I have wanted to write a post about all that I am grateful for in Berlin for quite a while. It’s been on the tip of my tongue, this feeling that it is about time to take stock again of this experience and to remember why the scales are tipped in favour of Berlin after almost 10 months living here.
I guess it’s because I can be a Negative Nancy sometimes. I guess it’s because my first two months here were the hardest of my life. It’s because I struggled with some really heavy stuff when I first arrived. And it’s because I’m comfortable now, lethargic in my “easy life zone” that I haven’t actually done it yet.
So without further adieu, here are the 10 Reasons I Love Berlin.
In terms of values…
Berlin is wild. It’s the freest city I’ve ever been to. Nearly all behaviour is somewhat condoned here. And you will see all kinds of behaviour on the streets! People who appreciate freedom, who push back against society’s forceful grip, love it here. And I understand why. There are rules, for sure. This is Germany after all. But the rules are really just guidelines. And the authorities somehow know how to “pick their battles” because there are certainly things they turn a blind eye to.
Sometimes I feel there is a lot of adolescent energy in this city. There is a sense of rebellion, a sense of saying, “screw you” to conformity, to convention, to parents and other systems of control. This is not really my vibe. I think I successfully completed that stage when it was developmentally appropriate. And so I do not necessarily identify with ALL of the various activities and attitudes expressed here. But I appreciate it nonetheless. I appreciate that I have got to witness it, to know it exists. As long as Berlin is here, there will be a place in the world in which people can choose to be counter-culture without censorship, without feeling too confined. And that is beautiful. It’s beautiful to feel the rawness of that energy, the honesty in that movement, and the youthful vitality that it connotes.
One of the symptoms of modern life is a shortness of time. In most big cities in the world, the pace of life is pushed to the extreme. People run around from work to gym to drinks to home to work again. There is a pressure. There is a sense of urgency.
This you do not get in Berlin. It may be one of the poorest and least productive global capitals but it is also the most chilled. People don’t live to work here. They live to live. Work starts late and most people don’t work 8 hour days. There are more freelancers in this city than nine to fivers. And you almost never see suits.
For some, like myself, the downside to this is a nagging sense of complacency. I miss the adrenaline, the ambition, and the ‘hustle’ of places like Johannesburg and London. I miss the energy that comes from young people who have their sights set on their future selves, who want more and more and more. And it’s not about money. It’s about ambition, about wanting to achieve greatness (in whatever form that comes).
But instead of dissing Berlin for its tendency to shirk ambition and it’s mind-numbing chill factor, I am grateful for it. I am grateful for the fact that I have come here and experienced a kind of anti-gravity room after the powerful forces of pressure and conformity from school and university. I appreciate that there are people who don’t choose to compete, who don’t want any part of the rat race. And I like those people. They choose to hang out with their friends instead of complete an assignment. They’re the people who make music and art and spontaneous dance parties. They have lower blood pressure and deeper smile lines. They see the sun more than the suits who work 12 hours a day do, that’s for sure! And I respect that more than anything. So thank you Berlin for reminding me that there will always be a place for people like that, for me, for my friends.
When you come from Africa, with its big open plains and endless expanse of natural vistas that take your breath away, you realise how important space is to the human psyche. For a massive city with millions of occupants, Berlin is incredibly spacious. It doesn’t always feel this way and there are a lot of areas that are quite densely populated but in general I have been amazed at how large the living spaces are and at how empty the trains are. Compared to London, it is unrecognisable. And I think this contributes significantly to one’s mood and one’s sense of relaxation in this city.
What would be the point of all this freedom and bohemian energy if there wasn’t also a sense of tolerance. I love that Berliners, or at least the people you meet on the street here, are incredibly open and tolerant on many levels. I think that in terms of politics, there is no more liberal Western city. The freedom that you see expressed here is entirely correlated with a feeling of inhabiting a non-judgmental space. People feel free to exhibit all kinds of behaviour because no one is looking at them and clicking tongues or rejecting them because they are “different”.
