Bicultural Urbanite Brianna Origins of an Accidental Expat
When I arrived in Berlin in the summer of 2006, the city was still glowing with post-World Cup euphoria. Sunshine bounced off the pastel facades along Schönhauser Allee and impromptu bars served half-litre beers on overgrown, abandoned lots.
After checking in to a hostel, I thought to myself. Well that’s that. I’m here! Only then was I overcome by the terrifying realisation that my plan, such as it was, did not extend beyond “move to Berlin”. Now that I was here, I had no idea what I was doing. I had teleported from a cushy existence at my parents’ suburban home to a European city 16,000 kilometres away. I’d never even cooked a proper meal before, much less cleaned a toilet.
I didn’t plan to stay in Berlin. While nervously cramming my life into a backpack hours before my flight, I told my sister I’d only be away for a year, or maybe just six months. Yes, six months, see how it goes. My sister, who had just returned from a three-year stint in Tokyo knew better. “I reckon you’ll love it, I reckon you’ll never come back,” she teased.
Another UniverseUnbeknownst to me, the seeds of my expat existence were laid back in 1999. As a spotty teenager, I did a six-week high school exchange in a small village in Germany’s Ruhr valley. It was my first time travelling without my family and my first time overseas (New Zealand notwithstanding). It was also the first time I experienced minus degrees, snow falling from the sky and drinking beer in a pub. School started before sunrise, the students wore puffa jackets and Kappa pants, recess was essentially a smoko and everyone went home at lunchtime. It truly was another universe.
Although I was in no rush to pick up sticks and move to Germany after the exchange, all the Schweinebraten, flavoured yoghurts and underage drinking had clearly made a lasting impression.
Brianna Summers at Mauerpark during the early days of her expat-life in Berlin. | © Brianna Summers When I graduated from my Media Communications degree, I had spent a total of seven years slogging it out with the German language. I had no idea what I wanted to do professionally and thought it might be a good idea to finally make use of my painstakingly accumulated foreign vocabulary.
An enduring romanceBeing 22 and clueless, I decided to move to Berlin. Why Berlin? My sophisticated reasoning went something along the lines of uhh I dunno, it’s the capital, that’ll do. Prior to this I had only spent four days in Berlin, rushing from café to café to defrost my toes and fingers as I worked my way along Unter Den Linden towards the Brandenburg Gate. I had never heard of Berghain, thought electronic music was crap and was totally ignorant of the vibrant alternative arts scene that had emerged after Reunification.
Once in Berlin, armed only with four email addresses, a fairly useless degree, no professional work experience and dodgy German, I somehow managed to make a go of it. I fell for the city – and it has been an enduring romance.