No joke. But it’s not the Taiwan part I want to focus on (I’ll get to that later). Rather, it’s the process of moving I wanted to take some time to explore, and all the complicated emotions that can arise from it.
I’ve never really been one for moving. I’m not the type. I lived in the same apartment throughout my childhood (the one my parents brought me home to from the hospital) and they still live there. I don’t think they’ll ever move. Every once in a while in school, you’d hear of a classmate whose parents were moving (and it was always the parents moving, not the family; the children were far from complicit in this act that seemed so brutal to me). “How could you move from one home to another, just like that?” I thought. “How could one apartment mean so little to you that you could leave it behind?” And most of all, “How could you ever bear the idea of someone else living in a home that used to be yours?” I never had much of a chance to ask kids my age about this. Even when my cousins moved from one house to another up in Riverdale, it didn’t occur to me to simply ask them how they felt about it.
I can’t even really liken this move to the ones I went through previously, as all my previous apartments in Berlin seemed like temporary solutions. The first place to really feel like a home was the home J and I shared on Lehrter Strasse, across from Hauptbahnhof. About three and a half years ago, I wrote about this area and the specialness of it—feeling like you were in no man’s land, not really in any of the neighborhoods surrounding it, but rather in some bizarre hybrid that needed a new name all its own. I christened it “WeMiTiMo” (Wedding, Mitte, Tiergarten, Moabit), but then someone else came along and named it, “EuropaCity,” and that’s when the horror—and I do call it horror—began. The empty space just north of Hauptbahnhof is to be filled with high-rise office buildings and hotels, the industrial structures along the canal running from Mitte up to Wedding were cleared out to make room for luxury waterside condos. And worst of all, they started digging a new S-Bahn tunnel, connecting Hauptbahnhof to the ring, literally outside our front door, beneath our bedroom window.
It was obvious we needed to move, and finally, after three years of searching, we did. We found a new apartment in a neighborhood we had always coveted: the Bayerisches Viertel or Bavarian Quarter in Schöneberg (although we actually live on the western side of the street that is the dividing line, making us officially Wilmersdorfers). We signed a contract with help from a guarantor, since even freelancers who have a decent amount of work and make good money aren’t trusted to sign a lease on their own in Berlin these days. We reserved a moving van, and invited friends over to help. The weekend was more than a little bit hectic, as J had a gig to play that Saturday night, which meant we would have to pack up everything on Saturday during the day and be ready to move it all on Sunday morning. But with the help of some very determined and very strong friends, it was all over in about four hours, and by 2pm on Sunday we were sitting in our new flat, breathing a sigh of relief and—unexpectedly—missing our old home terribly.
What? How was this even possible? What we had been through would probably be enough to send some husbands ‘round the bend, and then turn some wives into axe murderers. But the attachment to our little guard house apartment on Lehrter Strasse ran deeper than we thought, it turns out, and over the next few weeks, we would wake up thinking of the garden, envisioning how it must have looked at that precise moment, wondering, above all, what flower or which tree might be on the verge of blooming, whose splendor we would consequently miss out on.
But it wasn’t just that. Through all the pining after the blooming cherry trees and the lilac whose divine scent would soon fill our bathroom and the sunset we could kind of sort of see from the living room window, what we found most difficult about the move was learning to leave behind a part of our lives that had actually meant a lot to us both.
When I first moved in there with J, I remember him finding me once in tears because I realized it would mean I’d never get to ring the doorbell, come up the stairs, and find him waiting for me on the landing with open arms. Now, I realized, he would never watch for me coming up the path at the end of the day, or blow the vuvuzela he got for the last World Cup as I left the house in the mornings, perplexing the poor neighbors as they took their dogs on early morning walks. There was no path anymore, because we lived in a nice Altbau on a beautiful street with a normal sidewalk in a normal neighborhood. We had, in a sense, grown up without realizing it, and our adult apartment (twice as big as the one on Lehrter Strasse but also twice as expensive) was proof of that.
Do I feel like we are different people now that we’ve moved? Maybe, but something else has changed, something less discernible. When I imagine the two of us together, the relationship I have in my head is one that revolves around Lehrter Strasse. Moving house together, in a way, involves figuring out how to be a couple all over again—a whole new kind of couple against a different backdrop, like taking the two principle actors in a play and dropping them into an entirely new kind of scenery, then watching them improvise.
After I got back from Taiwan, I spent a long weekend back at Lehrter Strasse, painting the walls white for the people who would soon move in—friends of our neighbors who already knew the place and its surroundings and its quirks. J reports that our upstairs neighbor is taking good care of the garden, perhaps even better care than we ever did, and that he will soon bring her some raspberry plants from our Parstein garden—our last contribution to that small city plot that now feels like an old friend. The lilac will surely be blossoming there soon, along with the tiny apple tree J planted before we even met.
How do you bear the idea of someone else living in a home that used to be yours? Well, the answer is simple, really: you don’t. But you do learn to live with it, to make your new home fit you as well as it possibly can, to work to form the bonds all over again, find new paths, new lilac trees. Until one day, you find another place, you move out, move on, and the process starts all over again.