Age is a form of freedom. Look forward to it.
Meeting Greta Silver is an encounter with arguably one of the most remarkable women of her generation. She is a YouTuber, author and model. Wild, lively, vibrant and such a free spirit that we end up wondering why we, so many years her junior, think and act in such restricted ways.
What was in fact a rainy and murky day does in fact, all of a sudden, turn into a day filled with colour, sunshine and light thanks to our little journey with her. The natural way she shares her thoughts with us is as if we had known each other for years. By the end of the day there is a big wow in the room. Quietly we wish we’ll become like Greta when we get old. In our own way, but just as full of life, spur of the moment, and free.
hvv switch: What’s your favourite place in Hamburg?
Greta: I like being on the Elbstrand (the beach along the River Elbe). I enjoy going to museums or taking in exhibitions at the Deichtorhallen. But I also like being in the HafenCity. The museum village in Volksdorf is also great, you get beamed back into the past. But it’s also a working farm. They still have fields, sheep and the like. It’s cultural heritage that you can visit and experience there.
hvv switch: What does freedom of movement or freedom mean to you?
Greta: One example. Once the children had left home I thought: what a pity, there are no more kids around here anymore, but you still fancy tobogganing. And then I thought, why do I need a child to do that? So I went off on my own, took my wooden sledge with me and ventured out into the snow. And what did I get from doing that? Just a thumbs up from everyone and people saying how cool is that? Now I have grandchildren, but I don’t need them anymore to justify certain things. I go to the DOM fairground on my own too. I love to ride the chain carousel. Testing out my own inner limits again and again, overcoming them and spreading my wings, that is freedom.
I think freedom of movement is in fact everything that comes from within. In other words, the freedom I give to myself. Not the kind I’m lucky enough to be served up by others. Rather, freedom has something to do with my own limitations. Overcoming boundaries, that is, doing something that’s perhaps not expected by others. That’s freedom to me.
hvv switch: How important is it to you to keep reinventing yourself?
Greta: I was a housewife and mother for 17 years, then I became a businesswoman in my late 40s, often with only 4 hours of sleep a night. At 60 I started modelling, at 66 I started my You Tube channel, which now has more than 500 videos on it and three million clicks. And now I have written two books, which made it to the Spiegel Bestseller List. And I have a podcast with more than 10.000 followers. But this all happened rather unconsciously, one thing coming about from the thing that came before it. It wasn’t that clear to me at the time that I was changing my character, my appearance, my thinking, and so on. In fact it just came about that way. But later came the comments from friends: Greta, you’ve completely reinvented yourself. I’m always out and about, and something new always comes along. At the moment I have 14 balls, meaning projects, up in the air. So I’m glad I’ve mastered Excel spreadsheets to coordinate all that. I always say: Anything is better than coming to a standstill. But that’s not to say I don’t also need my periods of rest lying on the sofa too. But I do recharge my batteries very quickly.
hvv switch: What’s your approach / your motivation when it comes to all these activities?
Greta: When I wrote the book or when I started the channel my approach was to tell the world how great it is to be old. These days I want even more: I want to pull the grey veil away that is shrouding Germany. People look at you with a pitying expression when you tell them you’re 70. I want to break down this age barrier in people’s minds. Why shouldn’t I wear an orange sweatshirt or trainers? That’s really only something in other people’s heads, and removing those boundaries sets me free!
Aging is cool. Get rid of the barriers keeping you fenced in inside your head! Now is the best time to enjoy life.
hvv switch: Is Hamburg the right city for this? Is it very free?
Greta: Oh yes. Everything is very casual and free in Hamburg. I once had a visitor from Southern-Germany. He told me: In our family at weekends, we have to nominate someone to set their alarm clock, then draw the window blinds so the neighbours think we've all gotten up, then they go back to bed again. And I said, that’s incredible, nobody here in Hamburg is interested in that. You can do whatever you want here. Nobody comes and says: Excuse me, you can’t do that. If you just look at the sheer variety of the different districts: Blankenese is a little Italian in my eyes, then there’s the coolness of the HafenCity, the rocky Schanzenviertel, and the noble flair of the Jungfernstieg and Alster. Then there’s the huge boats in the port, or the beach on the Elbe. Sat there, it’s like being by the Baltic Sea. And all this is Hamburg! How incredibly cool! Hamburg is such a great, liberated city. It still feels inside like the very first day I fell in love with Hamburg, over 40 years ago. When I drive through the city with visitors and show them the harbour, anyone would think the harbour belonged to me. I am so proud of it.
hvv switch: What is Hamburg like compared to where you grew up?
Greta: I come from the country, where I grew up on a farm in the Lower Saxony region. Then we moved from the country to a village with around 3,000 inhabitants. There was already a cinema. We thought that was sensational. A cinema! Moving to Hamburg in 1975 wasn’t a culture shock. But I did think, oh dear, how can you raise children here? How is that going to work? How am I going to be able to instil in them the same values I grew up with? How can I make sure they know that being there for others can be a joy. That’s why I went out and baked cookies with them and took them to the old people’s home, so they could see and feel for themselves how great it feels when others are happy. I grew up with these values. On the farm it’s no different. Everyone is there for each other.
hvv switch: How do you get around in Hamburg?
