Fragments of a former life

There’s something quite beautiful about old buildings that have fallen into disuse.

I contemplated this as I stood before a shattered house outside the entrance of The Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon. Stripped of its life and warmth, it looked so out of place next to the pastel coloured homes that had aged more delicately.

As I gazed around the square at the foot of the castle – at tourists whose hands and eyes remained glued to their cameras – I noticed how this building was the only one veiled in shadow. It had been banished to a corner where no people gathered, and where no sunlight could share it’s warmth.

I looked up at this place held hostage to the past: at the boards placed adjacently over the windows, where only a crack of light could escape, and at the wrought-iron balconies wearing thick jackets of rust. Weeds had made their way into every crack, sprouting ugly thistles and ash-coloured buds, while plaster fell as dust to the ground below. A palpable sense of loneliness seeped through the walls.

An old sign reading Largo de Santa Cruz Do Costelo bore the name of the home that had been disgraced by its abandoners. The stone steps beneath that used to yield to pattering feet were now stained and empty. I sat there, if only for a moment.

IMG_3935

IMG_3937

This house was a symbol of memory, a sad representation of a former life. I thought of the people who had lived there before: how their furniture had been arranged inside and what flowers they has placed on their windowsills. Could they have imagined that their home would one day be in ruins?

I looked at this house, at this soul that had been hollowed out and left for dead, and thought of the chaos it had endured. I thought of my home.

In life, we all want things to stay the same. We remain in comfortable surroundings, afraid of our lives crumbling to ruins.

Shameless in its wreckage, this former abode stood firm. Nature persisted, instilling life in the old bricks where there previously was none. This house was both a relic of the past and a portent of the future. I felt hopeful that a day would come where it was adapted or built entirely anew.

A lady dressed in red would come to her small, rectangular balcony to smoke a cigarette. Flowers blooming at the windowsill would throw spots of colour in the eye of both owner and passer-by, and in the evening, moonlight would line the narrow alleyways for night strollers to chase down the street.

In a moment I was reassured that life isn’t as turbulent as it may seem. Chaos is sometimes just a reminder to begin again. To create something new from the ruins.

 

October rain: escaping the city

It poured with rain in Berlin today. It was an odd feeling. So used to sunny skies, I’d almost forgotten what it was like to have the weather appropriate your mood. It was a pathetic fallacy, if ever there was one.

I don’t often find myself in what I would consider to be the centre of Berlin. Now that I’m not so much of a tourist, areas like Friedrichstrasse, Checkpoint Charlie and Brandenburger Tor are places I’m less likely to come across during my daily activities.

Wandering through the streets of tarmac and white paint on my way to the shopping centre, (an experience that often makes me feel like a cow being sent to slaughter) I was reminded why I always said I’d never live in a city. Turning my eye above street view, I remembered how, even as a child, I thought of skyscrapers as deeply dystopian structures. Unforgivably straight and sinister, they loomed spectre-like over my path, suffocating me, if only for a moment.

I love Berlin: the coexistence of old and new, the multitude of ideas and perspectives brought by people as opposite as storm and sunshine and the remnants of baroque architecture. Even its unashamedly shabby parts offer a unique sense of elegance that no other war-torn city has been able to create.

While Berlin has its pockets of greenery – small havens hidden away from the austerity of concrete – sometimes this just isn’t enough.

City life doesn’t always accommodate those who want to be free, and what I mean by ‘free’ is as physical as much as it is mental. Having space is integral to sustaining my overall well-being. Sometimes I need the room to move my limbs and expand my mind. Broader landscapes and clearer skies are what I always crave.

Photo: Eglė DuleckytėIMG_3928

I’m inherently a restless person, and my usual answer to this is walking long distances. I’ve struggled my whole life with staying still, and keeping moving is the only antidote. I think this is why writing helps. The more I write, the less I feel like I am losing whatever experience and momentum I gathered with movement.

I recently tore the ligaments around my ankle which, within the first few weeks, meant I had to work from home. Being mostly unable to walk,  I wasn’t able to move and progress in the same way I’d grown so accustomed to, and it wreaked havoc on my mental health.

I’m not a person that can survive for days on end indoors – my mind eventually begins to unravel. Objects that previously seemed inert start to jump around and the sound of the clock becomes more vehement with every tick. This is the same feeling I get when I’ve stayed in the city too long. There are no ticking clocks to be heard in country air.

I like my neighbourhood. It’s simple, family-oriented, far from hipster. It has less of the hustle and bustle of Kreuzberg, or Neukolln, where walking out on the street often feels like entering a zoo.

