When I moved to Berlin in February it was not my first extended stay in the city. That was back in the summer of 1981. I was nine years old and visiting my father, who at the time was flying shuttles back and forth to Frankfurt for Pan Am. He had an apartment in West Berlin that I remember well, mostly because I spent a lot of time stretched out on the living room floor watching Bjorn Borg play in Wimbledon (and thankfully not because, as my mother recently told me, the previous tenant had committed suicide, which is why my father had gotten such a big apartment so cheap).
Actually, I remember a lot of things really well from that trip. It’s not that it was my first big trip—by then I was a seasoned traveller, with regular trips to California to visit my grandparents and a previous European vacation under my belt. Maybe it was my age or Berlin or the combination of the two, but I think I remember a lot of things from that trip because it was the first time I realized there were a lot of people out there in the world living a life a whole lot different than mine. I learned from the squat down the street that not everyone lived in a suburban subdivision with a name, Whiskey Creek, that was much more interesting sounding than the tract houses in it. (I also learned what a squat was and that the residents were called punk rockers, at least by my father.) I learned that there were more ice cream flavors than the 31 Baskin Robbins would have you believe, and subsequently ate a kirsch eis every day I was there. And of course I learned about the Wall, developing a mild obsession with the Checkpoint Charlie Museum along the way, and that just behind it there were people willing to risk death for their freedom while I watched Wimbledon and ate cherry ice cream. I’m not sure what good any of that experience did me, but I like to think it made me a more open or tolerant or at least curious person than I otherwise would have been.
Twenty-nine years later I moved back for another stint in Berlin. Husband is still baffled about why I wanted to do it, and I have undoubtedly made our lives an order of magnitude more complex in logistics alone. But I think there are some answers lurking in my very first visit to the city. Husband has been pushing to move back to California for a few years now, and I promised him I would go quietly if he would give me this, a last hurrah in Europe. Sooner than we know it we will be back in Los Angeles, a lovely, lovely place to live, but one where you might easily forget there are places in the world where the sun doesn’t perpetually shine and the waiters aren’t actors. I guess I figured we needed to stock up on a dose of the-world-is-bigger-than-you-think perspective before we head back, hopefully more open or tolerant or at least curious people than we were when we left.