In September of last year, I visited Berlin for three days as a tourist. At that time, while admiring the graffiti at the famous East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall and today an open-air gallery, I did not have the slightest idea that I would be returning very soon.
Earlier this year, I was among the nine journalists from all over the world who were selected to attend a digital security Fellowship with Reporter Ohne Grenzen (Reporters Without Borders).
In May, I found myself back in capital of Germany to experience life as a Berliner for almost four months.
In Berlin, I lived in the fascinating neighborhood of Kreuzberg. My apartment was located halfway between Warschauer Straße and Kottbusser Tor and I could observe party-loving people every night just by opening the door of my balcony. So much was happening in Kreuzberg all the time that I was never bored despite being a very introverted person.
I enjoyed walking towards the Eastside Gallery in the evenings and sitting near the bank of Spree. Walking down the abandoned runway of Tempelhof Airport or watching the performances of entertainers at Alexanderplatz, spending a Sunday afternoon at Wannsee or taking a stroll near Brandenburger Tor.
There was so much to love about Berlin.
What I miss the most about living in Berlin is individual freedom in daily lives. I could go anywhere anytime, meet people, sit with them and talk to them without any fear of moral policing. I was living the life of a normal free human being with complete freedom to express myself.
Unfortunately, it’s a different universe back home in Pakistan and here not only the people but also the government considers it mandatory to interfere in the day to day affairs of the citizens.
A treasure trove of history
Interestingly, I am a history buff and Berlin is a treasure trove of history due to being the epicenter of World War II.
I took it upon myself to visit almost all the museums and attractions relating to World War II in any way.
Not only did I visit all the war museums in Berlin, I also visited the site of the post-war conference in Potsdam.
The most terrifying experience was the visit to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in north of Berlin, which was used by the Nazis from 1936 to 1945. I witnessed a lot of history, which I can now share with like-minded friends back home.
However, one of the biggest problems I faced while living in Berlin was not being able to speak Deutsch. Last year, when I was in Berlin as a tourist, it never occurred to me that understanding German is important.
This time when I stayed for longer, I began to realize how essential it was. I struggled especially at the grocery stores, where every product was marked in German and not many attendants could speak English.
It was the same case when I had to tell a barber how to cut my hair or tell the janitor of my apartment to fix a light bulb. Generally, people in Berlin were friendly but if you do not speak the language then you can face a bit of unfriendly behavior.
However, it was harmless unfriendliness and I never experienced any incident of racism in any way.
In Pakistan, there is an impression that German people are perfectionists. They are always punctual and everything works impeccably in Germany. My experience of living in Berlin for few months made me realize that this impression is not completely accurate.
German colleagues I was dealing with were often late and ironically I was more punctual then them.
Not everything worked perfectly in Germany whether it was the government bureaucracy or the German rail server, Deutsche Bahn, my least favorite train service in western Europe.
Having said that, Germany is still proverbial heaven when compared to Pakistan or any other third world country.
I do not know when I will get a chance to visit Berlin again but I will remember the four-month experience for the rest of my life.
The liberal, tolerant and diverse Berlin, as I know it, impressed me a lot and I have nothing but good wishes for the social and economic prosperity of the denizens of this beautiful city.
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