Where to live

I’ve been thinking a lot about places to live. I never really planned to end up in Munich. And it’s been good to me. Oddly when I arrived I really hated Munich. I’d wanted to be in Berlin and Munich felt far away physically, emotionally and culturally.

Today I was reading Paul Graham’s essay: Cities and Ambition. That together with lots of travelling recently have reminded me that I’ve been in Munich for longer than any other city since my childhood.

I’ve lived in the following cities: Cape Town, London, San Francisco, Berlin and Munich. And I have felt drawn to the following cities when I visited them: Stockholm, Cambridge (UK) and Portland.

What makes a great place to live?

My shortlist (more like a long-list) comes down to being near good universities and the halo effect they have on both attracting smart people and creating a good talent pool to hire from.

Paul Graham’s essay talks about the message a city sends you when you are living there. He also talks about what makes a good startup hub (summary: where it’s normal to start something and where there is a high enough concentration of “interesting” people to nudge you forward). Does the city cherish culture? Money? Health? Wealth? Knowledge?

Last year I was waiting for a friend outside a Berkley brunch spot and overheard a conversation “Yeah! I planned on just taking six months off and trying the idea out”. That conversation is etched in my memory. What a great attitude to have. I wanted to dive right into the conversation, find out more about their idea and offer encouragement.

So I was thinking about my ideal city, I’d love to be around interesting people that “take six months off to try the idea”. I’d like to be in a space that affords doing that and having a comfortable-ish life. For me comfortable is cycling to work, being near nature for running and sport, and having a vibrant “alternative culture”. It’s not that I’m at the stage of my life where I need to run off to clubs or go on anti-war rallies. But an alternative culture is usually indicative of, and exists because other “non-alternative” people support, or at least don’t mind too much about it. In other words, you aren’t living in the conservative heartland.

And so I made a shortlist

But back to the ideal city. Good universities, interesting people, and a chance to escape into nature.

Towards the end of last year I was in Bucharest, with the view to moving there. But it didn’t capture my imagination. People were moving in a different direction: a rush to be rich. Have a second car. Afford more. I’m trying to simplify: less is more. More time to focus on what really interests me without distractions. And I would rather not drive if necessary.

Also last year I was thinking of moving back to the UK. London specifically. There’s a part of me that really misses London. I miss my native language. I miss the more “can-do” attitude of the Brits (compared with the German “what if we screw up and it’s not perfect” outlook).

But I never lied the weather in London. The outdoor cafe culture that good weather fosters was missing, Unless you live next to Hyde Park, green is an afterthought,

But there was always one city sending me signals. One city that I had a fling with. And has been trying to send a message over the years. Berlin.

Berlin is open to ideas. Open to a multicultural life. Has good universities, interesting people and an alternative culture and general population with a more liberal outlook. I can cycle to work. Wherever that may be.

I’ll be landing there on the 3rd October 2014.

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