There and Back Again: A Berlin Story

There and Back Again: A Berlin Story

Moving to Berlin was a bit of a homecoming for me.

Almost seven years ago, I wandered these same streets for a semester abroad.

My visit to the Olympic soccer (football) stadium in Berlin, in 2009. Featuring: storm clouds.
My visit to the Olympic soccer (football) stadium in Berlin, 2009.

I was excited to return, but I found a lot had changed. Here are some main differences between my time in Berlin then and now:

  1. My German: In 2009, I had finished 3 language courses and was taking a fourth plus history and literature in German. Later, after several years of disuse, I only remembered the fundamentals: Ein Bier bitte (one beer please).
  2. Apartment living: My first time living in Berlin was with a German host family. They were friendly, but I hardly saw them, and they appeared to be growing illegal substances in their bathroom. The only time we spent together was watching Inglorious Basterds, dubbed to German, on my first night in Berlin – a very odd experience. Now Katarina and I are our own family unit and we deal with the woes and joys of renting, including the smoky loud bar below us.
  3. Burgers: A few years ago, it was hard to find a good burger in Berlin. Our quest to find good burgers took us to Hamburg, and it ended in disaster – we couldn’t even finish the burgers. These days, burgers are “cool” and as such you can find them everywhere. And they’re fairly good. Still, it’s hard to get a good medium rare with the right consistency. But I’m understandably picking coming from a state with almost as many cows as people (truthfully, it’s about 60%).
  4. Paperwork: Writing a history paper in German is nothing compared to reading a 20 page lease in German legalese. If I understood it right, we’re not allowed to feed and/or birth pigeons on our balcony. That was almost a deal breaker.
  5. Technology: These days, I have a smartphone and I use it for everything: maps, grocery lists, budgeting, messaging, and learning German, to name a few. In 2009, I just had a cheap prepaid (dumb) phone. If we were hungry, we would wander around and look for streets with food. Once, after failing to pantomime the word “towel” in a department store, I had to call my professor to ask for the German word (it’s Handtuch).
  6. Bureaucracy: Our study abroad program took care of most things for us, even our public transit passes. This time around, we had to contend with the complex bureaucracy ourselves. Germans love rules. One of their favorite sayings is Alles in Ordnung (everything in order) – no wonder they are so efficient. They also love paper and will mail something to you with little provocation. After opening our bank account, Katarina and I received six letters each.
  7. Travel: I only left Germany once – a class trip to Warsaw –  the first time I lived here. Now, the travel bug has really taken hold, and we’re in a new country almost every month. We moved here to see and experience Europe, and we’re serious about it.
  8. Social life: You’re forced to meet new people and make new friends when you move to a city where you know exactly no one. On my study abroad, I had a built-in friend/support group (read: World of Warcraft party) from our college, so I didn’t interact too much with the locals.
  9. Responsibilities: As a student, I had few attachments. My biggest concerns were when the U-Bahn stops running and where to find free wifi. Living here, we have to do responsible things like battle with crowds to find an apartment, file taxes, and build a kitchen from scratch (more on that in another post).
  10. Birthdays: Last year, Katarina showed me around London for my birthday. In 2009, I spent the whole day in bed with the swine flu and had to bake my own cake.
  11. Berlin: This city is still growing up and figuring itself out. In a few short years, the hipster areas have become the family areas. I was lucky enough to be in Berlin for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall in 2009. Today, the wall seems a more distant memory, though one the city will never forget.
A surprise snowstorm in Potsdamer Platz, 2015. Featuring: my ability to grow facial hair.
A surprise snowstorm in Potsdamer Platz, 2015. Notice I can now grow facial hair (a little).

I’ve come a long way in a few years, and it’s thrilling to live somewhere that is changing so quickly. But one thing is the same: every time I return to Berlin, it feels more like home.


Next on the blog: One Perfect Day on the Isle of Skye

One thought on “There and Back Again: A Berlin Story

  1. I found yet another great book bout the Cold War in Berlin: Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon, 2014. Vivid descriptions of places I saw there, as they were in 1948, including Tiergarten, Alexanderplatz. He says, as I know, that Prinzlauder Berg was not bombed as much as the rest of the city. Brecht is a character.

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