After an agonizing six weeks of intensely searching for a new home in Berlin during which I sometimes received two rejections in a day, I finally landed and moved into my new home. The real estate market in Berlin is infamous for being difficult to penetrate, and after what I went through, I can certainly attest to that. It is racist, aggressive, arrogant, and very discouraging. The competition for the cheaper apartments was horrendous, often with over 100 applicants, and depending on the location, even more. During the last two weeks of the search I found myself expanding the geographical radius and the budget ceiling, desperately hoping to stand a better chance as a foreigner. I have made many mistakes in my life, but none as big as underestimating the difficulty of finding an apartment in Berlin.
The day I visited the apartment in Spandau I told myself not to get my hopes up, having seen the gorgeous photos online and liking it instantly. So it was with much trepidation that arrived at the viewing, and joined one other candidate in touring the area. I have to admit that my heart plummeted when I saw the other applicant, and observing how pushy he behaved, but in the end, it was Asian friendliness that won me the apartment the very next day, in addition to the willingness to move in as soon as possible, and reluctance to make any changes to the property. The deal was sealed at high noon two days later, and I knew in my heart that this was going to be the start of something very good. From then on, it was pure excitement and a whirlwind of activity that had my head spinning.
So far, I have learned that Spandau been done a great injustice by the international community by being ignored and overlooked by many who move to Berlin and are encouraged to find homes closer to the center of the city or the Southwest. The friendliness at city hall when I went to register caught me by surprise and had me wondering whether I was still in Berlin. I felt as though I was back in the Rhineland, and there was no trace of the arrogance and unfriendliness that I had encountered in Steglitz. To give you an example, the receptionist at Steglitz city hall looked at me sternly from head to toe, couldn’t be bothered to smile, and was simply bored with life. The fellow in at the Spandau city hall, on the other hand, was all smiles, and absolutely perfect for the job. The conversation I had with him went something like this:
“I need help”
“What seems to be the problem?”
“I’m a bit confused”
“Aren’t we all! But is this a chronic thing with you?”
Paradigm shifts in life are often necessary when starting over for whatever reason. I recently picked up a beautiful line from an old Oprah Winfrey show that struck me deep to the core:
“When you hold on to your history, you do so at the expense of your destiny”
and realized this was going to be my new personal mantra. “Letting go” has been my life lesson since last year, as I experienced the deaths of my parents and the departure of my daughter for college. Yes, I will always mourn the loss, but I cannot dwell in the past forever and keep wishing things revert to the way they used to be. Sometimes, beautiful as the memories were, I don’t necessarily want to return to the past anymore because so much has changed. I have changed. With this in mind, I told myself that Berlin, a city I never really liked during the four years I lived here, deserved a second chance.
The pursuit of a new home had me criss-crossing the city, exploring areas I had never set foot in before and making some remarkable discoveries. I suddenly realized that there was no reason to hold on to the idea of an apartment at the edge of the Grunewald forest in Zehlendorf when I could live by the banks of the Havel river instead. The renown Berliner humor that comes hand-in-hand with the infamous Berliner Schnauze (basically it translates into a shameless directness that often comes across as rudeness) which had eluded me in the past, awaits me around every corner here, in the form of taxi drivers, city hall receptionists, fruit vendors, and even sales people in the various shops.
The native Spandauers don’t consider themselves Berliners, and will refer to the area as being “bei Berlin” or “adjacent to Berlin”, and there is a certain truth to that. Rich in history and culture, this is where the Havel and Spree rivers meet, and there is much more than just water that flows through Spandau.