Dear Berlin, you’ve been good to us, but it seems it’s time to go our separate ways.
You have some serious advantages going for you. You’re still reasonably cheap, though the prices of everything are, sadly, steadily getting worse, fie on you. I don’t need a car to navigate your innards as your public transport is superb. Your multicultural atmosphere and complex, fascinating past – yes, I know you hear this cliché far too often and you’re probably sick and tired of it, but it’s true – makes you one of the most vibrant and enchanting cities I’ve ever set foot in. Perhaps you don’t make a fabulous first impression, but you’ve certainly grown on me: once I got to know you, it became hard to let you go.
Indeed, Berlin is a city that never sleeps, but at the same time it’s so far from any sort of extreme hustle and bustle usually associated with beehive metropolises and their go-getter, yuppie populations that staying in Berlin still feels like living in a real place inhabited by actual human beings, not all of whom are completely revolting, miraculously. Anywhere you happen to be in Berlin – with the possible exception of Mitte, where barely anyone strays voluntarily if they don’t have some specific business to attend to – you’re most likely just a stone’s throw from the nearest park. The city itself is surrounded by lakes and forests that you can escape to simply by hopping on a train any time you feel like you’ve had enough, though you almost never feel confined or constrained: the city is airy, green, easy-going and open-minded; if you don’t like something, you just go and look for something else, as the possibilities are innumerable; and, most importantly, people live and let live, which is so very unlike Slovenia, where it seems that your life and your opinions are just about everybody’s goddamn business. So, all in all, the Berlin stint has been a very useful experience: if nothing else, Monika and I have learned some German while basking in the freedom that Berlin provided.
However, after a few years in Berlin – once we had separated our business from all aspects of the Slovenian system for good – the most mundane reason for our move manifested itself: while Germany offers much better conditions for freelancers than Slovenia (at this time, Germany doesn’t force you to contribute to the pension fund, so it doesn’t bleed you dry with these contributions whenever you’re not making nearly enough money, which is, in our case, most of the time), Germany also has horrendously expensive health insurance in comparison with Slovenia. Thus, once you exit the Slovenian system and can no longer take advantage the EU health insurance by paying for it in Slovenia where it’s cheap, you’re going to be doling out around EUR 350 per month for health insurance per person (or around EUR 260 at the minimum, provided that you’re broke enough and can prove it with your tax statements). Unfortunately this defeated one of our main reasons for living in Germany: because the conditions for freelancers were, at least in our case, better than back home. On the other hand, the conditions in Spain, when you take everything into account, are more favourable than even in Germany – let alone Slovenia, which has in the last decade or so become an absolute hell for freelancers. What is even more convenient is that Monika had graduated in Spanish, so we rejoiced in the fact that all the communication, especially with bureaucrats, would be much simpler than back when we’d moved to Berlin without any of us speaking (or understanding) German to any degree worth mentioning… And it has been her long-time wish to live in Spain one day, at least for a few years, so why not actually go ahead and do it.
Furthermore, we gradually realised that we were simply getting too old for the German capital – and I kid you not. Sure, life in Berlin can be spectacular if you’re twenty and looking to spend your nights partying your brains out and whoring around. However, once you hit an age advanced enough, you might gradually get sick and tired of meeting innumerable young so-called “creatives” and all sorts of clueless self-proclaimed artists, who do nothing but obsess about their “image” and work on “networking” by means of hanging around hipster bars incessantly, nursing their overpriced drinks, staring at their smartphones, and talking about themselves and their “awesome projects” that they never actually finish. You may suddenly feel that if you hear about one more cunning startup, another ground-breaking app – or have any sort of a new brilliant scheme, intricate concept, top-notch design, monumental business enterprise, and/or ingenious (crowd-funded) product described to you by a spoiled brat who invests all of his or her parents’ money in Apple products, beard oil, tattoos, piercings, ear plugs and coke – you’ll grab someone by the throat… Or hop over to the Ukraine to procure a second-hand AK-47. You may suddenly find innumerable bearded man-bun-toting blokes (with or without silly headwear) absolutely obnoxious, and you might even stoop as low as to abhor the very thought of spending any of your precious time in clubs, jumping to the infantile one-quarter techno beat in a drug-fuelled haze. Should that happen, it’s probably time to get out.
