Postcards from Abroad: Berlin

In his first postcard, Pat de Brún gets to grips with the dreams and realities of living in BerlinAh, Berlin, where to start? Just three weeks into my Erasmus at Humboldt University, I can say without hesitation that this was one of the better decisions I’ve ever made. Since my arrival in this city, not a day has gone by where I haven’t had to pinch myself, and still I half-expect to be awoken from this weird, wonderful and inexplicable dream. In many ways this city is like a dreamland. Since the fall of the wall, Berlin has become a cultural mecca for people from all over the world in search of something different. Its unashamed liberalism, sexuality and hedonism have brought together one of the world’s most diverse populations to form a buzzing metropolis made up of artists, musicians, punks, hippies, hipsters and much more.Before getting too carried away with extolling the virtues of Berlin, perhaps I should mention that my first week here wasn’t exactly ideal. For that period, I was one of the many unfortunate souls caught up in the rat race that is Berlin house hunting. Countless hours were spent pleading with every second landlord in Berlin to take me in, all from the discomfort of my budget backpacker hostel. Apartment hunting in Berlin can be a real nightmare, but after countless calls and emails in broken German, I eventually managed to land on my feet and am now happily settled into my new home. And of course, every cloud has a silver lining, and in that week I managed to meet a few fellow Berlin-newcomers, who were all equally as excited as me to have landed here.Last week, one of my newfound friends and I visited the park across the street from my new apartment. As we sat there, beer in hand, two Rastafarian men with guitars took a seat not far from us. They began playing and singing fantastic Reggae, so we decided to sit a little closer and make the most of it. After a while, a passer-by carrying a saxophone decided to join them, followed by another stranger with a bass guitar. As they jammed together in the sun, I surveyed what else was going on in the park. All around, the park buzzed with creativity and freedom. A young German family cooking on a portable barbecue; two Turkish men loudly arguing and gesticulating dramatically; a group of hippies playing Frisbee and carrying protest signs; barefoot children dancing unsupervised. This was all to the tune of this fantastic music, with the sweet aroma of barbecued meat (and various other types of smoke) wafting through the air. At that moment, I couldn’t help thinking to myself: this is my Berlin. This is the greatest city in the world in which to be young. If apartment hunting was a nightmare, then surely this was a dream.Berliners are so diverse that they are genuinely difficult to describe as one. The best way I can describe both the atmosphere and the people of Berlin is this: Berlin is less of a city, and more of a state of mind. It is the acceptance of all people of any race, gender, sexual orientation, political persuasion or background. It is a love of partying; a celebration of individualism and a pride in everything the city is about. Berlin can be a home to absolutely anyone who comes in search of something new, as long as they come here with the right attitude. Everyone here seems to have a story, but most people are more interested in finding the next party than talking about their past.As we don’t start college over here until the second week in October, I have been lucky enough to have had some free time to check out what Berlin has to offer. Despite this, I am yet to visit any of the countless historical and cultural offerings dotted around the city. I appear to have a problem that many people who come here are faced with: for every museum, there’s a cheap-as-chips music festival; for every historic building, there’s someone willing to share with you a history of their own; for every walking tour, there’s an opportunity to get lost in the streets with some newly-made friends.But, of course, a year is a long time, and I’m sure the opportunities will come to do all the things that one must do in Berlin. For now though, my focus is on improving my German. During the first day of our month-long language course, I’m pretty sure I could physically feel the dust being shaken from my brain as I struggled to readjust to learning, following a two-year sabbatical from college. Studying Law with Politics completely through German in only a matter of weeks is a scary thought, especially considering that I have only just mastered asking for a packet of smokes in the shop next door.I’m not fooling myself into thinking that the year ahead won’t present me with some challenges, and I’m sure living abroad won’t always feel like a holiday, especially when the infamous Berlin winter sets in. For now though, I feel like any worries I may have had were left behind when I stepped onto Berlin soil. Every day so far has been an adventure, and with a little luck, and the right attitude, this could be the best year of my life. It’s a pretty strong indictment of the place to say that my biggest fear so far is how I’m going to leave the place in 11 months time.