When I first moved to Berlin, everyone's apparent indifference terrified me as a 23 year old girl alone in a new city thousands of miles away from home or anyone she knew. Nine months later, in October, I find Berliner's suggested aloofness comforting. I can quite literally disappear into the void without worrying anyone and reappear weeks later with a new identity and nobody would blink an eye. Ok,.. not nobody but it's easier to do here in Berlin than anywhere else I've ever been in my life.
A mentor of mine sent me this quote that reminded her of me and I've returned to it multiple times this month:
"He knew the end was coming. Was he testing how elastic love could be? Was he simply a man who had gladly given his youth to sex and folly? As for safety, comfort, love--he found himself smashing them to bits. Perhaps he did not know what he was doing. Perhaps it was a kind of madness. But perhaps he did know. Perhaps he was burning down a house in which he no longer wanted to live." Andrew Sean Greer
Sometimes I feel like that's exactly what I'm doing. By moving across the ocean, I "smashed" every bit of comfort, love, and safety I've known and instead of being terrified, I felt liberated beyond measure. Everything I have here in Berlin is uniquely my own. Even though I wouldn't have imagined this life for myself (a Parisian backdrop seems more fitting), everything I "have" in this city is mine: from the friendships I've chased, to the connections I've made, the apartment I've curated, café owners that know my face, and neural pathways that connect the city sights in my brain like neatly paved streets. Nobody is responsible for how happy or sad I am at any given moment and that responsibility over my entire being is beautiful and scary. Who I am isn't defined by my job, where I went to school, my undergraduate major, or who I knew as a kid. These mental shortcuts that supposedly tell us so much about people don't exist as firmly here, which is a relief because my job is the least "me" thing about me and the more distance I have from my university the more I realize what an absurd, incredible, and fantastic bubble that period of my life was. In Berlin (maybe all of Europe), I can just be "me"...still working on who exactly "me" is.
I've talked about the idea of "being someone who does something" by simply doing it. Want to be a morning person? Then wake up at 7am tomorrow. Repeat. Done. I'm through with constantly "planning" how to live my life instead of doing the thing I've romanticized. In the past few months I've become a person who: speaks multiple romance languages, wakes up early, journals, does heart opening exercises, drinks black americanos, learns about art history (not everything is Rococo Baroque), takes vitamins, and wears her hair curly. None of these are "rocket science" but they bring me closer to being the person I've built up in my head. On a more serious note, I think I'm a lot happier since discovering that the secret to getting things done isn't motivation but discipline. Motivation comes and goes, but discipline is what makes things happen. Do I want to wake up at 7am everyday? Definitely not. But I have developed the discipline to do it anyways since I know I will thank myself when I've meditated, journaled, eaten breakfast, finished my morning skincare routine, and stretched all before logging into work an hour later. Part of this equation is also putting myself in situations where the things I want to manifest can actually exist. If I want to meet people, I can't stay in every Friday night no matter how unwelcoming the Berliner Schnauze is.
One of my favorite things has to be being someone who has recommendations to give. Things in Berlin are ever changing so I doubt there will be a day when I stop asking for recommendations, but the day has finally come where people think I'm "Berlin" enough to give them recommendations/want my recommendations. I've been cultivating a "Berlin To Do" and "Berlin Done" list since my first week here and the "Berlin Done" list finally has more places on it than the "to do" list. It's comforting to have a go-to pho restaurant for weeks where I feel damp in my bones, a favorite hole-in-the-wall Italian joint that serves hefty portions of their lunch specials, or a cozy café with good coffee and Wi-Fi where I can disappear into a book (or my phone) for a few hours.
When I meet new people and they ask me about where I'm from, I like to say that I'm "not very Boston" but I'm also not "very Berlin." I guess that response bodes differently with each person depending on their ideas of what Boston and Berlin "are." I'm not a staunch traditionalist or Irish drunkard like my Boston roots might suggest, but I'm also not a techno-loving, art-gallery-visiting, too-cool-to-be-cool Berliner. I'm somewhere in between and I love meeting those non-identifying Berliners who are just as lost and simultaneously at home in this sprawling city.
I love that vacuuming is considered rude on Sunday because there is nothing anybody should be doing on Sundays but lounging, eating good food, going for long walks, and chatting for hours. Berliners have their own version of flâneuring is that is completely their own. It's complete with eccentric outfits, hopefully rüdesheimer mugs, and (if weather permits) a scoop of creamy éis. I love that I love something enough in this city to go to its "farewell" party - even though it was for an airport, it still counts.
One thing I'm sick of is talk of COVID lockdown Part II. At this point, it's inevitable and there's no use in complaining or worrying about something that is out of anyone's control. I'm wearing a mask, "social distancing", and washing my hands until they're pruned and wrinkly. I'm not also going to get worked up every time new restrictions are announced. I have other things to worry about like the end of a 2 year relationship, getting into grad school (somewhere...anywhere), and what the heck it is I want to do with my brain.