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Summer in Berlin and Beyond

Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus, Berlin

Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus, Berlin © 2014 Sean M. Madden

Mufidah and I arrived in Berlin one month ago today. We also crossed into the third straight year of our slow travels on 16 May, while preparing to ferry to France on the 21st.

But while the first of our three months house-sitting in Berlin this summer is now behind us, I’ve yet to publish a blog post here or on my Mindful Living Guide blog. In short, this dearth of posts comes out of our being simultaneously busy with our work, nearly as busy with our daily explorations of Berlin and the surrounding area, and our both feeling the need to simply rest after all we had to manage during our seven weeks back in England this past spring.

But this past month has been a good one, and chockablock with all sorts of goings-on. Not to mention delving into yet another new language, doing our best to learn basic conversational German during our time here. Unexpectedly, there’s nearly as much opportunity to continue practicing our Italian as well given that there are countless Italian restaurants, run by Italians, all over the city. And we’d deliberately brought along both our Italian and German language resources for the year ahead.

(For those interested, we’re using the Oxford Take Off in Italian and German multimedia series, along with the Collins Complete Grammar + Verbs + Vocabulary 3-in-1 books for both Italian and German. We’re also traveling with Oxford Take Off in Greek. As everyone knows, it’s ever so easy for days to slip by without cracking the books or listening to the .mp3, but we daily recommit to doing our best to start again the very next day! In the meantime, we’re naturally soaking up vocabulary by way of reading signs, grocery store labels, menus and what not. And, after a helpful email exchange this past week with a talented young CEO of an incredibly successful startup, I’m going to dive back into the coding adventure I started last autumn. First up, JavaScript.)

We’ve walked, and now bicycled, all over Steglitz, our immediate neighborhood, though still keep coming upon areas we’d not previously known of. But we’re also daily continuing our explorations of the surrounding Berlin boroughs. And we’ve spent a day in Potsdam, and have been delving into the history of Berlin, Prussia and the whole of Germany, and beyond, all the while.

Berlin Diaries

Berlin Diaries on Amazon

Within a day or two of having arrived here, I’d noticed a copy of my beloved Berlin Diaries, 1940-1945, a book I’ve read many times, but which I find is of the sort which continues to grow with me and my understanding of the world. And it’s been a particular pleasure, while living here, to be reading Marie “Missie” Vassiltchikov’s firsthand account of Berlin during the final years of the war — reading about places, streets and surrounding towns which now mean something to me beyond the book.

(An Aside: We gave away ten more boxes of books just before leaving England, including the vast majority of the likewise beloved texts I’d studied while doing my two graduate programs at St. John’s College, between 2002 and 2005. I’m now down to a single box or thereabouts. A crazy turnaround given what those books have meant to me, as well as all those other books I’d gathered around me prior to and since St. John’s.)

In short, we love Berlin, and from the moment we arrived started thinking, hmm, this is a place to return to as part of our continuing slow travels.

Before leaving England to ferry yet again across the Channel to France, and driving through Belgium and the Netherlands to arrive in Berlin the following evening, we’d already received confirmation of our next house-sitting gig in southeastern Bulgaria (just a 30- to 45-minute drive from Turkey and Greece, two key slow travel destinations of ours), running from mid-August to mid-September.

In other words, we knew we couldn’t extend our stay in Berlin. But that said, we’d very much like to return here again one day, for at least another few months, and hopefully not too far into the future.

I’d say it’s the closest thing we’ve come to experiencing something akin to Paris in the 1920s. For better or worse, and the same could be said of Paris back in the day, Berlin is daily becoming more cosmopolitan, with an influx of visitors and new residents from around the world. That said, the overall population is staying relatively steady, as folk from Berlin likewise go elsewhere to embrace the global economy. I was surprised to read that there were around 4 million Berliners during the Weimar era, whereas there are approximately 3.4 million living in Berlin today.

A year or so before we’d embarked upon our slow travels Mufidah and I had noted Berlin as a place to possibly move to for a spell. We’d, of course, read of the low rents, the glowing arts scene, and the general excitement of a city that was simultaneously gorgeous and gritty. But already the rents have risen sharply, as well as the cost of living, generally.

But, still, there’s good reason why so many folk are traveling or moving to Berlin.

It’s a vibrant city that’s both sprawling and beautifully livable, whereby quiet neighborhoods surround major shopping and business centers, and a plethora of places constantly call out for one to fritter away the day and evening — sidewalk cafés, restaurants, bars and shops of all sorts — many of which are nestled amongst well-treed residential areas that might well contain a heavily secured embassy or two.

And, of course, there’s Berlin’s famed nightlife.

The Friday before last, after a particularly work-packed week, we left the flat and strolled around our neighborhood with no plans whatsoever. That was at about 4.30 in the afternoon. Yet we didn’t arrive home until sometime after 3.30 Saturday morning.

We ended up walking into Mitte, the historic center of Berlin, formerly East Berlin, after having stopped en route to share a few glasses of Turkish tea and baklava at a place a Turkish-born, but lifelong resident of the city, taxi driver had introduced us to a week or so previously. (We’d first met Turgut, by chance, at Preußen Park which we’d likewise stumbled upon, found to our amazement that the place was full of unofficial Thai food vendors, and was later offered a lift by our well-read, Rumi-loving friend to accompany him at his favorite kebab shop on the other side of town, after which he drove us home, all off the meter.)

Reconstruction, Berlin

Reconstruction, Berlin © 2014 Sean M. Madden

We continued walking around, taking photographs, one of which is above, and stopped at a gasthaus to share a tall glass of Berliner Kindl, strolled around for a while longer, by which time we were hungry, and stepped into a huge Mexican restaurant and sports bar where we ended up watching the action-packed Spain v. Netherlands World Cup match while sharing a plate of scrumptious chicken nachos and a margarita on the rocks. We then connected up, via text, with an international band of street musicians we’d met a couple of weeks previously, and jumped on the S-Bahn to watch them play at Warschauer Straße station.

There we danced, passed my well-traveled hat around the crowd to collect a bit of cash for the band, got good-naturedly moved along by a handful of cops, and walked to yet another train station where the band continued playing under an acoustically rich white-tiled tunnel, and I found myself playing the cajón I’d carried from one station to the other, the band’s drummer having had to return home to catch some sleep before an early morning shift. The tunnel swelled with folk dancing and singing along (with a few guys wildly kicking a football around, it ricocheting all over the place), and I passed around my hat some more while Mufidah escaped the fast-growing crowd to take a sneak peek at the East Side Gallery just down the street.

Meanwhile the wee hours of the morning were upon us. We took the train back to Steglitz, and walked home from the station as the darkness dissipated and the birds began to sing.


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Photo: Sean M. MaddenSean M. Madden is a writer, photographer and slow-traveling digital nomad. He’s also Co-Founder & CEO of, working with creative businesses and individuals, worldwide, to build tribes of loyal customers via strategic websites and visual storytelling.

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