As I took my 4th trip to Berlin in exactly a year I began to get questioned frequently about why I kept going back. There were times where I didn’t want to explain myself and thought to reply, “Because I want to”. But really the response was so personal and unmistakable that I didn’t want to share it.
My first trip to Berlin came on a whim. I had planned a trip to visit one of my gorgeous girlfriends in Amsterdam. We had grown close during her time working with me in DC and after she went back home to the Netherlands I had to visit. I had never been to Europe before and what better time to go than when there’s a friend on the other side to show me around.
Someone we used to work with in DC lived in Berlin and my friend suggested driving a few hours to see him. Taking one trip and getting to see two different countries sounded like a dream to me. My first time in the city I couldn’t close my eyes. There was so much art and blended cultures on every street. Everyone had their own unique style and wore it proudly. The city was very well connected through public transportation and no matter what you were in the mood for, Berlin offered it.
My first time there I stayed less than 2 full days. It wasn’t enough. I only got to see a fraction of what the city offered. So I decided to go back 6 months later. I stayed with the same people as the first time and they graciously showed me just a little bit more of how their day to day life was, the nightlife, and several tourist attractions. After that trip I was hooked.
When I came back my eyes lit up like never before telling my friends and coworkers stories about what I had seen and where I had been. Nothing spectacular happened. There was no life altering event. There was no grand stop on my tour. I just felt….at home. Which was strange for me. I’ve traveled to 10 different countries, including almost half of the states in the US, and during every trip I couldn’t wait to come home. Sometimes I would go home early because my heart was no longer in the place I was visiting.
On my third trip to Berlin, staying with the same people, I took more time to explore the city on my own. I thought that my time spent with friends may have increased the endorphins I felt the first 2 times. Maybe I was exaggerating having such a good time because I was with good people. As I walked the city alone on several cold days in the winter my feelings for the city only grew stronger.
I was never afraid to be in a place where I didn’t know the language and had never been tasked with trying to navigate getting around on my own. Even though it was freezing and I normally chose tropical destinations to escape cold weather, I didn’t mind the wind whipping my face or having to bundle up to keep warm. There were so many things to do at any given time of the day there was never a dull moment for me. Even with nothing to do, I felt at peace.
For my fourth and final visit I was truly on my own. I was a bird that finally got her wings. I took the training wheels off and challenged myself to experience life in Berlin independently. I booked an apartment for myself and researched things I could do during my week. I’ve learned that in life, you can’t truly depend on anyone but yourself. No matter how long you’ve known them, it’s inevitable that they’re going to let you down at some point. That was never more painstakingly clear than on this trip.
There were a few friends that expressed interest in coming to see the place that I had fallen in love with. Due to work or finances they were unable to make it, which is understandable. But the true disappointment came when I reached out to the friends I had stayed with 3 times before and known for 3 years. For reasons that they chose not to share, they didn’t welcome me or even make an effort to see me during my trip. Which was hard to understand but one thing I’ve learned throughout life is that you can’t force a friendship on anyone.
So it was just me and the city. An unsupervised visit that I was in charge of planning. For months I had been learning the language to better help me in my interactions with the locals, even though English is taught in German schools and pretty much everyone under the age of 40 knows basic English. To be honest, I was too embarrassed to try and speak Deutsch most of the time but I never found it difficult to communicate. I had planned several stops, written down places I wanted to visit, and bought tickets for a few events. But in order for me to truly get a local’s experience I had to let the city take me where it wanted me to go.
Simply walking around, becoming more familiar with the different areas of Berlin, noticing the unique stops along the way, and figuring out how to meet people became my itinerary. I found it easier to engage men than women for whatever reason. Someone told me that the women here are generally more standoffish at first but once they open up they take your friendship very seriously. The women that I was able to connect with were from other countries. One bartender had recently moved there from New York and then I met a couple from Milan that invited me to come visit them whenever I came back. But no matter how much time I spent alone, how many times I got lost or turned around, or where I found myself at night it felt right being there. I didn’t need someone around to make me happy, I didn’t need to see certain sites, or visit every stop on my list to feel entertained.
Being in the states, it’s painstaking clear that I’m a minority. Someone is always reminding me as if I could forget. There’s always some way to classify me or put me in box. When people ask to (or don’t ask but still) touch my natural hair, or say that “I don’t sound like they expected”, or asked me where the “urban spots” are because they assume I know all of them. Being black is at the forefront of my mind.
Even though black people are about 2% of the population in Berlin, I never felt like it mattered. I would notice that I was the only black person in a room but no one else made me feel like a minority. They didn’t look at me like, “What are you doing here?” because no one cared. The thing that I love the most about this city is that everyone is free to be themselves. They can dress how they want, have 7 holes in their face, have 50 shades of pink in their hair, say what they want, love who they want, be belligerently drunk on the U-Bahn at 1400 in the afternoon and no one cares. I had to shed the judgmental ways I had become accustomed to while being in the states.
So when I tell people that I plan to move to Berlin in a few months, there’s no one reason. It’s a feeling. A feeling of being at peace knowing that I can be who I want without judgment or expectation. A feeling that I am accepted and not an endangered species or an unwanted demographic. A feeling that people will appreciate me for who I am, not what I can offer them. A feeling that this is where I’m meant to be. It’s as simple as that.