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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?