I finished my fall semester in Berlin and went back home to Kyiv in Ukraine quite abruptly—leaving for the airport immediately after the Goethe Training Exam for the German Language A1 level, which I took in the cozy office of ECLA of Bard’s German Instructor Dirk Deichfuss on December 20th. This space served me well in the past few months, as the Instructor and I held mismatched exchanges in German, and as my efforts were rewarded with coffee, biscuits, and Christmas music. I would have been happy to stay a bit longer, as the challenging test dissolved into a part of relaxed singing and chatting with classmates, but time was pressing. Having read plenty of terrifying articles about the Mayan Doomsday predictions, I was determined to be home by the 21st of December, to melancholically contemplate the sunset of civilization from my balcony. No sooner said than done, a plane delivered me from the (almost) vernal Berlin to a freezing Kyiv boasting 20 degrees below zero and knee-deep snow drifts with twelve hours to spare before the global collapse.
To be honest, I had many fears about returning to Ukraine. My first long-lasting experience of living far away from home turned out to be too wonderful to leave me feeling at least a bit homesick. After getting out of the plane, I only noticed the negative things: unscheduled transport, people with sullen faces in black fur coats and hats, and dramatically increased prices—even compared to Berlin (taking into account Ukraine’s worse service). Streets accosted me with sleet and ice; the radio assaulted with a report on victims who injured their arms and legs due to the negligence of the Housing Maintenance Offices.
With all the disappointments stated above, I forgot about the main goal of my early arrival and the long-awaited Doomsday was trivially and pleasantly overslept: I awoke intermittently throughout the morning and early afternoon to briefly take in the serene sky outside my window and then dived back under the blanket. Having survived and fully rested, I engaged in a bit of hedonism— I filled my mouth with Grandma’s pies and took a seemingly endless number of decently warm baths (luckily, indiscreet water consumption doesn’t result in a shocking bill back home).
In the daytime, I rushed around Kyiv’s modern galleries and exhibitions (thanks to a restored appreciation of contemporary art courtesy of my aesthetic education at ECLA of Bard) and imbibed liters of coffee in stylish cafes adorned with swanky chandeliers, elegant sofas, gruff waiters and insipid cuisine. The night seemed to end before it even had an opportunity to begin—well before 2 am.
At home, there were many late night conversations held over the kitchen table. Any Ukrainian studying or working abroad can anticipate the content and direction of such conversations: are you emigrating? How are you going to get a visa and find a job? How are you responding to the inherent clash of cultures? Everyone shared common experience of acquaintances that either got married/divorced/stayed/came back from different European countries for various reasons. I didn’t feel any dramatic change in me – the native language was still flawless, I could still make contextual jokes (I kept following the news), but it was the totally different attitude that surprised me. For a few friends I was already an emigrant; some people have not written a single message to me since I left, others didn’t know that I moved to Berlin and wondered why I didn’t pick up the phone. Even the loved ones divided into those who persuaded me to return and those who wished me to succeed abroad. In any case, I had the love and support of my artistic family, who enthusiastically encouraged my desire to study abroad and my particular addiction to Berlin.
Having arrived home for around 20 days, I planned to spend the second part of my vacation in a mini-Eurotrip, enjoying the benefits of a Schengen visa. However, the plans were not destined to come true: “staying for a little bit longer,” meeting more and more friends and relatives, and attending numerous farewell parties lasted until the very last week. I was heading back to Berlin, which had already become my spiritual home, through the entire Ukraine and Poland, with a light backpack and a heavy heart. On the way, there were numerous border checks and a Russian film about German soldiers on the screen, an unplanned night transfer in the open field from one bus to another and six hours delay because of iced Ukrainian roads. Enduring all of this was worth plunging into the warm S-Bahn, with hot coffee and croissants (“einen Kaffee und ein Croissant mit Schokolade bitte” appeared in my head as if it has never gone) and entering my dorm room, which seemed to have more belongings than my Kyiv flat.
I have no idea where I will be in half a year, but here and today I love the local tiny bars and the Chinese food at Alexanderplatz, the night rush hours in Ostkreuz, Sunday flea markets and bike riding along sunny streets in Pankow. Unlike staid tourist Dresden and Munich, full of classical museums and architectural memorials, laid-back Berlin attracts crowds with its freedom of expression, its colorful people and unforgettable going out places. Many thanks for welcoming me back!