So I’m leaving. After two years, I’m breaking up with Berlin. Although a break-up might not be the best way to describe it; I guess our Facebook status would be “It’s complicated”. Berlin will always be my big love, but the Netherlands and all my family and friends there are also calling louder and louder. I’m leaving with pain in my heart, but also carrying wonderful new friends, tons of memories and some unique life lessons. To make sure I won’t forget those lessons and to help everyone who won’t get the chance to live in Berlin, I’ll use my final blog post to share them with you.
Berlin is under constant construction. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
Nothing Ever Stays the Same
If there’s one thing you can learn from a city like Berlin, it is that everything is always changing. Anybody who last visited the city 10 years ago probably won’t recognize large parts of it now – bars and restaurants keep changing owners, buildings are being renovated or torn down, entire new parks are constructed and there are cranes everywhere, building new apartment complexes or shopping malls. A shame, according to most long-time Berliners. The city was good as it was and they’re afraid it will lose its authenticity along the way.
But at the same time, they adjust easily to new conditions, because that’s what they’re used to. Ever since the war, Berlin has been changing constantly and this probably won’t stop in the foreseeable future. The city is never finished and that’s also part of its charm. The same goes for its people: Berlin is a perfect place to live for a few years and then move on, so chances are your group of friends will also keep changing. People come and people go, and that’s okay.
True Friends Will Follow You Wherever You Go
Moving to another country still feels quite selfish. For me, it was a big adventure, for the people staying behind, it just meant that I preferred some German city to their company. Not true of course, but still… At my goodbye party, I kept telling my friends and family to come visit and that they would always be very welcome. Little did I know that for the first year we would have visitors almost every weekend – and with a little luck also during the week. Mark and I actually decided to set a ‘Weekends only’ rule, since we were exhausted from all the visits.
Our fridge after our first year in Berlin. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
The second year also had months in which every weekend was filled with showing friends around and after the very last visitors left a few weeks ago, we were truly a little relieved. That being said: I find it incredible how much effort, time and money our friends and family have invested to see us. For some, it was a nice opportunity to come to Berlin, but others (my parents and sister, to name a few) didn’t care about Berlin at all anymore after visit number 3. Still, they kept coming and I think that’s something to be very grateful for.
Be Yourself and Let Other People Do the Same
A friend of mine, who also moved from Holland to Berlin a few years ago, told me a story about his visit to a techno club in Amsterdam. The music was great, the crowd looked good and everyone was having a blast. But then he noticed people were pointing at a girl on the dance floor, making jokes about her. Apparently, this girl had been doing too much alcohol or drugs – nothing serious, but it just made her a little more expressive than she would normally have been. It wasn’t the girl that my friend was shocked about, but the people making fun of her.
Last NYE: with our Dutch friends on Tempelhof. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
In Berlin, the other partygoers would check whether you’re alright and just keep on dancing. In Holland, you get frowned upon when you don’t act exactly like the rest. I noticed this too when I was living in Amsterdam: everyone wants to go the same bar, everyone wears the same sneakers and everyone watches the same TV shows. Obviously, people are copying each other in Berlin as well, but there are so many subcultures and so many places to go, that there’s always something that fits your exact personality and preferences. Even if you don’t tick any box, it’s fine – or maybe even better, because that means you really are yourself.
One of the many street parties in Berlin. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
Too Good to Be True? Maybe Not
It’s still the best story to tell at every birthday party and it will probably stay that way the rest of my life: how I won an apartment in the heart of Berlin and got to live there for free for two years. It wasn’t until I was holding the keys to the front door in my hands that I actually believed this was happening. At first I was hesitant to join the writing competition that won me this apartment, because I thought it would be a waste of time anyway. A few weeks later, I was living in Berlin.
Our first days in our new apartment. Image courtesy of Daphne Damiaans
It might be an extreme example, but it did teach me to keep believing in (small) miracles and in the good things that life can bring you. Without wanting to sound too much like ‘The Secret’: just make the choices in life that answer to your dreams and your aspirations, and you will notice that at some point it will pay off. From a career perspective, studying GDR history might not have been the smartest decision I ever made. But I loved it and in the end it gave me these amazing two years in Berlin.