Antenne / Column

Alone in Berlin

Ehud Neuhaus, web developer (of illustrations and animations

When I was getting ready to move to Berlin for seven weeks, I had set this goal for myself: to find a cafe that would be ‘my cafe’ and a shop that would be ‘my shop’. I thought of wandering about ‘my’ neighborhood, sitting in different coffeeshops, in search for the best coffee, the most cozy place, the perfect combination. I live on the Kastanienallee, Prenzlauer Berg, where there are many little coffeeshops, restaurants and hip little shops, the perfect location. In my first week I have tried out quite a few of the cafes in my area, looking for the best place for the morning time, where I could sit in the morning sun, the best place for the afternoon (again, looking for a spot in the sun), tasting and comparing different coffees and cakes.

A couple of days ago it dawned on me. I realized what I was really looking for. I have a limited period of time and I wanted to make myself a life in Berlin, an instant life. It is not so much about the perfect coffeeshop, the best coffee or the perfect spot, but more about making it ‘mine’. I wanted to really live in Berlin, not to be a tourist, but to be a resident. And having this routine, or ‘my’ places, would put me right there. I realized that I did quite a good job in that.

I feel very much a resident. I have a few places that I like. If I go out to have my morning coffee, or a break in my working day somewhere in the afternoon, I know where to go. I know where to do my groceries, I know the little park and the yoga studio where I give my weekly class. I even befriended the used washing machine shop owner when I needed to get a new used washing machine as the washing machine in my apartment broke down a few days after I arrived. I received mail on my name.

And I also know why I wanted this. Sixteen years ago I came to Amsterdam and started a new life there. I was a 23 year old, insecure and inexperienced. It was not easy and it took me a long time to start feeling at home in Amsterdam. To become comfortable with being a foreigner, to really interact with my environment instead of just reacting to it, to make friends which are not in my immediate surroundings (work), to have my spots, my favorite places.

I feel that it is only in the last years that I am really at home in Amsterdam. That I walk the streets without the little doubt or this tiny, almost unheard question somewhere deep inside: ‘Do I really belong here?’

This has much to do with the process I have been going through these last years, of learning to be alone. To be with myself, to feel comfortable with myself. Berlin is putting this to the test. To see if I can now take this thing I built with myself, this ‘home’, and move it somewhere else.

On the train to Berlin there was a moment, as the train got fuller with German people, that I was thinking: why am I doing this to myself? Why am I putting myself in this spot again, of being alone in a strange city? To know no one and no place, to isolate myself. It was not such a great pleasure the last time.

But now I know the answer, I know why I wanted to do this. I wanted to test the solidity of my ‘home’-feeling, the stability of my connection with myself. To find out if I can handle it, to resist the pull, the temptation to go back to where I was sixteen years ago. See if my self confidence (to the degree that I have it) would hold also when I am not surrounded by my friends and the familiar city, but also when I am really by myself. Alone.