But sometimes I wake up and hear shouts and cries from outside, the sound of people upstairs moving furniture around at 2am in the morning, (this is just speculation – I have no idea what else they would be doing at this time of night), and wonder whether I will ever wake up in the bliss of quiet.

Skulking through the urban madness of Friedrichstrasse the other day, I pondered on whether it was strange, or indeed wrong, to want to escape the place that you love once in a while. But in fact, I think it’s entirely normal.

Constant thinking, creating, analysing is a product of a city that offers so much cultural stimulation, but it can be a drain on your resources. It’s not unusual to want a change of scenery.

Leaving the confines of your immediate environment can help to renew your perspective and disrupt, if only momentarily, your dependency on routine. Learning to love uncertainty, instability and being on the move is, to me, an important step for self-development.

I may never live in a peaceful neighbourhood. I may never open my mouth to speak and hear the sound of my own voice echoing off the walls, but knowing I am free to roam is the one thing I know that keeps me sane.

Being able to disconnect is just a healthy sign that you are exactly where you want to be.

Autumn

Life in Autumn is but a sepia-toned shadow on a wall. It dissolves in a moment. When the snow falls, Autumn’s warm touch can leave no fingerprints of mist on Winter’s frosty panes of glass.

The other morning, I stepped outside my door and was met by a chill, yet gentle, breeze. It felt like it had been a while since I was encircled by wind, rather than draped in the humidity of warm Summer air. I hastily put on a jumper. Autumn has arrived, I thought.

Autumn air has a particular quality. A crisp edge floats on top of an otherwise warm, enriching breeze. Autumn warms your heart, rather than chills you to the marrow, like Winter. It subtly arrives, not drawing much attention to itself.

In Autumn, trees begin to relinquish their fruits; their skeletal limbs still dressed in Summer jackets. Leaves surrender their deep green colour to a palette of golds and reds, and tumble from the branches to request one last, wistful dance in the wind. The light fades earlier into a gentle hue, the horizon becomes adorned by vague, pink reflections.

Autumn is a time of preparation. Flowers close their buds to defend them from the cold, and animals begin to gather stores for the winter ahead. Slowly the earth begins to temporarily shut down into a period of stillness. Autumn is a time to wind down and look after oneself. It is the perfect time to reflect.

Autumn in literature is often synonymous with the melancholic. Persuasion in Jane Austen is described as ‘autumnal.’ The season reflects Anne Eliot’s slow decline into what she believes will be her spinsterhood: her sighs reveal her fear that her “last smiles” are already behind her.

The arrival of Autumn in literature is often seen as the end of something beautiful: plants that were so recently verdant become decay before our eyes, days end prematurely, the light weakens. And then, darkness. The ‘Autumn of life’ means the closing of days, forever.  

Autumn reminds me of transience. The earth’s physical changes symbolise how nothing lasts forever, but equally that nothing is ever lost. Life is cyclical. The sun may be waning now, but will reaffirm its presence in the Spring.

Autumn holds a mirror up to nature, and in it we can find images and reflections of ourselves. Trees cannot be evergreen, and neither can life. Our journeys will always be coloured by happiness and triumph, but inflected by pain. They cannot always have the golden sheen of Summer.

The leaves of Autumn arrive with the faint touch of a hand, only to remind us of what is real.

Autumn is about becoming and disappearing. Fading and arriving. Projecting and interrogating the self in the silent slumber of the season.

It is but a sepia-toned shadow on a wall. It dissolves in a moment. By Winter, it’s warm touch can leave no fingerprints of mist on its frosty panes of glass.

What silence did for me

 

—————————-

It’s hot. My first of Germany’s intense and unrelenting Summers. I feel a silence within me that wavers between peace and ecstasy. It is the silence of lightning diffused by rain. 

I’m sat on a rooftop at sunset, watching the heat seep into the concrete. Up here, the angles of Berlin’s skyline can be observed in their entirety. I watch as the city’s shades of beauty reveal themselves slowly over the changing light of the evening. The buildings are stripped of their sheen; each prism of light revealing their imperfections. I could have been up there for days.

