It’s Wednesday 31st of August 2016 and yesterday marked exactly 10 years in Berlin, since I first moved to B-Town on 30th August 2006.
And I just did something I never did during all this time. Today I got in a plane without having a return ticket back to Berlin.
It’s been 11 years since I first visited in 2005 and a decade since I moved to the city that stole my heart not in the moment, but looking back to that first trip, and where my Erasmus adventure started.
Berlin felt enigmatic those 7 days in 2005. We had read and heard so much about its nightlife and still couldn’t find any damn club nowhere. They happened to not to have signs that said: here’s the party. Unlike Kater Holzig.
We arrived the week of the Popkomm (now Berlin Festival, I think) and navigating the city at night I can barely tell you where we were those nights. We must have been around Eberswalderstr but really, the city I visited back then only exists in my memories.
Back in Barcelona for my last year in Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) I couldn’t take Berlin out of my mind. I missed the smell. I had not given it too much attention or thought when walking the irregular pavements, but back in Barcelona it was killing me. It didn’t smell the same and I didn’t want to be in a place with a different scent anymore.
And still when the time came to apply for my international year abroad, my first choice was Sydney. I just wanted to go as far away as I could for as long as possible. Just as backup I decided to also fill in the forms for the Erasmus program. I didn’t want to stay in Europe, but there were 2 spots in the whole UAB for University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and I didn’t want to push my luck.
I got Monterrey and Berlin.
While Mexico was tempting, I definitely wanted to go to a non-Spanish speaking country, so I asked around in all offices I could whether I could wait enough for someone to drop and still make it to Sydney. No chance. And with a saddened heart I started all the paperwork and logistics to study one year at the Freie Universität (FU).
In what would become a tradition, I made it to the Mutterstadt with the biggest orange suitcase you can imagine, 40Kgs of Moniquita’s mess. I remember taking the Regio and approaching Ostbahnhof, catching glimpses of the Fernsehturm and thinking: this feels like coming back home.
I also remember the struggle that same night in Turmstr with the huge suitcase, the junkies staring at me while walking at 10 steps per minute pace on the loudest pavement pattern possible and how difficult was to find my way to the hostel back then without a smartphone at hand.
And of course I remember the day I cried in Tres Cabezas café while checking online the pictures of the student who actually made it that year to Sydney. Berlin might have felt like home, but my mind was too busy focusing on what I couldn’t have, my biggest failure to date.
But soon enough came the first flat interviews, the first dinner with friends in I Due Forni, the first visit to Treptower Park, the first flat in Friedrichshain, the first night at Berghain, the first Ring Bahn ride, the first friends, the first Erasmus party, the first big heartbreak, the first friendbreak and much more. All that served as great entertainment and all of my adventures made what probably was the most intense year of my life.
There was no Facebook in 2005, so the uploads came months after. And they are quite hidden in my Facebook Timeline — it was all too wild…
And then at some point I got the news. I made it on my second attempt and I actually got my spot to go to Sydney starting August 2007. What can I say: I’m obsessive. Berlin felt great, but I wanted what I wanted, it had been my goal during my whole Bachelor and I had to go.
So off I went: my Sommersemester ended mid July, I went to Barcelona a few days, missed the best parties and the best weather, bought a Round the World ticket with STA Travel and booked Berlin > Shanghai > Sydney > Los Angeles > New York. I made it to Sydney way too late and unprepared by mid August.
I’ve never been so miserable in my life.
Not only I left the cheapest and most unconventional city in Europe to go to one of the most expensive and conventional cities in Asia — Pacific, I went without gloves for the chilly days in a place where it does get cold in winter and a flat hunt reaches new levels. Buses never stopped because I didn’t know I had to wave, my Berlin budget barely paid for my 9 sqm room in a 7er-WG and I couldn’t stand having to wear cocktail dresses and high heels anymore while talking bullshit with guys in suits.
Soon enough I started wishing I were in every plane I saw up in the sky.
I cheated on Berlin with a more sophisticated and exotic city and I paid the price every single second I was away.
The hard fight to create meaningful connections in Sydney got easier with the months, but I was very happy to go all LOST in my flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, and then New York. I landed in Berlin on time for my 24th birthday and after a few months in Barcelona, I was back in my city in September 2008.
I promised myself to never ever leave, and I didn’t in all these years for more than a few weeks or a month maximum. Until today.
Berlin is a dominatrix. She whips you no matter if you misbehave or behave. With bad weather in winter AND in summer, with the rudest service, with its unapologetically ugly appearance. But then it gives you the sweetest moments, seconds where no matter how crazy things seem, it’s all good and accepted. And most importantly, when you feel miserable, when things go wrong, you don’t look up to the sky for a plane and wish you were not here. You look up searching for the Fernsehturm and if she’s staring back at you, all bad is wiped away.
I’ve been the happiest and the saddest in Berlin. These last days saying bis bald I’ve had so many flashes. I have memories in basically every single corner. I’ve walked, ran and biked the streets of Berlin — there’s literally hundreds of doors around that once were open for me and now I cannot access anymore. Most of my memories in Berlin are in places that no longer exist, there’s way too many spaces that only survived inside of my mind.
I’ve been arm aber sexy, I’ve been condemned to becoming but never being. I’ve been faithful, I’ve cheated, I’m now opening my relationship to make my marriage resist the routine and endure the change.
No matter how different Berlin looks today to the city I first discovered a decade ago, I’m still devoted to it. I might trash all those hipsters now, but oh well, I was just like them not that long ago. I’ve lived with 500€ like the FUCKING QUEEN OF BERLIN, I’ve chased Soja Latte Machiattos under the sun, I’ve “discovered” Wedding in 2009 and thought I was the coolest. I’ve been the original hipster, even if only our parents can claim that.
No matter if she’s getting greedy or worse, her new friends are a bad influence and she’s losing control. Something is wrong when Moabit, Lichtenberg or Reinickendorf are getting too expensive for most Berliners, but that’s my fault too. No matter if one day I’ll need to become a wildling out of the wall and move to Marzahn or Hellersdorf because I will not be oke paying more than 500€ rent just to live near the Ring. No matter if in 20 years those paying crazy rents today and accepting to play the game inside of the wall join me in the outskirts whining that oh surprise, there’s always someone wealthier and more unconscious than you and now not even you can afford the insane rental increase rate.
I will still be madly, truly, deeply in love with you, Berlin.
But we need some time off. I need some time off. You are a city for those in love to be suspended in time. Your pace and your routine brought me peace. You soothed my need to never stop and made me slower, lazier, bon vivant, a Genießer, hedonistic, a spirit floating in your bubble. I’m very thankful, but it’s time for me to gain perspective and see us from afar.
From the 10 years I’ve spent in Berlin, I’ve worked 8 of them non stop, without any day as Arbeitslos. Lucky me in a city where many were swallowed and spit gleichzeitig. It’s been 3 and a half companies, 8 bosses, countless colleagues and huge amounts of learnings. I’ll be working for Zoobe from Barcelona the whole September. After that, I’m taking a break starting in October and all I want is to read, write, eat, sleep.
I’ll be back. I met the love of my life when I was 22 and there’s no escape from that. The same way you meet your husband or wife too early and later you might feel trapped and wonder what you’ve missed, I’ve lived in a golden cage 10 years. In the most amazing bubble of bliss, but in a bubble anyway.
I’m now gearing towards at least 6 weeks of catching up with my life before Berlin. There’s family matters to attend, friends to give quality time in the most important times of their lives. There’s thinking to do.
Bis bald, Berlin.
This blog post (actually, a more complete version with more juicy pictures) was originally posted on www.monicazaldivar.com.