Author: Felicity Edwards
“Ich bin ein Berliner!” I remember laughing delightedly with my friends as we clinked glasses in celebration over my new startup job offer in Berlin due to begin in a month. When I received the call confirming my position a few days prior, I recall feeling giddy with anticipation. After months of planning, saving money and taking beginner German lessons, it was finally all coming together. I envisioned schmoozing around the ultimate cool city, knocking back cheap beers on canalside, going to loft parties with David Bowie devotees, eating a kebab unironically, hobnobbing with creative types and experiencing the ultimate avant garde lifestyle.
I packed my bags, bright eyed and bushy-tailed, or rather a little haggard and hungover after my goodbye drinks, and got on my cheap flight with a one way ticket to my dreams.
After landing, I squeezed myself into my tiny Friedrichshain room, called my mum to assure her I hadn’t been kidnapped, set out my few possessions, chatted with my shower-averse, but pungent-tinned-meat-friendly new roommate, and prepared for my first day in startup, creative valhalla.
The reality of the situation was far from what I had idyllically pictured.
Gruelling twelve hour work days came part and parcel with a pressurised and intense environment where I often felt like I was stepping on eggshells. The start-up scene was well known for being challenging and pushing people out of their comfort zone, but juggling numerous huge tasks designed for at least a team of five people and teaching yourself everything as you went along in lieu of anyone who knew what they were actually doing took its toll. I’ll look back on my former boss as akin to a furious rhinoceros about to charge, steaming at the nostrils and looking around wildly for whichever hapless member of his staff had committed the particular Excel spreadsheet related crime as they cowered behind the water cooler.
Having been in fields with a support network and friends to bounce ideas off of and inspire me, this sudden and harsh change in environment was very destabilising. The problem was that I was desperate for money and petrified if I left this job, I would be forced to return home and live the sterile corporate life I’d always dreaded. And then getting set up with my mum’s friend’s rotund son who had the charisma of a rice cake but “a good steady job in accounting.”
As the end of my first few months in Berlin came to a close, I realised I had enough of feeling dejected, alone and exhausted. Shoving on Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, dancing around my room in an undignified way and pouring myself a generous measure of Aldi’s finest whiskey like a budget Berlin Bridget Jones, I made a pledge to myself to finally start living. That evening I scrolled Facebook and Meetup events and began signing myself up to anything that took my fancy and told my overwhelming sense of fear to flee back to when I started puberty.
I began taking kickboxing lessons, attended film clubs, took writing classes, practiced my German, throwing myself metaphorically and literally back into the world inhabited by denizens whose weekly highlight wasn’t finding an unfinished Kinder Bueno bar at the bottom of their bag.
Suddenly navigating the streets of Berlin didn’t feel so intimidating and scary. I began to feel like I was beginning to win. I returned my bottles for their pfand, drank Sternbergs al fresco, abided the red man at traffic lights and started an actual filing system for my documents. A particular small victory was the man at my local kebab shop greeting me by name and praising me for taking my doner wrap ‘extra sharf!’
After attending more groups and meetups I started to meet women who shared their stories with me and came to realise that all along there had been fierce, dynamic, intelligent and wonderful women striving for success. After some gatherings of empathy, wise words and wine, I felt empowered and ready to take the bludgeoning beauty that is Berlin.
As things improved in my life and I began to laugh more freely, a lesson I continued to tell myself was that feeling overwhelmed or vulnerable were not signs of weakness. And with a little support, perspective and planning, getting to the other side of shit creek was definitely possible. Now when stress and anxiety strike, I hold my head and heart steady, breathe and internally whisper to myself, “You’ve got this!”
I remember someone once saying to me, “If you’re not careful, Berlin can eat you alive.” Well hey, this might be true, but if you have the right stomach for it, then you might just be able to take the first bite. And keep it down.