Posts Tagged ‘Expat’

What is it about being in a new environment that makes daily life vivid? Zombie-like, we typically move through our daily lives on auto-pilot until we are suddenly immersed in a fresh new place. Even taking a shower and brushing one’s teeth can be exciting if you don’t recognize the toothpaste brand or can’t figure out how to control the shower.

Berliner Bathroom

Arriving in Berlin one year ago, I felt like a kid. Going to the grocery store was an adventure and opening a bank account was a triumph to be celebrated. We arrived with one suitcase and one backpack each, easily fitting into our funky furnished apartment in Prenzlauer Berg.

My Prenzlauer Berg desk

After purchasing a tv, dvd player, printer, and bicycles, we felt completely satisfied with our material goods, ready to experience Berlin and our new life without the burden of maintaining a car or a house. How liberating to own almost nothing.

Joyful day!

Although surrounded by spoken and written German, we managed to maintain an English bubble for much of our day. High-speed internet access gave us the New York Times, the Daily Show, Facebook, email and other sundry delights and temptations, keeping us up to date with news about the USA and our friends. The miracle of Skype meant that regular contact with family and friends was easy and free.


Through my involvement in the Booker Tea book group and the Berlin International Women’s Club, we’ve gotten to know many interesting people living in Berlin and made some good friends. Both of these organizations use English as the primary language, again reinforcing the English bubble. Even our friendly neighbors speak embarrassingly good English. German was reserved for reading the newspaper, watching the news on tv and ordering food at a restaurant. Overheard conversations on the U-bahn were a puzzle where every third word or so was comprehensible.

Korean tourists

Each day of living in Berlin was filled with astonishing new sights and sounds, secret courtyards, wonderful museums, and huge parks to explore new open-air markets to uncover. The people on the street, in the U-bahn, on the tram, in the restaurant, looked exotic and interesting. The Berlin Tagesspiegel newspaper ran a story every day about the anniversary of some historical event or important person’s birth or death. The 80th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s visit to Berlin was celebrated with a Chaplin film festival at a nearby independent movie theater. How cool is Berlin? Let me count the ways.

Which way is up?

And then somewhere along the way the thrill was gone and living in Berlin felt normal and routine. A trip to the grocery store became a trip to the grocery store and not a treasure hunt in some strange land filled with exotic products. Giving strangers directions on the street no longer raised the blood pressure. Wednesday became Schnitzeltag, with the waitress smiling and greeting us as regulars. Using the extensive public transit system was easy. Gone was the frisson while walking out the door.


And gradually the German conversations on the train became comprehensible, newspaper articles readable without the dictionary, public announcements understandable, exchanging niceties easy, news on the television useful, and babysitting German-speaking neighbor kids doable. One foot may be planted in the English bubble, but the other foot was stepping out onto the German-speaking world.

Astroturf in Berlin?

The original plan was to stay in Berlin for at least one year, and perhaps through end of June 2012, when our house in Boulder would become available. At the end of 2011 we realized that we just weren’t ready to leave Berlin–that we needed another circle ‘round the sun.

Let me lend you a hand, comrade!

During this coming year, I want to recapture some of that childlike wonder from a year ago, starting each day pretending that I am a seven year old. Moving to Kreuzberg will offer new places to explore. Dedicated study will deepen my German language skills. Involvement in the Berlin International Women’s Club will give me responsibility and community. Travel will expand my mind map of the world.

Another year in Berlin? Wunderbar!



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Over a year ago we started talking about moving abroad. Our kids are fully functional, independent adults, thankfully. Sadly, we buried our dads within a four-month intense period of sorrow in late 2008 and early 2009. After fifteen years of joyful life, our dog Jack left the planet. No one else depended upon us—we were free to….do something completely different.

Eagerly, I started purging our house, preparing for the next, yet unformed, chapter. Peeling through 18 years of stuff, we garage-saled, freecycled, took to Goodwill, took to The Bookworm, gave to friends, and eventually threw away several heaps of books, clothes, furniture, luggage, dishes, shoes, backpacks, baskets, sporting goods, camping stuff, bikes, pots and pans, electronics, old cell phones, cameras, jewelry, you name it. We shredded documents, organized files, dumped all but 400 of our slides, had the slides  scanned along with 5000 pre-digital photos.

Our perfect renter was interested in using some of our furniture and we negotiated using one of the basement bedrooms for storage, allowing us to keep some stuff. But we own way less than we owned at the end of 2009. For the first time in 35 years of marriage, we no longer own a car.

Berlin became our destination of choice for a variety of reasons (see Poor but Sexy post). A scouting trip in October 2010 confirmed the choice and neighborhood–Prenzlauer Berg! Online we found a sublet that has worked out as our home for a year. Since our arrival in late March, we’ve feathered our nest, with two trips to IKEA and several to MediMax (think Best Buy). We’ve opened a bank account, registered with the authorities, and met some neighbors. On our bikes, we’ve explored the city and tried out numerous restaurants. It is like being students again, without the homework.

Now it is time to switch gears a bit, shifting from tourists playing house to residents of Berlin. Applying for our Aufenthaltserlaubnis, a residency permit we’ll need because of our extended stay in Berlin, is the next step. Because we’re not applying for a work permit and we have German health insurance already in place, this should be relatively straightforward. Should be, but this is Germany and everything is in German. They have a different word for everything! (borrowed from Steve Martin)

Mysterious Hof

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