I’ve been in Berlin for almost a year and have not yet managed to write about why I chose to give up my life in Canada in order to start all over again. I’ve typed dozens of drafts but none of them ever seemed fit for publishing.
Today, I end the suspense by telling you the backstory to my worst kept secret and the real reasons I moved to Berlin.
From the outside looking in, my life seemed like a good one. I was lucky enough to have wonderful friends, a nice apartment and a decent job that paid well. I kept busy by playing sports, taking classes and going to cool parties. I traveled a few times a year to exotic destinations like the Galapagos Islands or Rio de Janeiro. I was living the dream, right?
Sadly, no. What people didn’t know was that I was deeply unhappy. I hated my job. I stressed over the fact I didn’t have a boyfriend. I loathed myself for not being able to appreciate my so called good life. I cried myself to sleep many nights, regularly had anxiety attacks and suffered from insomnia that left me feeling drained more often than not.
The sabbatical was the perfect chance to figure out how to pull myself out of depression.
Just what did I do? I became a lady of leisure, a champion lady of leisure actually! I slept in, got drunk in the middle of the day, watched countless re-runs of the Golden Girls, took cooking classes and most importantly traveled. And once I started, I couldn’t stop.
Meeting My Big Love
A woman previously obsessed with South America, I finally decided to give Europe a chance.
Figuring there was no better place to start than Italy, I ended up having my best vacation to date. It was here that I felt free, happy and joyous for the very first time. I lost count of how many times I cried simply because it felt so surreal. The new feelings overwhelmed me.
Upon arriving home, I ate and drank Italian food and wine at every opportunity, enrolled in language classes and vowed that someday I’d move there. I took comfort in dreaming about what life abroad would be like …
Not wanting to stay away from my new found love for long, I returned to Europe again for Christmas to visit some new cities and countries. I got to know Munich, Prague, Bratislava, Budapest and Vienna. To be honest, I had low expectations for this trip and thought there was no way that my experience in Italy could ever be topped. To my surprise, this vacation turned out to be even better!
Europe Changed My Life
The trip was pivotal for a many reasons.
First, it solidified the fact that I loved the continent. The happiness of that first trip was repeated with the whirlwind tour through Central and Eastern Europe.
Second, I discovered there was more to Europe than Italy. I figured out that I’d be happy living almost anywhere and started thinking about Germany, France and even Spain.
Third, I felt a new and surprising confidence within myself that it was something that I could really do on my own.
Taking The Plunge
The new year arrived and so did a job. The adjustment back into being employed was not gentle and again I found myself feeling completely miserable. The honeymoon was over and I wondered what had really changed. Even though I still planned to move to Europe, I hadn’t taken any concrete actions to make my dreams a reality. I was stuck in a rut!
While in Cuba on vacation, I received a call from my landlord announcing that they were putting my loft up for sale and that public viewings would start the next day. I wasn’t happy with the news but realized it was a perfect opportunity. I decided then and there I’d move to Europe and change my life forever!
A few weeks later, I quit my job, gave my landlord notice and applied for a working holiday visa in Germany. Without it being approved, I began selling most of my earthly possessions, booking a one way flight to Berlin and securing a holiday apartment in Prenzlauer Berg.
Fortunately, everything fell into place and the visa was approved. I was ready to move to Berlin.
I’m Really Doing This
After I put the wheels into motion, everything happened really fast. I was so busy taking care of details, I barely had time to think about the enormity of what I was doing. Then one day, it suddenly hit me.
I was ending my way of life as I knew it and I had no idea what the future held. I didn’t have any real plans except to try and make my blog successful, get to know Berlin and see as much of Europe as I could. It was possible, I’d fail miserably and would have to come home although I had enough funds to last six months.
I was scared, exhilarated and stressed. Yet, I was OK with this!
The Long Kiss Goodbye
Saying my farewells was the single hardest thing I had to do before I left and it was not without many tears. I had to find my cat a new home and bid adieu to some of the best friends in the world and of course, my family.
It finally got to the point during my last week in Toronto where it was all getting to be too much and all I wanted to do was hop on the plane. Time was dragging by much too slowly and I was ready to start my life with a vengeance.
Reactions to my big announcement were mixed. While most expressed their support and wished me well, others weren’t so kind. Some were jealous, worried and even thought I was crazy.
These were just some of the comments …
“Are you experiencing a mid-life crisis?”
“You’re so naive. You’ll never succeed at travel writing.”
“You need to grow up.”
“Aren’t you taking the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing a little too far?”
“I’d do the same if I didn’t have a mortgage, spouse or children.”
While some of the concern was certainly warranted, the narrow mindedness of some people shocked me. How can you not be thrilled for someone who wants to embark on a new adventure? I wondered, how could they not see it what I saw? The possibilities, the potential, the chance for happiness.
As expected, everyone asked me why I was moving to Berlin. I’m still asked this question on a regular basis and find it a hard one to answer. I can’t really narrow it down to just one reason.
My answers vary but usually go something like this …
“To travel more. I want to explore every nook and cranny of Europe!”
“A change in lifestyle. I needed to escape the corporate shackles of an office job to join the ranks of creatives in Berlin and try my hand at travel writing.”
“It’s way cheaper to live in Berlin than Toronto. Once I get a job, I can start to save money.”
“To challenge myself and try something new. It’s a six month experiment to see I can succeed. If it doesn’t work, I’ll come home.”
“I feel happy when I’m in Europe. I want to see if I can make the feeling last.”
It’s not at all because I watched this amazing video.
Of course, there are usually more questions …
“Do you have a job in Berlin?” I didn’t have a job when I first arrived – read my guide about how to find a job in Berlin.
“Do you speak German?” I didn’t know any German outside of bier, kindergarten, and scheisse but planned to take classes. I quickly become quite good at saying “Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut.”
“Have you ever been to Berlin? ” No. Based on the advice of two girls I met in Cuba and a friend that had lived in the city previously, I chose to live in Berlin as opposed to Munich, Hamburg or Frankfurt. Although, they may be options in the future!
“Are you moving there for a man?” Fuck, no! Although the idea of dating fashionable, well educated, multilingual men who watched movies with sub-titles was definitely appealing. Read my guide about how to make friends in Berlin.
“Do you hate Toronto? Are you running away from something?” I don’t hate Toronto. It was just time for a new beginning. I’ll always consider it home!
Has it worked out? I’m pleased to say it all turned out rather well actually.
As expected, there have been ups and downs but moving to Berlin was simply the very best thing I ever did. It’s a crazy, wonderful, consistently surprising city and I never want to leave. My commitment is so deep that I’m now working on applying for permanent residency here!
Check out my new guide about what to do in Berlin for inspiration about how to best enjoy the city!
Shortly after my arrival, a fellow newly arrived expat remarked to me over beers “I don’t know whether you’re fucking brilliant or fucking crazy but you certainly have balls.”
Now that I look back, I admit that I may have been somewhat crazy but I harbor no regrets.
I’m finally happy, really truly happy. Something I never really thought I’d be able to say with any conviction. The panic attacks are no more, the anxiety is gone and I wake up most days with a smile on my face!
Hear Me Speak
If you’d like to hear me speak more about why I moved to Berlin and what my time was like there, listen to my radio interview on KPAM Portland’s Azumano Travel Show.