Berlin. Yes, Berlin! You know, if you’ve even casually looked at the titles of the posts on this blog, that Berlin is a central theme in my life. From the first day I visited here, August 1, 2016, until now, I have been in love- with the city. It’s gritty and real. Everyone wears black, it’s full of graffiti and bearded men, and I love it.
This trip has been different because I am not staying in the flat my partner is kind enough to share with me while I am here. (He lives almost 2 hours outside the city now, with his girlfriend and their daughter.) His flat stays empty (almost literally – it is not the most comfortable place, but at least it is mine to use.) But this year, they organized it for a single mother who fled the Ukrainian- Russian war and is staying there for now. Indeed, he could not ask them to leave so I could have my own place while visiting.
So, this year I am splitting time between two best friends. I am so blessed to have them and their hospitality to rely on. I don’t have to fork out a shit-ton of money to rent a place on Airbnb or some other app. It’s harder to travel now than it used to be, with having full rent and life in the US. Before, when I was a digital nomad, I was free to bop around as I pleased because all I had was a suitcase, backpack, and the place I happened to be renting.
The friend with whom I am staying lives more on the outskirts of the city. So it has been much more difficult for me to go out and down the street for a drink, yummy food, or a stroll in my favorite neighborhood. On the other hand, it has given me more time to rest my knees and spend time with one of my favorite people.
That’s another different thing. My knees. For the past few years, my knees have been so painful. Arthritis makes long walks more difficult. Not to mention our flat is up on the 5th floor. I had to plan differently, but I made it work. I knew what I was working with. This year I am just four months out from a total knee replacement. My recovery is going well, but I am still in recovery mode. My inclination is to go go go. It doesn’t hurt like before, though it does ache and swell up. But I was not prepared for it to still be an issue. And unlike when it was an issue in years past, I am uncertain about the best ways to manage it. (Thank goodness for my physical therapist, who makes herself available by email anytime I am freaking out!)
The first week was rough (it usually is a bit of an adjustment anyway- time zone, brain switch) because I drove three hours to the airport, flew 6 hours, then 4 hours. The next day could not resist and went to the big flea market because it was an absolutely gorgeous day. I walked about 5 miles! You can imagine that may have been overdoing it a bit. It took the whole first week to ice, stretch, and rest. I didn’t go anywhere yesterday, but I did my exercises and am a bit sore.
I have seen Stefan, even if we haven’t been able to meet at the flat. We have been taking advantage of Day Use hotels. Quite a few lovely, even some high-end hotels, offer rooms for 6 hours or so. We’ve been enjoying each other’s company and taking advantage of our time together.
I am setting up more meetings with friends and even a few new people I’d hoped to meet when I was here. I am looking forward to my last three weeks here!
Before I go- I will leave you will a short snippet I wrote about the first day here.
After about a month of exploring Lisbon, Spain, and Croatia, and a month in Morocco, I landed in Berlin. Our arrival was fraught with delays and confusion while the leaders of our group figured out how to get us to our homes for the month. So if you begin with how you mean to go on, Berlin would be a disaster. Except it wasn’t.
From that very first day until now, I feel at home when I walk anywhere in Berlin. I never feel like a stranger or even an ex-pat. I just feel comfortable. The first time I walked down the street, I felt safe and enclosed by some invisible “good vibe” bubble. It was a warm, early August evening, and the street lights softly illuminated my way as I walked down the Kruezburg street. It was late, but the day’s heat was still radiating up from the sidewalk as I wandered to meet Max, a friend I had first met in Lisbon, for a glass of wine.
The cobblestones on the street ground under the wheels of cars as they passed by me, lights glowing from balconies above me. I passed by a cafe on the corner, and I still remember how the dark interior was so softly lit by the glow of candles in red glass lamps. Somehow that soft glow cheered me. Made me want to go inside and sit in the quiet light while I absorbed all the sensations of this city.
From that day on, Berlin unfolded for me like a lover. I explored its secret places, learned all about what made it tick, and listened intently as it told me its stories. Day over day, my crush on the city grew into true love. Over the years, that love has deepened like a true relationship. I find joy in the dirty sidewalks and graffiti-covered buildings whenever I am back. The sounds of the tram passing by wakes my soul and reminds me of the person I found myself to be when I was there that first time and grew into over the too-short years I lived there.
Do you have a place that is not your actual home that feels like the place of your heart?
Here are a few other stories and blog posts I have written about my time in Berlin: