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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Ragay

Goodbye Berlin - A Love Letter

As my time in Berlin comes to an end, I am experiencing a sort of nostalgia before I even leave. It’s really interesting walking around with that feeling, looking at everything knowing it’s already a memory. I think it’s extremely typical to call a move bittersweet, most big changes in life are, but it’s true. I will miss Berlin and I am sad to leave, but I am so proud of myself and my transformation here and I feel deep gratitude for the city as a home and a teacher the last three years.


Berlin, this one's for you.

Across from my apartment (:

I sit in a cafe down the street from my apartment and I think back to 2020 when I first moved here. I am working on this screenplay like a living cliche; tabs open, notebooks spread, only a coffee, no food because the paychecks aren’t very big, but I’ll pay extra for the oat milk because I’m not trying to fuck up my stomach. It reminds me of a line in the song Les by Childish Gambino, something about working on a screenplay, you lame hipster bitch. Oh well, someone’s gotta do it and I promise to do my best.


I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t talk about the current astrological situation which is a Mercury Retrograde and a Venus Retrograde. I don’t care if you believe in it or not, and I will not spend time defending the use of astrology, but these time periods coincide with collective rethinking, going back and deciding what currently works and what doesn’t. It feels like a slowing down and the timing feels perfect to reflect on my years here.


I can’t say if there was a strong calling for me to move here, but my whole life I have been so guided by my intuition that I usually act without much thought. It sounds insane but I’ve just accepted it as who I am. I knew I wanted to move back to Germany and Berlin seemed the easiest for my weird situation of not being able to speak German despite being born in Bavaria and living there for over 18 years.


Summer 2020 - drinking on the balcony with a friend

My first days in the city were nice! I had a friend here who helped me get settled and during that time, I was still drinking a bit and smoking cigarettes. I felt young and free, not that I am no longer those things, but it felt more forced. I had an idea of what an artist in Berlin was and I was trying to be that. And the B allowed me that experience; drugs, dancing, techno, art, parties, meeting new people, letting go of people, sex, creativity and full range of emotion and expression.


Most people I met spoke about their move to Berlin and how it changed their life. I also learned stories of people who left after a few years; how they felt they had their lessons and there was not much else to learn. I believe it. Berliners talk about how the city shows you what you need, however long that takes.


For me, Berlin showed me who I am outside of the military, an entity that has dictated pretty much my entire life up until this point, and ultimately who I am with no relation to anything or anyone else.


Losing my childhood dog a few months before moving to Berlin shattered my reality. I had no idea who I was without her. I really convinced myself that the best part of me was being her mom. Though Isaias and I haven’t been together that long, I still committed to a long-distance relationship the entire time I’ve lived in Berlin and I have zero regrets. It isn’t normal to be married and live apart. People get married to build a life together but typical me, I wanted to be different. I wanted to have my own life outside of Isaias because I am not delusional and I know that we got married young. I knew I still needed time to grow but I also knew I wanted to be with him. Most people advise not to settle down until after you have had time to explore and enjoy your freedom but I think there is definitely a way to do both. Our relationship is outside of the norm but honestly this has been the case since the very beginning.


It’s difficult to pinpoint exact moments in the last years where I felt and noticed “yep, this is a Berlin teaching moment” and I’m happy about that, it shows I’ve been living. But going back to the start, when I felt like I had to become this idea of a person to do what I want to do, was the first lesson in the curriculum of Who am I? Michelle-ology 101 taught in the capital city of Germany. Obviously, Berlin is a genderless, ambiguous, raceless being but in my experience, Berlin has to be an Asian professor because this bitch does not take it easy on you, hahaha. Do the (inner) work or feel the burnout!

Realizing the difference between who I thought I was versus who I actually am is jarring. A book I read recently used this analogy for something else but it fits here too. It’s like going into the movie theater when it’s daytime and coming out surprised to see it’s dark. I recognized the mental narrative* I would have just to save myself from disappointment. (*not an actual narrative because I don’t have an inner monologue). An example would be my old idea of being a work hard, play hard person. I thought I loved to work and pushed myself to the point of mental breakdowns. It’s possible I was a go-getter before, but Berlin ~and shrooms~ told me to slow the fuck down. I am allowed to move at my own pace. It is no one’s life but my own so I can do it how I want to. I blame American capitalism and Filipino upbringing, but I’m glad that way of thinking is over. I felt intense pressure, for what? The same amount of work can be done without the added mental stress. I am clever and passionate enough to produce art of equal quality without breaking my back and numbing myself at the end of the day.


Work hard, play hard - I thought that was the most efficient way to live, but no, I can live a balanced life that’s just as productive. It’s like going to the gym and then binging fast food; I’m not doing that, it’s not sustainable.

Spring 2022 - expression thru sketch

So I am not a #bossbitch, okay no big deal. But am I an artist? YES. Yes, but.

There was the idea of what I thought an artist was and there’s reality - where I can be an artist without being all of that. An artist makes art. That’s it. And art is whatever you want it to be. So really, everyone is an artist in their own way. I don’t know why I made it hard on myself.

