A couple weeks ago I met a few friends at the pole dancing studio to celebrate being 38. Midway through our two-hour class my friend Beth (not really) showed up, flaunted her dance moves and took a few pictures before slipping on her high heels again and treating us all to some cake. Beth, who I’ve known and adored for years, gets up and leaves after cake and as soon as she’s out of sight, one of the women from the class starts fangirling. “Is that Beth Smith? She was on my favorite soap opera. She’s exactly like her character. Oh, she’s just as charming as I’d imagined she’d be.”
Oh, right. Beth’s an actress. I forgot. Or at least, I didn’t really remember. See, Beth and I became really good friends when she moved into my building a couple years ago and I had no idea who she was. The other neighbors were all super shy about introducing themselves because they knew her from tv, but Diva and I, we just walked right in and were like, What’s with all the construction work going on down here? And… blue? You’re painting your kitchen blue? and Beth giggled and plied us with coffee and suddenly we were friends. She dressed up like the Princess from the Princess and the Pea for Diva’s birthday and she referred me to her very nice therapist after I spent too many nights crying in my G&T while watching Der Bachelor with her and even though she sadly doesn’t live in the flat with the blue kitchen anymore, she keeps giving me front row tickets to her theater shows so I guess you could say we’ve become pretty good friends.
She’s not the first celebrity I’ve known well though I guess she is the most publicly recognizable. Still, when I was talking to fangirl, I thanked her profusely for not asking for an autograph. The one thing I’ve realized from being close to people that some people think of as famous is that they think of themselves — if they are not egomaniacs — as normal people who get paid to do art and so fangirling isn’t very pretty. Being your normal self is.
And in Germany, I realize, that’s a lot easier for me as an immigrant to do than it is for Germans. I have no idea who most of these celebrities are. A couple years back at Carneval, a friend of a friend was fangirling about a dude from Lindenstrasse until she remembered reading in Gala that he was married and he started hitting on her anyway. We were unimpressed. A friend of mine from the gym once spent hours trying to point out all the big personalities working up a sweat there until I told her that unless Til Schweiger walked in, I did not care (this is not as off as you might think — he used to be a member and everybody my age in Cologne remembers when he lived in Ehrenfeld before Ehrenfeld was cool; a girl can dream, right?). Last week, at the kids’ Carneval parade, a dad standing next to me pointed out all the local celebs — a tv moderator, a singer in a band I’ve never heard of — who were marching in the parade and all I could do was shrug. I mean, is it a big deal if someone does something creative for a living? Isn’t it a bigger deal if he or she is nice?
For a moment there, I thought it was just me and my Americanness making me oblivious but when I talked to a friend of mine who’s a photographer in Berlin, a man who has to photograph celebrities all the time, is one of the only approved people to photograph Merkel, and because we’ve worked together at Fashion Week, can point out every model and B-List celebrity in Germany, I realized it’s more a matter of just not giving a fuck. At some point you get old and you rub elbows with the chancellor and whatever, it’s just another day’s work (I rubbed Schroeder’s elbow once when he was chancellor and was darned proud I recognized him there on the steps of the Reichstag as I was dressed in my Love Parade costume but Ms. Merkel, for whom I might even put on a decent shirt, has eluded me, unfortunately).
Wondering if this was an exclusively Ami-in-Deutschland phenomenon, I sent out a Tweet asking for your most memorable celebrity sighting. All the answers that came back were from Brits and Americans referring to British or American celebrities. More than one took place in New York (my sister, who lived there, has dozens of these tales), including, like Natalye, hitting on by a punk rocker in a bar (not from Green Day but close) or Mandi’s “Woah, wait a minute, who was it that just walked by?” Phillip Seymour Hoffman moments.
So is it that I’m the only one running into German celebrities? Or are we as expats just not seeing and recognizing them? I’d like to think it’s the latter — that here in Germany, celebrity is different. German celebrities look different; they look fully normal and lead pretty normal lives. (Except Boris Becker, though someone please explain to me why that dude still sells copies of tabloids. Do women really want to look at him?) But I also realize, this likely has to do with my status as outsider. If I tell a German that my colleague just interviewed Manuel Neuer, people lose their shit. If I tell an American that is not my nephew about said interview, they ask who that is. But I wonder if it would be the same for American celebrities here. Do people in Berlin lose their shit every time Brad and Angie come to town?
So tell me, Germans and non, what’s the deal with celebrity here? Are there just not many? Or are they too local? Too normal looking? Are we as expats just blind to them?
** Caveat: unless it’s Flula, no internet personality counts as a celebrity. I could point out every one of Cologne’s fashion bloggers on the streets but those bitches are begging for attention so they don’t count.