WASHINGTON — Coming to the United States from Germany thirteen years ago was in many ways a product of being ungrounded. I had never planned it; it just kind of happened. I was in love with an American girl I had met under peculiar circumstances. She was moving to Washington, and I decided to follow her. Simple stuff. The hope was that the city would be big enough for me to find something to do and maybe get paid for it. I slipped out of the Fatherland with such ease, I almost don't even remember the particulars.
There was little certainty, and I don't recall needing it. Looking back at some of the short-lived gigs I strung together -- lawfirm gopher, church pianist, among others -- it's unclear how everything lasted this long. Like most people in this town, it was through a personal connection and dumb luck that I got a real job: as a reporter covering the Defense Department, of all things. It seemed like an especially good fit after working for a German newspaper a few years prior, where I had covered such events as the crowning of a local rabbit breeder who had managed to raise his animals to the size of fat toddlers.
Yep, there's got to be a metaphor in there somewhere.
I have met some amazing people over the years -- mentors, friends, lovers -- who have touched me in more ways than I could ever recount. America has taught me a lot, good and bad. On the good side, it's a great place for people willing to teach themselves something new, let themselves drift. On the bad side, she can leave you feel powerless and humiliated. Ask any immigrant. Or anyone with
out health insurance.
America also saw me turn me into a father, the fondest of all memories. Our oldest is now almost ten. We gave both kids names that would equally suit Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon tongues because the expectation has always been that we would move between worlds old and new. I found the space between often is the sweet spot.
We're now in the process of doing just that, securing an apartment in Köln-Ehrenfeld. It's a loft-style dwelling in a converted factory that once manufactured nails. (There may be a metaphor in that, too, though I'm not sure.)
Curiously, I no longer instinctively say that I would move back to Germany. I've just been gone for too long. Twice the expat, so to speak. Germany's fourth-largest city will be completely new to me, and I look forward to getting acquainted to it. "Tapetenwechsel," as the German phrase goes.
Change of wallpaper.
When it's time to go, everybody wants to leave on a high note. I'm not so sure this is such a time. The truth is, we need to see different people for a while, America and I. She's got some growing pains to work through that I frankly don't have the patience for at the moment. Still, I'll always be her advocate abroad, in my way.
I can't wait to open for my kids the doors to a European childhood that I so fondly remember. And I'm surprised about how much I look forward to speaking my mother tongue again, and all that artful navigation of subtext that comes with it. Truthfully, I'm so much better at it than in English.
There's a lot of exploring to be done. And by god, there's a lot of Kölsch to be had. Drop by anytime, and I'll pour you a cold one.
(Image: Ehrenfeld roofs in the evening sun.)