Before studying abroad in Berlin, my perception of the city was filtered by borrowed nostalgia for past eras: Christopher Isherwood scrounging for money and romance in Weimar Germany as National Socialism loomed. David Bowie and Iggy Pop escaping commercial and chemical demons alike to create their most introspective music in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. The explosion of techno circa 1990 in the abandoned warehouses of the reunified city. Passing Strange's depiction of an unhinged avant-garde in "the forest of sharp corners" that is contemporary Berlin. My expectations for my experiences were not really my own.
My time is Berlin was defined by a freedom brought about through confusion and immersion. The confusion was due to the myriad difficulties of functioning in a foreign city that any typical study abroad student encounters at their location of choice, but the necessary immersion felt more geographically specific. Berlin doesn't feel like a place where much is offered up easily - if New York exists to entertain you, Berlin prefers participation. I remember riding my bike and being constantly confused by the roads, expecting grids and instead getting roundabout routes that force you to engage with multiple neighborhoods regardless of destination. If you're trying to find your way home in the dark it's frustrating, but intent exploration rewards discovery. You're confronted constantly with degraded buildings, unexpected art galleries, roving parties, stray memorials, and more: hidden pockets of experience, places to be simultaneously anonymous and more yourself than ever. I feel that Berlin offers countless opportunities for bridging the distance between who you are and who you want to be.
I never really left Berlin, even when I went back to New York to finish my final year at NYU. I now live and work here, doing battle with German bureaucracy for visas and getting frequent visits from friends in New York whose attraction to the city is rooted in the desire for self-exploration that Berlin seems to subconsciously inspire.
What will you discover?