Berlin: Love, Marriage, Babymoon?


It rained every day we were in Germany.

David disagrees with me about this, but I remember every morning pulling on the wool blazer I wear in airports (since 2001, I’ve dressed up for the TSA) because it was the only warm thing I’d brought.

The city of Holguin in eastern Cuba.
The city of Holguin in eastern Cuba.  (ANDREA BRUCE / The New York Times)

But we’re seasoned travelers, and a little rain couldn’t stop us. Once ensconced in Berlin, we bought coffee, wine and hazelnut candies at the grocer near our rented apartment. We learned the rail system and went to see Frederick the Great’s summer palace. We biked through Tiergarten, not too proud to stop at a touristy beer garden. We saw the big important museums but had more fun at the old Stasi headquarters. We splurged on a date night — a concert at the Philharmoniker — then sat at a bar and discussed what we’d heard.

Sure, our optimistic arrangements to visit Badeschiff, a faux beach on the banks of the Spree, went unrealized because of the damp. But Berlin is a town that makes more sense overcast than not, and we share a tacit agreement that the best way to see a place is to not rush around searching for it, but simply by losing yourself in it. So we walked. We window-shopped. We sussed out some good meals. Still, something was off.

David and I had our first date the night President George W. Bush ordered the bombing of Baghdad. We sat at a so-so French restaurant in Brooklyn, talking about whatever you talk about when trying to explain yourself to a stranger. For me, that was probably books, films or Tchaikovsky. For David, it was probably travel; jumping on a plane to India, to Greece, to Florida was both his job (he’s a photographer) and also his passion.

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We shared what we most cared about; that’s how falling in love works. I gave him the books I love, he took me to a favorite bar; we rented a movie he loves, I cooked him a meal meaningful to me. And we traveled. Only weeks into our relationship, we flew to Buenos Aires. I tagged along on David’s work trips to Tbilisi and Brussels; we planned our own visits to Jaipur and Prague. It was fitting that we were on a plane from California to New York when we decided to get married.

A year later we were spouses. The next order of business should have been the honeymoon. We talked about Egypt, Iran, Colombia. Then we went to an open house at an Upper East Side adoption agency, and suddenly it seemed clear where our next adventure would take us.

Becoming a parent by adoption is not dissimilar to becoming a parent by biology — stress, hope, some paperwork. But adoption has no fixed schedule, no changing body to mark time’s passage. We were waiting for the alignment of stars we couldn’t see. Egypt, Iran or Colombia were less feasible since our budget was dedicated to becoming a family. Thriftily, we cashed in our frequent flyer miles to go to Germany.

By that point, we’d settled into an easy rhythm on the road. We didn’t need to confer, and I can’t recall ever bickering. We shared priorities: going to a grocery store so there was coffee on hand in the morning, learning the transit system, renting bicycles, prioritizing art museums and crazy old houses over hip stores or hotel bars. We just hung out. It was fun, and it was romantic, that particular magic of being alone with the person you love in a place where everything — the time, the taste of the tap water, the bed in which you sleep — is different.

We had joked the trip was a babymoon — and maybe the joke was on us. The romantic little aerie we’d rented turned out to be in a neighborhood undergoing a baby boom, every other Berliner pushing a pram. As a coping mechanism, we’d assigned some future, hypothetical baby a name; that name kept coming up as we trekked around the city, just talking.

There was no way to know if we’d need another babymoon a year thence, or two, even three, to distract us while we waited to become parents; there was no way to know if we had enough frequent flyer miles to escape from that holding pattern. It was a “don’t think of elephants” situation. We went all the way to Europe but couldn’t stop thinking about home. We weren’t homesick as such; we were in the middle of revising our very definition of home — no longer just our tidy apartment in Brooklyn, but something more abstract, involving us and some as yet nameless and faceless child.

After six days, we’d walked and talked ourselves out. We took the train to Dresden, but miscalculated, arriving the day the museum we most wanted to see was closed. We ate at a middling Thai restaurant, we swam in the basement pool of our weird business travelers hotel, we went to bed early. Two days later, we flew home. It was finally sunny the morning we left, beautiful and summery.

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Four months after coming home from Germany, nine months after that open house, we went back to the agency on the Upper East Side and met our son for the first time.

As it turned out we didn’t need another trip to distract us from waiting to become parents. As it turned out, although we’d only been joking, that visit to Berlin really was a babymoon.

Time and parenthood has sweetened my memory of that trip. I marvel now that it was feasible to stay in a tiny apartment four flights up, and possible to nap off our jet lag then go to dinner at 9, that we could spend a rainy afternoon in a spa, or linger in an archaeological museum, or just walk with no particular destination, while having a conversation without being interrupted.

I haven’t left the country once since that trip — a statement of fact, not regret. We have two kids now, and the four of us have plenty of adventures. Someday we’ll take them to all the places David and I once plotted visiting — Rome and London, Sri Lanka and Senegal. Maybe we’ll go back to Berlin. Maybe it won’t rain.

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