Brückenschläge und Schlagworte

My Relationship with Berlin – „It’s Complicated“

Berlin – that place I have called my home for two and a half years now. That German metropolis that has no equal in this country (sorry, Hamburg, but it’s true). That explosion of history and high tech, of fashion and morbidity. That urban space in the midst of the Brandenburgian nothingness, that mixture of socialist concrete blocks and Nazi edifices, parks and lakes, Wilhelminian buildings and modern architecture. That eternal construction site. That city of bankrupt craziness. That hipster capital. Berlin.

This is my love story with her.

TV Tower, Berlin, Germany

View of the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz from Dorotheenstraße in Berlin Mitte

Berlin and I go way back. The first time I ever saw her I was ten years old. My mum had a big birthday and her gift was a trip with all of us to Berlin. Part of that trip was a visit to the theatre. I don’t remember much, just how glamorous and exciting it was for me. Today my parents still tell me that the entire performance I was hanging on the actors‘ lips, ready to practically fall onto the stage from our seats in the first row of the balcony, and I am told that upon leaving the theatre, I said: „I have never seen something this beautiful in my entire life.“ Oh, the wisdom of a ten-year-old girl.

As I grew older, Berlin was the hipster girl I admired from the distance and wanted to be friends with, but she was too cool, too popular and too stylish for me. I came to see her every now and again – on a school trip, with my family, and later, in college, to visit friends who had moved here – and I was always equally enchanted and intimidated. It was strange and vast and alien. I liked coming here, but I always felt a weird sense of relief when I could return to the respective smaller, cozier place I called home at the time.

Radar Tower Tempelhof Airport, Berlin, Germany

Radar Tower at Tempelhof Airport – the area of which today is open to the public for walking, skating, kite sports, and any kind of recreational activity

In my second year of college, I came to Berlin for a three month internship. This is when I started noticing the strange pull that she had. I lived in Mitte, right in the center of all the coolness, surrounded by a life that was so intense it tore at my very core every day. I fell onto the big street I lived on when I left the house, and immediately the city seemed to scream at me: „Look, here I am! Do something with me! Visit me! Touch me! Party me up! Create! Fulfill! Live! Live live live!“ As much as I dove into it and tried to soak it up, being there for only three months, it overstrained and exhausted me. Berlin demanded a lot of energy and attention. There was no hiding away from her. Quiet nights at home were overshadowed by the life I felt roaring, blustering outside my window. I returned to my quiet little Greifswald after an eventful summer, and I felt like I had had a passionate and crazy affair, now to return to the partner that made me feel at home. I figured that Berlin wasn’t for me, not long term. At least not yet.

German Cathedral, Berlin, Germany

The German Cathedral at Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin Mitte – across from it you will find the French Cathedral which looks exactly the same

I returned to Berlin seldomly, and always just for a couple of days. Then in 2010, as fate would have it, I started my 5 month travel adventure by spending ten days in Berlin. I crashed at different friends‘ houses in Treptow, in Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Mitte, thus living myself from the East toward the center. I had coffee on top of coffee on top of coffee. I roamed the manky streets of Friedrichshain and the tidy ones of Mitte, I saw the hipster culture in Kreuzberg and the calm and settled residential areas in Treptow. I was once more ever so amazed at Berlin’s diversity, and I didn’t find her tearing me apart as much as I had felt it 5 years previously during my internship. I left Berlin, and the seed of longing had been planted in my heart.

Kaiser WIlhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, Germany

The Kaiser WIlhelm Memorial Church is left with its ruined tower to remind passers-by of the horrors of war

After my trip to Central and South Eastern Europe, I returned to Tübingen once more, but in my heart I knew I wanted to live in Berlin. That year I spent New Year’s there with one of my closest friends who had just moved there. On New Year’s Day we took a long walk at Rummelsburger Bucht, and I spoke to her about my wish to live in Berlin. Being in this city that was so full of life ignited such dreams in me, such notions of inspiration and fulfillment. I had actual dreams about coming to Berlin and living there. The city called for me on some weird, spiritual level I couldn’t possibly explain without sounding out of my mind. And here is the weirdest thing: Just after that New Year had started, I was offered a job in Berlin. Totally out of the blue. And within one single day, I knew my dream would come true. I would be moving to Berlin.

