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September 6, 2010

Why Berlin?

A number of friends have asked me how or why I have ended up in Berlin on this trip, when the plan was to spend my time in the Balkans, Greece and Turkey. Here's your answer.

It was really, really hot down there. The same level of heat - high 90's, low 100's - that contributed to Russia's tragic fires. My reluctantly aging body reacted with repeated attacks of heat rash. I had to respond. Some ideas on the table were 1) to come home, 2) to continue as planned, but to upgrade my accommodations - ergo, the cost - to hotels and hostels with air conditioning, and 3) do what animals and plants do when the weather changes on them: head to more pleasant climes. I wanted to go with the second option, but the idea of traveling to these places, only to stay in a hotel room most of the day, seemed like a waste of time and money. The only reason to do it was to be able to check those places off of my list.

So I looked north. Far north. Denmark, Sweden, Finland north. Arctic Frigging Circle north, and no, I am not kidding. As I looked that way, I saw Berlin. I wanted to visit my former neighbor, John, who lives and works in Berlin almost half the year. But I was still thinking of covering a lot of territory. I had heard good things about Poland, especially Warsaw and Krakow. I had made a friend from Copenhagen. I'd have loved to see the parts of Norway I missed seeing when I was there ten years ago. And then there were the Baltic states, which are blossoming since coming out from under Soviet domination. And lots of other parts of Germany, too, like Lake Constance, the Black Forest, Hamburg, and on and on.

You can see how I'd basically just like to travel for the rest of my life. There is a lot to see and learn.

But then I began to consider spending some extra time wherever I landed in Germany, maybe taking some classes, trying to resurrect my high school German. I was in touch with John, trying to coordinate my visit with the time when he would be in Berlin rather than Berkeley. I had planned on just visiting for a couple of days (you know the old saying about house guests and fish), but when I told him I was thinking of staying longer, taking classes, he offered me the use of his flat while he was away.

Decision made!

How could I resist? Berlin is one of those cities - like Paris, New York, Istanbul - that are world cities, not just representative of their home country. To be able to stay for a while, take classes, maybe even for a month, and make weekend excursions to surrounding towns - it seemed ideal. So I hitched a ride with a hostel friend to Bucharest from Bulgaria and caught a flight to Berlin.

John was here for the first few days and helped me to settle in. I rested up from the stresses of the heat, did a little sightseeing, and placed an ad in Craig's List Berlin for a German teacher. I met Olga and interviewed her, and a few days later signed on to have her teach me German. We've been meeting three hours a day, three days a week. It's slow going, but es geht, as they say.

As I have class in another hour or so, I must go. I am also moving out of John's place in the next day or two, into a flat I have rented while its owner - a German bureaucrat and rock star who spends much of her year working in Hanoi - is away. Later, I will catch you up on my neighborhoods, my trip to Hamburg and its repercussions, and what the bicycling culture is like here.

Oh, and I should tell you, too: my original itinerary had me returning home in late September. My plans, such as they are, are now for me to come back to Santa Fe in late October. My flexibility is thanks to Rick Lass, who is sitting Boz and my house while I am gone. Thanks, Rick!


  1. Thank you for the update, John! It's good to hear you've found a creative way to enjoy your adventure.

    I post the following true life fable not to rain on your parade, but as a cautionary tale for all adventurers.

    I did a similar thing to what you're doing in Berlin when I came to Santa Fe.

    Only two months is what I started with -- a vacation rental to get away from my real life for awhile. To really settle in and get to know the place. And I was in heaven. I had discovered paradise.

    Two months turned into a year when the owners of the vacation rental extended their stay abroad. And a year turned into two and then three and then four, while the life I left behind atrophied, fell apart and eventually vanished until I found I couldn't get back.

    And meanwhile, what was paradise when I was but a temporary traveler didn't look quite as bucolic when the realities of making a life eventually intruded, as they inevitably do.

    What started as an adventure became an slow life transition that created more problems than it solved -- and became harder to undo with every passing month, and I found myself with a life that I hadn't chosen, but had passively, month by month, allowed to choose me.

    It's so easy to think that a temporary escape could become a permanent one, but the things that are not working in our lives that lead us to want to escape eventually find us, no matter where we are.

    Adam and Eve weren't meant to stay forever in the garden. Eventually, the fig leaves make an appearance.

    As I said, offered as a cautionary tale...


  2. Or, as Buckaroo Banzai famously said, "Wherever you go, there you are."

  3. Or like the Eagles said, "Call someplace Paradise, kiss it goodbye."

    I suspect The Last Resort is a metaphor for the pitfalls of a journey of personal growth as well as the more literal overdevelopment that the song refers to.

    (What is it about your blog that brings song lyrics to mind? Hmmmm....)



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