Greta: Actually I do drive around in my car. But I have started travelling a lot by train too. I go on reader trips where I go everywhere by train, both within Hamburg and beyond. When my mother moved to Hamburg when she was very old, she got on the S-Bahn and just went for a ride. She used to go to the Dahliengarten, take trips to the Trabrennbahn racetrack to watch the derby, and so many other places. She discovered parts of the city I didn’t even know existed. In Hamburg, the U-Bahn and S-Bahn are wonderful ways of exploring the great unknown city out there. You just get off somewhere and start to explore new districts. I also like riding my bike. But I don’t cycle from Sasel into the city centre anymore. I did actually used to do that although it’s so far.
hvv switch: What is it that makes Hamburg special compared to other cities?
Greta: When it comes to dealing with familiarity, Hamburg residents are adorable. They don’t approach you. I can sometimes see in their eyes that they think they know me from somewhere. But they are very reserved. I was on holiday in a hotel in the town of Traben-Trabach and a woman shouted across the whole restaurant: “You’re Greta Silver!” Then she sat herself down next to me at the evening event and almost snuggled up against my shoulder. This feels quite strange for me, especially as I haven’t been used to being this “public figure” for most of my life, until in the last few years.
hvv switch: What were your greatest setbacks?
Greta: Of course I’ve experienced setbacks in my life. The early death of my father, a long period of being childless and, last but not least, my divorce. But the times when it hurt were the times when I grew the fastest. That is true. I’ve since accepted everything in my life. That took time. It’s not the case that I was just handed it on a plate. My husband was very reserved and inattentive towards me in the final years of our marriage. I look back today and ask myself: If I’d had a husband who carried me in his arms the whole time, what kind of bitchy person would I have become? I like to shock my ex-husband by saying: I’m grateful to you. Thanks to you I became the woman I am today. And then he says: You wouldn’t marry me again though. I say: yes, of course I would, if only for the sake of the children.
hvv switch: Do you have a motto?
Greta: We had a kind of family motto: “Who knows what good will come out of this.” The kids didn’t always find that all that easy. Of course, they wanted to feel they were understood in their grief. My eldest, for example, was looking forward to moving into an apartment that was going to be renovated, and then it all fell through and was put on the market as a freehold apartment for sale. And he was upset about it. But he then found an even better apartment in the end and said: “I’m glad it didn’t work out with the other one. I said: You see! Save that thought for the next disappointment. Who knows what good will come of it. My own motto these days is: “If not now, then when?!” Now is new territory, now is exciting.
A joyful outlook on life? Lightness of being. Loving life. Loving people. To know that there are ups and downs and to accept them with open arms. Relationships, people, friends, openness. That’s what makes life so joyful for me.
hvv switch: Do you do any sport?
Greta: I take a Zumba class once a week. It’s wonderful, I can totally let myself go and wear myself out for an hour. I’ve also done Tai Chi once, listening to music on my headphones, to singing. Once I did it in Rome in the roof garden of a hotel in a new red dress I’d bought. It was quite high up, above the church towers. I felt absolutely divine.
hvv switch: You started modelling at the age of 60. Why not as a young woman?
Greta: In the past I thought modelling was somehow indecent. It’s amazing what limitations I had in my head at that time. My daughter modelled while she was studying. Then came a call-out for a mother and daughter duo, for an eye cream advertisement. When she tried to persuade me to do it, I said: that’s out of the question, I won’t do it. But she said: “I need the money for my studies and that’s just stupid. And then at some point I said yes and it actually didn’t hurt at all. But I didn’t tell my friends at first. I was embarrassed. And then I registered with her agency and shortly after that I got a cool assignment with a coffee company, for three whole days.
hvv switch: How did you end up starting your YouTube channel at the age of 66?
Greta: A friend of mine said to me, why don’t you tell people how great it is growing old? Why don’t you start a YouTube channel? It’s very easy after all. And that’s what I did the very next day. Uploading a video and making a video was easy too. But being found, that was a big problem for me. I really worked at it for a whole six months. Looking back I’m amazed I made it through, with tutorials you can listen to and watch, and communities where you can get help. Sometimes I got up at night and said: Oh yes, I have an idea, there’s no tick in the box, you have to tick the box right now. Then I sat there for another three hours and it didn’t work. Most influencers are like that from their early 20s until around 30, then it stops again at some point. It seems I’m pretty unusual in Germany.
hvv switch: Is there anything you would really like to still do?
Greta: Well, I could imagine learning to play the saxophone again. I used to play the recorder and if you played the recorder as a child, you can play a little saxophone. Not well enough to perform in the Elbphilharmonie, but well enough for my own personal enrichment. I know someone who started playing the guitar at 60 and all of a sudden he had a rock band. They all act like they’re Mick Jagger and once a year they rent a hall, invite people and rock the stage. It’s fun for the people who come. If I found a group where I could get involved a little bit, I’d find that really cool.
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