After more than three years living in Europe, it’s happened.
Things that would quite easily have turned my head when I first arrived, now simply fail to surprise me.
Fill me with wonder, sadness, confusion, admiration and falafel, yes; but surprise, no.
I guess an incident on Thursday got me thinking about this:
Waiting for the traffic lights on my bike at Oberbaumbrücke, a man pulled up next to me. He was wearing a white pair of Zalando brand headphones and leopard trim top, and, turning in my direction, gave me several of the most sultry tiger growls I’ve ever heard.
My immediate response consisted of a simple nod of acknowledgement, “Na gut”.
He smiled approvingly and rode off, leaving me to question how I now react to such a situation by uttering the German equivalent of “fair enough”.
Given the city’s large gay population he may have been hitting on me, and no problem there, or perhaps he is in the habit of messing with of tourists or fresh expats. Maybe it was simply too early in the afternoon to use proper words. All viable explanations in Berlin.
Also unsurprising was the fact I woke up in Zürich on Sunday and fell asleep in Berlin.
This willy-nilly country hopping is generally something that is rather mind-blowing for New Zealanders considering the four hours we have to fly to even reach our West Island (known to some as Australia).
But no, we hiked up the Uetliberg for stunning views over Zürich and the stupidly beautiful Swiss countryside, learned about the city’s headless patron saints, Felix and Regula, about how the roman’s were playing waterway taxman even when the main banking square was still a pig market, and danced through the gorgeous streets in the Zürich Street Parade, before plunging into the crystal-clear waters of Lake Zürich.
Then, come Sunday afternoon, I piled into my BlaBlaCar ride share and chatted all the way to Stuttgart, where I stumbled across the “Weindorf” (Wine Village) street market and succumbed to the temptation of ravioli-like Maultaschen, before linking up with my second ride to Berlin.
All within a long weekend’s reach and something I now find completely normal here.
And finally, something serious.
You’d have to be stuck in the bush (Kiwi slang for ‘lost in the forest’), to miss coverage of Europe’s refugee crisis.
An already dire situation has, in the space of several weeks, become nothing less than catastrophic and some attitudes to it across Europe are appalling – and also in New Zealand where the government would rather waste money on a new flag no-one wants than take more refugees in.
Even Germany, currently the shining star of refugee initiave, has had its share of anti-immigrant disgraces recently, but the positives are worth noting:
Those in Munich who left the police completely inundated with donations for the new train arrivals from Budapest.
Talks of further embroidering the tumultuous history of Tempelhof Airport by turning parts of it into a refugee centre.
The groundswell of support that’s sprung up in Berlin, to the extent that when several of us went to LaGeSo refugee registration centre, to help out wherever possible, they were already overstaffed with volunteers.
To live in a city where such a reaction is not only forthcoming, but seen as a truly natural step…
This does not surprise me about Berlin.
But living somewhere where the bike fellow can safely be openly gay, or just plain weird/different, to have the freedom of crossing borders, to live somewhere were everyone is made welcome, especially when they’ve been through so much just to get there.
It may no longer surprise me, but I sure as hell will not take it for granted.