Q. Is it reasonable to ditch an entire city just because you got your heart broken?
A. Your mileage may vary, but I decided it was the best course of action under these particular circumstances. 95% of my associations with Berlin involved my ex. I could’ve stuck around and made a new life for myself outside of that, sure, but I didn’t see a pressing need to put myself through that kind of pain: when the relationship ended, my physical distance from any support network made it a lot harder to cope with what was happening. There is a danger of really getting fucked up by extensive moping if I stick around, so the smart thing to do is to remove myself from the situation.
I love Berlin and I do feel conflicted about leaving, but Berlin won’t go away. I can come back some time in the future when I’m ready. Meanwhile there are other places where I can actually work on being happy.
Q. Where have you been since mid-July?
A. London. Belfast. Edinburgh. Murcia. Valencia. Barcelona. Vilnius. Warsaw. And back to Berlin due to prior commitments. I took cheap flights and buses and trains and ferries, stayed with friends and strangers. I didn’t know when I left Berlin that I was going to embark on so many journeys. I had no idea I would go to Lithuania, for example, until a few days before I arrived there. I just kind of let things happen.
Q. What’s it like to be back in Berlin?
A. Fucking weird, thank you for asking. In one corner, we have all the good things about Berlin, which include but are by no means limited to: low cost of living, sparrows, mellow atmosphere, simits, and radical queers. I look around and see that there’s so much to like about it, and I’m trying not to feel overloaded by regret about leaving. But also, there are many locations in the city that I don’t feel comfortable returning to, because I dread encountering people I’m not ready to see. And while I suspect that my lack of integration (see: failure to speak German to any competent standard, despite generally being a language geek: WTF?) enhances an expat experience that’s sort of artificial and distanced from the workings of the real world, sometimes I wonder whether my overall Berlin experience might have been an extension of that. As in, maybe the main features of my time here were things I thought were real but weren’t; maybe I read things wrong or my priorities were wrong or something. This is post-break-up overanalysing which doesn’t help anybody but is nonetheless unavoidable, because I am still in That Zone.
Two nights ago I was at Tempelhof S-Bahn station, where I hadn’t set foot since the very first night I arrived here. I’d stood on the platform with my rucksack just after midnight so I could make my way to my new home, and started a new relationship a couple of hours later. It’s just a fucking S-Bahn station. But everywhere I go I remember things. My friend Nick was talking about how, after a break-up, everywhere he turned he found reminders of his ex. He’d be walking down the street and he’d look up at a chimney and he’d remember one time when he’d been talking to his ex about something whilst looking at the same chimney. And he’d get bombarded by all these memories, many of them mundane, and he’d be like: I just want to buy a sandwich! That’s what it’s like being back. I just want to buy a fucking sandwich.
Q. So are you just going back to live in Edinburgh again now?
A. Hell no. I am feeling allergic to Britain these days, and when I moved to Berlin I finally understood how easy it is to just start anew somewhere without much stuff, so I plan to do more of that.
I’m going back to Edinburgh in a few days’ time, but only for a couple of weeks, is the plan, to sell and get rid of as much of my stuff as possible. Then I will move on. It’s not set in stone where I’ll be moving on to, so instead of listing all the candidates here, let’s just wait and see what happens. (Last month I was all FUCK EVERYTHING I’M MOVING TO TBILISI, but I may have been feeling a little suggestible at the time. Georgia is probably the least likely destination on my shortlist. A shame, though, because I was planning to interview Mariam Romelashvili and find out what she’s doing these days.)
Q. Where does all this leave your life plan?
A. In one sense, it hasn’t changed, because I still have an EU passport, I’m still self-employed, and I still work while I’m on the road. So the life plan is ‘only’ affected in the sense that, you know, stuff happened that made me really sad, and I had expected to live in Berlin for longer. Instead I will be having new experiences somewhere else, and presumably, at least some of the time, these experiences will be good.
It’s all a matter of perspective. Like, on a good day, I’m all: hey, check out how cool and free-spirited my life is! For example: tonight I am flying to Oslo, just because I can! But the downside is I’m only doing all this stuff right now because I wanted things to be totally different and I didn’t get what I wanted so this is my consolation prize. The challenge is to find a way of dealing with it productively, to try and find something positive in there, to not become completely disheartened about your chances for whatever constitutes your personal definition of happiness. So that’s the life plan. Keep moving, work through it.