Regardless of where I live, I find that daily routines dominate life. I’m convinced that if I can’t derive joy from the everyday experiences then I’ll have difficulty deriving value in my life. Interestingly, some of my favorite memories of my time in Berlin are tied to those daily, mundane routines – as dull as they sometimes felt, they were defining characteristics of my experience. I think it’s important to say now that interning at the State Department was my first experience working a “9 to 5” (or in my case, 8:30 to 5:30) – this created a far more regimented schedule than I followed during university semesters.
I’ve talked about coffee already in these blogs, but every day starts with coffee. In my case, coffee starts with a hand grinder and an AeroPress. No later than 6:30 every morning I’d have a podcast on, fresh grinding my beans, and boiling water. Those quiet ten minutes set the tone for my day – if I miss my morning brew, I can tell my day just isn’t set up the way I want. My kitchen window (on the fourth floor) overlooked Gesundbrunnen, a neighborhood in the former Soviet section of Berlin. I saw some amazing sunrises – the apartment might not have been much, but that kitchen was home to the best 10 minutes of my day.
As noted, coffee essential to starting my day. But the gym is essential to finishing my day. I didn’t get off work until sometime around 17:30, and I didn’t really get anywhere fast in Berlin. So I wouldn’t get to the gym until sometime around 18:00, and I wouldn’t leave before 19:30 or 20:00 (I’m a self-acknowledged compulsive exerciser). But the thing that sticks with me about the gym isn’t really the workouts; it’s the commuting. In the US, I can’t imagine commuting more than about 30 minutes to get anywhere (a consequence of growing up in a small town). My shortest commutes in Berlin were ~30 minutes and commuting home from the gym would always take 45-60 minutes. I’d have to stop by the store for groceries 2-3 days during the week on the commute. Sometimes it would frustrate me since I’d just want to be home. I was frequently exhausted, spent from the day. But at the same time, I’m not sure I’d change it if I could. It gave me a new perspective – it taught me that there’s a lot more to life than what you see at University. It taught me patience; I needed to accept a 45-60 minute commute, because that was outside of my control. I learned a lot from that commute, and to be honest, I was ultimately able to let that hour be my time to decompress from the day.
But there’s one true highlight from my time in Berlin: and that’s the Brandenburger Tor. For those unaware, the US Embassy in Berlin is on Pariser Platz, the square near the center of Berlin where the Brandenburger Tor stands. Every day I’d exit the S-Bahn station and walk up the stairs to, perhaps, the most iconic view in Germany. That view was new every morning; it never got old.
I’m grateful for the cool stuff I got to do while living in Berlin, but those aren’t the only memories with which I leave Germany. I’ll remember the peaceful mornings brewing coffee, the Brandenburger Tor coming into view from the S-Bahn station, long commutes home at night. It’s those little things that really make the experience memorable.
P.S. (This title is borrowed from Coldplay’s latest album “Everyday Life” – give it a listen, especially “Orphans,” “Champion of the World,” and the titular “Everyday Life.”