Sahra’s story is perhaps the archetypical process of the ‘Berlin dream’. Visit city. Fall in love with city. Move to city. This three-step process has defined Berlin for generations as a place for a fresh start and new life.
25-year-old Sahra was born and bred in Stuttgart, Germany, but says that because of the city’s majority of Anglo-Saxon white Germans, she found it quite difficult to make the city feel like home. “To me, Stuttgart felt like 95% Germans and 5% foreigners, so I always felt like I was on the outside,” Sahra explains.
“Sometimes forging your own path is the only way.”
As we sip our drinks in a offbeat Russian café in Prenzlauer Berg, Sahra delves even deeper into her family history, describing how her mother and father met each other in Germany, after moving from India and Afghanistan to Germany respectively; eventually starting a family in Stuttgart.
“Stuttgart was never really the place for me, as it’s a lot smaller, more industrial and not really a big place for the fashion industry,” Sahra says. “Unfortunately, my father lost his job at Daimler Benz several years ago, around the same period when I’d finished my degree in fashion design. It felt like a time for me to escape, so not long after, I actually moved to India and started work as a freelance stylist for about six months.”
After the shine of her Indian working holiday wore off, Sahra came back Stuttgart to work as a sales assistant, yet the restlessness remained and she found herself longing for a somewhat stable office role. Whilst taking up a new degree in fashion management was one thing, it was a trip to Berlin that was to eventually alter the course of her future. “I was seeing my cousin here in Berlin and he introduced me to so many new and interesting people,” she says. “We went around many exciting parts, but it was at a house party where I met a woman in a public relations firm, which was the catalyst for my move to Berlin.”
Confessing her desire to experience a fresh city and new opportunities with a redirection from sales, the two women seriously discussed meeting again in the coming months. “I explained that I was very interested in this kind of P.R work, however I was about to take a holiday to the U.S, as I’d already bought the plane tickets,” Sahra states. “The woman told me that I could work for her as an intern and should contact her when I was back. I told her that I would, and she even called me up a few times when I was in the U.S, just to check that I was still interested!”
With her heart in her mouth and head in the stars, Sahra made the leap and came straight from the U.S to Berlin in September 2013. Finding a student dorm to rent in Berlin’s district of Spandau (one that she hated due to the level of drug use, constant police involvement and general anarchy that surrounded the area), then making a phone call with a result that Sahra had not been expecting.
A Fork in the Road
“I rang the woman who I had been speaking with all this time and told her I was in Berlin and ready to begin,” Sahra explains. “Unfortunately, she dropped a bombshell and told me she was sorry, but that she couldn’t afford to take me on as an intern anymore.”
In a quandary as whether to feel bitter, angry or betrayed, it was ultimately disappointment that engulfed Sahra. “It was frustrating of course, but at the same time, it was still my excuse to come to Berlin, as I don’t think I would have made the move without that spur,” she says. “I did ask myself ‘what am I doing?’, but I’d been thinking about coming to Berlin for so long, that I decided sometimes it’s best not to overthink – but simply make a choice because otherwise it might never happen.”
Feeling too ashamed to tell her own mother and father that she hadn’t actually got the internship, she lied and said it was going well and that she was having fun (later confessing the truth to her parents!). “I just didn’t want to appear as a failure, as my father had lost his job a few years ago and I knew that my parents would have been totally against me staying without a contract in Berlin.”
Eventually Sahra ended up jumping from to internship to sales job and back again, by now starting to turn her hand to fashion event management, something she feels couldn’t be done in any other city.
“It’s easy to get stuck in a circle with no way out and sometimes forging your own path is the only way,” says Sahra. “You have to find your own style of Berlin and make it adapt to you. I really feel people here have opened up my mind. They are genuinely interested in your ideas and give me new perspectives on various things.”
This post is part of our series “How to make it in Berlin” howtomakeitin.berlin.
Text: Joe Garland