Though it’s been a minute since I last posted, I’ve still been updating my reading list and linking to my recent work. There’s been a reason for my radio silence: I moved to Berlin this spring! After nearly a decade in Cincinnati, I sold all my stuff, packed up my cat and crossed the Atlantic to build a new life in Germany.
My whole life had been leading up to this point, really. I lived in Germany before, as an exchange student in high school and again for a year of university; I loved the language and the people and the bread. But then I didn’t go back again for 13 years — side effects of being a broke student and then a broke journalist. When I went freelance, I started thinking about living abroad again, and I spent the last two summers in Germany, staying with my former host mom and testing the limits of the Schengen Agreement. When I returned to the US last August, I realized I needed to go back to Germany, but for real this time. I set a goal of being in Berlin for my 35th birthday in March, and reader, I did it.
Despite the stress that comes with moving abroad in a completely DIY manner, it was totally fine. I don’t know why I ever thought I couldn’t do it! A friend of mine who’s lived in Berlin for many years told me that the city will tell you if it wants you, and I think Berlin thinks I’m a keeper. Within the first months of the summer, I got a little apartment surprisingly much more quickly than anticipated, got a freelance work visa for two years, and got a freelance gig with Handelsblatt Global, the English edition of Germany’s leading financial newspaper.
Moving internationally is not for the weak of heart or for the easily frustrated, but it was exactly what I needed. Going home to Ohio for two weeks at Thanksgiving was great, but upon my return to Berlin I felt like I was home again. This city is weird and vibrant and frustrating and absolutely lovely, and I’m glad that it has me.
I’ve felt kind of radio silent this summer, and there’s a good reason for it. I’m in the middle of three months in Europe, with my headquarters in Germany. To the casual observer, it might seem like this trip came together quite quickly (I first mentioned it to friends in the beginning of April and had arranged it by the end of the month), but it’s actually been in the works for 17 years.
When I was 16, I received a Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship to spend my 11th grade year abroad. The family I was paired with was wonderful, and my time there opened my eyes to a lot of things and gave me an incredible education. I returned to my small town in Ohio with a new understanding of the world and its possibilities, along with near-perfect German and a well-overdue IDGAF attitude in regards to my final year of high school. (After my first year of college, went back to Germany for a year, but that’s another story for another time.)
This summer, I’m back in Gelsenkirchen with my former host mother, Ursula, even sleeping in the same room I occupied for a year as a teenager. Everything is simultaneously the same and different. The house is just as it was, but her two younger children are now grown and out of the house, and her husband, Hans-Josef, died a few years ago. I immediately remembered the walkways from the main street through the Siedlung to the house, but the streets seem much smaller than I remember. My concept of a big city has evolved quite a bit since I was 16, when in comparison with my hometown of 5,000 people, Gelsenkirchen (about the size of Dayton) seemed very large to me.
How do you afford three months in Europe, you might ask? Well, for one, it isn’t a vacation. I’m working as normal, just from a different time zone. I sublet my apartment in Cincinnati so my rent is covered and my cat has people to hang out with. The money I’m saving on rent more than covered my flight out here, and my housing in Germany is free. I’m sharing the costs of groceries (which are already very cheap here) with Ursula, and trying to pair up my excursions with assignments so I can write off the travel and keep getting paid. I’m basically saving money by living in Europe.
From this vantage point in northwestern Germany, I’m actually finding more stories to pitch — Quartz, which I regularly write for, is focused on international business, so being outside the US is advantageous. The rest of my freelance work is running as usual; I just had to ensure direct deposit was set up for payments for all my accounts or that clients were willing to mail checks to Germany (and I can then deposit them with my credit union’s app).
Where am I going this summer? Where aren’t I going? So far I’ve been to Berlin for a week, which was just as rad as everyone says, and then I flew back to the states for five days for YxYY in Palm Springs, which was totally worth the jet lag. The area I’m living in is close to Essen and Düsseldorf, which are also cities worth seeing, and I’m planning trips to Reykjavik, London and probably Berlin again before the end of the summer.
This past weekend I took the train to Munich, where I was writing a travel story for Cincinnati Magazine. From there I took the train to Friedrichshafen, where I wrote about the largest amateur radio meet in Europe. And then, just for kicks, I took a ferry across the Bodensee (Lake Constance) to spend a day in Zürich before flying back to Düsseldorf last night. The two stories I wrote just about paid for the entire excursion, so basically free trip!
Before I booked my flight, I was scared. I reached out to a Facebook group of women freelance writers I’m a part of for encouragement. Their general reaction was: “This sounds perfect, you’d regret not going, and if you don’t want to go, we’ll go.” Point taken. The stars aligned perfectly for this to happen, and it would be a smack in the face of the universe if I didn’t go.
From quitting my job to go freelance three years ago, I realized that I’m not afraid to shake things up in my life sometimes. I actually get antsy if things stay the same way for too long. “Great things happen outside our comfort zone,” one of my fellow ladywriters told me. And it’s so true.