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Category: Past and Future (page 1 of 3)

Travelling Differently – Have I Grown Up?

In the beginning of the year I thought I wouldn’t be able to travel at all this summer due to work committments. It was then when I first realized that I must really have come dangerously close to that dangerous state they call adulthood – obligations tying me down, curtailing my flexibility. Turns out though that I just don’t function when I don’t get out at least for a little bit. So when it came to planning my summer, I figured a few days away would only help me work more productively afterwards. So I started planning – and much more specifically so than I used to. That was hint number two that I may just have grown up.

My love affair with bridges prompts people to give me travel advice. Most of them suggest Venice. While that is on my list, I want to do it some remote February weekend when the city is touched by tourism as little as can be. So it wasn’t really an option for my summer trip. Second on the list of recommendations has always been Amsterdam. And now we’re talking. A new country, one in Western Europe at that. Breaking with my old travel patterns. How exciting!

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam

Once the destination was decided, for the first time in my travel life, I decided to ditch my beloved public transport and rent a car. I had done car travel before, but never abroad, only for short trips inside of Germany. For one thing, I didn’t think trains and busses in the Netherlands would be so different from Germany as to add indispensable experiences to my travel adventure (correct me if I’m wrong!). Secondly, I planned on visiting a bunch of friends I hadn’t seen in a while on my way West through Germany, and the car gave me flexibility.

With the car came a few other side effects, such as the fact that I wouldn’t be needing a backpack. I would be able to travel like a civilized person with a roll-on suitcase! Fascinating! Finally, when all of that was set already, plans were slightly overthrown and it turned out I wouldn’t be travelling alone. As part of a couple, new options arose that would have been out of question otherwise, if just financially. Jan and I decided to rent an airbnb apartment instead of hostelling.

Rental car in Amsterdam

It’s not my most flattering picture, but I realized it’s the only one I have in which you can see the car. I loved its signal red colour 🙂

Yes, I was quite curious how it would feel to be travelling so differently. No overnight busses, but a rental car. No backpack, but a suitcase. No hostels, but an airbnb apartment. And not single, but as a couple. My travel self has so far usually said sentences like „I’m flying into a remote ex-Yugoslav country, just me and my backpack, and I’m not exactly sure where I’ll go there, but I got my Couchsurfing profile ready and some hostel recommendations scribbled in my notebook.“ Now I found myself saying: „Me and my boyfriend have a car and an apartment in Amsterdam rented for four nights, and a hotel booked for a night in Groningen after that.“ How grown-up does that sound?!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in love with the backpacking thing, and I’m sure it’s not over for me. But I can’t deny that the comfort and security that this other travel mode generated felt very, very nice. To be entirely honest, I am less tolerant when it comes to drunk hostel dorm mates waking me up in the middle of the night, and spending nights in bus stations because the connection didn’t run is a lot less glamorous and exciting when you’ve done it a couple of times. It felt nice not to have to calculate every expense – because both the car and the apartment are of course things that I never did so far because they were too expensive. The relative luxury of travelling the way I did now was not least a financial one.

Zandvoort, Netherlands

Day trip to the North Sea

It felt really nice to be able rely on the things that had been planned beforehand. And it was absolutely wonderful to not have to take care of everything by myself, but have someone take over the wheel every now and then – literally and metaphorically. Speaking of which, in sum, the Netherlands were not the perfect country to take a car to. Petrol is ridiculously expensive, and what’s more, parking will leave you nearly penniless. Seriously, if I had been on my own I would have been completely desperate in the face of the expenses I had for parking which amounted to a good 20€ every single day except Sunday when parking suddenly was free everywhere. But then again we did beautiful day trips and stop overs on our way through the country that wouldn’t have been possible without a car. I think next time we might try just going by bike. It seems like the perfect way to travel the Netherlands.

Bike, Amsterdam, Netherlands

A bike in Amsterdam, camouflaged in flowers 🙂

I am also happy to report that with all the grown-up stuff, we were still plenty spontaneous. We hadn’t made up our minds as to what we wanted to see in Amsterdam, we had barely decided which other towns in the country we wanted to visit. We didn’t over-schedule our days, but took plenty of time strolling around, getting lost in beauty, and enjoying each other’s company sitting underneath light houses looking at the sea and talking. We never went out for breakfast, but went grocery shopping the first day and finished the remains on the last morning on a bench on Groningen’s fish market. So I didn’t feel like I had betrayed my travel style at all. It has just slightly shifted. A little more comfort. A little more safety. And a lot better company.

Breakfast, Groningen, Netherlands

Breakfast in Groningen – from my lap 🙂

Travel is a very big part of my life. It has made me who I am. It changes with who I become and with who accompanies me. That is just another way in which it is a beautiful metaphor for life itself. Maybe perceiving the way I travelled now as „grown-up“ is actually missing the point. Maybe it is just a new way that seems to fit the person I am, the life I have, regardless of age or status.

