When I first arrived in Berlin, I experienced no immediate outburst of love like London or Boston evoked. The streets were unfriendly, the skies grey and I found myself wandering hours at a time. Excitement still lingered, how could it not? I was starting a new university, living with a German host family and representing my country in a far-away land. But something felt off. Don’t get me wrong – I adored the cakes, the expanses for exploration and the hours I spent in cafes. I still do. Almost two years ago though – I felt a bit lost. Trying to “find myself,” I realised, wasn’t the romantic ideal that all characters in bildungsromane portrayed it as.
Cue the cold and harsh Berlin winter. Dark skies greeted me when I arose at 5am to reach the gym before work, and dark greyness always had settled when I left the office at 6pm. Life settled into some kind of hazy routine of productivity, awkward living situations seemingly without end, and I resolved that I would never live in Germany again. The city was glum, lonely and I wanted to go home.
Then came springtime. I was inundated with the sudden rush of meeting people, noticing that in the sunlight and warm rays of sunshine – the city wasn’t as cold as I made it out to be. I made friends from it seemed everywhere. My favourite activities began to involve spending inordinate amounts of time in clubs, lounging in parks slurping on gelato and settling into summer. Without warning, Berlin became an oasis (at least for me) of comfort and safety. I still felt lost, not sure of whether I wanted to become a graduate student in London in the upcoming autumn. And in a fit of uncertainty, I abandoned it.
I took leave of Berlin as well, exploring Mongolia, Southeast Asia and visiting parts nearer to home for two months. Yet, something felt out of place. Home felt unsure, it felt like I was out of place, a cog stuck in an ever-chugging-along train not sure I wanted to continue on like so many of my colleagues. So I turned to another version of comfortable. Again in the fall, I returned to Berlin armed with the determination that I would find a job, study coding and become the classy expat I had always dreamed of becoming.
After months of trying and repeatedly failing to find a job, I was sure of one thing: I didn’t want to go home. Returning to the states felt like failure, and I resolved not to let that happen. Instead, I applied to graduate schools, deciding that if I couldn’t find a job – I could at least further my learning. That’s how I found myself starting an MBA. Practicality and routines – the two things that I’m skilled at became my life for a few months. Sure, I didn’t love my studies, but I enjoyed having life with a purpose again and seeing Berlin through another light.
It’s the end of the semester, and instead of remaining in Berlin for the summer – I’m again on my way out. This Friday I’m setting off for the Hague for six months to try my hand at international law. It’s not a declaration of my sadomasochism, despite what my friends claim. In my attempt to continually “find myself,” Berlin has been the catalyst that has helped me to discover what it is I want to spend my life doing. I want to help people, I want to be happy – and there are a million ways I can do that. Despite what I would have myself believe, certainty doesn’t have to be an exact representation of what I’ve scored on a job personality test.
With each passing month and realisation – this city has become closer to my heart. I love the hours spent outside, the hybrid mix of Germans and of every-seemingly-possible other nationality. Walking down the street and never knowing what language I’ll hear next, the possibility to speak German on a daily basis, the kindness of strangers, the ice-cold mornings in February and the correspondingly blazing hot temperatures in summer – it’s all an essential part of living here.
Berlin offers so much to its locals, and because of that, I’ve never felt more comfortable being myself. This city has painstakingly made its way past my barriers, both mental and physical. Now being anyone other than myself is difficult to imagine. What I know now is that I’ll never be done finding myself. I will always be lost in some fashion – unsure of where the next step in life is taking me, and it’s okay to not have a plan. So when the opportunity arose to move somewhere else, a new city bound to reveal new truths about myself, it was because of what Berlin has inspired in me that made me accept the offer. I love Berlin and a part of my heart wants to stay here forever. It’s a beautiful city filled with strange experiences and even weirder people; I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything. But what Berlin has ultimately taught me is to live freely, to let my instincts guide me to whatever new adventure awaits me.
Berlin is my home, the place where I have simultaneously lost and rediscovered the things that I am passionate about. It showed me that a city can continue to hold your heart close even after you’ve left. I feel stronger now, more confident and happier than I’ve ever felt in my life and if there’s anything I love the most about Berlin, it is that. I’m leaving here (temporarily) more sure of myself and about my future – even though I’m really still not sure of anything. And that’s okay.
I love Berlin. I thank chance for helping me stumble into this incredible city, the luck I’ve had in finding lifelong friendships, and a brighter healthier outlook on life. Thank you Berlin, I’ll be back soon.