It is through lasting images such as these that we connect ourselves to a time and place. I close my eyes and envision rows of pristine white, post-war houses with gilded balconies; disused buildings anticipating reconstruction; metal tramlines; cycle paths bearing a range of cyclists, some clad in thermals, others with shopping piled high in their baskets; flea markets yielding goods of old boots; exotic handmade jewellery and books with torn pages; local bakeries stocked with crisp rolls and dark rye; underground clubs with graffiti branded across every entrance; elderly couples enjoying cups of coffee across red checked tablecloths. Berlin’s spirit of change and enterprise is palpable. You can do little else but internalise it. 

In six short months, I have nearly perished in Berlin’s deathly cold – never before has my skin been touched by such biting temperatures – and witnessed the lateness of Spring. With time to spare and a mind clear enough to contemplate my surroundings, I have seen the seasons come and go so fleetingly. Snow gave way gracefully to budding flowers, withered branches grew heavy with a sudden fostering of leaves, and I too emerged from spiritual hibernation. I watched as the city came alive. 

IMG_2678.JPG
Graefestraße, Kreuzberg

With the first flowers of Spring came the first fleet of tourists, scurrying about the city in any available site like ants near a fruit bowl. I hear you smirking at my confidence to exclude myself from the definition of ‘tourist’, but how long does one have to be resident in a country before identifying oneself as part of it?

From the rooftop, one can cast their eye over the landscape and imagine a city decimated by War and rebuilt from the ashes. Over the horizon, I picture Hackescher Markt, now a thriving scene of commerce, desperate and despondent in its post-war gloom; the crumbling buildings, broken streets and concrete slabs graced only by the life of tangled weeds; the beauty and violence beneath our feet. 

This is a city who still sleeps with one eye open. The legacy of war is what Berlin climbs into the sheets with at night. It is the monster at the bottom of the bed. The city has been constructed anew, with every last brick a tangible emblem of what they can’t forget. 

Yet amidst the rubble, this divided city became worthy of aesthetic attention. Unlike any other place I have been to, Berlin allows its old to coexist with its new. It is a mass canvas of mixed material. Berlin’s task was not to cover and conceal, but to find a way of incorporating the past into the fabric of the future. Stagnation shifted, and reconstruction inspired a new way of seeing. 

In art nothing ever stands still, and Berlin proves it. At every street corner, workmen whistle as they emerge from newly constructed buildings, caked in plaster. The sad frames of disused warehouses brandish banners of images indicating what future form it will take. Baroque architecture maintains its majesty above street view, incorporated into newfound buildings that welcome commerce as a medium for change. Functionality collides with ornament; modernity with history. Art and architecture become the chisel with which Berlin carves itself a fresh identity. I see myself reflected in every new sheet of glass. 

Of course, places can offer you the illusion of feeling changed, or enlightened in some way. They absorb you in a swell of activity, addressing your feelings of anonymity with opportunities for communion with others. There’s a reason why backpackers return with a new set of values to match their post-travelling ponytails. They establish a new sense of self away from routine that reflects their surroundings. Liberation becomes woven into every last strand of dredlocked hair. 

IMG_3272
Sredzkistrasse, Prenzlauer Berg

 

There were nights when I could walk out into the city and forget I was anywhere. I had no shackles. But with an absence of responsibility came an absence of connectivity. Sometimes I felt like I could walk the streets and each house would turn their lights off one by one. No lamp would illuminate the glass allowing me to see my reflection. No flicker of a candle could offer me a nightcap. 

I was alone. The lack of light was just a tangible reminder. I could wade through a throng of people and not one soul would speak. I could be submerged in a sea of faces and still feel all alone.

These were moments where one solitary night can feel like permanent seclusion. I had to learn how to situate myself mentally in nowhere. I learned to inhabit loneliness.

Strangers and Serendipity

 

‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time. The ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles.’ On the Road, Jack Kerouac

 

I thought about this quote the other day from a book that is very dear to me. On the Road is a classic as it is consummately American: filled with dreams, illusions, sex, drugs, and a whole load of heartache. It contains all that we seek to find in American literature: dreams punctured by reality. Pulsating to the rhythm of 1950s jazz and the emergence of counterculture, On the Road captures the exhausting richness of life: its exuberance, its melancholy, its incomprehensibility and, more importantly, it’s variety. 

It is now after spending six months away from home that I realise the gravity of Kerouac’s statement about ‘the mad ones’. It is these people that I came to know in Berlin. The people that love life and experience; the people that speak to strangers because they want to; the people who pluck conversation topics out of thin air and fuel them for hours on humour, gesture and narrative. Storytelling is what we live for. It’s what the travellers crave. 

