When Peter Geyer popped up in our twitter feed with his arms around a piece of street architecture we were intrigued and had to investigate further. We are glad we did as it turns out he makes a habit of this sort of thing and few things in life raise a smile as easily as a photo of a grown man cuddling a clock, railway viaduct, zoo, or ice hockey rink.
As an anonymous distributor of seemingly random affection, Peter’s Ich umarme Berlin personality has taken on something of a life of its own. We asked him what makes him embrace the city he arrived in a year ago with his wife and daughter quite so readily:
I’m sure you’ve never heard this before: where are you from?
I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, I attended undergrad in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and between 1994 and 2013 I lived in Washington, DC.
And what did you do there, then?
I was a Principal at a financial consulting firm. The firm specialized in conducting business valuations for broadcasting, media, and telecommunications companies. I managed the fixed asset valuation arm of the business.
How did you end up in Berlin?
There is a very long answer to that very short question. I have always had two fascinations in life: international politics and world history. As such, Berlin has had a front seat in my imagination for as far back as I can remember. At the same time, I have wanted to live and work overseas for years, and my fortunately my wife shared in these ambitions. So, when we decided that it was time to follow our dreams of seeing the world, Berlin was our natural choice. We literally sold everything we owned, got on a plane, and came here.
Have you lived abroad before?
I lived for a couple of years in the UK when I was in high school and college. That is where I first gained my hunger for living in different places. Later, I worked a summer in Prague, and did a grad school internship in Seoul.
So what’s so good about Berlin?
Berlin is such an international city. It attracts people from all over the world – and always has – so it has a very cosmopolitan flavor. I love that melting pot atmosphere. Berlin is big without being overwhelming. It is always reinventing itself, but it also has elements that are constant. It is incredibly inexpensive to live here – with a cost of living about 30% less than Washington, DC. And finally – and this may shock some people – we have found native Berliners to be very friendly and welcoming to us. Maybe it is because we are not the typical 20-something hipsters that have swarmed into the city, but we have always felt incredibly welcome here.
And what don’t you like?
I asked that question of my daughter after we had been here a few months, and she said she didn’t like all the graffiti and all the smokers. I can’t say that I disagree with her. I also wish that the city was able to spend more money on maintenance of public parks. But if it is a question of spending on social needs or mowing the grass, I can understand why Berlin chooses the priorities that it does.
Do you feel like an insider or outsider?
Because we have tried to “go native” as much as possible – we try not to hang out in expat circles, and our daughter attends a neighborhood school and plays on local sports teams – we feel more inside than outsiders. However, as we are still struggling with our German, we are probably more outside than insiders.
How do you support yourself?
I have started a consultancy working with European companies to develop market entry strategies for expansion into North America. I am also doing some freelance business writing and mentoring for German entrepreneurs. My wife is a freelance copy writer, copy editor, and social media consultant. Both of us are supporting ourselves with residual income from the U.S., and new income from Germany. It’s still all very early stage stuff, but we are excited by our prospects.
Any advice for wannabe Berliners?
Because of my Ich Umarme Berlin blog, I always try to be current on what others are saying about my adopted city. And because I am an entrepreneur, I always try to be aware of the talent that is coming to Berlin and why. One thing that is constant are people who come to this city expecting it to provide them with everything they need the moment they land, and then get frustrated with the city – and most particularly the people – when they don’t get it.
The question they always ask is, “What is Berlin going to give me?” I think that is exactly the wrong question. They should ask, “What do I have to give Berlin?” If it is something useful; if it is something positive; if it is something that gives as much as it takes; Berlin will be welcoming, and it will provide (of course, that is true anywhere in the world). Beyond that, I would advise people that Berlin is more than just clubs, and it’s more than just partying. Be open to making friends among actual Berliners, and they will open doors to you that you didn’t even know existed.
Is the move permanent?
I always joke that I will stay here until the money runs out or until they kick me out. I would like to think that I am here permanently. But permanence is a relative term.
Finally, tell us about something typically Berlin
Both figuratively and literally, you can only see about 10% of Berlin from street level. First, you need to understand that there is an entire city that you can’t see from the tour bus. Then you need to find the unmarked passageways that will let you into that hidden city.