We’ve been living in Germany for just over two months now, and since my last post life has been a blur. July began with the chaos of getting moved into our new apartment. The move-in week was followed by Emilia and Josephine making their film debut as cast members in a public service announcement film about bike safety in Germany. Our usual routine of letting the little ones check out every and any playground in Berlin led to being asked by a scout (the director) if they wanted to be in the film. Being the Lie’s, of course we said “yes.” While I stayed in Berlin for the week of filming, Vivian travelled to Munich with our older daughters for a few weeks of summer vacation. We joined up later and ended July with beautiful sun-filled days getting to sail, ride horses and swim in the quiet lakes of Bavaria. With the beautiful weather we’ve had, the fresh air and the views of the snow-capped Alps, the countryside of Bavaria felt like being in a dream that we didn’t want to end.
Returning to Berlin was not easy, and brings with it the reality of a new school year for the kids (Monday was their first day). For me it brings renewed focus on planning the life ahead of us and a chance to reflect on how I feel as an American who’s left a life in Chicago for a new one in Berlin. I would say that so far the transition has been more than pretty good.
Berlin is revealing itself to be a surprisingly diverse city with a seemingly endless variety of things to do. The city is much more ethnically diverse than I thought it would be, with far more Asians (and other ethnicities) than I expected. Many Asians actually speak German as native speakers, with no accent whatsoever, and it’s nice that I’m not automatically thrown into the perception bucket as a tourist or immigrant. Beyond the diversity of the population, Berlin is obviously a cultural powerhouse. And like a London, Paris or New York, the scope of Berlin’s artistic and cultural scene seems to have no bounds. It’s difficult to imagine anyone running out of places in Berlin to exercise their cultural and artistic pursuits. Throw in the colorful neighborhoods, the amount of parks and greenspace within the city, the excellent public transportation, and the ability to access so much of the city easily by bike, Berlin is about as family friendly as a large city can get. Of course it has it’s problems too: although it seems like there’s less than before, in many places there’s too much graffiti for my taste (they should ban spray paint like they do in Chicago); too many people still find smoking to be worthwhile; and Berlin has its share of interesting-bordering-on-scary citizens in many part of town. But on balance I think this will be a good move for us.
About three weeks into our move, a German friend asked me if I missed Chicago. I answered “not really”, but it’s only partly true. I do miss our old neighborhood and the close network of friends and neighbors that defined so much of our day-to-day existence. I miss the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan and the views of Chicago’s impressive skyline. Most of all, I miss a certain sense of belonging that comes from having lived in a city for nearly a decade with my wife and four kids – a certain sense of belonging that comes from getting to know a place really well, and it getting to know you, too. Chicago had taken on the well-worn fit of a favorite sweater, and so there’s a sense of identity and comfort that I’m now having to let go of as I start my life in Berlin. It’s like the process I read about in the New York Times through which a writer goes when learning to write in a second language – at one point you’re not quite sure who you are and where you belong.
I have to remind myself that we’ve only been living here two months, and I’m finally resisting the urge to make comparisons between life in Chicago and life in Berlin. Every day lets me get to know Berlin a little better and brings me a little closer to understanding how we’ll grow into our new city. Berlin will never be quite like Chicago for us, but over time I think we’ll find a fit that’s right and that will make Berlin feel like home.