Reichstag, Berlin, Germany

Details on the Reichstag building – where the German parliament holds its sessions

I have now lived here for 2 1/2 years. And I can’t say it’s always been easy. What I feel for Berlin has never been the deep spiritual love I feel for Gdansk, or the strong blood ties that bind me to Hamburg. It has always been more of a flirt, a fascination, and a passionate affair. Berlin still tears at my soul, demanding my attention. She still acts up when I don’t give it to her, but spend a weekend in my flat not doing anything. She still exhausts me with her hustle and bustle, her rude salespeople, her impatient drivers and her endless supply of entertainment opportunities. At the same time, the longer I am here, the more I love her. None other has challenged me like this. None other has taught me so many things. None other has made me tough for life like Berlin, and at the same time allowed me to indulge in sweet hedonism. She is perfect for me now. I am but in my twenties. I might ditch her for the safe haven in the future (most likely, I will). But right now I need to grow, and I need to grow from her.

Victory Column, Berlin, Germany

The Victory Column in Berlin’s Tiergarten commemorates the wars in the 19th century that led to Germany’s unity in 1871

Berlin, you’re a witch, an enchantress, you’re a siren and a hydra. You’re about any mytholgical figure I can think of. You tear me apart and you put me back together, you take all my energy from me and you give it all back. I love you with all my heart. You are the place for me in this crazy, unstable, troublesome and beautiful phase in my life.

Have you been to Berlin? What do you love (or hate) about it? What does the city you live in mean to you?

32 Kommentare

  1. Ah, Berlin. I love every bit of this city. I love the fact that there is always something for everyone, and you can be anybody here and nobody would give a flying fuck. You wanna be gay? You wanna be hipster? You wanna be techie? You wanna be an old Wilmersdorf widow? Go ahead, there’s a corner of the city for you.

    • bridgekeeper

      November 10, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      Haha, I especially like the Wilmersdorf widow part. I suppose you have seen the musical with the song about them? A great piece!

  2. Ah, Berlin, I lived there for four years and loved it. However, Berlin, to me, is also the city where I didn’t get anything done. I tried out, liked, disliked, started … but never really finished. I feel it’d stll be the same today. To sit there and work while Berlin is going on around me … impossible.
    Consequently, the city I live in means I have enough boredom around me to get down to work. It’s a piece of perfect world I live in, with the real world just around the corner to prevent me from dying of boredom but far enough away to distract me too much.

    • Agree, Berlin is the city to stay just for a while, you need this never-ending party for a contrast with the hard work you’ve done before you moved here, to feel the freedom, to break the borders…to do things you never did or dared before.
      Berlin has no judgement, Berlin accepts you the way you’re. Berlin is a never ending change, gentrification, vitality, smell of weed and piss. Berlin is a survival, Berlin is cheap, Berlin won’t let you die from hunger (literally: ), but Berlin is the hardest city to make money in, to feel like there is a safe tomorrow. Never ending room search, never ending work search, never ending party. Berlin sucks the energy out of you, if you don’t know how to deal with it. I’m still learning. I gave myself a deadline, if by that time I am still without a health insurance in this city, I am packing.

      But even when I leave, I will leave it not just as a city, but as a lover…the lover to hate and adore.

      • bridgekeeper

        November 10, 2013 at 3:59 pm

        Hi Katja, thank you for stopping by my blog! 🙂 I think a deadline is probably good. People get stuck here. I never wanted to be here for forever, I always saw myself moving to a quieter place some day in the future – I am very lucky when it comes to stability in terms of work and housing, but yes, a lot of people are eternally driven in this place. And you are also right about your last sentence – once you’ve lived here, I am quite sure that the city will always be part of you.

        • I come from a small city in Latvia, so i always wanted to be in a big vital city. Berlin is what I needed, but financial and health stability are the things you cannot ignore. Unless you’re an anarchist in a squat. But even those are on Hartz lV.
          People get maybe not stuck, but lost in a way, not knowing how to deal with the situation in the city. I always compare Berlin now to New York in 80s, those who managed to figure out how to stay alive in those conditions, had a mind blowing time.

