Today marks one year of living in Berlin.
We decided that if we're going to make a big move we have to do it while AJ is little. So we jumped. It's been tough. It's hard to have a small child with no network. It's hard to leave a thriving business. It's hard to start again in a country that speaks a different language, tells time differently (military time has been hard to get used to!), and even uses a different measuring system (thanks USA for setting up this fail). It's also been good to not have a car, to walk more (I average 60 miles a month without even trying), to eat fresher foods (markets everywhere), and most importantly to see different parts of the world more easily.
Adjusting to the culture has been a surprising assault. It's Germany. It's not a remote unknown place. We've visited multiple times before moving here. We always loved it. But living in a place shows you a whole different side. It's been surprising. It's been bureaucracy. It's been illuminating. It's like being broken open and starting again. Knowing people from different countries and seeing the world how they see it has been the greatest benefit so far. Let us not talk about the grocery stores, read any expat board and you'll see discussions about the grocery stores. I have been yelled out by a checker. Every expat I know has. My skin is tougher. And sometimes you laugh just so you don't cry.
Being in Europe I was fully expecting the culture and daily life to be, well, more beautiful. It's the romantic concept Americans have of Europe. Disneyland Europe. Don't get me wrong, it is beautiful. But it's also gritty. And dirty. And covered in graffiti. And customer service is nearly non existent. And the beauty of everyday life is basically considered frivolous. At least in Berlin. So I've gone about trying to create my European dream despite and maybe even due to the outside realities. Our beautiful Altbau apartment is decidedly European, very high ceilings, beautiful moldings, enormous beautiful doors with antique brass hardware, and the coveted herringbone floors. Picking up 2€ tulips on the corner. Sitting down for every meal at the dining table. Little things. Deciding to see the beauty regardless of the reality is a new skill I've acquired. And quite a beneficial one.
A surprising thing we've come across living here is the lack of outside influence in everything. We don't have cable or listen to the radio. We never see commercials. We can't read the magazines so we don't buy them. Same with the newspapers. We have an ad blocker on the internet so we don't even see ads there. A basic disconnect with materialism has completely changed how we see things. How we see everything. Even how we see ourselves. Who would you be if you could be anyone at all? What do you love if no one is there to tell you what you should love? What do you wear if you don't know what's in style or considered "cool"? That's what we've discovered. It's overwhelming. It's wonderful.
And while I rarely discuss my personal life in business, I can't discuss our first year without commenting on how amazingly family friendly Berlin and Europe are. Raising AJ here, while not easy- he's still 2, has been a pretty easy transition. Free kindergarten/daycare (Kita) now that we've found one. Playgrounds everywhere (I can think of 7 parks within a few blocks of us, all different and well thought out). Kids are welcome nearly everywhere. Beer gardens have playgrounds. It's brilliant. Kinder cafes (cafes with play areas for kids that serve coffee & baked goods to parents) are a thing here. Bakeries all over the place. One of AJ's first words was croissant. At this stage our lives unapologetically revolve around him and being in Europe makes that very tolerable and most of the time it's even enjoyable.
Jamie House Design has transitioned to me headquartered in Berlin smoother than anticipated. It hasn't been without its bumps and I'm sure Katie has wanted to pull my hair out more than once. But it's been good. The German arm of JHD is not quite off the ground as I'm still muddling through paperwork & regulations. But several projects and amazing clients in Houston has kept me sane. Designing and creating are my lifelines. I can't not do it. I'd do it for free and often do. By being selective with the projects I accept I have had time to work on the business of design. I have organized changes coming soon.
This year has been full of change, good change and exhausting change. While Berlin doesn't quite feel like home, Houston no longer does either. The expat limbo. I'm looking forward to what the next few years hold for us.