It’s the 19th of February, and these dairies have been running on for 18 months now. They’ve become less frequent, sure, partly because I’ve got used to life in the city and therefore am less inspired to write a 3000 word dirge fresh off the heels of yet another evening’s ketamine and kebab consumption, and also partly because I have, through no fault of my own (honest) been drunk a LOT. We’re not talking Oliver Reed or Shane MacGowan levels of astoundingly ever-twatted, there’s no need to worry, but certainly enough booze quaffed over a 6 month period to reopen Bärenquell Brauerei for a long weekend.
And now, the end is near. I’m leaving Berlin in 10 days to travel round India for a couple of months until my visa expires, and then who knows. Recently, my rock-steady vision of the future has been giving a good shoeing, and I suddenly find myself, for the first time ever, having no fucking clue which country I’m going to be in come May. Or who I will be with. Or anything at all, really. Which is odd, and scary, and mad and exciting and silly and everything all at once.
To be honest, my head is pretty wrecked from the excitement and stress and sadness of it all. These days I feel like every emotion at once is storming about behind my eyes, and I reckon it probably makes me quite irritating to be around. One moment I’ll be laughing along to a friend’s story, the next I’ll be staring blankly over their shoulder and getting misty-eyed, but whatever. It’s fine – feeling weird and scared before a big life event is fairly normal, I suppose. Some people have said that I’m brave for leaving my job and life and everything, but it’s never felt brave to me. It’s always just made sense.
I’ve been busy recently, trying to cram all the people I love into my life before I leave them all – I know I’ll keep in touch with some, of course, but I’m not kidding myself – some of next week’s goodbyes will be final. And that hurts, man. I’ve worked bloody hard to establish a circle of people I adore, and now I’m willingly zipping away and ditching everything, for the second or third time in my life. I hope I don’t regret it. I’m not very good at not regretting things – I focus on the past way too much, and if I’ve learned anything in the last couple of years, it’s that focusing on the past can – and absolutely will – fuck up your present.
As for what I’ve been up to for the past week? Trying hard to get around my favourite people, mostly. On Tuesday I baked cookies with Dave at Leslie’s place, and we hung around listening to music; I’ll miss those quiet, lazy nights. Wednesday was Valentine’s and I won’t lie, I wasn’t feeling the romance, so I went out for a few drinks with a friend in a bar, where I was hit on by an old German man who told me I was sweet and insisted on buying me a gin and tonic. I may or may not have batted my eyelashes a tad to egg him on – I mean come on, free booze is free booze.
Thursday I met up with Aisling. She invited me over because she was bored, and I arrived to find a pizza, a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes all bought ready for me. I don’t like smoking at all, but once I’ve had the neck of a beer my willpower and common sense goes up in fat flames. So we sat in her living room for a few hours listening to music and moaning about our lives, and somehow this escalated into a karaoke competition between us – complete with hairbrush microphones – and then evolved into a class in Irish dancing, and then inevitably degenerated into deep chats and a lot of sighing and reminiscing about exes. I totally get the girly night in thing now, I bloody love it.
Friday my friend Annie was throwing an experimental-club party with all female DJ’s with her new girlfriend Pia (you’d like her, she’s cool), and I went along to support her. It was quiet at first and Annie was stressing that people wouldn’t arrive, so Pia and I took it upon ourselves to stand outside the venue smoking and loudly proclaiming how cheek-slappingly fantastic the night was, in a bid to lure would-be punters inside. The night finally took off after a gentle start, and though I intended to stay sober, Annie’s free drink tokens swayed me and I got hammered.
At around 4.30am after everyone had left and the lights had come on, there were about 8 of us walking back to the U Bahn at Rosenthaler Platz. We passed a frozen pond in the park and, against Pia’s advice, decided to go over to throw rocks onto the ice. It was at this point that our friend Andre, himself more than a little bit sloshed, tried to tap the ice with his foot. And toppled over, of course. And plunged in. Into the icy lake. At 4.30 in the morning. When it was minus 4 outside.