          • bridgekeeper

            November 21, 2013 at 10:13 am

            That comparison with New York I’ve heard a lot. I agree with you, I couldn’t live without basic security and stability either, and it’s not that easy to do in Berlin… where in Latvia are you from? I loved it there and really want to go back. Riga and the Gauja national park totally stole my heart.

    • bridgekeeper

      November 10, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      Haha, yes, I’m not surprised that people write there PhD theses forEVER here. I’m set on defeating that curse though 🙂

  3. What a love letter! I love how you describe the emotions the city triggers in you.
    So Berlin does feel like a woman to you? I always get more of an androgynous feeling from it … interesting! Your relationship to Berlin reminds me a lot of my relationship to NYC (, a self-destructive longing that I haven’t given into though … so far! Who knows, maybe a couple of years from now, I’ll be writing a similar love letter.

    P.S. Do you think a seminar on the city of Berlin, once upon a time in Tuscany, might have had something to do with your relationship to Berlin?

    • bridgekeeper

      November 10, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      Hey dear, so good to have you on my blog! Haha, yes, of course I thought back on the seminar in Pontignano when I wrote this, especialle the Walter Benjamin text and the notion of the „Stadtgott“. Good old times… Isn’t it weird, that self-destructive element in it all? And yes, I do think Berlin is a girl, I don’t know why… Like all the mythological figures I associate with it, they are all female. Maybe the seductive tendencies she has are more femaile to me. I hope all is well with you xx

      • I had almost forgot about THAT text actually, was more thinking of Berlin.Alexanderplatz, but you´re right, the Benjamin text also captures some sort of „Hassliebe“ towards the city, like you feel it, too.
        I am great, leading a very nomadic life. My last city God, Santiago de Chile (who is definitely masculine!) took a toll on me. So I am staying away from Gods that I can´t handle – for now
        Love your blog, so don´t worry, I´ll be around (at least virtually!).

        • bridgekeeper

          November 10, 2013 at 5:59 pm

          I read your recent contemplations and I read that you’re in Germany at the moment – but with your driven heart I take it you aren’t staying too long?

        • No, I am just visiting for 2 months and Christmas, then I´ll be off to a warmer place and then … one year traveling around Europe and Asia. So no, so far no plans to stay longer in good old Germany 😉

  4. This post is probably the most excellent expression of how I feel about Berlin I read so far. Every time I come to Berlin I feel like I can do anything there – from chilling at Weissensee, through long and romantic walks around parks and canals, working in one of many amazing cafes to partying all night somewhere deep in Friedrichshain.

    I also have that strong urge to move. Now. Today. I should probably just take the dive, but it’s hard when you’re married and have your own place already.

    • bridgekeeper

      November 10, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      Thank you, Mariusz (or should I say dziekuje – are you Polish? I ask because of your name :))! Yes, I am very happy I had the chance to move here as long as I was young enough and wasn’t obliged to anyone but myself. So I am hoping to get it out of my system as long as I still can 🙂 glad you stopped by, hope you enjoy the blog!

  5. So beautiful! I only visited Berlin for a couple days but I also felt that draw that you described. Berlin is one of the few places in Europe that I felt I could move to and be content.

    • bridgekeeper

      November 10, 2013 at 3:56 pm

      Thank you, Aryn! Yes, sometimes we have that instant connection to a city, and like I said, Berlin certainly has that strange pull… maybe that is why I found her to be a lady 🙂

  6. I lived in Berlin for about 2 years. I felt exactly the same. Berlin is a witch. It drains you from your energy and gives it all back the minute you step outside and start walking on the streets. And in my opinion it does carry something like a curse…nothing can ever be finished there…It is the divine transition place to live, for a short time.

    • bridgekeeper

      November 10, 2013 at 4:00 pm

      Thank you for stopping by Theodora! Yes, the curse seems to be something many encounter. I am determined to defeat it and finish my PhD while I am here, but I am already thinking about taking a few months in exile to get the most part of it done 🙂 Glad you found yourself in my post!

  7. Comparing Hamburg to Berlin feels pretty insignificant when comparing any German cities with the true metropolises on this planet. And I for my part am fine with that.

    • bridgekeeper

      November 21, 2013 at 10:17 am

      Hehe, yes, Berlin is still tiny by comparison. I am totally fine with that too, I think I couldn’t handle it bigger.

