On my last day as a resident of Berlin, I took a final walk through the city. It was a beautiful, bright blue, cloudless day reaching 8 or 9 degrees Celsius. For the first time in months, people settled in the parks and on the river with a beer or a coffee. By the Friedrichstrasse U- and S-Bahn Station, a nun in drag sang pop tunes and across the street, a rock band played. With the tourists, I turned onto Unter der Linden toward the Brandenburg Gate. In the middle section for pedestrians, Syrian flags flew high as a group protested Russian terrorism in Syria. Further down, a man stood on a van draped with a German flag and shouted through a megaphone to a group of flag-carrying supporters below him. Fifty meters away from the Alt-Right demonstration, stood a group of people listening attentively to the man on the van but holding antifascism signs. Tourists walked past the police officers flanking the three protests. One man bent over to take an artsy picture of a Starbucks Frappuccino with the Gate in the background.
This was the finale of a process I began at the beginning of January. My commute to my internship was forty minutes almost directly south. Early in January, I left my apartment in darkness and road past my old turn for IES Abroad, passed Alexanderplatz and the TV tower, and rode through the sunrise. Each week the sun lit up the city a little earlier until I could keep my bike lights in my backpack. Feeling the immensity of my departure, I started disrupting the anxious flow of morning commuters to take pictures of my ride. For a week I took a picture at the same bridge and my collection of photos of the TV tower grew.
January 2020 might have been the happiest in my life. Every day, I reveled in the city I rode through twice a day, in the art projects I created and the friends I made at my internship, in the intriguing writing assignments for the class I was taking remotely from my home university, and in the conversational German I was learning. And every day I excitedly anticipated going home, seeing my family and friends, catching glimpses of Mt. Rainier, playing my horn every morning in a practice room, jumping into the lacrosse season, and returning to finish my final year and a half of college. Not yet addressing the sorrow of saying goodbye or the potentially monotonous life of daily classes, I felt only joy in what I was experiencing and what I could anticipate.
That joy took me all the way to Tegel Airport on my final Sunday morning in Berlin. I felt it while I stood in line at the bakery near my apartment in Pankow, all the way over Europe to Iceland, over the Atlantic and Canada, and finally over the Rocky Mountains and past Mt Rainier shining in the sun. My excitement grew as I walked through the Seattle Tacoma Airport, waited for my bags, smiled through customs, and finally hugged my family waiting at the top of the escalator.
Going into my last days in Germany, I knew it was time to leave. Out of concern that I had more to pack than would fit in my luggage, I began packing a few weeks before and the feeling of being halfway between two continents weighed on me. That last month in Berlin felt like a break from the real world, while the obligations of life on campus crept closer and closer. I didn’t feel like there was anything else I needed to do in Berlin at that moment. My responsibilities had returned to campus and it was time to get on with it.
I wrote in my first blog that leaving home in August meant knowing what I would miss but not knowing what I would have. In my six months in Berlin, I grew to know a thriving city, new friends, new professors, and new experiences. Even while I missed things about home, I gathered about myself things to miss now that I’m back. I will miss the twenty to forty-minute bike riding commutes, cooking new meals every week, constantly learning new words, grabbing Döner for lunch, and running through the Berlin parks. But returning to the things I missed while abroad will satiate me until I can get back to German breakfasts and exploring new cities.
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<p>Apart from my first two years at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, I have lived my whole life in Bellingham, Washington, a college town surrounded by green hills and snowy mountains on one side and the Puget Sound on the other. Since I was eleven, I've made a point to ride my unicycle down my town's Memorial Day parade route before it starts, a tradition interrupted briefly in high school when I was in the marching band. My summer job is teaching swim lessons, and I have gotten quite good at talking a scared four-year-olds into jumping off the diving board.</p>