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 Like an old party venue, where you could still see the signs of someone having fun 20 years ago, with outdated decor that was kept together by duct tape.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.
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.
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.