Berlin Expat Life: I’ve Been Here For So Long I Stopped Counting
It’s been a good long while since I’ve done a Berlin expat life update post, let alone a personal one about what I feel is a very boring subject — me. Yet these kinds of posts are always popular on the blog, so here I am totally over sharing …
Read on for details about what’s happened since I last wrote a Berlin life update, find out how I’m feeling right now (including all of the dilemmas and confusion I’m facing), as well as my tentative plans to develop into a better version of myself.
Berlin Expat Life: I’ve Been Here For So Long I Stopped Counting
So I’ve long stopped counting exactly how long I’ve been back in Berlin, but I’m closing in on three years.
You know when you first begin a relationship, you’re in love, and enamoured at the newness of it all? You want to spend every waking moment with them and when you’re alone, you ache to be by their side, so you can see them smile, and feel their gaze. You’re so happy to be with them that every moment counts and every milestone deserves to be celebrated. You count the days, weeks, and months you’ve been together.
That’s how I felt about Berlin the first time I moved here and the feeling still persisted years later when I moved back a second time. Yet time passed and my feelings have changed, as there are instances when I find life in Berlin boring and monotonous, something which I never thought would happen. While I still love Berlin and plan to stick around a while, it’s not the easiest place to be all of the time.
My On Again/Off Again Love Affair With Berlin
So yeah, I’m still here, despite missing Canada a lot and even mulling a final return home on more than one occassion.
It’s really hard to explain, but when you make a move abroad, you find yourself missing home, while still loving your new home. You often feel guilty missing out on things, be it friends getting married and having babies, or just feeling uncool as you don’t know about new restaurant openings or other interesting events anymore as you’re simply out of touch. You also miss out on the things you used to love doing, like taking time off of work to go to watch tons of movies at the Toronto International Film Festival or documentaries at HotDocs. You visit your friends when home, notice their greying or thinning hair, spend time with your aging grandmother, or your niece who’s grown into this totally amazing person, and you wonder if you’re in the right place.
Recommended reading: My previous article, Where Is Home Anyway?
I love Berlin, but sometimes, I’m tired of Berlin. I’ve gotten used to the rhythms of the city, annual events, parties, culture, and people. It’s even gotten to the point, where I can visit any area of the city, and run into someone I know. The anonymity that I once had and loved is now gone, such that I’d never consider going to Vabali Spa, for fear of running into someone I know.
I also try to think long-term (I’m not getting any younger although I wish there really was a fountain of youth). Where is the best place to develop and finish my career? Where can I save and invest in money for my future? Which country best fits my belief and values better? I have been and still am single, so I need to think about how I can best support myself and which place gives me the best opportunities. Yes, someone amazing can walk into my life at any moment and change all that, but I can’t base their life on something that may never happen, even though I hope it will. It leads to another question, does it make sense to get serious with someone here? What if they want or need to stay here in Germany and don’t want to live in Canada or somewhere else? Am I overthinking it? Are my commitment issues holding me back? Am I destined to remain alone forever as a result? It’s confusing and overwhelming at times to know what’s “right”.
After a lot of thought, I’ve decided that I’ll be staying in Berlin for the next several years at least, and maybe even for the rest of my life. The market for Agile Coach jobs is good here and the growth opportunities are plentiful. Any money I can contribute to the German pension system can be transferred back to Canada at a later date should I decide to return. Recent developments with my work visa (more on that below) have made staying here long term easier and more of a reality.
While I miss my family, I can afford to travel home once a year and that’s good enough for now. There’s still so many places I want to visit and the thought of not being able to wake up to take an impromptu day trip to Poland for pierogies and beer or jump in a car to tour UNESCO sites in Saxony pains me.
Most importantly, I just feel that I’m not ready to leave yet and there’s still a lot of unwritten story, even if I don’t know exactly what that is right now.
Life Outside the Ring in Lichtenberg
More Berlin expat life updates?
