Bicultural Urbanite Luke
Berlin Calling - The Bicultural Urbanite Phenomenon
Like so many travel-bugged Australians before me, I moved to Berlin on a crazy whim. After becoming smitten with the city during what was fast becoming the obligatory Berlin party holiday, I decided to split from my incestuous flock of beloved Melbournians and jettison our plans of living together in London. In just two short weeks, Berlin had whet my appetite with the curious taste of its notorious allure. I had to bite in all the way.
It was the summer of 2010, and although the city’s unrivalled halo of coolness was still burning with considerable lustre, the grumbled rumours and preemptive laments of the imminent bursting of the bubble were already circulating slurred and jabber-jawed discussions in dark and sweaty nooks all over town. Amidst a sea of carefully rolled T-shirt sleeves and minimal geometric tattoos, the term ‘gentrification’ had begun to circle the tip of many a prognostic tongue; the prophecies of the end of Berlin’s golden days already echoing in a chorus that often sounded as dogmatic as it was perhaps hyperbolic. Evoking more than a little irony, this spiel most often seemed to spill from the mouths of the very catalysts of the impending circumstance they apparently so abhorred (the young Berliners I was meeting out at parties certainly didn’t seem fazed).
A need to stayBut my ears were deaf to all the doomsday talk, and equally unreceptive to grim climate warnings or the recurring cautionary tale of the over-zealous expat: biting off more than he can chew in Germany’s capital and quickly dissolving into just another human smudge in a long blur of Berlin life in the fast lane. I had no patience for reason or logistics. My mind was suddenly racing with a million undefined desires. Most of all, I remember being overcome with a single-minded resolve: I had to find a way to stay in this city.
The experience described above is certainly no anomaly. In fact, it seems to resonate with the majority of expats I’ve spoken to—Australian or otherwise—who made similar spur-of-the-moment decisions to take a sharp turn off their life’s planned route to settle in Berlin. And it speaks volumes for that strange and wonderful thing this city does to people, which continually results in a veritable flood of foreigners lining up to call Berlin home. But what, exactly, ignites this burning desire?
Perhaps it’s the unique energy derived from the incongruity of Berlin’s politically tumultuous history and its exceptionally permissive present. It’s surely also due in part to the city’s economic livability for the artistically inclined and the resultant fusion of exuberant young faces from all over the world, all geared to enmesh with the idiosyncrasies of German culture—each with the promise of a shiny new self percolating hotly in the recesses of their subconscious. Certainly it’s a sensation compounded by the decadence of Berlin nightlife as we mingle and fraternise our way to new lifelong friendships and creative endeavours.
The poignant word 'Sehnsucht'But it’s also something else; something decidedly more abstract that to this day — despite the continual waning of low-cost rent and the increasingly tiresome rhetoric of Berlin being ‘over’ — continues to worm its way into the hearts of unsuspecting tourists. Because Berlin seems to awaken in us a shared sentiment that lies dormant; a particular feeling perhaps best described by that slippery but exceedingly poignant German word, Sehnsucht — the bittersweet, unrequited yearning to find and seize a nameless and indefinable something. A feeling of longing that is itself far richer and more moving than the potential fulfilment of any particular human desire.
I believe it is the peculiar manifestation of Sehnsucht, so often triggered by this city and all its chaotic charm that is at the heart of Berlin’s bicultural urbanite phenomenon. Because this feeling keeps us perpetually searching and reaching out for something we haven’t quite yet discovered — and what could be more thrilling than that?