Berlin Review
Why do we live here?

Readings and discussion with Ryan Ruby, Lauren Oyler, and Tobias Haberkorn.

For Berlin Review’s prelaunch 2, critics Ryan Ruby and Lauren Oyler examine the fate of that modern villain, the expat, and delve into their sense of nostalgia for things that never were. What was the point again of living in the capital of Germany? Ryan Ruby and Lauren Oyler will read and discuss their writing with Berlin Review’s Tobias Haberkorn.


 Ryan Ruby, Lauren Oyler, Tobias Haberkorn

«A boring, foreign city, and expensive to live in, too…»

In recent years it’s seemed that concerns about the end of Berlin might finally come true: every time another legendary club closes down, a friend runs up against bureaucratic procedures or local politics take a distressing turn, the sceptics who never believed in Berlin’s culture of freedom and experimentation in the first place add a point to their tallies. What was the point again of living in the capital of Germany?

Never mind that Nabokov—or a friend quoted by Nabokov—called Berlin «a boring, foreign city, and expensive to live in, too» in 1925. It’s unclear, however, where to turn to. As major cities become «brands» and locals pushed to the periphery, to make room for startups and upmarket «spaces», the coexistence of workers and consumers, rich and poor, the normalized and the marginalized, becomes increasingly tense, all the more so because it is documented live, online, for the entire world to see.

For the global citizen, the question of where and how to live can inspire a sense of contingency and nostalgia: Why am I living here instead of there? Why wasn't there everything they said it was? Why isn't here everything they say it is?

While a migrant or an immigrant moves for urgency or necessity, seeking safety and a better life, the expat’s choices seem by comparison whimsical, or even frivolous, based on some hazy idea of «vibes» and mere lifestyle. Accused of gentrification and rootlessness, of superficiality and stupidity, the expat has transformed from a romantic figure into a villain over the last century. Who cares why he does what he does, or thinks what he thinks?

In an essay commissioned by Berlin Review, Ryan Ruby explores the conceptual conditions of expatriation and exile by reading his own experiences of Berlin through those of the Russian-American Svetlana Boym, the principle theorist of nostalgia and the off-modern. Ryan will be joined by Lauren Oyler, who examines the relationship between nostalgia, expatriation, and globalization in her forthcoming essay collection No Judgment. We will read and discuss both their writing. Moderated by Tobias Haberkorn.

Readings and discussion in German and English. Free entrance, no reservations. Limited seating capacity.

An audio version of Ryan Ruby’s essay and a recording of our conversation will be made available on our website and in our podcast channels.

Ryan Ruby is a Los Angeles-born writer who has been living in Berlin since 2014. His trenchant criticism has appeared in New Left ReviewThe New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker, where he recently reviewed Marguerite Young’s maximalist fiction. Ryan is the author of the novel The Zero and the One, published in 2017, and of the long poem Context Collapse. He is currently writing a book about the Berlin Ringbahn.

Lauren Oyler was born and raised in West Virginia. In 2021, after years of back and forth between New York and Berlin, she «shipped all my stuff here», as she writes in No Judgment, an essay collection out in March 2024. Lauren’s recent criticism includes a reportage on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop cruise and a travelogue about W. G. Sebald’s hometown Wertach for Harper’s Magazine. Her first novel, Fake Accounts, was published in 2021.

Tobias Haberkorn is a founding editor of Berlin Review.