Monday, 18 May 2015

So Dave, what's all this about you moving to Berlin?

Today begins a new chapter in my life as I search for an apartment in a new city.

I've arrived in Berlin for the first day of my German adventure. I'm here to cover a climate conference and then look for apartments, getting ready for the big move here next month.
I'm a journalist, originally from outside New York City, and I've been covering EU politics in Brussels for the past six years. It's been a great experience, but after so many years in the 'Brussels bubble' I realised I needed to get out and really see what's going on in Europe. The European elections last year really drove that message home to me. I've been trapped in the bubble too long and have lost touch with what 'real Europeans' are thinking.
That being said, I really like living in Brussels. So, I've come up with a compromise. I'm keeping an apartment in Brussels, getting a second apartment in Berlin, and splitting my time between the two. Exactly how the balance works out, I'll have to wait and see. Ideally I would like the split to be one week in Brussels and three weeks in Berlin each month. But, since most of my work will be in Brussels, I have a feeling that a 50/50 split will be more realistic.
So, why now? For me it was a natural transition point. The newspaper I've written for for many years ceased publication in April, and although there were certainly other exciting challenges to pursue in Brussels, for me I needed a bigger change than just a change in publication. Believe it or not, after six years in Brussels I still haven't even bought furniture, and I rent a furnished apartment which I can leave at any time with no hassle. Also, I've just entered my mid-30s and was feeling like this was my last chance to do something 'crazy'.

So, why Berlin? Good question. Here are three answers, in no particular order:

1) Size matters. As my friends can attest (and are certainly tired of hearing), I've been harbouring a desire to move here for two years now. Brussels is great but it's the smallest city I've ever lived in, and it was starting to feel claustrophobic. I want to live in a big city again. I've already lived in London and Paris, so Berlin seemed like a logical next choice. Plus, it's the only city where cost of living is cheap enough that I could keep an apartment in Brussels.

2) I want to learn German. As a reporter covering the European Union, German is far from essential. But, it would be incredibly useful. We all know how powerful Berlin is these days in terms of decision-making. But also, Germans make up the largest national delegation in the European Parliament.But more than speaking it, I want to be able to read German newspapers. They do the best coverage of EU issues in all of Europe, and they were always getting scoops which I wasn't able to read.

Recently I was speaking at an event about Juncker's first 100 days in office, at one of the German state representations in Brussels, and I was the only one there who couldn't speak German. There was interpretation just for me. I felt like a dolt. Germans are much more forgiving about these kinds of things, unlike some other countries (cough - France), but still, it would be a great asset to my career to speak it. Plus, I just want to understand Germany itself - culturally, politically, and ideologically. It's the heart of Europe, and I think anyone covering this continent's politics needs to understand it. And there's no better way to learn what makes people tick than by living amongst them.

3) It's a great place to start working on my book. Yes, I know it's a cliche to move to Berlin to write a book. But, I'm not writing the next great ex-pat novel about a lost soul trying to find himself. It's actually far more boring than that (well, I think it's interesting at least). The book, which I've been planning for a while, is about education systems in Europe.

Zzzzzz, I know right? But wait, hear me out! It's specifically about what students in the EU learn about the EU itself - particularly the process of making laws. As an American, I was really shocked when I first moved to Europe in 2006 and found out how little civics education European students have in secondary school. We learn this stuff at the age of 12 in the US (we even have a cute little video about it - see below). And when it comes to the EU, Europeans learn basically nothing. They learn the history of why and how it was founded, but nothing about how the actual process of EU lawmaking works. So, it's no wonder that people don't feel connected with their European level of governance - they have no idea what the EU is. And their national governments have set education curricula which guarantees that that will continue.

That is, with one exception - Germany. Recently EU lawmaking has been made part of a general civics education course in secondary school. German students learn what powers their state has, what powers their German federal government has, and what powers the EU has. It's the same way we learn about civics in the US. So, what effect has all of this had on people's connection with the EU? Has having this course changed people's opinions? Has it changed German media coverage? I will be conducting interviews with German policy-makers, teachers and students over the coming months to find out.

So, that's why I'm here in Berlin today. Now, I just need to find an apartment. I'll write an update about that tomorrow. So far, I'm finding it a bit difficult - or at least not as easy as I had thought it would be. I had heard that rents have gone up in Berlin, but I didn't understand just how much. Already it's become clear that rent in this city is now more expensive than in Brussels. But, I'll be looking at a few places over the coming days and hopefully I can find something. Initially I'm looking for a sublet for the first few months, so I can come into a furnished place with internet and everything already hooked up. Given that I don't speak German yet, that will make life much easier.

I'll be using this blog to document my observations about life in Berlin, much like I did with my previous blog GulfStreamBlues, which catalogued my moves to London, Paris, Zurich and Brussels over eight years. I aim to make this blog much less about politics though. So, check back for regular updates about my wacky Berlin life.

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