To most of us the language of love is flowing and gentle, familiar and relatable. Everyone wants to know how to say, “I Love You” in French to impress their petit ami. We dream of walking hand in hand with a lover on the Seine under the colorful fall leaves, or drinking champagne and eating oysters by candlelight in white table clothed restaurants. We imagine breaking amazing crusty breads and slathering them with butter, then kissing our amoureux for the salty aftertaste on their lips.
Speaking about love in Spanish conjures up visions of lovers entangled in sweaty white sheets on a tropical island with palm trees swaying in the breeze. We picture fiery passionate love making or loud verbal sparring with our amante. We dream of dancing salsa with our queirdo late into the night, and then walking home hand in hand carrying our too tight high-heel shoes.
In college, I studied languages. In fact, my bachelor’s degree is Modern Foreign Languages. I can easily communicate in Spanish. I lived in Costa Rica and Colombia, and while I didn’t always understand everything, or get my verb tenses correct all the time, I can convey my meaning. I’ve even conducted romantic relationships in Spanish as my amorcitos didn’t speak English (with just a teeny bit of help from our good friend Google Translate!) I have literally loved in Spanish. I can operate in a Spanish speaking world with confidence.
But it was Berlin I fell in love with on my travels. While visiting here that first time, in August, (the most beautiful time of year in Berlin), my heart melded with the graffiti lined streets. I felt the spirits of my ancestors infuse my soul with their history. I fell in love with this place. I connected to this city like no other place in the world. After that month, I continued on my way; Africa, Asia, South East Asia, Bali, again to South and Central America, to the Caribbean, and even back to the US. But in every place I visited or lived I said, “WOW! This is great, I am so glad I’m here! It’s not Berlin, but…”
I knew that when I was finally tired of the nomadic existence, when I had learned the lessons, and gained the personal strength I needed through my adventures, and when I was craving the comfort of a tribe surrounding me again, it would be in Berlin I put down roots. I didn’t speak any German. Hardly a word. Sadly, after a year and a half, I still know very little. I can read a menu and be fairly confident that I won’t hate what I order. I can be polite at a store when buying groceries or other items, and I can more or less figure out instructions on boxes of gravy or similar kitchen things.
Yet, despite my inability to speak the language myself, if you were to ask me which language I personally associate with love, I think for the rest of my life- no matter where I end up, I will say German. It has been in Germany, specifically here in Berlin, that I have re-learned how to love. And much like the language, this whole process looks nothing like what I’ve known before.
Many North Americans think the German language sounds harsh and guttural. Its extra sounds, letters, and long words filling their mouths in unfamiliar ways. But to me, it’s the sound of Benjamin talking to his little girl, love dripping from every word as he cuddles and kisses her. It’s the sound of the elderly lady downstairs talking to her husband on the elevator. It’s the background noise of people in the cafe I go to every week to write. It’s the canned voice on public transportation telling us the doors open on the right and to mind the gap.
German fills my life with white noise. Not understanding the language allows me to sink into my own world and my own thoughts more fully. I don’t actually listen to side conversations anymore. I don’t understand them, so they don’t distract me. My inner conversations are richer than ever, my ability to imagine what I want to write or create is at an all-time high here. It’s a very freeing sensation to walk around or sit and not know what’s going on around you linguistically.
But it is also the language Roland speaks to our servers in when we go to dinner, or when he takes a phone call for work. German rolling off his tongue is beautiful to me because it’s who he is. It’s hard to imagine sometimes that English isn’t his first language, he speaks it so well, but I love the reminder when I hear him speak German. That is really who he is. If your language informs your culture and your view of the world, he is very German.
I learned about Polyamory here, falling into it at first then learning, growing, and exploring its boundaries and meanings. Berlin is a place that accepts everything and everyone. People allow you to be you here. No condemnation, no fuss. They might look over at what you’re doing, shake their head in agreement or maybe even dismay, but in the end, they will shrug their shoulders and say, “Ok then. You do you.” In a city that has 3-5 different Polyamory Meetups (depending on who is counting) it’s not difficult to meet people who have not only heard of polyamory but understand it and/or are willing to practice it.
It’s also easy to be sex positive in this city that has almost as many sex and swinger clubs as it does churches. I have found a safe place to express my sexuality, my creativity, and to talk about my polyam lovers at a monthly smutty spoken word night. It almost feels a bit like cheers when I walk in… “Lala!” The crowd is an eclectic mix of Germans and foreigners and the bar is constantly filled with the sounds of both languages existing side by side.
German will always be the language on the TV when I visit Stefan. The literal background sounds to our lovemaking. Will I ever be able to hear it spoken without feeling his hands on my skin, or the sensation of kissing his lips, my body meeting his with unabated passion? German is his voice speaking to a colleague at the shop he owns when I stop in to buy something. His English is very good and mostly self-taught, as he grew up in East Germany and learned Russian in school, but occasionally he will speak German words to me and we figure out together what he means to say. It’s a beautiful moment of sharing together. It’s love.
I think about leaving here, living again someplace I understand the world around me better. I might feel more comfortable knowing I won’t struggle so much with simple things like a tram schedule or movie tickets. But in this past year and a half I have become more me than I even knew I could be, living under the umbrella of this precise and creative language.
I have learned that love isn’t possessive nor arbitrary. I now know love comes in many forms and that relationships don’t always traverse a specific path. I’ve learned that love is abundant and there is so very much of it to go around. I’ve learned to love myself again, my body, my kinks, my talents and my faults. I have loved beautiful men who have loved me back. Men who even love me because I love others as deeply as I love them. I have made good friends, people who accept me and my loves in an open and sometimes curious, but always loving manner.
I have learned to hold on lightly, to give people room to be themselves, and to allow relationships to find their own level, even if I don’t always like where they end up. There is freedom is knowing I can give up expectations and my relationships can flourishing this atmosphere. I’ve learned too, I don’t have to stay in relationships that don’t meet my needs. I don’t always have to keep trying to make things work. Ending a romantic relationship doesn’t mean failure, it is simply a chance to change perspective and move forward in a new way, even if that hurts.
German. The language of my renewed life, the rediscovered me. The me that has changed, grown, and moved forward. German is the language that fills in the spaces of not only the physical world I live in but softens the edges of the romantic life I lead. It’s the white noise of my sex life. The sounds of my loves speaking as who they really are. The language of my love, forever written on my heart.