This is the long-awaited update to a post I made in August of last year where I explained my situation to those who were interested. As one has come to expect from my life, many things have happened since, and I felt that now is as good a time as any to bring the loyal readers of this website up to speed on my progress.
It has been comfortably over a year since I rather unceremoniously had to leave Denmark. As it happened, I went on a training camp (which I couldn’t back out of, since I was coaching it) in beautiful Inzell, and left not knowing where I would go at its conclusion. Not surprisingly, I began writing this while sitting in Inzell, coaching my annual summer ice training camp, and reflecting on the tumultuous year that has gone by. For those who haven’t the patience to sit through a long and meandering blog post about the slings and arrows of my outrageous year, to summarise – things are well, and I did have a home to which to return at the conclusion of this year’s camp, and a very nice one at that 🙂
Where we left off
We left off with me in Birmingham, the second largest city in the United Kingdom, living with a friend, out of a suitcase, and getting by on regular short track training at ‘nearby’ Nottingham and Solihull. This went very well. Relieved of any position of responsibility, and attending regularly mostly out of a desire to stay sane by keeping some semblance of routine, I was able to train more consistently than I have in a long time, even though short track speed skating isn’t really my thing.
Nevertheless, short track is a great workout, and the consistent training allowed me to complete the Berlin Marathon on inline skates with a significantly-improved personal best time, as well as qualify for “star class” competitions in short track speed skating. Star class is a series of races which sit below world cups, and for younger skaters function as their introduction to the international racing circuit. My stated season goal for last season was to qualify for it, but that was conceived at a time when I only skated short track once a week, and struggled to train consistently. With regular short track training, I was able to qualify much earlier in the season than I had planned, which allowed me to actually participate in one of the races. Ironically enough, it was the one in Nottingham in which I made my Star Class debut.
Meanwhile, Denmark saw fit to reject both my appeal and my application for a separate startup visa. Luckily, Germany stepped in and was able to fix me up with a shiny new visa. Not that there’s anything wrong with living in Australia – my country of citizenship. But for the work I do, and the circles in which I need to mix in order to be effective in that work (both in skating and tech startups) it is important that I live in Europe.
So where, you might be asking, did I end up when all was said and done? As you may have guessed from the picture – Berlin. After all that trouble, after all the searching in all the EU countries for suitable places to live and visas that I could apply for, and after being given the runaround by Danish authorities for such a long time, I end up in a city I would happily have chosen given the choice of anywhere in the world.
The truth is that this was the easiest visa to go for. Not only did I get it, but they gave me three years, and the renewal conditions are far more reasonable than those of my original Danish visa. More than that, they let me stay during the ‘wait’ for my appointment at the visa office, and in typical German orderliness, gave me the visa on the same day. It is also a “freelance” visa, which allows me to work for anyone, anywhere in the world, so long as I pay German taxes on my income. So if anyone out there needs their computer fixed, some photos taken at an important event like a wedding, some help with your maths homework, or perhaps a training program written for your road to the Olympic Games, then please let me know.
Curiously this is the third time where I’ve visited a city, fallen in love with it, and then ended up moving there to live without any prior inkling to how it might be possible. (The first instance was New York, which I first visited in March 2006 before being accepted in May to commence study there in September. The second was Copenhagen, which I first visited in December 2009 for COP15 after which I got together with a Danish girl in October 2010, then moved to live with her in March 2011). Maybe the key to really settling down is to stop visiting new places?
The other things
On a personal level, things have also taken a good turn. I’ve been able to unpack my life, and decompress the stress that inevitably builds up when you put things off because you’re living in exile. Slowly life is regaining the feeling of normalcy – whatever that means in my strange world. I’m able to travel freely which, for those who know me, is one of the most important things on my list of priorities. I no longer have to carefully count the days I spend in the Schengen zone, or get nervous when I have to go through passport control somewhere, which is a massive relief.
As for work, Berlin is probably the best place in the world for me to be. The Germans are culturally very privacy-aware, which makes it a good place to be involved in tech startups involving encryption and privacy software. For this and other reasons, many of the important people in the industry are based here and I get to mix with a very vibrant and active tech scene (indeed, one of the reasons I got my visa so easily was because tech people are specifically targeted). In addition, Berlin offers excellent facilites for skating sports (and the Danes come here for training camps on the ice, so my departure from Denmark won’t have such a great impact on their program).
It’s not all fun and games though. If I had any inkling that I would end up living in Germany when I was a teenager, I would have paid much more attention in German class at school. I may have gotten decent marks decades ago when I was in high school, but foreign language learning in English-speaking countries is a joke. As it is with any move into a foreign country, I also have to get used to the way things are done, and all the little idiosyncrasies of a city and its people. Also begins the long task of building up a social network and regular social interactions. I have, however, spent a LOT of time in Berlin over the last few years, mostly on skating trips, so much of it is already surprisingly familiar to me.
Where to from here?
The future is uncertain, although I’ve now managed to build a life in Europe and settle it somewhat in Berlin. I am attending regular German lessons, and have even managed to settle into what one might describe as a ‘steady’ relationship which includes co-habitation – co-habitation in a lovely apartment that is large and ‘complete’ enough that it actually feels like a home and not temporary accommodation (which is what most of the places I’ve lived in since leaving Australia in 2007 have been like). A lot will ride on my ability to eventually extend my visa and obtain ‘permanent’ residency, but permanent settlement in Germany is on the cards. I’ve also been settling back into a routine which, in addition to skating around in cirlces has come to include regular ballet class, and may eventually encompass archery as well.
The political environment, and the wave of euroskepticism has concerned me though. The atrocious treatment of refugees by the Danish government made me almost glad that I would no longer be living there, but the animosity towards foreigners isn’t confined to Denmark, nor Europe for that matter. As a well-educated, well-resourced person who has travelled the world stealing other people’s jobs, it’s difficult for me to internalise how a local population can feel so threatened by people fleeing for their lives as a direct result of another country’s (probably yours) foreign policy, but history has given us ample examples of this.
If life has taught me anything, it is not to worry too much about these things. I’ll continue to do the things that I do, and bit-by-bit try to make the world a better place. Living in a place where I can’t vote or run for political office will always be frustrating. With any luck, within a few years I’ll be working in a successful, and sustainable tech startup, while travelling and coaching people to skate around (quickly) in circles on the side. Who knows, maybe I’ll start a family, but that is a discussion for another blog post…
Finally, I would like to thank all of the people who helped me through the recent difficult times in my life. I won’t embarrass them by naming them all on the internet, but those few individuals with whom I had regular interactions while living in exile in Britain know who they are, though they perhaps might not fully realise the impact that their friendship, warmth, and kindness has had on my life. Thank you for putting up with me, making me feel welcome, and keeping me company. I am forever in your debt.
More broadly, I would also include the community of speed skating in the UK, my fellow nomadic speed skating Australians, the Berlin crypto community, the wider speed skating community in general, and my varied network of friends from all walks of life – you were the lighthouse(s) guiding me home from stormy seas. (I might even say something corny like “you are my rock” but those two metaphors don’t mix very well.)
I hope to see you all again soon, and under happier circumstances.