So yesterday I wrote about some of the more icky aspects of my travel experience. But believe me, Berlin is way more than the sweaty, smelly crust-hole that I made it out to be.
Today I will share with you some of the more pleasant and simply fantastic elements of travel that any optimist would be blind not to see. I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to be here in the first place!
1. The people
When you arrive in a new place, it is normal to feel lonesome and to miss friends and family back home. Of course I do miss my wonderful people in South Africa but I have been totally overwhelmed by the response from people here. Friends have connected me with their friends and I have had multiple “blind dates” with fantastic humans who have gone the extra mile to make me feel at home and cared for. I have been picked up from the airport, hosted, taken on tours, fetched on bikes, given drinks and food for days – all from perfect strangers who are more than happy to extend themselves for a travelling girl from South Africa.
I think if I could some up in one word what I have experienced in the people here it would be OPEN. I think living in such an international, free-thinking, wild city helps people become more open minded and positive towards other people from different cultures and nations. It’s like the faded dream of the rainbow nation us South Africans once held so dear is actually being done right here. People from all over the world are living in close proximity to one another and they’re not being dicks to each other! Yes of course, London has similar demographics but there is something cold and uncaring about the London atmosphere compared to Berlin where everyone smiles at each other on the public transport rather than burying their heads in the celebrity gossip schlock they dish out at Tube stations these days.
2. The parties
As I mentioned yesterday, there is a lot of drunkness around. I guess one of the positives that comes with this is that everyone is in a pretty jovial, celebratory mood most of the time. It feels like every night is a pretty big Saturday night in South Africa. I always feel really lame and boring if I am home before midnight. People only eat dinner around 10pm and then have pre-drinks from 1am. The parties go all through the day as well. You see all manner of crazy, hedonistic fun on the streets and trains. On Saturday (around 10pm) I was in a train with a group of people covered in glitter and blowing bubbles, dancing and kissing each other while listening to some deep ass techno on a boombox under the shade of a broken umbrella. They were having such a great time and made everyone smile. You could actually feel the whole train let out a collective sigh of disappointment when it was their stop and they got out.
3. The food
As a food lover one of my biggest fears was that I would have to eat nothing but MacDonalds because I wouldn’t be able to afford any real food in Europe. But the total opposite is true! You can get amazing street food, Indian food, Asian food and especially amazing vegetarian and vegan food for really, really cheap. Some examples include Palak Paneer for the equivalent of R70 from a little Indian place in the quieter side of Kreuzberg, Avo Maki Rolls and Massive Summer Rolls from a sweet restaurant called Jasmin in Neukölln for R90, and a massive plate of the most delicious Thai tofu something or other for R75 in an awesome little spot across the street from Görlitzer Tor station. It is so unusual for Saffas to feel good about eating out when overseas and it really makes for guilt-free travelling. The only thing I’m still getting used to is the time at which I eat here. Dinner at 10pm? Craaaaazy.
4. The graffiti
It seems strange that I should have this on both lists, I know. But the truth is that I am in love with photographing graffiti and street art, I always have been. When I come across a really beautiful or thought-provoking art piece it always gives me a little thrill because I am reminded that I am in one of the most creatively expressive cities in the world. I think that the amount of street art is testament to that. There is definitely a feeling that there are less oppressive governmental structures here and that people are free to express themselves as they like, especially outside of the “normal” establishment conventions. It’s a VERY liberal society and although that may bring out a lot of the worst and best in people, it definitely feels exciting to be in such a “lawless” environment in the middle of ordered Europe.
5. It’s so cheap
I am quite amazed at how far my money is going. As a South African in Europe, you really have to be super careful about what you spend because it is all being multiplied by 15 at the moment. But here things are so cheap that even when I convert into Rands, I still come up with a figure close to what I would be spending in SA. Accommodation is going to cost me around 350 euro per month (around R5000), a beer that you buy from a Turkish 24 hour shop (which is the equivalent to what we would call a craft beer back home, e.g. Berliner Weiss beer, costs about 1.50 euro (R20 or so), and a meal costs less than R100. It’s really quite manageable. The real Berliners will grumble that the cost of living has gone up considerably, because it was once way cheaper than this, but I am still feeling pretty great about it.
6. The feeling of safety
It is always a difficult realisation, that first time you find yourself clutching your bag as you sit at a restaurant and realise that you’ve been conditioned to fear crime at all times. I love South Africa and I do not think that the crime there is a reason to leave but I do really enjoy the experience I am having here, where I can walk by myself at night and I can leave my cellphone on the table at a restaurant without the fear that someone will grab it. I’m also not completely naïve and know that there is crime everywhere but there is just nothing like there is in SA. I lavish the opportunity to be more independent and more mobile, especially at night. And I can also just feel it generally in my nervous system. I feel less on edge, less tense.
7. New experiences
I think that every traveller will know why this is so important. Whether you’re homesick or complaining about the heat and the smells, it is absolutely imperative to check yourself and remind yourself that this experience is one that you have never had before. As soon as I come back into the present moment and give thanks for the extreme privilege to be experiencing the array of sights and sounds before my eyes and ears, I feel instantly content. My eyes are more open than they’ve been. My heart is more in tune with my head and visa versa. I am a fully conscious, vibrating being and I am lapping up the new experiences like water in the desert. I feel alive from the inside out and I am truly happy to be experiencing something like this. I urge all of you to leave your comfort zone and venture out into the world. That might mean going on a road trip, taking a flight to a new destination or simple going down to visit your local old age home. Whatever you do, remember that there are always different ways to experience a single event. You can get bogged down by the smells and the differences or you can embrace the beauty and magic of the great unknown while opening your heart to your own sense of fun and adventure.