Marion Schneider

San Francisco

When I took my first glance at San Francisco coming by car from the airport, I couldn’t believe it. This is supposed to be San Francisco? It looked much smaller than I had imagined – more like a town than a city. The houses themselves appeared less solidthan rather provisory. Everything looks a bit provisory. Many houses are built of wood, and are not very high. The entrances to many of the houses is through the garage. Of course, this door is locked almost all the time. Most of the houses seem to be carefully locked.

The people are very friendly. They let you pass them in the street, they don’t rush you, they try to help you – even when you haven’t asked for it. The people in this city seem to be happier than in any other town I’ve seen up to now.

Life in San Francisco is very relaxed. People are very seldom dressed up; most of them wear leisure rather than business clothes. September and October are supposed to be the warmest months of the year. The week in October that I am spending here is sunny and mild, but not hot at all. I’m rather cold all the time – I still have to wear stockings, and always need to have a jacket with me. In the morning, it becomes sunny very slowly; in the evenings, it gets dark very quickly.

San Francisco is for the U.S. what Freiburg im Breisgau is for Germany: its ecological focal point. I happened to get to attend a part of a meeting called ”Seeds of Change” during my stay where concepts for new policies and ecological developments were exchanged. I got the impression that the American ecological movement is, in a way, the most advanced in the world. The speakers evinced not only a high standard of knowledge, but also of responsibility, and I only rarely found this ”anti-”thinking – familiar to me from Germany; instead, people were trying to make their careers work within the given social and political conditions, accepting their standards as the most liberal, in the world and affirming the efforts of American society to grant its citizens a decent life.

San Francisco is built on several extremely steep hills. When you hear this, you can’t imagine just how steep they are. When you are in San Francisco, you can see the sea, the mountains, the bay, remarkably arid hills with no plants at all; you are not even one hour away from the most beautiful forests you can imagine where you can go on hikes – and you have all the vibrancy of a city.

The biggest problem for me was the jet lag. I’ve often been in New York, where there is a six-hour difference, but this is nothing like the nine-hour difference in San Francisco. I wake up very, very early every morning (of course, for my body, four a.m. is noon) and cannot go on sleeping. To overcome this, one has to stay longer – much more than a week, I assume. There is something else I never felt before: it is very, very far from home. The flight lasts for eleven hours. It even gave me a kind of frightened feeling in the plane, a feeling of claustrophobia. The plane seemed to be too small for such a long journey. I found it very exhausting, not so much physically as psychologically.

Living in San Francisco should be very, very pleasant if you have enough work to do and feel like taking advantage of the forests and the surrounding landscape. Living in North America at this time seems to be exciting in general because the new government is highly committed, assembling people who want to fight for new policies that will give nature and mankind a more decent life. The population seems to deeply agree with this, at the moment.

October 20, 1993