Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
What makes us locals? What turns us into part of a new environment? And is it at all possible to become a Berliner not having been born in the city?
Those are questions that we, the “new” arrivals in Germany´s capital have been asking ourselves over many a glass of beer. How long do we have to have lived here and what deeds do we need to have amassed on our private little CVs to merit the title? Is 5 years enough? Or 10? Or perhaps 50? Plus a career in local administration to boot? Or is it all in vain and we will never ever deserve that description?
Having just been accused by one of my (now, thankfully, former) readers of being a “Polish émigré” “who has no business” in meddling in Berlin´s past or present, I felt compelled to consider that question again. And just as on previous occasions, I needed less than 60 seconds to decide what my stand on the matter was.
I was born in Poland and Polish is my mother tongue. Since I learnt English it became my mother tongue, too. So much so that I have always found it much easier to write in English than in Polish, in fact. In the year 2000 I met a fantastic German guy and three years later moved to Berlin for ever. I learnt (passably good) German, I live here, I work here and – first and foremost – my family are here: all of my three sons are born and bred Berliners.
My house stands in a Berlin street, I buy my groceries in Berlin shops, I pick up my sons from a Berlin school and a Berlin kindergarten. I go out in Berlin, I cycle through Berlin, I sit on Berlin park benches and like so many others, I am so fascinated by this city that I spent most of my working and free time reading about it, researching it and gladly sharing my knowledge with others (whose choice it is to accept the offered bits and pieces of local revelations or to question and even reject them – as long, of course, as they do so in a civil and friendly manner as per default I absolutely refuse to engage in any exchange that doesn´t meet those requirements).
So am I a Berlinerin or just an impostor, considering that my birth certificate says “Polska” on it? And considering that I am planning to spend the rest of my life in this city and to be buried in a well selected cosy spot in Bergmannstrasse when I pop my Berlin clogs?
I should like to answer that query with one of my favourite Polish jokes (do pardon my French, though):
“A guy goes angling with his rod in a lake in the forest. He stops on the shore, throws the angle line in and immediately starts feeling uncomfortable. He looks around and sees this frog sitting on a big floating leaf and staring at him calmly. “Fuck off!” he says to the frog.
The frog stares a bit more, then opens its eyes even wider and answers: “Fuck off? FUCK OFF?! But I LIVE here!”
Let us round it off with a brilliant song by a Berlin group Wir Sind Helden – whose great hit “Denkmal” was the very first German song I ever sang along to.
“Gekommen Um zu Bleiben” – Here To Stay (translated lyrics available here).