Coming back to Berlin (and back to myself)
Europe, as a concept, had been built up in my mind since childhood, so what de Botton describes in "On Anticipation" feels familiar: the expectancy, the eagerness, the (sub)conscious planning.
All of these feelings were intensified tenfold when I decided to study in Berlin, because I had already been to the city before and was constantly reminiscing about the amazing time I'd had. Without having seen a place, our imaginations can get the best of us, and we become intensely preoccupied with hopes and plans for what our destination might have in store. In this case though, it wasn't imagination, but rather memory, that was primarily responsible for my excitement. I couldn't wait to go back to that speakeasy on Torstraße, to eat another delicious burger at Yellow Sunshine, to watch the sun rise over the Spree. I also looked forward to doing things that I had missed out on, namely a visit to the legendary Berghain/Panorama Bar. Before long, Berlin had crept into my head and settled there quite persistently. Coming back at some point seemed inevitable, perhaps even necessary, and once it was decided that I would study here, I'm sure my friends and family grew sufficiently tired of hearing me harp on and on about how excited I was to do x, y, and z when I finally got back to Berlin.
Even though my visit in January only lasted a week, I loved what I experienced during those seven days. I loved the music, the atmosphere, the friendliness and generosity of the people I was meeting. Most of all, I loved that it felt so perfectly reasonable to be myself, in the most honest and authentic sense, in a way that didn't feel as feasible anywhere else. Maybe it's rosy retrospection, but I think that I learned more about myself during that week in Berlin than I did in an entire semester of studying in Prague.
Coming back to Berlin in September felt a little bit like a personal homecoming. In the interim, I had thought of little else. I had kept very close contact with someone whom I'd met in January, and he kindly offered to meet me at the airport when I arrived, which made the whole experience of traveling even more exciting; not only was I flying to my favorite city on the planet, but one of my favorite people was going to be waiting there to see me.
Of course, no amount of enthusiasm on my part could make things run smoothly, and my flight from Detroit was late in taking off. This meant that my already short connection time became even shorter, but I tried to push the worries aside and at least catch a few hours of sleep on the plane. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful, and I was a ball of anxiety when we finally touched down in Frankfurt. As Lufthansa's main hub, and a major hub for international travel in general, it is a fairly large airport, but nothing that I felt I couldn't handle. Thanks to a 7+ hour layover there one year prior, I greeted FRA like an old friend. I thought to myself, "I know exactly where I'm going and will totally make my connecting flight. This is going to be a piece of cake." Ah, the best laid plans. I had recently suffered a knee injury and was already walking (or rather, limping) at a slower-than-normal pace, which was exacerbated by the rucksack on my back and the suitcase I was pulling behind me. To make matters worse, moving between terminals was a mess as well, complete with slow-moving, unsympathetic, and downright obnoxious security employees who yelled at me (auf Deutsch!) until I removed my bulky knee brace and winced my way through the metal detector.
Many meandering steps and two incorrect departure screens later, the flight to Berlin had left without me. I'll spare the details of how I was passed from one counter to another in different parts of the terminal, and multiple times at that. The part that I find most amusing about the missed flight debacle is that it took a phone call to my parents in the U.S. to finally straighten things out and get me rebooked. I am staunchly independent, only seeking out others' help when I am truly in a pit of desperation and despair, but something in me realized that perhaps this was one of those moments where I needed to "admit defeat" and give my parents a ring.
When I landed in Berlin, plucked my suitcases from the luggage carousel, and saw my friend in the distance with a huge grin on his face, all of the stress that I had experienced that day was rendered irrelevant. Not even the unexpectedly cold, wet weather could spoil this.
With raindrops rolling down the windows of the taxi and a cloudy sky almost completely obscuring the iconic TV tower, I felt a sense of relief as we drove through my new neighborhood. I had considered the possibility that Berlin might not live up to the mythical expectations that I'd had in mind, and sometimes it even kept me up at night. During the car ride though, none of that mattered. It was finally real. I had made it.