In 1999, I had to participate in the Erasus program abroad for six months to study IBL (International Business and Languages). I didn’t feel like it at all. I thought six months abroad was a long time. I would prefer to stay in my beautiful student room in de Pijp in Amsterdam. So I “accidentally” delayed signing up to go to warm Barcelona. As a result, there was no place left there at the last moment. All other colleges in Spain were also full. Berlin was still “over”.
So in 1999 I drove with a full suitcase, TV, coffee maker and my parents to Berlin. Navigation did not exist back then, but an ANWB card should have done the trick. Little did we know that Berlin has 3.5 million inhabitants and the distances are endless to get from A to B. I can still see us driving through Berlin… how big we thought it was here! In my opinion, we drove through town for hours. Because of my last-minute registration, I did not end up in a student flat with other Dutch Erasmus students, but in a regular student flat where no other Dutch person could be found.
My parents said goodbye. Luckily it’s only been for half a year! my mother yelled again, and they left for the Netherlands. There I was sitting all alone in my small room. I heard people laughing in the communal kitchen, it was 8 PM. Time for a nice cup of Dutch coffee! I thought: I’ll put a big pot and then introduce myself to those other people. The moment I entered (a bit nervous though) with that jug of coffee in my hand, it became very quiet. Jemand Kaffee? The short answer: Wir trinken in Deutschland abends Bier statt Kaffee! Fortunately, I was allowed to stay and have a drink and those students in the kitchen are still good friends.
Six months are now 21 years… My German neighbor in the flat is now my husband. In 2013 we got married in Berlin. We now have a 7-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter and live in a cozy cottage with a garden in the quiet green beautiful Berlin-Lichterfelde. I have the Wannsee and Berlin Wall Route next door. I am out of the city by bike within 5 minutes and enjoy nature and tranquility every time. But if I want I can be in the bustling busy crazy city within 20 minutes and I enjoy it so much. Berlin is home to a lot of funny, crazy artists and performers and I love it só much! In 21 years I have been through a lot.
Since 1999 I have seen Berlin change from a (in my experience) gray, somewhat shabby city with many traces and remnants of the fall of the wall into a modern bustling metropolis. I am a history and Germany freak, so Berlin is the place to be for someone like me. The free thinking, the alternative, the loose… it suits me completely.
In the past 21 years I have come across some Dutch people here and there, but there was never really a click and neither was a friendship. That doesn’t matter because my group of friends is mainly international. I am proud and very grateful for that. Fortunately, they ensure that I continue to keep an open mind. What will never wear off is the lack of family and Dutch friends in the area. Especially now at the time of Corona it is extra sad not to be able to see them. Yet this year I became even more aware of how well I am doing here, the health system is top notch and Germany has never put a damper on me. I always say that you have to study the instructions of the country carefully and if you also stick to the rules, it is a good place to stay.
In the meantime I am very ‘Germanic’ myself, although I say so myself hahaha… I have not been drinking coffee in the evening for a long time, I automatically take off my shoes when I am a guest at Germans’ home and my house is inside and outside completely decorated for Christmas. And for 20 years I have traditionally baked the famous “Plätzchen” with friends in December. On the other hand, I am disgusted with currywurst and have refused to watch (in German) dubbed English-language films for 21 years. That Germans wouldn’t have humor is total nonsense! Often enough, I have a lot of fun… and I also like to watch the many good German comedians out there.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had stayed in the Netherlands and married a Dutchman. Hmmm… I wouldn’t know! For me a very strange thought. Moving back is not an option. But; never say never!
Ilse is 42 years old, originally from Brabant and has lived in Berlin since 1999.