Monday, June 9, 2014

One Year and Counting

When you are part of the global tribe, when you are familiar and at home in more than one culture, people ask a lot of questions: So what is this like for you? ….What do you miss most?.... How are the kids doing?....Is it weird to be back?.... there are never short answers. And I can’t help but constantly update this running pro and con table in my head, hunting for the never-to-be-found answer to the question: what is the better side of the fence?

We have been in Berlin for one year this month. June 11, 2013 was the day we left Silver City, NM.  Since I don’t believe in bearing my soul on the Internet, the rougher personal and emotional aspects of our move won’t be discussed here. This blog is about culture, politics, society, and economics, and how those relate to our lives, of course, personally.  I will try a snapshot of what we learned this year.

It is weird to be back. Until now, I had this rule in my life: Never go back to a place you have already been. I am not sure why, but it just wasn’t something I did. I always moved forward. Just breaking that rule in itself is weird and new.  Back to GO, the place of origin.

What helped was that Berlin is probably one of the places in the world that has changed the most radically over the last 20 years. If not the most changed place of all – in terms of the built environment and the culture, mostly. This is of course even more true if one is from East-Berlin. “Ossis” also changed political and economic systems. “Wessis” just had the fact changed that there was a wall around the place and that we were a small, provincial, over-subsidized pool of standing water with a high opinion of our subculture status, not really part of West-Germany, and certainly not part of the surrounding geography. Now Berlin is a full-blown European and global metropolis with most of the advantages, and a growing set of disadvantages, mainly rising cost of housing. But it is still cheaper to live here than in any other city in Germany, and way cheaper than in London or Paris.

So it wasn’t really like going back. It was going to a new place, with a lot of familiar cultural stuff, and the old West-Berlin neighborhoods looking largely the same.

There were a lot of unknowns when we first got here. Would the kids be able to manage school? Would I find a job in this tight job market? What’s the nonprofit sector like here? Would we survive a Berlin winter?  Would my friends remember me?

Most of these questions have been partially answered after one year.  The winter wasn’t so harsh, some friends turned out to be friends and others have moved on.  Engaging in the joy and labor of gently reconnecting with some of them, with their new 20-years later selves. The nonprofit sector has a slightly different role here and sits in a different environment. The German nonprofits themselves feel like very familiar territory. And I have found a job, and it has brought me the level-up in professionalism and challenge that I had wished for, for many years.

One thing I have learned: If I make assumptions about my children, they are probably going to be wrong.  All three have proven that this year, in different ways. From a parenting perspective, this has probably been the hardest year of my life, the most challenging and puzzling, frustrating year, taking me to an unknown edge I didn’t know existed: the point of not knowing how to handle a situation or behavior. And at the same time, my children have made it the most rewarding and reassuring year:  I have seen my older kids grow more into themselves, take the challenge of the new environment, deal with their loss and grief caused by moving. All of them have widened their horizon, their perspective, their relationships and have learned a lot – mostly not in school. None of them have done what and how I expected them to do 12 months ago.

What do I miss most? Of course my husband, and my oldest daughter. My husband.... lover, partner, co-parent.  Then the people of Silver City, and the few close friends I had.  Our spring break trip to Mexico.  Mexican food, sometimes. The Gila River. Our beautiful house. The Tour of the Gila.

What do I appreciate most here? My family (parents, sister, cousin) close by and spending time with them on a regular basis. My family. And then, my family. A few good friends. Being able to go to a movie and concerts, theater. The beauty of Berlin, its parks and lakes and its surroundings, much of which we have yet to explore. Being able to drive to Italy in a day. Living in a buzzling, global, diverse city with interesting politics and always something new going on. My kids being part of an international community at their school. The wild life in our backyard, and its giant old trees swaying in the wind at night. How cheap everything is.  That this is now part of Europe, which is a whole new perspective. My neighbor, who is nice and weird and feeds our cats when we are gone. And a socio-economic system that is still based on solidarity, even though it’s being whittled away, but the idea is still that you should be able to live your life not being in constant terror about paying for healthcare, child care, education, transportation, and that it is ok to pay taxes for this.

So for now, from this perspective of politics, culture, education, economics….this is the better side of the fence for us – but only if our family becomes complete again.

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