reader report

Berlin is home now but NZ still thrills

17:00, Jul 18 2014
Peter Wilton in Tuscany
HOMECOMING KING: Peter Wilton left New Zealand for Berlin 43 years ago but says he still loves coming back to Wellington.

The success or enjoyment of travelling abroad depends very much on the reason for going. If a young person is weighing up whether to go on so-called OE, he or she should desist if they do not have a specific goal or reason.

I left New Zealand 43 years ago to study music in Berlin. I had a specific purpose but no specific time-scale. Apart from my studies at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, I had one other goal in mind: I definitely wanted to learn the German language. I had had French and Latin at school but, at the time at which I could have taken German, I was intending to go to medical school and opted for physics and chemistry instead.

After six months in Europe, I definitely knew that I would not be returning to New Zealand after just one year. There was just too much to see and too much to do.

Peter Wilton in Tuscany
Peter Wilton in Tuscany

Although I had been studying industriously, I had already acquired the taste and I wanted to see more. By that time, I had also partly achieved my second goal. My German was quite good and that enabled me to gain more from my surroundings in Berlin that were in an outlying district and that meant a lot of everyday German life. To put it in today's terms, I was integrating quickly.

I was always a fervent New Zealander but I did not suffer from homesickness as I have heard about it from others. And so it turned out to be 15 years before I even paid my homeland a visit. Then with two of my four children. It was a memorable visit in every way.

It started by flying over the Southern Alps in clear weather. We had been diverted from Auckland and there was hassle with our baggage when we finally made it to Wellington. In fact it took three days before we got the bags although they had been sitting at the (then) Rongotai Airport all the time. This was of course not a good homecoming, but the rest was so exciting that I was easily able to overlook the complete incompetence of the airport officials.

Homecoming in its narrowest sense was significant in that my parents had moved from Karori to Wilton so that the house in which I had grown up was no longer accessible. After a couple of days at home, I set about finding old haunts and, although a lot was still there, much had also gone. Much of my old school (Wellington College) had been demolished. Also the old school pub (The Britannia in Willis Street) had gone. There were missing buildings on Lambton Quay (Midland Hotel) and the motorway, which destroyed the Bolton Street Cemetery, had been completed.

The point is though: after 15 wonderful years in Berlin in Germany, and Salzburg in Austria, coming home was a wonderful experience. It was made so both by meeting family and friends, who in those 15 years had not managed to visit me in Europe, and seeing the nooks and crannies of Wellington, which were still so familiar to me.

My home is now Berlin. Since that memorable first re-visit in 1986, I have been back more regularly and each time it is the same thrill. Of course, the question poses itself as to how it would be if I were to live in Wellington again permanently. If I didn't have my family in Berlin, yes I could easily. I would be very happy in Wellington, in what has often rightly been described as the loveliest little capital in the world.