Falling in Love and Saying Goodbye
Berlin was the last city that captured my heart.
|Berlin's beauty may not be traditional, |
but it's there for those who take the time to
seek it out -- sometimes in unusual places
but always ready to surprise and delight.
We met three years ago, our relationship a little rocky at the outset. Fresh from the American countryside, I wasn’t ready to navigate its public transit or investigate its loud nightlife, dancing in the dark under neon lights throbbing music spilling out of discos. Wandering around the expansive city, I couldn’t understand how so many American offerings dotted the streets: Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Burgerking. Where was I again?
Living on the outskirts of Berlin, a low-key student housing complex in the southwest corner, I found the city’s first redemption outside its so-called center: Saturday morning runs around Lake Schlactensee (and evening swims there as well), long Sunday morning tram rides across town to attend a small church plant, and frequent stops for German Eis, a delicacy akin to American ice cream, but much better.
By the end of the first summer, we were on good terms, Berlin and I. I wouldn’t call it love, but maybe acceptance. Acceptance and common interest. Interest that would keep growing over the next two years, heightening with each visit, crescendoing in 2011, when I moved there again and claimed I never wanted to leave, though leave I did.
Then I met Rome.
|Seeing the Colosseum in real life was a highlight of my few hours in Rome, |
although next time I'll need to factor in enough time to explore its interior as well.
Whereas Berlin took its time claiming my heart, Rome was love at first sight, all ancient monuments and pillars jumping off history book pages studied long – now live and large with every glance. International enough to excuse my absent Italian, big enough to encompass its touring crowds, Rome promised the wisdom of the ancients, long hours reflecting atrocities inflicted within its center, but, most importantly, a forward-looking mien seeking to combine the best of the old with the excitement of the new.
Unfortunately, we only had eight hours to spend together. I walked and walked and walked – taking thousands of photos along the way – unable to wipe a silly grin from my face. Heightening my enjoyment of this too-short rendez-vous were a couple particular experiences, moments where I absolutely wanted time to stop. Most notably: gelato.
|My first gelato: pure bliss.|
Pictures are revealing, and according to countless snapshots, coffee and ice cream are my weaknesses. When I’m holding one of the two, I always look the happiest; Rome had both of most excellent quality. For years, I’d dreamed of tasting gelato in Italy, something I’d heard was ten times better than any imitation. In the US, when Baskin Robbins unveiled its 31-flavor lineup, it took me ages to decide which scoop I wanted to eat, although I could usually cancel out a few. In Rome, however, when I stumbled into a gelato shop, hints of my first Italian espresso still lingering on my tongue, I would have liked to order one scoop of everything. Since I could have never selected only two, I asked for a recommendation: Nutella and Amerana Cherry.
|Trevi Fountain: throw a coin|
into the turquoise basin and
it's rumored you'll return to
Rome someday. Yes, please!
Admittedly, I’d been singularly-focused on my gelato search, so I hadn’t paid attention to my surroundings – until I stepped back out into the bright Italian sun and realized I was standing in front of famed Trevi Fountain. Due to pickpockets, keeping your eyes open is generally advised in Rome, especially in very popular areas, but right then, I couldn’t help closing my eyes in absolute bliss. Face upturned to the warm sun, breathing in fresh waffle cones and sweet ice cream, I dipped my plastic spoon into the creamy concoction – and wanted time to stop.
Right. There. Forever.
Right. There. Forever.
It’s rumored that if you toss a coin into Trevi Fountain, you’ll return to Rome again. After I scraped the last possible drops of gelato from my cup and threw the empty container away, I tossed my own wishing coins into the clear water. Throughout the afternoon, my continued wanderings took me up and down the Spanish steps, around the pillared Pantheon, and through cobbled alleys where warm Mediterranean yellows and oranges crumbled off ancient buildings – a perfect mess.
My silly grin, it stayed until I boarded the Leonardo airport express train, heading for my transfer to TBU (Travel Bloggers Unite). To personify the rain that started falling almost as soon as my train left the station as the tears of a city sad to see me go is surely an exaggeration, although it really rained. For my part, it’d have been silly to cry after such a brief visit, so instead I just prayed a little legend would come true: that my future would, indeed, hold a return trip to Rome.
|Wandering streets like this in Rome made my heart so happy: |
the crumbling yellows were sunshine to my eyes, everywhere I looked.
Being back in Berlin, however, isn’t merely a wish – it’s reality that’s manifest itself many times over. In fact, right now I’m settled into a forest green corduroy chair in Café Ambulanz at Oranienburger Tor, my favorite city haunt for coffee and pastries, writing about the last three years’ travels. Undoubtedly my best three months of the last 22 were the ones spent discovering Berlin from the inside out -- living its sunny days walking along the Spree River and watching the rainy ones from inside its coffee shops; attending press conferences and writing about the on-the-street opinions of residents; talking long with new-friends-turned-best-friends, sometimes in German, sometimes in English.
Yes, those three months were when I fell in love with Berlin, each return visit a reminder of the best days past. But the biggest difference between Berlin and Rome is now becoming apparent. Departing from Rome left a quick sting, like an injection needle being removed at the doctors – all the necessary ingredients left deep inside my skin. Saying goodbye to Berlin, however, is like finishing a cherished book: closing the cover on unique combinations of people and places that have rooted themselves into my memory, necessary knowledge as I continue on but redundant if repeated right away. Reading the same book again over and over would likely unveil new nuances, but it would also miss much of the breadth offered by other volumes. Maybe there’ll be a sequel someday or perhaps I’ll pass through the pages again, but as much as I love Berlin, both the reading and remembering, it’s time – for now – to return the book, to leave, and to say goodbye.
|Walking along the Spree River behind the Eastside Gallery, one of my|
favorite places to spend a sunny afternoon in Berlin.