Saturday, August 3, 2013
When I moved to Europe almost three years ago, it was with a bright hope that my life would take on the charmed aura of the heroine of one of those travel memoirs that I so love reading. I would move to Europe, fall into a whirlwind of adventure and romance and art and culture. I would travel, meet new people, speak new languages. For six months this was my reality, and I loved it. And then I moved to Berlin.
I am not going to blame Berlin for taking the romance and love of adventure out of my life for the last two years. That would be too easy, as though a city itself was invested with the cognisance to decide which of its inhabitants will love it and which will not. But I will say that Berlin is not an easy city to love. It's gritty and dirty, the people are rude, and the collective angst of the past 70 or so years makes any travel into the former East side a lesson in despair. Berlin is a great city if you love graffiti, hipsters and the sort of attitude that has all of its inhabitants under the age of 30 wearing ultra skinny trousers and stomper boots. If on top of this you dislike having to travel up to an hour to go anywhere interesting, than you quickly become disenchanted with it. But you stick with it because you have no other real choice.
To say that I disliked Berlin from the day I arrived would be an understatement. Circumstances forced me to move here when my original plan of going to Frankfurt fell through (or rather, was forcibly demolished by certain family members who thought it was a bad idea). I planned to stay only for the summer. And then, because family is all powerful and I didn't speak any German, I suddenly found myself with an apartment, a government stipend and a one year mandatory integration course into German language and culture. I won't lie, that course was hell on earth and the less said about it, the better. But because I believe in adventure, and that everything in life has a purpose, I stuck it out. Besides, I had Fidelio to work on, and nothing helps with depression like writing a novel about a woman saving the world. I finished my course, I finished my teaching certification, and I got a job. A wonderful job, with a fantastic and supportive boss who frequently tells me that she loves having me on her team. There is only one real problem with the set-up: being at the very start of my teaching career, I make hardly any money at all. And so I'm stuck with that government stipend.
Don't get me wrong: I have been so blessed since I came here. I won't starve. But part of the deal of being on a government stipend is that I cannot travel. I cannot leave Berlin without permission. To get that permission I have to go wait in line, make an appointment, and then argue with a bored bureaucrat in my decent but sub-par German about the necessity of whatever travel I'm going to do. And if I use up all my travel days (about 20 days per year), I don't get permission and so can't go. And there's nothing quite like being trapped in a place to make you dislike it.
But you make the best of it, you know? I go to the opera here occasionally and get to write about it. I can wander the city and explore. I can meet friends when they aren't too busy, or when they can come to me in my part of town. I go to a lovely church where the people are always glad to see me. But something is missing. All summer I have been sitting in Berlin, trying to summon motivation to do something, anything, but I can't, for the simple reason that I have no money. Every penny that I earn this summer has gone to bills and groceries, leaving me without a penny to play with. I can't even go down to Potsdam, because I can't afford the ticket. And it's hot. The average temperature in July was 90F with 100% humidity. This, in the land that doesn't believe in air conditioning.
Lately, my love of adventure and my reserves of patience have hit rock bottom. The cons have begun to outweigh the pros. And out of that, a rebellion was born. I am 27 years old. I speak three languages. I am a fully qualified teacher. And it is time for a change.