In my story 11 Steps to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone, I am narrating the story of being fed up with living in Romania and buying my first one-way ticket to a destination that I would have never thought about – Berlin, Germany.
This was my first move and my first big step that dragged me out of my comfort zone because it was my first actual exercise of testing my limits and facing my fears.
My first year in Berlin was the most brutal year I ever had in my life. I felt like someone hit me in the head. I was so shocked that when I was walking in the streets, I felt like screaming. I was depressed for a year. I was angry, I was pissed, I was heartbroken. Not homesick. But it was like a train hit me.
And this is exactly what I was looking for.
Running back to mommy and daddy was not an option. So instead, I stayed and took it like a champ.
- Lack of stability and safety as I was kicked out in the street from my shared accommodation for the first time because I refused to pay a ridiculously increased rent. Not literally kicked out, but I had two days to move … somewhere. Luckily I found a temporary place for 2 months until I moved into a nice place for the next two years.
- The first edition of the event that I was hired to organize was terrific. I got a lot of attention from people who had never met me before and from A-list artists in the salsa community. But I had to deal with a huge venue, 3000 participants, 100 volunteers, and 200 artists. It was great but very overwhelming for those 3 days, and I was just living in Germany for three weeks.
- After about two weeks, I ran out of money. I went there with some savings, but you spend more than you are supposed to until you figure things out. So shortly, I literally ended up with 5-10 Euro in my pocket. Asked my boss for a loan or salary advance but he said he can’t help me. That was another slap in the face. I couldn’t ask my parents as they would have been very worried and asked me, what the hell are you doing??. Luckily one of my male friends from Bucharest made me a quick transfer. So I was ok, but that was the first time I experienced the emotion of not having money … to go to the grocery store.
- German culture is a very interesting one, to say the least. Germans don’t care much about personal appearance, fashion, or the fact that you could see them naked in specific environments. If you go to a gym, everyone is like this in the locker room.
- Separately I will mention the spa experience as it is a hilarious one. Around two months after I was there, my boss took me to one of the nicest spas in Berlin – The Liquidrom. I was stunned to see everyone was naked except us. We were the weirdos. Not to mention the women and men’s lockers were interconnected, so I didn’t even know how to change. Also, the naked bodies that I saw were not the youngest nor the best looking. Yikes!
- I met many lovely, caring people who treated me very well, took care of me on many occasions, and tried to help me accommodate. However, I always felt like an outsider compared to Dubai, where I have the feeling of home.
- I fell in love with one of my salsa students, a cardiologist. He was probably the love of my life. He had a girlfriend studying abroad, so it was very convenient for him to have an “affair”. I didn’t care (at that time), but the issue is that he promised me he would dump her and stay with me. It turned out that he stayed with her and dumped me like a broken shoe. I didn’t leave the bed for three days after we broke up. I take the whole blame on me at the end.
- My job was crazy exciting. Traveling almost every weekend to a new salsa festival, meeting new people, dancing, having fun, and visiting new places. All paid, and I was also making extra money. Pack on a Thursday, fly on a Friday, work, workshops, dinner, watch the show program, parties, hang out with people, fly back on Sunday evening or Monday morning, start a new working week, do my laundry, pack again. Repeat. However, it was a demanding high-speed schedule as it was a routine I was not familiar with.
- My boss. I had the pleasure and honor to work with a man I can call one of my closest male BFFs. But our beginning was not the smoothest, and we had a lot of arguments and fights. Eventually, we became very close, and we used to talk and gossip about everything. He was the type of boss who was bringing me coffee in the morning even when I was grumpy and obnoxious when we were traveling for a festival. Dear Franco 🙂 And we were only and exclusively friends, nothing more.
- Shortly after the “heart doctor” drama ended, I met a guy in Amsterdam. I experienced for the first time what a long-distance relationship is. This was another messed up story with me catching flights between Berlin-Amsterdam and eventually Singapore.
- Had the worst summer in my life with just a few nice sunny days in July. Otherwise, all I remember is wearing boots and sweaters. Quite depressing.
Berlin was never my cup of tea, but somehow, I lived there for almost 5 years, and the reason was due to my fabulous job. The best one anyone could ever have in this lifetime.
The funny part is that 2 years before moving there, I went on a solo trip to Europe, and Berlin was one of the cities that I spent two days visiting. Who would have thought that city would become my home from 2010 to 2015.
When I moved there, I said, it will be for the rest of my life, when actually nothing is forever; however, I envisioned myself building something in that country.
Things didn’t really turn out the way that I wanted, and I am ok with it. It was not my place to be.
- The weather. I come from a country with freezing winters but we have proper summers. Well, in Berlin, even summers can be cold and rainy.
- Fashion. People don’t care much about how they look and about their image. Not all but most of them. And there are a lot of ex-pats, especially students coming from many other European countries. But most people wear 90% black most of the time, and there is not much sense of style. And seeing black all around, I couldn’t wear it for a few years until I moved to Dubai.
- The dating scene – for me was pretty much dead. The few German guys I dated were tall, blonde with blue eyes, very sexy, and masculine. But they were exceptions, and there was no outcome as I was an outsider, or at least they made me feel that way. My German was broken. They were not very happy to speak English (even though many people speak English there), I didn’t have citizenship, I was not well established, etc. Eh, I was a complicated case for them. And I know they all ended up with a German girlfriend.
- The lifestyle. They have very nice restaurants and coffee shops. Just a few bars and clubs and the scene is not very interesting. I don’t know; it just wasn’t for me, and I never felt too good.
As nice as Berlin is to visit as a tourist, to live there is a whole different story. It’s a wonderful impressive city with exquisite architecture, especially on the Westside, beautiful streets with restaurants with all cuisines, parks and remarkable buildings.
But I felt alone and sad. 🙁
When I was not traveling and was there for more than two weeks, I was so bored and unhappy.
My schedule most of the time was going to the gym in the morning, work after, going back home, dinner, and movies. And Repeat.
Even though Berlin was not my happy place, I am still grateful because it had a considerable role in shaking me to the core and made my transition to the sandpit smoother. Dubai came with its challenges as well but it was my second time relocating and with certain aspects was easier to deal with.
- You were my first home-away-from-home experience, and no matter how hard it was, I learned so much and met beautiful people that some are still in my life.
- As weird as social life was, I collected great memories by spending time with my friends there.
- I always had someone to rely on when I was in trouble, and no one ever let me down.
- For the incredible apartments I lived in, all buildings called altbaus with high ceilings, wood floor, big windows dating from the 1900s’
- For the tasty food and cuisines from all over the world. For 6 euro you can eat an excellent Thai dish or have spectacular currywurst for 1.5 euro.
- Most citizens in Berlin work for the government, so salaries are lower especially compared with areas such as Bavaria. So it is a cheaper city in terms of food, accommodation, transport, entertainment, etc.
- Berlin had one of the best airports in the world – and I have been to many. It was the city, and it used to take me 25 min from landing to step foot into my house. It was a small and well-organized international airport. Unfortunately, they closed it in 2020.
- My fabulous job. For four and half years, I honestly had the most incredible job anyone could dream of. I didn’t make much money, and I didn’t care. But to be paid to see the world, dance, work on social media and marketing, meet people … seriously, who wouldn’t love that??
- Christmas markets. I am a Christmas fanatic, and I can say that Berlin has some of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
- Outdoors. It’s probably not the cleanest city, but it has a lot of parks, the air is fresh, and most people would rather use a bike than a car.
Have you ever lived in Berlin as an ex-pat?