Today I thought I’d share the first part of the chapter about my painful experience relocating to Berlin in 2011. This is one of only two personal story chapters in the book, the rest is practical advice. I wrote this, and the one about my positive relocation to Copenhagen, to put the rest of the book in context and to assure readers that they are not alone if they have a negative reaction to relocation. Whilst I realise that my experience is not unique as many encounter the same feelings, it is very isolating and difficult and it is positive to know that you are not alone in this experience. Next week I’ll share one of the more practical sections of the book.
To read the rest, you guessed it, you need to buy the book!I wanted to share my personal and painful experience of moving from Copenhagen to Berlin. We were settled in Copenhagen and my son was just 18 months old, life was good and we were making plans for our future when my husband’s company dropped a bombshell. They were closing their entire operation in Denmark and everyone would be losing their jobs. He had been with the company for almost 14 years and was valued. They gave him (and us) the Easter weekend to consider taking a position in their Berlin office. I remember walking around Frederiksberg with our son sleeping in the pram talking and talking about what to do. We made a decision that seemed right at the time (and even in hindsight it was still the right one at that time with the information we had available and without a crystal ball), and he took the offer to move. The financial crisis meant that jobs were not so easy to get and with a child and no other income coming in it seemed like a no-brainer. I thought, ’How bad can it be?’
Things started moving quickly as they wanted him to start in September. We started to search online for apartments and we were allocated a relocation consultant on the ground in Berlin. She appeared disorganised from the start and didn’t seem to really listen or understand what we needed. We had an idea of the areas we wanted to live in as Berlin is a big city and we didn’t want to live too far from my husband’s workplace. She gave us no advice on other neighbourhoods, despite the fact that the ones we were looking at were very popular. After a disastrous week-long trip to find a home in August, where she walked us around a number of unsuitable properties in over 30 degree temperatures, we were still no closer to finding a home. Nothing really met with the criteria we had discussed and she didn’t acknowledge this. The icing on the cake was when she showed us a dark and gloomy apartment metres away from a suspended busy railway line and declared how much she liked the sound of trains. A silent screaming doesn’t even begin to describe my inward reaction.
From about this time I started to lose weight but continued to try and have a positive outlook. With the time of my husband’s new start date looming it seemed we had little choice but to arrange temporary housing, have our belongings stored and look for something once we were there. My son and I stayed at my parents’ place in France for a week whilst my husband oversaw the packers and moved to the temporary place. The reality hit me one night at my parents’ place. My son was asleep and I just sat at the kitchen table with huge tears falling from my eyes. I didn’t actually cry or make a noise, I just wept. I felt rootless – we had no home to go to or to go back to.
Once settled in the temporary housing a week later, we realised the relocation consultant had messed up again. We had a choice of several temporary places and she had pushed us towards this one as in her opinion it was best for families. It was located in a former Stasi office block, and whilst the little apartment was functional, it was soulless. It was also impractical for us. The wifi was hopeless (our lifeline for finding an apartment as our relocation consultant seemed to be half-hearted in her service to us), and it was located in a less than nice part of town, as was illustrated by the drug addicts hanging around outside the local supermarket and shooting up in the lift at the U Bahn station. We needed tokens for the washing machines and the office was open for a tiny window of time every week to buy them, and despite the building being full of non-Germans, the woman in the office refused to even attempt to meet me halfway with any English.
My weight continue to plummet and I started to have issues with tinnitus (which I now know was brought on by stress). I would sit in the evening after an exhausting day of fruitless apartment searches and trying to keep some level of normalcy for my son and just weep. I wanted to go home but as my husband kindly said, this is home now, we can’t go back.
I realised that when I had thought, ’How bad can it be?’, I had no idea.
Spoiler alert: it all ends up ok! But I learnt a lot of lessons from this experience which I share in the book.
Well Melanie, we have heeded your advice and gone with an Aussie relocation agent in Berlin. We are hoping that like you, she will appreciate how difficult it can be for newbies. I hope our experience will be better than yours was. But you never can tell until you’re in it…
This chapter really informs a lot of the practical chapters in a positive way