A Year in Berlin
By Rosie Tremlett
In a charity shop this week, I was paying for my second-hand cardigan and reached into my bag to pull out my trusty old cotton shopping tote, a freebie from my bank while I was living in Berlin on my year abroad. The kindly lady at the till glanced at it and exclaimed: “Ach, Berliner Sparkasse!!” Even in the middle of one of the most drab little backwaters in the UK, it seemed, there were Germans to chat to.
My time in Berlin was the most eye-opening and personally formative period of my life thus far. It was by no means easy: I had serious trouble finding a room to live in where the location worked with my job and the flatmates were friendly enough to bear living with, which led to me moving three times; my job was unexpectedly exhausting and the company I worked for dubious in both its legal and moral operation; the winter was one of the harshest Berlin has recently faced, and I spent months wading through deep snow at 6AM only to find that the trains were running spasmodically at best. The reason I stuck with it through the first difficult weeks was the knowledge that I would only feel worse if I gave in and quit before seeing the year through to its bitter end.
Yet the end did not prove itself to be bitter. Gradually I learnt to walk in step with the rhythm of the city and to engage with the Berliners in their own way. I joined Volkhochschule classes where for a fraction of the cost I had been paying in the UK I could do my favourite hobbies and practise my language at the same time. I found a room in one of the most colourful and welcoming parts of the city and spent whole days just sauntering around the streets, smugly absorbing the sights and the sounds and the Brilliant Things You Just Don’t Get In The UK. I learnt to speak German not only with speed and colloquial ease but also without a trace of my English accent, a process which my Berlin friends observed with amused fascination.
I learnt to do everything I could to make the most that I could of my year abroad, and it was this attitude that made it such a fantastic time. Giving my all to my (admittedly terrible) job earnt the trust of my bosses, and they gave me more work, more money and whole new responsibilities. I was approached to translate contracts into German for customer research projects, and I taught a German business student English, simultaneously teaching her most of what she now knows about business. I made life-long friends, and they helped me travel around Germany to see the more interesting and less obvious things the country has to offer. And now that I am back in the UK and have graduated, I have found an exciting job with an educational publisher, editing the materials that will teach whole new hordes of teenagers German. But the best and most satisfying thing is that lovely gleaming medal in my mind that says ‘bilingual’ and that allows me to chat to the woman in Cancer Research about Düsseldorf in the spring.