Monday, January 20, 2014

Falling out of Love with Berlin

Hipster Europe
Usually I look at the "Berlin Hates You" signs and smile grimly, happy to have made it this far in a tough city to call home. But lately the message has been feeling a lot more personal.

We originally moved to Berlin with something that can only loosely be called a plan. No jobs, no friends, no place to stay...we were young and dumb and thought it would work out and miraculously IT DID. We found jobs, Ian as a teacher and I wrote expat guides. We made friends. We traveled. We were happy and the city was our oyster.

Then we returned home to Seattle, got married and - most bizarrely - decided to do the whole expat thing AGAIN in Berlin. We never claimed to be reasonable.

I even got cocky and offered advice on moving to Berlin

And then, in 2013, things began to unravel. We were nearing 3 years in Berlin (not counting the first year), thinking if we were going to step on the baby train we better start and then I got the bad news that my role as Content Editor was all but ending. I was going to be underemployed with a limited visa and poor German skills in Berlin. I am no longer 23. I was freaking out man.

Correction - I AM FREAKING OUT.

girl on swing at night
Feeling a little lost out here.
This beautiful city that we love so much doesn't look nearly as wonderful with my new negative perspective. Suddenly the thousands of other talented expats scrambling to make it here are in sharp focus. While I have been sympathetic to struggling friends, I now see them as competitors for the very jobs I'm applying for and wish they would just go home. My idle pastimes of reading sites like Gawker and XOJane have turned into torturous examples of how much smarter/prettier/just better everyone else is. I feel murderous, jealous rage for people I have never met before.

There is a German word for this (of course there is):  eifers├╝chtig. It is actually a combination of bitterness, resentment and roots from the Hochdeutsch word Seht which means illness or disease which sounds completely accurate.

No matter that I know anyone faced with losing their job feels helpless and worthless, I feel particularly stupid for picking a career you get worse at in tough times. As I feel more depressed, I feel increasingly disinclined to write. But write I must....job applications, cover letters and pitches to publications. 

I tried interning, but slowly came to the realization that there was no work following this free labor - at least not for me. The position wasn't all bad, I desperately needed a shake-up in my writing, but I was getting no creditable pieces and simply couldn't figure out how to move on from the grunt work. I frequently felt like the stupidest person in the room, a crown I realize was handed around to all the interns. I started to have light panic attacks to start my day (I say light because they were short struggles with breathing before my rational mind wrestled it's way back into control) and existential questions of WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING pounded through my skull at a much higher frequency than normal. Plus I was getting all this anxiety working for FREE, taking valuable time away from my job search. It wasn't necessarily a surprise as there have been many articles covering the terrible climate of many Berlin internships (The Local's 'If the internship is really bad, walk away' and Avant Hard in Berlin's All the truth about internships being just two examples.) I knew what I was getting into, but desperation can make you do crazy things. 

I realize I am not without advantages - I have an education, experience and a crazy supportive and very helpfully employed husband. I know it could be worse. And I put myself in this situation. No one ever asked me to move to Berlin (well, except Ian and it was really a joint plan). In addition to these positives I've got family and friends that have made it wonderfully clear how much they care about me during this crap patch. When I pissily complained on Facebook about rejection, support flooded in (ahhh! That's why we have Facebook). Also, both our parents gave us generous monetary gifts for the holidays that we are using to pay student loans (yea. but seriously - thanks guys.)

And I realize it is not Berlin's fault. But it is no lie that when your personal situation isn't so rosy it is easy to blame it on the location. I'll just re-read my list of favorite things in Berlin while I have some free time.

I told Ian not bother reading this post and he got all concerned. Don't worry, I am not going to jump off our building quite yet. And if you don't take my advice sir, NOTHING TO SEE HERE. Really - don't worry. I am doing you a favor, giving you a break from my constant anxiety and sharing it with strangers. Misery loves company amirite?

If you do take pity and want to hire me, I won't mind. In fact, if you are reading this when it is published - I am in an interview right now. Hopefully, I am killing it. Hopefully, they are realizing they can't operate without me and want to offer me lots of money. Hopefully, very soon, Ian and I will look like this.

In the meantime, I'll be writing...applications, cover letters and pitches. And working on falling back in love with Berlin.

For others feeling the burn of underemployment in Berlin, Avant Hard in Berlin wrote a great summary of sites and services when looking for work in Berlin and I highly recommend Natalye via deutsche, bitte! as a fellow writer and city resource.  I also, obviously, offer EasyExpat's Berlin Guide and section on finding work in Berlin. Good luck y'all...

If this post bummed you, it depressed me too. I got happy with my next post - cheer up with 10 Things Berlin has Taught Me


natalye said...

I so feel you. Berlin is a hard city to find legitimate work in if you're not German, part of it being because there are so many international people and part of it being because there is such a culture of not valuing people for their skills. There are good companies out there, but not many offering jobs for native speakers. And well, I hate to say it, but the start-up scene here is pretty terrible - not only dominated by males but also full of people who will give the job to the lowest bidder, and I simply refuse to work for free.