The Last Day of My Twenties

Last year in September I wrote a post called The Last Year of My Twenties. I had wanted to match it up with one about the last month, or the last week. Now today is the last day of my Twenties. I won’t make this very long. But I feel in my heart I want to let you know a little bit about my feelings on the eve of my thirtieth birthday.

Sopot, PolandI’ve never quite dreaded the 30 the way other people (women, particularly, I may add) do. I don’t mind growing older. I am grateful for the experience I’ve gained. The point when numbers suddenly seem to play a role is always reached when I ask myself what I had wanted to have achieved by this time when I was younger. Did I think I’d be done with my PhD? Yes. Did I think I’d have kids? I sure hoped so. Be married? Well, certainly!

None of these things have happened for me. So far. But, and thank God for that, I am relaxed enough to know that just because they haven’t come to me yet, it doesn’t mean they never will. And would I be ready for marriage and children? Would I be ready to decide what to do with my life work-wise, something I will have to face once I have my PhD? I don’t know, I really don’t. But that’s okay. I don’t have to be ready yet. I know I will be ready in due time. I trust myself that way.

In Gdansk, PolandI knew this last year, but I am ever more sure of it today: My Twenties have been a good decade. And taking stock now, I really can’t complain. I am happy. I have lived, loved, worked and travelled, learned, tried, failed and succeeded. There is much more to come and everything that’s happened has prepared me for it.

My Thirties will hold surprises and challenges for me. I still hope, like I wrote on the afore-mentioned post last year, that they will calm me down somewhat. But I can hope and think as much as I want. Life will have it its own way no matter what. The important thing is this: I am excited about the future. Very, very excited. And what more could one ask for.

Berlin, Germany

Bullet Shells and Bullet Holes

Mostar, that town that gave my blog its name, is pretty. It is thriving and gorgeous and attracts more and more tourists every year. But that is not why it caught me so much. I only fell in love with it when I started to understand how torn it was. I am drawn to complicated things. Mostar has a pretty face, but it also has many scars from the war in the Balkans. And nowhere did I find them to be so painfully visible as at the Sniper’s Nest.

Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

There is a building in Mostar that had been just newly built when the war came here in 1992 for a bank. It is set right by where the front line was – the line that still divides the city into a Croat and a Bosniak side. Croat snipers were set up in here to have good aim at Bosniaks down in the street. It was never torn down nor rebuilt. I haven’t been to Mostar in nearly 3 years, so I am not sure what it looks like now, but between 2010 and 2011 when I visited the city frequently it never changed much.

Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaEerie, abandoned, somehow even belligerent with its jagged design, it sits there with no purpose. Upon entering I feel a little strange, but there is not even a cutoff or a sign that says to „Keep out!“ or „Beware!“. What’s more, there are no signs of life, really. I would imagine that in Germany a ton of homeless people would live in a building like this.

Sniper's Nest, Ground Floor, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaWhat strikes my eye even at first glance is that the naked walls have been made canvas for street art. Some is more elaborate, some is just wild scribble and nonsense. A lot of it, however, is not just illustrations, but writing, and the things written there show sadness, sometimes desperation, but also hope for a better tomorrow. A lot of them are most certainly very political, and when you look at recent protests in Bosnia and Hercegovina, the problems addressed are still the same.

Walls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaSome other things that you can read there are a lot more personal. Like this scribble which almost tore my heart:

Walls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

„When everything I love and everything I dream cannot be…“

As you move upward floor by floor, the building shows you different faces. In terms of creepiness, I think the first floor might top the list. My pictures were taken in 2010 and 2011. The war had been over for 15 to 16 years. Yet it looks like the building was bombed out only yesterday.

First Floor at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaYou can find account statements, customers‘ files, accounting documents… and they are strewn about as though people had had to leave in a hurry and never managed to take anything. The papers are dated to the early Nineties, too. History that you can touch.

The next floors are as empty and eerie as the ground floor. They are were the snipers sat. And what would be more obvious, yet horrible proof of that than the many many bullet shells that line the floors.

Bullet Shells at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaTourists take them as souvenirs. I am not even sure how I feel about that, but I have one too. When I picked it up from the floor, I thought that I wanted to make it a lucky charm. Cruel? Ironic? Sometimes you have to take something that means something bad and turn its meaning so it can become something good. The bullet shell is a link to one of the places in the world I love the most. It has the ambivalence if Mostar written into it.

Floor at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaOn the upper floors, the paintings and writings on the wall change. There is now much more evidence of the nationalist scene, the Ultras, and of racist ideas. Not seldomly are they accompanied by the Croatian coat of arms.

