I’ve moved. Suddenly and jarringly. In that funny way life sometimes has of being cyclical without us realizing it, I’m now back on the exact corner–though in a different apartment–where I lived from 2009-2011.
The last couple months have been a time of upheaval and chaos, but most of all, change. I had to quickly uproot and set up a new home, and along the way, slowly taste what it means to be alone again after sharing a life with somebody for a long time. It feels right that this transition should happen in autumn. Rather than it seeming melancholy, I like that the trees around my new apartment–and there are many–turned stark and bare to welcome my arrival, or I should say return, to the neighbourhood. I can identify with what they’re going through. It also feels right to go through this transition in Berlin. This city knows that change is just a part of the passage of time, and that dark times are not the end.
Moving also gives me the chance to rediscover a neighbourhood that is changing (like much of the city) in leaps and bounds. When I moved here in 2009, it was more or less a dead zone next to an empty airport ringed by razor wire. Now it’s the trendy Schillerkiez, bordered by the biggest urban green space in Europe, with more new cafés, bars, and restaurants than I can keep track of. (My rent is also 30% higher than in 2009, but c’est la vie.)
A friend recently lent me an intriguing little book called “The Colors of Berlin.” Designed and bound to look like a fan of paint swatches, it juxtaposes images of everyday Berlin and its many colours with short texts about the city. In it, I found this passage describing the first time the writer crossed over to the former East after the Berlin Wall came down. The last two sentences hit home. Like little clues as to why I get Berlin, and Berlin gets me.
[…] This no-man’s-land of watchtowers and barbed wire. Where once there had been the high life of Berlin, and where grand hotels, train stations, ministries, palaces, and the torture chambers of the Gestapo had once existed side by side or in succession, there was now only sand, with rabbits hopping about and children playing soccer.
Soon all this will be built over. I would like a small part to remain clear […] to bear proud witness to the city’s fantastic ability to not control everything. The coexistence of the greatest possibilities for self-creation and the most horrible tendency for self-destruction: that is Berlin.
Hello, new neighbourhood. Hello, Berlin. I’m grateful to be here.