Today marks a small anniversary in my world.
It was exactly one year ago — January 8th — that I moved to Berlin and started a new life-after-Malta.
Life in Malta was barely tolerable at the best of times, and at the beginning of 2017 it was spiralling down into an increasingly ugly mess of political and societal corruption. I sensed that violence wouldn’t be far off, and I didn’t want to be there for the inevitable crash.
I was worried about the higher costs and higher taxes of life in Germany, compared with our island years. Those things are always a major concern when living the freelance life.
But after traveling to investigate potential alternatives in Spain and the Algarve, I concluded that no place else would measure up. If I could choose to live anywhere at this moment, it would be Berlin.
My move to Berlin was preceded by 7 good omens. The sort of small coincidences or odd synchronicity that seems to be life’s way of letting you know you’re on the right track.
I’ve been thinking about those omens today as I reflect on the move, and how grateful I am that we went through with it.
The first good omen was how easily we found a flat.
Berlin is plagued by a persistent housing shortage. I expected this to be a major obstacle to our goal, but a last minute coffee with a friend in the city led to, “Our neighbours want to sublet their place for two years…”
The opportunity just fell in our laps, but it only happened after I’d made a firm decision to relocate.
The catch was that we had to move in January rather than March. We had a month and a half to close off our island life and change countries.
Lesson: When you commit, opportunities show up.
Lesson, Too: You have to be ready to make the leap, even if it means “right now”.
The second good omen was that the flat was amazing.
I had resigned myself to living in a much smaller place than we could rent in Malta. Something akin to the small Air BnB flat we’d been renting in Berlin for our annual month-long stay.
At first glance, the courtyard wasn’t very promising. From the outside, the building was pretty run down. I wasn’t prepared to be so impressed when the current tenants opened the door.
It turned out to be one of those pre-1949 altbau apartments that everyone’s trying to find, but that are now incredibly rare. High ceilings, a sprawling layout, creaking wooden floors, two balconies, and above all, space.
For the first time in years, we flew back to Malta with a feeling of hope rather than dread. It would be another long month and a half of waiting for the landlord’s permission to sublet before we knew for sure. And that delay cut into our pack-up-and-sell-the-car time even more. But it all worked out so easily.
I know Berlin well, but I wasn’t very familiar with the neighbourhood we’d be living in. It turned out that our new flat would be 5 minutes by bike from the apartment where David Bowie and Iggy Pop lived in the 1970’s.
On my first trip to Berlin, in 2013, we listened to Bowie’s Berlin albums every night. It was only after walking those streets that I really got those weird instrumental tracks and understood how well he had captured the feel of the city.
The soundtrack of Low and ‘Heroes’ was imprinted on those memories. Ending up in the same neighbourhood where these guys lived at a peak in their creativity was another small sign I was on the right track.
The next omen was also Bowie-related. The day we had chosen to leave Malta, to take that last one-way flight away from an old life to start a new one, just happened to be David Bowie’s birthday. I had actually wanted to fly out a few days earlier, but Sunday offered a direct Air Malta flight.
Moving to the city which was so deeply associated with Bowie’s most creative period — the place where he had come for a fresh start, to heal and reinvent himself, and where he had done his most influential and important work — on what was the artist’s birthday seemed to be another small confirmation that things were finally working out for us.
When we arrived at the flat, I saw on the living room wall a large framed print by Max Pechstein a painter of Die Brücke.
I had developed an interest in this school of German Expressionist painters several years before: to their weird, disturbing colours, their bold lines, and to stories of the unconventional lifestyle they tried to create here in Berlin and on the Baltic coast.
This was another good omen for the creative resurgence and recommitment to my writing that I hoped to make. A new life in a new town.
The sixth omen related to the life we had left behind.
About five days after we moved, an old article I wrote for Outpost magazine in 2015 went viral and was picked up by a couple Maltese news outlets. My critical look at some of the challenges of living on the island struck a nerve in a lot of people, resulting in some pretty irrational emotional hysterics.
It resulted in a surprising amount of bile being vomited my way, too, though few people disagreed with what I’d said. They just didn’t like the fact that I said it. What comes to seem normal when living in such a small, inward-looking place is very, very strange when seen from outside.
It was interesting timing, with that old article generating so much controversy and such an outpouring of hatred. It reminded me of why I left Malta, and why I never looked back.
Finally, the seventh subtle indication that this move to Berlin was fortuitous is that I found a copy of Paul Theroux’s first novel, Waldo, in a used bookshop in my neighbourhood.
I had read everything Theroux has published, with the exception of that one novel, which I’d never been able to find. I sent a gloating photo to my friend the writer Lawrence Millman, and he passed it along to Mr. Theroux, who he happened to know. I received an email from Paul Theroux a couple days later.
It felt like all these connections were suddenly opening up for me. Creative connections, and connections to people who had been important creative influences in my development as a writer.
None of this would have happened if we’d stayed on the island, with its easy but stagnant life.
I’m not a believer in the supernatural, but I do find that when you’re aligned with your purpose, The Road before you opens up and opportunties arrive.
But you have to act on it. Don’t take it for granted.
Sometimes opportunity really does knock only once.