I bought a second-hand bookshelf and a matching bank of shelves off a friend the other day. They’re now sitting in my room, filled with books and shoes. My room is pleasantly full. Lived in. And I have to confess, right here, I consider my room something of an achievement. I am quietly proud of him. And of me. And of how we’ve worked together to make something cosy and comforting from, well, from nothing.
The generosity of others helped us kick off. Donations of a bed and a great, 70’s style ‘painter’s table’ as a desk came first, then a lovely big reading chair and some shelves. Furniture was thrilling. I had nothing but a suitcase with me, full of clothes that would prove inadequate against a European winter. Then an Ikea trip yielded a wardrobe, a bedside table, a chair and some candles. I began to realise how just important possessions are to me, in providing a sense of stability, of comfort and of history. Books followed, as I discovered I share my crime love with Germany’s literary market. Then folders of work documents as I settld into a new job. Perfumes. Shoes. Clothes. Boxes of winter clothes sent from home. Then bed linen, a vase, a picture frame, calendars. A blanket for the lovely big reading chair. And somehow, at some point, I accumulated enough stuff to spill out of the shelves and wardrobe I had. I needed more storage. I had enough things to stack in more shelves, to tuck away in more drawers. It really was a lovely realisation. An oxymoronic one – as someone who loves to travel, I have actively eschewed anchors and yet here I am revelling in being anchored – but a lovely one nevertheless. I felt stable. The next time I move, I will have things to pack into a truck and ride with, things to fit out a new apartment with. Things that are mine.
My friend is moving back home. She’s getting rid of 90% of her apartment, ready to start again, albeit in a more familiar place. When her furniture came up for sale, a small part of me felt thrilled to be able to justify buying some of it. And that part of me swelled up like a balloon when, the furniture wrestled into my room courtesy of my Significant German, I stocked it full of hitherto homeless, floating items.
I have been in Germany just over ten months. Sometimes, it feels like 10 years, sometimes just days. I am still, as I wrote about the other day, adjusting. Part of me suspects I will continue to do so, for as long as I am here. But we all continue to adjust wherever we are, that’s just life. I have days where I’m terribly hard on myself and demand to know exactly what I have achieved, exactly why I haven’t achieved more. Exactly why I am getting excited about a bookshelf when others are studying for their PhDs.
But then I think, this time last year, I was buying flooring and paint for a new apartment. In less than a year, I have found solid work, work I enjoy, work that has added another dimension to my love of writing. I have made some truly exceptional friends. I have travelled to six different countries and to seven different German cities. I can read, write and speak basic German. I have fallen in love. And I own some furniture. Maybe, every now and then, I should give myself a break.
Your expectations are all over the shop, when you decide, for a bit of adventure and to see what life is like in another country, to pack a bag and take off. You have certain ideas of what it will all be like and what you’ll achieve. You see yourself swilling wine and having intellectual discussions in a new language … not still bumbling over tenses and genders ten months later and muddling through baby conversations. You see quick and easy romantic mini-breaks to the South of France … not missed flights and creepy accommodation, or weekends spent in bed because the bank account allows nothing else. But most of all you see it one way and then it goes and proves itself to be quite another. That isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s an excellent thing. You learn a lot, very quickly, about what you can and can’t do. You learn when to tell everyone telling you what you ‘should and shouldn’t do’ and what you ‘must do’ and ‘need to do’, to shut up. You learn when you need to listen to yourself, because this is no one else’s journey but yours and yours alone. And you learn that, when it rains, there’s nothing you can do but wait out the storms for the sunshine.
It helps if you have some anchors.