I’m biking down the familiar cobblestone pavement of the medieval downtown area of Münster, Germany. I feel the little bumps below me causing tingles in my body, and I try to evade the raindrops that are rushing through the leaves above my head. Suddenly, the avenue ends, and I have to face the fact that I will be completely soaked by the time I arrive in the city center.
As I’m struggling through the all too well-known rain, I wonder why, of all cities, Münster happens to be Germany’s bike city. Why would you choose to fill one of Germany’s rainiest cities with thousands of bikes? Bikes in the cinema, in the shopping mall, in school; bikes that you sweat on wearing your bikini over the summer, bikes on which you fall from icy streets in winter. Never before had I questioned my city’s identity or my fellow citizens’ choice to bike through this gloomy drizzle.
Fully soaked by the cold rain, I try to peer through my wet eyelashes as best as I can and decide to find shelter under a roof for a little while. Glancing at the opposite side of illuminated medieval buildings that Münster is famous for, I come to a realization: why was I complaining about the rain, when the beauty of this city was made up of so much more than seasonal weather patterns? And why was I referring to Münster — the place where I was born — as this city and not my city? When did that happen? I took my first steps in Münster and proudly smiled into the camera when I went to school there on my first day. It is where I spent my childhood.
Yet, it was in New York, not Münster, where I first became aware of myself growing as a person. It was my first big adventure. I learned how to say “pillow case” in English; I tried my first cupcake; I made friends with people from all over the world. New York was truly the city that never slept — filled with lights and people and noise. It was the city in which tourists took pictures of me in my school uniform when I crossed Wall Street on my way to school. It was the city that both frightened me with its squeaky subways and amazed me with novel smells and foreign languages.
Unlike Münster, I proudly called New York my home after only a few months.
And then there was Varna, the small Bulgarian city at the Black Sea, where I spent one year as a volunteer. While it was a lively, brimming tourist city in summer, it was a sleepy construction site in winter, waiting for the warmth and the tourists to come back in the next season. There were holes in the streets that made you trip and street dogs that followed you with their noses just a few inches behind your heels. Our toilet was broken, our shower mostly sprinkled our sleepy heads with cold water. We didn’t even understand the Bulgarian language — but I still lovingly called Varna my home.
While reminiscing about these different lives in the Münster rain, I notice how I created an everyday routine in each place that I lived. I see my brother’s tired face at the breakfast table. I hear the laughter of the man who sold me a smoothie on Broadway every morning before school. I taste my favorite cookies that I bought in the same place in Varna each day after work.
Whether it was in the metropolis of New York or the small city of Varna, I saw the same faces every day, took the same routes, and, in the process of it all, made a tiny part of each city my own. Moreover, I met people in each of these places that I've come to love. It was neither New York’s Empire State Building nor Varna’s beach that made me proudly call these places my “hometown.” It was the people I shared my life with.
When the rain passes, I finally leave the shelter and walk into the restaurant where my friend is waiting for me. Behind the sheets of Münster’s rain, she greets me saying, “Welcome home.” I smile and nod her way.