Walls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaWalls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaIt is still so hard for me to grasp, the strange interlacement of ethnicity, nationality and religion in this part of the world. In the Balkan wars of the Nineties, it is not quite correct to say that Croatia fought Bosnia fought Serbia (or whichever way around you would want to phrase it). There is such a thing as a Bosnian Serb (someone of Bosnian nationality who is orthodox and an ethnic Serb). „Bosniak“, „Croat“ and „Serb“ are notions that assign ethnicity, and ethnicity is linked to religion – Islam for Bosniaks, Catholicism for Croats and Orthodoxy for Serbs. But in a secularized world, how religious are these conflicts? How much are religion and ethnicity an excuse to redefine power structures? I am not an expert in all of this, and I am still in the process of getting a hang of it. But it is so complex – and so sad.

View from Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaFrom the top of the Sniper’s Nest, you look down onto the Spanish Square. The big orange building is a high school that operates in a segregated system. Bosniak and Croat children go to the school, but they are taught by different curricula and in different languages (even if the differences in Bosnian and Croatian are minute and speakers of both languages understand each other with ease most of the time). Knowing this, it really makes you wonder when the war will be truly over.

Bridge in Leipzig, Germany

Last year, I wrote a bridge post about a bridge in Stuttgart where I met up with three friends from grad school. We are making this meet-up an annual thing, and this year it took us to Leipzig.

Bridge, Leipzig, GermanyJust like last year, the weekend with the girls left me inspired, grateful, and all in all fulfilled. I have never had a stable group of „my girls“ that has accompanied me through me entire life. Funnily enough, the girls and I didn’t even hang out all the time when we were studying, and we are not the kinds who speak on the phone every week. But out meetings have come to be something I look forward to all year.

The bridge metaphor I used on last year’s post still holds true – we are crossing through stages of our lives together, and once a year we meet and discuss what is going on, how we see the world, what is on our minds. We are alike enough to understand each other, but different enough to learn from each one’s perspective. On my way home to Berlin, I thought: „Well, now we’re going to make new experiences for a year, and next time those experiences will help us explain life to each other, as they do every year.“ I have to say I can’t wait.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

A Letter From My 25 Year Old Self

I made my one hundredth blog post a special one – so it only figures that I should do the same with the two hundredth. And how fitting is it that I am posting this on an important anniversary – four years ago today I left Germany for my Balkans travel adventure, the reason I started blogging in the first place. It’s such a damn platitude, but I can’t believe it is that long ago. I feel so close to the girl I was then – and yet so much has happened. Look at me, just having finished my Master’s degree, ready to take on life, on the very day I left for my trip:

Mariella, Departure Day 2010You know when people write about the advice they would give a past version of themselves? Usually a 30 year old telling their teenage self something along the lines of: „Don’t worry honey, you will have a great job in a few years and have lost 20 pounds.“

I could be telling the girl in the picture exactly that. But honestly, I have nothing to say to her. She doesn’t need to know about me today. In fact I think if anything it might hold her back. In many ways she is a million times cooler than me. Brave – nay, fearless! Excitable, of boundless curiosity, trusting, even naive, but in the best possible way. Open to the world, and confident that life will take her just to the place she needs to be. What I really need is advice from her! So what would she be telling me? What must she have been hoping for me? I am trying to remember it, an act I find it strangely comforting. I am thinking it would go something like this:

Dear 29 year old me,

it feels strange that I could be giving you advice on anything. After all, I am just a younger, less experienced version of you. You could be looking back at me and want nothing to do with who that is anymore. But then I do hope you still value my opinion. Wouldn’t it be a comforting idea that we can learn from our own life over and over again, and that you and I still respect and love each other?

I hope you look back at me and smile, and I hope that you remember vividly how happy I am. I take on this journey knowing that it will be wonderful. I know that it will empower me and make me strong. I am not afraid of being alone. And I hope that after this, you never will be, either. I hope that I will learn for you and all the future versions of us that being by yourself is not scary, but beautiful, even healing. I hope that I will learn how to listen to our own heart’s desires and how to follow them. And I do hope that you will be able to put all that to good use.

I know that I will meet boundaries, both physical and emotional ones. I know that I will push them, overcome them, and sometimes have to step back and just accept them. I know it won’t always be easy, but I am not afraid of any of it. I am excited for it. Please never forget that this is one of our most empowering traits: We don’t shy away from challenge. Never shy away from an opportunity to grow!

I ask you to remember all the things you should be grateful for. This journey surely makes the top of the list. The landscapes that I will see! The people I will meet! The emotions I will feel! It is now all ahead of me, but you will be able to carry the images in your heart as a constant source of comfort. And even once this is all over and has made its way into that foggy, yet golden country called memory, please be assured: There is always something to look forward to. There will always be amazing things to see and discover. Never lose the curiosity and the enthusiasm for discovery that I am bursting with in this moment. It will drive you to greatness, and what’s more, to happiness.

