The post-war German philosopher, Theodor W. Adorno, once said that Berlin was, “too much and not enough”. As we prepare to leave the city almost three years to the day after we arrived, it’s a phrase that resonates. At times it felt like Berlin was the embodiment of Isaac Newton’s third law, “to every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction”.
All the many great things about living here often felt cancelled out by all the less great things. We had left the Netherlands reluctantly, to arrive in Berlin during a crushingly hot heatwave. It felt like an omen, and it would be true to say that at times we’ve found it difficult to feel completely at home. Now that we’re leaving, there’s sadness at what we’re leaving behind.
It’s too easy to experience Berlin as cliche, especially as tourism continues to feed it. I brought some of those misconceptions with me, but living here has been eye-opening. This is a city that fully embodies the cliche while simultaneously liberating itself from it. It has been both more challenging and more rewarding than I’d imagined back in July 2018.
Half our time here has been subject to the vagaries of a global pandemic, which held us virtual hostages in the city for months on end. It has been a strange experience to live in one of Europe’s great cities while being unable to enjoy its many glories. Leaving feels like unfinished business, but leave we must. Brussels is the next stop, back down the road we travelled to get here.
I’ve visited Brussels for work but never spent much time there – a natural aversion to a place people refer to as a “Bubble” perhaps? I spent a few days there recently, apartment hunting, meeting new colleagues, and getting a sense of what our new home has to offer. It felt vibrant, diverse and human-sized. The food was excellent, and they have beer in Belgium. Good beer, made sacred by monks.
There are still a few adventures left to be had in Germany, and some reflecting to be done on our time here, but our Berlin days are now numbered in single figures. So it’s “goodbye” to the city “condemned always to become, never to be”, as Karl Scheffler referred to Berlin; and “hello” to the home of the “Chicken Eaters”.
It’s a long story, one I suppose I’ll be compelled to tell.