The Homes We Create

Maria came from Portugal to Berlin 7 years ago. She is 37 and she is a graphic designer, an illustrator and textile enthusiastic. She never imagined that she would one day live in Germany. 

She came to Berlin to look for a new start and new experiences. After living in Spain, the UK and India, her then-boyfriend got a job in Berlin and together they decided to come to Berlin. Seven years later, happily married with two little girls, they built their home here. 

However, when I asked Maria if she feels at home in Berlin I got a question in return. “I always ask myself that question: What is home?” asked Maria. I think many people immigrants in particular, cannot really define for themselves what home is, yet in relation to others to others. Maria shared her belief – that people could have several homes because different reasons induce the feeling of home, whether it is because of a place, or the people in it. 

I challenged her and asked – what makes you feel not at home? What is your biggest challenge? “The language”, she said immediately. “I even remember the first day I came to Berlin, it was such a horrible day, it was a gray day and raining in the middle of June. it suddenly dawns on me that I can’t understand any of the signs in the airport or the train, I was intimidated and overwhelmed at the same time”. The German language is still a challenge for her, “I feel the bigger Rita is growing so is the need for more complex vocabulary, and she is growing faster than I learn German. But it also encourages me to try harder, both in learning German and to be part of the community”.

a woman escape from German avalanche

When we talk about integration, Maria admits that she doesn’t feel completely integrated. Today she can speak German, she has a job, two kids and friends including german friends. She passed the integration course successfully, according to the German government she is integrated. But in her heart, she doesn’t feel 100% like she belongs. Why do you think it is? I asked, “I think it is because of the language, I think one part of it is because I don’t feel fluent in German, but the other part is how I am when I speak Geman. I also speak English, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese –  in every language, I feel a bit different. Each language brings with it a slightly different Maria”.

a woman with 3 faces

Portugal lays at the west edge of Europe, beyond that spreads the Atlantic ocean, which Maria misses dearly. She also misses the Portuguese language and the ease that come with it. Don’t you have a few friends that speak Portuguese? I ask. “Not really”, says Maria, “Portuguese people are very private, we keep to ourselves. Also, the Portuguese community is very small, the majority of people, who speak Portuguese in berlin, are Brazilians. I don’t have a problem with them, but they have a completely different culture, talking to them doesn’t bring me the feeling of ease I miss”. 

What does bring you the feeling of ease here in Berlin? “The parks, I absolutely love the parks here and the way people keep them clean, it is like a breath of fresh air for me”.

Illustrated and written by Adi G.

Adi G. is a graphic designer and illustrator, she moved to Berlin 7 years ago with her cat. She still struggles to say Kichererbsen.

Fertile Ground

It wasn’t love at first sight. I came to Berlin in 2017 with a suitcase that fit all my belongings and no clear plan of what to do next. I had visited this city only once before with a friend who was entirely enchanted by Berlin’s charm. For me, the city felt a bit musty, a bit ugly, a bit stale. Like an old party venue, where you could still see the signs of someone having fun 20 years ago, with outdated decor that was kept together by duct tape.

My boyfriend and I sat on a bed in our friends’ apartment in Kreuzberg, unsure whether to stay in Berlin or…? I had spent 2016 in Lisbon and Amsterdam and I still had the marvels of those places in my head – charming vistas behind every corner, pure beauty, preserved, and served to you on a plate. Compared to them, Berlin was like an ugly relative, trying hard to look its best but doomed because of the war’s destruction and the chaotic urban development that followed. 

But, like so many other expats before us, something about Berlin’s vibe made us stick around. We found a cute apartment just a few buildings away from our friends, and with time, I learned to appreciate Berlin. Life in Lisbon or Amsterdam was an affair I had with the city itself – I spent hours just wandering the streets and enjoying the pure bliss of gazing at buildings and people. It was a wonderful yet very much a solo experience. 

a woman standing in a suitcase growing roots and leafs

In Berlin, I didn’t fall in love with the city, I fell in love with the people instead. Somehow, for the first time, I felt I could be truly free with my life choices. I felt that I’m not going to be judged if I don’t achieve a certain social status, and that money is not that important. Things that I thought mattered were not relevant anymore: your fashion choices, your job title, how you make your living, how you look. I met so many people in Berlin who were doing what they wanted to do even if they knew it was not going to be profitable in a way that society labels as “useful”, and it was liberating.

Berlin helped me to become an unapologetic woman and inspired me to start Berlin Boudoir, a platform to showcase that beauty is versatile and we can’t restrict it by any measurements. I believe that Berlin was the perfect place to start it: showing women who pose naked or in their underwear, and in doing so claiming the right to own their body image. Finally not being treated as a wall ornament or an object of someone else’s desire. Because women here are open, empowered, and oppose being labeled, judged, or told what to do. 
I wondered how other women felt about Berlin, so I asked expat women online about their experience of living in Berlin, compared to other places they had lived. Again and again, women responded ”I feel safer than my hometown” and “I feel free to do whatever I want and not be judged”. One of the women wrote: “Berlin gave me the fertile ground to grow and become the woman I always had in me but was suppressed due to the conditioning I had with the family and environment I was born in.” I don’t know yet if it’s a life-long relationship I’ve started here with Berlin, but definitely it helped me become who I wanted to be: a strong, passionate, and life-loving woman who speaks up for herself and for others.

Monika K. is a graphic designer and photographer, she is also the founder of Berlin Boudoir. She was born in Poland and lives in Berlin for 3 years. Her favorite color is yellow.

Illustrated by Rachel K.

