Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On Being Back in Berlin

Berlin.  The original destination for this entire trip.  The city I’ve endlessly talked about the entire year, waiting for the moment I could finally be back in the city that so effortlessly defined me and even more than that, was me.  

Lots of people have asked me, “Why German?” or even better, “Why Berlin?”  And to tell you the truth, I have no idea.  Part of it was because I wasn’t really interested in learning Spanish, French, or Latin in school, but part of me was also puzzled when I started learning German and fell completely in love.  It was one of those gut instincts that I knew I was doing the right thing and making the right decisions.

As for Berlin?  Call it weird, but I always knew I would come here.  It was another one of those feelings that I knew I would love it.  Before coming here the first time, I always wondered if I had built up this fantasy image of Berlin in my head; that I was looking for something I wouldn’t be able to find, especially in a city (or country) I had never visited.  Upon my arrival in Berlin for the first time last year, I knew that wasn’t going to be the case at all. Never have I had the sensation that everything was sinking into place the same way I felt when I was settling into Berlin.  

I admit, I had some trepidations about coming back the second time around.  Although I knew I loved it the first time, I keep hearing how people seem to find things different the next time visit, and end up realizing they don’t love it as much as they did before.  I always had a good instinct about Berlin, but I couldn’t help but be afraid that the same thing would happen to me – that I would realize my love for Berlin was just an infatuation and not really the city I was looking for my entire life.  It turns out that I should just trust my instincts because I seem to love it even more the second time around.  
From the quiet to buzzing and alive; from the cafes to the craziest clubs, Berlin has it all.  It’s a city for everyone, but at the same time while at the same time takes some getting used  to.  It’s not a city that jumps out in its beauty or glamor or friendliness in the same way other cities like New York, Paris, or London attracts people, but spend a little bit of time here and you realize the city is buzzing.  It starts early in the morning, from the fresh bread and fruit at the markets to the coffee in the afternoon, and lasting long into the night at the bars and clubs around the city…taking you all the way to the first morning light when you finally stumble home and then do it all over after a couple hours of sleep.  What strikes me is the ability for anyone to fit in – and how everyone seems to mesh together.

Berlin is a really hard city for me to capture in photographs.  To me, there is no way to really adequately show the city in photos as nothing correctly shows the life and beauty of the city.  Those moments are almost too intimate - as if I'm intruding on peoples' personal lives by snapping a photograph on the Ubahn or the way a man walks his dog down the street, quietly whistling for it to follow along or the way two friends chat in a cafe.  It's these little moments that make me cherish the city, and also the moments that I don't capture on camera.  But I tried anyway.

Berlin’s beauty doesn’t lie in its fancy architecture.  Instead, it lies in the people, the resilience of the city to reinvent itself, the creativity it uses to still maintain its way of life, and the history that is still so seamlessly woven in.  Berlin’s motto is “arm aber sexy,” or “poor, but sexy,” and I would argue that while it isn’t the most glamorous city, it’s no longer poor.  However, there is a homey and down to earth feeling that welcomes you when you walk on the streets or into a café or into a bar that looks like your living room.  To me, they say “Welcome home.”  From the young family to the young entrepreneur to the elderly couple reading a newspaper and drinking coffee together, I am home with them.


  1. Great text Steph! I'm glad that you enjoyed it so much and I am looking forward to welcome you next time in Berlin as I am going to move there soon :)

  2. Okay so I typed a comment but when I pressed publish idk where it apologies if I'm posting twice!

    I just wanted to say that your opening paragraph really spoke to me - I have the same inexplicable affinity for France and the French language! Last year I was lucky enough to study and live in France for a semester (defffinitely recommend you do the same in Germany if you get the chance!) and I loved it even more. But I totally understood the whole feeling apprehensive about returning because you fear you've built it up in your head.

    Berlin looks super cool though, definitely on my list of places to visit! I visited some friends in Dusseldorf earlier this year too, worth a visit if you get the chance!

    Sinéad xo fabuleuse, toujours

    1. Isn't it cool/awesome/strange how that can happen? I actually studied in Berlin for a semester last winter, and that's when I really first fell in love with the city! Now that I know I loved it even more this time, I don't think I'll have anymore fears about going back.

      I haven't actually spent time in Dusseldorf, only had a connecting flight through there, but it's certainly on my list!