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My Berlin, Two Months In

We’ve been living in Germany for just over two months now, and since my last post life has been a blur.  July began with the chaos of getting moved into our new apartment.  The move-in week was followed by Emilia and Josephine making their film debut as cast members in a public service announcement film about bike safety in Germany.  Our usual routine of letting the little ones check out every and any playground in Berlin led to being asked by a scout (the director) if they wanted to be in the film.  Being the Lie’s, of course we said “yes.”  While I stayed in Berlin for the week of filming, Vivian travelled to Munich with our older daughters for a few weeks of summer vacation.  We joined up later and ended July with beautiful sun-filled days getting to sail, ride horses and swim in the quiet lakes of Bavaria.  With the beautiful weather we’ve had, the fresh air and the views of the snow-capped Alps, the countryside of Bavaria felt like being in a dream that we didn’t want to end.

"Lights, Camera, Action!"

“Lights, Camera, Action!”

My Berlin 14

Sailing away the summer on the Starnberger See

My Berlin 1

Looking for our pot of gold in the Bavarian Alps

My Berlin 15

Returning to Berlin was not easy, and brings with it the reality of a new school year for the kids (Monday was their first day).  For me it brings renewed focus on planning the life ahead of us and a chance to reflect on how I feel as an American who’s left a life in Chicago for a new one in Berlin. I would say that so far the transition has been more than pretty good.

Berlin is revealing itself to be a surprisingly diverse city with a seemingly endless variety of things to do.  The city is much more ethnically diverse than I thought it would be, with far more Asians (and other ethnicities) than I expected.  Many Asians actually speak German as native speakers, with no accent whatsoever, and it’s nice that I’m not automatically thrown into the perception bucket as a tourist or immigrant.  Beyond the diversity of the population, Berlin is obviously a cultural powerhouse.  And like a London, Paris or New York, the scope of Berlin’s artistic and cultural scene seems to have no bounds.  It’s difficult to imagine anyone running out of places in Berlin to exercise their cultural and artistic pursuits.  Throw in the colorful neighborhoods, the amount of parks and greenspace within the city, the excellent public transportation, and the ability to access so much of the city easily by bike, Berlin is about as family friendly as a large city can get.  Of course it has it’s problems too: although it seems like there’s less than before, in many places there’s too much graffiti for my taste (they should ban spray paint like they do in Chicago); too many people still find smoking to be worthwhile; and Berlin has its share of interesting-bordering-on-scary citizens in many part of town.  But on balance I think this will be a good move for us.

Street Art

Street Art

Fine Art

Fine Art

Street Food

Street Food

Fine Food

Fine Food

About three weeks into our move, a German friend asked me if I missed Chicago.  I answered “not really”, but it’s only partly true. I do miss our old neighborhood and the close network of friends and neighbors that defined so much of our day-to-day existence. I miss the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan and the views of  Chicago’s impressive skyline.  Most of all, I miss a certain sense of belonging that comes from having lived in a city for nearly a decade with my wife and four kids – a certain sense of belonging that comes from getting to know a place really well, and it getting to know you, too.  Chicago had taken on the well-worn fit of a favorite sweater, and so there’s a sense of identity and comfort that I’m now having to let go of as I start my life in Berlin.  It’s like the process I read about in the New York Times through which a writer goes when learning to write in a second language – at one point you’re not quite sure who you are and where you belong.

Finding our way in Grunewald

Finding our way in Grunewald

I have to remind myself that we’ve only been living here two months, and I’m finally resisting the urge to make comparisons between life in Chicago and life in Berlin.  Every day lets me get to know Berlin a little better and brings me a little closer to understanding how we’ll grow into our new city.  Berlin will never be quite like Chicago for us, but over time I think we’ll find a fit that’s right and that will make Berlin feel like home.

From Karaoke...

From Karaoke…

...to Opera

…to Opera

And plenty of love to go around.

And plenty of love to go around.

Two Weeks of German-American Efficiency

As of today, we’ve been on the ground in Berlin for exactly 2 weeks.  It can only be described as a non-stop whirlwind of activity and getting things done with our four girls in tow: some important milestones we’ve reached:

  • We are officially registered as residents of Berlin!
  • We decided on a great school for Josephine and Emilia, and they are enrolled for next year, school ID’s and all.
  • We signed a lease for an apartment in the popular neighborhood of Wilmersdorf after several tours of different places and making application in an extremely competitive rental market.
  • Lillian and Audrey have applied to an international school, but we’re still awaiting the official word on their admission.
  • We’ve obtained yearly passes for the BVG (public transportation, which I have to mention is easily the most comprehensive and efficient system I’ve ever experienced in a city this size)
  • We have mobile phone service and new phone numbers for the 3 phones we brought with us.  Unlocking US iPhones ourselves actually did work!
  • We’ve ordered cable and internet for the new home
  • We bought a bike for Lillian from an eBay classified ad
  • And yesterday we secured library cards for everyone at a library that is practically next door to our new home: a huge bonus for the girls whom my wife often refers to as Leseratten (reading rats).

All this and and we’ve managed to explore a good chunk of Berlin by foot, by boat, U-Bahn, bus, and tram.  In fact we haven’t covered an inch by taxi or rental car, which we’ll hardly need in this city.  Once our container arrives with our bikes we’ll be able to expand our urban conquests even further.  Here’s a photo of what we’ve covered so far, all on foot.

Our first two weeks on foot (yellow highlights)

Our first two weeks on foot (yellow highlights)

It has been a surprisingly efficient experience because bureaucracy is ofter the first thought that comes to mind when people think about what it might take to set up a new life in Germany.  Having read many expat blogs before setting off, I was expecting much more resistance and an unsettling need for proper stamps, seals, notarized documentation and endless appointments to be able to get things done.

Of course I have the advantage of my wife who is both charming and fluent in German (not to mention a real do-er when it comes to exploring a city and getting us oriented as Berliners).  But even Vivian has been surprised by how straightforward the process has been.

As we begin week 3 of our move to Berlin, I feel like we’ve seen almost as much of the Berlin as we could have if we had come solely as tourists.  And at this rate, we might know Berlin better than many locals within the year.

Today President Obama is visiting Germany and will give a speech at the Brandenburg Gate.  I’d like to be able to say that we are among the 4,000 invited guests who will be able to see him speak (especially since we’ve just come from Chicago), but that’s OK…we’ve got a lot of other things to do and people to see in our new city.

Highlights from our first 2 weeks…

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