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On The City and Its Ghosts: Berlin

On The City and Its Ghosts: Berlin
Photo by Marcus Lenk / Unsplash

Essay written in the summer of 2022 after leaving Berlin for the second time

In a recent conversation with a friend I compared coming back to Berlin with that love affair that we want to rekindle, only to prove us that ending it a while ago was the wise choice. I am sharing below how my relationship with this city changed in the past years and how romanticising cities has always helped me go through difficult times.

The Ending

“At the entrance, a mailbox: last opportunity to make some sign to the world one is leaving.”

― Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

Fehrbelliner Straße
Fehrbelliner Straße

In the early summer of 2022 the decision to come back to live in Berlin seemed to have solid feet and solid ground. My partner and I moved into a temporary home on Marienburger Straße to buy some time while hustling for apartments. Two weeks and around sixty applications later we were offered an apartment in the Mitte area, somehow to our surprise as the market was hectic. As hectic as it was in 2018 when I was hustling for another place to call home in Berlin, and as difficult as it was in 2015 to find a student dormitory when I moved to Berlin for my studies.

A few days after moving into a new apartment I had a strong gut feeling that this decision to move back to Berlin was wrong. It’s like that feeling that we have when we know that there is no future ahead anymore in our relationship, and we stop striving for that future. We let go.

Among the most difficult things is to let go of the ghosts - the past experiences that are scattered everywhere in the city from the local cafés to the public spaces. I saw my ghosts this past month while walking on almost every street of my old / new neighbourhood, the past was still buzzing because the grief is still somehow pinned under my skin. I’ve seen myself more clearly than how I saw myself some years ago. I’ve seen my mistakes and all the ways that I couldn't see before. Berlin wasn’t a companion anymore, but just a witness.


The first time I officially left Berlin was in January 2020 in a car fully packed with luggages, some furniture, lots of books, driving towards Switzerland. The new beginning energised me even if my body and my mind were already too tired with the moving and the ongoing job hunting. Many hours later we arrived in a village one hour away from Zürich and settled in a house by Lake Zug. Two months later the pandemic hit and left the whole world on pause.

The Beginning

Sterlitzer Straße

Moving to Berlin to study in the autumn of 2015 felt like the most exciting way to start my new life as a young immigrant. I remember my first S-Bahn journeys from the campus in Adlershof to Friedrichstrasse: the fifty minutes of vibrant life, listening to music, reading and writing for the upcoming courses, the soft morning/evening light beaming through the windows of the train. Berlin was cinematic and always in motion. Little details of everyday life were intoxicating and my awareness was always sharp. I was mirroring myself in the life of the city, in its streets, neighbourhoods, in the hopes for a thriving future. Berlin was more than a witness, it was a close companion.

The In-Between

Anklamer Straße
Anklamer Straße

Romanticising places is something that I did ever since I was a child. The genius loci, the atmosphere of a place were more important to me than the practicalities of living in a city. I jumped always with my heart forward, sometimes without anything safe on the other side. The potential of a place to ultimately change my life was almost like a promise that I kept believing in even when there were clear signs that this city will be (like previous others) just a temporary home.

The in-between is the stage of “bad and good”, of things starting to crack slowly under the surface, even if on the outside most of the things stay the same. We want love to stay.

The solid ground crackles when we step further and further away from ourselves in this promise to stay. Love fades away even quicker when we don’t know anymore who we are. I made some wrong choices to follow my fears in Berlin, instead of keeping on with following what feels good and right.

Relationships fade away as well when we don’t like ourselves that much anymore. Berlin didn’t stand a single chance. I was already gone.

Moving Forward

“The house with the pomegranate tree was my major acquisition. In this sense, I owned some unreal estate. The odd thing was that every time I tried to see myself inside this grand old house, I felt sad. It was as if the search for home was the point, and now that I had acquired it and the chase was over, there were no more branches to put in the fire.”

― Deborah Levy, Real Estate: Living Autobiography 3

The Hague

These past months since leaving Switzerland behind I was in search of a new place to call home. A place to rekindle my love for places. And it’s been a real struggle to find one. Overwhelmed with practicalities, admin, constant worries, and what-ifs, no place was good enough to be even considered. I found myself in Zugzwang. Coerced to move, every move forward being disadvantageous.

And then I moved forward. Picked a city once again. I'm moving forward even if, for a little while, I am seeing the losses more than the gains.

And I’m in love again.