After living in Prenzlauer Berg for so long, moving to Lichtenberg was simply weird and required a big adjustment. I still adore Prenzlauer Berg and miss it so much that hurts. I went from living in a cool international neighborhood with tons of cool bars, trendy restaurants, and everything I ever needed within walking distance to an area of the city which for a while, didn’t feel at all like the Berlin I knew and loved. I went from a pretty Altbau with hardwood floors and high ceilings to a ninth floor flat in a Russians styled plattenbau with views over a Kleingarten and in the distance, the IKEA on Landsberger Allee. There are no 24 hour Spätis close by, let alone anything that could be considered cool. It’s not a pretty area and it takes a seriously long time to reach anywhere, including work or any social events.
Yet, my new apartment is beautiful. There’s lots of light. I have a bathtub. It’s quiet. My cat’s happy in the apartment and spend hours curled up by the living room window staring outside. The S-Bahn is within a five minute walk. There’s an Edeka right beside my building. Although I could afford something more expensive in the city, the rent is cheap and I’m saving money. Yes, my building is full of annoying retiree know-it-alls who love nothing more than to scold me on various things, but I’ve come to enjoy the lack of pretension in the area. I’ve even started to become defensive when people get all snobby about my choice of neighbourhoods. It’s not that bad and yes, I still live in Berlin. Not everyone sticks to the popular East districts and making fun of those who choose to live outside is elitist and unkind.
But I’ll admit, the commute to work is long and trying. In the winter, it’s only going to get worse. It’d be nice to be back in the city again. I’m no longer fixated with Prenzlauer Berg and even though I’d love to live there again, I’m now open to living somewhere else in the city. It’s daunting to think about looking for a new place (the market here is tough), throwing all that money into a security deposit, and going through the stress of moving, but it’s something I’m going to seriously look into in 2018.
A New Job … Again
If you’ve read my past expat life updates, you’ll know that I’ve struggled to stay in one job for very long due to the startup scene in Berlin being a tough one. Companies are all too often either closing their doors because they ran out of funding or are scaling back their workforce in order to become more lean, and ultimately, more profitable.
I’m now on my fourth job in about two years! And oddly, it’s really no big deal anymore. When it comes to the tech industry in Berlin, no one bats an eye when they see you’ve changed jobs multiple times within a short timeframe. In fact (at least for the moment), companies are going to extraordinary lengths to score new hires.
My last job saw me working as an Agile Coach for a tech company back in March 2016. After being there for just over a year, it was time to move on to something new. Fortunately, finding a job in Berlin was easy, and I signed on with a new company working in the same position.
After a brief time time off (you have no idea how amazing that was!), I started work at the beginning of July. I really love being an Agile Coach, as it involves helping people and improving how they work. It’s challenging and even better, really fun! So as you can imagine, I’m excited to begin this new journey and look forward to whatever the future may bring.
Finally a Blue Card
Just picked up my Blue Card and I can’t stop staring at it. In 5 months, I’m going to be a permanent resident here (finally). 🇩🇪🇨🇦 pic.twitter.com/7YnasUDsuF
— Cheryl Howard (@cherrysberries) August 1, 2017
One of the best things about the new gig was finally getting a Blue Card! I won’t bore you with the details of what a Blue Card is (you can read about it here), but essentially, the visa allows me to change jobs without going through the long visa application process that I’ve previously endured.
Whenever I changed jobs, my company had to submit a new visa application and the process would take anywhere from 4 – 8 weeks. During that time, I was not permitted to work, and as the weeks would fly by, I’d needlessly worry about whether or the application would be approved, if it would be delayed, or if my health insurance would run out and I’d have to start paying myself. Each time I’ve had to wait between jobs, I’d have to dip into my savings, and it eventually got to the point where they were almost depleted.
So with this new visa, if I get laid off or if I want to quit my job, I can start working as soon I’ve signed a contract with my new employer. I don’t plan to quit my job anytime soon, but it’s a relief to know I have this option “just in case”. It removes a lot of stress and makes living in Germany so much easier.
Another perk of having the Blue Card is that I can apply for permanent residency in January after I pass probation. This application will be my very first and most important project of 2018!