But once Berlin slapped my delusional ass in the face, it was obvious and that acceptance made my life smooth sailing. If I know what I am and what I’m not, there is no pressure because success and failure become redefined. I succeed when I am living my truth and failure is never really failure when I can learn from everything leading to more success. (Whatever success is to me!)


I know the privilege of being healthy in my 20’s living in a progressive city, not needing so much money to survive - and I embrace it. I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to live like this again. I think being in Berlin is like seeing through a lens that blocks out the worry of tomorrow and yesterday, as well as hyper-focuses on the present. I have always thought of myself as mindful but I have never felt my awareness this strong.


Why do I want to leave a place I really love? How do I know it’s time?


Like any lover, you meet, fall in love, it’s exciting, things are not always easy, you learn about yourself, maybe you stay together but it’s more likely you break up.


To be honest, I’ve never had to break up with anyone because I haven’t had anything very serious before Isaias. But maybe I’m the asshole ghosting and leaving people on read, I don’t know, I was not very present in relationships back then.


This is unfortunately a break up that I have to face. I’m lucky it’s on good terms. I don’t know if it’s the right time, but most things in life are that way too. I’ll never know perfect timing. I’m not a psychic, but I know how I feel and my feeling is that it’s time. I’ve learned a lot and I’m ready to apply myself elsewhere. I still have so much of the world to explore. Again, I know what I am and I know what I’m not. And a big part of me is a traveler at heart.


Berlin, it’s not you, it’s me. It’s cliche but it’s true. You might think I’m lying but you’re perfect just the way you are.

My flat's Gemütlichkeit or coziness

I’ll miss my fifth floor flat. The way my heart beats as I go up, reminding me that I’m alive, pulsing underneath the sound of music in my ears, breathing in the smells leaving every apartment door, the bull terrier barking but it’s okay, she’s sweet, and digging for my keys as I say hi to Ben, the musician in the flat below. He plays the saxophone beautifully; when I sit on the balcony smoking pot, I hear him. I lose the noise of the street and allow his practice to become my soundtrack. I wonder if other people in the building are connecting to him just the same.

Ringing in 2023 on my roof

I’ll miss the magic of my roof and the views up there. The time my ex flatmate and Isaias were sparring on the top of my building with no railing. I wasn’t even the slightest bit worried. The gatherings, taking molly and having heart to hearts, watching the New Years Eve fireworks where it was safer up there then on the ground. Friends visiting from out of town and sharing joints and talking about funny ass shit. What do you mean you don’t need your teeth?!


I’ll miss the trains, trams, buses, bikes and being able to use my legs on the daily to get from place to place; getting 10-20k steps a day without much effort. The walk to my grocery store; cutting through my local park with the weird mixture of drunks and children, but that’s okay, we’re all enjoying the sun.


I’ll miss being inspired by strangers’ outfits and getting caught staring and that funny eye contact afterward. The second hand stores, finding treasure on the street and then wondering how much profit the vintage stores are making. I won’t miss the effort of trying to sell my clothes in a place like this.


I’ll miss my regular spots and how I know there are so many more places for me to try but I can’t get over Silo’s mushroom toast or Aera’s grilled cheese sandwich. I hope they stick around. I remember when I first moved here, I loved this vietnamese cafe by the park, where the owners were so lovely and I would tip them huge but sadly they closed down.

I’ll miss the surprise of randomly running into a friend or someone I have a silly crush on. Jesus christ, why didn’t I dress nicer today? I’ll never regret visiting a friend on the west side of the city, even though it’s fucking far, but it’s nice feeling unfamiliarity in a place I know well. It takes an hour and I’m a bit tipsy and I’m weirdly listening to baby making music and I wonder if anyone can feel my sacral chakra on fire or smell my pheromones LOL.


I’ll miss the vast range of film shoots I’ve been on. Student films where no one is getting paid but everyone is really nice to each other, all the way to big budget commercials where I flirt with the client and offer him pot because I never really drink this much but they’re paying for everything on the menu and I would never come to this spot on my own, and everything in between. I’ll miss that satisfaction after wrap, when all the stress and drama stop mattering.


I’ll miss you. I’ll miss how we make so many plans that exist only in our heads. Ooh, we should check this place out! We should definitely have a day where we do just that! The enthusiasm is enough for me, how little or much we hang out has nothing to do with my love for you.


I’ll miss going to restaurants with you. I’ll miss talking too much before we order even though we’re both really hungry and maybe we should look at the menu before we talk about what’s going on in our lives. I’ll miss fighting that urge to hold you the entire time we are together because I don’t want to be weird but my heart can barely contain itself so I just say “I’m so happy we’re hanging out.”


My time in Berlin has been a romance movie and it doesn’t have to end here.

A piece of my heart belongs to you. I look forward to those butterflies I’ll feel whenever the time comes to see you again.


Our bodies get older but our souls are timeless, enjoy life as if you never age.


All my love,


Michelle



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