I don’t need to know about you – what you have achieved, or where you stand. I know that whatever you do will be wonderful and good for both of us. I am unshakingly confident that you will have made us both proud, and that you live your life as best you can, striving for happiness and fulfillment. I wish I knew what you think about me today. I am only just realizing that we have an immense capability for love and happiness, you know, and I hope it’s never lost.

Much love,

your 25 year old self xx

I was so insanely hopeful and confident. And then my trip was all I hoped for in that moment of departure – and more. I returned from it a different person – can you tell from the pictures?

Mariella, ReturnDay 2010Now what would this girl say to me, at the eve of her 26th birthday, having just returned from her journey? She would look at the letter above and say: „Told you. All my hopes and dreams came true. We can manage everything. I have nothing to add.“

When I am tied behind my desk these days, working on things I really love and that make me happy, I still feel a lot more cynical, a lot more fearful and a lot more on guard than I used to back then.

Mariella, Regular Work Day 2014It is good for me to think back on the person I was four years ago. I have a lot to learn from her. And I hope that even at my desk, fighting the smaller wars of daily routine, I would make her proud. I am insanely proud of her.

Clipped Wings – On Feeling Grounded

Within the last few months, I have had more than enough material to write about. Short trips were abounding, and not just inside of Germany. Now things seem to be calming down. And I feel torn – not for the first, nor certainly the last time in my life – between enjoyment of the quiet, unexciting weeks and months ahead and my ever-present yearning for adventure. It is in this pensive mood that I feel it is time for another post in my thoughts category. A personal one. And yet I am not sure if stripping my soul isn’t the last thing I want to be doing. I might only find out in writing this. Bear with me.

Castle Hohentübingen, Tübingen, GermanyAs of lately I have chosen my piano keys over my notebook more often than not. Music comes easily to me these days, more easily than words. Or if words do come, they are often corny and kitschy, and lyrics forgive that much more lightly than prose does. Writing has been unusually difficult for me.

I think this is largely to do with the fact that I am not allowing myself any plans for a decent big trip this year. My wings are clipped. Work commitments have a lock on me, and in many ways it seems like in my generation everyone just has to pay their dues in their twenties. So I need to get a grip on myself, focus, and get some stuff done this year. I can’t keep meandering about. Mainly because my work contract won’t last forever. And didn’t I always say that I would want to do something different when it runs out? Yes, I did. And what will that be? Hell if I know. And so I find myself back in that same state that I was in when facing the end of school. And the end of my B.A. And the end of my M.A. And I wonder if it will always be like this or if I will ever, you know, get somewhere. Arrive somewhere. And be there to stay.

Neckarfront, Tübingen, GermanyJust a few years back, it relieved me to know that the meandering might never end. I felt suffocated at the thought of being tied down to one plan for all times to come. And now I wish I had a plan, any plan at all, to live up to. Not a forever plan, though. Just a plan.

I hate to say it, but I think it is to do with age. My desire for security isn’t decreasing as I grow older. I want reliability. I don’t want to be in constant doubt. I want my safe havens, my harbour to return to when I’m out in the world.

And yet things are more difficult than that. Because while I want all that, I do want adventure. I want to venture into the unknown, I want to not know what’s in my life tomorrow, I want the thrill of jumping off of high cliffs into the turquoise sea, of turning a corner in the labyrinth of an unknown old town and coming across something beautiful, of crossing the border into a new country and the sound of a stamp being made in my passport. I want the sound of motors on airplanes and busses, I want trains to whistle as they swish past me, I want ships to part the sea and make waves that will crush loudly onto sandy beaches. I want the unbearable noise that comes about in remote corners of nature and that is all animals, water, and trees and not a single man-made machine.

Market Square, Tübingen, GermanyI still want it all. Looks like life hasn’t disillusioned me enough to think that’s impossible. Thank God for that.

Only recently did it come to me that the term Sehnsucht that I refer to so often is not the only German word that describes a specific kind of longing. There is also the English germanism Wanderlust which translates literally to a desire for wandering or, the initial meaning of wandern, for hiking. And there is Heimweh, which means being homesick, and its sister term Fernweh – being sick for strange lands, for the wilderness and the world away from home. I wonder if it is something innately German to wish yourself away to another place, to get caught up in dream worlds, in utopia – since we have so many words that describe an act of craving that which is not in our lives.

All these things I feel all the more right now when I feel like I cannot really act upon them. Then again, maybe, just maybe, being forced to stay put will do me good as well. Maybe being grounded keeps you grounded. Maybe I need to re-root myself a bit before I can embrace the world again, and grow into home soil. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of weekend trips and hometown tourism to be done. Just not the big scale discoveries of the world out there in all its glory. But when I get to do that again – boy, it will be marvelous!!

