When I started telling people we were moving to Germany, their first reaction was, “Oh my God, I love Berlin!” As if that were the only city in Germany. Because who would move all the way to Germany to live a podunk town no one’s heard of?
To be fair, Düsseldorf is a “city”, known for fashion and business. Which is the whole reason we’re here: for Elliot’s job at one of the world’s biggest power and utility companies. But Berlin it is not. Quaint European town it is also not.
I had never been to Germany before this and I’m not going to lie, my expectations were not super high. Every response to my correction of, “No, we’re actually moving to Düsseldorf,” was one of two things:
1. “Oh, bummer. Where’s that?”
2. “I know Düsseldorf! I spent a night there on a layover… I think. Industrial town?
So I appeased myself with this internal monologue: It doesn’t matter if Düsseldorf sucks. We’re not moving for the place, we’re moving for adventure. And this will be such an adventure! And anywhere is cheaper than San Francisco. I can quit my job! I can write without having to worry about not having any money! And Germany is basically the center of Europe. We’ll just be gone every weekend traveling so who cares what Düsseldorf is like?
But I was a tiny bit worried. I kept Googling the city and found photos like this:
When what I really wanted was this:
But we moved anyway.
Thankfully, Düsseldorf is not the industrial armpit I was expecting. First of all, it feels like it’s in the middle of the forest. There are birds chirping all the time. Our apartment is in a dense neighborhood, but you would never know it. There are so many different bird calls outside our window and almost zero sounds of traffic.
There’s also greenery everywhere. We’re a five minute walk from the city’s Hofgarten, a large park with ponds and fountains and baby ducks and bike lanes and fluffy cotton-tailed bunnies.
Düsseldorf has canals! And the Rhine River! And a castle (sort of)! It has a little old town, the Atstadt, that comes alive at night with row after row after row of outdoor bars where they constantly refill your beer until you physically put a coaster barrier between the mouth of your glass and the eager waiter.
When I try to speak German and butcher any semblance of correct pronunciation, the Germans just giggle and help me out and tell me how awesome I am for trying. Everyone here has been lovely and accommodating. Even our new landlady open a bottled of champagne and took us out for pizza to celebrate us signing the rental agreement.
Besides the difficulties I mentioned last week – I have no friends, I left my whole life behind, why is setting up internet so hard? – the only real struggle has been the language.
Yes, it’s not impossible to get by speaking only English and pointing at things, but that’s not how I want the next few years of my life to be. I have no idea how long we’ll stay, but I hate entering a city as if it’s temporary. I want community. I want friends. I want to be able to read historical signs (my personal catnip). I want to chat up the waitress and read the menu and call the bank and reschedule an appointment without hyperventilating. I want to fully live here and leave knowing that I experienced it as best I could.
So I signed up for a month-long intensive language course at the Goethe Institute. Which I promptly dropped after two weeks.
Not only was class five hours per day, but there was an unspoken expectation that we would spend the rest of the day in solitary study. The next day we’d be straight onto the next subject, with little review or time for questions.
Problem is, I moved here to freelance, and I have a ton of projects I planned to do after class. So for two weeks I juggled an hour commute, five hours of German lessons, five hours of work and (supposedly) three hours of studying. That worked for about two seconds before I started to ugly cry and write blog posts about my feelings.
So last week I asked my teacher, after getting 40% on my test, what I should do. She told me that not only do none of the other students work, but that this semester “Upper Management” decided to squeeze two programs into one. So we were learning what most students learn in a year of language classes in twenty days and it was the first time they had tried this.
At the time I was midway through Fluent Forever, which changed my whole attitude about learning German (if you’re learning a language, stop everything and read this book, it deserves its own blog post). I dropped out of class and with the remaining money I signed up for their leisurely twice per week course that meets from July through September.
The relief I felt was immediate and physical. I can’t believe I tried to put that pressure on myself – to not only get back into freelancing but move to a new country and learn the language in a month? Shit’s crazy, yo. And I do this all the time. I tell myself I’m not doing enough unless I’ve burnt myself out.
So today I went to the library, went through my Fluent Forever flashcards, watched some German pronunciation videos and called it a day. I came home and took a nap before heading into my virtual office. And I gotta say, cutting myself some slack has made building a life in Düsseldorf feel possible.
Thanks Dara Kaye for the best blog post title that has ever been written.