04 September 2017

Five Years in Berlin, Woohoo!

Five years ago, on the 2nd of September 2012, I arrived in Berlin. At that time, I didn't know I would be staying. I suppose as an academic, I was used to, and also expecting, to be moving around, after a couple of years or so, and Berlin at that point was just another one extended stopover. In any case, I remember being wide-eyed at my surroundings, excited at the new things that would come. Looking back to that time, I find that the memories I have of my 9th move are still fresh, even though it's been 5 years since I arrived.

See, I moved because I got a job. I was taking a new position as a research scientist in a research institute. Fresh from graduating from graduate school, I was taking my first job. As I was telling my friends back then, I was getting a lifestyle upgrade.

So I flew from Buffalo, NY on the 1st of September, and I do remember that there was uncertainty as to whether I would be flying or not. Lufthansa was conducting some strikes, and it was more or less a lottery to see whether my flight would actually take off or not. I was flying from Buffalo to Boston on JetBlue Airways, connecting on Lufthansa to Munich, followed by another short-haul flight to Berlin. Thankfully, they were not on strike during the day I flew, but the day after was another chaotic day at the airport.

I already arranged to have some temporary accommodation, in Pankow, northeast of the city. I stayed in that flat for a week. Thankfully I found my own flat relatively quickly, so I didn't have much housing problems. I had some luggage with me, perhaps too many for public transportation. I remember planning how to get to Pankow by public transport, and getting amazed at the fact that there are plenty of connections possible, but since I had quite a bit of luggage, I just opted to take a taxi to make my life simpler.

I still remember the view from my apartment window, watching the airplanes land in Tegel Airport. Pankow is quite aligned with the runways, and so planes would start to make noise from 6 AM, when the airport curfew was lifted.

On my second day, I remember that I already had a good grip of the city's layout, and I also found out where my workplace was. I also already had appointments with my new boss, as well as a few appointments to see flats. I dealt with a lot of bureaucracy during my first week.

At that time, I really didn't know how long I'd be staying in Berlin. But as time passed, things changed. Berlin started becoming like home. As much as I loved traveling, every time I would be in a plane and landing either in Tegel or Schoenefeld Airport, I would get this happy feeling inside me since I was coming home.

I spent 7 years in Buffalo, but quite frankly, I didn't get that feeling. I always knew that I was transient and temporary. I suppose I didn't really plant all the roots I could plant while I was in Buffalo. Heck, I didn't even date.

Berlin was different. It was sort of open-ended, and so roots started to be planted. And I must say, even if there were ups and downs, the last 5 years have been a lot of fun!

Within 5 years, I doubled the number of countries I have visited. I finally worked, both in and out of academia. I even got married, and gained a new family. That last part was definitely fun.

So yeah, Berlin is becoming more and more like home. I am definitely looking forward to the next 5 years. We'll see how that goes.


  1. i was 12 yrs old when I asked my dad's permisson (and money!) to get me the crushed of Berlin Maeur. it cost USD 8, a store in Texas sold them. the Wall just being demolished one year earlier.
    My dad said no and he said "Go buy the stones by yourself in Berlin when you grow up!" Never cross my mind that his words came true 25 years later. i thought I will never step my feet in that part of the world. that was I remembered the most about this Hauptstadt.

    Btw, when i first arrived at Tegel, it surprised me how small the airport is (considering Berlin is a capital city). Well yeah, I don't travel that much though.
    By the time I read this, I can't stop thinking of El Reda restaurant! I think the bus from the airport do pass this area.

    Sorry for my long comment ;)

    1. Ceritasikiky,

      Capital cities aren't always in need of a large airport. Look at Australia, where the capital city Canberra's airport is definitely not as large as Sydney's. And when it comes to Germany, things are very decentralized in the country, and Berlin is not the center of everything. If you're in the banking industry then Frankfurt would be the destination for you. So yeah, there are plenty of reasons why Berlin doesn't have a large airport, though there is one planned, but I won't hold my breath for that one.

  2. Has it been five years already? Crazy... I remember vividly when you left Buffalo. You did accomplish a lot in five years, though!

    Glad to see you found home and a new family. Do you even try the "what if...?" exercise many immigrants are familiar with, as if, "what if I had stayed in Buffalo"? I find it hard to think this way, I can't say I have regrets. But I know many immigrants/expats do.

    1. Zhu,

      I know what you mean. I do imagine alternative scenarios sometimes, but not about staying in Buffalo. I always knew I was leaving that town. But I applied at several different institutions around the world when I was graduating, among them Boston, Kent, Paris, and several others I don't remember. On these places I do sometimes imagine what would have happened if I moved to Paris and not to Berlin. I probably would have a very different life! Nevertheless, as you say I cannot say I have regrets.