We (me and my wife Zoë who also writes ‘Überlin’) always tell people that Berlin is the closest thing to a home we’ve ever had. We both grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne, a football-loving, horse-punching city in the North of England, and we left the first chance we got. A few years later our parents, who happen to love the place, also left – and since then, we haven’t had a home to go back to. Living in London was amazing but, after five years there, we got the distinct feeling that the city and its inhabitants couldn’t care less if we lived or died. We were sad to leave, but at the same time glad that we got out before our part of town was hit by riots, and then the Olympics.
So now it is Berlin that we’re hesitant to call home. We’ve been welcomed into the expat community, which gave us so much help and support when we were settling into our new life here – and continues to make up the core readership of our blog, überlin. And we are tolerated by Germans, who put up with our efforts to speak with them in their mother tongue, and resort to their perfect English when we get stuck. Having said that, we aren’t integrated into Berlin society, and we don’t expect to ever be – not completely. No matter how much German we learn, language will always be some kind of barrier. Freelancing keeps us shut up in our home office most days and, even if it didn’t, the nature of our work would likely land us in international, English-speaking workplaces. Every day, something reminds us that we’re foreign to this place, and that we’re tangled up in its rapid development – even while we try to help Berliners affected by the changes.
But that’s OK. If anything, our outsider perspective helps. The fact that we’re non-natives with less-than-perfect German keeps us in a constant state of discovery, in a city that always feels new to us in some way. On one hand, we still experience the kind of frustrations and challenges that our readers do, when they move here from somewhere else – it’s important to us to be able to empathise with them. But this expat point-of-view also helps keep things fresh – we’re always learning something new about Berlin, Berliners, Germans and German. We never get bored of the place. We remember what it was like to move to a city where you know no one and nothing, so we make the most of being in a position to help. It’s really rewarding to give a reader advice about moving to Berlin and then, a few months later, meet them for coffee in their new Kiez. We even get recognised on the street from time to time – although not as often as our French Bulldog Olive! On reflection, it’s not so much Berlin that we call home – it’s überlin. It’s a sign of the times that, as the city continues to change around us, the one thing we can rely on is our blog. While it will no doubt develop, we will continue to use überlin as a way to share great content, a platform for collaboration, a source of friendship and a way to help others to make the move to Berlin, and cope once they land here.
Therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein überliner!”
Being a freelance writer, editor, blogger and social media analyst, visit the website of James for more information about his work. And to dive even deeper into the Berlin experience, be sure to browse by ‘Überlin‘.