None of us helped out immediately, from sheer disbelief – he fell in and we all froze and gasped, and before we could react he had hauled his soaked body out. The fallout was a reaction of mad laughter and concerned questions. We had all apparently listened closely enough in high school health and safety lectures to tell Andre to remove all the wet clothes immediately, and, through fits of giggles as he stumbled around slowly stripping off in the middle of the street, we handed him various dry scarves and jumpers to wrap himself in.
I will forever have the image of Andre seared into my mind of him standing under a streetlamp wearing a hastily-fashioned loincloth, legs naked and dripping, whipping his trousers against a wall in a bid to get the icy water out while shouting “somebody roll me a fucking joint, please!” Annie then had to apologetically inform him that his weed did not survive the dunking. We found a taxi (nice and warm) and he whizzed away into the night. I’ve since checked up on him, and his phone is broken but he’s perfectly fine otherwise. Hooray.
I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day about life here, and I told her that over the past year or so, I feel like I’ve made lasting memories almost every day. “Wow,” she said, “what an amazing way to live!” I agreed that it’s fun, but it takes a lot out of you, too. The whole ‘live as if you’ll die tomorrow’ thing is a lovely sentiment, but I’ve put it into practise during my time in Berlin, and whew, let me tell you, I would very much enjoy a few nights spent as if I’ll live until I’m 104 – that is, doing sweet fuck all. But you always want what you don’t have, and I’m only 24 once, and once you’re old you’re old a long fucking time, so I stay busy, and I may get a little burned out and delirious sometimes, but I think the 50, 60, 70 year old versions of myself will look back kindly on young, stupid, 24 year old Dan, and will thank him for putting in the leg work and grafting hard to build a life time of memories.
So then, next came Saturday, which was my leaving party. ‘Leaving party’ is a bit of a non-starter really, because I’ll be seeing 80% of the people who attended again before I bounce – but regardless, it was breathtakingly lovely to see so many of my friends in the same room. I emailed Trude Ruth and Goldammer near Boddinstrasse to book a back room out, but unfortunately I’d never been to the bar before and the ‘back room’ turned out to be ‘quite a big table’, which meant we had some issues getting everyone squeezed on and sat down.
Around 20 people swung by in the end, and it was fantastic to see friends from different groups all mingling and getting along wonderfully together. I was extremely humbled and bashful to have so many cool people show up to wish me well, and the general conversation of the evening for the first few hours swung between complimentary chatter like ‘so how do you know Dan?’ and less flattering stories like ‘what’s the drunkest you’ve ever seen the blonde twat?’
Some favourites were sadly missing – Michelle is in Turkey, Dave and Leslie were hitchhiking in the Netherlands, Kike was away tanning on some sunny beach somewhere, and almost all my work colleagues were on couply weekend retreats post-Valentine’s Day (bastards), but I’ll just have to make sure to see everyone else separately for goodbyes. Special-effort shout-outs go to Hannah, who visited all the way from Ludwigshafen, where she’s living for a few months for work, and to Heleen, who’ve I’ve not seen for around 6 months. After such a long span of radio silence it was fantastic to catch up with her.
We left Trude around midnight as the air was thick with smoke – no ventilation and a room of a hundred chainsmokers will do that – and we headed to Laidak, where our numbers steadily declined until there was only a handful of people left – me, Heleen, Hannah, Jakob, Louis, Jojo, my boy Matjaz, Annie, Pia and my newest friend Georgia. My only regret in leaving Berlin is all the amazing people I’ll be saying goodbye to. Louis, Jakob, Jojo and Line brought me the tracksuit jacket I wore all summer as a special present (that I donned thereafter), and presented me with a little envelope full of photos of us over the previous summer that I had no idea existed. I got more than a little teary eyed.
Berlin is great, of course. The city can be inspiring and magical and buzzing, but everything I’ve gained over the past 18 months is down to the good people I’ve been lucky enough to meet and have adventures with. It’s been hectic, there have been some staggeringly tough times, and the countdown to my leaving has been a mess, but I really feel like I can leave on a high now. I was worried that leaving Berlin would feel like an escape, like I’d been forced to leave the city for my own health and sanity (as many people do) but I feel like I’m saying goodbye on my own terms now.
I am leaving this place behind and looking to the future – full of love, and older and wiser and hopefully a little kinder, and with a lifetime’s worth of astonishing memories made with the very best people in the world.