For me travelling to another country is always bound by the joy and excitement of coming to a new environment, with expectations of a new life that provides more opportunities than I had back home, and as a new chapter in my life. But on the first day it always changes. I came to Germany without proper knowledge of the language, so I could barely speak to anyone, and also I arrived on a Sunday, which was a new experience to see, because I am from Ukraine where almost all shops work properly throughout the week. I couldn't imagine that I won't be able to buy groceries and supplies in a somewhat civilised country. I didn't have wifi or mobile internet for a while. And it was hard, because I couldn't even google the stuff, or to speak to the relatives to get some advice on the situation. But people tend to adapt and to change under the pressure of life in different countries. The change isn't easy sometimes and not always bad. I am happy where I am now, despite the fact that I wanted to pack my things and return back home, a place where I had comfort and could speak to people without the need for google.
My first experience moving abroad was in the company of friends. We moved to Asia for studies but I moved to Europe alone after I was done studying in Asia, in hopes of building a career and making a life for myself in Germany.
Deciding to migrate is one decision I’m happy I made. It opened my eyes to another reality I didn’t know existed back home. It even made me aware of what mental health is and how I should protect mine. Although finding my feet in these countries for the first time was a bit challenging, staying back home would have been worse.
Looking at my background and race, and some of the challenges I’ve faced as an immigrant, I’ll say the best way I’ve healed from some racial treatment has been to either ignore, numb the hurt or simply change my location. That might not be the best way to deal for someone else but I choose to focus on what I hope to achieve, it reduces the effects of racial discrimination/distractions.
If I hadn’t moved, I'd probably be dealing with bad governance in my country, be bitter and full of complaints every time I see the results of a failed government or trying out different business plans to make a life for myself.
Where I come was a land of kebab and tears
It is where the west ends and east begins fierce
Mini me wasn’t aware , listening Britney Spears
Then it hit me hard it is no home for queers
My family was humble the vibe was secular
Sometimes I met girls joining a muslim seminar
I was a butterfly stuck in a caterpillar
Then Mr. Erdogan ascended the throne and I needed a painkiller
We never imagined he was that sneaky
He emptied our pockets and it all became freaky
He even put a tax on a fucking tzaziki
This time no one came to save us from Theselloniki
I grow up thinking “it can’t be that bad this will pass"
We went to ask “why” in the streets and got hit by tear gas
I realised i need to try ten times more just to save my ass
It was another drama in history of the oppressed working class
Mama said “OK, it is time for you to leave”
You got brighter days to see and goals you gotta achieve
I went to fucking France, gosh I was so naive
That cold turkey gets me every time I feel relieved.
I remember I used to work as a delivery guy with a restaurant, once I had to deliver some food and the client was on the 6th floor. I just knocked their door, then a German man opened the door, he was in his 30’s. He had some coins in his right hand; I could see that because he grabbed the food with the same hand. I just said enjoy your meal and have a nice evening and left. He didn’t say anything back and since I saw that he already had coins in his hand, I thought that he just forgot to tip me but It was okay for me since I already get paid for my job. Once I got back to the restaurant, my German colleague asked me if the client gave me a tip since whenever he delivered to the same address he got tipped big time. I just answered him by telling the same story I said in the beginning and then we came up with a conclusion that he wanted to tip but once he saw that I’m not German he didn’t even say a nice word. This is one of the bitter memories I cannot forget.
When I think about my early days in Germany, I remember the confusion and strangeness of everything. I had come here as a fully formed adult. A Yoruba boy that grew up in Nigeria with all the sensibilities that come with that. I did not understand why a public holiday meant that stores are not open and people are just home. The eerie silence that enveloped the city heightened my consciousness as I moved around and I could not speak a word in Deutsch. I only depended on the Internet and tech know-how to navigate around the city. It was here that the consciousness of being a Black person came to be. I got to taste my ‘blackness’ in my mouth and it is all sweats, induced vomits and a bit of lime. I had come without an accommodation but hoped that with the money on me and that locked in the blocked account, I would surely be able to get a place. Sorry, no. Just some hours after I landed, an Afro-German lady was trying to speak with her neighbour who had a flat free to rent to me. They spoke in German and I had no idea what they were saying. I only say she motioned to me and the man looked at me then they continued in their conversation. Afterwards, she said to me - don’t worry. Just go look for somewhere to stay for now. We will find something soon.
Those early days are now memories but the journey as an immigrant is negotiating your way every day. It is losing so much you have built for years in your former home and now trying to find or build familiarity all over again. You are often caught in a middle point where you know how your ‘people’ would respond to a situation but knowing where you are, a different kind of response is what is useful. It is finding balance between things. It sometimes means being filled with questions that can not be answered. Or sitting with your feelings and wondering if you are overreacting to what that colleague had casually said to you. You often have to decide in real time what to give your energy or not.
In all, it is important to also realise the human flaw in overamplification of the bad that the good is erased. I am privileged to still be able to lead a kind of life in Germany. The country might not be my home, but I must acknowledge the opportunities it also places in front of me.
I’m originally from the Philippines, a country of 109 million people, where the economic and political situation is a shitshow. I moved to Berlin for a job in the spring of 2019; I was 27 then. It was naturally a bumpy start, but where I’m from, we’re made to be adaptable and extremely resilient; you would too, if you were used to the bare minimum. It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of things. Fast forward to 2021 - little did I know that it was going to be one hell of a year.