Still I must say that I wonder if I will ever find a life that allows me to integrate both sides of me – the girl that wants security and the one that doesn’t give a damn. I wonder if Heimweh and Fernweh will ever give me a break. Or if I am just an unstable spirit whose search will never end.

Neckarfront, Tübingen, GermanyAll the pictures were taken in Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, in the old town and at the castle. They show paths that need to be walked and the ground that I need to keep to. For now.

2013 in pictures

I know I’m a wee bit late on this reviewing 2013 business, but I didn’t think that should keep me from sharing with you some of my favourite photo moments of the past year. It might get a bit more quiet around the blog in the future due to massive work commitments, so revelling in the travel joys past might be all I get to do for a while (except the next weekend get-away is booked already and I cannot wait to write about it – but more on that when I get there!). So without much further ado I give you my travels of 2013!

1. Gdansk, Poland Gdansk, PolandI love Gdansk. I love it in ways that have my heart jubilate and my soul sing and my mind dance. I went there twice last year and it was not nearly close to being enough. I have written about my feelings for the city before, and I will write about it again, because it is unfathomable that I should ever run out of words to declare my deep love for this place. I took the picture in February from a viewpoint on Gora Gradowa, a hill in the city crowned by a large red cross that you cannot miss when you come to town – for its spectacular views!

2. Stuttgart, Germany  Stuttgart, GermanyI never thought much of Stuttgart. Mainly I was annoyed that it was so hard to reach by train from Tübingen inspite of only being 30km away. But when I went there in March, and the Castle Square was covered in powdery snow, it was really quite pretty – and hanging out with a local friend really helped me to get a better sense of what the city has to offer.

3. Tübingen, Germany

Tübingen, GermanyNow the thing about Tübingen is – it is just so cute. It is so picturesque and gorgeous that you cannot dislike it. The longer I have not been living there, the more I like it – I still meet acquaintances in the streets on accident, everything is in walking distance, and everyone hangs at the same pub because, let’s face it, it’s the only acceptable one. I am glad I still have to keep coming back there every now and then for work.

4. Cologne, Germany

Cologne, GermanyI passed through Cologne twice last year and the most beautiful thing about it, in my humble opinion, is the fact that even if you only have a 90 minute break between trains, you can always make a stop at the cathedral because it is literally right next to the main train station. Seriously, even if you just have half an hour until your next connection leaves, do step into the cathedral for a quick glimpse. It is magnificent. And it allows for a bit of quiet contemplation even if there is a lot of tourists around.

5. Düsseldorf, GermanyDüsseldorf, GermanySome people may consider it blasphemy to even mention Cologne and Düsseldorf in one post, let alone one right after the other – those two places have the greatest city rivalry in the country. But I did happen to visit them on the same trip in March, and I won’t hold back on either one. I have to admit I was quite surprised at the many pretty corners that Düsseledorf had to offer. We did a guided tour in what felt like minus 20 degrees which led to us cutting the walk a little short, but it seems there is much more to Düsseldorf than carnival.

6. Munich, Germany

Munich, GermanyBeing a Northern German (and patriotically so!), I don’t have all too much of a thing for Bavaria. But the more I get to know Munich, the more I like it. This view off of Alter Peter, a church tower right by the famous Marienplatz, is something every tourist should do. Everything looks a bit like a miniature wonderland from up there.

7. Grudziądz, Poland

Grudziadz, Poland

To my admitted surprise, my post on Grudziądz was one of the most sucessful ones this year. It was a city that hadn’t been on my radar much, but one of my friends from Gdansk grew up there and made the generous offer of taking me and another friend there on a day trip. This view of the cityscape should make you fall in love already – what’s not to like in a town with a majestic river and lots of buildings made from red brick stone?

8. Nottingham, England

Nottingham, England While Nottingham is probably not the English city on top of anyone’s bucket list, I was happy to get to know it this summer. I was in a good place, I was happy, and in that state it was much easier to discover the hidden beauty Nottingham had to offer. I perceived it as a down to earth, honest and unpretentious place – yet very English in a way that is hard for me to explain.

9. Spreewald, Germany

Spreewald, Germany A weekend getaway to the Spreewald was just what I needed during a hot Berlin summer. If it hadn’t been for the mosquitos, it couldn’t have been more perfect – the water, the greenery, and the many many little bridges were truly idyllic. I hope to go back and explore some more.

10. Chicago, Illinois, United States

Chicago Skyline, IL, US The big journey in 2013 took me back to the first country outside of Germany I ever called home – and a home I had in staying with one of my oldest friends. Chicago swept me away with its architecture, nature and cultural offers. Chicago Lake Michigan, IL, USI spent entire days lazing at the beach of Lake Michigan, marvelling at the fact that it felt like a sea much more than a lake and getting a nice tan which I didn’t expect from this trip at all.  Chicago Downtown, IL, USAnd with the Chicago River running through, I also saw my fair share of bridges. I think I am most thankful for the appreciation of modern urban architecture that I developped in the much two short 17 days I spent there.