In terms of work…
- My clients
I have written before about how grateful I am to be a therapist and how lucky I feel that I love my work. Well I have to thank Berlin for that. I have been blessed with a wonderful set of clients here. I think that this city, for all of its sins, does tend to attract interesting people. Without making too many generalisations, I can say with certainty that people who come to Berlin are often independent, courageous, intelligent, creative, passionate, and complex. My clients inspire me because they come with histories that include travel, triumphs and tragedies. But they’re looking forward, ready to choose differently, and are brave enough to take a leap into the unknown.
- My colleagues
I must be one of the luckiest girls in the world. I don’t think I’ve told you this before but one day last year, after being in Berlin for almost two months, I decided that I could take no more and had all but given up. I woke up with the distinct realisation that I could make a choice to leave this city that had given me nothing but challenges. But the universe had a different plan. That same day I went to a meeting that changed everything. I was offered a chance to join an existing English-speaking practice with a British psychologist who I really get on well with. It’s actually quite hard for me to find like-minded psychologists. Like it says in my bio, I’m not your stereotypical psychologist. I find most people in this business pretty awful. Psychologists tend to be stuffy, conservative, controlling, defensive and pathologically passive. But Sophie was different. We laughed and told jokes and after that meeting I left feeling agitated simply because I could no longer be so pissed off with Berlin for not offering me anything.
Seven months later and we get on better than ever. Our working relationship has all the best elements: support, inspiration, fun, laughter, and financial gain.
And I was also blessed with the opportunity to share another colleague’s office, which is where I work. It’s a beautiful space and although it’s far from home, it offers me the perfect space to see clients on a flexible basis. It has also created a real community feel because I have other professionals to share ideas with and with whom I can turn to if I ever need some advice.
These may sound like small things but they have created a space for me to call my own here in Berlin. Professionally, I couldn’t ask for anything more right now.
In terms of friends…
- Artists and drunks
The title doesn’t really do my group of friends justice to be honest, but it’s more of a tongue-in-cheek reference.
What I love about my friends here in Berlin, is that many of them either don’t have jobs or are artists in some way or another. I had never met a comic book artist before moving here but now I’m surrounded by them! Three of my male friends are really well-known comic artists and through knowing them I have been introduced to a world I knew absolutely nothing about.
I also have friends who are in the tattoo industry. I don’t have a single tattoo and probably will never get one but here in Berlin everyone is covered in tattoos. Through my friends (some of whom are really famous tattooists) I have learned things about tattoos and tattooed people that I would never have otherwise known.
Neither of these worlds are one I have a place in. They don’t necessarily inspire me or make me want to pledge allegiance yet I am so incredibly grateful to have met all these wonderful people who do occupy these worlds so fully. I am grateful to have come to understood things I once knew nothing about and I hope that my friends have taken my sometimes annoying deluge of questions for what it is – curiosity – because I am fascinated by them.
I’ve also met people here who know a shit load about cocktails. Coming from South Africa, where there really isn’t much of a cocktail scene, it has taken me some time to get used to the idea of spending 8-12€ (R100-R180) on a drink! But I have also discovered that making drinks can be an art. Friends of mine are barmen/mixologists and I have seen how much thought, creativity and finesse goes into making these seemingly overpriced glasses of alcoholic delight.
- Turning loss into gratitude
One of the things that I have been working with quite a lot here is the idea that just because you miss someone, doesn’t mean you should automatically feel sad or let it get you down. I have spent many hours sifting through photos of what seems to be my many previous lives in Cape Town and Johannesburg. My nostalgia for those days/that me/those people sometimes fills me with deep sadness and longing but more and more I am learning how to transform those feelings into a profound gratitude for having established such relationships in the first place, for having a real sense of the notion of “home”, and for all the beautiful beings that have occupied and continue to occupy my world. Sometimes time seems to steal experiences from you (#FOMO) but really that’s just an illusion. All is ahead of us. All is possible. And time can be a generous and forgiving construct.