Clear in my mind are the days that I wandered through the city, anatomising the face of every building and every person with a childlike curiosity. I began to speak to people out of desire more than necessity. Small talk gave way to conversations of unimaginable depth. I revealed sides of myself only a stranger could understand. 

Chance encounters became my source of serendipity – those uncanny moments of meeting somebody who you need or desire right in that moment. A stranger who will take care of you just for the night. Searching through underground clubs of dancing and flashing lights, where drugs and alcohol give visage to the faceless, to find my friends was just another way of making new ones. Sharing in the song of a blues guitarist in the Park was just another, more lyrical, way of speaking. Reading aloud about my life story was just another way of learning to bargain with the dangers and difficulties of words. The diversity of languages owned by the many different kinds of international people became both a bridge and a barrier to communication. Under such circumstances, you fashion new ways of understanding. 

I found that the people who said that they were travelling for fun had the most to hide. They veiled their pain under a guise of spontaneity. These were the people who were running from something, but couldn’t quite articulate what. After a few drinks, you knew why they had fled. Everyone is always looking for something. The people who say they aren’t just don’t know it yet. 

fullsizeoutput_e50

Time can mean everything, and it can mean nothing. There are people you meet who become part of the furniture in your life. You shuffle over and prepare to make permanent room for them. These are the ones who provide a sturdy bed and a place to rest your head – the ones who will tuck you in after a bad night. And then there are the people who will pull up a chair to immerse themselves in you just for a few hours. 

Romance can exist for a night, and it doesn’t have to be marked by sex. I often tell people about my ‘one-night love stories’ in Berlin clubs. They are never what people expect. 

There’s something that seems deeply spiritual, again uncanny, about connecting to a person just for a day, or an evening. Significant events in life don’t have to be judged by their longevity. A night of looks across a room, a night of dancing and talking, a night where moments of conversation pique your interest for a lifetime, have their own importance. They say you never really forget a face. 

It’s 3am in a club that I never would have trespassed this time last year. For most, the night is only just beginning. I find my Parisian gentleman wandering around by himself, just soaking everything in – or, just clearly out of his mind on alcohol.  If there was ever a stereotype to be fitted to a Frenchman, he fit the bill entirely. This guy loved the Romance of it all: English girl with big brown eyes and a heart full of curiosity travels to another country to find herself. He filled in the part about her falling in love with the Parisian poet. 

We talked of an alternative life where I abandoned Berlin to live with him in Paris. Every morning we’d open our pearl-white kitchen windows and breakfast on the balcony on red-checked tablecloths laden with jams and croissants. Outside, our bikes would be lined up next to each other, ready to embark on our scenic trips out of the city on the weekend. We’d dine into the evening, getting as drunk on each other as on the traditional Parisian wine, and return home together, hand in hand … in the rain. You get the picture. 

Narrative is integral to human nature. It connects us to time and place, and to each other. These moments of serendipity, while short-lived, hold significance still. My Parisian love may have wandered into the distance without my phone number, but he left behind a deep impression of the novelty of the moment.

It’s possible to be happy just where you are, just for one night. The irony is that part of the romance of meeting somebody is never seeing them again. You suspend that moment in time and place, and preserve it for what it was. He was definitely one of Kerouac’s ‘mad ones.’

Looking back on my photographs of Berlin – my own visual memoir of the best six months of my life – made me think of how these are snapshots my children will look at someday. Perhaps they will know that their mother had stalked the ‘sidewalks of life’ without fear and apprehension, and had learned something along the way. 

On the Road is all about the quest for ultimate fulfilment. This is the paradox of human life. We seek to be fulfilled, but never will be so. 

In a way, I never want to know what it’s like to feel utterly fulfilled. I never want to grow old in a house at the end of a street in suburbia, sat in a chair in my perfectly ordered garden, gazing out at the trees I never climbed. My grandfather always said that looking at life with an ever-youthful, ever-curious eye was what sustained him throughout his life. The demise of curiosity is the moment you stop living. 

And here we are, back at the present moment. Today marks my six-month anniversary in Berlin. Some people I have met have stayed, others have fled, and the ‘mad ones’ have become a part of me. In Berlin, people live with a natural and purposeless freedom. To live is not just to be alive, but to experience the inexhaustible potential of people and places. The sands of time have little bearing on anything. 

‘Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.’

 

It’s that time again: re-entering the job market

Perhaps it’s a dangerous thought, but I have to ask myself daily, ‘could I be anymore content?’ I get to spend my days walking the most beautiful streets, hanging out in cafes or parks; reading, writing, contemplating. I have time to myself. Time to enjoy not rushing from one place to the next. And yet, I have the overwhelming feeling that this is the most free I will ever be. 