11. Rügen, Germany

Rügen, GermanyThe Baltic is my favourite sea, and Rügen is not only Germany’s biggest island, it is also my favourite. The views you have from the large chalk cliffs on its shores are infinite and eternal, and the September weekend there was sunny and breezy and beautiful.

 12. Porto, Portugal

Porto, PortugalFunnily it seems that I did most of my abroad time in 2013 in the second half of the year. Porto was a very spontaneous getaway with an old college friend. I had wanted to go to Portugal for forever, and after having loved Porto for the food, the port wine, the bridges, the people and the history (to name a few), I seriously cannot wait to finally get to know Lisbon sometime in the hopefully near future.

12. Brussels, BelgiumBrussels, Belgium I had thought for the longest time that it was a shame I had never been to Belgium, Luxembourg or the Netherlands, them being Germany’s neighbouring countries. All the happier was I to attend a conference in Brussels in December. The time of year was not unwisely chosen: the first day was very cold, but other than that the weather was perfect, it wasn’t overcrowded, and I had a chanced to be truly surprised at the immense beauty I found there in so many places. I can only recommend the Belgian capital! 

That was 2013 for me – may 2014 bring me, you and everyone at least as much travel joy and beauty, as many discoveries and random findings that put smiles on all our faces!

My Relationship with Berlin – „It’s Complicated“

Berlin – that place I have called my home for two and a half years now. That German metropolis that has no equal in this country (sorry, Hamburg, but it’s true). That explosion of history and high tech, of fashion and morbidity. That urban space in the midst of the Brandenburgian nothingness, that mixture of socialist concrete blocks and Nazi edifices, parks and lakes, Wilhelminian buildings and modern architecture. That eternal construction site. That city of bankrupt craziness. That hipster capital. Berlin.

This is my love story with her.

TV Tower, Berlin, Germany

View of the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz from Dorotheenstraße in Berlin Mitte

Berlin and I go way back. The first time I ever saw her I was ten years old. My mum had a big birthday and her gift was a trip with all of us to Berlin. Part of that trip was a visit to the theatre. I don’t remember much, just how glamorous and exciting it was for me. Today my parents still tell me that the entire performance I was hanging on the actors‘ lips, ready to practically fall onto the stage from our seats in the first row of the balcony, and I am told that upon leaving the theatre, I said: „I have never seen something this beautiful in my entire life.“ Oh, the wisdom of a ten-year-old girl.

As I grew older, Berlin was the hipster girl I admired from the distance and wanted to be friends with, but she was too cool, too popular and too stylish for me. I came to see her every now and again – on a school trip, with my family, and later, in college, to visit friends who had moved here – and I was always equally enchanted and intimidated. It was strange and vast and alien. I liked coming here, but I always felt a weird sense of relief when I could return to the respective smaller, cozier place I called home at the time.

Radar Tower Tempelhof Airport, Berlin, Germany

Radar Tower at Tempelhof Airport – the area of which today is open to the public for walking, skating, kite sports, and any kind of recreational activity

In my second year of college, I came to Berlin for a three month internship. This is when I started noticing the strange pull that she had. I lived in Mitte, right in the center of all the coolness, surrounded by a life that was so intense it tore at my very core every day. I fell onto the big street I lived on when I left the house, and immediately the city seemed to scream at me: „Look, here I am! Do something with me! Visit me! Touch me! Party me up! Create! Fulfill! Live! Live live live!“ As much as I dove into it and tried to soak it up, being there for only three months, it overstrained and exhausted me. Berlin demanded a lot of energy and attention. There was no hiding away from her. Quiet nights at home were overshadowed by the life I felt roaring, blustering outside my window. I returned to my quiet little Greifswald after an eventful summer, and I felt like I had had a passionate and crazy affair, now to return to the partner that made me feel at home. I figured that Berlin wasn’t for me, not long term. At least not yet.

German Cathedral, Berlin, Germany

The German Cathedral at Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin Mitte – across from it you will find the French Cathedral which looks exactly the same

I returned to Berlin seldomly, and always just for a couple of days. Then in 2010, as fate would have it, I started my 5 month travel adventure by spending ten days in Berlin. I crashed at different friends‘ houses in Treptow, in Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Mitte, thus living myself from the East toward the center. I had coffee on top of coffee on top of coffee. I roamed the manky streets of Friedrichshain and the tidy ones of Mitte, I saw the hipster culture in Kreuzberg and the calm and settled residential areas in Treptow. I was once more ever so amazed at Berlin’s diversity, and I didn’t find her tearing me apart as much as I had felt it 5 years previously during my internship. I left Berlin, and the seed of longing had been planted in my heart.