In terms of food and drink…
- What Germans do well
I can’t say that I came to Germany for the food. Gastronomically, Liebe Deutschland’s offerings leave much to be desired. I don’t like sausages, baked goods, sauerkraut or cabbage. I don’t even like beer that much. So it’s been a bit tough to feel inspired by the German cuisine. But this is a gratitude list and not a list of complaints. Gratitude for the little things is just as powerful as gratitude you feel for the big, life-changing stuff. So in terms of food and drink this is what I am grateful to Germany for:
The traditional breakfast here is a generous serving of cold meats, fruit, bread and spreads, boiled eggs, marmalade, and other pickled goodies. It’s not always what I crave on a hangover or when I’m looking for a warm, filling meal to start the day but in a way I love it because it is simple, tasty and uniquely diverse for a breakfast.
- Club Mate
I know this exists elsewhere but it is quintessentially a Berlin thing. It is an energy drink that is less sweet than Redbull and Coke. It has a delicious, smoky, almost bitter taste as it is made from Mate, which is like a herb/tea from South America. It gives you a great caffeine high and goes well with vodka to make the perfect pre-party drink!
- Frische Tee (Fresh tea)
All restaurants serve fresh tea here. Mint and ginger are the most common flavours. Served in a large glass and often with honey on the side, these hot drinks basically consist of a handful of mint or grated ginger that has been seeped in boiling water. It’s the best if you have a cold or if you feel like a caffeine-free hot drink.
- Apfel Schorle/Apfel Muss/Apfel Chips
When it comes to Apple, the Germans know a thing or two! I love the Apfel Schorle here (like Appeltizer in South Africa) because it is often made fresh or 100% organic, with little or no sugar added. Apfel Muss is basically apple sauce, which I LOVE because it reminds me of baby food (a guilty pleasure of mine). Here I can buy a 500ml jar of it and eat it guilt free! Apple chips are everywhere here. Dehydrated apple snacks that are crunchy and sweet in all the right ways.
Basically a white wine spritzer except they serve it at EVERY bar here and it’s on the menu even! It’s cheaper than a glass of wine and is super refreshing and a healthier option.
- Buffalo mozzarella
Although my Italian friends might disagree, I just love how cheap the buffalo mozzarella is here. In South Africa, you have to pay extraordinary prices but in Germany I can get one for 50c! That’s less than R10! I actually had to cut down because I was eating one a day when I first arrived.
- Späti beers
Although I don’t drink that much beer, I really do appreciate the fact that you can get a beer from a corner store (Spät kauf) which stays open 24 hours a day and costs 1.50€ (R20). It’s also a tradition to buy beers and sit in the park or along the canal, which is something I will never forget to be grateful for.
- Peanut butter flavoured chips
Sounds weird, I know. Actually they are kinda weird. But also kinda great.
- Cheap Vietnamese food
5€ for a bowl of soup or the daily curry! South Africa has almost no good Vietnamese restaurants. Here you can find at least three on every street!
- Aryan (salty yogurt)
This is a Turkish yogurt drink that is basically like a very liquidy, salty plain yogurt. It is amazing after spicy or greasy food but I could drink them anytime because I love them so much.
- Trains, trams, and cycling
I don’t think many people even think about this because we tend to take for granted those things that we expect from people and places but I would like to give a huge shout out to the transport system here in Berlin. There are overground trains, underground trains, regional/national trains, and even international trains. There are trams, buses and taxis. And there are bike lanes! When I’m not using the exceptionally reliable public transport system, I’m on my bike cruising around without much hassle from cars or other road users. It’s a beautiful privilege and one that I am extremely grateful for!
To be very honest, I started writing this gratitude list on a day when I was feeling particularly homesick. I knew that I had to focus on what I was grateful for in order to shift my mood and it worked! Do you practice writing gratitude lists? It’s definitely a worth-while activity! Share your gratitude stories #ontheocouchwithcarly