Guilty! Five Berliners confess

Five Berliners share the secrets they're most ashamed of. From a life of crime to the ultimate betrayal of the heart, a suicide attempt and a father's obliviousness to the sexual abuse of his daughter. Here's what's been weighing on their conscience.

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Photo by Akshar Dave from Pexels. Five Berliners tell us what’s made them feel guilty.


I’m a drug dealer and live in fear that my family will see me go to jail.”

Matt talks about making the big bucks, while betraying his upbringing and worrying about his clients’ health.

I sell cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy, MDMA, ketamine, 2C-B and Viagra. The most I’ve made in a night is around €1500. If I have others helping, it will easily be €2500-3000. I have a base of about 40 regular clients and have drugs with a street value of about €10,000 in my apartment at any given time. I started some smaller-scale dealing about a year ago, took a break and then got back into it about five months ago. It kind of just spirals. You don’t really notice what you’re doing until you’re already in it.

I don’t sleep well. I wake up two to three times a night worrying that the cops are here. The dreams always have the same ending: me being dragged away. I’d probably be looking at a three to five-year prison sentence if I was caught. My whole life would be ruined. It terrifies me. But the worst guilt I feel relates to my family. I come from a good home in Scandinavia. I had a good childhood. My mum has always been ambitious for me and my dad is probably the most hardworking person I know. He has never even tried weed and I think the worst crime he has committed would be speeding in a car. His reaction would probably be more disappointment than anger, while for my mum, it would just break her heart. That kills me.

I also feel guilty about giving drugs to people who’ve had enough. Some of my clients come on Saturdays or Sundays after being awake for 24, 36, 48 hours. They look terrible and empty. They want speed to stay awake and ketamine to kill the pain.

I refuse to sell heroin, crack-cocaine or methedrone, because that really destroys people. I was addicted to cocaine myself, but have cleaned myself up. When I sell to addicts, I always wonder, “When is it going to be too much?” I try to kill the guilt by saying, “If they’re not getting it from me, they’re getting it from someone else.” At least I know the quality of my product.

Why do I keep dealing? In part, for the adrenaline rush. It’s a risky job, and it feels amazing when you come home with a pocket full of cash. You look at it and think, “This is what I make [in a full-time job] in a month.” How do you walk away from that?


I love the man I cheated with more than my boyfriend.”

She has a loving, supportive boyfriend, but she wishes she could be with someone else.

I met Adrian* in 2016. I was doing an exchange programme in Berlin and living away from Pakistan for the first time. We had the perfect summer romance, it was like a fairy tale. I realised I had feelings for him as he drove me to the airport for my flight back home. Our hearts breaking, we both cried, thinking we’d never see each other again. Back in Pakistan, I moved on with my life and be­gan a relationship with a loving, kind man. I thought I was completely in love – until I came back to Germany for my Master’s last year.

Adrian and I met up and it was like no time had passed. The chemistry was very, very strong. This guy in Berlin is commit­ment-phobic but a free soul. We go out and dance all night. I do things with him that I couldn’t with anybody else, and I associ­ate him with freedom and independence. After trying not to cheat for seven or eight months, I slept with him on my birthday. I was just on a different high that night and it made me happy. I felt like I was giving myself a birthday gift. Sometimes you do things that are perhaps morally wrong but that make you very, very happy. And then comes the guilt. And in my case, the urge to confess.

When I called my boyfriend, he couldn’t believe it. He’s usually so calm and com­posed, but he broke down. It was the first time I’d seen him cry. Since then he keeps asking, “Would you choose him over me?” I always say, “No. I would always choose you.” But that’s my brain speaking, because I know in my heart I would choose Adrian in a heartbeat.

I stay with my boyfriend but I’m in love with somebody else. Even though we slept together just once, I feel like I’ve been cheat­ing emotionally for eight or nine months. The guy in Berlin has made it clear he doesn’t see us as a long-term thing. Either way, it’s wrong and I feel terribly guilty. My boyfriend deserves a lot better.


It took me 10 years to finally confess to my mum, but the scar remains.”

Plagued by pain in a hospital bed, he tried to end his life, betraying his mum’s tireless faith in him.

I had been in that hospital bed for six months, dealing with mind-splintering pain, just staring at the same four walls every day, more tubes hanging out of me than someone connected to the Matrix. My life was no longer in danger; the operations to remove my brain tumour had been suc­cessful. My mum had come to see me every day – without fail. The minute she left work, she would rush to the hospital to be with me, trying to communicate when I was lucid or not writhing in pain. For six long months she’d dedicated herself to making sure her 23-year-old son didn’t feel alone, at a time when my life had been put on hold and oth­ers had moved on. This is the woman who, at the worst of my condition and at my doc­tor’s advice, wrote my will with me because I was too weak to hold a pen.

As lucky as I knew I was that I’d avoided the worst, the thunderstorm headaches continued. They were so intense that they made me pass out and drove me dangerously tachycardic. One night, it hurt – physically, mentally – to the point of a frightening feel­ing of numbness. In a moment I can only de­scribe as a strange mix of clarity and down­right stupidity, I yanked out all the tubes that were keeping me alive. I mustered as much strength as I could and rolled out of bed, crashing to the floor. I remember the nostril-stinging smell of the corrosive antibacterial chemicals they cleaned the floors with, and the new, sobering sensation of feeling my blood pumping out of me in alarmingly quick spurts. That’s when the regret started to kick in, but my legs weren’t strong enough to help me up.

