Where to start?
At the beginning seems like good place (skip to the end….10 points if you get the reference) except this story doesn’t really have a beginning it just sort of happened. We were always chasing the dream my husband and I that’s why we moved to London, it would be closer to friends, closer to work and closer to everything we wanted to experience, or so we thought. Now I am not saying out time in London wasn’t good if you discount the time we moved to the arse end of nowhere and ended up getting mugged but it wasn’t what we thought it was going to be. We did take every advantage of living in the capital going to museums, art exhibitions, festivals, theatre shows and enjoying all the great restaurants but it was exhausting.
Samuel Johnson famously said “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life” which makes it sound like you are a lightweight for wanting to get out but what most people don’t know is the rest of the quote, there is a semi colon and the rest of it goes “for there is in London all that life can afford.” and here we come to the most critical word “afford” everything in London is so expensive. It bleeds you dry! we were by no means poor but you really start to feel the ring of the cash registers, that everyone wants something from you and there is no mistake that everything comes at a price. It’s not just financial though it steals your energy, it’s crowded, hot, smelly, full of tourists and not exactly the safest city in the world. You are advertised at constantly and made to feel inadequate for not having the latest gadgets, lipstick, handbag, face cream, games or next “it thing” that was being shoved down your throat. I felt like I was always running to catch up with the baying consumer crowd which was not helped by the fact I worked just off Oxford Street and I knew something needed to change.
We thought long and hard about moving but with both of us enjoying our London-based jobs it was hard to think about where to move to. Of course we had toyed with the idea of moving country and Japan was always at the top of our list but the opportunities there are few and far between. We liked Finland a lot and having visited Helsinki on a business trip with my other half decided this was more my kind of pace. Then out of the blue with things not looking great for my husbands London office came an opportunity, in Berlin.
“I’ve never been to Germany before”
My husband on the other hand had but never to Berlin and after a one day round trip for interviews when he got offered the position we decided to go for it “if you can live in London you can live anywhere, right?” I asked nervously as I packed up my London life in more boxes than I care to admit to. Nothing seemed quite real, it didn’t feel real on my last day at work, it didn’t seem real when the moving company drove away with everything we own and it defiantly didn’t seem real when we stayed the night in the airport hotel with everything we needed to last us for the next four weeks crammed into two suitcases. I don’t think it even felt real as I touched down at airport ready for a taxi to whisk me away to our new city. As we drove to our temporary flat we past all the major landmarks and I remember looking up at the Victory Column, who are taxi driver delightfully referred to as “chick on a stick” in a state of shock. What had I done! The Germans are going to hate me, I’m not going to understand them, they won’t understand me, I’ll make lots of cultural faux pas and everyone will shun me.
We pulled up to the temporary accommodation (which I’m glad was temporary because it was god awful) and the first cultural difference hit me. No double bed, two slightly bigger than singles pushed together with their own mattresses, duvets and weird ginormous flat pillow but we managed to overcome the situation and were soon living in our newly rented flat (I’ll save the house hunting story for another post) and after another 10 days all our worldly possessions arrived to be lugged up seven flights of stairs by one very grumbly English bloke. I’m not going to lie and say learning to live here was easy, it was difficult and sometimes frustrating but I will say once you have learned to live here live is very simple indeed.
Berlin has shattered all of my cultural stereotypes of Germans (and growing up in the UK they were a lot) and the well-known quirks to the German life I used to laugh about I now find myself understanding and even enjoying. The things I never thought I would be able to give up I can honestly say I don’t miss (with the exception of a good Chinese take away) and I really can’t see myself living in London again, I like the space too much. The Berlin way of life is very relaxed with an emphasis on working to live instead of living to work, they like to party hard and relax properly, they value quality time with your family above anything and do time off so well with simple wholesome activities like bike riding, going to the lake, playing table tennis in the local park or if you have the stamina beach volley ball is very popular.
I love living here, I like knowing my neighbours and taking time over a coffee to catch up with someone. I like the fact that the capital city seems so small that you can get to know it very quickly and that the sense of community here is so strong you build up a circle of friends very quickly, I have found it to be very inclusive and non judgemental. I like that the Germans are very patient with you when it comes to you learning the language and are actually extremely helpful, friendly and easy-going but most of all I love that Berlin gives you space to be yourself and is fine with you not having it all figured out yet.