"I miss something." I have thought this repeatedly over the past few weeks, only to add, as if playing the lead in an absurdist play, "but I don't know what."
Ever since I moved back to Berlin almost six months ago, after spending the better part of the past ten years in England and America, I've been missing something without quite knowing what it was. It wasn't just the glitziness of New York, the city I left for Berlin, the hustle and bustle of its streets or going out with notoriously busy Manhattanites; in short, the sheer power of a true metropolis against which Berlin, while being hailed as edgy, can only feel tranquil by comparison.
"What could you possibly miss?" My German friends kept pressing me for an answer. "You grew up here, surely this is home for you. And there are so many New Yorkers living in Berlin, they can't all be wrong, can they?"
Every return entails a form of alienation: you get restless waiting for your coffee-to-go when those few seconds have passed in which a New Yorker gets impatient. You feel people invade your personal space when they don't queue up the way you've become used to.
You think someone is rude when they are upfront (as in the countless situations in which I've been defined by either my age or my gender or both). You remind yourself that not everybody understands that there's a difference between offending someone and being politically incorrect.
You attempt to ignore the quiet sense of contempt that is reflected off so many faces on your daily commute that you feel as though you are walking through a postmodern version of a painting by Otto Dix. You miss the language you've made your own (despite the fact you still can't quite get away with impersonating the clipped accent of a Radio 4 presenter).