Kaiser WIlhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, Germany

The Kaiser WIlhelm Memorial Church is left with its ruined tower to remind passers-by of the horrors of war

After my trip to Central and South Eastern Europe, I returned to Tübingen once more, but in my heart I knew I wanted to live in Berlin. That year I spent New Year’s there with one of my closest friends who had just moved there. On New Year’s Day we took a long walk at Rummelsburger Bucht, and I spoke to her about my wish to live in Berlin. Being in this city that was so full of life ignited such dreams in me, such notions of inspiration and fulfillment. I had actual dreams about coming to Berlin and living there. The city called for me on some weird, spiritual level I couldn’t possibly explain without sounding out of my mind. And here is the weirdest thing: Just after that New Year had started, I was offered a job in Berlin. Totally out of the blue. And within one single day, I knew my dream would come true. I would be moving to Berlin.

Reichstag, Berlin, Germany

Details on the Reichstag building – where the German parliament holds its sessions

I have now lived here for 2 1/2 years. And I can’t say it’s always been easy. What I feel for Berlin has never been the deep spiritual love I feel for Gdansk, or the strong blood ties that bind me to Hamburg. It has always been more of a flirt, a fascination, and a passionate affair. Berlin still tears at my soul, demanding my attention. She still acts up when I don’t give it to her, but spend a weekend in my flat not doing anything. She still exhausts me with her hustle and bustle, her rude salespeople, her impatient drivers and her endless supply of entertainment opportunities. At the same time, the longer I am here, the more I love her. None other has challenged me like this. None other has taught me so many things. None other has made me tough for life like Berlin, and at the same time allowed me to indulge in sweet hedonism. She is perfect for me now. I am but in my twenties. I might ditch her for the safe haven in the future (most likely, I will). But right now I need to grow, and I need to grow from her.

Victory Column, Berlin, Germany

The Victory Column in Berlin’s Tiergarten commemorates the wars in the 19th century that led to Germany’s unity in 1871

Berlin, you’re a witch, an enchantress, you’re a siren and a hydra. You’re about any mytholgical figure I can think of. You tear me apart and you put me back together, you take all my energy from me and you give it all back. I love you with all my heart. You are the place for me in this crazy, unstable, troublesome and beautiful phase in my life.

Have you been to Berlin? What do you love (or hate) about it? What does the city you live in mean to you?

Anecdotes – The Time I Met a World War II Witness

The value of travel has been discussed at large in many different places. All our favourite travel quotes speak of it, innumerable songs have been written about it and hostel common room walls are probably bored with the stories of how amazing and life-changing travel is. I am not here to convince anyone of it who isn’t already. But I will tell you anecdotes that happened to me in my travels that have changed my perspective on life forever. This wil be an irregular series on the blog tagged „anecdotes“.

I’m introducing travel anecdotes as a new series on the blog today. There are many stories I have to share that have never found space in any of my other blog posts. And I love telling stories. Come to think of it, that might be the reason I blog at all. I am kicking off with a memory I have long been wanting to write about, and one of my favourite anecdotes of all times.

In January of 2007, I had to take part in a training in Warsaw as part of my voluntary service in Silesia. It was my first visit to the Polish capital, and as part of the training, one afternoon we were sent to explore the city in groups. So I set out in the company of a Spanish girl, a French girl and a Greek guy to get to know Warsaw, and our self-assigned topic to do it was history.

Palace of Culture, Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw Palace of Culture – it doesn’t look cold in the picture, but believe me, it was!!

After a visit to the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising, which I recommend especially to those who don’t know much about Polish history, we agreed to defy the bitter cold and see some of the many monuments in the city. Making our way through simultaneous rain and snow fall, my Spanish friend asked me what the expression „Third Reich“ meant. I started explaining to her that „Reich“ is German for empire; that the first Reich was the Holy Roman Empire  between 962 and 1806; the second one was the „Kaiserreich“ from 1871 until after World War 1; and the third Reich was consequently the one Hitler established.

As I explained this, the term „Reich“ fell a few times, and so did other German words. Suddenly an old man, probably in his 80s, stopped and asked me in broken German if he had just heard German. I affirmed. He then asked if we were going to see the fragment of the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto. Indeed that was where we were going, so I said yes again. He looked very excited and said: „I made that.“ I didn’t understand what he meant, he could not have made the ghetto wall, but he frantically kept repeating: „I made that, I!“ Eventually he told me to wait with my friends, he would be right back and show us. Everything he said was rather fragmentary and in a German that obviously had not been used in a long time, infused with Polish terms. In our group of four, I was the only one who spoke both those languages, so I translated to my friends what I had gathered and we agreed to wait for him and see what he wanted to show us.

