teenage tension


Yesterday at our favorite café I brought with me the Zeit Magazin of mid-October I had not yet had the opportunity to read. I love it. It is issued twice a year, and its long and well-written articles cover interesting contemporary topics. One which is always featured is teenagers. With reportage-interviews which give no judgement, no catchy phrases, but just an insight on today’s youth. I find this incredibly interesting, not having children of my own.


This article, with hindsight, was bone-chilling. It described how a quiet, German sub-urban kid from Dresden went to Syria. Having woken up with the news of Brussels under curfew, I thought that articles like this one should be reprinted and shared.

In this story we can all find familiar feelings. Boredom in suburbia. Under-the-embers rebellion to the family culture, whatever that may be (being strict, being churg-goers, being leftist bo-bos, being right-wing comformists – you name it). Search for meaning in life. Craving for purposefulness. Probably also unsuccessful dating. Need for inspiration. Eagerness to reflect oneself in the image of an admired role model. Need for attention. Desire to be missed and inflict pain to those who love us but whose love we despise. Teenage tension, nothing new.

We all went though something like that during our teenage years. Maybe for a few days or a few months. And our parents were worried and alert.


Reading the portrait of this boy I remembered how it was, when I was about his age. The siren in my generation and the evil that our parents were rightly obsessed with had an appealing, seductive name. Heroin. Not Jihad.

My parents were watchful, not obsessed. I was a model student. Good marks and all the kudos. But not a self-confident kid. And they knew very well, that it is also kids like me, compliant, not rebellious but a bit introvert at times, who can get off the hinges and look for the sirens who dispense seduction. Or just coolness.

I was no problem kid, but I could potentially become one. Because in teenage life, anger simmers. My parents have been kids in after-war poor Italy. At that time it was so difficult to make ends meet that boredom could not have easily slipped in their lives. Now it was different.

My grandmother used to say, in Friulan language “Those who do not do stupid things when young, do bigger stupid things, later”. That is a great piece of wisdom. But also an acknowledgement that the stupid thing has to cross our lives, we have to go through it. Ideally unscathed.


I never asked them whether they were worried by the absence of rebellion in my behavior. The only thing I rebelled against was going to church. Curiously enough, each time I would comply, I would come home afterwards…quite happy to have gone to mass. Mass in Slovenian, to be approached like a mantra, as the preaching would be not understandable. But at the same time, I frequently made a point not to go. Sunday morning was too nice sunny and bright to spend it in the church, I preferred the mountains or the books. But I am pretty sure they were relieved I was rebelling against something, at least.


Reading this article reminded me of an important book in my youth, “Christiane F.”. There are many familiar echoes. I remember reading the book on one of those sunny Sundays. No church obligations that day, we had our relatives visiting. But for some reason I was not so much enjoying the company and I cut short our family lunch for sneaking out in the garden. I had starting reading “Christiane F.” the day before, it was a book recommended by our professors. I had to finish that book.

I had strange feelings reading it. Disgust mixed with attraction. Addiction and repulsion. The events, the places, all seemed dark, humid, cold, sleazy (and how long this image of Berlin lingered in my mind!). At the same time it was attractive. I remember thinking “are these professors sure we should read this book? I’ve never been attracted to heroin in my life but now that I think of it…it is becoming at least intriguing…could it be that for some, this book is the door to heroin’s universe?”. I was deeply touched and unsettled by this book. Its image of squallor lingered around me for days.

I eventually digested and processed the whole thing. Right at that time I became interested in other things. It was 1979 and I had an intense exchange with DDR, Polish, Czechoslowakian, German, British, Austrian, Swedish and Norwegian penpals, which kept me very busy and active.

I felt in contact with people of my age, with different problems, I did not feel bored, and that sense of Zeitgeist, of being in the middle of something – also beyond my own everyday whereabouts to school and with friends – was becoming so important in my “Bildung”. How different political and family situations were shaping our generation was fascinating for me to experience.

Scandinavian friends were already dreaming about their future Interrail trips to Mediterranean beaches, DDR friends were very streetwise in Eastern Bloc but were craving to see Venice and felt desperately land-locked in curious twist of history. Myself, as a Westerner I always felt limited by the fact that I had not travelled that much, and always with my family, mostly to Austria and Slovenia, and had never seen Rome or Florence, so my idea of Italy was also pretty theoretical. This meant my sense of belonging was also quite affected…I didn’t feel authentically Italian either…

I lived in this European cul-de-sac. But I could go to Venice just for seeing that one painting on a Saturday morning, and the beach was 30 minutes away from home. So apparently I was living in the place that everyone wanted to see?…still, all I wanted was to speak many languages and travel to many places. Studying languages became a defining experience, almost a religion.


source: photos of Zeit Magazine oct 2015

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