Berlin has a long history of welcoming immigrants. In the seventeenth century, 6000 French Protestant Huguenots expelled from France were granted asylum by the city; and as recently as this year, tens of thousands of refugees arrived from the Middle East. A third of all Berliners were born abroad. In August 2015, I became one of them.
With so many people originating from overseas, Berlin is truly an international city. Perhaps it is because of this high proportion of foreign-born citizens that leads people who live here to often ask, why did you come to Berlin? Why do people come to Berlin? Cynics answer that it is a city of lost souls, attracting people who don’t know what else to do, or need to run away from something.
For me, there was nothing in my life for me to run away from back in the summer of 2015. I had some of the best years of my life in the UK, growing up in York and then studying in Bristol. But I remember looking ahead at what life would be like if I stayed in my home country, and I found it deeply unattractive. There is something perfunctory about the process that almost all British graduates go through in their early 20s: graduate young, travel a tiny bit (if at all) and then move to London. After arriving, graduates join the rat race, working really hard to earn average money, whilst living in some overpriced armpit vaguely near a nightbus stop.
As somebody who likes working in creative roles at startups, I knew that my first few years in the capital would be difficult because of the pay. I didn’t want to go into finance, and I didn’t like the idea of chasing promotions simply to live comfortably. Without even living there, I had already grown bored of the people who constantly moaned, ‘I’ll never earn enough to buy property in London unless Daddy buys me somewhere’. I had no intention of becoming one of them.
So in some ways, I did run away from something when I moved to Berlin. I ran away from London, and I ran away from predictability. I ran away from how I envisaged my future in Britain. I didn’t want to make the same choice as everyone else, and looking back, my instinct was right. Pivotal moments like Brexit made me feel vindicated in my decision to move abroad; now I will always remember to take my own route, and not to follow the footsteps of others.