It’s about that time again where I have to think about the direction that my life is taking me in. In two months I will be unemployed, again. I will have to face the depressing graduate landscape, where every organisation brandishes a banner reading ‘No room at the inn.’ I will have to face those feelings of inadequacy that I’ve dispensed of since being in Berlin. Reapplying for jobs means reentering the Rat race.

Yesterday I started going over my CV again, scolding myself for the fact that I haven’t spent a year as a journalist, civil servant, lawyer-in-training, or any of these other professional careers that I used to fancy for myself. I slept last night, badly, thinking about the nine-to-five desk job calling me, its wood scratching my fingernails and splintering my skin as I resist its pull. I’m holding onto Berlin and what it has symbolised for me personally – freedom, stillness, balance – with dear life. I fear that fighting the hoards of graduates just like myself for a single job will only derail me.

Not everyone can function on a hamster-wheel. While I have often tried to imagine myself climbing up the career ladder to reach the pot of gold of success, I’ve realised that I just can’t. I don’t have the stamina. So if not nine-to-five, if not working in administration or management or business, what else is there for me? The job market in England rendered me tired and disillusioned. I felt unskilled, worthless, betrayed by a system that propagates education as the sole ticket to success. I felt like I had nothing to offer any job, creative or otherwise.

For years, I have situated my future life in London. There’s a reason why this city is one of the most desired places to visit in the world. It’s vibrant, fast-paced, full of opportunity. It attracts the young and enterprising with its strong sense of individualism. It weaves each person into a romantic narrative of advancement: ‘young entrepreneur seeking success in the big city.’ It makes you feel part of a whole – a super-charged machine at the forefront of world advancement.

But its atmosphere is also oppressive. Floods of people get on and off the tube at ridiculous hours of the day, music booming through their headphones. Melody becomes a fugue to accompany the bitter march to their desks. Coffee becomes the taste in everyone’s mouths. Exhaustion permeates through office walls. People often seem tired, sickly. We are here for one purpose and one purpose only: to work, and to stay alive.

Perhaps this sounds dramatic. Perhaps I sound work-shy. But really, I am just trying to understand how we got here.

Coming to Germany has been a valuable experience in how other countries live. While Berlin, as a thriving economic capital of business and commerce, obviously has aspects of its working environment that are similar to London, it seems a little more free. A lot of my friends work full-time, but they have contracts that offer more flexible, sociable hours. It’s more common than not that I meet people who are freelance, who work several different jobs trying to pursue creative careers, or who work part-time and are still able to cover their bills. And this is deemed ok – normal in fact. Berlin’s prices, while rising, are significantly cheaper than London. People have disposable cash to build livelihoods. Artistic jobs are as highly prized and sought after as economic, or business-related ones. Naively, I suggest that Berliners have cracked it. People know how to enjoy working-life without the blood, sweat and tears.

For the first time, I’m realising that a life like this is entirely possible, and more importantly, justifiable. I no longer want to have to explain to myself and others that I don’t want to live my life enslaved by a desk. Despite the odds, I can’t help but suggest that there must be something more than this.

It seems that modern people have emptied themselves of their dreams. People frequently snigger at my desires to become a writer, or even to work in a job that allows me to practice creativity.

In an ideal world, I will have a job that’s varied and enjoyable, that affords me structure, discipline, the option to advance, but also freedom of mind and creativity. It’s about time that I returned to the job market, not to skin myself alive and plague my thoughts with encroaching feelings of fear or inadequacy, but to challenge myself to find a life that I want to live.

It is possible. I want to believe that this is so.

Lost in Translation: my grapple with the German Language

‘Ich hätte gern die Rechnung’, I asked, shakily. The girl behind the counter giggled. ‘You’ve just asked me for whipped cream,’ she said, ‘but I suppose you’d like to pay.’ 

Before insulting the German public with my lack of linguistic skill, the first phrase I decided to learn prior to my trip to Berlin was ‘Ich kann keine Deutsch sprechen’, or ‘I cannot speak German’, just to cover my back. I hadn’t anticipated that my first week in Germany would render me confused and tongue-tied, like a baby learning how to pronounce it’s first word. We forget about the nuances of phrases and pronunciation in other languages when we’re so used to speaking our own. I figured that just getting the words out right was the first step towards conversation. Who knew that a slight mispronunciation of a vowel could have rendered me a laughing stock.

