At the end of June, nearly two years after leaving Berlin, I headed back to Germany to reconnect with all the good friends I’ve missed so much.
June and July were crazy whirlwind months. Like, I’m not sure if my feet ever actually touched the ground, I was on the move so much. Mom finally went home — five months and one day after her first surgery. It was emotional and wonderful, and then a week later I packed up my bags and headed across the Atlantic.
I finally accomplished what I set out to do when I left the festival last November. Travel!
To say revisiting Berlin was cathartic is an understatement. It’s been two long years of paying down monstrous debt, and two long years of me getting back on my feet. And then, of course, it was dealing with Mom’s critical illness for five months. In those five months my life consisted of hospital visits and working every spare moment I had. There was no time for cooking healthy meals, or going to the gym. I spent all my money in hospital food. During that whole period, I had one week of vacation in Cuba. Other than that, I didn’t take a day to myself for the entire five months.
So yeah, returning to Berlin was emotional and beautiful and perfect. I don’t intend to stay away so long next time.
Returning is not as hard as it seems
I was worried that I’d show up in Berlin and not want to leave again, but it makes a big difference that I’m actually happy in St. John’s and enjoy my life here. It wasn’t like that back in 2016. I miss Berlin terribly, and I still think it’s the greatest city on the planet, but I’m comfortable in Canada. In some ways, I think this made me enjoy Berlin even more. (The knowledge that I’m location independent and can move around more freely now also helps!)
I revisited my old haunts. I even crammed in a quick visit to my favourite wine bar, Sorsi Morsi, on my way to the airport. I spent plenty of time hanging out in parks and dinghy bars and funky cafes. But I also did a ton of new stuff, and became acquainted with the glorious Neukölln neighbourhood. Sixteen days was long enough to befriend the Turkish guy at the späti on the corner; I became known as the girl who bought some “camel balls” chewing gum one time and then I never lived it down. I even spent time at Tempelhof, an abandoned airfield turned park. (Don’t even ask me how I missed that one when I lived in the city. I have no idea, and it’s fucking awesome.)
I did get emotional when returning to Prenzlauer Berg and my old apartment there. Stepping off the tram and walking past all my favourite places — Sorsi Morsi, the bookstore, Zia Maria pizza — gave me a keen sense of nostalgia. But those places will always be there. And I can always come back.
It was good to slow down
Europeans are so good at living in the moment. So good. Throughout my visit, I was constantly surprised just to see people hanging out in random places doing nothing. Just chatting. Or reading a book. Or watching the world.
And not even in particularly beautiful places. It could be a street bench, or on a bridge, or near a busy subway station. One of my favourite evenings was when Eline took me to “the drinking bridge.” We grabbed a bottle of wine and headed out to a bridge spanning a canal, and joined a dozen or so other young folks just sitting around watching the sunset. Someone had a guitar, of course. Two young people right in front of us exchanged phone numbers. It was magic.
There is room for this in every day. Just slowing down and enjoying the moment.
German friends are friends for life
If there’s anything I learned about Germans (and Europeans), it’s that they’re loyal friends for life. I’m so lucky to have met my group of European friends in Berlin — as a North American expat, it’s easy to fall into your own crew of Canadians or Americans. (Or Aussies, for that matter. You guys are everywhere.) Plus, as a friend once told me, Berliners are sometimes wary of befriending short-term expats. We leave too soon.
But my friends in Germany pulled all the stops. Eline, one of my closest friends, took me under her wing for the entire two weeks I was there. I slept in her spare room and we spent evenings drinking wine on her balcony or flaking out along the canals that run through Neukölln. For my birthday, she orchestrated an entire BBQ celebration at Tempelhof, and it was one of my happiest birthdays ever.
Some of my other friends hosted an incredible getaway weekend on the lake in Woserin for me, about two hours outside Berlin. We swam, fired up pizza and flammkuchen (a crispy-thin white German pizza topped with caramelized mushrooms and onions) in Anton’s handmade wood fired oven, and soaked up the quiet of a gorgeous 200-year-old manor. Despite the busy weekend, these friends all showed up for my birthday celebration on Monday anyway.
There was a moment during my birthday celebration that really gave me pause. I described it on Facebook, so I will here too:
“Have you ever had a “heart swell” moment? I can count them on one hand, and they’re usually random, but they mean a lot. One time, it happened while carrying a bag of groceries up the stairs of my apartment in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin. The stairs had become so familiar to me, I didn’t even need to look up to see where I was going. My heart swelled. I thought, I am truly living here. It happened again last night. I was walking across an abandoned runway at Tempelhof — I could see my friends in the distance. They were all having fun, eating BBQ and chatting and listening to 90s pop (at my request). And my heart swelled so hard, I had to stop walking for a minute. I had to catch my breath at the thought of being surrounded by love in a foreign place. I keep waiting for the trauma of the past six months to set in. I have been thinking it will happen at any minute. Instead, I have been making up for lost time. All those anxious hours waiting to see what will happen, all that terror over surgeries and ICUs and unwanted diagnoses, have been replaced with pure joy. Thank you, friends near and far, for the best birthday EVER! Suddenly 2018 doesn’t look so bad.”
That’s really why we do all this, right? It’s not just about new and exotic foods and magnificent landscapes and being tossed entirely into the unknown. It’s about the people that make up these experiences, and the pure joy of being surrounded by love. Social media makes relationships lazy, especially when you’re travelling. It’s easy to take these relationships for granted, because they’re always so visibly right in front us. You don’t have to put so much effort in. But in the first few months of 2018, my closest relationships were vital.
Don’t neglect them. Maintain them. Keep them well nourished. You will need them when times get tough.
Berlin. For a second time, you healed some open wounds. I’ll see you again soon. <3