Don’t get me wrong, Berlin can be great. It was stupendous, and besides enjoying everything else that such a culturally-rich metropolis has to offer it’s also possible to see loads of first-class rock concerts here. That’s something that I’ve really taken advantage of, having, in the recent years, seen practically all the bands I’d wanted to see – but had been unable to – back in Slovenia. However, the relaxed and sometimes anarchic, chaotically liberal left-wing liberalism of Berlin has in the recent years given way to thorough gentrification, despite the constant and noticeable resistance from the leftists. The once colourful multicultural streets full of immigrants, crazy people, cheap dives and 24/7/365 liquor stores are currently being replaced by an increasing number of criminally-expensive hipster bars, vegan restaurants, vegetarian butcher shops (I’m not even joking) and yoga studios, populated by the global gluten-free convention of clueless, phony, spoiled brats – all of whom are driving the prices into the stratosphere with their idiocy. Rich morons are indeed the worst kind. You can’t even find a safe haven in the remaining traditional Berlin dives, as the hipsters have already invaded them all in their search of “authentic experience”. So the remaining authentic indigenous winos (who get their clothes by the side of the road or in dumpsters) can no longer afford to hang out in their former hangouts, as the clientele in these dives is rapidly being replaced by hipsters (who buy the same threads that the indigenous winos wear in hip second-hand stores for heaps of cash). Thus Berlin is gradually being transformed into a modern and utterly obnoxious European capital in the vein of London (it’s not nearly there yet, but it will be, eventually): the prices are being driven up steadily, and so are the rents.
To make matters worse, the weather is horrendous – as pedestrian as that may sound. No, it’s not so cold: in fact, my hometown in the north of Slovenia, which is a bit on the hilly side, can be much colder, on average, during the winter. However, without any exaggeration, in Berlin it’s a normal occurrence that the sun disappears behind an impenetrable wall of grey towards the end of September and doesn’t touch your skin for more than a minute or two at a time until the end of March or even April. That’s six or seven months of your life down the drain each year, because believe me, if you don’t have a very urgent reason to get out of your flat during the winter, you don’t. If you’re a freelancer who works at home, like my wife and I – or in case you’re a pensioner or zombie on social welfare – chances are you only leave your apartment once per week for months on end, and that only to buy groceries and run the most urgent errands. Cabin fever is so frequent an occurrence in Berlin that when the first truly sunny day hesitantly yet miraculously manifests itself sometime in March or April, after half a year of eternal darkness and tenaciously drizzling rain, the houses disgorge hordes of desperate, half-crazed people who are in such an urgent hurry to feel the sun on their skin that the parks immediately fill to the brim with half-naked and often blind-drunk characters that look as if they’ve just been released from subterranean dungeons or lunatic asylums. It really is pretty bad, and after five winters in Berlin I no longer have any wish whatsoever to spend more than half of my life hibernating.
Here, for example, is a photo of the barbecue frenzy on Tempelhof on the first sunny weekend in April:
Thus being moderately to clinically depressed in Berlin is not newsworthy at all, and during the winter sullen-looking, resigned people do little but complain about the weather: barkeeps, shopkeepers, waitresses, clerks, radio hosts, your friends and acquaintances as well as random strangers of all colours and creeds – they’ll all have horrible stories to tell about the dismal meteorological phenomena. No wonder that Berliners are relatively immune to ceaselessly fantasising about migrants, terrorism, or, perish the thought, refugees from the Middle East: they’ve already been terrorised by thick, droopy clouds, perpetual darkness, soul-leeching rain and bone-chilling wind that loves to swoop in from somewhere in Siberia just to see Berliners squirm; and they’ve all come together, internationally, to hate the weather equally under the united bearlin banner:
Yep, the first thing most of us foreigners learn here is to appreciate the hell out of the weather back wherever we’ve come from. Conceivably only Scandinavians would be able to stoically put up with the Berlin weather, but there aren’t too many of them around here, probably because they can’t come up with a reason to leave their own apartments back home.
In such circumstances I happened to talk to a very good old friend of mine who had moved to Canary Islands last year, so my wife and I decided to pay him a visit. As I have mentioned, we had already been thinking about moving even before that, perhaps to one of the Greek islands or to Spain, definitely somewhere far less “Nordic”… So why not check out what this friend was up to?