Diary of an Expat, Part 11
Shopping, neighborhoods, and the long night
I think you know when a city has become 'home' because it is not just that city that matters, but the places in it. I have become increasingly familiar with the restaurants, the food stores, the places to get stuff done around my apartment.

Along with this has come the realization that I love Berlin more than any city I have spent time in before, other than Boulder. When I wake up in the morning, and hit the sidewalk, there's this brief moment of sheer awe: this is a place where I am, and it is amazing that I actually get to experience it.

It's a city that has its surprises, still — things that are perhaps not unique, but are new to me because they represent places I have never been. Today, for example, I tramped down to the Kurfürstendamm, Berlin's legendary shopping district. It's a side of Berlin I haven't seen before — a side with €1500 washing machines, whole vast racks of "stabmixers," and, incredibly, a €4000 bread knife.

Berlin is a somewhat strange city in this regard. In oceanography, they talk about thermoclines: temperature boundary layers that are relatively fixed and between which mixing generally doesn't occur. Similarly, in Berlin there exists a definite "wealthy" scene — there are people buying these bread knifes, after all, and fur coats, and the Bugattis sold by the dealership below my office.

At the same time there is also a vibrant community of cued-in, turned-on youth — people with a direct line to the local bands, the local activities, the local ways of expressing that latent creative spark that drives a generation forward.

These don't mix so much. I don't really know where the former live; the latter gravitate to the city's south, the areas of Kreuzberg and Neukölln that are, for all intents and purposes, San Francisco's Mission district with different accents and worse Mexican food.

The neighborhoods have been unlocking themselves to me by degrees, so there's a lot to learn, but it's something I'm willing to undertake. There remains something enchanting about the city, and not a day goes by when I am not extremely happy that I chose to move here.

It has the eclectic vibrancy of Boulder without the tedious college-town atmosphere. It has the creative pulse and beat of San Francisco without (mostly) the hipsterdom and the price.

(And, for someone who used to work at 8th and Howard, without the crazy people. Berlin doesn't seem to have so many of those, although a man came barrelling out of the Gesundheitzentrum on Friedrichstrasse, screaming at me, and I thought I had done something wrong until I realized he was merely insane.)

Of course, all things must be balanced.

For example, my apartment continues to have very little light. It's open enough, but when I come home in the evenings I still have to deal with the fact that I have a grand total of three lights: one in the bathroom, and two desk lamps that I acquired because I didn't want to stumble and kill myself in the middle of the night.

Where the rest of the lights ought to be, there is only a tangle of wires — it looks like I have been the victim of an elaborate heist movie. In each room of my apartment, somebody has removed the overhead lights, a la the Grinch in the eponymous movie.

Last week I went and bought a multimeter, and between this and turning off the fusebox I feel relatively secure in the knowledge that I can install new lights, as I find ones that strike my fancy. I still need to track down a ladder, because the ceilings in my house are 10 or 12 feet tall, but I have faith.

What I don't have is time.

Berlin is, by far, the most northerly city in which I have ever lived, and without my looking the sunlight has all but disappeared. This is worrying to me; by 5:00 it's already completely dark outside, and it's not even midway through November yet.

I fear the seasonal affective disorder that may ensue, and I fear a winter in which the office largely removes the presence of the sun from my life. I also fear the cold; I bought a heavy coat down at the Ku'damm, which I hope will stave off the worst of it, but I'm coming to realize that the reason why most German apartments don't come with refrigerators is that they come with balconies instead.

Berlin at night is, fortunately, still a vibrant city, and there's no time at which I've ever really felt uneasy about being out even at late hours. But the point at which "7 PM" started to feel like "a late hour" is a bit unsettling for reasons of its own.

Germany does, apparently, observe daylight savings time, although in a practical sense they're doing a bloody awful job of it because I don't see any. It's just how winter is here. That, and roasted chestnuts sold by street vendors.

God I love it here.
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