There’s nothing like visiting another country to make you appreciate your own culture, and how it differs so much from other places. My Englishness is all too apparent even when I do manage to get the German words out right. A prim and proper girl from the South of England, they all seem to think..’Your accent is so nice’, they say in their strict Germanic sound, but all I feel is ashamed for my inability to converse.

‘That’s a whole new kettle of fish’, I found myself saying to my English-speaking German friend on my second week here. He roared with laughter at this. Having uttered an English idiom completely by accident, I had forgotten where I was in that moment. Situated in Germany, I had managed to tie myself inescapably to my Englishness in just a collection of words.

English politeness, while a stereotype, is real and it’s something I battled with in my first few weeks here. As much as we British like to think it is, it’s not common to say please and thank you and sorry a million times, and people’s lack of reciprocity of my excessive manners made me think them rude or ungrateful.

One of the first words I learned here was ‘entschuldigung’ for ‘excuse me’, or ‘sorry.’ Can you imagine my frustration as I attempted to utter this? I’d tread on somebody’s foot on the underground and by the time I’d even tried to pronounce this long, obscure word the person would have already walked away. My lowly, over-polite, english-speaking heart was broken.

IMG_2239

Language is absurd, but it bridges the gaps. If anything, it makes us more expressive. Confused faces are often met with grand gesticulations when trying to communicate in public. My lack of German has made me adept at miming.

The grandma of my host family and I have certainly perfected this art. She doesn’t speak a word of English. We have brief conversations in my very limited German, and we fill in the gaps with a game of charades, literally. My favourite of her mimes are dancing, gardening and an elaborate series of sunbathing movements. We bond over minimal conversation as we play a game of ‘snap’ while trying to match the children’s pairs of odd socks. We make meals together and embrace, chanting ‘sehr lecker’ to congratulate ourselves on our brilliance. Oftentimes, we sit in silence. We may not be able to communicate in words, but her warmth, her energy, her maternity, even for a stranger – (I once got stung by a ‘pferdefliege’ , or horsefly to you and me, and she spent at least ten minutes holding an ice pack to my wound and rubbing my back) – and her humour makes me understand on a human level what a kind heart she has.

If my last few weeks in Germany have taught me anything, it’s that people are, ultimately, good. While I have come up against conservative Germans who will refuse to speak to me in English, identifying me as just another tourist that doesn’t give a sh** about the culture they are trying to preserve, I have met people who want nothing more than to help me settle in.

My German is limited, but it is growing by the day.  I confidently ask for the bill, say ‘entschuldigung’ profusely if I do end up treading on someone’s foot, and I can say ‘Nein, danke schön’, quite kindly to the advances of German men.

I have been asked out on three dates since landing here in Berlin. I say this not to gloat or pat myself on the back as each of these experiences have been no less than entirely awkward, but more to illustrate the different dynamics of heterosexual dating in Germany than in England.

The German guys I have met have all been honourable, if not very forthcoming, and charming. I don’t pretend to be able to read men’s minds but they have always been honest and direct with exactly what they are after. ‘I’ve seen you in Potsdam quite a few times and I like you. Would you like to go for dinner sometime?’, or something along those lines, was my first offer. I haven’t yet had this experience in England. Mostly men seem to observe you from afar for weeks on end before shuffling over and making very weak advances, or the total opposite.

While this guy could have touched up on his techniques in subtlety, at least he stated directly, in a very practical, to-the-point, no beating-round-the-bush kind of way, (which I might add is very typically German), at least there was no misunderstanding. Englishmen, you are not all bad but you need to up your game.

The result of this was, however, nothing. I panicked, probably went a bit red and scuttled off but this was my first, if not entirely fruitless, lesson in German dating conversation.

Up until now, I have been the new girl on the block in the tiny city of Potsdam. I’ve been told that au pairs often assume the ‘girl next door’ trope. ‘You’ve been the discussion of the next door neighbour’s dinner table’, my host mum said to me in my first week. I immediately started scanning my brain for any heinous crime I could have committed. She laughed, ‘They have two boys in their twenties who were eager to check out the new au pair’…

Berlin is one of the most international cities on the planet, and Berliners are used to meeting people from all over the world. What’s nice is that people are always sensitive and inquisitive. I’ve spoken about what I love about England down to the last bourbon, and I have experienced everything about German language and culture that has enlightened me on what we could improve on back home. My skills in German speaking are still much to be desired. I only dread when I have to get a hair cut…

SaveSave

SaveSave