The idea was that I was going to move to Berlin while my husband waited for his green card to come through he so could work and live in the US at which point we’d move back. The process of getting the green card could take more than a year and finding a decent job in the US could take much longer. So I was planning to abandon my family and friends, and more importantly my garden, and stay for at least a year or more. Last spring when I was there we went apartment hunting, and I was really looking forward to living there. My German is not anywhere near fluent, or even existent, but I’d take classes. I’d get to know the butcher. I looked at expat groups, planned to set up a studio, we toured neighborhoods, and looked at apartments. And then just when we were about to close on a perfect apartment he got offered a great job in Wisconsin.
You can see the conflict that might have arisen for me. On the one hand the plan has always been that he would return to the US, hopefully somewhere close to Wisconsin, or easy enough to get to, and so here, this job, was better than we’d ever expected or imagined. On the other hand, no year in Berlin. No fun expat clubs filled with tedious retirees yammering on about god-knows-what, pining for Pop Tarts and Kool-aid. No trips to KaDeWe for Flügelflupfen. No flouncing around Potsdammer Platz. No Peking Ente. And yet . . .
I love Berlin. It is not as charming as Paris, although it is far less frantic, it does have its charms. There is almost nothing old (for pretty obvious reasons) but there is something so wonderful about it. I will say it isn’t the people, they’re, well, German and while they can seem rude there is a certain freedom in being completely ignored. The Germans, though, seem to be far more politically on top of things. I mean, they had Angela Merkel while we had Donald Trump, for chrissake. You can protest on the lawn right in front of their federal council, their senate.
The architecture is awesome. Walking is a joy unless you step into the bike lane. The public transport is fantastic. The city is clean, safe, there’s a great art scene (not that I’m much into art scenes), terrific restaurants. There are vast accessible parks, rivers and green spaces. There is unbelievable shopping. KaDeWe. OMG. I never liked shopping but I miss shopping, I miss stores. They have them.
It’s hard to say how the Berliners or Germans in general deal with their past. There are markers called Stolpersteine in the sidewalk all over Berlin (and many other places, even other countries the story is here) at the confiscated homes of people, Jewish, but also gay and other targeted minorities, who were murdered by the Nazis. There is a huge sobering memorial in the middle of the center of the city. There are over 20 memorials in Berlin and the full history of the country is prominently displayed inside of the Bundestag (seat of government) without ignoring this hideous aspect of their past. Is that all that’s being done? Is it enough? I don’t know. But it is not ignored or invisible.
So now I will not be living in Berlin. Husoor (who-zoor is an Urdu word for “the boss”) will be in Madison. It isn’t Milwaukee, but it also isn’t a continent away—and I have an electric car so, you know, that ol’ carbon footprint. And who knows, if the political situation in the United States gets worse I may live in Berlin after all.