It is hard to express in words the feeling that comes over me when I think of Berlin. There’s something about the city of Berlin that calls me. That stirs within my soul a deep yearning. Ever since I first set foot in the German capital back in the Spring of 2012 I have had an indescribable connection to Berlin.
When I first stepped off the plane at Tegel Airport in April 2012 I knew absolutely nothing about Berlin and had zero expectations. The only thing on my mind was that I might be denied entry to Germany because Barbadian citizens had just recently been granted Schengen visa-free access to the European Union. I wondered, if perhaps the German immigration had not yet received the memo and I would be unceremoniously deported back to London. Instead I encountered a friendly (by German standards at least) Polizei agent who casually examined my passport and asked me just one question: “Why are you here?” Mildly flustered I explained to him that I was attending a scientific conference. As I spoke, I fumbled through my documents searching for the invitation letter. But it was not needed. He just stamped my passport and wished me a good day. Seconds later I walked through the sliding doors into Arrivals area of Tegel ready to begin my Berlin adventure.
Immediately I switched into what I call an “operative mode.” I scanned the sign boards to locate the nearest public transit stop and then I was off. After waiting a few minutes the yellow-and-white colored X9 bus arrived to ferry me and my fellow passengers into the city center. But there was a problem. I couldn’t buy a ticket from the bus driver. It could only be purchased from a ticket machine or at a nearby ticketing office. I chose the latter because I was not keen to struggle with a machine in a foreign language. Hastily, I scrambled to buy my ticket before the bus left. Alas it was too late. The bus had departed by the time I returned and I was forced to wait for the next one ten minutes later.
It was a chilly April evening, so as I stepped off the X9 near S+U Zoologischer Garten Bahnhof I shivered slightly as I searched for the entrance to the U-bahn station. It was not immediately obvious where I needed to go, but eventually I figured it out by trial and error. From the directions I had scrawled on a piece of paper I knew I needed to head towards Charlottenberg to find my hotel. Somehow I managed to get onto the U2 without asking anyone for help. As the stops with odd, unpronounceable German names whizzed by in a blur I prayed that I would not miss my stop as I strained to discern any sound emanating from the PA system. German sounded so alien. It seemed as if the utterances I heard hardly matched what I read on the passing signs. “Ausstieg links. Bitte insteigen. Zurück klein bitte.”
My senses were peaked as I stared anxiously at the Berlin transit map trying desperately to figure out if I had gone the right way. After what seemed like an eternity the Zoologischer Garten station came into view. Next came figuring out which side of the station to exit on. I just guessed by heading to the left and finding the nearest ausgang. As I emerged on the streets of Berlin I was greeted by the shroud of darkness masking a hive of youthful activity along the main thoroughfare. Finding my way to my hotel, Hotel Berlin Berlin, proved difficult as my brain refused to comprehend the German street signs. I could not make any sense of the ‘ß‘ symbol, which I naively called “strabeta.” After wandering aimlessly around Tier Garten for twenty minutes I stumbled by chance upon the brightly lit Hotel Berlin Berlin sign.
Later that night I enjoyed my first meal in Berlin. As I was too exhausted to traipse about the city in search of an uncertain, warm dinner, I settled for a Two-piece Original Chicken Snack Box from KFC. Colonel Sanders’ restaurant was open late and offered the comfort food I needed in the alien urban landscape of Berlin. It was an unremarkable yet inimitable start to my Berlin trip.
Somehow I fell in love with Berlin on that mundane night and the ensuing days. In the midst of my sense of being discombobulated the city crept unwittingly into my heart and soul. Perhaps it was the down-to-earthness of the graffiti-covered buildings, or the vibrant youthful energy that always seems just around the next street corner or the spacious, regal Hauptstadt architecture of Berlin or the melange of divergent cultures and peoples that blend together seamlessly in the melting pot of Berlin. Or perhaps it was a combination of all of these things at a random, vulnerable moment in my life that just clicked. Irrational as that may sound. Whatever the reason I fell in love with Berlin at first sight and I have never looked back.
A lot has changed since 2012. I have been back to Berlin more than a dozen times since then. Each time I am in the city, I am reminded that it is place where I feel completely at home. Free. Able to be myself without any care. Longing each time to not to have to leave again. Dreaming of the day when I will call it my home!