From Berlin, with love

From Berlin, with love

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A tale of two cities: Our writer Erin Laing was once a die-hard Montrealer but, after moving to Berlin, something changed.

I recently got out of a long-standing abusive relationship with the city of Montreal.

It took me a long time to come to terms with it. Better late than never, right? As a woman especially, when you realize you were in an abusive relationship, all you do is torture yourself as to why you didn’t clue in sooner or get out earlier. You question your strength, your position as an alpha female. You repeatedly ask yourself how you got caught up in that kind of relationship. Where was your normally level-headed brain when you needed it most?

The questions go on until you become exhausted from persecuting yourself and decide, instead, to pay a therapist a ton of money to help put things in perspective.

I grew up in Montreal. It was my hometown and my first love and, like all first loves, I thought it could do no wrong. I had never really lived anywhere else. I had taken a few trips here and there, and spent a couple of months in LA. But I was convinced, in the end, that there was no better city.

It only occurred to me that something was wrong with my relationship when I moved to Berlin, the land of perpetual greyness. The moderate temperatures and sunless sky was unsettling at first and I couldn’t help but compare it to my beautiful hometown. I kept thinking that the winters may be brutal in Montreal but at least the sun comes out and the summers, well, what can I say? They’re simply spectacular.

And that’s when it dawned on me: I had justified Montreal’s callous disposition.

I thought Montreal was so remarkable and unique because of its seasonal extremes: minus 30-degree weather in the winter, plus 30 in the summer. Give or take 15 degrees on any given day during the spring or fall.  I was in love with its impulsiveness.

Car buried under Montreal snow

Montreal winter


I was also convinced that my creativity and inspiration stemmed from the seasons’ cruel cycle. Extremes are refreshing, I told myself. They make you think. They make you question. They give you a sense of purpose. Don’t they?

I questioned whether or not my justifications were valid as I played the seasons over and over again in my head. I had to remind myself that no relationship is perfect. I was sure that I was right to have taken my stance yet, with each passing, cloudy day in Berlin, the reality of my relationship with Montreal became clearer and clearer. I loved the city but did it really love me?

The truth is, I was afraid to leave. I was certain I could never find a city that was as cheap or had such a vibrant artistic community. I assured myself that I could handle the bad because the good was oh-so-good. When summers came, I honestly forgot how bad the winters could be.

Looking back, I didn’t really forget, I just chose to ignore it. I was in denial. When you’re on a high, why think about the low? And when you’re on a low, all you think about is the high.

I tolerated winters’ brutality because I wanted that rush of adrenaline that came on the first day of summer. Montreal was my drug and I was addicted to it.

Downtown Montreal
Stunning skies in downtown Montreal

The city’s conceited notion of metropolis grandeur genuinely seduced me. I had so many wonderful memories that it was hard to admit that I had an unhealthy relationship with the city. I just couldn’t bring myself to confess it wasn’t all that great – that it was, in fact, abusive.

After all, I was constantly defending its snapping cold and its temperamental state. I caught myself concealing aspects of the weather when talking to those who had never been to the city before. Had I told them the truth—that sometimes it gets so cold it’s hard to breathe—I knew they wouldn’t understand or would question my desire to stay put. I couldn’t have anyone hating my city. I wanted them to love it as much as I did.

When I finally left the city, I went through withdrawal like any recovering drug addict. It took about a year for me to recover and be able to appreciate my new surroundings. There are days when I miss the rush, the ecstatic state that comes with the territory, but I know these feelings are fleeting. I see my drug for what it is. Montreal will always look nice from this side of the ocean.  But as a seasoned Montrealer, I know that even though the sun may be out, a storm is coming.


Grey skies in Berlin

Berlin can get frosty but nothing that makes me seethe with anger. It’s incredibly cheap and has a wonderful artistic community. When I first moved here, I thought my writing would suffer due to the city’s moderate temperatures but it has only prospered. It’s so much easier to concentrate now that I’m no longer hanging by the edge of my seat waiting for the cold to snap. There’s nothing wrong with a little grey; at least I can depend on it. And when the sun does come out, it’s not justified but celebrated.


Erin Laing / Expatica.

Photo credits: Montreal port by Vimages; Montreal winter by elecnix; Downtown Montreal by Michel Filion; Grey skies in Berlin by backkratze (all, Creative Commons license)

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