I’m writing this in Berlin, which is wild to me. I’ve been here for nearly two weeks and I still haven’t quite realised what’s going on, but I can tell that I’m getting used to it already. The more I commute to work on an underground line where nearly every station has a bakery, so the smell of fresh bread wafts into the carriage at every other stop; the more cute dogs I see all over the place,
So I guess it’s time to say a proper goodbye to London, my home for the past 9 years or so.
February was a tricky month. Work picked up a great deal, with projects needing completion, lists requiring handovers, a desk in dire need of a clean, and So. Many. Goodbyes. We managed to finish our first (and my last) Dungeons & Dragons adventure in an office meeting room, and yes: our entire party survived.
Mostly however, I spent February walking around, saying goodbye to a city that shaped me.
In a way, London was the place where I became an adult. When I first arrived, I was 21, fresh out of some much needed therapy. I felt like an egg cracked open; just a tiny nudge and I would spill everywhere. And spill everywhere I did. After a rough 3 years in a not so great place – in many ways – I found myself starting over again, in a different room in a different part of town; closer to trees and woods and fresher air, where I could walk and run and feel more like myself. I joined a drama group, where I made my first proper London friends, people I still care deeply about 5 years later. Theatre taught me how to channel my restlessness into words and movement, and to communicate what I was going through in a way that made it not only accessible to other people, but made them feel more seen in return. Joining a choir had a similar effect on me, and I will miss both these groups a lot. London is a place full of opportunities like this, with thriving creative communities all over the place, and the value of the work they do cannot be exaggerated. (I will forever defend the need for creative community groups and their ability to heal both their members and those who come to see their work, but that’s a different essay.)
There is a sense that living somewhere other than your home country is ‘making it’ – your (Eastern German) parents can proudly tell their coworkers that their daughter lives in London and that she has a fulfilling job many would love to have, a job that sometimes even gets her close to famous people (psst: living in London in the 2010s makes it very easy to get close to somewhat famous people, it just boggles the mind of someone who grew up in a comparably small Eastern German town. I still feel this sense of ‘what is my life’ all the time). You don’t quite realise how much they worry until you have another boyfriend you tell your mum about, and a birthday card arrives from your aunt who mentions how glad she is that you’re ‘not so alone anymore’. But you lean into your big city life, going to plays and exhibitions and complaining about tourists and shaking your head about the political situation you can’t do anything about as a foreigner, and every time someone tells you that you barely have an accent, you feel a sense of pride.
Then you miss a funeral. And another. And you miss a wedding. And you haven’t spoken to your stepdad in months, because every time you Skype home he’s always on the phone in a different room. And you wonder if your version of the big city life is worth it.
There’s a small part of me that’s tempted to see the move to Berlin as a failure. That I wasn’t able to ‘make it’ in the big city. But the thing is, a place like London isn’t for everyone. (Most people I met in London don’t like it there.) As much as I love it, and I do, some relationships just don’t work out. And this particular relationship has simply run its course. Looking back, I didn’t ever imagine I’d grow old in London. There were times when I couldn’t imagine leaving, but maybe part of that is a lonely person’s relief at having found friends, and her reluctance to give them up.
But that was several years ago, and I’m not that person anymore.
Leaving London now is not a failure. If anything, I see it as a success. It’s the end of nearly a decade of trials, of meeting people both good and bad for me, and learning to accept myself, and learning to look after myself. To admit that something isn’t working, and to change it: that’s courage to me now.
They say you can’t love others until you love yourself, but there is a lot to be said for others giving you permission to love yourself. They’re the ones who will hug you when, at the age of 30, you still doubt whether your hugs are wanted. They’re the ones who sing happy birthday to you in 7-part harmony, and the ones who come to see your performances. They do your backing vocals at your first karaoke night. They get up early to meet you for breakfast. They take your phone as soon as you mention your Youtube channel, so you can be in a shot for once. They are the ones to send hugs and emojis and ‘how are you’s and slowly help you tune out that voice at the back of your head that keeps asking, but why me?
I will miss London and its streets and its diversity and its crazy culture. I will miss the free galleries and cheap theatre tickets. I will miss the buses and the grumpy tube drivers, and Oyster cards. I will miss the Wellcome Collection and its weird and fascinating exhibitions and gorgeous reading room. I will miss the Barbican in all its massive glory. I will miss the British book world. So much. I will miss my flatmates and the shrieking foxes in the garden and the cuddly neighbourhood cats, but most of all, I will miss my people. I’m so grateful I was able to get to know them, and I hope I get to come back for a visit soon.
You can hear me read the above text as part of this video. Yep, still doing the Youtube. Not promoting it if it can be helped, but still doing it.