Berlins and Outs

One Year in Berlin

One year ago today, we landed in Berlin with 4 suitcases, 2 backpacks, 1 visa, and nowhere to live. Our first night in the city, we got dinner at a beer hall down the street from our hotel. We ordered half liters of beer, pretzels, a cheese plate, and Weißwurst (white sausage). I later learned that Weißwurst is a typical Bavarian breakfast food — no wonder the server gave me a weird look for ordering it at 8pm.

Welcome to Berlin!

What’s changed in the last year?

Well, we don’t make as many faux pas when eating German food. As our friend, Ramona, puts it: going to a Bavarian restaurant on your first night in Berlin is like visiting a Texas steakhouse on your first night in Boston. Oops.

We also speak a lot more German than we did when we arrived. We’re nowhere near fluent yet, but we understand a lot and we use some German phrases at home, even when it’s just the two of us. For example, we never say “thank you,” or “you’re welcome” anymore, always “danke” and “bitte.” Because I’ve taken several classes, I speak more German than E, but he’s picked some up from his German coworkers. His company does their work in English, so, while I’ve been focused on speaking more German, E’s been focused on speaking more code.

As of Monday, we both have residence permits to stay in Germany for the next two years! After the problems we had when we first arrived, it’s a relief to not have to worry about visas for a little while. In case you’re wondering, E’s company gave him a raise, which means he now makes enough that I’m able to stay in Germany as his wife. And, unlike my language learning residence permit (which I was on for the past year), my new spousal residence permit allows me to look for part-time work.

Speaking of work, my book is much closer to finished than it was one year ago. I’m halfway done with the third draft and hoping to start pitching it to agents this summer.

How I feel about the prospect of finishing my book

German Habits We’ve Picked Up

We talk occasionally on the blog about cultural differences between the US and Germany, and it’s been interesting to notice our habits and expectations becoming just a little more German since moving here.

  • Frische Luft: When I was taking my first German class last Spring, the instructor would always open the window about halfway through the lesson (regardless of the temperature outside) because it was too stuffy and we needed frische Luft (fresh air). At first, I thought it was just him, but air flow seems to be a national priority. Opening your windows daily to air out your apartment is often written into German leases. And, although I don’t do it all the time, there’s something satisfying about throwing open the windows for a couple minutes and letting in the frische Luft. Even in February.
  • Guten Appetit: When servers in German restaurants deliver your food, they always say, “guten appetit” (enjoy your meal). And, in German homes, it’s impolite to start eating until someone has made this pronouncement. We may not be German, but we’re total converts to this habit.
  • Ping pong: Oddly enough, people playing ping pong are a common sight in Berlin’s many public parks. There are permanent outdoor ping pong tables all throughout the city and available for anyone to use. You just have to bring your own ball and paddles. At first I thought it was kind of silly, but we’ve had a lot of fun the couple of times we’ve gone out and played.
Ping pong!

Things We DON’T Miss

  • Having a car! Berliners like to complain about their public transit system, but they’ve clearly never lived in Boston. Coming from the US, we’ve loved how easy it is to navigate our new city without a car. It’s so nice that we don’t have to worry about parking, car insurance, gas, etc. and it’s more environmentally friendly!
  • US politics! Angela Merkel isn’t perfect but she’s a helluva lot better than y’all’s little president. I still try to keep up with US politics and we vote in our old Massachusetts district, but our perspective has, perhaps unsurprisingly, become a lot more global. Whenever we meet new people and they find out we’re from the US, we get swept up into a political conversation, and we get to see our country through new eyes.
Just a few of Berlin’s many rail lines

Things We DO Miss!

  • All of you! I was talking to E one day about how I need to meet more people in Berlin. With a sigh, I said, “I don’t want to make new friends, I have enough friends. They just don’t live near us.” Our friends and family are the main thing missing from our life in Berlin.
  • American Food? I’m a little ashamed to admit this because “American food” isn’t exactly known for being “good.” What does “American food” even mean? McDonald’s? Bud Light? Snacks full of high fructose corn syrup? That’s not what I miss. For me, it’s reasonably priced peanut butter, New England craft beer, and maple syrup. At Christmastime, I missed eggnog. Lately, I find myself wanting to go out to eat at a gastropub. I just want an eclectic mix of comfort foods and craft beer on tap, is that so much to ask?
  • Frische Luft: For a country obsessed with fresh air, it can be hard to find smoke-free places to hang out. E wrote about this in our reflections on one month in Berlin, but the number of smokers here continues to be a big problem.
  • Top-rope climbing: Rock climbing was a hobby we had just started getting into before we moved to Berlin. Luckily, Berliners love rock climbing and there are gyms all over the city! Unluckily, they are almost exclusively bouldering gyms. Bouldering is climbing without ropes and it requires a different set of skills than top-roping, which is our preferred style.
We miss our rock climbing gym in Somerville

Hopes and Dreams for Berlin Year Two?

I’m still pretty shy about using my German in public, and I hope my speaking will improve enough in the next year that I can overcome my nerves. Greater German proficiency would also help as we try to navigate the medical system here and find ourselves some specialty care providers (dentist, eye doctor, therapist, OBGYN).

On the topic of health, E hopes we’ll get into a good exercise routine this year. With so much uncertainty around jobs, visas, and apartments last year, it was easy to let exercise fall by the wayside. E also hopes we make some more German friends during our second year in Berlin.

As always, I’m excited for more travel! E specifically thinks it would be cool to visit Scandinavia, and we have vague plans to visit China in the Fall after some friends of ours move there.

Last but not least, we also hope that you, dear reader, will come visit!

We’ll be happy to show you around!

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.

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