“Paris is always Paris, but Berlin is never Berlin.” … someone semi-famous once said that, and how right he was. Berlin is the kind of place that is ever-evolving. It’s not the same city I moved to five years ago, and it’s nowhere near the city I remember on my first visit to Germany back in 1995. It is very much a living thing, with movement and change and life.
To me Berlin is little bit like a rebellious child trying to prove itself by showing off it’s wild and crazy side, bucking the system in any way possible. It’s the teenager who broke away from its controlling parents and is out partying all night, tattooing and piercing itself as a way to rebel against the years of freedomless existence. And rightfully so, as half the city was under lockdown for roughly 30 years, separated by a Wall and rules that limited both freedom of movement and expression. Considering this rough history, it makes perfect sense that the city is now known for being a creative hub and has become home to many new businesses, even being dubbed the Start-up capital of Europe. I call Berlin the Wild West of Europe, and I think it fits – it’s a bit frontier-like in that you can come here and start – or be – virtually anything you want.
And unlike the rest of the country, which is neat and clean, Berlin tends to be a bit more unruly, messy, and in some corners, downright dirty. So if you’re coming to Berlin and expecting impeccable order and neatness, you’ll have to actually look for it here. Of course there are areas of Berlin that are more traditionally “German.” The former western part of the city, areas such as Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, and Wannsee – still have the old world German charm – the lovely old buildings, little gardens and flower boxes hanging out of windows and off balconies, cleanliness, and a general air or structure and order.
Berlin’s wild and crazy side is I liked most about the city at first – well, after the initial culture shock resulting from a city very unlike the rest of the Germany I knew. I loved the air of freedom here and it’s relatively unstuffy feel. And the fact that you can wear what you want and no one will bat an eye. Compared to other European capitals, the city is extremely casual. You wouldn’t necessarily be able tell a successful start-up founder making loads of money from the guy dressed like a bum and waiting tables. You can go to many – if not most – clubs for a night of dancing in whatever you feel like wearing, even if it’s ratty jeans and a t-shirt. I love that.
But after five years and change of living here, I feel like this city and it’s casual grit are starting to wear me down. Wild and casual is fun for a while, but at some point you realize you want – or maybe even need – more. From what I am seen with others and experienced personally, Berlin is a big wide space that gives you freedom and space to grow. Or to grow up. It seems to be a playground of sorts, where many come to stay a while, either play, build a business, gain life or professional experience, and then leave before setting roots down to deeply.
The Wild West is fun and exciting for a while, but when you grow up you long for a bit more calm, and culture. At least I do. Streets lined with graffiti and wild plants growing every which way is a novelty for a while, but at some point, neat clean streets without dog droppings and advertisements of adult toys get old. I personally long for beauty – traditional, clean, organised beauty that are the result of order and hard work – of course creativity too, but creativity refined by a bit structure. Which is what you get places beyond Berlin and which is what I am ready for.
So that’s where I am. I’ve enjoyed a lot about Berlin. Learned a lot. Experienced more than I wanted or ever planned to. Cut my teeth. Grew up. Reached the goal of helping my children become bilingual. All of this I’m grateful for. But I’m ready to trade creative and messy for lovely and neat, Berliner “Schnauze” (Berlin slang/attitude) for politeness, six months of winter for a climate that’s a bit more friendly.
Yes, my time here might be winding down. And that’s ok!