Rachel K. is an illustrator. She moved to Berlin 12 years ago with her husband. She is still confused when people say igel and refer to a hedgehog and not an eagle.

Local Tourist

I was born and raised in the south of Berlin and never really left: Going from Tempelhof to Steglitz to Friedenau, my ‚Kiez’ has always looked remotely different from that cliché ideal of glorified Berlin. Always standing out a little, going through a scene phase as a teenager, and then adopting that ‘stereotype Berghain style‘ (wearing all black, being pierced and tattooed), people normally assume I come from central Berlin. But no, I don’t have my after-work beer at my neighborhood Späti nor did I spend my weekends in the Mauerpark. Also, have I never actually been to the Berghain. So when I do visit these parts of the town (Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, etc.) I always feel like a tourist. I love it! It means I don’t have to travel far to see some colorful streets, with little concept shops, and amazing restaurants. And to finally feel that my fashion choices make sense, but there is always this little part that tells me that this isn’t my place. I guess my introvert character fits more to the calmer side of town. And although I don’t feel at home in some parts of the city, I still feel lucky to call Berlin my home. 

Corona changed a lot of my assumptions about what’s normal. Being out whenever you want, spending time in restaurants, being close to strangers, welcoming the warmer seasons in one of the parks with friends, a beer, and a good laugh. This year we had to be a bit more creative.

a house with friendly neighbours

That part of my beloved Berlin (the coming together of people from all around the world) is dearly missed in these times. Corona being a worldwide pandemic puts even more emphasis on our city’s diversity and thus, its immigrants. Growing up, I never saw people as immigrants or foreigners. What was special about Berlin, at least in my mind, is that there was always a place for everyone, regardless of where they came from. Of course, part of growing up is to see the truth of things, and I realized that things in Berlin are far from ideal, and many of the immigrants who come here don’t feel really accepted. 

At this time of crisis, we have time to contemplate important questions, like the question of the feeling of belonging, home, strangeness, and acceptance. And now that our lives are so limited to the borders of our home, the feeling of belonging and the safety in calling a place a home is more important than ever. It makes me wonder What is Berlin, or home to that effect, in the virtual place? Home for me is not only a place, but it is also the people in it, and when the place is gone all that is left is the people we surround ourselves with. My Family and my friends are my support system, and to have a strong support system means having a good community around. So let’s focus on the good, seek and give help where it’s needed, and be kind to one another (with safe distance), and most importantly, not to surrender to hate and misunderstanding.

So when the time comes, and we can walk down the streets again without worry, the city will be even a better place to be a local tourist.

Lisa K. was born and raised in Berlin. Currently, she’s in the midst of doing her MA in literature. She upgraded her living situation from living with 4 guys to live with 40 plants.

Adi G. is a graphic designer and illustrator, she moved to Berlin 7 years ago with her cat. She still struggles to say Kichererbsen.

My First Real Christmas

My first true German Christmas celebration happened this year, with my German boyfriend’s family. We did it all, the decoration, the church, the food, the presents, and the singing! What an anthropologic roller-coaster it was. Since I moved here the only Christmas I experienced was with my ex-pats friends, which means everyone brings something from their culture which is very nice but it was not the same as the full-on Christmas with the family experience.

But I have a special talent to stress myself out, so to deal with that problem I like to be prepared. So naturally, I approached the only reasonable source of knowledge – My dear boyfriend. I asked him about a million questions, like what should I wear? What will we eat? What do we do in the church? Are Jewish people allowed to take part in the Christmas mass? Some of my questions were reasonable and some were just weird. The worst was the question: “what would you like for Christmas?” for me a legitimate question for my boyfriend no so much, “you are NOT supposed to ask that!” he told me with outrage. I have to say I was surprised because everybody knows you can tell Santa Claus what you want and if you can tell Santa why can’t you tell me? After this silly discussion that almost ended with a fight, we established that the gifts should have some sentimental value, and the closer the person is to you the bigger the present should be, so a Christmas gift for a boyfriend equal to a birthday gift.

a girl thinking of presents

Although we established a status quo the gifts continued to be an issue, unlike me and every other German on the plant my boyfriend doesn’t like to plan, he buys Christmas presents few days before Christmas, and for me, sentimental value gifts mean to think ahead. Eventually, we managed to find a balance between the two, and all of our gifts were smashing success.

The Christmas events went pretty smoothly, I did NOT burn on the spot when I entered the church. I could totally pretend I’m singing and not sing. As all Jewish holidays involved with a crazy amount of food, I was well prepared for dinner, except for the goose. My boyfriend’s parents prepared this beautifully roasted goose, and it was the first time eating a goose, so I was excited. Let’s just say that my weak Jewish stomach couldn’t really handle this rich and fat bird. This is one tradition I will have to skip next year. 

From all of the Christmas events and activities, the best one was the decoration of the Christmas tree. My boyfriend’s parents bought this huge tree and we decorated it with dozens of beautiful vintage decorations, that the mom is collecting for decades. 

The only thing that I missed from the complete magical Christmas experience was Santa Claus or like the Germans call him Weihnachtsmann (Christmas-man). Usually, the job of being Santa Claus falls on my boyfriend, the uncle, but this year there were no kids in our celebration, hence no Santa Claus. So I couldn’t sit on his lap and tell him what I want for Christmas, inappropriate as it is. But like all good things, Christmas will come back next year and I have something to look forwards to – Meeting Santa.

Adi G. is a graphic designer and illustrator from Israel. She lives in Berlin 7 years. Her favorite thing about Berlin is the international food scene.