Thinking about Berlin makes my soul sparkle and hurt at the same time.
I wish I had a metaphor to help me out. I could say it resembles remembering an adolescent love you hoped would last forever. All the butterflies, all the magic and all the disappointment. But it’s so much more than that.
I moved to Berlin when I was 24 and lived there for almost five years. It’s not my home in a traditional sense, but it will always hold a very special place in my heart. If you asked my family and friends about my greatest milestones while living in Berlin, they would probably list finishing my doctorate, getting my first job and meeting my soulmate. I would agree that all of that is very, very, very important because it’s the essence of who I am today. But for me, Berlin is where I grew up, learned how to cook, how to manage bills and money and most importantly I learned the difference between good and bad people. I learned to trust my intuition. I learned to enjoy my own company and I learned that you don’t need to be lonely if you’re alone. I learned that hard work always pays off (one way or the other) and that people will like you if your intentions are pure. Also, they will always know if that’s not the case. I learned that in certain situations, you are permitted to walk with the devil until you have crossed the bridge (a Bulgarian proverb I read while doing my doctorate that just stuck with me).
Berlin is dirty. It’s loud all the time. It also has the most beautiful sights you’ll ever see.
It’s a place where you’ll meet the most wonderful and weirdest people you could ever imagine. You will be enchanted. Eventually though, they will disappoint you. Sometimes, you will disappoint them. In most cases, the disappointment will be mutual.
Berlin is a place where you wait in a 45 minute line to get in a club, expecting to get rejected by the bouncer and then laugh about that story with your friends over and over again.
The spring in Berlin is magnificent because it smells like new beginnings and tricks you into thinking anything is possible. Although, in Berlin, anything really is possible. You’ll walk around Kreuzberg and Neukölln in search of a party or a good, but very random art show. For example, the exhibition on how trees sound to birds (I actually saw that one). You might decide to walk around Prenzlauer Berg, smell the flowers along the Kastanienallee and pop by your favourite sushi place or that amazing Lebanese restaurant. If you feel like going out, you might end up in Friedrichshain, trying to get in a club.
Summer in Berlin means you get to go to the lakes and swim! For me, it also meant outdoor salsa parties. It’s not uncommon that the temperature goes up to 35+ degrees Celsius, which is almost unbearable without the AC. But you cope somehow. Luckily, in Berlin nobody needs to wear a suit, ever. You walk along the Spree and try not to get hit by reckless cyclists. You meet your boyfriend, sit by the river, look at the swans and eat ice-cream from that Italian place close to Kottbusser Tor. You see people you know at the pedestrian bridge nearby, sitting on the pavement, playing guitars or painting.
All of a sudden, it’s end of September and almost autumn. Berlin salsa congress always takes place in October at the Tempodrom and it’s just the most magical couple of days. People around the world come together, meet, dance, build friendships. In 2014, I was volunteering at the festival and I got to meet and dance with one of the biggest kizomba stars in the world!
Winters are cold. Trains will stop working because the rail tracks freeze from the rain, wind and temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius. Be prepared because it will snow, 100%. You need someone you can hug and drink hot chocolate with. Eat an occasional döner. But then, one day, the Weihnachtsmarkts will start popping up everywhere, offering mulled wine, hearty German dishes and cakes. And life will get easier. You blink — and Silverster (New Year’s Eve) is here!
I don’t think I’ll live in Berlin again. My life priorities have changed and it’s not for me anymore. The last flat we lived in, the neighbours would party all the time which didn’t help when I needed to get up for work. It wasn’t uncommon to see people coming back from clubbing still half-drunk at 6 am. The fun Kreuzberg wasn’t that fun anymore when someone tried to steal a wallet from my purse or a watch from my friend’s wrist. You are constantly underpaid and overworked. But all of that wasn’t the real issue.
People come to Berlin in search of something, usually in search of themselves. When they find what they were looking for, they either settle if the circumstances are right or they leave to continue building what they created. In a way, the roots of who I am today are somewhere in Berlin. And that’s never going away.