A nurse found me, calmly picked me up, wrapped me in bandages and hooked me up again. I burst out crying. I immediately made her promise not to tell anyone what I’d done, especially not my mum. I felt I’d betrayed her. She’d never given up on me and I couldn’t bear the thought of her finding out that I’d given up and wanted to die. My rapidly expanding guilt superseded any feel­ings of regret.

True to her word, the nurse kept shtum, and even went as far as to make up some pretty convincing excuses for why I was bandaged up. My guilt, however, was marked on my body: I’d ripped out the tubes so violently that it left a rather ugly mark on my chest. Several months later, I eventually came out of hospital, began physical re-education and started putting pieces of a life back together again. But the guilt lingered – and so did the scar.

I could say that not coming clean and confronting my guilt was a way of protecting my mum, or rewarding her tireless faith in me. But it also could have been a cowardly refusal on my part to confront and tame a painful emotion. At the core of that guilt wasn’t shame, but this incredibly powerful, radiating sense of betrayal that had burrowed in like a tenacious and ever-growing tick.

It took me 10 years to pluck up the courage to tell her the ‘why’ behind the scar, and she thanked me. I still carry that scar; not so much one of unresolved guilt anymore, but a potent reminder of how guilt protects sorrow and thrives through inaction.


As a father, I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”

His daughter was sexually abused by his ex-wife’s partner for eight years. He failed to see the obvious.

My daughter Lina* was four years old when her mother and I parted ways. I moved out but it was amicable and we all still spent a lot of time together. One and half years later, my ex-wife Jen* met Michael*, and their relationship became very intense, very quickly. Lina protested from the onset. She wouldn’t come out of her room when he was around and would throw tantrums. But her mother was so happy, so they moved in together and we’d thought that she’d eventually accept it. But on the contrary, Lina started to behave more oddly: she started to wet herself again, wasn’t eating and was angry all the time. Jen and I tried talking to her but she would say surrealistic things: that Michael would take her to the aliens at night, that he was an octopus, and things like that. I remember even feeling sorry for Michael for having to deal with it. Years went by and Lina grew quiet. She completely shut us out; she was angry and unhappy. We thought it was just a phase.

But then one morning when she was almost 13, Jen called saying she found Lina in her bed unconscious – she’d swal­lowed sleeping pills. I was standing in the kitchen of my Kreuzberg apartment, making coffee. My partner stood next to me and kept asking what had happened but I couldn’t say a word. I was paralysed for a minute – or more, I couldn’t tell – before I could tell her that my daughter had tried to kill herself.

Lina was then admitted to psychiatric care where her therapist confirmed that she had been sexually abused for the past seven or eight years. I called the police and Michael eventually confessed. His case, after almost two years, is still not closed though. Lina has been in therapy ever since. She barely talks to us. I don’t know if she’ll ever heal, or if she will ever forgive Jen and me for not seeing what was going on. There had been so many occasions where we should have known! Like when she once said that Michael had touched her “where I pee”, and we just thought he’d wiped her after using the toi­let. Or when she was about nine and asked me what sex was because she’d heard about it at school. After my awkward explanation she replied: “Oh, so how Michael does with me?” I laughed it off and told her that “Mi­chael does that with Mama.” I don’t think I will ever be able to forgive myself.


I never got to say goodbye to my mum and I will hate myself forever for it.”

A Brazilian Berliner failed to reconcile with her mother before she died.

She married four times, my dad mar­ried three times. I have 10 siblings. So one can imagine that I never had either of my parents. There were men and women and children and moving and financial crises and job hunts. It was always chaotic and loud. Not a stable childhood at all. On top of it, my mum would always be on the side of the men she was sleeping with. She never took my side if it came to an argument. Yet, whenever a guy would dump her, my older sister and I would be the ones to help her pack up our lives. Then, for a few weeks or months, she would be ours. When she was interested in us, we would even go out together, but this was only because she was looking for a new guy.

I moved out as soon as I turned 18. When I arrived in Berlin seven years ago, I didn’t really keep in touch with my family. Then at some point, I got the news that my mum had colon cancer, and that it had spread to her intestines, then to her stomach. They found it way too late and her condition was worsening quickly. One of my sisters called and asked me to come home “to say goodbye”, but I was too stubborn and angry and I told her that they were being dramatic. I spoke to my mum over the phone but I wouldn’t even ask her how she was doing or what was going on. I thought, ‘You never asked about my life, so why should I give a shit about yours now?’ I was so stupid. She tried to reach out to me more often in her final months – she called, wrote emails, she would even ask my siblings to call me when they were visiting her – but I would often ignore it all because I knew they were going to tell me that I should be back there, helping to take care of her and acting like we were a normal family. I wasn’t interested. And then, just five months after her diagnosis, she passed away. My older sister called me one night, crying. I was asleep and it felt like a dream. I felt nothing. I told her I was sorry and that I needed to go – and I went back to bed. I didn’t go to her funeral either. I think it was harder for me to really comprehend her death because we had been away from each other for so long. And then it hit. Now I know what a huge, irreversible mistake I’ve made by not visiting her while I had the chance. By not asking her about all the things I wanted to know, for not forgiving her and for not asking for her forgive­ness. It’s just too late.

* Names changed