He disappeared into a tiny shop and re-emerged quickly, then motioned us to follow. Walking with us, he introduced himself as Mieczysław Jędruszczak and told me his story. I tried my best to keep up with what he was saying and translate it to the other three. What I understood was that he had lived in Warsaw for all his life, and most of it he lived in the flat right next to the fragment of the Ghetto wall. He wasn’t Jewish, but he had grown up in a multicultural Warsaw with lots of Jewish friends. Then the war came. He pointed out where the ghetto had been and told us details of both the Warsaw and the Ghetto Uprising. A small odyssey through side alleys and backyards later, we stood in front of the fragment of the ghetto wall. I doubt we would have even found it without Mr Jędruszczak.

It was a short stretch of brick stone, unremarkable, but awe-inducing when accompanied by our guide’s historical background knowledge. Single stones where taken out of the wall, and there were signs that pointed out which museum or memorial they had been given away to. Mr Jędruszczak, it turned out, was the one who administrated all of this. He told us more stories about his fight in the Polish resistance during World War 2, in the Home Army, and how he was arrested for it. I wished I understood more and better what he was telling me, and it was exhausting having to translate from the German-Polish mix into English and back form what my friends were asking me to ask him. At the same time I felt overcome by awe. I had never met a living witness of World War 2 before, and my head felt completely empty when I always would have expected to have a million questions to ask.

Finally it was time for us to head back to meet our group. We had missed out on seeing a few other places we had wanted to go to, but none of us cared. All four of us felt like we had just encountered something that was so improbable it couldn’t even really be true. Had I not used a few German words there in the street, and had Mr Jędruszczak not overheard them, we would have never come to meet him. Also, I felt it was typical of Polish friendliness that he dropped everything else and guided us to the place personally. And although sadly I have forgotten so many of the details he told us, so much of the information he gave, I will never forget him.

If you speak Polish, you can read an article on Mr Jędruszczak here. The fragment of the ghetto wall is located at ul. Zlota 60 in the neighbourhood called Wola.

Have you ever met an eye witness of a historical event who impressed you deeply?

The Last Year of My Twenties

It was another birthday in a foreign country for me last month. As I go through pictures of birthdays in my twenties, it feels weird to see how I have changed and how much I have grown. On the inside more than on the outside, maybe. To be quite truthful I do not want to switch places with that girl who just turned twenty in El Paso, Texas, In fact I can hardly believe she’s me. She was so much less confident, so much more doubtful about her place in the world. 20th birthdayAt 25 – a birthday that I for once spent at home, back then that was Tübingen – I had already found out much more about who I wanted to be. It was to be one of the best years of my life, the year I got to travel through the Balkans. I was in a good place that year – full of hope and anticipation, full of blissful naivety.

25th birthday

Last year, I was in Tallinn, Estonia for my 28th birthday. I made a lot of big decisions on that day, resolutions really, something which I do not usually do. Miraculously, all of them have worked out for me. I quit smoking. I ate more healthily. I exercised more. I have loved and been loved. I cannot deny it: I have had a blessed, blessed year.

28th birthdayBirthdays make me reminiscent, reflective and a bit nostalgic. I take my birthdays seriously. When people do not set great store by their special day, I understand that. But for me it doesn’t work that way. I look at those pictures above and I see a different person with different experiences at different stages of her life in every one of them. I can see how I have grown as a person into who I am today. And I have reason to think about that development and ask myself if I want what I have, if I want things I could have if I tried, or if I want things I can never have and will just have to get over. I have come to have two rules: If it’s the first, be grateful. If it is either of the last two, do something about it – even if doing something only means to suck it up and stop fretting.

As I start into the last year of my twenties, I think to myself that I have learned so much since I was that girl in this post’s first picture. I have learned that short hair suits me better than long. I have learned that even the best of friends sometimes come and go, and that it’s not a catastrophe if they do. I have learned that a broken heart will heal, even if it feels like it can never possibly beat without hurting again. I have learned that a good man will care about his girl’s happiness and fulfillment. I have learned that too much ambition will kill you, and that being second best can be okay (although I am really still struggling with this one, being a horrible perfectionist).

One might think that with all this life experience I could now lean back and harvest what I’ve sown. But maybe the most important lesson that my twenties have taught me is that knowing all these things makes me none the wiser. The next time I fall apart with a friend will hurt just as much. The next heartbreak will, too, and it will feel like it will never ever stop. And it will probably take me quite a few more times of feeling like a failure before I finally come to a healthy understanding of achievement. May the last year of my twenties bring me one step closer to balance and inner peace, even if that means chaos and struggle for now. I would like to get to a bit of a stable place in my thirties – as much as I loved every bit of uproar in my twenties – and if 29 needs to bring on the crazy in order for that to happen, so be it.

This year, my birthday was spent in Chicago – that is, I was at the beach in Wilmette for most of the day:

CIMG0410 I wonder what it is going to be next year when I hit the big 30.

What have your twenties taught you? Do you set great store by your birthdays? Do or did you have any dreams for your thirties?

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