As you could probably guess, my recent solo trip to Berlin was full of wayfaring, both purposely and accidentally. I decided to go alone in hopes of gaining some more traveling confidence. I wanted to force myself to go to hostel without a safety net and meet new people. Force myself to find that museum on my own. Force myself to converse…with myself. Needless to say, I got a lot of thinking time in during the week I was away and gained some perspectives I may not have reached had I been with a peer.
During my stay at a hostel in the city, I got by on WiFi, which to some seasoned travelers doesn’t sound like a stretch. But for those who are used to having the world wide web in their pocket, it was a bit of a challenge. I still have no clue how my parents, or anyone for that matter, got by traveling pre-smartphone days. It only makes me more curious to see how the next generation travels and how dated my GPS techniques will be. Either way, I’m thankful for that handy blinking blue dot via Google Maps and my the good ol’ noggin which I used extensively (surprise, surprise).
My first night I got to see an old work colleague who moved to Berlin to start a flagship office. And what a reunion it was! She gave me some top notch advice on what to see and what to nix off my list for the few days I was in town. It was so nice to see a familiar face in what seemed like such an unfamiliar town.
Pause. I must go off on a bit of a tangent about how unfamiliar this city was, especially coming from the Middle East which has been my home for the last 6 months. Everything looked so clean! Aisles in the stores had order. There were lines where lines were meant to be formed. People seemed civil.
I was completely lost in this European heaven. Europe, and Berlin especially, has a way of greeting you with open arms, with English-speakers and reasonable civility around every corner. I can’t forget to mention the tight pants…how they run rampant in Berlin.
I enjoyed some other views, too. I saw some amazing artwork at the Eastside Gallery (2km of the actual Berlin Wall) and anonymous street art around the city. One morning I just ate at a café and read (sometimes the most simple things give you the most traveling pleasure). I went on a walking tour where I ended up meeting three Israelis and a girl that was not only in the same hostel and same room as me, but shared the same bunk bed. Go figure.
After the tour, my amount of social interaction picked up. Myself and four other solo travelers took to the Berlin streets one night for some traditional German fare, a quick stop at a street side photo booth and of course, lots o’ beer.
One of these travelers had taken a car from London and offered to take a quick road trip to explore a high point overlooking the city. Cruising down a major street in Berlin, coming up to the Bradenburg Gate with the driver oddly situated to my right was a moment I’ll never forget. It made me realize there are some situations while traveling that you could never conjure up in your wildest dreams. Things just have a way of snowballing, unravelling into a unique experience that only you can have.
Like going to Berlin’s biggest karaoke bar and singing your heart out to a Katy Perry classic. Or stumbling on a fellow hula hoop enthusiast in one of Berlin’s many beautiful parks. Or realizing how nice it is to sit outside in the cold with a cup of mulled wine and a sunset, getting a bit tipsy all by yourself.
My unique experiences added up to a fabulous trip to Berlin, but I think what made it so special was the reason I chose to visit in the first place. In my yearlong quest for a better understanding of my Jewish roots, I felt it necessary and fitting to visit a place where much of the history of the Holocaust lives. During my time in Germany, I visited a concentration camp, the Holocaust Memorial and the Jewish Museum which all gave my trip a purpose unlike my other Euro travels. Yes, these activities were difficult/emotional/upsetting for me to experience, but important nonetheless. Moreover, my growing connection to Israel and the Hebrew language contributed to an even stronger emotional reaction than I was expecting. Being able to read letters in Hebrew written by Jews being sent away from their families was beyond unsettling. Though, I know I am better for all that I learned and experienced.
What else did I learn from my time traveling alone?
Although it’s uncomfortable at times and the simple task of asking for directions or how to pay for things may not add up to what you envisioned the fun, freeing trip to be, it’s all part of it. What’s important to remember is that it takes an amount of confidence and wherewithal to realize that even if your question seems like the biggest part of your day, your small, insignificant interruption is just a small, insignificant part of the other person’s day. No one cares if your umbrella just blasted you across the face or if you are sitting at a restaurant by yourself. In reality, you are just another ant on the anthill so enjoy it. Realizing that no one cares is one of the most invigorating things in the world.