Berlin kisses you, makes you dance and gets you drunk. Berlin slaps you right in the face, laughs at your stupidity and leaves you with a hangover. Berlin changes you forever.
The first time you come as a tourist, or to party. Chances are that you immediately stumble over the triple layers of leaden history stories. You’re immediately spanked, but also good-naturedly embraced.
After that first sweet and sour encounter you are already lost. This city full of bumps and holes appears irresistible. It makes your head spin. You become so obsessed that, as you drive away, you promise from the bottom of your heart: I’ll be back. After so many fine destinations, you made this promise almost carelessly. But now you know it is binding. Berlin looks you straight in the eye. So penetrating that you know: I must make this happen.
When you have gathered all your courage to surrender to the lure from the east, and you have crossed the border with all your heart and soul. Then no warm welcome awaits. You have dared to ask your first stupid question in the Facebook group of fellow countrymen and received mocking responses. You have struggled to get a room that is far too expensive and have already been snubbed at the district office for not showing the correct piece of paper at the right time.
Yet you stay. After all, it is expected of you after all those enthusiastic stories you told the people who stayed behind. Never will the city feel bigger and colder. All your habits from your Heimat are under discussion, everything you could fall back on is gone or far away, you feel for the first time that you are now on your own. You are at a disadvantage. Functioning is only possible with a handicap.
You would prefer to crawl away like a caterpillar. Looking for security that isn’t there, now that the obvious safety net is gone. You walk a wobbly rope without a fuse, without the safe other side in sight. The blinding impressions make you long for the merciful darkness of a cocoon.
Enjoy it! If only we had so much freedom, your friends call out good-naturedly from their safety net. Wonderful to be able to fly like this, they say admiringly. Your parents report that they are proud of you, from the house where you grew up. Former colleagues write that you don’t miss anything at home.
Undeterred, you have been thrown back to a stripped-down version of yourself. You are a shadow of the world citizen who photographed the Brandenburg Gate during a bright day. You drag yourself through the gray winter days, where everything that once bustled seems to have snowed under.
This is the moment when Berlin looks at you again penetratingly with an icy gaze. Again you receive a hard slap in the face that makes your faded cheeks tingle. A tingle that makes you dizzy, but that also makes you look outside, where the first snowdrops are shooting up.
The first rays of sun on your skin get you moving. The streets beckon again, the greener parks offer hope. Your curiosity is tickled again, a discovery tour is once again a possibility. You take your old clothes to the textile container.
Liberated, your feet search for paths you did not yet know. The cutting east wind has abated, a breeze blows in your back. You discover talents you did not know yourself. With renewed self-assurance you take that one job, make new friends spontaneously and breathe unencumbered. You can now spread your wings on your own and enjoy the cherry blossoms.
The painful kick in the ass, now feels like an encouraging thump on your shoulder. You get a Sterni pressed into your hand for the Späti to toast the future with a stranger, who may turn out to be your best friend for this summer.
You won’t find Berlin’s irresistibility in its buildings, or its inhabitants. The appeal is in what the city does to you. The inevitable transformation you must go through. Berlin squeezes your soul until it hurts. Berlin doesn’t let you go again until you have learned to discover who you really are.
Journalist connecting Germany and The Netherlands with stories at Tothem.co