There’s a German saying about moving that might explain why Germans don’t move very often: Drei Mal umgezogen is einmal abgebrannt, or moving three times is like losing everything in a housefire.
The comment focuses on the costs of a move but not the benefits – a bigger house, a better view or a different country. But fair enough, moving is expensive.
I bring up the saying because we are hours away from our third move – one housefire – in about six years. Two of those trans-Atlantic. Over the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why we’ve lived where we did – and where we will.
When my (German) wife and I got married, living abroad was always going to be part of life for one of us. At the time, we were living in Berlin so it was me that was living abroad but I felt like there was an unspoken agreement that someday it would be her. Although, really it was spoken because any time I’d say something about moving to the U.S. she would say: “It’s only fair. You’ve lived in Germany all this time.” Except she’d say it in German.
I come from a small-but-close family so we flew to the U.S. once a year to visit everyone and keep the kids in the loop. Grandma. Various uncles and aunts. My parents. And we always included a side visit to check out other American cities for possible habitation, though we always found reasons not to move.
NYC and San Fran – too expensive. Minneapolis? Too cold in the winter and muggy (and buggy) in the summer. Chicago? See Minneapolis. The triangle in North Carolina? We’re not really southerners and it felt remote-ish.
One year, when the kids were daycare age, we planned a side trip to Seattle and I was confident we’d end up moving there. I even started looking at neighborhoods and schools. The Pacific Northwest had always had a draw – I grew up enthralled by the idea of Yetis and wondering at the mystery of D.B. Cooper.
Moving to the U.S.
But we weren’t wowed by Seattle. I’m still not. However, we had planned a side trip for our side trip – to Portland, Oregon, for the simple reason that most of the bands we had been listening to were from there – Dandy Warhols, Helio Sequence, the Shins. I thought it would be the only time in my life I’d see Portland but after a day or two it became the most likely candidate for a move.
In fact, we started planning a move but decided against it in the end. I would have had to get a job with just one or two weeks’ vacation per year and we’d have to pay for daycare – thousands a month. In Berlin, I already had a good, flexible gig and daycare would be like $50 a month for food or something. Basically free.
That put moving to the U.S. on ice for about a decade.
Then, two years ago, with my mid-life crisis picking up speed and my wife tiring of the shop she’d co-founded and been running for five years, we started thinking about America again. The kids were in middle school and we figured it was really our last chance before their roots grew too deep.
So she sold the shop and I convinced my then-employer to let me work from Portland.
“We’re trying two years and then I’m moving back to Berlin to die,” I told everyone, and then expanded on the idea. “If we lose a kid in a school shooting, we’ll be back after six months. If it’s otherwise awful, a year. If it goes as planned, we’ll be back in two. If it’s great, this is good-bye.”
People always ask why we moved back to the U.S., which surprises me. For all its blemishes, the U.S. is still where I grew up and a place I love. I wanted to show my kids the country and let their English bloom (it exploded, I’d say). I also wanted to see what it felt like being an adult in the U.S. Really! I can’t explain it but I just wanted to be one of those lacrosse fathers I see in movies, and watch how my German wife reacted to her all-women’s book club. American parents, of a sort.
Like most things in life, the past two years in Portland didn’t always go as planned. The kids thrived in their American school. We met some fantastic, inspiring people. But the wife and I have been underwhelmed by our career opportunities.
So we’re moving back. To die (hopefully in 30 or 40 years).
It’s the dreaded third move but there’s another German saying I like: Alle gute Dinge sind drei. It’s a saying we have too: The third time’s a charm.
Even if it feels like a housefire.