Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Goodbye West, Hello East: Meine Neue Wohnung

Hopefully this statement doesn't disappoint, but the travel blogs are over. Finished. Fertig. Kaputt. I've settled down in Berlin for the summer - the same city I have lived in for the last 6 months but haven't necessarily spent all of my time in due to spur of the moment trips in an effort to see Europe. But now that that's out of my system - not that it needs to be - I'm staying in the city I love for the remaining 3 months of my stay, and in turn decided long ago to move to the East, a decision that finally came to fruition a few weeks ago. And now that I have, here's a quick update on my new living situation.

While Charlottenburg provided an enjoyable experience for the spring, in stark contrast to the bland and nothing-to-do nature of Friedenau in the winter, East Berlin easily tops both areas on the "better places to live" chart. Prenzlauer Berg, more specifically, probably sits somewhere on that chart in between "really damn cool to live in" and "just plain funky." Maybe the word funky went out of style quite some time ago, but I'm bringing it back. Due to the hip art crowd, European cafes lining each and every street, unescapable music scene, unending number of young people, and plethora of bars, funky probably works pretty well. It's really not just Prenzlauer Berg, although I would like to claim it exclusively for my own ego, but it's a whole combination of the already mentioned plus Friedrichshain and Mitte - hence: The East. Do not be alarmed, 20 years ago did not magically disappear and simply slide out of the history books. The wall did fall. But as significant to world history as the fall of the wall was, what it was not able to accomplish was to dissolve the cultural difference between the East and West. And thank God for that. The East, filled with all of the afformentioned entities, has a cultural presence, a vibe, a feeling that cannot be escaped. You cannot walk down a street in the East without being bombarded with colorful graffiti lining the walls, street musicians jamming out with a saxaphone or trumpet, people lining the sidewalks enjoying an espresso or fresh baked roll, or some form of weekend festival. The East has a personality and character that can only be imitated in the West, rather a character that is avoided in the West due to pretentiousness and pride. It's not that the West is a bad place at all, or that the people are cold, boring, or uninteresting. It's just that unlike the West, the East embraces a distinct personality - it has a personality - that emits from every corner, every hidden away bar, and every artist that practices his or her craft. If you haven't yet caught my drift, the East is a cool place.

The other distinct difference in my current living situation, beside direct location, is, well, my living situation. Due to the strained and confined rules of my university's program, we were required to live for the school period with a host family. Both experiences were rewarding and I enjoyed both, but as a college student, living with a single lady in her mid-50's is not exactly what one would call ideal. Therefore, I moved into a student apartment comprised of myself plus 3 other students. It's undoubtedly a much more desired situation, much more comfortable, and I actually feel like I live in my own space versus living in someone elses home. The makeup of the group is also quiet diverse: a 30-year old Italian girl, a 24-year old Portuguese guy, and a 22-year old French girl. It's a great, laidback, free thinking and fun group that suits my own personal preferences way better that the elderly and relatively conservative outlooks of my previous living situations. (No offense intended with the "elderly" comment to my loving grandparents back home - you're young at heart). With the four of us in the apartment, combined with the nicely balanced male to female ratio and our multinational dynamic, it makes for great conversations, interesting perspectives, and an exciting group to live with for this summer. It's been a great 3 weeks living here so far and I have little doubt in my mind that anything will change for the remainder of the summer. And, if anything does, I'm still living in the East.

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