When I look back at my time in Berlin, it’s hard to not look back through rose tinted glasses (and beer goggles). Especially considering that when I first arrived, I felt a great wave of uneasiness burdening my soul.
“How the hell did we end up deciding on Berlin?”
That was my main thought as I made my way down Französische Straße, alone and now tired of dragging a suitcase with a defected wheel down what felt like a never ending street. I’d memorised the route, and was familiar with the Google maps version of the Mitte area closest to Brandenburger Tor, although I’d never been to Berlin before. Thank God for Google Street View, hey?
Everything had gone well so far – I’d made it safely from the airport to the city centre on public transport on my own. I’d memorised the U-bahn route, and had screenshots on my phone for back up. I’d been okay so far except for moments when my overactive imagination ran off with me. Yet, somehow I still felt uneasy, even in broad daylight.
It was just before midday, and I was on the wide Behrenstraße. It looked safe, however, it wasn’t busy and that added to my nerves. The one or two curious stares didn’t help either. “Maybe it’s my head of curls” I though. They had been puffed out by the ravenous wind.
It was the first time I’d travelled to a new country completely alone. I wasn’t going to experience the entrie trip alone, but at that moment I was on guard. Alone and feeling very aware of my shade of brown skin, and painfully dragging that god awful suitcase.
It’s no secret that a lot of people of colour do feel that slight heightened cautious anxiety when travelling anywhere in we are a super minority. I guess you reaise then how much you truly stand out. Travelling to a country that led a mass genocide within our century doesn’t particularly ease one’s nerves. However, I wasn’t going to persecute a generation that had not been involved. Besides, nothing had happened to make me feel uneasy.
The tall, stone buildings that lined the wide streets shaded the streets from the sun. They felt like huge guards. Huge, wide, stone guards made of huge slabs of stone. Practical yet good to look at, but still huge and bearing down on me. All 177cm of me felt really small at once.
The wind tore down the street, unobstructed – through my hair and my clothes. And that f***ing suitcase – it felt heavier as it resisted being dragged down the street. That f***ing suitcase.
Finally, I made it onto Wilhelmstraße, and now tall, red-roofed communist-era apartment blocks towered above me. I almost felt as though I’d stepped into another time – into a time of hardship and strife. Perhaps it was the product of images I’d been unconsciouslfy fed on television over the last 25 years..
I was only too glad to reach the apartment where my friends were waiting for me to check them in. I’d done all the booking you see, and it was nearly the time of reckoning. Did the listing pictures match with the apartment? I was surrounded by smiles and warmth, both familiar and unfamiliar, both non-German and German, but those tower blocks made me uneasy.
Our apartment sat on Wilhelmstraße, a stone’s throw away from the British and American embassies – No wonder why the streets were not busy.
The apartment was good and was as advertised. However, from our bedroom windows we could see the large grey concrete columns of the Holocaust Memorial. Again, we were reminded of what had once happened here. The cavity in my chest felt thick again and I turned away.
I stood outside on our balcony window instead and stared curiously at my new surroundings. The sun had welcomed us, but the stoic buildings surrounding us were unimpressed. There was nothing gay or frilly about the buildings around us. They were practical and purpose-built, and that was it. There was an air of seriousness around us, even though we had come to explore like excited teens.
“How did we end up choosing Berlin?” I asked out loud to my friends who had started to settle in the adjacent living room.
A tired laugh came from M, “I don’t know man. Amsterdam…” Amsterdam – that explained everything.
“I’m so hungover,” A groaned from her curled up position on the sofa.
I looked out again from the 5th floor balcony onto the not-so-busy street below. “Well..” I thought, “Let’s see if our random Amsterdam musings will prove themselves fun and exciting…”