I was part of a huge layoff, then I joined another company which I eventually left because it doesn’t align with what I want anymore and was shaping to be toxic. Then I had to go for two surgeries, which in itself was already incredibly stressful. Some of the doctors and nurses can only speak German/refuse to speak in English, so they weren’t able to attend to my needs properly or able to explain the intricacies of the surgeries. Because of COVID, I had to have German-speaking friends translate everything over the phone. The cherry on top, was when my landlord asked me to leave. I’ve never felt so low my entire life: I started to develop anxiety, I was crying myself to sleep, I declined social invites, I felt physically weak and unattractive, my self-esteem and confidence was on the floor. It was one sucker punch after another.
I’m in a better spot now. I’m actually at a job I really like, my chronic condition under control for the most part, and I live in a flat that I love waking up to. Getting back on my feet wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the community rallying behind me: my friends & family, and my girlfriend who had to put up with all of it. While last year was rough, it still did not make me want to go back home because that would mean struggling socioeconomically, but it did make me realize that Berlin might just be a pit stop. In a city so ever-changing, transient, sometimes cruel, usually gloomy, and brimming with options, I’m not sure if I’ll ever find stillness.
Almost two years ago, after months of bumpy residential attempts, my student dorm selection placed me in Charlottenburg, the “cleaner” side of Berlin. Clean, sanitized, European, green. Schloßpark, right next to where I live, has been the epitome of this. It is everything I thought about when I thought of a particular construction of Europe before I came: idyllic, grassy, forest-like, with old palaces and sheep that domesticated themselves next to a meandering lake. Heaven? The same construction of heaven in the holy books that originated in a contrasting desert. This is what Schloßpark was to me. And I never felt more strange.
Heaven is often a strange place, highkey alienating. Heaven is also a very white place, apparently, with families and morning joggers. When I came here, the green beauty took me aback, left me breathless, but left me estranged. Schloßpark is a beautiful walking space. Many people commute from afar just to see this magnificent palace and its neighboring sanctuary of plants and animals. It was right next to me, I was supposed to be lucky. Once when the suffocation and angst of being in a new city overcame me, my friend suggested, “walk in nature”. I went to the park and the beautiful green trees of June and the slight chill in the sunset air hit me. They gave me a pang. They are nothing like Cairo. “Fuck those trees”, I thought. I have a love-hate relationship with Schloßpark. At many times, it has embraced me, and I was able to occupy it. To reverse-colonize it. To laugh loudly and interrupt the brisk walkers and to make a peaceful pact with the sharpness of the greenery. At other times, I marvel at how the exact landscape that I thought was perfect pre-migration, the one on Microsoft screensavers and cheap paintings in Cairene hairdressers, the vision of heaven in the Biblical/Quranic landscapes, is the same one that sometimes left me feeling weary and dreadful.”
May 26, 2021 was a turning point in my life, the date of my migration. It was my own decision because I felt stagnant in my country, I needed growth and change. But even voluntary migration is a great challenge.
I remember the night two days after: fear and despair overwhelmed me. "What have I done with my life? I am a stranger in this country, language, and culture. Will Germany become my home or reject me?" I had thousands of questions and no definite answer.
Since then, anxiety has become a close friend of mine. I worry that I won't be able to make enough money, adapt and succeed here. I fear that I will have to return to Russia having lost this ‘battle’.
My salvation from anxiety is a bicycle and the support of friends who moved before me and went all this way of emigrants.
Now, after 8 month in Germany, I am asking myself: "Who am I? Where is my home?» I am Russian and will always be. My home is a place where my belongings are - so, It is Berlin.
If you ask me now what exile is, I will tell you it is the opportunity to be alone, most of the time. An opportunity to reconcile with the past and build a future that satisfies you with experiences that are made for you, without the fear of hesitancy breaking into your present, which makes you learn more and accept more and be more open to others, while gracefully looking forward to new endless experiences. In short, It is a great opportunity to be you, to be yourself truly and authentically.
Exile is an opportunity to become the best version of you. Whatever you own, is now exposed to loss, but this journey have paved the way for loss and cruelty already, that now whatever you have, you know it is to be lost one day. But there is no time for crying, there are times only for reflection, meditation and growth.
Perhaps one day this exile dissolves around you and you are finally content, with no regrets and with immense gratitude for how far you have made it so far. Perhaps those whom you left on the other shore are finally able to forgive, perhaps they are now aware that you had to start your life from scratch, in a space where you are not privileged enough to have your fall noticed at all. Perhaps now they know that you only had yourself to offer, perhaps they forgive your journey and forgive that they have loved you one day.
Lemons and Cookies
I moved to Germany 9 years ago to get my master’s degree and, honestly, I didn’t think of being any different from the people around me. I was 23, had a pink lollipop haircut, tucked my jeans inside my socks – this is what most of my university friends in North Germany did, went to many parties and tried to chat the way they did: cutting the -e at the end of the words, learning some slang words and expressions. I drank Gluhwein mit Schuss, went to all local Markets, tried FKK, got to know most of the local musicians and even a local writer. Yet, this was not enough.
The first time I felt that it didn't work was at a post office. A post officer (a woman, who could be my mom’s age) twisted her face like she just ate a lemon, after hearing my accent. I repeated the question 3 times, every time seeing that this lemon just got sourer and sourer. I saw this lemon face many times afterwards: in buses, cafes, city administration.
In 2014 I shared a group train ticket with two Iranian immigrants. Two young guys I met by chance at a train station and decided to split the costs with. Our journey started with: “Entschuldigung, gehst du nach Hamburg?” and went on and on for 2 hours while we were travelling together. We found some similar words between Farsi and Kazakh, we discussed German cities and trains, shared some travel and love stories. Three immigrants, speaking broken German, we shared with each other more than a trip. We shared our similarities and a pack of cookies. This was one of the most generous gifts I’ve received since moving here. This openness of other immigrants, who, just like me, came here to start anew, learning a new language, living in a new culture and yet, not forgetting to share the cookies.