short trip.
Charlottenburg and Neukölln are just 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) apart.
(laughs) Right! For me, traveling is about the feeling I bring home. And it can be an entirely different one than the one I left with, even after just three days in another district. Coming home in itself, in my experience, is a big part of the journey.
Can you explain this?
Each arrival always feels different, depending on where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced. There’s that precise moment just before landing or taking my first steps through the stairwell up to my apartment—these few minutes that bring up a definite emotion inside of me. I briefly think about how this specific trip has affected me while returning to where I “belong.” I become cognizant of what I’m bringing back home inside myself.
That sounds poetic.
It is. Almost like finding a new love whose unique input helps you to see your familiar surroundings from an altogether original perspective, with utterly different eyes, giving you fresh insight into your life. And through this other frame of reference, you define yourself in a new way.
You connect travel with people, right?
For me, the places I visit always come alive solely through personal encounters. Through them, I ultimately gain a connection to that specific moment in time.
But cities often have their own unique character, separate from people.
An urban landscape and its structures, which of course, do characterize a place, aren’t the most important thing for me. But, yes, of course, specific incidences also influence my memories. Just recently, I was in Sao Paolo. As a woman, I don’t walk around alone in some parts of this city at night. In contrast, when I'm in New York, there’s nothing I enjoy more than walking through Manhattan at twilight.
Yes, I often go back to the same places—always to where I’ve formed genuine connections—where I feel at home in some significant way. And there can be 3,730 miles (6,000 kilometers) between where I come from and my destination. Returning is my way of nurturing a relationship with that other place. It’s also a moment of remembering: How have I changed since my last visit? How did it feel to be here the last time? And how this time? Who was I then, who am I now?
It sounds like you use places like a mirror or a projection screen of yourself.
People often tell me that two weeks in New York are not a relaxing vacation. But for me, they are, because I’m deeply acquainted and have a primary emotional relationship with the city. I like the familiar, where I’m not forced to redefine myself. That helps me to relax, a lot, even when it’s 95° F (35° C), and I’m surrounded by asphalt and skyscrapers.
How do your journeys to other places affect and even change you?
They do something to my appearance, which expresses my attitude toward life at that moment. When everything in that other place imprints on me—when I allow it to happen, let it in and immerse myself in it—I know I’ve arrived, for that moment, for the time of my stay in that place. That’s why I’m a “different person” in New York than I am in Athens or Berlin.
Do you think the way we travel differs from previous generations?
Absolutely! And here too, relationships with friends and acquaintances from other places play a major role. While our parents travelled and took pictures, sort of like testimonies of where they’d been, the things they saw, we take far fewer photos of sites and attractions. Above all, we’re interested in capturing a specific underlying mood, the atmosphere we experience—because we immerse ourselves in living in that other place—much more than in just sightseeing.
In this way, young people develop and achieve far greater individual relationships with foreign places—being in, and in connecting with them. They create their own everyday reality, wherever, and even regardless of where they are.
That’s why I prefer to travel to Athens five times within two years, instead of to an entirely unfamiliar city, when I want to relax. It’s a form of escapism from my everyday reality into one of my other realities, which is also a “haven.” On the other hand, I travel every morning.
What a luxury! How does it work?
Every morning I look at the weather report for each of the cities with which I have a connection. How it feels when you wake up in the morning in New York, it’s 77° F (25°C), and throw open the windows, or when there’s a snowstorm pending. A definite feeling immediately creeps up inside me—and I remember.
Again, a short imaginative journey. And yet, there are real boundaries, which is why not everyone enjoys the freedom of travel as people with a German passport do.
It’s sad to see that world politics controls our capacity—and with it—our freedom to travel. Someone born in Afghanistan has almost no choice at all. Also in small ways: If you want to travel to Russia, for example, and hire an agency to apply for a visitor’s visa, you end up paying a lot of money. I find that these sorts of barriers rob us of the desire and motivation to discover new and unfamiliar places and people.
What do you see as the solution?
I really don’t know, of course. But I like the idea of the Bitnation: We’re all citizens of one nation and can communicate with each other and move around, however, and whenever we want to.
And when something like this doesn’t work, and instead national borders continue to loom up everywhere?
Perhaps, at some point, we could beam ourselves, because it would be the only option we have left to spend time somewhere else. Or maybe we’ll all soon be traveling exclusively in virtual reality. Who knows what will happen. (laughs) My motto is: I don’t necessarily have to be somewhere else physically, to take a short mental journey.