Bicultural Urbanite Luke The Boomerang Impulse

Exploring the outskirts of Berlin - circa 2016
Exploring the outskirts of Berlin - circa 2016 | ©Isabelle Beyer

A couple of months back I chalked up the eight year anniversary of my Berlin affair. Aside from triggering the annual shock over how swiftly the years hurtle by in Germany’s ever-bewitching capital, the occasion got me feeling sentimental about the past and ruminating on the future.

Eight years. It’s an incredibly long time to spend somewhere you never planned on living in the first place. Longer than half my adult life, it also sounds frighteningly close to a decade—a looming milestone which, besides rousing the old Peter Pan complex to full tormented attention, begs a certain inevitable question: is Berlin my forever now, or will I eventually boomerang my way back to Australia?

Berlin: Partnership or Romance?

For the average European expat, the question of whether Berlin is a serious life partnership or just an extended steamy romance might seem inconsequential. Since a quick visit is always an option if homesickness gets the better of you, the affair can more or less remain open-ended. But when you hail from an island where summer means winter and flying home to see your loved ones is a biyearly ordeal of upheaval and planning, it’s exactly the question you try to avoid thinking about—and exactly the one that lurks ominously at the back of your mind all the same.
It’s an issue most delicate when it arises among those you left behind on the other side of the planet to try living in Europe. The topic initially comes up often; jokingly at first, with chuckles about how long this “Berlin stint” of yours will last. But as the years slip by and the roots you put down grow deeper and ever more entwined, it takes on a heavier bearing until gradually it’s seldom mentioned at all. On visits home it’s the elephant in the room, and when stumbled on accidentally can stir up some awkwardly raw emotions.

The old Melbourne stomping grounds in Brunswick on Sydney Road The old Melbourne stomping grounds in Brunswick on Sydney Road | © Nyc Troynar The pathos of these incidents stems from a simple, inescapable fact: you cannot be in two places at once, no matter how deeply your heart is invested in both. Our digitally mediated times may promote the illusion that it’s possible; and sure, social media and Skype calls can make the whole long distance thing more bearable. But you reach a certain point when continuously hitting the like button under the faces of people you miss like crazy only amplifies the distance between you. And you reach a certain life stage—right about now, apparently—when you start to question your choice of putting that distance there in the first place.

Digital closeness, amplified distance

How much longer will it go on? How many more important life events of the people I grew up with will pass by in my absence? Aren’t I only making it more and more difficult to ever return with each year that passes and every future plan that gets laid here? Will I ever again see my family on a regular basis and reconnect with the friends who shaped me in my formative years?

When you love your life and your friends abroad, these are questions with no easy answers. And spending eight years in Berlin making enough life-defining memories for it to feel like a home in its own right only makes it all the more complicated. But no matter how much I’m enjoying things here, or how exciting a future I establish in Berlin, the boomerang impulse never fades completely. It’s a testament not to the place I’m from, but to the people from that place.