I finally took my own advice and spent three weeks in an intensive German class back in June. While it was nice for the refresher, it was also a stark reminder about how poor my German really is and what a long road lies ahead.
Recommended Reading: Berlin Expat Advice – Learn German in Berlin
As I just started a new job, I gave myself the summer off to settle in. Who really wants to spend their summer in a classroom? I’ve a couple of options come September – either to take a class offered through my workplace or to enroll in night classes that would take place two nights per week.
All of the Travel
I’ve been all over Europe since since last summer. Are you ready to get the quick and dirty lowdown?
Last June, I spent a weekend in Paris. It was my first visit to the city of light and love and it didn’t disappoint. Highlights were drinking champagne while writing in my journal alone at a bar, seeing the Grand Mosque of Paris, and doing a street art tour in Belleville. In July, I spent a day in the German town of Quedlinburg, and in August, a weekend in Prague.
Things didn’t slow down in the fall. September brought me to Montenegro (my new favourite country) for the better part of a week. I spent some time getting to know the capital of Podgorica, even though many tell you to skip it entirely. I then moved on to Budva, where I woke up early to explore Old Town without all of the tourists. Finally, I went to Kotor and took way too many photos. October brought me to Poland twice, once to Szczecin with a visiting friend from Canada and another time to Gdansk for a work trip.
Winter came and I kept on travelling. My final trip of 2016 involved a December weekend in Vilnius. In January, I made a quick trip to Frankfurt. In February, I went to Turkey for the first time and spent time in Istanbul and later on Edirne. Later that month, I went to Serbia and explored the lesser known city of Nis.
Over spring things slowed down a bit. In April, I spent a day revisiting Dresden and at the end of the month, returned to Canada after more than 18 months away!
Next up are weekends in Bucharest and Budapest.
One of the perks of living in Europe, is getting to explore all its nooks and crannies. As you can see, I have an insatiable appetite for exploring this continent and it’s one of the reasons I may never be able to leave my life here behind.
Getting and Being Better (For Reals)
Something that’s been on my mind for quite some time is simply getting better and being better. Now that I know I’m going to be in Berlin for some time, how can I focus on this? I’ve experienced some depression and panic attacks over the past few years and I’m eager to break free from those feelings.
Yes, if you read my blog or stalk me on social media, you may think my life is a big party and that I don’t have a care in the world. But I’m emotionally weighed down. Things have never come easy for me and certain hardships have taken their toll. I’m always tired and lacking energy. I feel disappointed in myself, as I have bad judgment and keep on making the same poor choices with no one but myself to blame.
You know when you want to change, you say you want to change, but yet you never do? You always say, tomorrow’s going to be the day. Your friends are tired of hearing your talk but not seeing any progress. Have you been there?
I want to drink less, quit smoking, start eating nutritious things, and get more exercise. I want to go out and party less. I want to listen more, be kinder, be a better friend, spend more time with cute kids, dogs, or cats (especially mine). I want to learn German, do well at my job, grow my blog (as it feels like it’s been in the same place for years), and travel to more places. I want to keep things going with our Make Friends in Berlin meetup.
Most of all, I want to feel light and happy. I felt it once, but it seems like the light has faded and only see a spark once and ahile. But where do you start? How do you not set yourself up for a big failure? How does it all seem like too much? I’m really at a loss right now. Do you have any suggestions?
All About Berlin
Are you pondering a move to the German capital? Then browse my Expat Life section which covers things like:
- 12 Tips About How to Find a Job in Berlin
- 10 Cool and Alternative Things to Do in Berlin (That Won’t Break the Bank)
- Things To Do in Berlin
Planning a Berlin vacation? Then think about these travel guides:
For even more Berlin content, hop on over to my Berlin guide. If you’re looking to meet new people here, come to our Make Friends in Berlin meetup or join our growing Facebook group of 1000+ people to interact with locals.
Need a place to stay when you’re visiting Berlin? Check out hotels on booking.com.
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