When I moved to San Francisco from Germany several years ago, I was fulfilling a fantasy that had grown out of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. Maybe it was because my aunt had given me the first book in the series to read when I was at the impressionable age of 18, but the idea of a young woman having adventures in a foreign city lodged itself deep in the back of my mind, in a place I wasn’t even aware of.

That was until my job asked if I would consider spending a year at the San Francisco office of our company. I found myself saying “Yes!” without even thinking it through, very unlike my German upbringing, which had always taught me to be cautious. But there was a part of me that held on to that teenaged, life-loving girl without responsibilities, so when the offer arose all I could see ahead was excitement and adventure. And what happened? I fell in love – with you, my San Francisco – and I just could not leave. This is my love letter to my adopted city, the one that made me the heroine of my own story.

San Francisco

Dear San Francisco,

New York may be The City That Never Sleeps, but you are the City That Knows How. ‘How’ to do what? Well – everything. You are the city that knows how to have fun, how to embrace diversity, how to recover from adversity, and how to create products that the world didn’t know it needed. Your talents are countless but I didn’t realize much of this right away. I was smitten by your light, your taste and your variety before I knew about your other qualities, and I suspect that I still haven’t discovered them all. Fortunately, I have a lifetime to find out about them.

I first fell in love with the different colors of light that you shine on different parts of the city. You are a city with lots of charisma. Much of your wonder and magic come from your multitude of lights. The Romanian-American poet, Andrei Codrescu, even described ninety-nine different types of natural light for you. I haven’t yet discovered as many myself but I have already found a handful, one of them being the beautiful golden blanket that shone into my room and woke me on my first morning in San Francisco. And more have followed…

I discovered another type of light when I took the ferry back from Sausalito at sunset, as the first fog set in over you and your skyline. As the sun sank under I was left looking at an illuminous night sky tinged with a yellow-white shimmer. In your parks, where the sun shines over the branches of the old eucalyptus trees, there is a dim yet refreshing light. The Palace of Fine Arts at sunset offers a light that is intense and almost mystical. And that one morning, when I found you lit up in the most beautiful of colors – I was out on the ocean watching you start your day. I will never forget those early hours!

I love San Francisco I love San Francisco

I quickly realized that you are not actually one city, but a collection of neighborhoods, each as different from the next as countries separated by borders, with cultures of their own, flavors, smells and tastes.

Along with the light, you combine different climates depending on where I am standing; on the same day I can be enveloped by the fog stumbling across the Golden Gate Bridge and be embraced by the sun at the top of Telegraph Hill. But more than anything else, you are the ultimate melting pot, the “least American” of American cities, welcoming everyone who comes to your shores. From the miners who arrived in 1849 seeking their fortune in gold, to someone like me, open to adventure and eager to experience as much of life as I could. Everyone, despite their differing languages and backgrounds, finds that nook they can fit in and create a new base for themselves, in perfect harmony with all others.

I love San Francisco

There is a saying that “San Francisco is 49 miles surrounded by reality,” and that is exactly how I feel when I am with you, as if the ‘real’ world doesn’t exist, as if it is only us, and the people we want to include in our world.

And that’s why I could never leave you.

San Francisco, I love you!

Guest post by Johanna Lehmann, who currently seeks your help to publish her novel in English: “How to Love San Francisco — One Year in the City by the Bay” (Indiegogo campaign).

Photography by Johanna Lehmann & Kathi Kamleitner.