Fünf Jahre October 4, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
So yes, five years. But without the plan. How has it happened? Five years (or thereabouts. I have blocked out the precise arrival date, but I know it was just after September 11th as I was even more petrified than usual of flying and everyone in Prague airport looked like a potential terrorist, and then, as we flew into Berlin, there was turbulence galore and we had far too good a view of the Fernsehturm) in Berlin. When my Londonness felt more solid, I used to quote with glee that whenever I did leave the Big Smoke, it was never for more than two years. Paris: 2 years. St. Petersburg: 2 years. Stoke-on-Trent: 2 years. Two years into my Berlin stint and I’d have happily been saying the same thing. And yet here I am, a full three years later.
So, five years. Had I been writing a week ago, I’d have nicely been able to call it a seventh of my life. Do double-figured fractions exist? A seventh and a bit or a seventh and a thirty-sixth doesn’t have the same ring. And only a wanker could even think of saying five thirty-sixths. Or 13.88(and so on)%. But five years it is. An oodle of time. Ripe for analysis.
Well, the words ‘disaster’ and ‘unmitigated’ do leap to mind when I try to think how to sum up the lion’s share of my 30s. But I want to be encouraging to my fellow immigrants, and know that B. is probably having the same dilemma as to whether Berlin should be home or not, Ed would like to be able to say that he had ONLY been here for five years, and Radio Free Mike sees how his views on America in the German press are in sharp contrast to some of his compatriots’. But let us not despair as we settle in for the nine, wet, grey months ahead. Berlin’s a lovely place after all.
I wrote a post a hundred years ago, but think I deleted it in a fit of pique, on anti-tips for the immigrant. You know, what NOT to do if you’re thinking of emigrating to a country where you know no-one, don’t know the language, don’t have a job and choose a region with 99% unemployment. The less daring or more perspicacious amongst you might have seen the pitfalls before buying the ticket (and dealing with German bureaucracy), but oh no, not BiB, always happy to risk his sanity for the sake of an adventure.
Well, the language handicap is definitely pitfall number one, and lest you want to be like Stavros, minus the smell (in my case), then that really is what needs to be tackled head-on. But the grey matter ain’t what it used to be, and I fear I am destined to master this great tongue about as well as Jane Birkin has mastered French (vache espagnole, indeed) or, worse, as Becks (and the thousands of his compatriots peopling unfortunate pockets of the Spanish coast) have mastered Spanish. Which is all right, in a way, but I never expected to be THAT type of immigrant, tucked away in my own little one-man community, cringing all the while when I hear Germans moaning about integration. I was always amazed at Mrs.-Hussain-from-number-32-when-I-was-growing-up’s poor command of English – “You like? You no like?” she would say, unsurely, as she thrust a new-born child in to my hands – but of course she was tied to the house and bringing up a brood of children. To my equal astonishment, I have turned into her. Formative years indeed.
But, darlings, if any 20-somethings are reading this, quickly go and do your emigrating now when you’re young and everything seems like a piece of cake. Leave it till the day after you’re 30 and you’ll end up living in the most unlikely of places and wondering how you got there. Which is not to say it ain’t fun being an émigré, but change and upheaval are a gazillion times harder the older you get.
So will I be saying, “Next year in London,” ere long? Probably not. I feel I’m in it for the long haul now. Up to my neck in Berlinness, tax numbers, Aufenthaltsbewilligung, Krankenversicherung and Weltschmerz. And luckily enough that’s all in a place I now like well enough. But just in case you’re thinking of giving up the day-job and casting your fate to the four winds, make sure you catch the current blowing you in the right direction.