What is the thing that makes us stay? Stay wholeheartedly, by choice and not the absence of it?
I never quite belonged anywhere. It has also become a matter of principle: to belong is dangerous. It means to accept the deals implied in being granted entry to a group, to get too cozy to afford to be critical. This line between myself and others was not drawn by me; it is a consequence of a lonely, obsessively controlling upbringing, but I now cannot escape it. I am afraid of how it might feel to be a part of a crowd.
I came to Berlin with the love of my life, an upper hand I know I was given. Few in the world are able to enjoy meaningful partnerships, and yet I was able to shield myself from loneliness, awkwardness, pains lost in translation by being an immigrant who could share, be understood. I cannot imagine how it would have been to have to find companionship in what seems to be the most dreadful scene for meaningful connections in the European continent.
My immigrant experience is immersed in the privilege of my European family heritage, as was my life in Brazil. And yet, even if those protections grant opportunities, they do less for how we feel about where we are and the people with whom we are surrounded. The comfort of familiarity, from the recognition of implied meanings in each phrase to the way sunlight hits our skin every hour of the day, is of an importance most only grasp after leaving their homelands.
What I understood through immigration, however, was that there is a degree to which one is accepted by others that happens in spite of ourselves. Tolerance, openness, those are qualities of a society that will widen or shrink an individual's possibilities to explore, to exist, and one may only notice how suffocated they were before by experiencing how free they are now.
There is a room for difference in Berlin that is quietly there, making life bigger, open. There is less judgment. More being.
The sky in Berlin, as the clothes of most its inhabitants, varies chiefly from gray to black, a stark contrast to Rio de Janeiro's bright colors and eternal sunshine. A lot of the newcomers don't stay for long, their bonds with the city ever fleeting, which turns the making of enduring relationships a mighty challenge for many. And while many deny the old poor but sexy trope, Berlin still struggles with echoes of past wars, with slow development and crumbling buildings.
The first time I stepped foot in this town, as a tourist, I arrived at Tegel, and found it a terribly underwhelming airport for Germany's capital. I went to an info booth to make an inquiry. “Where do I find the supermarket here?”
“There is no supermarket at the airport” was the incredulous reply, as if my question was obviously insane. I justified myself, explaining: “I thought it was normal here. Frankfurt has one. Munich has one too.”
“Berlin is not Munich."
No, Berlin is not Munich, and possibly not quite Germany. It is an outsider in its own country, like I always was. And this is how I know, at last, that I am home.
© giuliakollmann 2023-01-19