Berlin has been home for me and my kids for over five years now. Five. It’s the first year that I wasn’t excited about celebrating another year in this craziest of crazy cites. To be fair, part of my lack in enthusiasm is because the past two years have been spent fighting my ex-husband over custody over our three children, so it’s probably not Berlin’s fault that I was not in the mood to party about spending another year here.
My long-standing love affair with Berlin started the summer after ninth grade, when, as a fresh-faced 15-year-old I spent three weeks in the former American sector of the city hosted by family friends who were contracting for the US military at the time. They’d heard that I had taken German that first year of high school and invited me to spend a few weeks with them to practice my newly-acquired language skills and see some of Europe.
Those three weeks were magical – not only did I get to spendtime exploring Berlin, but my hosts also took me on a trip through Bavaria and part of Austria too. We spent time in Munich touring the city, visiting beer gardens and venturing beyond the city to see the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein as well as the gruesome concentration camp of Dachau. We also crossed the border into lovely Austria, where I am no-longer-ashamed to admit that, in addition to eating way too much Apfelstrudel, I went on the touristy Sound of Music tour. So yes – it’s safe to say that those three weeks were when I fell in love with Germany – and Austria took a little bit of my heart too.
That trip left a strong impression on me, and I knew after that sunny summer in interesting Germany and beautiful Austria, I’d have to return. I’m not sure what it was exactly – if it was the food (Schnitzel, German bread, and the sweets here are pretty hard to beat), the language (which I somehow picked up easily and quickly), or the old world charm (palaces, markets, cobblestoned streets). I suspect it was a combination of all of it that captured me and lured me to return.
And return I did. Several times in fact. A few times to visit friends – exchange students we’d hosted while I was in high school. And a longer stay when I worked as an au pair near Stuttgart in between studies. But those weren’t enough, and the desire to live in Berlin stayed strong until several years later, when – as a married mom of three, I got offered a job in Berlin by a long-time friend who was from the Berlin area and had his own company. He needed a native English speaker to handle communications and PR for him, so I jumped – almost literally – on the opportunity, and within two months of being offered the job, we had packed away our most precious belongs, sold or gave away what we didn’t need, and packed our necessities and kids to move to Berlin.
That brings us to the present. Five years and counting – five years of expat life and all its ups and downs. These five years have included introducing my children to the world of international life, a new language that all three have mastered to native level (my youngest even speaks more German than English some days), culture galore, and friends from all over the world, quite literally. For me, these years in Berlin have been a time of stretching and growing – yes, we still mature after reaching adulthood – both professionally and personally. And on a very personal level, these years in Berlin have been full of loss, pain joy, love and hope all mixed together.
What does the future look like? I’m not sure, but for now we’re here. Most definitely NOT forever, because although I like Berlin, it’s not amazing enough to keep me here forever, and there is no beach which is a definite deal-breaker for long-term living. And as much as I adore living in Europe, I don’t love the idea of my kids spending their entire childhood so far away from the family and friends who are stateside.
So we’ll see – I’m dreaming of a beautiful house somewhere by the beach, but in the meantime I’m trying to make the most of life here – so focusing on the good and trying my best to ignore the bad, both of which I’ll share in another post …