  8. What a beautiful letter to Berlin, Marielka! I can related to some of what you write here about getting to know your adopted city – before moving to Chicago, I got a taste of the city, then I suddenly found myself living here and had to learn (or tame) it quickly. I’ve always liked it and felt comfortable here, but the longer I live here (11 years now), the more I love it.

    Do I need to add that this post makes me want to visit Berlin even more?

    Oh, and is there some kind of friendly rivarly going on between Berlin and Hamburg? Is it like NYC and Chicago? 🙂

    • bridgekeeper

      November 21, 2013 at 10:19 am

      Thank you, Pola! If you do come and visit Berlin, let me know 🙂 you know what, there is not really a rivalry I think – Berlin knows it’s incomparable 😀 there is more of a rivarly, especially football-related, between Hamburg and Bremen. Berlin just has no equal. And that’s okay.

  9. I find it funny as I read people’s ideas about Berlin being a nomadic, party city when my husband and I are moving there next month in an effort to feel more settled in Germany. We are not in our 20s anymore, but I imagine life there will hold exactly the things we have been missing in our first four years of living in Germany: diversity, culture, great food, just things to do. Coming from San Francisco to living in a quieter, more family-focused German city, frankly, we’re bored. We miss being in a city with pull, with a pulse. I’m sure there will be more bad to take along with all that good, but we welcome it. We welcome the distractions, the life that is happening right outside our doors. Granted, we probably won’t be out at the clubs every night, or frankly much at all, but it is a place that has felt so foreign yet so like home every time we are there, that we too couldn’t resist the draw to come and dive into life there. I’m not sure if we’ll stay forever, but I’m looking forward to our Berlin chapter, however long it may be.

    • bridgekeeper

      November 21, 2013 at 10:21 am

      That sounds wonderful, Kate! Yes, Berlin is nomadic to most people, but the beauty of it is that given you live in the right part of town, you can be settled and stable there as well. You will definitely find pull and pulse in Berlin though, it’s hard to avoid it. I hope you have a wonderful start here!

  10. Hey! Some friends sent me your post because I have written a fee things about my relationship eith berlin. Actually, you should check it out. There are
    Some older posts about berlin that are in spanish but the most recent one is in english and when you read it I think you might feel like ee are both having an affair eith the same person (or city).

    As much as you think you’ll leave her, which you might, she will never leave you.

    Andarin Gallardo

    • bridgekeeper

      November 21, 2013 at 10:22 am

      Hey Andarin, thank you for visiting my blog 🙂 I will check out your writing – maybe my rudimentary Spanish is enough to even look into those 🙂

  11. A brilliant love story. As often is the case the case for expats there are so many mixed feelings about the place you choose to live even if you completely love it. I’ve been living in London for over 5 years and at times I love it and times I can’t wait to leave. I’ve had the best and worse times in my life here. I am coming to terms with the fact that I will probably not leave when I want but I try to appreciate it every day because I am sure when I do leave I will miss it terribly.

    • bridgekeeper

      November 21, 2013 at 10:23 am

      Thank you, Melissa! I am sure it is more intense for expats – I am at least German, and already I have that big complicated thing going on with Berlin. London must be at least as challenging.

  12. Berlin to me was freedom to be me. In other places I’m used to having to moderate myself, my attire, my attitude, to the surroundings. Berlin, however, is big enough and free enough to deal with these things. Whether on the streets or in the parks you are free to be you, to be different. Cultures mix. It’s almost like some kind of interstellar planet on the edge of the universe where outcasts can go and no one is any better or worse than anyone else. From the tourists traipsing around Mitte to the ever industrious Turks of Neukölln, people go about their business without remark or comment. No doubt it helps that my stay was much shorter than I had imagined. But now I have at least one impression that prolonged exposure cannot destroy. And we need one or two pieces of vanity to hold on to.

  13. Great article and I absolutely love your photos!

    Berlin has so many faces, but I could not live without them 🙂

    • bridgekeeper

      Dezember 3, 2013 at 10:35 pm

      Thank you Jobie! I did enjoy the black and white ones, too. Yes, the variety is what makes Berlin what it is 🙂

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