I am in the same boat as you and have been since I moved here. I heard or read once that it takes a good 3-5 years to really be established in a new country (one that is not speaking your native language) with all the good perks like job security and insurance and whatever else. So rest assured you're not doing anything wrong; it just is what it is. I know that is not encouraging at all, but you just have to keep at it (when you feel like it) and hope that your break comes. And you and I are both lucky in that we have supportive and working men in our lives that do give us some leeway with not having the professional aspect of things figured out, even if it means sacrifices like less "stuff" or traveling or eating out or whatever.

I realize this probably come across as a rambly message of pessimism, but I guess what I am saying is me too, girl. I feel it bad on some days, but on other days I somehow manage to feel better about it, just being able to trust life that it will be OK (this coming from Mrs. Anxiety herself). We will both catch our break someday, and in the meantime, it sounds like you have a pretty great support system.

Anonymous said...

This is an intense and very personal posting. I am not sure if the title of your posting really fits. Are you really falling out of love with Berlin? I once was an expat myself (beeing German, I lived in Italy and Spain for a couple of years) and I remember that I tended to blame my foreign surrounding for things not going as well as I had hoped them to go. But I know know that you can experience similar feelings wherever you are. Being unemployed can easily lead to of feeling of "not beeing needed" which then leads to a growing lack of confidence in oneself. Do not let that happen. Do not see the negative aspects of your surroundings, try to focus on the chances. After all, Berlin is a big city which offers a lot. I do admit that if your profession is writing, living in a country that does not speak your maternal language does not make it easier. Believe in yourself. You are young and qualified, you have a skill, you have interests. Think out of the box. Think out of the expat box. Work on your qualifications, learn (better) German (I know it is difficult and one eventually looses interest when progress is slow). Maybe Berlin just seizes to be your crazy adventure, maybe it can just simply become your home. But do not cling to it if it doesn´t work out, it is -after all- just a place. Moving to a different place is a thing a lot of people have to do to follow their career. But as long as you are there: look at the chances, there might be a lot of competition but there are also a lot of possibilites. Do not loose confindence in yourself. Best of luck. T.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like me.
I tried everything in this city; nothing seems to work. I gave myself 5 years to settle down properly and all, and it's been only 2,5 so far, but I see NO progress, no change, I am where I started 2,5 years ago.

I have 3 degrees, I refuse to work in bars or cafes. That's why I decided I am out of here. I also don't have a husband/bf right now or a family who could support me, if I earn €100 a month, that's all what I have. There are people who work in bars and cafes, and they are happy. It just really depends what you want from life.

To be fluent in German, I'll need another 2,5 years, but I value my time and don't wanna struggle another 2,5 years.

The sad thing is, that the youth unemployment in the EU is currently a big problem, there are simply not enough jobs. So, where do I go? I am on 10 EU job websites everyday, there is NOTHING I can apply for with my 3 degrees! There are jobs mainly for ITs and accountants/business specialists, which I am not.

Berlin is a special city, there are things I experienced here, that I'd never be able to try anywhere else. My CV can be made entirely out of Berlin experience, yet I could just happily work now elsewhere in Europe 40h/w, and come to Berlin for a vocation.

Unknown said...

This was a painful post to write, and a rare super-personal look at me. I am happy others felt like this wasn't entirely entitled whine as it had been bubbling up for a while and if you can't have a moment of self-pity on your personal blog - where can you?

I hate hearing about other talented people out there struggling. I updated the post to link to both Avant Hard & Natalye's Duetsch-Bitte as they are both fabulous blogs and resources for the city. May we all find what we want (and the compensation to make it worth it).

Federico said...

This was painful to read, 'cause I know that Berlin slaps you hard in the face when you least expect it, and I know how depressing applying for jobs is. Did you manage to find something in the meantime?

Unknown said...

Yeah Federico... I can only kinda read this one with a hand in front of my eyes. It is an ugo of a post, but I wanted to write it and am glad I did.

I am still partly working for EasyExpat and have some things coming down the pike, but it is slow going out there. I turned in 4 job applications today (one with a video) and made a (desperate?) "Hire me!" page here on the blog. goes. But I do feel better after writing this out.

Fiona said...

Firstly, so nice to meet you today - I had a wonderful time :))

Yeah, like I was saying… I agree with all of this. It's a tough slog out there for us writerly types and especially in a city like Berlin. Keep pushing yourself though, networking, hustling, saying yes to opportunities, no to ridiculous internship "opportunities" and I'm sure the right one will come along very soon. In the meantime, stay busy…and, errr... language school? :D

Unknown said...

Agreed Fiona - such a great afternoon!
Thanks for the commiserating and tips and egads I have got to learn German. Good luck to us all!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!
ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008