Yikes. It’s been over three weeks since I posted it last. I was in such a groove when I started this blog, but now it has been 23 days since my last post. Jeez Louise. The important thing is not that you continue to blog when it’s easy, but you don’t give up when life gets more complicated.
I have moved across an ocean recently, but for now let me just tell you about my trip to Berlin last week. I was visiting my friend Hedwig, who I met when she studied abroad for a semester at U.Va. I hadn’t seen her in five years when she messaged me to say she wanted to see me since she was doing her masters’ in London while I was doing mine in Edinburgh. She came up for a few days, and I was so worried that I’ve changed fundamentally since I was a third year undergraduate that I was freaking out. When she came, it wasn’t like we were just where we left off, time had passed and even she confirmed that I had changed, but it was still great, and I wanted to get a chance to see her again before we were on separate continents.
I bought the Lonely Planet travel guide for Berlin, but I ended up using it exactly once. I found information out online, from the Conde Nast Traveller website to Spotted by Locals, and I listened to Rick Steves’ podcasts, which are mostly for middle-aged people but still helpful. I also asked everyone I knew who had been to Berlin where they liked to go. My friend Katie took up three pages in my moleskine and even drew a map of the neighborhood where I was staying. In addition, I read Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, a pair of two novellas about life in Berlin around the time of Hitler’s rise, which didn’t give me any particular itinerary, but were really fascinating and gave me a feeling of the history of the city.
Hedwig told me transit directions to take the S-bahn and U-bahn from Schönefeld Airport to her office in Stadtmitte, which I am told just means “city center”. Having a friend in the city who is too busy to hang out with you all the time is my ideal way of traveling. During the day, I adventured around the touristy parts of the city and museums by myself, and in the evening, I had a companion to go out to dinner and to the Christmas markets. I even got to hang out with her friends a little, and get a feel for what it would be like to be a young person in Berlin.
I had coffee with two separate friends, one from undergraduate and one from my masters’. Both of them had recently made the jump to move to Berlin, and I have to say, I started looking up ways I could make the move too. Rent in Berlin is super cheap, and there are lots of opportunities for visas for artists and students. People speak English everywhere you go. One of Hedwig’s flatmates was from Milan and only spoke English and Italian, but he was able to live and survive in the city without learning German. I’m sure it’s not ideal, but it’s possible.
This same flatmate also recommended an app to me which I highly recommend for anyone traveling abroad, “maps.me”. Rather than relying on 3G which you don’t have to access a map, you can download a map of your city before leaving wireless and then your GPS will still be able to give you pedestrian and car directions. All the information is uploaded by users so in some cases it’s more complete than GoogleMaps. It’s also good if you just want to save data. Recommend.
All of the Germans I have ever met have been super smart and knowledgeable about politics. I’m sure this is not 100% true across the board, but it was fascinating to hear about the history of the GDR, for instance, or the current Syrian immigrant crisis, with someone who actually knew the story. I never took a history class in college, which I really regret, but I went on a tour of the Reichstag and it was very cool to be in that building where so much of European history evolved. If you go to Berlin, I recommend reserving the tour at least a couple weeks in advance to ensure a spot because it’s well worth it. They’ve even kept graffiti from when the Soviets took over that says things like, “I was in Leningrad” and names of lovers. Our tour guide told us it was as a reminder that we should solve conflicts through words and not through violence. Rad.
I was really sad to say goodbye to Europe, this continent that I have really fallen in love with over the past year and a half, but I’ll just have to find a way to come back soon. Lastly, this is an ad for the Berlin transit system that you should really see. You should probably turn on subtitles if you don’t speak German, but “Is mir egal” means “I don’t care”: