My work in Milan ended in early December 2009.
We considered moving back to San Francisco at this time. Joel went to scout out the real estate market. As we feared, nothing was affordable, so we planned the next possible thing in Europe.
Like in London, we had 30 days to pick up our temporary fort, the boyz, and go where? Back to the US while the interior of our 3-bedroom house sat in a warehouse in Southampton? While I was the breadwinner of my family, including a substantial monthly stipend to my disabled mother in Los Angeles? It was impossible to imagine another continental move at the time, or anytime thereafter.
The director of technology of the firm I’d worked for in Milan, a German, based in Stuttgart, was also newly free at the time. I’ll call him Peter.
We discussed working on some freelance projects together. I flew to Stuttgart from Milan and we began working together, almost immediately. We subscribed to the same work culture, ethics and practice. It was a no-brainer.
I looked into the German work visa options whilst discussing other employment opportunities with firms in London. The German option appeared to be the most favourable, even without a proper job to begin with.
Though I’d only spent a couple days with Peter in Stuttgart, he rented a van, drove down to Milan and helped us move north, to Germany. Though he and I got along fabulously the few days we worked together, we’d never really spent time together alone. So we spent nearly 7 hours in silence, from Milan to Stuttgart, listening to CDs he brought along for the drive. No problem. We’d both comfortably chat with each other for hours before long.
We arrived in Stuttgart and got a hotel while Peter went home. The next day we’d move the contents of the Transporter into the second room of the new office.
Joel and I drove on to Berlin the next day. We rented a vacation apartment rental, before any AirBnBs existed in the city. Through it, we got acquainted with Berlin, via Boxhagenerplatz, in Friedrichshain. Not horrible but not great either unless you’re in Berlin to party. Alas, it was home base for some months.
We arrived in Berlin the last week in March 2010. I spent the next 7 months commuting weekly to Stuttgart by train. Each way is roughly 6-7 hours depending on stops. Basically, like the driving distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Most of this period I’d rent hotel rooms. Stuttgart, a center of manufacturing, notably auto manufacturing, does not have enough supply to meet the demand for hotel rooms. I must have stayed at almost every possible hotel within the central Stuttgart area. Several times.
Because Stuttgart is such a significant industrial centre, apartments are difficult and costly to find. I eventually found one, with the help of both Peter and a couple of folks who would be among the first of staff at the new firm.
It was a very convenient studio apartment on the top floor of a post-war building. A top floor apartment, it had sweeping views of Stuttgart, but also four massive flights of stairs to contend with.
A Spanish student occupied the flat before me and was returning home. He offered to sell us all the furniture in the small flat. As a crash pad, the decision was obvious. I agreed and the place was efficiently furnished thanks to Ikea.
Finally, the crash pad was established. Less rush and hassle booking hotel rooms, not to mention the high cost.
I continued commuting, spending most of my time in Stuttgart. Though I was residentially registered in Berlin from this time, onwards, I’d only see the city and get to know it sporadically. No problem for me, I was focused on building a new studio with Peter.
I cannot adequately express the gratitude I have for Peter. He not only welcomed us with open arms to Germany, but also taught us enormous amounts about its culture.
It was very foreign to me. I’d never spent a moment in Germany before a weekend to meet with Peter, apart from passing through Munich airport en route to Greece in 2002. I was 100% comfortable and without any doubts about working with Peter.
Still, I was a little afraid of what Germany would be like. I am an atheist and very secular Jewish woman. I’m a cultural Jew. I never went to Hebrew school, never got a Bat Mitzvah and only observed Jewish holidays with my Yiddish-speaking grandparents, if at all.
I grew up in Beverly Hills, California in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time it was a largely Jewish, secular community. The percentage of Jewish families was so high that our school district included Jewish holidays as compulsory days off. It was really great for kids. We got lots of time off, especially for the High Holidays, in autumn.
I am thoroughly Jewish on both sides of my family, and both sets of grandparents. My grandfathers fled both Poland and Ukraine, due to anti-Semitism, in the early 20th Century.
I focused on learning about present day Germany and eventually became fascinated with Germany’s history well before the 20th century, the lead up to WWI, the Weimar Republic, Third Reich, the Cold War, and finally, reunification.
These topics would surface randomly between 2010-13. But it all came to the fore in 2015 as I began learning the German language in earnest with a teacher I adore. As is often the case in learning a new language, culture is very much intertwined. And this continues today with my current graduate studies, not so ironically, in cultural heritage preservation.
In Stuttgart, we worked on the studio: naming, presentation decks, etc. There were a couple early clients that helped stabilise things even if they weren’t the best projects.
It was difficult for me to contribute in the realm of business development, at all. I had no contacts within Germany and didn’t know even the most basic elements of the language at the time. Still, I contributed with my strategy, design, branding, and even workshop facilitation skills at first. This soon changed.
By this time we had purchased our flat, but a fair amount of remodelling had to be done before we moved in. So we spent the summer in Stuttgart for the most part. Joel would go back and check in on the work being done on the flat periodically.
After roughly two years, we had the container of our belongings moved from storage in Southampton to our new apartment. It was shocking to see after all this time. The movers promptly installed our furniture and ‘things’. We’d forgotten how much we actually owned.
Moreover, we learned that the folks who packed up our belongings at the house in San Francisco packed everything. Literally. Including cat treats (we didn’t bring the cat), tin foil, etc. We’re still using spices and random things from San Francisco they were not supposed to pack. It’s weird.
In late September or early October I met with a former colleague in Berlin. He had recently begun working at the BBC. Over a glass of wine in Charlottenburg, he asked if I’d come work with him. Things were messy, he said, and required someone with the experience to get everything in order. I agreed to look into it, consulting from the firm in Stuttgart.
After negotiating prices and timelines, we all agreed to a contract. In mid-late October, I’d fly to London and begin working onsite, full-time. I didn’t even know the nature or subject or group I’d be working in. I just went. It was predictable, reliable income. Everything a new firm hopes for. And, of course, it was the BBC.