With visits from home never-ending, Pat de Brún gets all sentimental about Berlin
With the biting cold of winter on the horizon, and once-distant academic pressures now becoming reality, it would be easy to foresee November being a little less enjoyable than the preceding months I’ve spent in Berlin.
The late start of the German academic year gave me a fantastic opportunity to get a well-rounded experience of the city, without being bogged down immediately with the pressure of college work. It also meant, however, that I got used to my life of luxury; exploring, sleeping in, and having fun without a care in the world. I saw the eventual coming of the first lectures as nothing more than unwelcome hindrances, impeding on my near-perfect life.
I needed to remind myself that in fact, academia is actually the sole reason that I’m living here in the first place. Many Erasmus students get too sucked into the excitement of living abroad, and eventually come home with battered livers and dented pride, with only a full year of repeats to look forward to. It’s all too easy to put academic commitments on the backburner in favour of other ‘cultural pursuits’, and I began my academic life in Humboldt University painfully aware of these dangers.
I ventured, not unenthusiastically, into my first lectures. I was eager to see what lay ahead, if a little skeptical about my own ability to manage Law lectures in German. I quickly got used to my new, structured week. In many ways it was refreshing to have some commitments and obligations as it makes you appreciate much more the free time you do have. As expected, the lectures were challenging, but I’m getting there and I imagine it will become easier over the coming weeks and months.
The last few weeks have also been visitor season. I asked any family and friends that wanted to visit to come in October or November. That gave me enough time to settle in but not so late as to seriously disturb my studies. The visits I’ve had have been great so far; be it a catch up weekend with friends, where I get to show them around the city, or d’Mammy coming to wrap me in thermals, fill me to the brim with Barry’s Tea and motherly love, and to remind me that I shouldn’t slouch so much. It’s funny, the little things that feel like home.
These various visits are fantastic in many ways. Obviously it’s always a pleasure to spend time with the people you love, but there are other advantages too, apart from just the tea. Living here for several months means it can become easy to take things for granted, or to lose your sense of adventure. Showing the city off with pride, trying out new things, and even hitting the tourist trail with visitors, made me fall in love with the city all over again, and to see the vibrant world around me with fresh eyes once more.
By now I know the city well: the public transport, the streets, the neighborhoods, everything. Where once my head would have been in the clouds, admiring some street art or, my favourite, people watching, now I’m increasingly focused on something from the everyday: a phone, a book, or a magazine for example.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, and it shows that I am now settled here. It means that I can keep to a structured week, keeping on top of class, getting to the gym, cooking. That in turn means that I get to spend my free time with my head once again planted firmly in the clouds, discovering and exploring in a city that offers seemingly endless markets, concerts, parks, cafes, exhibitions and street festivals to visit.
Slowly but surely, I am getting around to seeing the sights of Berlin, but more new attractions pop up than its possible to keep pace with. This ever-changing, imperfect city, that continues to surprise me and continues to draw me in. Already I find myself researching potential masters courses on offer here, looking for a reason to stay and to call Berlin home for more than just a year.
That being said, I am also excited for a recently booked, upcoming visit home to Ireland. The purpose of the visit is to welcome my new niece or nephew into the world and to spend some time with my soon-to-be-enlarged family. I look forward to certain things that you just can’t get when you live abroad: delicious home-cooking, a properly-poured pint of Guinness, a roaring fire, long overdue catch-ups with friends.
Thinking about these things makes me appreciate everything I love about Ireland, and being here has certainly heightened my sense of national pride, rather than diminishing it. In such an international city, nationality forms an important part of individual identity. I’ve even taken up the habit of offering friends & visitors a ‘Shmailey’s Coffee’ (like Bailey’s coffee, but with the €4 bottle of ‘Irish Liqueur’ that my local supermarket conveniently sells). It’s not even a drink I ever really drank in Ireland, but it’s a little bit of home that I can share with people over here.