Leaving a city after living there for a few years can be as hard as ending a relationship. And, increasingly, people are moving from one city to another simply because they’ve fallen out of love with one place or in love with another. Peter Schimke explains why his recent break-up with Amsterdam was not as easy as simply packing up and moving on.
Until this summer I was living in a beautiful apartment with two balconies in Amsterdam – now I live in Madrid. I had desired a change and I made it happen. But doing something you want to do is not always easy.
After four years in Amsterdam I have had it, I thought. I had this feeling several times over the years, but always fell back in love with the city. Every time I grew tired of the Amsterdam, it didn’t take long until my feelings changed again. Cycling through this 17th century open-air museum, one can’t help it but feel fascinated and illuminated by this cheer beauty. Cars stopping for you, passing canal after another and crossing at least two parks no matter where you go – the city is quite comfortable.
This time though, I was certain and determined to find a new country, a new city and a new home. I began to create scenarios for many different cities. Being honest though, I have to say that those scenarios were all idealised and romanticised. Back then, I didn’t quite understand why I created images of cities with unmatchable charm and sheer, visual splendour. But the truth is that I was spoiled over four years – that’s why. Unconsciously, I had to generate a visual image of another city for myself in order to compare it to Amsterdam. I needed to make myself believe that my future home would be just as stunning. Sure, many other cities have big monuments and grand squares, but there is always traffic and everything is just too far from everything ele. Who can really afford to live in the centre of Rome or Paris?
Actually, I was in quite a comfortable position. I had neither pressure nor a time limit to decide whatever and wherever I wanted. I tried to finish off everything that had to do with Amsterdam. I knew that if I left some loose ends hanging, I would have to come back, or would still be attached to the city in some respect. One of the last errands on my list was to deregister myself at the city council. Everything had worked out fine – except the lady behind the counter almost didn’t let me deregister. It was as if the city didn’t want me to leave. She demanded a new address from me and said, “No deregistering without having a new address.” I didn’t have a new address, as I was going to be travelling for two months.
Well, it wasn’t such a big deal; after a while, we came to an agreement. But there was another incident: the evening before I was meant to leave, I had already brought some bags of clothes into the car in front of the house. It was nothing important or valuable. Over a period of four years in Amsterdam, I never had my bike stolen or even lost my keys, but of course that night someone broke into the car and stole a bag of my clothes. Amsterdam didn’t allow me to have a last relaxing morning, enjoying a coffee on my balcony. This realisation wasn’t an immediate reaction but some time later, the thought came to me. Trying to make sense of it, I wondered if this was yet another attempt of the city to keep me close. Perhaps, as the city council had no choice but to let me deregister, Amsterdam simply wanted to hang on to some of my clothes.
But nothing could have stopped me now. I was convinced that I had to do the right thing and I believed that I had prepared myself for any possible problems. I was even financially covered, as I had enough savings from my last job, and if I was to live like a humble human (as I thought I would), I could easily survive a year on cheap red wine, coffee and bread. Perhaps even the occasional pack of rolling tobacco.
Once you tell your friends about what you are planning, they will give advice whether you had asked for it or not. “Don’t leave,” they say, “everywhere else is in crisis.” “There are no jobs over there,” they say – and so on. Most of my friends’ remarks were correct and made a lot of sense, but this was not a matter of being sensible. Many people didn’t really understand why I wanted to move away from Amsterdam and, if I am honest, I didn’t either. I had no obvious and rational reason to leave. Amsterdam had no crisis and it is one of the best functioning cities in Europe, so why move away?
Well, I was ready to leave and put myself into something new. I wanted a deliberate change. I wanted my idealised and romanticised scenarios. I wanted to be inspired by something new. I am not the only one. Many young people these days feel inspired to do something to get themselves inspired. There are places where this seems more likely to happen than others. There are places where inspiration seems to be available endlessly. But that’s not how inspiration works. Berlin seems like an inspiring city, these days. But perhaps I was looking for a different kind inspiration.
Anyhow, I was leaving Amsterdam, not for Berlin or to Bucharest or anywhere else, but for Madrid. The Spanish capital and one-time home to General Franco, was going to become my home. There was no rationale behind my decision. There was no plan anymore, only vague, romanticised ideals.
I have moved to different continents, countries and cities over the years. And normally I have had a less blurred vision of what I was doing, but somehow it was different this time. The decision to move to Madrid was made only after I had left Amsterdam, which meant it was more of a decision to move away from one place than to move to another. Without thinking twice about it, I simply moved. As much as my vision might have been blurred before, it is less so now. Moving to a place that everybody wants to move away from, my romanticised vision was cleared. There are no canals, only a few parks and cars everywhere.
What have I learned? Sometimes, the major decisions themselves seem irrational and vague. The process of getting there is more relevant, more inspiring and more telling than everything else. I do miss Amsterdam and almost every day I remember its beauty, its charming spirit and the wonderful time that I had over the years. By going farther away, you simply learn about the things that were closer. But the closer you are, the less you see. Moving from Amsterdam to Madrid is not the important step. It could have been the other way around or somewhere completely different. The important part is whatever lies in between Amsterdam and Madrid – the process of thoughts that got me here, and these thoughts I took with me.