To Berlin and Beyond

One of the overarching themes of my time in Germany has been that while I love this country, it’s not mine, and it wouldn’t even really be so if I somehow perfected my German, made #projectgermanhusband a reality and ditched my American passport. I’m an American, for better or for worse, and last week in Berlin, I got to celebrate the best of both worlds with some of the best people.

Berlin is a fascinating city for a multitude of reasons, and every time I visit I am told that “it’s so rare to see Berlin covered in snow, you’re so lucky!”

This is my response:

2009. Note the snow.

2010. I swear it snowed the next day.

2013. Seriously?

2013. Seriously?

The official reason for going to Berlin was to participate in Fulbright’s yearly seminar, which meant that we were put up in a hotel smack dab in the middle of Berlin and told to eat, drink, be merry (never forgetting to network!), and to explore the city. This was all fine and dandy and I love pomp and circumstance as much as the next person, but the events of the week were so firmly secondary to the people who were there with me, which I think is actually the point of this whole thing.

One one of the afternoons, I bundled up (joining the chorus of calling bullshit on spring) and took off running across Alexanderplatz to the Museum Island, down Unter den Linden and up to the Brandenburg Gate. This route doesn’t cover much mileage (kilometer-age?), but this little section of the city is where most of my memories of Berlin take place, and they are what I focused on while I was dodging construction and gawking at buildings I haven’t seen for a couple of years.

Said hallo to my best friend  the fifteenth-century Totentanz no less than three times last week, and I'm not the least bit ashamed.

Said hallo to my best friend the fifteenth-century Totentanz no less than three times last week, and I’m not the least bit ashamed.

I thought about the tours of Berlin I did with my college study abroad groups, and thought about what each of my friends from those times are doing, wondered if they are happy, and realized once again how I was shaped by those experiences with those people. While my American friends were central to my earlier studies in Germany, I never expected that the Americans I met this year would become so important to me, and I am better for it.

Last week, I found myself at a döner shop in the wee hours of the morning after a night in da club, as Emily would say, which was the last official event of the conference, and where the beginnings of “see-you-soons” were exchanged among my American friends who are scattered around Germany this year. We all met through our language program in Marburg, and have reunited throughout the year for beer festivals and fancy dances and random layovers in each others cities, and always parted with the assurance that “I’ll see you in Berlin!”

Now that Berlin is over (the conference, not the city), I’m not sure when I’ll see most of those crazy kids again, but I know that they inspire me every single day to be a better version of myself, because they are a special brand of wonderfully intelligent, unpretentious, and hilarious, which is actually a pretty hard combination to find. As I’ve come back to whatever semblance of a life I have here in Munich this week, I’ve again started to look ahead to what next year will hold. I don’t know what that is, but I know it won’t involve any institutions of higher learning and it likely won’t involve any career path involving the work I’ve done this year or even in years past, but that’s okay.

I came into this year expecting that the work I would do would be the most important part of my time in Munich, that it would somehow magically (and by magically, I mean as a result of hard work and refusing to give up) lead directly to the type of life I had always wanted in following years. Thanks to my American friends, I’ve learned that what is most important to me is to surround myself with people like them, who are equally as passionate about discussing matters of national identity and the future of the EU as they are about an open bar, and as likely to catch an obscure pop culture reference as to debate the intricacies of institutional sexism. Every time this group assembled, I left with a feeling that Jill so aptly captured in that döner shop last week, that “that’s how I want to remember this group, like it’s the end a movie and all of the friends are back together and they’re dancing, and you just know they’re going to be happy.”

I don’t know quite where I’m going, but I know who I want to be when I get there, and for that, I thank my Fulbright friends.

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