|Schön aber schwierig.|
On the whole, I love living in Germany and the feeling of building up a life here can be really gratifying. Living abroad in itself, however, is very difficult in ways you might not anticipate - even when you have a good support network.
It's not just about the Brexit tension, which started making audible gurgles a year ago and has only been getting worse as we navigate this absurd reality. (Ah, this time last year, we were all babes in the woods. I cheerfully took a selfie of myself sending off my postal vote; my friends and I acknowledged the possibility of a Leave win but were generally pretty relaxed.)
There's also the guilty feeling that I have no right to complain. "Lucky" is a word I hear frequently - and it is one that ignores hard work. People I know from my native country have visited Berlin before, have read articles that hype it up. Some of them seem to think my daily life is a tasty falafel wrap in one hand, an affordable beer in the other, with interesting sights to behold around every corner.
For sure, Berlin does have some very attractive aspects. But when you have been living here a while you notice that these tend to be superseded by:
- what grey, oppressive weather for half the year can do to your mental, emotional and even physical well-being.
- the piles of paperwork for every little thing. The reflexive fear you gradually develop that somewhere, there is something you haven't seen to, some bill you are unaware of that you need to pay.
- the gratuitous local rudeness that can have you leaving a government office in tears. Alright, that only happened to me once. Some people make the excuse that Germans have a different concept of politeness, but I'm not stupid; I can tell when someone is being direct, when it's Berliner Schnauze (grumpiness with humorous undertones) and when they are just a jerk.
- how everything being closed on Sundays makes you feel like the weekend isn't really yours. Yes, I know Germany is not the only European country that's like this. But in the UK and Canada I would take Saturdays for chilling out and starting the weekend slowly, then do my shopping, errands, homework and chores on a Sunday. Here, it feels like you get 0.5 of a Saturday because you have to spend at least half of your day doing the annoying stuff. Then Sunday, obviously, is just pre-Monday. It just... doesn't need to be like this anymore. Even devout Christians don't give that much of a shit about resting on Sundays, I'm sure.
- how no matter how well you master the language and "act like a German", in the end it's a façade. It's a survival tool. Some people will respect you for it and be interested in your story, whereas others will perceive you as fully integrated and therefore treat you as having no excuse not to do what you are expected to do. It means having to be switched every minute of the day.
That's to name a few frustrations.
I go through phases where I can pretty much gloss over these things and know that I have it pretty good. Then it will all come crashing down at once and everything feels absolutely impossible.
Since the beginning of the year, I have experienced an ongoing stream of the latter. Since the beginning of the year, I have been in a constant state of Anstrengung.
At times, I wonder if I am extremely naive in my intention to live here forever. I don't even mean in terms of whatever the UK and EU authorities decide in the next couple of years; rather, I wonder how much I am going to let Berlin wear me down. On my first enchanted visit, in 2008, I sensed it was a place unlike any other. Now that I've lived here for nearly three years, I know for sure that it's a place unlike any other - in a negative sense, too.
But thanks to Brexit, I also do feel quite stuck here - stuck in uncertainty (I wrote an article about that last year). If I wanted to return to the UK, I couldn't; if I ever wanted to try out another country, I couldn't. Why? Because I feel the need to bank up the years in Germany - i.e. a single EU state - in case I end up having to apply for some kind of official permit that will allow me to lawfully reside in the EU.
So am I the problem, is it Berlin or is it even Germany? We'll see. For now, I'm trying my best to take each day at a time, focus on the positive and keep my head up. Alles neu macht der Mai, so they say - even if it is still gloomy outside.